Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

August 30, 2012

College football season is back in full force

BLUEFIELD — College football kicks into high gear tonight and it won’t end until a national champion is crowned on Jan. 7 in Miami.

 The topic of who is No. 1, 2 or 3 — and beyond has already begun — and will continue until early December when the BCS selects the final two teams to play for the national championship.

That four-team playoff that most folks have been clamoring for won’t start until 2014 so we have two more years of the BCS, which is better than three years.  

All 123 Division I teams are still undefeated, at least until tonight, with No. 9 South Carolina visiting Vanderbilt to face Graham graduate and Commodores’ walk-on running back Tyler Anders and the Commodores in Nashville.

Anders will be wearing No. 47 for Vanderbilt if you happen to flip on the tube. If you read the series of stories on Anders written during the summer, you know how far he has come in his life.  

There is even more college football on Friday, although that night should be reserved for the high schools. Hopefully area fans will catch Princeton-Bluefield, Graham-Tazewell, Union-Richlands, or one of 12 other prep contests taking place.

The football continues on Saturday with must-see games like No. 2 Alabama and No. 8 Michigan and Penn State beginning the post-Joe Paterno era with Ohio. There are also a few duds. How many points will Oklahoma State put up on Savannah State?

Of course, the big one for many of our readers will be No. 11 West Virginia hosting Marshall in what will the final meeting for who knows how long between these in-state rivals. Virginia will also be on the field, playing host to the Richmond Spiders.  

Local products Devon Johnson (Richlands) and Joe Woodrum (Bluefield) could both see playing time for the Thundering Herd. In Charlottesville, David Marrs (Graham) will suit up as a safety for Virginia, while Josh Hess (Richlands) will be on the other side of the field as a freshman offensive lineman for the Spiders.

 Locally, Concord will open its season by hosting Lenoir-Rhyne, while Bluefield will play host to Georgetown, the fourth ranked NAIA school in America. That is a great opportunity for local football fans to see two games, beginning with the Rams at 1 p.m., followed by the Mountain Lions at 7.

Of course, the lure of television and watching the big boys will be hard to resist.

College football even continues into Sunday with former Richlands star Austin Fuller at receiver when Southern Methodist travels to RGIII-less Baylor.

It will finish up on Monday night in Lane Stadium with No. 16 Virginia Tech opening its season with a key ACC contest against Georgia Tech. Giles product Cody Journell will return to his role as placekicker for the Hokies after being suspended last December and missing the Sugar Bowl.

At least two other local products will be on the field this weekend, including Alex Marrs, a former All-Group AA center at Graham who will be in Chapel Hill as a long snapper when North Carolina hosts Elon, while offensive lineman Greg Ray of Giles will suit up when Liberty travels to face Wake Forest.

Up next will be the big boys of college football. One week later and the NFL will follow, but give me the college brand anytime, unless my Chargers are winning like they have in the preseason. After a while, all those pro games look the same.

 Everyone has a guess on how the college football season is going to wind up, and here is mine. Doing these predictions is difficult because as an avid Alabama fan, I have to overlook my feelings and try play it straight.

The problem is, the Crimson Tide — which has won two of the last three national championships — is loaded again.

 First, the regional teams.

 West Virginia: The Mountaineers have already gotten their share of publicity with the move to the Big 12. The expectations are crazy high, but the Big 12 isn’t the Big East. Everyone remembers 70 points against Clemson, but West Virginia didn’t score that many in the two games combined before that one, earning a share of the Big East crown and the BCS bowl berth.

 West Virginia should start 4-0, but the Mountaineers could lose any of the next six games, starting with consecutive trips to Texas and Texas Tech. That will be followed by Kansas State, Texas Christian, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, none of which are pushovers.

There is little doubt that Geno Smith and the Mountaineers will take to the air, but their opponents are used to that offense and they know how to contain that style. There are question marks with the running game, and the defense will be a work in progress throughout the season.

Record: 9-3 (6-3, Big 12). Bowl game: Cotton Bowl.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies are the favorite to claim the Coastal Division title and play Florida State (or Clemson) in the ACC title game. Virginia Tech’s biggest game could be its first one with the Yellow Jackets. Win that one and stop either the Tigers or Seminoles and they should be bound for Charlotte.

The defense could be one of Bud Foster’s best, but the Hokies will be inexperienced on offense, at both running back and on the offensive line. There is also the special teams, which hasn’t been the ‘Beamer Ball’ of old in recent seasons. Danny Coale, a wide receiver, was Virginia Tech’s best punter at the end of last season.

 Virginia Tech’s non-league slate isn’t easy, with Big East foes Pittsburgh and Cincinnati on the slate, and ACC games at North Carolina, Clemson and Miami. With the Tar Heels not eligible for postseason play, their only goal this year will be to win their division. The Hokies do get Florida State at home, but would probably have to play them again in December.

Record: 9-4 (6-2, ACC) Wins Coastal Division; Loses to Florida State in ACC title game. Bowl game: Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Marshall: The Thundering Herd is still at least a year away from challenging for the Conference USA title. Central Florida and Southern Mississippi — which the Herd will play in successive weeks — are the class of the East Division.

 Marshall is young all over the field, from sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato to a running game that must be more productive. Defensively, the Herd has played a lot of youth in recent seasons and that will continue as the Herd tries to reach consecutive bowl games for the first time since 2001-02.

The Herd has one final chance to beat West Virginia, and will soon later with trips to Rice, Purdue and Southern Miss in a five-week span. Tulsa and Houston from the West will visit Huntington, and both have been problems for Marshall.

Record: 6-6 (4-4). One more win could send the Herd bowling. Bowl: TicketCity Bowl.

Virginia: Mike London is building Virginia back to prominence, something the Cavaliers haven’t seen since the days of Heath Miller in the early 2000s.

There is talent and experience on the roster, including quarterback Michael Rocco and running back Perry Jones. Steve Greer is the leader on defense.

 Virginia certainly doesn’t dodge anyone with the non-league slate, including Penn State, TCU and Louisiana Tech, which will be no pushover. They do avoid Florida State and Clemson so the Cavs could be a darkhorse, but have to beat the Hokies, who have won eight straight over Virginia.

Record: 8-4 (5-3). Bowl game: Belk Bowl.

Conference champions:

ACC Champion: Florida State; Big East: Louisville; Big Ten: Wisconsin; Big 12: Oklahoma; Pac 12: Southern California; SEC: Alabama; Conference USA: Southern Mississippi; Mid-American: Ohio; Mountain West: Boise State; Sun Belt: Troy; WAC: Louisiana Tech. Top Independent: Notre Dame.

The Big Bowls:

Orange Bowl: Florida State vs Louisville

Fiesta Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Texas

Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Oregon

BCS National Championship Game: Alabama vs. Southern California

National Champion: Southern California (I will be cheering for Alabama).

Heisman Trophy: Matt Barkley. Andrew Luck appeared to be the sure pick last season, but Robert Griffin III passed him down the stretch. The same could happen to Barkley. 2. Landry Jones, Oklahoma, 3. Montee Ball, Wisconsin. Darkhorse: Eddie Lacy, Alabama, Geno Smith. West Virginia.

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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