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Jones Top Ten - Week 1 - 2008

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If, as I believe, God has a sense of humor, so then does Steve Jobs. Some in our culture think that they are the same person, but I will leave that rather complicated sociological exploration for another day, week five perhaps. The divine God/Jobs humor sings to me, literally, through the vagaries of my iPod. On a random drive to work last week, Bob Dylan’s "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" with all of its rambling invocations of Texas medicine, railroad gin and debutantes who know what you need but not what you want, was followed by the monks of Taize singing "This is the Day that the Lord has Made (let us rejoice and be glad in it)" with all of its invocations to, well, invocation. This brings me, naturally, to southern football fans.

The writer Rick Bragg correctly states that football is football and religion is religion and southerners know the difference. He was writing about Alabama at the time, which is full of God-fearing (Bear Bryant fearing?) fans who know at the very least that the Lord made opening day. They’ve had the Memphis blues for a long time. That’s painful, because they used to be winners. Tide fans liked the world better that way. Or should I say like the world the better that way?

Alabama 34
Clemson 10

Inexplicable? Outrageous? Atrocious? Pick any adjective you like; the Clemson Tigers got worked. Tommy Bowden, bless his heart, and his guys only got into double figures because C.J. Spiller turned on the afterburners on a kick-off return. The Tiger offense didn’t score a touchdown. Read that again. James Davis, Cullen Harper, Spiller, the lot—no touchdowns. No rushing yards, either. Wait a second, no rushing yards? And to think I ranked Clemson fifth, a full four slots ahead of the AP. That may be the last time in his career Bowden gets the benefit of the doubt from anyone.

The Tide may or may not be one of the nation’s ten best. They are younger than green bananas. On the other hand, the running game looks nasty, the defense nastier. John Parker Louis Stevenson Barrett Browning Wilson will do his best Jay Barker and this Julio Jones kid can play a little.

Of all of the mixed messages on opening day, the Tide managed a very clear and emphatic one. The over-arching theme outside of the Georgia Dome seemed to be a day of upsets. Except there weren’t many. Here is a list of games that weren’t upsets, regardless of what serious journalists tell you.

Utah 25, Michigan 23 is the worst offender. Putting aside the inconvenient truth that Utah is the better team, Michigan was only favored by three anyway. Ostensibly this line roughly reflects home-field advantage, which would require one to assume that playing in the Big Morgue actually confers some home field advantage on the Wolverines. The evidence suggests otherwise, considering a far better Michigan squad lost on the same field last year to the Team That Must Not Be Named (speaking of, LSU went out on Saturday morning at sunrise to avoid another hurricane, destroyed the TTMNBN and grabbed brunch and a nap before most of the day’s action even kicked off. Now that’s a productive Saturday).

In any case, the story that should be written is that Utah, with aspirations of killing Notre Dame in a BCS game, only beat a below-average Big Ten team by three.

East Carolina 27, Virginia Tech 22 is next on the "not really an upset" tour. The Hokies have the names on the jerseys and a #17 ranking, but keeping them there will require a great coaching job by Frank Beamer. Sean Glennon still has a penchant for picks and the defense, though solid against the Pirates, lacks most of the playmakers from a year ago. East Carolina should be a front-runner in CUSA. This game, ironically, turned on a timely special teams play. ECU returned a blocked punt for a score with 1:52 to play. That was the difference.

Bowling Green 27, Pitt 17. Even though Pitt was playing at home, BG returned most of their starters off a team that was far better than Pitt last year. Oh, and Dave Wannstedt coaches Pitt. Though probably not for much longer. I went long on Pitt in a pre-season buy/sell game. I’m dumb like that.

Arkansas State 18, Texas A&M 14. Players matter. The Aggies don’t have any. Next.

At the top of the docket, several teams conducted glorified scrimmages. Auburn should receive some credit for beating Louisiana-Monroe 34-0; LMU did upset ‘Bama last year, which I am sure the Tiger fans will remind their Tide neighbors of while walking the dog this week. The Oklahoma Sooners did their best not to score against Chattanooga in the second-half of a 57-2 win. Georgia over Georgia Southern, South Florida over Tennessee-Martin (that’s where they make the guitars, right?), West Virginia over Villanova (‘Nova scored 21 points and I didn’t even know they had a football team), Kansas over Florida International, Texas Tech over Eastern Washington, Penn State over Coastal Carolina, BYU over Northern Iowa, Arizona State over Northern Arizona, Ali over Wepner, Secretariat by eight lengths, Lakers over the Clippers, Reagan over Mondale and everyone beats the French.

Howard Happy Hour Schnellenberger decided for some bizarre reason to call out Texas and question their toughness. Odd strategy, since there are certainly times when you can catch the Longhorns unfocused and napping. Let ‘em sleep next time. Texas 52, Florida Atlantic 10.

Ohio State drilled Youngstown State 43-0, but an injury to Beanie Wells bears mentioning. He apparently didn’t break anything, but he left the field in obvious pain.

Wisconsin was workmanlike in a 38-17 win over Akron. P.J. Hill ran for 210 on 26 carries.

Florida reminded Hawaii of the last time the Warriors played an SEC team with a 56-10 tune-up that proved that the Gators are very very fast.

What to make of Missouri’s 52-42 decision over Illinois? The Mizzou offense is unstoppable and, for good measure, Jeremy Maclin ran back a kickoff for a TD before leaving the game with an ankle injury in the fourth (yikes). The Tiger defense was allegedly a strength: "underrated" according to most. Nevertheless, even discounting one pick six and a meaningless Illini TD at the end, Illinois put up four touchdowns behind Juice Williams going 28 of 42 for 456. Williams is a dynamic and remarkably well-named athlete, but he ain’t exactly Johnny Unitas when the ball leaves his hand.

Navy running back Shun White, who likely had few friends as a child, ran for a ridiculous 348 yards on 19 carries in the Midshipmen’s win over Towson.

Wake Forest blasted Baylor in the Thursday night battle of the Baptists, although Baylor seems just a little bit more Baptist than a team called the Demon Deacons. Whatever. With the 41-13 win, the Deacs took one more step toward the big time: they pounded Baylor into submission just like all the cool teams in the Big 12 do.

South Carolina did roughly the same thing to NC State, also on Thursday, shutting out the Wolfpack 34-0.

There were a couple of good intersectionals worth mentioning. Cal outlasted Michigan State 38-31 in what became a real barn-burner of a second half. Oklahoma State turned in an impressive 39-13 win over Wazzu in a "neutral site" game in Seattle.

After a challenging pre-season, USC tried their best to create a challenging first week match-up by flying across country to Virginia. The Trojans couldn’t have predicted that Al Groh’s Cavaliers would be this bad when the game was scheduled. Result: 52-7, and it wasn’t even that close.

Utah and BYU need to keep an eye out for TCU in the BCS-buster sweepstakes. The Frogs were impressive 26-3 winners over New Mexico.

Lousiville’s fifteen minutes may be up. The Cardinals were barely competitive in their annual rivalry with Kentucky. 27-2, Wildcats.

Washington’s youngsters hung with Oregon for a half, then the Ducks ripped through them for a 44-10 win after intermission.

Colorado beat Colorado State 38-17 in the annual rivalry game at Barack’s house.

Nutty prediction time: As I write this, Fresno State is taking the field against Rutgers. Tonight, Tennessee will close out the long weekend at UCLA. I am guessing Fresno will blow a great opportunity and get beat on national television. In the night cap, Tennessee rolls.

Of course, I am the guy who trusted Dave Wannstedt.

Impressive Showing of the Week: Alabama

1. Florida: Tim Tebow runs, passes and reminds defenders God loves them after every play from scrimmage.

2. Ohio State: You lose the number one slot until I see a medical report on Beanie Wells. He’s the difference between number one and not.

3. USC: The Trojans looked like somebody threw a lit match into a fireworks warehouse. This could be their best team since 2005, the defense being the difference.

4. Oklahoma: The Sooners may have played the ugliest game this Saturday, rolling up 50 points by the half. Cincinnati will be a bigger challenge next week; TCU could be very interesting on the 27th.

5. Georgia: The schedule is tough enough for the Bulldogs; now word comes that they have lost yet another starter, the fine defensive tackle Jeff Owens, for the season.

6. SEC Tigers: Not sure what to make of Auburn or LSU. I was far more impressed with the Bayou Bengals than I expected. Even starting a QB who transferred from Harvard, of all places, they didn’t look to have much rust on them. Likewise, the new Auburn offense looks good, what little I caught of it on Saturday. The answer may not be clear until September 20, when the two teams meet. I love the SEC.

8. Missouri: I dropped the Tigers a spot because the defense simply wasn’t very good at times on Saturday night (although they were opportunistic, which counts for something). Jeremy Maclin needs to be on the field for Mizzou to be truly special.

9. Alabama: Early euphoria? Yes, but I don’t get the feeling it is misplaced.

10. West Virginia: Pat White throwing the ball around the yard, the next thing you know Juice Williams will start hitting open receivers. Never mind.

Texas is eleven; South Florida not far behind.

God Bless Louisiana.

Rose Bowl Dreams: A Memoir of Faith Family and Football is the new book by Adam Jones.

More info at Rose Bowl Dreams.