College football, Week 1: Somehow it keeps getting better

Paul Johnson.

Paul Johnson: Darkhorse?

Mark Richt.

Mark Richt: BCS contender?

Bill Curry.

Bill Curry: A step up?

Elevating college football to the appropriate level of importance in his small but powerful world, Bear Bryant once noted, “It’s kind of hard to rally around a math class.” And as if we needed reminding, the man operated at a time before outlandish concepts like “academic reform” and truth-in-scholarship limits.

Emotionally, however, not much has changed in the past several decades. For many, particularly in the South, the opening of college football season this week is like finally being given clearance to rip the gift wrap off of a box that has been sitting in the corner, seemingly taunting you, for eight months.

It’s time.

“If you grew up around here, the excitement is one of those things that you often think back to, like significant holidays,” said Bill Curry, the 69-year-old Georgia State coach, who is entering the final season (we assume) of his career.

“You remember where you were for certain games. I still remember listening to Georgia Tech and Tennessee on the radio in 1956. This is my 58th time doing this as a player, coach or broadcaster. I think the last time I had a Labor Day off was in 1954. I was in the seventh grade.”

This Labor Day weekend will see 124 games involving Division 1 teams (FBS and FCS). It begins Thursday when Georgia State opens against South Carolina State at the Georgia Dome, and South Carolina travels to Vanderbilt, an early SEC East Division measuring stick.

The parking lots surrounding the Georgia Dome will be like a 72-hour tailgate: There’s the Georgia State game on Thursday, Tennessee against North Carolina State on Friday and Clemson against Auburn on Saturday.

Georgia opens Saturday in Athens against Buffalo, a light yoga stretch before next week’s SEC opener at Missouri. Defending BCS champion and preseason No. 2 Alabama faces No. 8 Michigan Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The feast finally comes to an end Monday night when Georgia Tech visits No. 16 Virginia Tech, easily the most difficult opener in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure.

Then there will be a few days for fans to recover from their queso dip seizure before starting all over again in Week 2.

I’ve lived in Atlanta for 23 years. I never truly had a sense for how important college football was in these parts until moving here from a distant galaxy (California) in 1989. I remember sitting on a MARTA train, leaving the airport one Sunday morning after returning from an assignment, thinking, “Why are people talking about the Tennessee game? And Auburn? And who cares about Clemson?”

I don’t wonder anymore. Every year it gets bigger. Too big? Probably. The importance of college football for so many is out of proportion to the importance of academics and, well, real life. But there is a significant bonding element in the fall that nothing else compares to. In that sense, Bryant was correct: Regardless of age, race and socioeconomic level, we bond on a college football Saturday like we can’t over a math class – unless the curriculum includes trying to dissect the BCS formula.

It’s a significant season for all three local Division 1 teams. Georgia, by virtue of a strong defense and a favorable schedule, is the perceived favorite in the SEC East, which means it has a legitimate chance to win the SEC title. That potentially puts the Bulldogs in the BCS picture. (Standard caveat: This is a common refrain in Athens. But the Missouri game should tell us something.)

Tech’s record in the past two seasons (14-12 overall, 9-7 in ACC) hasn’t matched Johnson’s first two (20-7, 12-4), but the defense should be improved and maybe we’ll even see a completed pass on occasion. The Yellow Jackets could be a dark horse in the ACC Coastal. But that likely would necessitate upsetting Virginia Tech.

Curry’s goals are more modest: Just win. It’s year three of this start-up program and he would like to see the Panthers have some success before he moves into retirement and they move into the Sun Belt Conference next year.

“We’ll be improved in every area,” he said. “But so is our competition, drastically. With all our hearts, we’ll have to play our guts out.”

It’s what we look forward to this time of year.

By Jeff Schultz

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105 comments Add your comment

Silly Bloggers

August 26th, 2012
5:05 pm

First? Had to try.

Mountain Dawg

August 26th, 2012
5:13 pm

Just bring it!

Jon

August 26th, 2012
5:19 pm

Eeeeee! Can’t wait!!!

P-Man

August 26th, 2012
5:28 pm

It’s about time! I thought this week would NEVER get here…

Miamidawg

August 26th, 2012
5:35 pm

The koolaide has been drunk. And here we go. Again.

5150 UOAD

August 26th, 2012
5:35 pm

Notre Dame is going to lose in Ireland
Auburn will lose to Clemson.
Got to LOVE the players getting suspended.

Sergeant Joe Friday, LAPD

August 26th, 2012
5:47 pm

You people are way to serious…it’s only a football game. I would hate to think what you all do in the off season to “entertain” yourselves. Don’t worry, Warden Richt has everything under control…especially with this schedule.

1eyedJack

August 26th, 2012
6:13 pm

Let’s kick this thing off and play two!!

jj

August 26th, 2012
6:21 pm

I know that “yankees” in the Northeast think they are fandom’s gift to football (or is it football’s gift to fandom), fans down here have passion, not just drunken intensity. Although a little drunken passion is cool.

Dawg Haus

August 26th, 2012
6:25 pm

Can’t wait!!

bugs

August 26th, 2012
6:32 pm

I was 10 yrs old when Tech lost to Tenn and Johnny Majos in 1956.Both teams were undefeated and
the game was truly a classic with 17 quick kicks.I was devasted when Tech lost 6-0.It was the Jackets only loss and signaled the end of their golden era.

Frank Lane

August 26th, 2012
6:32 pm

Love the Bryant quote.

Red Stick

August 26th, 2012
6:33 pm

Opening week is always great in college football.

Good luck to everyone this weekend.

Geaux Tigers
Go SEC

Thank God

August 26th, 2012
6:39 pm

Since the Braves have collapsed and Uggla has hit a paltry 204 this season…I’m a ready for some….college football. Go Dawgs

JB at home

August 26th, 2012
7:00 pm

My Dawgs will either go 9-3 or 12-0. The players will mostly decide, not the coaching. The team and the schedule are favorable. The OL and running game will tell us a lot. If we don’t see any holes open and a running game against Mizzuo, It’s be a touch and go year. A. Murray is pretty good, but not good enough to carry the offense.

chilidawg

August 26th, 2012
7:23 pm

My prediction for the Dawgs: This is the year… They will go undefeated and meet Bama in the SEC championship where we will get revenge for the 2008 blackout debacle. Then, according to the Mayans, the world will end on December 21st before we get to play for the BCS title.

Score Check

August 26th, 2012
7:28 pm

Coach Sick Satan = SCUM
Coach Sick Satan = SCUM
Coach Sick Satan = SCUM

Tweak your knee and he leaves you twisting in the wind.

LakeDawg

August 26th, 2012
7:32 pm

Go Big Blue!!!

BigDawg

August 26th, 2012
7:35 pm

I am looking forward to this year. I can’t believe a few years ago Less Miles and ESPN said you had to win your conference to play in the BCS! The Dawgs were clearly the hottest team at the time and would have drilled any opponent!! Politics, sigh…

bamaguy

August 26th, 2012
7:35 pm

I remember Mr. Bryant walking across campus (he would have you for lunch if you called him “coach” and you didn’t play for him and God help you if you were a student and called him “Bear”). People would literally stop talking and just be silent as he walked by.

One more time for football in the South. Best to all. Roll Tide.

Robert Warren

August 26th, 2012
7:39 pm

As fun as it was getting a bye in the semi-finals last year, Bama’s got to win the West this year.

Not Disappointed!

August 26th, 2012
7:53 pm

Let the Games Begin!!!

Go Jackets!

Howard

August 26th, 2012
7:53 pm

Jeff…when does the Tuesday Countdown start on a regular basis…and how many times will we hear/see of Bobby Petrino in the sports pages this year???

RBigFish

August 26th, 2012
8:03 pm

Schultzie , trying to sign up for your contest is the toughtest thing I’ve done lately. The 2nd word is damn near impossible to read and when you try to do the sound thing….what language was that ?

BigDave

August 26th, 2012
8:11 pm

I can’t wait to see My Vols beat North Carolina State 31-21 on Friday!

5150 UOAD

August 26th, 2012
8:15 pm

Big Dave you will only see that in your dreams.

5150 UOAD

August 26th, 2012
8:18 pm

How many SEC Starting players are suspended for the first games of the year or were just kicked off the team this year?
I know a few ACC teams have suspended players for first games.

Bone

August 26th, 2012
8:27 pm

Score Check needs his meds – repeating irrelevant drivel. RTR!

Jeff Schultz

August 26th, 2012
8:53 pm

Howard — Thanks. The Countdown is now an “irregular” feature, depending on items and, mostly, my time (it’s fun to do but laborious. takes a lot of time. but I think I’ll have one this week.)

Wreck

August 26th, 2012
9:11 pm

GO JACKETS.

White shirts yeller britches give em hell you sons of &%$#@*!

5150 UOAD

August 26th, 2012
9:20 pm

Damn HILL you turned that into a TO.

UGA football fans

August 26th, 2012
9:28 pm

facebook.com/ugafootballfans

old dog

August 26th, 2012
9:44 pm

The dogs will disappoint again, as long as Richt leads the program.
All hat and no cattle.

Ted Striker

August 26th, 2012
9:45 pm

Good column.

Mike Robinson

August 26th, 2012
10:07 pm

GO BACK TO CALI, JEFF. YOU WILL NOT BE MISSED, I PROMISE.

Jabber

August 26th, 2012
10:18 pm

Jeff,

I expect GTech to be win many more games than last season, mainly because of the experienced off line.

UGA? They usually underachieve, hate to admit it, but I think all 4 times Richt won the East, he won less games the next season, just isn’t the type of coach that handles expectations well. Mark Richt hasn’t won a game against a top 20 teams since 2009. Agree with you, look for another early loss in Mizzou. And another to SCarol, and another to Florida, and another to Auburn, and to top it off, ole Paul Johnson wins the capper.

macrotech

August 26th, 2012
11:12 pm

SO ready for some college football!!! Go Tech!!!

collegeballfan

August 26th, 2012
11:37 pm

“The importance of college football for so many is out of proportion to the importance of academics and, well, real life.”

The importance of football to the average college fan has gone up as the average intelligence of the average college football fan has gone down.

Sir Livedalot

August 27th, 2012
12:02 am

Jeff I did not know you were almost as old as I am. That gives me a new found respect for you even though I don’t always agree with you. But that is whatmakes your column interesting. The Bear was revered in Alabama as evidenced by the time he was walking through the campus and a student said “It’s a great day Coach Bryant” and the Bear replied “You are welcome”. Take care Jeff and have a wonderful season cheering on the Dawgs.

Sir Livedalot

August 27th, 2012
12:07 am

Just kidding Jeff I know you are not as old as Coach Curry but I still enjoy your articles.

William Casey

August 27th, 2012
12:13 am

I always thought the Bear Bryant quote was “It’s hard to rally around a chemistry lab.” Well, I guess it’s the thought that counts. LOL

William Casey

August 27th, 2012
12:32 am

Maybe it was a math class.

stony

August 27th, 2012
12:48 am

The civility tonight is great. All the comments have been good, but Chilidawg, when I read your post, I almost fell out of my chair laughing. Funny and topical is good enough to get you 15 minutes at the local comedy club.

Class of '98

August 27th, 2012
1:54 am

Jeff, did you expect folks on that Marta train to be talking about the Atlanta Hawks??? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. The top three sports in the south are 1) College Football season 2) National Signing Day 3) Spring Practice.

And we like it that way.

jc_dawgs

August 27th, 2012
3:25 am

Best defense in the country and a seasoned and proven qb. Got to like our chances….even with CMR and Boo boo.

Larry

August 27th, 2012
6:09 am

Jeff,

Good stuff. Glad you’re now a convert to real college football southeast football.

As I think GT playing VT in the first game is much more favorable. Tech will be 100% rested (more physical) and prepared, and as we have often witnessed, VT loses a game early. And because of their wide open style of play, they are usually a top 5 team by November.

But then, VT also had had about 8 months to prepare for GT’s unique offense.

Interesting all around.

Larry

August 27th, 2012
6:13 am

Sorry, but I cannot stand typos from mydeamon possessed laptop.

Again…

Jeff,

Good stuff. Glad you’re now a convert to real college football…southeast football.

I think GT playing VT in the first game is much more favorable. Tech will be 100% rested (more physical) and prepared, and as we have often witnessed, VT loses a big game early. Then, because of their wide open style of play, they are usually a top 5 team by November.

But then, VT also had had about 8 months to prepare for GT’s offense.

Interesting all around.

From a Georgia boy…go Dawgs, go Jackets and go Falcons!

Woofy One

August 27th, 2012
6:27 am

Go Panthers!

August 27th, 2012
6:36 am

Cant wait for the Georgia State game thursday! Panthers are goin to come out like gangbusters.
Thanks for including GSU in this, the 3rd FBS program in the STATE.

John Heisman

August 27th, 2012
7:35 am

“It’s better to die a small child than fumble the football.”