It's time for fight songs and football


Let's be honest, the offseason has been more painful than a Tori Spelling film festival. Unionization votes ... suspensions ... high-profile transfers -- and that's just Northwestern.

There have been concussion lawsuits. Player-pay lawsuits. Conference member exit settlements. Millions and millions of dollars have been paid out. But enough about the lawyers' fees.

I'm affadavited out. I've got litigation fatigue. If Lester Munson is on TV one more time explaining it all, he's going to get his own Fathead.

My goodness, it is mind-numbing stuff. Notre Dame is investigating allegations that a handful of football players committed academic fraud. The Air Force Academy is dealing with allegations of sexual assault, drug use and honor code violations by some of its athletes, including football players. Oklahoma just pooch punted one of its star freshmen off the team for this season.

It's time. It's time for actual football to actually be played. I can't take one more story about Jameis Winston and his fondness for squirrel hunting and seafood. I've issued a temporary restraining order on all Power Five discussions. I refuse to calculate any more academic progress rates.

Nope, that's it. Week One can't come soon enough. The comforting noon-until-midnight conga line of Saturday games can't come soon enough. I'm so desperate for football that I'm counting the nanoseconds until the first official game of the season: Abilene Christian at Georgia State.

This isn't to say that academic fraud should to be ignored. Or that the events affecting player empowerment and commercial rights aren't important. Or that offseason arrests aren't disturbing. They are.

But it's going to be refreshing to simply watch a game, any game. It's going to be fun to argue about who's in and who isn't. It's going to be a welcome diversion to complain about the officiating, the play calling, the scheduling and, eventually, the weekly rankings by the College Football Playoff selection committee.

I want to hear "Rocky Top," "The Victors," and "Fight On." I need my daily recommended doses of statistics, polls and Jim from Reeltown. I need to see pigskin fly.

It begins Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

Please hurry.


In: Strength of Schedule, North Carolina, former sportswriters (Steve Wieberg) mingling with a former U.S. secretaries of state (Condoleezza Rice) on the CFP selection committee, Marshall's chances of going undefeated, the Nov. 8 schedule (Baylor at OU, Ohio State at Michigan State, Bama at LSU, UCLA at Washington, Texas A&M at Auburn, Notre Dame at Arizona State), chances of a team not ranked in the preseason polls finishing in the top four (Auburn and Michigan State did it in 2013), College Football Playoff, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, possible volcanic eruptions in Iceland, Everett Golson, Miami, Bo Pelini and cats, cost of attendance.

Out: BCS memoir book deal, Northwestern's Venric Mark (oops -- former Northwestern running back), scheduling of FCS schools, chances of Bob Stoops receiving a lifetime achievement award from SEC, Texas players who violate Charlie Strong's core values list, redshirting at Western Michigan (the FBS's youngest coach, P.J. Fleck, is going to start 14 true freshmen), union talk, Big East, Dabo Swinney astronomy class, Ohio State's Braxton Miller, OU's Joe Mixon.


The top 10 2014 storylines (in no particular order):

Lane Kiffin returns to Tennessee.

The third Saturday in October will have some extra Tabasco sauce on it, thanks to the football gift that keeps giving: the polarizing Kiffin.

Kiffin ditched Tennessee after one season for his dream job at USC. But then the dream turned into a nightmare and he got fired by USC about midway through last season. Then Bama's Nick Saban hired him as the Tide's new offensive coordinator.

The date to remember: Oct. 25 at Neyland Stadium. More than 100,000 Vols fans are already practicing their boos.

The debut of the College Football Playoff and its selection committee.

I've made no secret of my disdain for the BCS. I'd rather eat green flies than go through another season of BCS computers, etc. Most of America wanted a playoff system. Now you have one: four teams, one 13-person selection committee. Pity the committee if we end up with five undefeated teams this season.

And here's something to consider: Will Oklahoma's Bob Stoops deliver ice cream in the Sooner Schooner if the committee members stiff the SEC?

Florida State and Jameis Winston go for repeats.

FSU goes for its second consecutive national championship and Winston goes for his second consecutive Heisman Trophy. Only Ohio State's Archie Griffin has a pair of matching statuettes (1974 and 1975).

How will Year 3 of NCAA sanctions affect Year 1 of the James Franklin regime at Penn State?

Those crushing NCAA penalties, especially when it comes to scholarship reductions, might have their biggest effect in 2014. Can the power of Franklin's personality and recruiting efforts make a difference?

The Charlie Strong era begins at Texas.

Strong will be given every tool and chance to succeed by the guy who hired him, Texas athletic director Steve Patterson. As for the rest of the Longhorn fans, I'm not so sure.

Also beginning new coaching gigs: Bobby Petrino at Louisville, Steve Sarkisian at USC and Chris Petersen at Washington, among others.

I've taken my shots at Petrino in the past, but longtime Louisville staff members say that he's a different man as he begins his second stint as the Cardinals' coach. They say his grandchildren have softened him, that he's nicer, that he caddies for his daughter on the golf team, that the personal scandal at Arkansas humbled him.

"Lots has changed," said Petrino of Bobby And Louisville -- Part II.

He was talking about the new buildings and facilities on the U of L campus, but in reality, he was talking about himself.

Could the first-ever CFP final four not include an SEC team?

By nature of the strength of the conference and its annual league championship game, there's always a chance the SEC could eat its young. If you're on the selection committee, do you take a once-beaten SEC champ over an undefeated team from another Power Five conference?

Will Florida be Florida again?

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has done what all good ADs do in a football crisis: stand by his coach. But Foley has also made it clear that Will Muschamp's program needs to show significant improvement this season.

Also under job status duress: Michigan's Brady Hoke, Virginia's Mike London, Illinois' Tim Beckman and West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen.

Will Ohio State be Ohio State without Miller?

The smart guys in Vegas don't think so. Before Miller suffered his season-ending shoulder injury, the Buckeyes were 10-1 to win the national title. Now, according to the Bovada betting line, the Buckeyes are 40-1.

ESPN's Football Power Index had Ohio State fourth on its list of teams with the best percentage to enter the bowl season with an undefeated record (Florida State 40.3 percent, Oregon 12.6 percent, Marshall 9.2 percent and OSU at 7.6 percent). And the same Index had Ohio State as the overwhelming favorites to win the Big Ten (OSU 40.9 percent, Wisconsin 21.9 percent, Michigan 12/7 percent, Iowa 7.8 percent and Michigan State 5.9 percent).

So, yes, starting quarterbacks matter. Two-time Big Ten Offensive Players of the Year matter. Experience matters.

The Buckeyes' schedule is still baby-bottom soft. Michigan State is the only Ohio State opponent ranked in the preseason top 25. But here's a number that will give OSU fans the heebie jeebies: Miller has 666 career pass attempts. The two quarterbacks below him on the depth chart -- Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett -- have a combined two pass attempts.

Ohio State is in Year 3 of the Urban [Meyer] Renewal Project. But Miller's loss could kneecap the Buckeyes' chances of making a serious run at a CFP Championship. Meyer usually wrings the most out of a quarterback's talent (Alex Smith at Utah, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida, and Miller at OSU), but now he'll really have to coach up his former second- and third-teamers.

Maryland and Rutgers make their Big Ten debuts.

The Terrapins will be just fine. Rutgers is going to experience severe growing pains.

"Kenny Football"?

Now that Johnny Manziel and the signature money pinch resides in Cleveland, sophomore Kenny Hill oversees the Texas A&M offense.


Conference winners:

SEC -- Alabama

Big Ten -- Michigan State

Big 12 -- Oklahoma

Pac-12 -- UCLA


Mountain West -- Utah State

American Athletic -- Cincinnati

Conference USA -- Marshall

Sun Belt -- Louisiana-Lafayette

MAC -- Bowling Green

Emergency backup choices:


Big Ten -- Wisconsin (no Michigan State, Michigan or Ohio State on its schedule)

Big 12 -- Baylor

Pac-12 -- USC

ACC -- If FSU doesn't win it, that means the entire Seminoles team has been kidnapped by Art Briles. But, OK, North Carolina.

Mountain West -- Boise State

American Athletic -- Central Florida

Conference USA -- North Texas

Sun Belt -- South Alabama

MAC -- Northern Illinois


This season's Auburn:


If Nick Marshall doesn't confuse Alabama's marijuana laws with those of Colorado, the Tigers will remain a major threat. Gus Malzahn will continue to give opposing defensive coordinators cluster migraines, but Auburn has a brutal scheduling stretch where they play at Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, LSU, at Mississippi State, South Carolina, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M and at Georgia.

Mississippi State

Like 1999 Ryder Cup captain Ben Crenshaw once said as he wagged his finger at the assembled media: "I've got a good feeling about the Bulldogs. That's all I'm gonna say."

Actually, I inserted the Bulldogs part, but you get the idea. Mississippi State is due. And if you don't know who Dak Prescott is, you will by the end of September.


Is it OK if Crenshaw says the same thing about the Huskers?

The schedule is unforgiving (at Michigan State, at Northwestern, at Wisconsin, at Iowa, among others) and there's going to be a lot of new faces in the starting lineups. And yet, I believe.


No Teddy Bridgewater, but the Cardinals did get quarterback whisperer Bobby Petrino. Not a bad trade-off. And Petrino sounds like a guy who thinks his team will be a factor in 2014.

Oregon State

In a far, far away universe (Corvallis) the Beavers and Sean Mannion lurk.


The embattled Muschamp didn't hire Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to run off-tackle plays. The Gators will be whole again.


Remember Sept. 1, 2007?

That was the day of the greatest upset in college football history. It was the day when Appalachian State students tore down the goal posts at ASU's Kidd Brewer Stadium and deposited the uprights in the front yard of the school chancellor.

And the game wasn't even at App State.

About 600 miles from the Boone, N.C., campus, Appalachian State beat Michigan in The Big House, 34-32. Some Wolverine fans are still being treated for shock.

The winningest program in major college history was defeated by an FCS team. Vegas oddsmakers didn't even bother with an official betting line. Michigan was ranked No. 5 in the AP poll; had one, perhaps two Heisman Trophy candidates; was coached by a guy (Lloyd Carr) who had won a national title 10 years earlier and now had a team capable of winning the 2007 national championship.

Appalachian State was, well, Appalachian State -- a two-time I-AA champion (later designated as FCS). The Mountaineers were supposed to come to Ann Arbor, make it fun for a quarter or so, lose, and then collect their $400,000 appearance check.

Instead, App State ended Michigan's national title hopes before the season could even clear its throat. Columnist Michael Rosenberg, writing for the Detroit Free Press, spoke for the stunned masses that September day: "And the perception is that Michigan just lost to the Washington Generals."

In the aftermath, Rosenberg heard App State linebacker Pierre Banks yell, "We should go to the Rose Bowl!"

Banks didn't have to yell. He could have whispered and the Michigan Stadium crowd of nearly 110,000 fans would have heard him. That's how quiet it was.

"The crazy part about it is, going into that game, it meant nothing to me," said Banks, who is now an academic adviser at South Carolina. "I'm talking me as an individual. Michigan wasn't in our division. We always had the goal to win the Southern [Conference] championship, so there was no pressure [against Michigan]. I felt more pressure getting ready to play Wofford and the triple option, and working on my technique against that."

Banks remembers arriving at Michigan Stadium for the Friday walk-through. Sitting nearby was Michigan star running back Mike Hart, who had decided to return for his senior season to pursue a national championship.

"He was looking at us," Banks said. "I didn't know who he was."

They knew once the game began. Hart finished with 188 yards and three touchdowns, but was forced to the sidelines at times because of a thigh injury.

"He had some big runs and he'd say, 'Somebody please stop me,"' Banks said. "He was telling us, 'Y'all this, y'all that.' I was just looking at this dude thinking, 'You ain't even played for two quarters."'

The game came down to a 37-yard Michigan field goal attempt with 6 seconds left in the game. Shortly before the final play, App State defensive back Corey Lynch told Banks, "Let me switch with you. You take my spot [on the field goal block team] and I'll take yours."

Lynch blocked the kick, scooped up the ball and was run down as time -- and Michigan -- expired.

"I'm running down the [Wolverines] sidelines while I'm following Corey," said Banks. "You could just see their faces were in shock. Their coach, he couldn't believe it."

Banks' football career ended shortly after graduation. He later got his master's degree. Before coming to South Carolina, he worked for two years in Ohio State's athletic department.

"I was like a hero there," said Banks. "I think that's how I got the job. Everybody I did an interview with there asked me if I was on that [App State] team."

This time Appalachian State will receive $1 million in guaranteed money to play Michigan. At last look, the Mountaineers were 34½-point underdogs. Not that it matters to Banks.

Ask him about that Sept. 1, 2007, win and he doesn't hesitate in ranking its importance.

"I might go as far as saying it's the greatest upset in sports history," Banks said.

Buster Douglas and the 1980 USA hockey team might disagree. But Michigan won't.


And the Heisman goes to ... Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

Also in attendance for the presentation ceremony: FSU's Winston, Georgia's Todd Gurley, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Baylor's Bryce Petty.

And in a parallel universe where all the favorites suffer season-ending injuries or decide to give up football and join the Peace Corps, the Heisman goes to ... Michigan State's Connor Cook.

Also in attendance: LSU's Leonard Fournette, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Oklahoma's Trevor Knight, Oregon State's Sean Mannion.


Let's get right to it: Can Florida State do what has been done only four times in the past 39 years -- win back-to-back national championships?

Answer: Yes, but with a caution flag.

Boston College coach Steve Addazio knows a little something about the two-peat degree of difficulty. He was on Urban Meyer's Florida staff when the Gators won the national title in 2006, missed out in 2007 and then won again in 2008.

Winning a championship, said Addazio, who still speaks to Meyer at least once a week, "affects the team, affects coaches, affects the wives of coaches. There's a natural take-your-foot-off-the-gas [tendency]. Selfishness can set in ... it's human nature."

Addazio, whose BC team gave FSU its closest game of the 2013 regular season, said players can feel entitled and coaches can start obsessing about the wrong things (promotions, raises, etc.).

For Florida State to channel its inner Bama (2011, 2012), USC (2003, 2004 -- we'll ignore those pesky NCAA sanctions for now), Nebraska (1994, 1995) and Oklahoma (1974, 1975), Addazio said four things must happen:

• FSU has to have the right quarterback.

Go ahead and check that box. Winston already has one Heisman Trophy and could win a second.

• FSU has to stay healthy.

But if any team can afford a few injuries, it's the Seminoles. Syracuse coach Scott Shafer remembers watching in wonderment as FSU's second-teamers warmed up before last year's game at Tallahassee. He was amazed by their size and skill.

When FSU travels to Syracuse in October, Shafer said it will be "one of the best teams to come to the [Carrier] Dome in 20-30 years. ... They're a phenomenal football team."

• Luck (and I don't mean CFP selection committee member Oliver Luck).

The Seminoles made a lot of their own luck last season. They were plus-17 in the turnover margin and FSU's defensive line often dictated the course of games. But just think if Fisher's fake punt call in the BCS Championship hadn't worked?

• Good chemistry.

Bama's Nick Saban can tell you what happens when players don't buy in.

Fisher has been turning his team's psychological dials and knobs for months. He said the Seminoles aren't interested in being called "defending national champions."

"When you talk about defending, it makes you defensive," Fisher said.

So Fisher is pushing the appropriate buzz words and phrases: "One heartbeat. ... It's about everybody being committed. ... It's the power of preparation." You get the idea.

There is no argument about the talent level at Florida State. It is elite quality. In fact, Syracuse's Shafer still laughs at the memory of Winston towering over SU's middle linebacker Marquis Spruill in the 2013 game.

But as BC's Addazio said, "Everybody's beatable, no question."


TOP 10

1: Florida State

Ask FSU's Fisher about his team's two-deep roster and he breaks into spontaneous dance (well, not exactly, but he does smile). The only three things that can derail the Seminoles' goal of back-to-back national titles are the three things that undid Alabama a year earlier: complacency, injuries and history.


Hundley made the right decision to return for another season at Westwood. And I'd give my per diem, all $48 of it, just to watch Myles Jack get his ankles taped. A scheduling bonus for the Bruins: They get Stanford and Oregon at home.

3: Georgia

Probably a little high here, but every top 10 needs a few mini-reaches. The Bulldogs are FSU Jr. -- but without the proven quarterback. Then again, how many people had heard of Jameis Winston at this time last year?

4: Alabama

The Tide has a new offensive coordinator, new starting quarterback and, best of all, a supposed new attitude. Bama phoned it in against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. And even in those occasional minutes when it tried to resemble a Saban-coached team, the Sooners still whupped the Tide. Saban has called his players out in 2014. Will they listen? I'm going with yes.

5: Oregon

Mariota didn't come back so he could watch UCLA, USC or Stanford win the Pac-12. The Ducks have more talent than they have uniform combos. They also have lots to prove. Anything less than a CFP berth will be considered a failure.

6: Oklahoma

OK, Sooners, your coach planted a huge Big 12/OU flag in the national consciousness. You going to have his back? With this roster (loaded) and this schedule (all the real toughies at Norman or on a neutral field), Stoops' back looks safe. Probably a little too low of a ranking. But I'm pacing myself.

7: Baylor

If there is a football god, can he or she please arrange a CFP semifinal game between Baylor and Florida State. BU's Briles and FSU's Fisher sniped at each other during the offseason. It would be fun to see them trade play calls and death stares during a game. The Bears are at Texas and Oklahoma this year, but for what it's worth, Baylor beat both of those teams by a combined 71-22 in 2013.

8: South Carolina

Yes, Steve Spurrier's team has to face Georgia and travel to Auburn, Florida and Clemson, among others. They'll miss the underrated talents and leadership of quarterback Connor Shaw, and the mind-boggling skills of Jadeveon Clowney (and the double-teams he attracted). But it's never wise to dismiss the power of the Head Ball Coach.

9: Michigan State

The Spartans reflect the sensibilities of their coach, Mark Dantonio: understated, disciplined, persistent, tough. When you play Michigan State, you usually leave with fewer points and more bruise marks.

10: LSU

Most of the Tigers' schedule is tougher than honors calculus (Wisconsin, Mississippi State, at Auburn, at Florida [back to back], Ole Miss, Bama, at Arkansas and at Texas A&M), but on roster potential alone, I'm taking a flyer here.

Waiting List: Auburn, USC, Stanford, Ole Miss and North Carolina.


Who's in... the CFP final four:

Florida State vs. Alabama: Bama's Saban mentored FSU's Fisher. Fisher paid him the highest compliment by building the Seminoles in Bama's image.

UCLA vs. Georgia: The Bruins haven't played Georgia since 1983, and before that, 1943. Anyway, Myles Jack meet Todd Gurley.