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I realize I could be describing almost any time after Saint Paddy's Day. In this case, though, we're suddenly looking at the end of August and something's in the air.
It's probably pollen, because I keep sneezing—but that's not important right now. What I'm getting at it is that football season is upon us—and the first college games are tonight.
In that spirit, as one of the college game's biggest fans, I'll be bringing my finite wisdom to a rundown of key matchups this season, focusing on the Big Ten, Notre Dame, and the biggest national showdowns—and perhaps I'll even take the occasional glimpse at the Cincinnati Bearcats on behalf of their most enthusiastic Chicago booster, my colleague Kevin Warwick.
Without further ado, here's how I think the games will play out in week one:
Michigan State over Boise State: The No. 13 Spartans lost their great quarterback Kirk Cousins and all of their playmaking receivers from last year. But they've got a great running game and a stubborn defense returning, and the No. 24 Broncos lost even more. Plus, if I don't pick MSU, my Spartan lady won't talk to me all weekend.
Minnesota over UNLV: It's not basketball season. It's certainly not the 1990 basketball season. Gopher quarterback MarQueis Gray will run past the Runnin' Rebels.
Ohio State over Miami (Ohio): Coach Urban Meyer will stop stealing recruits from other schools long enough to lead the Buckeyes to a victory in his first game at the helm.
Ohio over Penn State: Ohio was good last year, going 10-4 out of the Mid-American Conference, which they'll have a good shot of winning this season. Penn State? Frankly, I can't feel that it matters. I thought the football program should have been banned from playing for a year or two after the horrific child abuse cover-up was revealed. Instead the NCAA hit the program in other ways. The bottom line in this game: Ohio is a challenging first opponent. Penn State will be trying to find its footing—hell, the band won't even be allowed to play "Sweet Caroline" anymore. I'm going with the Bobcats.
Northwestern over Syracuse: Love is blindness. Opening on the road in the Carrier Dome is a tough draw for a team with lots of question marks—even if Syracuse has been less than great in recent years. But NU coach Pat Fitzgerald reportedly has a new game plan this season: the Cats are going to try playing defense. I still say Northwestern is the most interesting 6-7 team around.
Illinois over Western Michigan: You could say the Illini faded in 2011. You could also say they started 6-0 and ended up finishing 7-6. Either way you'd be on the money. Western isn't bad at all—QB Alex Carder helped them hang with Illinois before falling 23-20 a year ago. But with a new coach and 18 returning starters, the Illini should take this one.
Purdue over Eastern Kentucky: Who cares? Wake me up if the Boilers don't win by 20. Come to think of it, I'd rather keep sleeping.
Nebraska over Southern Miss: Remember last year, when the Huskers were supposed to run through the Big Ten in their first year in the conference? That was before they lost to Wisconsin. And Michigan. And even Northwestern. (Let me pause a moment to recall that beautiful day.) Something tells me they'll be hungry this season. The Golden Eagles were a bowl team last year—but so was just about everyone but me and my drinking buddies.
Iowa over Northern Illinois: The Hawkeyes run an offense that generally bores its opponents into submission. Yet they always lose one of their first games to a team they shouldn't, usually the Iowa State Cyclones. Northern is promising and will have a much shorter trip to the game site, Soldier Field. But Iowa fans go everywhere their team does, so the Huskies won't have a home field advantage, and I'm betting the Hawkeyes won't suffer a Chicago-area setback until October 27 in Evanston.
Wisconsin over Northern Iowa: Even so, I'm tired of the Wisconsin Badgers.
Indiana over Indiana State: The IU grads in my family—and there are a lot of them—are despairing. That means it's September and basketball season is still months off. Their football team has had its share of downs and not that many ups, but they play lots of young passionate guys . . . . Anyway, they'll manage to beat the Sycamores.
Notre Dame over Navy: Coach Brian Kelly suspended a couple of his players this week, and a slow start in Dublin will make his head turn its customary purple. But as long as it doesn't actually explode before the first half is over, the Irish will come up with an emotional win before thousands of Irish.
And the game of the week . . .
No. 8 Michigan over No. 2 Alabama: That's right—Michigan! Everybody's going with Alabama for the simple reason that they've had the most frightening program in the country the last few years. Did all these so-called experts consider the fact that the Tide will be replacing more than half the defense from last year's national-championship squad, and Wolverine QB Denard Robinson is a wily fellow on the field? Yes, they probably did—Alabama is deep and talented. Let's face it—this is a matter of (desperate) rust belt pride. Yeah, I still have some left despite the SEC's sickening domination of the college game—six straight national titles. In conclusion: FUCK BAMA.