Between dodging grenades from disaffected fans and trying to pick a quarterback, USC football coach Lane Kiffin said something this week worth repeating: “Everybody always wants to talk about how a team plays the year before and what that means. As we’ve seen, the year before means nothing.”
True statement. Few perceptions are so heavily based on last season as they are in college football, and none are so apt to be faulty. Ask Washington what last season was worth. Ask Boise State. Ask Oregon State or Kansas State.
In the college game, unlike the NFL, the new acquisitions are more likely to be unknown quantities — an unproven true freshman, a player who redshirted last year. Had anybody heard of Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M began its 2012 season?
So we make grand (and often uninformed) judgments based on last year’s record, returning starters, etc. In reality, those are only a couple of gallons in a vast sea that includes things like motivation, chemistry, players coming off injuries, etc.
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Long story short: Every season is a fresh box of chocolates, each with its own surprises. Good thing.
Saturday’s best games, chronologically:
Florida (AP No. 12) at Miami, 9 a.m., ESPN: This is a series with a lot of old animosity, reflected in the infamous “Florida Flop“ of 1971, when the Gators collectively took a dive (literally) to get the ball back so John Reaves could set an NCAA career passing record. Now the series is unlikely to continue if the SEC goes, as expected, to nine league games in 2014.
People are already ripping Florida for its lethargic offense, but it’s the defense that must contain Miami’s phenomenal soph runner, Duke Johnson.
Cincinnati at Illinois, 9 a.m., ESPN2: A chance for Washington fans to check out the Illini (1-0), next week’s opponent, which is already getting grilled by the local press. After a tenuous opening win over Southern Illinois, the lead in the Chicago Sun-Times read: “For all we know, Illinois’ first and last victory of the season came and went Saturday.”
Oregon (2) at Virginia, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 4: Ducks make their first trip to an ACC stadium, and it’s only the third top-three team to play in Charlottesville. Last time Oregon played this far east was Rich Brooks’ debut game against Georgia in 1977. Cavaliers survived last week with a late forced turnover and touchdown against BYU, becoming the first FBS team this century to win despite punting 13 times.
South Carolina (6) at Georgia (11), 1:30 p.m., ESPN: Here’s Saturday’s headliner, made more intriguing when the Gamecocks’ Jadeveon Clowney included Georgia QB Aaron Murray among a group of quarterbacks that were “scared“ of him. (If Murray is, can you blame him?) Clowney endured a lot of scrutiny for uninspired play last week against North Carolina, so he’ll have a lot of binoculars trained to him. Georgia leads the series, 46-17-2, but Steve Spurrier’s guys have won three straight.
Texas (15) at BYU, 4 p.m., ESPN2: Fair to say Mack Brown has icon status in Texas, and also fair to say there’s some murmuring about how his Longhorns could have gone 11-15 in Big 12 games over the past three years. So 2013 represents a referendum on whether his program, which returns 19 starters, is ready to return to the nation’s elite. Guess who leads the series? Why, BYU, at 2-1, including a 47-6 romp in 1988 (and you wonder how that was received in Texas).
Notre Dame (14) at Michigan (17), 5 p.m., ESPN: All the buzz has been about the death of a rivalry, as Notre Dame has ended it after next year due to commitments in the ACC. That, of course, led to the “chickening out“ remarks from Michigan coach Brady Hoke. Of more immediate concern is which team can position itself to do something really big with a victory.
Washington State at USC (25), 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1: Memory lane: Last time the Cougars played USC in the second game of a season, it was 1997. WSU won in LA, 28-21 and went on to its first Rose Bowl in 67 years. No current Cougar has played a game in the LA Coliseum, and WSU hasn’t beaten USC since a golden night in Pullman in 2002 when the Cougars won in overtime in another Rose Bowl season.
San Jose State at Stanford (5), 8 p.m. Pac-12 Networks: Here’s how much cachet the Cardinal commands these days: Luke Kaumatule hasn’t yet caught a pass, yet he’s on the Mackey Award watch list for top tight end in the nation. Spartans’ capable quarterback, David Fales, has his work cut out against a voracious Stanford defense.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org