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Draft King Analysis

September 8, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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The NFL season is here, and pro football fans were treated to a thriller between the Saints and Packers in Green Bay. The Packers won 35-27, with Saints rookie RB Mark Ingram being stopped just shy on the goal line on a running play attempted on one untimed down following a pass interference call against Green Bay in the end zone. I'll have more NFL talk on here tomorrow, but exciting games like tonight's kickoff to the season provided a reminder of why the NFL is so popular and why fans were so concerned that the lack of a new CBA might delay the season.

If you're not up to speed on what's been going on in the world of big business college football, last summer the slow carving up of the Big XII began with Colorado leaving for the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) and Nebraska jumping ship for the Big Ten, creating the awkward situation of the Big Ten having twelve teams and the Big XII having ten teams. There have been rumblings that the Big XII would try to find two replacement members, with Arkansas supposedly having received overtures recently, but the reality is that it will soon be as dead as the old Southwest Conference (RIP SWC) as the era of super-conferences draws near.

Know this from the drop: it's a giant money-grab, with larger conferences meaning more media markets and, in turn, the chance to negotiate more lucrative contracts from broadcasting outlets. In the era of DVR and on-demand viewing, live sports is one of the few forms of entertainment that keeps an audience watching through commercials breaks, not to mention show promos shoehorned in between plays, making ad space in those broadcasts very valuable. The stakes are huge for all involved.

The crazy thing is that, if there end up being four 16-team super-conferences, we'll be in position to have something akin to a playoff -- at least for the big four. The Big Ten/Pac-16 champs can meet in the Rose Bowl, the SEC/ACC (or Big East) champs can meet in the Sugar Bowl, and the winners of those two games can play for the BCS National Championship. It's not fair to the have-nots and the schools on the outside looking in, but it's not fair for them now. Doubt it? Ask TCU, which went undefeated in 2010, beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, and didn't receive anywhere near their due for it.

One potential stumbling block is how major independents might play into the mix. BYU and Texas both have their own networks now, while Notre Dame has been rather rigid about staying independent in football and having all of its home games broadcast on NBC. But BYU might be a have-not, whereas Texas may be enticed to join the Pac-16 and fold the Longhorn Network into it, whereas for Notre Dame it might be last night for admission into the Big Ten. The Irish already play Michigan and Michigan State and Purdue regularly, so it wouldn't require an outright gutting of its schedule.

In tonight's thrashing of Arizona by Oklahoma State, Justin Blackmon cracked the 100 yard receiving mark yet again (along with scoring two TDs), keeping his 13-for-13 streak of 100+ yard receiving games from 2010 going into this season. On the flip side, after celebrating the return of Arizona WR Juron Criner last weekend, he had to miss tonight's game due to an emergency appendectomy. Criner is expected to be back in two-to-four weeks, but it's interesting that after all of the mystery surrounding him this summer and whispers about his health circulating, he returned, looked great, and then fell victim to appendicitis.

Criner's appendix health emergency came at an inopportune time, since he missed tonight's game with #9 Oklahoma State, and Arizona's next two games are home battles against #6 Stanford on 9/17/2011 and #13 Oregon on 9/24/2011. With a trip to Los Angeles to play Southern Cal following on 10/1/2011, the Wildcats face the ominous possibility of beginning the 2011 season 1-4, with all four losses potentially coming in games where they wouldn't have Criner available. Sometimes life's not fair.

Top college games to watch this weekend

Friday, September 9, 2011
Florida International at Louisville (7:00 p.m. EDT, ESPN): Don't expect anything similar to the TCU/Baylor classic from last Friday night -- that's not the way it usually works with Friday night college football games. But this is much more than what a novice might presume would be a one-sided game; FIU is only a 3-to-4 point underdog depending on the book. Louisville came out on top against I-AA/FCS Murray State 21-9 last week, while Florida International gave North Texas a 41-16 beating in Miami. FIU senior wide receiver T.Y. Hilton will be someone to watch. In last week's win over North Texas, Hilton posted 283 all-purpose yards for the Golden Panthers. Keep an eye on #4 for Florida International tomorrow night.

Saturday, September 9, 2011
Mississippi State at Auburn (12:20 p.m. EDT, SEC Network): After the Auburn Tigers had to rally from down 10 late at home against Utah State last week, they will try to reverse their fortune as they play host to the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the SEC conference-opener for both teams. Last year it was Auburn winning a squeaker in Starkville, but this time around, with QB Cam Newton and DT Nick Fairley gone to the NFL, the Bulldogs are the favorite to win against the defending SEC and BCS champs.

TCU at Air Force (3:30 p.m. EDT, Versus): Last year, Texas Christian went unbeaten. This season the Horned Frogs are off to an 0-1 start after last Friday's early "game of the year" candidate against Baylor on a blistering hot night in Waco. Vegas expects a close game here, with Air Force and its triple-option offense facing a TCU defense featuring two solid linebackers in Tank Carder and Tanner Brock.

South Carolina at Georgia (3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN): Adam Kramer posted a question last Saturday asking who his readers thought would be favored in this Saturday's South Carolina/Georgia game, indicating that he believed it would be a pick 'em. I disagreed, posting a response predicting the Gamecocks by 3. Right now the books all list SCar as a 3 point favorite (see the value in following me on Twitter?), but I anticipate the Gamecocks laying the lumber down on a Georgia team that is on the verge of ending the Mark Richt era in Athens if it gets off to a slow start out of the gate. Georgia has some talent on its roster, particularly on its interior offensive line, and potential with redshirt sophomore DL Kwame Geathers.

South Carolina has the best running back in college football in Marcus Lattimore (he'd be the #1 RB on my Draft King and a surefirst first-round pick in my 2012 Mock Draft if was actually eligible to apply for entry into the 2012 Draft, which as a true sophomore he isn't) and one of the two best wide receivers in the college game today with 6'4" 230 pound junior Alshon Jeffery. Maybe I'm wrong about UGA, but if Georgia wants to be a legit player in the SEC East this fall, this is a game the Bulldogs have to win.

Devon Still
Penn State DT Devon Still is an excellent interior lineman. (Icon SMI)
Alabama at Penn State (3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN): I'm going to keep writing about how loaded Alabama is on here until the mainstream media figures out just how deep this Crimson Tide team is. Yes, the Crimson Tide don't have Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, or Julio Jones anymore. But the recruiting train has been running at full speed for some time, with the masterful Nick Saban (who never gets the full credit he deserves as a great recruiter, IMO) having plenty of five-star quality recruits to fill in the gaps and top recruits from two and three years ago stepping up to fill key starting spots and provide depth with guys that might be starting for lesser programs.

Don't sell Penn State short: Silas Redd is a talented RB, and redshirt senior DT Devon Still is a disruptive force who might work his way into being a 2012 first-round pick with his ability to pressure the QB for the 4-3 DT position, something appealing to any NFL team running a 4-3. But there's good... and then there's elite, and this Alabama team is an elite group. Running the table in the SEC, plus visiting Beaver Stadium for a road tilt with Penn State, might seem like too tall of a task for any team. But, if there's any team with the talent and the depth and the skill to pull it off, it's Alabama. I urge people to watch not because I expect a close game (I don't), but because the Crimson Tide is absolutely loaded and poised to steamroll over every team in its path this fall.

Notre Dame at Michigan (8:00 p.m. EDT, ABC): It was grand opening, grand closing for Notre Dame redshirt junior QB Dayne Crist, who started and struggled in the Fighting Irish's opener against USF. ND has two bona fide 2012 first round NFL prospects in senior WR Michael Floyd and redshirt junior MLB Manti T'eo, while Michigan features one of the most fun offenses to watch in all of college football with junior QB Denard Robinson. Robinson, at 5'11" 195 pounds, is too small to play the traditional NFL QB role, but on the college level he is one of those rare players who has the capacity to wow you on any play.

Something extra for this rivalry game is that this is the first-ever night game at the Big House, which at long last has been equipped with lights. Traditionalists might not like the addition of lights there, but in my opinion it was long overdue, and it provides Notre Dame and Michigan with a prime time Saturday night platform on which to do battle.


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