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They start playing for keeps this week in District 21-5A

This is the week Aldine ISD’s four varsity head coaches have been pointing towards since practices began on Aug. 13, the start of the District 21-5A season. AISD and Spring Branch schools will begin contending for the league’s three playoff spots this weekend, and from the looks of things, it should be a competitive district race.

If its first two games are any indication, Eisenhower (the Eagles’ third game was played after this column was printed) appears to be the class of league, but there are a handful of other clubs out there that will give Richard Carson’s team a run for their money during 21-5A play.

Before we take a look at the first week of 21-5A play, let’s review last week’s abbreviated results. Due to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, there were no games played in the NFL or in the NCAA. I went 2-2 in the four high school games that were played to bring the early-season record to 10-6 (62 percent).

Now let’s take a look at the first week of District 21-5A play.

Aldine vs. Northbrook: The Mustangs picked up their first win two weeks ago by blasting LaPorte 34-6 behind the play of quarterback Brandon Green. Green returned a kickoff for one score and scored three other touchdowns. Look for the more of the same this week as Aldine’ s overall talent will be too much for Northbrook to handle. My pick, Aldine 36, Northbrook 14

Memorial vs. MacArthur: The Generals stubbed their toes in their second outing of the week, and things don’t get any easier this week when they take on a talented and experienced Memorial squad in Thorne Stadium. MacArthur needs to get off to a good start in district and to do so against this bunch, they will have to contain running back Matt Young, who is one of the Houston area’s top ground threats. Young can also hurt teams with his kicking leg, as evidenced by the 50-yard field goal he booted a year ago. Hopefully, the Generals will be healthier for this one than they were two weeks ago in their loss to Klein Oak. Playing at home should help. My pick, MacArthur 23, Memorial 21

Eisenhower vs. Nimitz: The Eagles open defense of their 21-SA title against a Nimitz team that has designs on wrestling the title away, but they will have to play much better than they did in Week 2 in their loss to Westfield. Eisenhower will present a balanced offense against the Cougars, which means when Nimitz has the ball they will need to control the clock with their running game. If Nimitz has worked out the kinks from two weeks ago, this could turn into an entertaining and close tilt. Still, my hunch is to go with the more experienced team. My pick, Eisenhower 24, Nimitz 18

Now let’s take a look at the NCAA schedule, where a number of key match-ups are on tap.

Texas Tech at Texas: The Horns and Red Raiders open their Big 12 seasons in what could turn out to be a high-scoring affair in Austin. This should be Texas’ first real test of the season as they will take on a Tech team that can score from anywhere on the field. The problem is the Tech defense tends to give up a lot of yards and big plays, which won’t work about UT’s plethora of talent on offense. My pick, Texas 34, Texas Tech 20

Notre Dame at Texas A&M: The Irish pay a visit to loud and raucous Kyle Field this Saturday, but if history holds true, ND will leave the Lone Star State with another victory. Since 1994, Notre Dame has played in Texas three times (twice in Dallas and once in Austin) and all three times they have left with victories. Look for more of the same this weekend. Although the Irish looked terrible against Nebraska in their season opener, they’ve had three weeks to improve their game and hopefully, settle on a quarterback. Even though sophomore Matt Lovechio led ND to seven wins a year ago, this team’s future should be put in the hands of fellow sophomore Carlisle Holloway. He’s a better runner with a strong arm. The Aggies’ youth has shown through in struggles against McNeese State and Wyoming and with starting wide receiver Bethel Johnson possibly lost for the season, quarterback Mark Farris will need to find a new favorite target. My pick, Notre Dame 24, Texas A&M 14

Mississippi State at Florida: It’s pay back time for the Gators. A year ago, Mississippi State routed Steve Spurner’s team in Starkville, so you’d better believe he will have his troops ready to return the favor this weekend. With two weeks to prepare for this game, look for Florida to come out clicking on all cylinders. My pick, florida 31, Mississippi State 10

Kansas State at Oklahoma: This is a key early-season match-up in the Big 12 between two teams that have more than the Big 12 title on their minds. A year ago, the Sooners waltzed into Manhattan and returned home with a 41-31 victory and this time around OU is better and seasoned for another run at the national title. The Wildcats turned a lot of heads around the country when they defeated USC in their opener 10-6. Look for the defenses to step it up in this one, and the nod goes to OU because of more talent on that side of the ball. My pick, Okiahoma 22, Kansas State 17

LSU at Tennessee: This one will tell LSU fans if their team is ready to contend with the big boys of the SEC, and the rest of the country. Head coach Nick Saban has done a remarkable job of making the Tigers contenders in one season, but how they play this weekend at Tennessee (against one of the premier programs in the nation) will tell their fans how far they will go this year, and in the future. LSU is led by quarterback Rohan Davie, a talented quarterback who can beat you with his arm and his legs. Davie will be going up against one of the country’s top defenses, so something has to give. I could see an upset here, but something tells me the Vols will do just enough on offense to pull out a tight one at home. My pick, Tennessee 16, LSU 15

Now let’s take a look at the NFL, where the defending Super Bowl champs get their first real test of the season.

Baltimore at Denver: The Ravens venture west to take on a Denver team they handled with ease in the playoffs a year ago, but this time around, the Broncos are healthy and will be out for revenge. Denver looked sharp (especially the passing game) in its 31-14 season-opening win over the Giants two weeks ago, while the Ravens struggled to a 17-7 win over the hapless Bears. Denver not only threw the ball all over the field, but running back Terrell Davis looked the best he has in three years. If he’s back, the sky could be the limit for Denver. Look for an emotionally charged up Denver team to stick it to the Ravens, who will be playing their second straight road game. My pick, Denver 31, Baltimore 16

Miami at St. Louis: This could be the best game of the weekend in the NFL. The Dolphins proved they can move the ball in their season-opening win over Tennessee, while the Rams proved they have indeed improved things on defense (we all know what they are capable of doing on offense) in their 20-17 overtime win at Philadelphia two weeks ago. I’d go with the Rams here since it’s their season opener, but don’t be surprised if Miami pulls off another upset this week. My pick, St. Louis 27, Miami 20

New Orleans at NY Giants: The Saints seem to have all the pieces in place to make a serious run at the Super Bowl this year, which will be played in the Superdome (how convenient!).
Another win on the road against a quality opponent will force a lot of teams to take notice that last year’s season was no fluke. Quarterback Aaron Brooks looks comfortable now that he’s been named the starter and tailback Ricky Williams adds another dimension to the team with his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. But don’t expect the Giants to go quietly. They still have plenty of weapons and one of the league’s best defenses. Look for Kerry Collins to use the pass to set up the run in this one as the Giants get by the Saints. Another thing to keep in mind (perhaps the most important), this will be the Giants first home game since the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11. The Giants and their fans will definitely be emotional. My pick, New York Giants 26, New Orleans 21.

San Francisco at New York Jets: Yes, the Giants play at home on Sunday and the Jets on Monday night. As was mentioned above, emotion will play a huge role in this game. The Jets want to help continue the heeling process in the city, and what a better way to do that than to pick up a win in front of the entire nation on Monday night. This should be an entertaining game to watch at SF quarterback Jeff Garcia and his stable of talented receivers will try to play pitch and catch against a suspect New York defense. On the other hand, look for the Jets to try and control the clock with running back Curtis Martin. It’s going to be tough to pick against either New York team this weekend, so I won’t. My pick, New York Jets 31, San Francisco 27.