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Posts published in “Columnists – Keeney’s Korner”

Horns face tough road test at A&M


Before we delve into this week’s game, I’d like to wish all of you a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Even during these tough economic times, we have so much to be thankful for, namely living in the great country on the face of the earth. You have to love living in a land where we dedicate an entire day to feeding ourselves, and watching football from noon until midnight. What a country!

Speaking of football, there will be plenty of it this Thanksgiving weekend and even though the college season is winding down, there are still a number of key games to be played in the next two weeks.

One of those games comes Thursday night when the Texas Longhorns travel to College Station to take on their arch rivals, the Texas A&M Aggies in a prime time affair on ESPN. Texas should enter this game having already wrapped up the Big 12 South title (they would have accomplished that with a win at home over Kansas this past Saturday) and a trip to the Big South title game Dec. 5 in Arlington. Mack Brown’s team knows even one loss this late in the season could ruin their chance of landing a spot in the BCS title game opposite the winner of the Alabama-Florida game, also set for Dec. 5. The Aggies would love nothing more than to spoil UT’s season, so expect a fired up bunch of Ags come Thursday night.

On Sunday, the Texans host Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts could still be undefeated when they arrive at Reliant Stadium on Sunday. They did have to play at Baltimore last Sunday against a Ravens team that is playing for its playoff life from here on out. Even if the Colts come in with one loss, they are still the best team in the AFC and if the Texans are serious about earning a playoff slot, they will have to start beating the best teams in their conference to make other AFC teams take notice. This should be a good one to watch this Sunday.

Before we take a look at those two games and a host of others, let’s review last week’s record. An 8-4 mark upped the season record to 74-53 (58 percent). Time is running short, which means it’s time to put a run together to get over the 60 percent mark.

NCAA

Texas at Texas A&M: You can throw out the records when these two bitter rivals square off in Kyle Field on Thanksgiving night. The Aggies know a win over Texas will make their season and with this being the 10th anniversary of the tragic bonfire accident, which claimed the lives of 12 Aggies, A&M will be doubly fired up when the Longhorns come calling. UT quarterback Colt McCoy and his mates are well aware of the troubles they’ve had with the Aggies since they put on the orange and white uniforms. They have lost two of the last three meetings with the Aggies, but this is a mentally stronger Texas squad and it knows it cannot afford any slip-ups at this point of the season. Texas struggled in the running game early in the season, but it appears they have found a solution with the insertion of bullish tailback Cody Johnson into the starting lineup. The 250-pounder has power and enough speed to keep defenses honest. While Johnson has added another dimension to the UT offense, look for McCoy to factor more in the running game starting Thursday night against the Aggies. My pick, Texas 31, Texas A&M 23

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma: This has been a tough year for Bob Stoops and the Sooners. Injuries have decimated a team that had high hopes entering the season. Oklahoma State also entered the year with BCS dreams, but an early-season loss to Houston and a subsequent loss to Texas pretty much dashed those hopes. The Cowboys can still pick up their 10th win of the season and probably a Cotton Bowl berth with a win at Norman, which is easier, said than done. OU plays well at home, just ask the Aggies. Two weeks ago, the Sooners took the Aggies apart en route to a 65-10 victory. I don’t expect OU to put up 65 points on an OSU squad that has an explosive offense of its own, but I do look for the Sooners to pull out all the stops as they look to avoid losing for a fifth time this season. This should be a high-scoring game, but the nod goes to the home standing Sooners who play better defense than do the Cowboys. My pick, Oklahoma 38, Oklahoma State 34

Alabama at Auburn: It’s been stated in this space for years that this is one of the nastiest rivalries in the history of college football. These two schools literally hate one another, which only fuels the fire when their football teams meet on the gridiron. This is a tough game for the Crimson Tide to play what with the SEC title game against Florida looming in a week. Nick Saban does not want to suffer any major injuries in what should be a very physical football game, but don’t look for Saban to rest any of his key starters on either side of the football. He knows his troops need to be razor sharp heading to Atlanta for their showdown with Tim Tebow and the Gators, so look for the Tide to roll early and take an Auburn team that has struggled since the midway point of the season out before halftime. Look for running back Mark Ingram to have a big game as he states his case in the Heisman Trophy race. My pick, Alabama 33, Auburn 15

Notre Dame at Stanford: Prior to the start of the 2008 season, Notre Dame fans had high hopes that this would be the year head coach Charlie Weiss delivered on his promise to make the Irish relevant again as a top 10 program and a player in the BCS title hunt. Well, those dreams have been dashed as ND entered last Saturday’s game at home against Connecticut with four losses and rising speculation that Weiss will be removed as head coach at the end of this season. And while many Irish fans circled this one as a win, they may be pulling out the erasers after seeing what Stanford has done in the last few weeks. They blew out Oregon earlier this month and followed that impressive win up with a 55-21 trouncing at USC. Stanford has the nation’s leading rusher in senior tailback Toby Gerhart. Gerhart is a punishing runner and that’s not good news for a Notre Dame defense that gives up chunks of yards and is not the best tackling bunch around. If the Irish hope to hang around in this one on Saturday night, they’d better hope quarterback Jimmy Clausen and the offense rediscover the magic they had earlier in the season, if not, this could be another long night for Weiss and his team. It says here, Irish eyes won’t be smiling after this one and the powers that be will either have to pay Weiss $18 million to part company, or give him one more year to turn things around. My pick, Stanford 36, Notre Dame 24

NFL

Green Bay at Detroit: The Lions host the annual Thanksgiving kickoff game and this year, they should give the Packers a game. Sure, Detroit has one win, but this team plays hard and has a talented, young quarterback in Matthew Stafford. That being said, the Lions will be taking on a Packers team that got itself back into the NFC Wild Card hunt thanks to its 17-7 win over Dallas two weeks ago. If the Packer defense plays like it did against the Cowboys, they should be able to pick up the win on Thursday. Look for GB QB Aaron Rodgers to have a big day as he attacks the Lions’ secondary early and often. Detroit will make this a competitive game, but the Packers’ experience and weapons on offense should be the difference in this one. My pick, Green Bay 30, Detroit 22

Oakland at Dallas: Just what the doctor ordered for the Cowboys after stinking things up two weeks ago at Green Bay. The Raiders are the tonic for any team that is ailing, especially a team that is a serious playoff contender as the Cowboys are. They didn’t look like much of a playoff game two weeks ago against the Packers, but perhaps that game served as a wake up call for this team. The Cowboys are a good team, but not a great one and it appeared too many of them were reading their press clippings after their win at Philadelphia the week before. The Green Bay game was a slap in the face, especially to the offense that hard its worst game of the season. Quarterback Tony Romo and mates need to come out smoking against an Oakland team that is down right awful. Get the running game going, which should open up Romo’s passing game. Defensively, look for DeMarcus Ware and Co. to make it a long and unhappy Thanksgiving Day for Oakland QB Jemarcus Russell. My pick, Dallas 31, Oakland 13

New York Giants at Denver: The Thanksgiving Day triple-header concludes that night when the Giants travel to Denver to take on the Broncos. This is an important game for both teams who after getting off to strong starts have struggled in the last month. The Giants won their first five games before losing four straight, while the Broncos won their first six before losing four straight, so something has to give in this one. Look for the Giants to establish the running game early, while the Broncos will look to attack a beat up NY secondary by sending Brandon Marshall deep. Kyle Orton sustained a sprained ankle two weeks ago against the Redskins, but he should be ready to go Thursday night. Something tells me the high altitude will also play a factor in this one as the Broncos get back on the winning side of things. My pick, Denver 23, New York 20

Arizona at Tennessee: The Cardinals take on a Titans team that has suddenly found new life with Vince Young at quarterback and it helps that running back Chris Johnson has become the leading rusher in the NFL and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field thanks to his blazing speed. But the Cards are proving to be true road warriors this season as they’ve won four road games thus far this season. Kurt Warner will face an improving Titans defense, but he should make all the plays he needs thanks to the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquin Bolden. Look for the Titans to once again feed Johnson the ball, but he will be facing a stiff run defense. This should be an entertaining game to watch, but something tells me Young will be the difference maker in this one as the Titans continue their winning ways. My pick, Tennessee 26, Arizona 23

Indianapolis at Houston: This is the Texans’ chance to send a statement to the rest of the NFL that they can play with the best teams in the NFL. It won’t be easy, but the Texans have played the Colts tough at home the last three years. It will be imperative for the offense to get off to a good start against an Indy defense that is beaten up, especially in the secondary. Look for Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub to have big days against the Colts secondary as the Texans come out slinging the ball all over the yard. But the Colts have a pretty fair QB of their own in Peyton Manning, who is having a MVP type season. He has a pretty decent WR to throw to himself in Reggie Wayne, who is having one of the best years of his career. This should be a high-scoring game, but something tells me Manning will make one more play than Schaub to pull out the victory. My pick, Indianapolis 31, Houston 27

Carolina at New York Jets: The Jets started off like gangbusters but have cooled off dramatically in the last five weeks, while the Panthers started off poorly and have turned things around thanks to their strong running game led by DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. That’s bad news for a Jets team that has had trouble stopping the run as of late. Look for another big rushing day from Carolina and look for their defense to pressure Jets’ rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez into a couple of key turnovers that should make the difference in this one. My pick, Carolina 24, New York Jets 18

Pittsburgh at Baltimore: Hide the women and children when as these two hard hitters and bitter rivals get it on on Sunday night in front of a national television audience on NBC. Last year, the Steelers defeated the Ravens three times en route to their sixth Super Bowl title. The Steelers know they need to win this one if they hope to defense their division title. They suffered a big blow two weeks ago when they lost to Cincinnati for the second time this season, which basically is a two-game swing in the division. The Ravens are also a desperate team and can ill afford too many more losses if they hope to return to the playoffs. Both defenses should dominate this game, but the edge goes to the Steelers because they have the better quarterback in Ben Rothlisberger. Sure, Big Ben did not have his best day against the Bengals, but he’s a proven big-game performer and enjoys playing under the bright lights. My pick, Pittsburgh 20, Baltimore 17

New England at New Orleans: The folks at ESPN have to be thanking their lucky stars, and the NFL schedule maker, that they landed this one for Monday Night Football. This game will pit two of the league’s best quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Drew Brees so expect plenty of offensive fireworks on Monday night. Two weeks ago, the Pats lost a heartbreaking 35-34 decision at Indianapolis when head coach Bill Belichick’s gamble on fourth down backfired. Don’t expect the Hoodie to make that mistake this time around. The Saints have taken on all challengers this year and beaten every one of them (heading into last Sunday’s game), but they showed a bit of a chink in their armor two weeks ago when the Rams were able to have a lot of success running the football. The Pats don’t have a Steven Jackson on their team, but look for them to run it when the Saints least expect it. Brady will come out flinging it as well as he and Randy Moss are having a lot of success with the deep routes this year. The Saints will also run at the Pats, but their bread and butter is Brees and the host of talented receivers he has at his disposal. The Saints want to prove to the rest of the NFL that they can beat the league’s best, and I expect them to treat this game like a playoff game. The Dome will be rocking as this one turns into a shootout with Brees making a play late to lead the Saints to victory. My pick, New Orleans 34, New England 31

Big doings in the SEC as Florida, ‘bama head to hostile territory

If you are a fan of SEC football, then this is a dream weekend for you. No. 1 Florida travels to Baton Rogue for a prime time meeting with No. 4 LSU, while No. 3 Alabama also hits the road to take on a Mississippi team that only two weeks ago was ranked No. 5 in the country.

Those two games should have a lot of impact on the division races (the SEC has an eastern and western division format) and could determine which two teams play for the SEC title game the first Saturday in December.

Before we take a look at those two games and a handful of others, we must first review last week’s record. A 7-5 mark brought the season record to a very mediocre 23-23 (53 percent). It’s definitely time to turn this thing around, starting this week!

HIGH SCHOOL

Eisenhower vs. Humble: Ray Evans’ Eagles opened District 19-5A play with a 31-28 win over Kingwood, which was the team’s third straight victory after a 0-2 start to the season. The Eagles have a dual threat in quarterback James Jones, who is hurting teams through the air and on the ground. Look for Jones to have another big night against Humble on Saturday in Thorne Stadium. My pick, Eisenhower 32, Humble 12

MacArthur vs. Kingwood: Bernie Mulvaney’s Generals have found the going tough thus far in the season, and they take on a Kingwood team that put up 28 points against Eisenhower two weeks ago in the district opener for both teams. The Generals need a win in the worst of ways, so look for a strong effort from the team on Friday night in Thorne Stadium. My pick, MacArthur 16, Kingwood 14

Nimitz at Atascocita: Robert Toomer’s team takes to the road to face an Atascocita team that won its first five games of the season and is putting up some impressive offensive numbers. They opened league play with a 31-0 win over MacArthur two weeks ago. The Cougars must have success on the ground if they hope to hand the Eagles their first loss of the season. My pick, Atascocita 23, Nimitz 21

NCAA

Oklahoma State at Texas A&M: The Aggies take a big step up in class when the high-scoring Cowboys come calling to kickoff A&M’s Big 12 season. In winning their first three games of the season, the Aggies averaged 45 points per game and quarterback Jerrord Johnson of Humble has been a big reason why. The 6-6 QB has passed for nine touchdowns and run for another four scores, but he’ll be facing a fast OSU defense that will be looking to make things difficult at Kyle Field. The Cowboys will bring a pretty decent offense of their own to Aggieland, and look for talented running back Kendall Hunter to return to make Zac Robinson and Co. all the more potent. My pick, Oklahoma State 36, Texas A&M 31

Wisconsin at Ohio State: Wisconsin won its first five games of the season, but they will get a real test when they hit the road for Columbus and the Horseshoe on Saturday. The Badgers will also have to contend with a pretty fair quarterback in Terrell Pryor come Saturday. Pryor has yet to have that “wow” sort of game, but this would be a good week for him to turn one in. The Badgers have shown an ability to throw the football early on this year, so the Ohio State defense will need to apply pressure if they hope to avoid being upset at home. Look for a bust out game from Pryor as the Buckeyes prove to be too much at home for Wisconsin. My pick, Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 24

Alabama at Mississippi: It’s been years since the Rebel faithful have hosted a game this big, so expect a loud and raucous crowd in Oxford on Saturday. The Crimson Tide have a history of playing in big games, so they won’t be intimidated, but you can bet your hounds tooth hat that that won’t look past a Ole Miss team that weeks ago was ranked No. 5 in the country. The key to a Rebel win will be how well quarterback Jevan Sneed performs. He was downright awful two weeks ago when his team was upset at South Carolina, but he’s the sort of player that has a short memory and will wipe that poor performance out of his mind. ‘Bama has received stellar play from quarterback Greg McElroy, who was unproven when the season began. Four games in, McElroy has been steady with 938 yards passing and seven touchdowns. It also helps to have a dependable running back in Mark Ingram and a defense that has given up 54 points in the team’s first four games. This game will come down to which quarterback does the best job of protecting the ball and this intangible: Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s team may be playing the best football in the nation and badly wants to win a national championship. A big road win would go a long ways towards sending a statement to the rest of the SEC and the nation. My pick, Alabama 23, Mississippi 20

Florida at LSU: What a day for the SEC. Two huge games and this one will be seen in primetime (I’m assuming on CBS), just as it was two years ago when the Tigers upended the then defending national champions en route to a national title of their own. Talk about re-living history. Florida returns to Death Valley defending a national title but they have one big question mark, the availability of Superman, errrr, quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow suffered a concussion two weeks ago after he took a vicious hit in his team’s win at Kentucky. He will have had two weeks to recover, but when you are dealing with a head injury, you don’t take chances, especially with a kid who has a chance at a career in the NFL. But if you know anything about Tebow, you know he’s a team first sort of guy. If he’s able to play, he’ll be out there, which is good for college football and this game. Florida has won, but hasn’t established itself as a dominating team as of yet. Urban Meyer’s team will be in for a real test against a fired up crowd and LSU team that won its first four games heading into last week’s game at Georgia. LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson must be poised and protect the football to give his team a chance to win and it would help if the Tigers can establish their running game early. Tebow’s health will be a major factor in this game, but the guy has proven himself time and time again during the last three years. Look for him to come through once again for the Gator faithful in a game that could propel them too much bigger things down the road. My pick, Florida 34, LSU 31

NFL

Houston at Arizona: Well, here we go again. Just when you want to start believing the Texans have turned the corner and will become a real NFL team, they fall flat on their face against a team they have owned over the last few years. Houston’s loss to Jacksonville two weeks ago was inexcusable, considering they were playing at home and coming off a season-saving come-from-behind win at Tennessee week earlier. It’s become apparent the Houston defense has some issues and that’s not a good thing heading into a game against pass happy Kurt Warner and the Cardinals. Warner did struggle two weeks ago and played one of his poorest games in years in his team’s 31-10 loss at home to the Colts, but don’t expect a repeat of that against the Texans. The Texans have been woeful against the run and while the Cardinals aren’t a great running team, they can fling it all over the field. This could turn into an offensive shootout, but something tells me Warner will make one more play than Matt Schaub to pull out the win. My pick, Arizona 34, Houston 31

New England at Denver: Denver head coach Josh McDaniel welcomes his old boss to the Mile High City when Bill Bellichick and the Patriots visit the surprising Broncos. New England appeared to begin putting things together two weeks ago in their 29-10 win over Atlanta, but they should get a test against a Denver team that is gaining confidence week by week. Denver’s defense is better than most expected, but it will receive a real test from Tom Brady, Randy Moss and running back Fred Taylor, who looked like his old self in the win over the Falcons (100+ yards rushing, one touchdown). When Denver has the ball, look for them to run the ball with rookie Knowhown Moreno and veteran Correll Bulkhalter to take pressure off quarterback Kyle Orton. In the end, look for the master to teacher the pupil a lesson he’ll never forget as the veteran Pats leave Invesco Field with a solid road win. My pick, New England 26, Denver 21

Dallas at Kansas City: The Cowboys had to work a lot harder than they wanted to in their 21-7 win two weeks ago at home against Carolina, and this week they travel to Kansas City to face perhaps one of the worst teams in the NFL. This is no week for the Cowboys to let down their guard. The young Chiefs would like nothing more than to meet the much-despised Cowboys at home. If Tony Romo plays within himself as he did against the Panthers, the Cowboys should take care of business. It would help if Marion Barber or Felix Jones, both of whom are nursing injuries, were available for this one. Third-team RB Tashard Choice is a solid backup, but he isn’t ready to carry the load. Look for the defense, which finally made some timely plays against Carolina, to apply pressure early and often against a porous KC offensive line. My pick, Dallas 26, Kansas City 13

Indianapolis at Tennessee: When the schedule makers picked this one for Sunday Night Football, they figured this would be a battle for first place in the AFC South. Now, it’s a game that Tennessee must win to stay alive in the division race after the Titans opened the season with three straight losses. It’s desperation time for Jeff Fisher’s team. The Colts, on the other hand, can play free and breezy (is it me, or is Peyton Manning putting together another MVP-type season?) thanks to the big cushion they have already built in the South. Manning has done a great job of spreading the ball around, and running back Joseph Addai looks like he did two years ago when he was one of the top five running backs in the league. The Titans will need to get Chris Johnson and Lindale White going early in this one to take pressure off of Kerry Collins. One thing Collins and the Titans will have going for them is the fact speedy defensive end Dwight Freeney should miss this game with a leg injury. I know the Titans must win this game, but something tells me Manning will be his usual cool self and lead his team to the win. My pick, Indianapolis 31, Tennessee 27

New York Jets at Miami: Rex Ryan brings his salty Jets to prime time on Monday night to take on a Dolphins team that lost its first three games and is going dealing with injury woes, most notably starting quarterback Chad Pennington, who was lost to the season with a dislocated passing shoulder two weeks ago at San Diego. Second-year QB Chad Henne will be facing a tough New York defense that will bring pressure all night long. It would behoove the Dolphins to get Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams untracked early in this one, or it could be a long night for Henne. The Jets have a young signal caller of their own in rookie Mark Sanchez, who has played brilliantly in his first three NFL games. This week, he’ll have to handle the glare of the national spotlight. Let’s see how he handles that. My pick, New York 23, Miami 21

2008 should be special one for state’s college, NFL fans

The 2008 football season kicks off Labor Day weekend, and what a season fans at all levels (high school, college and the NFL) could be in store for.

Optimism is running high at places like Eisenhower High School, where the Eagles return a strong nucleus from a team that finished 8-4 a year ago and is brimming with Division 1 talent. Texas Tech fans believe this is their year to finally contend for the Big 12 title (and rightfully so with a pair of Heismann Trophy candidates in quarterback Graham Harrell and wide receiver Michael Crabtree leading the way), while folks in Austin and College Station are planning to be heard from as well. And in the NFL, Texan fans are beginning to realize that head coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith have assembled a roster that has legitimate NFL talent and finally much-needed depth. And that team located north of Houston has visions of a Super Bowl dancing in their heads as they say good-bye to Texas Stadium before moving into Jerry Jones’ $1 billion palace in 2009.

Football fans of all ages should have plenty to talk about this season and before we return to our annual exercise in futility in trying to correctly pick the outcomes of games on a weekly basis, I’m going to look into my crystal ball and predict how the season will play out.

HIGH SCHOOL

Aldine ISD and Humble ISD have been reunited to make up this year’s District 19-5A. This should be one of the more competitive districts in the Houston area and could produce a team that goes far into the playoffs.

PLAYOFF TEAMS:

1. Eisenhower – First-year head coach Ray Evans’ team is loaded, led by defensive back Craig Loston (Texas Football Magazine’s Defensive Player of the Year), wide receiver Michael Timmons and quarterback Kenneth Guiton.

2. Humble

3. Nimitz – Head coach David Suggs will count on the legs of running back Michael Grice and quarterback Zach Rollins to lead the way while his youngsters get used to playing under the glare of the Friday night lights.

4. Aldine – Head coach Bob Jones lost a load of talent to graduation, but he’s optimistic there’s enough left in place to contend for the playoffs.

COLLEGES

Big 12 – North Champ: Missouri (Tigers are loaded and led by veteran quarterback Chase Daniels; South Champ: Oklahoma – Sooners get the edge over Tech due to better overall defense and the fact they get the Red Raiders at home, but look for Tech to land a BCS bowl and remember, Tech has beaten OU two of the last three years. I think this is the year Tech beats Texas and wins a minimum of 10 games.

SEC – West: LSU (Even with questions at quarterback, Les Myles team is loaded on both sides of the ball. The defending national champs will find a signal caller by the time the SEC schedule gets hot and heavy; East: Florida (I know the chique pick is Georgia, but the Bulldogs have lost players on and off the field and something tells me Florida head coach Urban Meyer has something up his sleeve this year, plus he has the returning Heismann Trophy winner Tim Tebow returning at quarterback.

Big 10 – It’s Ohio State and the 10 dwarves. Buckeyes are loaded and ready for another BCS title run. If they win at USC on Sept. 13, watch out.

Pac 10 – USC (Trojans simply reload, but quarterback Matt Sanchez is a question mark after dislocating his knee in preseason practice. Still, head coach Pete Carroll has enough talent to keep on rolling until Sanchez is fully healed).

BCS title game: Oklahoma over Florida

NFL

AFC East – New England: Patriots still class of this weak division, but might get challenged by the Jets now that No. 4 is under center.

AFC North – Steelers: have question marks on the offensive line, but they still have the best quarterback in the division and a solid defense.

AFC South – Indianapolis: Even though Peyton Manning did not participate in training camp, No. 18 can still produce with minimal practice time. He can run this offense in his sleep.

AFC West – San Diego: Norv Turner’s team grew up in the post-season and has the hunger for more.

Wild Cards – Jacksonville and Denver

AFC Title Game – San Diego over New England: Chargers finish the job this time around. As for the Texans, look for an 8-8 or 9-7 year, depending on how well they do in their first five games of the season. They have a much tougher schedule this year, but have improved in many areas. The key to their first winning season will be how well they can run the football, rush the passer the defend the pass. And don’t forget, they play in the toughest division in the AFC, which does not help matters.

NFC

NFC East – Dallas: Cowboys survive the league’s best division.

NFC North – Green Bay: Favre may be gone, but the Packers still have a young and very good defense and adequate replacement in Aaron Rodgers.

NFC South – Tampa Bay: Bucs have the best defense, which will be the difference over the offensive-minded Saints.

NFC West – Seattle: Seahawks send Mike Holmgren out in style.

Wild Cards – New York, Washington

NFC Title Game – Dallas over Seattle: Cowboys close Texas Stadium in style as Tony Romo finally finds success in the post season.

Super Bowl – Dallas over San Diego: A classic in the making?

Now, let’s take a look at what the Labor Day weekend has to offer.

HIGH SCHOOLS:

Clear Lake at Aldine – Young Mustangs get a good test right out of the block. My pick, Aldine 23, Clear Lake 21

Eisenhower at Hightower – Good Week 1 match up as two playoff teams go at it in Fort Bend County. My pick, Eisenhower 26, Hightower 23

Macarthur at Stafford – Both teams are rebuilding as former district rivals get after it at Tully Stadium. Mac’s ground game will be the difference in this one. My pick, MacArthur 17, Stafford 14 Elsik at Nimitz – Cougars’ running game should also be the difference in season-opener for Nimitz. My pick, Nimitz 24, Elsik 16

COLLEGES:

Wake Forest at Baylor – The Art Briles era begins in Waco as the Bears host a Wake Forest team that finished 9- 4 a year ago. Look for Briles to play veteran quarterback Blake Szmanski and super-talented freshman Robert Griffin as the Bears fling the ball all over the place. The Texas heat might also benefit the Bears in their Thursday night opener as the Briles era gets off to a positive start. My pick, Baylor 33, Wake Forest 28

Alabama vs. Clemson at Atlanta – A nice southern match up as Nick Saban begins his second year at the helm of the Crimson Tide. Clemson will be a formidable foe as many have picked Gary Bowden’s team to be the class of the ACC. Look for the Tide to be vastly improved from last year’s 7-6 team. Saban teams only get better from year one to year two. Don’t be surprised if Saban unleashes Julio Jones, a sensational freshman wide receiver at the Tigers in this one. My pick, Alabama 23, Clemson 20

Appalachian State at LSU – You had better believe that Myles will be reminding his Tigers that a year ago, Appalachian State marched into the Big House in Ann Arbor and upset the mighty Michigan Wolverines and it was no fluke. ASU is the two-time defending Division II champ and is led by quarterback Armanti Edwards, an electrifying threat on the ground and through the air. LSU’s defense will have its hands full, but they have enough depth to wear down ASU and open defense of their national title in grand style. My pick, LSU 34, ASU 23

Tennessee at UCLA – Labor Day weekend concludes with a good intersectional meeting between the SEC and the Pac 10. The Bruins and first-year head coach Rick Neuheisel go into this game against a talented Vols team having to rely on third-team quarterback Kevin Craft, a red shirt junior. The Bruins’ top two signal callers, Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan are out with injuries, and you can be sure the Vols’ defense is licking its chops at the prospects of harassing Craft all night long on ESPN. My pick, Tennessee 31, UCLA 15

Let the season begin!

NFL contenders hope Santa is good to them this weekend

‘Tis the week before Christmas, and all through the land, visions of playoff berths are swirling in many an NFL players head!
Yes, the Jolly Fat Man is about to deliver his goods on Christmas Day, but NFL players and coaches know what they want this year: a playoff berth.

This is also a great weekend for NFL fans, as eight games on the docket have playoff implications, which should make your holiday viewing all the more enjoyable.
Before we take a look at this week’s pivotal schedule, I want to wish each and everyone one of you a joyous and happy holiday season and want thank you for allowing me to write this weekly column. I hope I have provided you with some insight into the game, and a chuckle or two this season (OK, some may say my picks have been a joke, but let’s remember, it is THAT time of year, so be nice!). Last week’s 4-4 record brought the season record to 96-61 (63 percent) and with time running out on the season, it’s time to make a big finish.
NFL
Baltimore at Pittsburgh: The Ravens will probably enter this game having already wrapped up the AFC North title (they played the hapless Browns last Sunday needing one game to win the division), but Baltimore can still earn a first-round bye by winning out, coupled with an Indianapolis loss. These two teams despise one another, so expect a heated affair on Christmas Eve. The Ravens brutalized quarterback Ben Rothlisberger in their first meeting, which resulted in a 27-0 Ravens win, so look for the Steelers to be in payback mood this time around. Pittsburgh is its best football of the season and would like nothing more than to send the Ravens packing with a loss. My pick, Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 21
Cincinnati at Denver: Two teams heading in the opposite direction go at it in Denver as the surging Bengals take on the plummeting Broncos in a game that is crucial to both team’s playoff chances. Cincinnati is finally healthy and that has resulted in a late-season run to a Wild Card berth. Quarterback Carson Palmer once again looks confident under center and has guided his team to four straight wins heading into last Monday’s showdown at Indianapolis. Denver, on the other hand, has dropped four straight and appears destined to be watching the playoffs from home this year. Look for more big plays from Palmer and for running back Rudi Johnson to continue to chew up big chunks of yardage. Rookie quarterback Jay Cutler is improving, but a finally healthy Cinci defense may be too much for him to handle this week. My pick, Cincinnati 27, Denver 24
Indianapolis at Houston: There are now three certainties in life: death, taxes and the Colts winning against the Texans. Houston has never defeated Indianapolis in its five year existence and don’t expect that streak to end on Sunday in Reliant Stadium. The Colts need this game and will not look past even the Texans. Indy has struggled the last few weeks, but look for Peyton Manning and Co. to fire on all cylinders as they wrap up the AFC South with a relative easy win over the Texans. This could very well be David Carr’s swansong in Houston. It’s time for a change of scenery. My pick, Indianapolis 31, Houston 13
New England at Jacksonville: The suddenly surging Jaguars host the Patriots in a key game for both teams. The Jags’ running game continues to gain steam and wear down foes as they make a late-season run for a Wild Card berth, while the Pats have found that things aren’t as easy as they used to be when they were dominating the league a couple of years ago. NE quarterback Tom Brady looked confused two weeks ago in his team’s 21-0 loss at Miami, but look for him to bounce back this week as he starts leaning on his tight ends to make plays in the passing game. Brady will need to establish the pass because the Jags are tough to run against. When Jacksonville has the ball, the Pats will get a steady dose of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Those two ran wild against the Colts two weeks ago as each rushed in excess of 100 yards in their 44-17 route of Indy. This should be a tight game, with the edge going to Brady and his big-game experience. My pick, New England 23, Jacksonville 20
Tennessee at Buffalo: Guess that Vince Young kid CAN play a bit, right Texans’ front office? I still can’t get over that one! VY takes his magic to Orchard Park as the Titans look to continue their second-half run against a Buffalo team that has also been playing well down the stretch. The Bills dampened the Jets’ playoff chances two weeks ago with a 31-13 win at the Meadowlands as running back Willis McGahee ran over and through the New York defense. This should be a fun game to watch at both teams have opened up their offense in the second half of the season. Look for Young to turn more heads as he takes his act to upstate New York as the Titans look to close the year with a .500 record. My pick, Tennessee 27, Buffalo 25
Carolina at Atlanta: This is a big game for both teams as each clings on to their post-season lives. The Panthers are perhaps the biggest underachieving team this year. They entered the year with Super Bowl aspirations, but due to lackluster play at quarterback and on defense, they are in danger of not even earning a Wild Card spot. The Falcons, on the other hand, have righted the ship and are back in the playoff hunt. A year ago, Carolina rode into Atlanta and left with a convincing win in the final week of the season to qualify for the playoffs. Look for the tables to be turned this time around as Michael Vick uses his arms and legs to keep the Falcons alive in the Wild Card hunt. My pick, Atlanta 26, Carolina 21
New Orleans at New York Giants: It’s apparent the Saints are no fluke, as evidenced by their 42-17 win at Dallas two weeks ago. They face another stern road test this week when they visit a Giants team whose playoff chances are on life support. New York received a boost with its 27-13 win at Carolina two weeks ago to end their four-game losing skid. There should be plenty of offense in this one as Saints QB Drew Brees continues his assault on the single-season passing mark set by Dan Marino in 1984. It also helps that Reggie Bush is making big plays, giving Brees one more weapon with which to work. Look for Bush to have a big game playing in the media center of the world. New York quarterback Eli Manning looks like he’s playing better as well and would like nothing more than to defeat his hometown team (Eli grew up in New Orleans and his father and mother still reside there). Expect plenty of points in this one, but it says here the Saints magical season continues as they make one more play than the Giants do to pull this one out. My pick, New Orleans 33, New York 31
San Diego at Seattle: A good intra division showdown as LaDanian Tomlinson and mates travel to Starbucks Land to take on a Seattle team that has been up and down this year. The Seahawks suffered an embarrassing 27-21 loss at Arizona two weeks ago and want to start getting in playoff mode, so expect head coach Mike Holmgren to have them ready to play. They need to give Shaun Alexander plenty of work since he has missed so much time with a broken foot, but going up against San Diego’s stout front seven won’t be a walk in the park. Look for more of Tomlinson as he tries to put the season-season touchdown record out of reach. It’s conceivable that LT could have 30-plus touchdowns before the season is through. That’s amazing when you think about it. Even though the Chargers have already won the AFC West, they need to win out to secure home field advantage for the AFC playoffs. Seattle has also secured its division, but could earn a first-round bye is New Orleans slips down the stretch. Look for a competitive contest here, with Tomlinson being the difference maker for San Diego. My pick, San Diego 30, Seattle 28
Philadelphia at Dallas: Two weeks ago, the Cowboys had things in hand, and then came the Saints debacle. Now, they must come through with a win over the Eagles to wrap up the NFC East title and hold off a Philadelphia team that has gained confidence since its come-from-behind win over Carolina two weeks ago. One thing is for certain: If the Dallas defense does not play better than it has in the last three weeks, it won’t matter how the season ends because their stay in the playoffs will be short lived. On offense, the Cowboys need to continue to pound the football to give quarterback Tony Romo the space and time he needs to set up the passing game. Romo has looked like the undrafted free agent he was coming out of college in recent weeks, rather than the next Tom Brady. Defensively, Dallas must get a pass rush against the elusive Jeff Garcia, who has found new life since taking over for Donovan McNabb. The Cowboys also need to contain Bryan Westbrook if they hope to deliver a big present to their fans on Christmas afternoon. It says here they will. My pick, Dallas 26, Philadelphia 20

Things are looking up for the Houston Texans; Longhorns have shot at defending title

It’s been a long six months since the last football game of meaning was played in Detroit where the Pittsburgh Steelers finally got “one for the thumb” when they defeated Seattle in the Super Bowl to join the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers as the only three franchises in the NFL to win five Lombardi Trophies.
As the season approaches (the college season begins Thursday, Aug. 31, while the NFL season begin Thursday, Sept. 7), it’s time to take a look at the upcoming season before the picks column returns on Tuesday, Sept. 5.
As in the past, we’ll predict the outcome of high school, college and pro games from now until December.
But before the picking begins, let’s take a look at how the season might play out this year, starting at the local level.
The landscape at both the pro and collegiate level have seen drastic changes, and two of the biggest moves came right here in the Lone Star state as University of Texas fans sadly said good-bye to superman Vince Young, who led UT to its first national title in 36 years with his spectacular performance in the Horns’ 41-38 victory over USC in the Rose Bowl. Here in Houston, Texans fans gladly bid farewell to head coach Dom Capers, who fell out of favor with fans and team owner Bob McNair after a 2-14 debacle in 2005 in what was to be the Texans’ coming out season after showing progress for three straight seasons.
NFL
McNair called on former Texas A&M star Gary Kubiak to ride in and save the day for the five-year-old franchise and if the preseason is any indication, it appears McNair made the right move in hiring one of the up-and-coming coaches in the NFL.
But let’s remember, this is preseason. While the Texans do look like a much-improved team, it would be premature for Texans fans to think this team is on the brink of being a playoff contender.
One thing is for sure, the 2006 Texans have no where to go but up and it is safe to say the Texans will improve on their two win total from a year ago.
The key to this team will be the emergence of quarterback David Carr and the ability of the offensive line to protect the much-sacked signal caller. The line has show vast improvement during training camp and the preseason. Let’s hope that improved play carries over into the regular season.
Houston also needs to figure out what to do at the running back slot. Last year’s starter, Dominick Davis, missed all of training camp with a knee injury, but second-year man Vernand Morency and rookie Wallie Lundy have filled in capability and have grasped Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme.
The defense must also show improvement over last year and the addition of 6-7, 290-pound defensive end Mario Williams should improve the pass rush, which will take pressure off a beleaguered and banged up secondary.
Kubiak will be given a pass this first year and don’t be surprised if the Texans are one of the most improved teams in the league. I’ll go out on a limb and predict a 7-9 finish for them this year.
As for the rest of the AFC, look for Indianapolis Colts to win another AFC South title. Even though the team lost All-Pro running back Edgrin James, quarterback Peyton Manning is still around, along with a pair of 1,000-yard wide receivers in Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.
Look for Jacksonville to be the Colts’ chief rival this year.
In the AFC North, the Steelers look like a solid pick to unseat Cincinnati and take the division title. Bill Cowher’s team returns the majority of the team that won the Super Bowl as a Wild Card team and quarterback Ben Rothlesberger appears fully recovered from a near fatal motorcycle accident in June. The Bengals must hope quarterback Carson Palmer, who led the NFL with 32 touchdown passes a year ago, is able to bounce back from a serious knee injury he sustained in the playoff loss to the Steelers. If Palmer can’t go early, there is still enough talent on hand to keep the Bengals on the winning track. This should be a three-team race as an improved Baltimore team with new quarterback Steve McNair and a healthy defense, led by linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, return to make this one of the league’s toughest divisions.
In the AFC West look for Denver to once again rule the roost. Something tells me Oakland might be the most improved team in this division; while the Chiefs and new head coach Herm Edwards take a step back.
The AFC East race should be an interesting one to watch as defending division champ New England gets a real challenge from the up-and-coming Miami Dolphins. Second-year head coach Nick Saban’s team won their final six games last year and have added a lot of talent in the off-season, most notably quarterback Daunte Cullpepper. The Pats lost a lot of firepower, but they still have the league’s best head coach and one of the top quarterbacks in Tom Brady.
In the NFC North, look for Chicago and its ball hawking defense to be the team to beat. The offense should be much improved as former UT star Cedric Benson gets the nod at running back. Look for him to spark a so-so offense. Minnesota and a much-improved Detroit team should give the Bears a run for their money, while Brett Favre and the Packers struggle through another losing campaign.
In the NFC West, defending NFC champ Seattle should sleepwalk its way to another division crown. Arizona and St. Louis should be improved, but they have a ways to go before they challenge the Seahawks for the division crown.
The NFC South should be another competitive division to watch. Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta will once again all be in the hunt, while the Saints will be on the outside looking in, although they should be a fun team to watch with all the offensive weapons they’ve accumulated in quarterback Drew Brees, rookie sensation Reggie Bush, tailback Deuce McAllister and a talented group of receivers. But New Orleans does not have the defense, unlike Carolina, TB and Atlanta. Look for the Panthers to come out on top at the day.
Which brings us to perhaps the best division in football, the NFC East.
All four teams are capable of winning this division, which means every game will have meaning when they line up during the season. Dallas improved itself immensely in the off-season with the acquisition of wide receiver Terrell Owens and kicker Mike Vanderjagt. If Owens buys into head coach Bill Parcell’s program (and he’d be foolish not to), the Cowboys should be the team to beat. Their offense is improved even without TO and the defense is young and talented. The Giants and Redskins also improved themselves in the off-season, and don’t count out the Eagles. They will rebound after a disappointing 2005 campaign. The key for the Eagles will be how well they are able to run the football.
So, who will be in the playoffs in 2006? Here are my picks and my picks for who will meet in the Super Bowl in Miami on Feb. 4.
AFC South – Indianapolis
AFC East – Miami
AFC North – Pittsburgh
AFC West – Denver
AFC Wild Cards – New England and Baltimore
AFC title game – Indianapolis over Pittsburgh
NFC South – Carolina
NFC East – Dallas
NFC North – Chicago
NFC West – Seattle
NFC Wild Cards – Tampa Bay and New York
NFC title game – Dallas over Seattle

COLLEGES
Last year, Texas and USC entered the season head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, but that’s not the case entering the 2006 college football season. There is no clear cut favorite, but a host of solid teams that will contend for a spot in the BCK title game set for Tempe, AZ in early January.
Texas fans should be in store for another quality season. There’s not doubt losing Young was a huge blow to the team, but remember, 16 starters and a host of players return from last year’s 13-0 team (Texas will enter the season with a 20-game winning streak, the best in the nation). The defense could be even better than last year’s salty group and the offense will be led by running back Jamal Charles, a superstar in the making.
Texas’ hopes of defending its national title hinge on the play of young quarterbacks Colt McCoy, a red shirt freshman, and true freshman Jevan Sneed. Both are talented, but both are young and will make mistakes. If Texas beats Ohio State on Sept. 9, another trip to the BCS title game could be in the offing.
Look for UT to win the Big 12 South and the conference title considering Oklahoma dismissed starting quarterback Rhett Bomar due to his violating NCAA regulations. The Sooners will still be good behind the sturdy legs of running back Adrian Peterson. Look for Texas Tech and its prolific offense to push OU for the runner up slot in the Big 12. Nebraska looks like the team to beat in the Big 12 North, but in the end, it will be Texas over Nebraska for the Big 12 title.
SEC – Look for Auburn to win the West Division over a talented LSU squad.
I’d pick LSU, but they have a brutal SEC road schedule with trips to Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas. In the East, I’ll go with Florida with Auburn beating Florida for the overall SEC title.
Pac 10 – USC lost a ton of talent to graduation and the NFL, but head coach Pete Carroll has an ample amount of talent waiting in the wings.
Look for UCLA and Arizona State to give the Trojans a run for their money.
Big 10 – Ohio State gets the nod here due to an offense that is loaded with talent. Quarterback Troy Smith could be this year’s Vince Young, and in wide receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn Jr., the Buckeyes have one of the most electrifying players in the country who can score from anywhere on the field. The defense returns only two starters, but the new starters are talented and gained valuable experience as reserve in 2005. Look for Penn State and Michigan to also contend for the title.
ACC – This could be a down year for the ACC. There is no clear-cut favorite as all of the contenders have question marks. Look for Florida State to come out on top at the end of the year.
Big East – West Virginia and its explosive offense will contend with Louisville for the title. The two will meet Nov. 2 in Louisville, and the winner of that game should have a clear-cut path to the title.
Independents – Notre Dame is the class of the heap as record-setting quarterback Brady Quinn returns with his sites set on a national title and the Heisman Trophy. The Irish play a brutal schedule as they take on seven bowl teams from a year ago. Their offense should be explosive and if the defense improves, this bunch could be playing on Jan. 4 for the national title.
So, who does meet up in Tempe on Jan. 4? Notre Dame and Texas, and the winner is….Notre Dame!
Enjoy the season. It should be a fun one to watch.

Texans open 3rd season with great optimism

Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday that the city of Houston was abuzz with excitement over the Texans’ making their debut against the hated Dallas Cowboys. Well, that was two years ago and this Sunday, Dom Capers’ team begins its third season amid great expectations.

Fans are hoping the Texans will contend for a playoff spot this year and are looking to see how far quarterback David Carr has progressed after two years under center. Houston should be vastly improved this year, but a playoff spot may be asking a bit much. The AFC is loaded with quality teams and the Texans’ division, the AFC South, could be one of the toughest in the country what with the Colts, Titans and an improved Jacksonville team calling it home.

Still, the future looks bright for the team that calls Reliant Stadium home, but before we take a look at what the NFL has to offer in Week 1, let’s take a look at the high school and college schedule for this weekend.

HIGH SCHOOL

Aldine vs. LaPorte: These two teams meet every year in non-district play and this should be another competitive outing. The Mustangs want to make sure they have the kinks worked out before they open District 18-5A play in two weeks. The offensive line is the key to the season, so look for head coach Bob Jones to play particular attention to that unit this week and in weeks to come. My pick, Aldine 23, LaPorte 18

MacArthur vs. Klein Collins: Jerry Drones’ Generals also got off to a rough start, dropping a 48-21 decision to a talented Galveston Ball team two weeks ago. Look for MacArthur to rebound this week against a Klein Collins team that finished 5-5 a year ago. This should be a good test for the Generals considering Collins returns a majority of its starters. My pick, MacArthur 24, Klein Collins 21

COLLEGE

Now, let’s see what the college schedule has to offer this weekend.

Texas at Arkansas: It’s revenge time for the Longhorns as they hope to payback the Razorbacks for the 38-28 thumping they administered to the ‘Horns a year ago in Austin. Look for Mack Brown to give Arkansas a steady dose of Cedric Benson and Vincent Young as the two talented runners look to exploit a young and inexperienced Arkansas defense. This is a good road test in a hostile environment for Texas as they build momentum for their Oct. 9 showdown with Oklahoma. My pick, Texas 31, Arkansas 13

Houston at Oklahoma: Art Briles’ Cougars are between a rock and a hard place. This week they travel to Norman, OK to take on a team many consider to be the best in the nation in 12 days they host Miami in Reliant Stadium. Now, that’s what you call ambitious scheduling. The Cougars must come out of this game healthy if they have any hope to give the Hurricanes a game within two weeks (a game that will be on national TV, by the way!). Look for the Coogs to attack OU’s vaunted defense through the air. The key will be how well the UH defense contains the multi-talented Sooner offense. That could be a tall order for any team this year. My pick, Oklahoma 35, Houston 13

Michigan at Notre Dame: Revenge will also be on ND’s agenda when these two longtime rivals meet in South Bend on Saturday. A year ago, the Wolverines ran roughshod over a defenseless Notre Dame squad, 31-0. The score could have been much worse had Lloyd Carr not called off the dogs in the fourth quarter. This year, the Irish appear improved on the offensive and defensive lines and sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn appears more comfortable running the West Coast Offense. Michigan, on the other hand, has an untested signal caller in Matt Gutierrez, but there’s plenty of talent on hand to bail him out should he struggle. I think ND playing their home opener gives them the edge this time around. This should be a good one to watch. My pick, Notre Dame 26, Michigan 23

NFL

Now it’s on to the NFL, where a number of good matchups are set for Week

Indianapolis at New England: The NFL certainly knows how to kick off a season. The two teams that met in last year’s AFC title game hook up again for the league’s season opener on Thursday in New England. The Colts are poised to go after the Pats’ Super Bowl title, but they must first prove they can beat the defending champs on their home turf. Indy has the offense to get the job done what with the league’s best QB in Peyton Manning, a fully healthy Edgrin James running the ball and the magnificent Marvin Harrison and Co. catching Manning’s passing. But the key to the Colts’ success will be how well its defense contains NE QB Tom Brady and his plethora of receivers. Brady now has a running threat he can turn to in Cory Dillon, acquired in the off-season from Cincinnati. The Pats are tough to beat at home and that trend should continue Thursday night, but expect a close and exciting contest. My pick, New England 31, Indianapolis 28

San Diego at Houston: As stated earlier in this column, this could be an exciting year for the Texans and their fans. The front office has built this team the right way, through the draft, and it appears that prudent course will start paying dividends in year three. David Carr looks like he’s ready for a breakout season. He looked sharp in pre-season and the emergence of wide receiver Andre Johnson as his go-to guy should have Texan fans excited. The key to this team will be how well it plays on defense and how healthy it remains on that side of the ball. Injuries decimated that unit a year ago and they get a good test out of the blocks as they take on perhaps the league’s best running back in LaDanian Tomlinson. Look for Houston to make a strong stand.

The rest of Keeney’s picks can be found in the Sept. 7th issue of the Northeast News.

Change is the word as ’04 football season kicks off

Change is in the air as the 2004 football season kicks off into high gear this Labor Day weekend.



At the high school level, Aldine ISD will welcome three new head football coaches in Larry Haynes at Eisenhower High, Bob Jones at Aldine High and David Suggs at Nimitz High. Jerry Drones now becomes the most tenured head coach in AISD as he begins his third season at the helm of the MacArthur High program. The AISD schools and their counterparts in Spring Branch ISD will also be changing districts now that they are in District 18-5A after the University Interscholastic League realigned the state’s districts in February.



The college landscape won’t see such drastic changes, but the power has appeared shifted from the state of Florida to the West Coast, where USC appears to be the team to beat heading into the ’04 campaign.



But don’t count out the Oklahoma Sooners, who return the brunt of their team that reached the BCS title game a year ago before falling to LSU in the Sugar Bowl.



And in the NFL, look for a change in the way defensive backs will cover receivers this year. The league has vowed to enforce the five-yard bump rule and defensive holding, so expect the passing game to flourish in 2004. That’s good news for the Peyton Manning’s, Daunte Cullpepper’s and Trent Green’s of the world and bad news for defensive backs and defensive coordinators whose jobs will become all the more difficult.



Even with change on the horizon, it appears this will be another exciting season as the country’s most popular sport continues to grow and prosper. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at what the first full weekend of high school and college action has to offer.



High School



Aldine vs. Madison: Bob Jones takes over for the legendary Bill Smith at Aldine High and the former Fort Worth Dunbar head coach has brought energy and excitement to his new assignment. The Mustangs will present a balanced look on offense this year and their season opener against a perennial playoff contender will be a good test to see how the new system looks. My pick, Aldine 24, Madison 16



Eisenhower vs. Lufkin: Talk about going from the frying pan to the fire! Larry Haynes and the Eagles opened the season last Saturday in Reliant Stadium against The Woodlands, a team that reached the Class 5A Division I title game a year ago, and this week, they host a Lufkin team that could make a lot of noise themselves this year. But the Eagles have a few weapons themselves. Haynes will unveil his new offense, which will feature the passing game more, before the home fans in Thorne Stadium on Friday night. Expect plenty of fireworks in this one. My pick, Eisenhower 26, Lufkin 23



Nimitz vs. Klein: The Cougars and new head coach David Suggs play their second game of the season against a Klein High team that’s not expected to do much this season. Nimitz, on the other hand, is loaded with talent and has its sites set on ending Eisenhower’s reign as district champion. Look for Suggs’ crew to start building momentum in non-district as it looks forward to its season-ending showdown with the Eagles on Nov. 6. My pick, Nimitz 31, Klein 13



MacArthur vs. Conroe: Jerry Drones begins his third year as the Generals’ head coach with high expectations. The Generals will be young, but have enough talent to make some noise this year. Much will depend on how healthy the team remains throughout the season. Drones admits there is not much depth available, but he likes what he’s seen from his starters. Look for the Generals to get after a Conroe team that finished 2-8 a year ago. My pick, MacArthur 27, Conroe 12



College



Texas A&M at Utah: The Aggies open their 2004 season with a tough road test against a Utah team that finished 10-2 a year ago. Many believe the Utes could run the table and get in contention for a BCS (Bowl Championship Series) game, so the Dennis Franchione’s Ags will have their work cut out for them. One thing is for sure, Aggie fans should expect vast improvement from last year’s disastrous 4-8 season. Look for quarterback Reggie McNeil to bounce back to have a big year. The Ags may not win this one, but you can bet they will play harder this year. My pick, Utah 23, Texas A&M 20



North Texas at Texas: Texas fans may not be expecting a national title run, or for that matter, a Big 12 title run this year, but don’t be surprised if the ‘Horns pull a fast one on their fans this season. UT lost three-fourths of its receiving corps to the NFL, but there’s plenty of young (albeit untested) talent on hand to make Texas a factor this year in the conference race. And one of its best players is senior running back Cedric Benson, considered a Heismann Trophy candidate by many NFL scouts. Look for Benson to get plenty of work early while Vince Young settles into the starting QB position. Texas needs to take North Texas seriously. The Mean Green has won their conference three straight years and would like nothing more than to leave Austin with an upset win. My pick, Texas 38, North Texas 21



SMU at Texas Tech: It’s Sonny Cumbie’s turn to put up big numbers for the Red Raiders as Mike Leach’s high-octane offense makes its 2004 debut against a SMU team that finished 0-12 a year ago. Cumbie takes over for B.J. Symons, who in one year as the starting QB threw for more than 5,800 yards and set a single-season NCAA passing record along the way. Tech should be dangerous on offense again this year with the brunt of the unit back. Look for plenty of points to come out of Lubbock again this year, but it’s the defense that will be the key to how successful Tech is this year. That unit must improve on its porous 2003 season, and with another year under their belt, look for the Red Raider defense to carry its share of the load in 2004 as Tech competes for the Big 12 title. My pick, Tech 45, SMU 13



Notre Dame at BYU: The Catholics vs. the Mormons in the season opener for both schools that suffered disappointing seasons in 2003. The word out of South Bend is that this could be a make or break year for third-year head coach Tyrone Willingham. After leading the Irish to a bowl game in his first year on the job, ND fell to 5-7 a year ago and was outplayed much of the season. This year, the Irish return an experienced offensive line, so look for an improved running game, but their success will depend on how far sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn has advanced from last year to this year. This game should feature plenty of aerial excitement as the Cougars attack an inexperienced ND secondary. My pick, Notre Dame 34, BYU 30



Florida State at Miami: What a way to start the season. Two long-time and bitter rivals kick off their seasons Labor Day evening on ABC, with the Monday Night Football crew calling the game. And there will be more at stake this time around than state bragging rights. Miami is now a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, so this game is not only important as far as the BCS title hunt is concerned, but also the ACC race. These two played two hard-hitting affairs a year ago and expect much of the same this time around as a national television audience finishes off its holiday weekend with what should be a heck of a battle. Both teams return plenty of talent, but the quarterbacks will decide this one. Both FSU’s Chris Rix and Miami’s Brock Berlin had so-so seasons in 2003 and both are prone to turnovers. Both will need to be wise with the ball on Monday night. I’m giving the edge to Rix because of his level of experience, and because he has a solid running game to call on when he needs it. My pick, Florida State 23, Miami 21