The 2001 football season is already two weeks old, but things really get going this weekend when high school teams across the state take the to the field this weekend with dreams of a state championship dancing in their heads.
While the youngsters start their championship quests this weekend, so do their elder brethren in the NFL, but the big boys have dreams of a Super Bowl trophy dancing about in their heads.
And lets not forget about the collegiate scene, where a handful of teams already have two games under their belts. Programs from Austin to Gainesville, Florida are setting their sights on the Rose Bowl, where on Jan. 5, 2002, the Granddaddy of them all will host the BCS national title game, and this year, theres a good chance one of the participants could call Texas home.
This is an exciting time of year for football fans. Theres nothing like the start of a new season and once again this year, this space will be dedicated to one mans views on what might (or should) happen at the high school, collegiate and professional level during the upcoming season.
So lets get started and see what Week 1 has to offer at the high school level.
Aldine vs. Madison: A great Week 1 match-up between two of the Houston areas better teams. Bill Smiths Mustangs finished 10-3 a year ago, but return one offensive and five defensive starters this year. They will be facing a Madison team that finished 10-2 a year ago and has one of the areas top offensive threats in quarterback Vincent Young (6-5, 190 pounds). Aldines bookend tackles L.C. Kirkpatrick (6-3, 270 pounds) and Michael Bowie (6-3, 260 pounds) will be chasing Young all over the field on Friday night hoping to contain him and start Aldine out with a win in 2001. My pick, Aldine 20, Madison 18
Eisenhower vs. Willowridge: This game is set for the Reliant Astrodome and it will pit former Eisenhower defensive coordinator Daryl Spurlock against his former boss, Ike head coach Richard Carson. Needless to say, Spurlock has a pretty good idea of what the Eagles have to offer and once again, the Eagles are loaded for another long playoff run. Ike finished 13-1 (they won their first 13 games before losing in the Division I semifinals to Austin Westlake) and returns a solid nucleus. Back to lead the way is senior quarterback Ricky Murphy and a host of talented personnel on offense. Couple that with a load of experience on defense and Spurlocks coaching debut could be less than memorable. My pick, Eisenhower 31, Willowridge 14
Conroe vs. MacArthur: Terry Forga and the Generals would like nothing more than to get the 2001 season started on the right foot. MacArthur returns three starters on offense and five on defense. Forga likes the returning nucleus, especially the versatility of wide receiver/quarterback Xang Chareunsab, who has been tabbed to start the season at quarterback. Forga knows his team cannot afford a lot of injuries, which hampered their playoff run a year ago. MacArthur should be able to handle a Conroe team that finished 5-5 a year ago. My pick, MacArthur 21, Conroe 14
Nimitz vs. LaPorte: The Nimitz Cougars and head coach Randy Rowe are hoping the late season momentum they gained a year ago by reaching the playoffs carries over into this season. The Cougars have enough talent to contend for one of the three playoff spots up for grabs in District 21-5A. The defense will be called on to lead the way until the offense gets settled behind quarterbacks Jasper Stewart and Eric Julien. LaPorte will offer a good test for Nimitz in Week 1, but a road win against a quality opponent could do a lot for the teams confidence. My pick, Nimitz 16, LaPorte 13
Now lets take a look at the college scene, where most of the spotlight will center on Lincoln, Neb this weekend.
Notre Dame at Nebraska: A year ago, these two teams went into overtime before Nebraska escaped with a three-point win in South Bend. Look for another tight tussle this week as the Irish come calling. Nebraska was less than overwhelming in its season-opening win against TCU, but expect the Huskers to be ready for a Notre Dame team that could be Bob Davies best team yet. The Irish are a senior-laden team, but the key to their season will be how well sophomore quarterback Matt Lovechio performs. Nebraska may have trouble running at NDs veteran defensive line, so dont be surprised if quarterback Eric Crouch has a big night operating the outside option. What a prime-time thriller this should be. My pick, Notre Dame 26, Nebraska 24
North Carolina at Texas: Mack Brown entertains his former team, but dont expect him to be a gracious host. This is the year many Orange bloods have been pointing to as the year when the Horns return to national prominence. Brown has assembled some of the best talent in the country, now its time to see if he can lead that talent to the top of the heap in college football. This will also be a good measuring stick to see how UT stacks up against defending national champion Oklahoma. The Sooners opened their season with a 41-27 win over the Tarheels two weeks ago, so expect Texas to try to improve on that score to send their rivals across the Red River a message. My pick, Texas 45, North Carolina 10
Michigan at Washington: The Pac 10s defending champion takes on one of the Big 10s (Big 11!) top programs in this classic match-up. Used to be, these two teams would wait until Jan. 1 to meet in the Rose Bowl, but those days are over now that the Rose Bowl is tied to the BCS and happens to be the host for the national title game this year. Call this the Rose Bowl in September, although both teams suffered heavy losses due to graduation. Still, this should be a good one to watch. Both teams lost their starting quarterbacks, Washington to the NFL, and Michigan to Major League Baseballs New York Yankees. There is still enough talent around in both of these programs to keep these teams from missing a step this year. Look for a high-scoring game, with the nod going to the home standing Huskies. My pick, Washington 34, Michigan 31
USC at Kansas State: How in the world did Bill Snyder let this happen? Did he really schedule a bona fide non-conference game (OK, so its only USC) to start off the season? Apparently so. Snyder has learned the hard way that if you dont play quality opponents, the BCS isnt going to be kind to you and opening with a name team in USC cant hurt. Granted, the Trojans have slipped a bit from their hay days in the 70s and 80s, but they are still USC and they should give the young Wildcats a good test this weekend. KSUs season rest on the talents of former Baytown Lee star Ell Roberson III who is now the man under center. A convincing win in the season opener by the Cats could cause a lot of concern around the Big 12. My pick, Kansas State 27, USC 17
Now lets look at the NFL as the big boys begin their chase of the defending Super Bowl champs, the Baltimore Ravens.
Tampa Bay at Dallas: My how things have changed. It used to be that Tampa Bay was the struggling team and Dallas the veteran playoff team, but thats not the case anymore. These two teams have switched identifies. Tampa Bay is a clear Super Bowl contender, while Dallas begins the rebuilding process after the loss of veterans Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston, Michael Irvin and a number of others who helped them win three Super Bowls in four years. Dallas owner Jerry Jones is putting his stock behind unproven rookie quarterback Quincy Carter, and while Carter had moments in the preseason, he will get a taste of life in the real NFL when the Bucs come calling on Sunday. Look for Tampa Bay to play things close to vest on offense and use their bullish defense to compound, confuse and contuse Carter all afternoon. Cowboy fans, this could be a long, long year. My pick, Tampa Bay 17, Dallas 3
Miami at Tennessee: A great match-up for ESPNs first Sunday night game of the year featuring two of the leagues best defenses. Both teams have legitimate shots at unseating Baltimore as the kingpin of the AFC and you can bet both will be out to send a message to the rest of the AFC on Sunday night. The Titans defense got stronger during the off season with the acquisition of defensive end Kevin Carter from the Rams. With Carter on one side and Jevon Kearse on the other, opposing quarterbacks could be in for a lot of trouble this year. Look for a conservative approach by Jeff Fisher in this one offensively. With Eddie George around, the Titans dont have to get tricky, especially considering they will be facing one of the leagues top defenses in Miami. My pick, Tennessee 16, Miami 10
St. Louis at Philadelphia: This game also pits two teams that have Super Bowl aspirations. This game matches the Rams high-scoring offense against the Eagles stingy defense, so something has to give. I might be inclined to give the edge to the Eagles because defenses are always ahead of offenses early in the season, but the Rams appear to be able to turn it on no matter when they play. Look for Philly to try and shut down running back Marshall Faulk, which will force quarterback Kurt Warner to throw the ball. That will play right into the hands of the blitz-happy Eagles. When the Eagles have the ball, expect a lot of Duce Staley to chew up time off the clock. Also look for third-year quarterback Donovan McNab to use his many skills to keep the sub-par Rams defense on its heels all afternoon long. My pick, Philadelphia 23, St. Louis 21
NY Giants at Denver: The defending NFC champions help the Broncos open their new stadium on Monday Night Football. This should be a good opener for the crew at ABC. The Giants are a solid veteran club, while the Broncos added more talent to a very good team during the off season. One of the big questions in this one will be who starts at running back for the Broncos. With Terrell Davis still not his former self, Denver has two horses in reserve in Mike Anderson and Orlandis Gary, so if Davis cant go, the Broncos wont miss a beat in the rushing department. The Giants are hoping second-year man Ron Dayne is ready to carry the bulk of the rushing load, which would allow them to eat up the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of Brian Griese and the high-scoring Denver offense. Look for Denver to come out smoking in this one as they open their new digs. My pick, Denver 31, New York 16