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, Im going to look into my crystal ball and predict how the season will play out.
Aldine ISD and Humble ISD have been reunited to make up this years 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.
1. Eisenhower First-year head coach Ray Evans team is loaded, led by defensive back Craig Loston (Texas Football Magazines Defensive Player of the Year), wide receiver Michael Timmons and quarterback Kenneth Guiton.
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 hes optimistic theres enough left in place to contend for the playoffs.
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 Its 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
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 Turners 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 dont forget, they play in the toughest division in the AFC, which does not help matters.
NFC East Dallas: Cowboys survive the leagues 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, lets take a look at what the Labor Day weekend has to offer.
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. Macs 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
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 Bowdens team to be the class of the ACC. Look for the Tide to be vastly improved from last years 7-6 team. Saban teams only get better from year one to year two. Dont 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. LSUs 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!