The college football season begins Thursday, and while I’m usually eager to watch the first encounter between toe and leather, I’m not sure I’m ready this year.
One game would ease me into the rhythm of college football, reintroducing me to the sound of whistles and drums and yells bellowing through bullhorns and more whistles. That’s how the schedule used to work. Between 1983 and 2002, the season began with something called the “Kickoff Classic,” which was rarely a classic but served its purpose as a late-August wake-up call.
Then a glut of cable-sports television networks wanted in on the First Night festivities, and the annual, stand-alone kickoff to the season became just another date on the schedule. Thursday, for instance, will find North Carolina at South Carolina (ESPN, 3 p.m.). While the Gamecocks are expected to win in a blowout, the game offers an early glimpse into the Heisman Trophy race: If South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney puts on a sack show, he’ll draw the attention of voters who crave the idea of spreading the Heisman wealth (so to speak) to a lineman.
If Clowney is to make an impact with a national audience whose attention is undivided, he’ll have do it in a hurry. Wake Forest will host Presbyterian (ESPN3.com, 3:30 p.m.), followed by five games at 4, three more at 4:30 and two more at 5.
By the time USC takes on Hawaii (CBS Sports Network, 8 p.m.), 16 other games will have kicked off. It’s a crammed schedule more fit for New Year’s Day than the last Thursday in August, but then again, Jan. 1 long ago lost its luster as the day the world stands still so the rest of us can feast on bowls.
In any case, a schedule that traditionally eased me into the season with one game is calling for 17 games Thursday, and I’m wondering: What’s the hurry?
I suspect I’m not alone. Everybody seems to be in a rush, cramming for finals on an otherwise empty campus. Questions are more prevalent than answers.
At Texas A&M, home of defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, the eligibility status of the redshirt-sophomore quarterback remains uncertain.
Manziel reportedly spent six hours Sunday with NCAA investigators, who are curious about rumors he turned a profit from the thousands of autographs he signed during a rocky offseason spent as a celebrity.
Not that time is tight or anything. The Aggies’ 2013 season doesn’t begin until Saturday, when they’ll play Rice.
Closer to home, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian is declining to elaborate on the availability of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, an offensive force and potential difference-maker Saturday night in the Huskies’ season opener against Boise State. Seferian-Jenkins broke his right pinkie during a practice Aug. 12, about five months after he was charged with driving under the influence.
Even if Seferian-Jenkins is cleared to play Saturday, will he sit on the bench as a penalty for violating team rules? Sarkisian won’t go there, so don’t bother asking. For that matter, don’t even bother wondering.
Sarkisian sounds like a coach whose team’s season is beginning way too soon, but at least he has settled on the premise that Keith Price will start at quarterback for the third consecutive year.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder wasn’t able to make a similar decision until Monday, when he finally acknowledged that junior-college transfer Jack Waters will replace Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein.
Meanwhile, TCU coach Gary Patterson, whose No. 20 Horned Frogs will challenge No. 12 LSU on Saturday, isn’t showing his cards. Patterson might go with Casey Pachall, 15-2 as a starter, or he might go with Trevone Boykin.
“The difference with me is I think I can win with both of them in big games,” Patterson said Monday.
Patterson is waffling, of course, but no more so than LSU coach Les Miles, who has suggested top running back Jeremy Hill will miss some playing time as a consequence of his April arrest for misdemeanor battery.
Hill might sit out the whole game Saturday in Arlington, Texas, or he might sit out a quarter or a series.
Better to keep the other team guessing, Miles believes, than to assert himself as a coach whose rules are inviolable. It’s the way of the world these days in college football, where gamesmanship trumps integrity.
I love the sport and the pageantry that accompanies it. I love the mascots, the fight songs, the rivalry trophies.
I love college football so much that I’ll watch a game coached by men who regard the disciplining of wayward sons as a chess piece.
A single Thursday night contest in late August is all I needed to get ready. College football sensed that request and smiled.
You want a game Thursday, dude?
We’ve got big ones, small ones; we’ve got whatever you want. The supply is endless.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com