Ring in the season Thursday night with the Ol' Ball Coach. (AP)
Today, we are all Littlefoot, and these are our tree stars. Tonight in your living rooms and on your laptops: Actual honest-to-Sutekh football and two of the most quotable head coaches in the game.
7:00 p.m. ET: No. 9 South Carolina @ Vanderbilt (ESPN). The Gamecocks clumsily pantsed the Commodores last season, in an ugly 21-3 affair characterized by ill-timed penalties and turnovers. Carolina sacked Vandy six times and threw four interceptions. After the game, Steve Spurrier called the performance the best he'd seen from his defense before excoriating his offense (and himself).
This night, the Gamecocks are favored by a little less than a touchdown. The player to watch is Marcus Lattimore, responsible for two of the Gamecocks' three touchdowns in last year's game, who returns to game action Thursday night for the first time since tearing his left ACL against Mississippi State last October. After Lattimore recorded more than 1,200 rushing yards as a true freshman in 2010, the loss was was one felt not just by South Carolina, but by the sport. (The other player to watch is backup quarterback Dylan Thompson, for those of you who like to make friendly wagers at home on just when Spurrier will yank an under-performing quarterback for the unpardonable sin of Not Being Danny Wuerffel.)
The SEC East will have a tight division race this year, even if it's just a race to lose to the West in the Georgia Dome this December. Is Vandy coach James Franklin the youngest master curmudgeon in college football history? Can he match snipes and scores with one of the game's all-time crustiest curmudgeons? He couldn't last year, but this is growing into a whole new Vanderbilt. Just ask Franklin. NO. ASK HIM. [disconcertingly unblinking stare] Franklin trash-talked the Green Bay Packers in a roundabout way in interviews this week. Aaron Rodgers' younger brother Jordan is Vandy's starting quarterback, a trivia tidbit that could become the new Brock Osweiler Is Tall if the 'Dores can back up Franklin's assertions.*
*This all assuming Jadeveon Clowney doesn't turn Rodgers into a Flat Stanley joke. And if Vandy can't score, will the OBC stop before he hangs 50 on the home team?
10:15 p.m. ET: Washington State @ BYU (ESPN). If you're reading this site, we shouldn't have to convince you to stay up for this one. As Peter Burns put it this morning, ever so succinctly, "Mike Leach works tonight and Craig James doesn't. God Bless America." The Dread Cap'n will take the field at his alma mater for the first installation of a home-and-home all-Cougars series, and he'll bring some shiny offensive toys left behind by Paul Wulff. Pay particular attention to unkillable quarterback Jeff Tuel, left tackle John Fullington, top-10 receiver Marquess Wilson (who led the conference in receiving yards last year) and Rickey Galvin and Andrei Lintz, converted to receivers from, respectively, running back and tight end.
Defensively, well ... BYU has a capable passer in Riley Nelson, and Wazzu has no proven weapons capable of keeping Nelson from having a very nice evening. Expect the visiting Cougars to employ a "blitz, blitz and believe" defense against Nelson. Brian Floyd of CougCenter reports that defensive coordinator Mike Breske is "in YOLO mode," and was heard saying this week that, "People pay to see the offense on the field. The best defense in the world is sitting on the sidelines." Not gonna argue with him; we'd rather be watching Wazzu's offense as well.
Elsewhere in FBS-on-FBS action (yes, Akron technically counts)...
• 7:00 p.m. ET: Central Florida @ Akron (ESPN3)
• 7:00 p.m. ET: Eastern Michigan @ Ball State (ESPN3)
• 7:30 p.m. ET: UMass @ UConn (ESPN3)
• 7:30 p.m. ET: UCLA @ Rice (CBS Sports)