The 2014 college football season is steadily approaching. Are you ready for kickoff? (John W. McDonough/SI)
If you were anywhere near a radio over the weekend, you likely heard a DJ reference Memorial Day as the unofficial start of the summer. While that's mostly accurate -- pools are finally in use and people will start grilling like there's no grillmorrow -- a more important thing is approaching: the start of the 2014 college football season.
With this nexus of hot jams and cool pools comes a three-month sprint to the insanity that is Hawaii kicking off at midnight, the madness of Friday night games going into double overtime and the predictability of coaches giving coach-speak on oh-so-many media conference calls. Memorial Day weekend signals some instinct in football fans' brains. The home stretch is coming; it's time to prepare. Make arrangements. Stockpile the appropriate reserves. Go go go. The end is in sight.
To help fans get ready, I enlisted the help of several trusted college football friends to put together an unofficial (and comprehensive) guide to the remainder of the offseason. We owe it to ourselves to enjoy this time and enter a new season as refreshed and ready as we can possibly be.
Whether you use a giant desk calendar or set a Google reminder every once in a while, there are some dates to keep in mind as we start the climb up to the pigskin mountaintop.
• June 9: Ed O'Bannon v. the NCAA trial start date. Now is your chance to put all that Law & Order knowledge you've been accumulating for the better part of three decades to good use.
• July 4: Independence Day. Celebrate freedom and stuff.
• July 14-17: SEC Media Days. The conference expanded this event to four days for some reason, which means more questions about the following topics: teams with chips on their shoulders, teams primed for bounce-back seasons, teams with targets on their backs, players with something to prove and generally getting after it. If Steve Spurrier doesn't rush out the door by the middle of day two, I'll be stunned.
• July 20-25: ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 media days. Leagues from all over the country will let writers from all over the country ask similar questions, misidentify players and drink lots of free coffee.
• July 26: Big Ten 10K in Chicago. While I'm disappointed it's not called the B1G 10K, this event should have spawned all sorts of imitators by now. People love running these days, especially in celebratory race form. A 10K with tailgates in Chicago seems fun as all heck. I don't know if this is the year I'll finally get to drop by, but it's definitely on the list.
• July 28-29: Big Ten media days. Finally, everyone will get a chance to talk about how exciting it is that Rutgers and Maryland have officially joined the league.
• First week of August: The start of fall practice. Depth charts, impact freshmen and quarterback competitions become matters of vital importance. It's a sprint from here.
• Aug. 27: Abilene Christian at Georgia State in Atlanta. It's time.
Bets to cash in on
While we here at Campus Union aren't exactly odds experts, we know some people who are. So, we brought in Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) to take a look at a few tantalizing lines and win totals that stand out entering the 2014 campaign.
Week 1 lines to keep an eye on
Auburn (-23) vs. Arkansas: The Tigers head into Week 1 having covered 11 consecutive games. Now, on the heels of an offseason in which Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn sparred over the ongoing tempo debate, both coaches will take their disagreements to the field. The line is enormous. Still, is anyone high on backing the Hogs?
Florida State (-17.5) vs. Oklahoma State: Of course you have an eye on Florida State. The defending national champion opens as a two-and-a-half touchdown favorite against a completely rebuilt Oklahoma State group. Last season, the Seminoles were a fewer than 17.5-point favorite only four times, and they covered on three of those four occasions. As large as this spread seems, you might not find better value on the 'Noles all fall.
Tennessee (-6) vs. Utah State: This spread is fascinating for a number of reasons, the most obvious being Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton's return from a torn ACL. The Aggies are getting a touchdown, and keep in mind: Utah State has lost to Auburn, Wisconsin, BYU (twice), Utah and USC by a combined 19 points since 2011.
Marquise Williams and North Carolina could be set for a big season. (Raleigh News & Observer/MCT/Getty Images)
Win totals worth considering
Nebraska Over 7.5 (-210): Eight wins seems more than feasible for a team loaded with weapons on both sides of the ball. There’s a very real chance the Cornhuskers will be 5-0 entering a matchup at Michigan State on Oct. 4. If that’s the case, with the likes of Northwestern, Rutgers and Purdue still on tap, Bo Pelini's squad should at least hit the eight-win mark.
North Carolina Over 7.5 (-140): The Tar Heels closed last season by winning (and covering) six of their final seven games. Although they'll be without NFL-bound tight end Eric Ebron, the offense should continue to thrive under Larry Fedora. With Florida State absent from North Carolina's ACC slate, there’s no game it can’t win. A 10-win season is within reach.
Stanford Under 9.5 (-180): It feels downright dangerous picking against a David Shaw-coached team, but Stanford's schedule does not seem conducive to double-digit victories. The Cardinal will travel to Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA. That’s not to say another 10-win campaign can’t -- or won't -- happen. Still, it will be difficult with the roster's key losses among the offensive line, front seven and secondary.
Summer reading list
Who says you can't stay sharp over the summer? There are plenty of noteworthy words to devour. If you're lucky, you'll come out more prepared for the season than you ever thought possible.
• The Essential Smart Football by Chris B. Brown (Amazon): The venerable Chris Brown (@SmartFootball) is a must-follow on Twitter and a must-read in this book. He simply sees things that other writers don't. This is a perfect travel companion, as it's divided into a bunch of essays about various coaches, systems, players and topics.
• Study Hall by Bill Connelly (Amazon): Friend of the blog Bill Connelly (@SBNBill_C) published this book last year, and we talked with him at length about his process pulling it together. Anyone interested in advanced statistics should pick this up and check out his team-by-team previews over at SB Nation.
• Swing Your Sword by Mike Leach and Bruce Feldman (Amazon): Leach and Feldman deliver a worthwhile read on one of college football's most interesting coaches. If American history is more your speed, consider Leach's new book on Geronimo. (The Wall Street Journalhas a solid review.)
• Taste of the Town by Todd Blackledge (Amazon): ESPN's Blackledge eats delicious food everywhere he goes. While this book only begins to demonstrate food's importance to college football, it provides one heck of a starting point.
• Football Scouting Methods by Steve Belichick (Amazon): An oldie but goodie. Bill Belichick's father, the former coach at Navy, offers an uncomplicated and stripped-down way to scout football. While this was written with coaches in mind, fans can get plenty out of it.
• The Hurry Up, No Huddle by Gus Malzahn (Amazon): With the pesky 10-second defensive substitution proposal tabled, teams are free to run tempo, tempo and more tempo. Malzahn breaks down his philosophy in this breezy read (with plenty of pictures).
• The System by Jeff Benedict (Amazon): If something heavier hitting is more your style, Benedict's book strikes a deep nerve in the murky business of big-time college football.
• Phil Steele's 2014 College Football Preview by Phil Steele (PhilSteele.com): It's not a book, per se, but it might as well be. There's a countdown clock on Steele's website, and this magazine's annual release proves the season is truly right around the corner.
True Blood vampires are hyper-fast and presumably very good at football. (Gregg DeGuire/WireImage/Getty Images)
Summer TV breakdown
TV is great. If we didn’t have TV, we couldn’t watch college football. But football isn’t the only thing on, especially during the summer months. Here to offer some viewing suggestions is TV expert (and sports fan!) Danger Guerrero from Uproxx.
Television. It's a lot like college football. Heck, there was even one show in the 1990s about college football. You remember, the one where Craig T. Nelson played a coach who led his team to victory? I forget what it was called. Probably Football Guys or The Craig T. Nelson Show. Something like that. It's not important. The point here is that television, like football, is currently in its offseason. There are some options, though, and I am here to guide you through them.
New shows from familiar faces
The Strain (FX, July 13): This is FX's big new vampire show from Guillermo del Toro and former Lost showrunner Carlton Cuse, based on a series of books del Toro co-wrote. Have you seen the teasers? Hoo boy. This show looks creepy. In a good way. I think.
The Leftovers (HBO, July 13): Speaking of former Lost showrunners, here's a new HBO series from Damon Lindelof. Short version: One day, out of nowhere, two percent of the world's population up and vanishes, and everyone else is left to wonder why. I very much hope there's a scene that features an Alabama fan calling into a local radio show with concerns about how this will affect recruiting. Roll Tide.
Returning jail and/or sex-related shows
Orange Is the New Black/Rectify (Netflix, June 8/Sundance, June 19): Two very good, very different shows that I am lumping together because (a) they are both about prison, kind of, (b) their first seasons are both on Netflix and you can binge-watch to get caught up, and (c) it's my list and I can do with it what I want.
Masters of Sex/True Blood (Showtime, July 13/HBO, June 22): One is a fun, quality drama about revolutionary sex research. The other is a fun, stupid show about vampires humping. I'll let you figure out which is which.
Suits (USA, June 11): A few months ago I realized I have a lot of opinions about Suits. I don't even know how it happened.
Reckless (CBS, June 29):Reckless is a show where Cam Gigandet will play "a liberal Renaissance man" who "surfs, love skateboarding and hip-hop but also hunts, fishes and collects guns." He is basically playing Poochie the Lawyer. This sounds ridiculous. I kind of can't wait?
Franklin & Bash (TNT, August 20): While we're on the subject of ridiculous lawyer shows, ladies and gentleman, I present Franklin & Bash. If Johnny Manziel doesn't make a cameo this summer, I will eat my entire shoe.
Partners (FX, August 4): Martin Lawrence and Kelsey Grammer are starring in a comedy about mismatched lawyers who decide to start a firm. We are truly #blessed.
Summer movie Q&A
Pretty much every weekend (and plenty of weekdays) this fall will be filled with football. Unless you’re a matinee person, you should go see movies while you still can. Otherwise, it’ll be February and you’ll wonder why you never got around to seeing the new X-Men. I had a quick chat with Brian Spaeth, writer and director of Who Shot Mamba? and Cleveland In The Rye, due out later this year, to get his top five movies recommendations for this summer.
SI: Which movies should fans see if they enjoy college football and need to exercise their eyes?
Brian Spaeth: My biggest recommendation is Guardians of the Galaxy on Aug. 1. It's a huge departure for the Marvel brand, which, until now, has been able to sell anything to the public. It's also a huge budget for director James Gunn, so it'll be interesting to see what he can do.
SI: Plus, there's a raccoon shooting guns.
BS: And a tree voiced by Vin Diesel.
SI: So, regarding movies college football fans would like, it's probably a safe bet.
BS: My second recommendation is the Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt sci-fi thing that comes out on June 6. I can't remember the name. (Ed. note: It’s called Edge of Tomorrow.) Director Doug Liman has made fun action movies before, and I’m totally sold on anything involving Time Travel, which I capitalize because I like it so much.
My third is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 11). Like Time Travel, I’m sold on anything involving Talking Apes on Horses. The original movies in this series featured both Time Travel and Talking Apes on Horses, so you can imagine my love for the general concept.
SI: Is James Franco in this one?
BS: No, but Gary Oldman is. And I, for one, will pretend that Franco’s character was recast with Oldman. I like to imagine a meeting that started with the question, "Who should we recast James Franco's character with?" and ended with the answer, "Gary Oldman."
SI: As one does. What else is in your top five?
BS: My fourth recommendation is 22 Jump Street (June 13). The first one had no right to be good, but it was, so I’ll count on this one being the same. This comes from the same directors (Chris Miller and Phil Lord) who brought moviegoers 21 Jump Street, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie. None of those should have been good, but they were all terrific.
SI: Also, Channing Tatum (noted Alabama fan!) is somehow always fun to watch. And because we love ranking things in college football, what is your number five?
BS: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (June 13). The first one was great for all ages (not a kiddie movie), and I expect the second to be the same.
As Greek philosopher Madonna once said, “Music makes the people come together.” That’s the case with college football, too. We’ve got Big & Rich blaring on College GameDay, marching bands playing all sorts of things and tailgates set to soundtracks. Here are three different playlists (all in Spotify form, because technology) from college football’s more musically inclined media members.
From Michael Felder (@InTheBleachers), video correspondent, Bleacher Report:
Basically this is the best party ever. Let’s get weird.
(Ed. Note: I made the Spotify playlist after being given the track list by Michael. In his words, "I literally have never used Spotify in my life.")
From Lauren Brownlow (@lebrownlow), writer, Fox Sports Carolinas:
Some songs are here because they make me happy, like “Pony,” “Return of the Mack” and “Strokin.’” Others are here because they make errrrrybody hype. And others are specifically about football things, like “Spread,” “Nowhere to Run” or “Down” (by contact) (not really).
Some nods to individual schools are included, too, such as “Enter Sandman” for Virginia Tech, “Purple Haze” for East Carolina and “Take the Money and Run” for Maryland. Radiohead’s “Karma Police” is dedicated to Bret Bielema, and “Partyman” to the now-departed Manziel.
As for the rest? The songs reference everything from the pay-for-play debate to the coming College Football Playoff. Enjoy.
From Erin Sorensen (@erinsorensen), writer, Bleacher Report and Hail Varsity:
This playlist is college football. There's no rhyme or reason. Give it a listen and you'll be instantly transported to Saturdays in the fall. With three months until the season, it's all we have to stay sane. Let's have a real good time. And for the record, “Seven Nation Army” is not included. Don't even ask.