Back to business.
I started watching college football in the early nineties, when the state of Washington had two worthy programs. Nowadays, it's hard to find much to root for in the college ranks. WSU and UW have both been marginalized by resurgent programs in California and Oregon. Neither have a prayer of winning a title, neither has a prayer of winning the Pac-10--both better pray they can top .500.
Still, college football is like a vast, televised minor league for the pros. If you tune in on the right day, any given contest can feature top matchups that will produce pro quality talent. Here are some of the most intriguing ones, ones that feature positions of need for the Hawks, offensive tackle, defensive tackle, defensive end and running back, that Hawks fans can tune into and have something to care about. Thanks to Athlon's College Football Annual for many a helpful list, and thanks to the very cool Rivals.com for video on most of the players.
I'll throw up one of these each Saturday leading up to the season. This one covers week 1, the next week 2 and so on.
Tennessee at California
LaMarcus Coker versus Zack Follett
Last season, Cal and Tennessee defied conventional wisdom and inaugurated their season with a top 25 opponent. That would be, each other. Tennessee sent preseason title contender Cal spiraling down the rankings with a 35-18 drubbing in cavernous Neyland Stadium. This year Cal, once again the favorite, hosts the Labor Day Weekend festivities in, oddly, Memorial Coliseum. Football, Labor Day, Memorial Coliseum and all to be televised on patriot and Nazi sympathizer Walt Disney's ABC? That's enough patriotism to give Toby Keith a truckgasm.
The matchup to watch for is speedy sophomore tailback LeMarcus Coker and more polished junior, Arian Foster, versus the quick, but inexperienced Cal linebacking corps and, specifically, Butkus Award candidate Zack Follett. Coker is likely two or three years from entering the draft, but his sprinter speed and excellent cutback ability make him one to watch. Coming off a minor knee injury this will be his first big chance to explode on the national stage. The Cal Bears don't possess the stoutest run D on God's glorious growth, but their collection of agile linebackers, including the athletic, tenacious Follett, should be well suited to challenge Coker's cutback style.
Arizona at BYU
Louis Holmes versus Dallas Reynolds and the BYU O-Line
BYU and Arizona are fringe top 25 teams, at best, but each possess some interesting pro talent. Luckily, on opposite sides of the ball. Louis Holmes is, physically, an NFL talent, but his performance has never matched his projection. Entering his senior season with the Wildcats, this is Holmes last chance to play himself into true prospectdom. Holmes closes in a hurry, but needs to work on his pass rush technique, too often relying on a simple bull rush. For BYU, a solid offensive line is anchored by left guard Dallas Reynolds. Reynolds has been able to work at guard and tackle and may begin the season at left tackle--all the sweeter to evaluate their talent. Someone is going to exit this game a step closer to the pros.
The Hawks will be looking for talent at offensive tackle and defensive end in the 2008 draft and while neither Holmes nor Reynolds projects as first rounds talents, both can play their way into the first day with stand-out senior seasons.
Washington State at Wisconsin
P.J. Hill and The Badgers O-Line versus Ropati Pitoitua and The Cougs run D
Ostensibly a mismatch, the post-Joe Thomas Badgers offensive line will get a real challenge against the Cougs underrated run defense. When you are 6-6 , allowing only 114.1 ypg rushing--31st best in D-1 football--is a true achievement. Why? Because teams run when they're ahead, and teams were ahead of the Cougs a lot. The top talent for the WSU defense is 6'8" Ropati Pitoitua. Wisconsin lost starting quarterback John Stocco (who is yet unsigned, but has tried out with the N.Y. Giants), but return every starter on their offensive line except Thomas. They also return freshman rushing standout, P.J. Hill. The Badgers will lean on their run game, but Pitoitua and company could shut them down in the early going. It's up to the WSU offense to keep composure against an intimidating Badgers D, but if they can, WSU might have the right formula to make this a close one. Pitoitua is looking to transform from a blip to a bogey on draft radars and will get few chances as big as this to impress pro scouts.