The first Saturday of college football is the 40(something)-year-old sportswriter’s version of Christmas morning. I wake up every year on that first Saturday absolutely giddy at the prospect of Kirk Herbstreit sliding down my chimney and into my television so I can sit in my recliner and stare at him and his colleagues for the next 12 hours.
Here are six things I’ll be (giddily) watching as football season begins in earnest this week.
1. Horn’s quest for 300
Danny Horn enters this season with 299 career victories. If it hadn’t been for one of the flukiest plays in the state last season (a blocked field goal that seemingly won the game for Central against Mortimer Jordan but that MJ scooped up and ran in for a game-winning touchdown as time expired) number 300 would have come in the state championship game.
That would have been the essence of poetry, but Horn still has a shot to put a poetic spin on 300 if he can beat the only other team he has coached in his career – Benjamin Russell – on Friday night. It won’t be easy, but after the title run he engineered a year ago I won’t be surprised by anything Horn accomplishes.
2. Is Handley back?
Larry Strain’s Tigers have spent two seasons in the desert of youth and inexperience, but now that youth is growing up. If the bevy of explosive plays that Handley put forth against LaFayette last week is any indication, Handley might have the makings of a serious contender in class 4A.
3. Record playoff streak
For all the success that RCHS has enjoyed in its history, the school has never made the playoffs six years in a row. That could change this year, as RCHS seems poised to find itself in the postseason once again.
Pat Prestridge’s Tigers have won at least 10 games in each of the past four seasons, which is another record streak for the program. Walter Wellborn, Saks and old nemesis Piedmont could make that 10-win mark more difficult to achieve this season, but both streaks have a legitimate chance of continuing.
4. New coaches
There’s a lot to like about the new head coaches in Wadley (Shenan Motley) and Woodland (Blair Armstrong). The biggest reason for that is that both seem to be committed to the communities whose football teams they have been hired to lead. Motley’s roots run deep in the county and he has admitted to having his eye on returning here for several years before he landed the Wadley job.
Armstrong is on the tail end of a very successful career in Georgia and Florida, but he has said that he is looking to buy a home in the Woodland area and make this the last move of his career. But he’s not just looking for a retirement home. He seems passionate and energetic about the task of reviving Woodland football, and has the experience of doing just that at several other schools throughout his career.
I truly believe that both schools are in good hands.
5. Ranburne’s round two hump
In 2017 Ranburne pulled off an upset of No. 1 seed in round one to make a surprise visit to the second round. In 2018 the team was the region runner up and had hopes of making a much deeper run, but again they fell in round two, this time to Addison.
Ranburne believes it has the team this year to change that trend and push deeper into the postseason.
6. The SEC
First of all anyone predicting what Auburn is going to do this season is just guessing. Auburn could go 5-7. Auburn could win the SEC West. It’s a rare combination where anything could happen and nothing will surprise me. I’ll say Auburn goes 9-3 and does just enough to save Gus Malzahn’s job for another year.
As for Alabama, why do I get the feeling that everyone has kind of forgotten how effing good Tua Tagovailoa was before the postseason last year? His postseason play, combined with the most lopsided loss of Nick Saban’s Alabama career seems to have tempered the hype around Alabama this season. I mean, they’ve fallen all the way to number two in almost every preseason poll! The outrage!
I know Alabama’s run of playoff appearances will end one day, but do we have any reason to think that will happen while Saban is still there? No chance. The Tide might slip up once during the regular season, but a 15-0 season would not surprise me in the least.
And finally, there’s Georgia.
As an emotionally scarred Georgia fan I look at the football world through whatever the opposite of rose-colored glasses are (gelatinous-barf-colored glasses?). So even though Georgia is fielding possibly its most talented team in my lifetime, I know there’s a gut-wrenching moment lurking somewhere in this season.
Georgia’s backup quarterback is a 5-foot-10 former walk-on, so it seems inevitable that Jake Fromm gets knee-capped at some point during the season. Or maybe the inexplicable, season-wrecking loss to Florida rears its ugly head again. Or maybe it’s just the same old thing where Georgia goes AWOL for one road game during the season, then blows a two-touchdown lead and loses to Alabama’s backup quarterback in a championship game.
Whatever it is, I do know this. Anyone predicting that Georgia will win the national championship needs to get their head checked. Or maybe their vision.
I have a perfectly good pair of gelatinous-barf-colored glasses I can lend them.