Pregame Pep Talk: It’s only a game, plus picks and predictions

Clemson center Ryan Norton has started 24 games over the past two years. (Clemson athletic communications)

CLEMSON – Three things that would be nice to remember before this show hits the road, this ship leaves the dock, this train leaves the station.

It’s only a game.

It’s only a game.

It’s only a game.

Everybody’s passionate about college football season. You are (because you’re reading this blog), I am (because I took the time to write it), Dabo Swinney is (uh, because he gets paid handsomely to coach the game.)

Ryan Norton is (because he chooses, willingly, to spend 60-80 hours a week getting and keeping himself in world-class football shape and knocking bodies with fellow 300-pound humans amidst the significant risk of debilitating injury, all for the compensation of a college scholarship – which would cost the Simpsonville, S.C. product about $30,000 as an in-state resident.)

Ryan Norton is a good center. Not an elite center. He’s not listed on any mock drafts next spring that I’ve seen. I always thought he’d be one of Clemson’s 2015 seniors who’d have a chance at the middle rounds, and he might – but talking recently to Norton, already a college graduate, he has other career goals in mind in the education world (dating a teacher myself, I’m a sucker) that Ryan didn’t seem to mind pursuing as early as this spring if football is not in his future.

So – and I realize you personally, good reader, almost certainly can’t answer this rhetorically – explain to me what compels a person to wish the end of Ryan Norton’s life for snapping a football over a quarterback’s head in Tallahassee.

No, no. Not wish it like in the membrane, privately. Not wish it to the bartender or the lifelong chum who only elicits a polite shrug at the suggestion. Wish it to Norton, personally, directly, through the gloriously filthy dumpster that are unclean Twitter mentions.

I never saw these tweets myself, after checking and searching. They were only alleged by Swinney in press conferences following Clemson’s brutal loss at FSU last September; in fact, I can’t remember Norton himself asserting that it happened.

At any rate, Norton deleted his account, and still hasn’t reactivated it, and won’t.

“Deleted it. It’s gone. Forever. I mean, Twitter for me was something I used to look at when I was bored,” Norton told me after practice Aug. 21. “I don’t need it in my life. It’s not something that helped me in my life, especially last year. So I’m just going to stay away from that; I’m going into teaching, so I don’t really want my students following me on Twitter or anything like that.”

(Side note alert: national media, tell me again what a gross injustice Clemson’s performing on its student-athletes by banning social media during the season. Boy, the Tigers really seem torn up over it, don’t they?)

It’s not just players who deal with unabated garbage. I have a boatload of friends in television journalism, who make my own (often-interesting) negative mentions seem like second-grade playground nyah-nyahs. (Something about seeing a good-looking person’s face delivering the news or forecasting the weather makes people very angry.)

Today happens to be College Colors Day, which is appropriate here on the eve of the first college football Saturday. One of these TV friends posted a photo wishing fans well on College Colors Day, wearing colors of the Big Ten university from which this friend graduated. The TV market is in the south – I say this not to rip the south, but illustrate that it’s far away from the aforementioned university – and comments immediately began ripping the journalist and the university, insisting that colors of the home team replace the colors of the university.

Other than one ridiculously out-of-line comment of the Norton mentions variety – goodness, people are sick – most the comments were at least cordial. They completely ignore that this person, you know, attended and funded a certain college for four years of formative life and might have the guts to continue supporting that college despite moving far away to pursue a not-as-glamourous-as-you-think career, but still, cordial.

There’s too much negativity in the world, everybody. Too much violence, too much vitriol. If you’re feeling negative, find support, either personally or professionally. There’s room on this big ball called Earth for everyone.

All I’m asking is: let’s all get along. Whether it’s Clemson-South Carolina banter, or random fan trash talk, or directly ordering an individual who’s only trying to do his or her job to change ways (or worse) to suit you, here’s a simple reminder, sports fans.

It’s only a game.

****

#7 Lorenzo Long, 5-9, 210, jr., FB, Wofford. Only one of Wofford’s six running backs on the depth chart stand 6-foot or taller; Wayne Gallman, Tyshon Dye and Zac Brooks are all that tall in the Tigers’ backfield. This is the biggest discrepancy in size between the two teams. Long’s the team’s most prolific man with the ball in his hands, ranking in the top five in the Southern Conference in rushing yards, all-purpose yards, kickoff return yardage and scoring.

#22 Ray Smith, 5-7, 205, sr., HB, Wofford. 5-foot-7! But Spartanburg Herald-Journal reporter Todd Shanesy said to keep an eye on Smith, so we’ll do just that. Obviously, Wofford will pound the rock; the Terriers have spent 17 consecutive years among the Football Championship Subdivision top seven in rushing.

#6 Dorian O’Daniel, 6-1, 215, soph., LB, Clemson. Might be the most playing time O’Daniel gets this year, since the Tigers should feature a three-LB front. But I’m still curious to see how much playing time Travis Blanks gets, in his first game action in 21 months.

#94 Carlos Watkins, 6-3, 300, jr., DT, Clemson. Forget the scheme – I just want to observe the push Watkins gets up front. If D.J. Reader is out a while, Watkins has to be really, really good to help the Tigers stop the run in 2015.

#75 Mitch Hyatt, 6-5, 295, fr., LT, Clemson. All eyes on you, kid.

#16 Jordan Leggett, 6-5, 255, jr., TE, Clemson. Kind of a put-up-or-shut-up year for Leggett, who believes very strongly in his talent and his prospects to get drafted reasonably high in the 2016 NFL Draft but only has 26 career catches to back it up.

#97 E.J. Speller, 6-2, 295, sr., NT, Wofford. Clemson’s not particularly powerful running up the gut, and if the weather forecast of rain comes true, that’d be an area where the Tigers need practice. Let’s see how the senior handles it.

#9 Drake Michaelson, 6-1, 230, sr., LB, Wofford. After losing Tarek Odom to graduation and Terrance Morris to a season-ending knee injury, Wofford needs somebody to step up and get after the passer.

#10 Kyle Allen, 6-3, 210, soph., QB, Texas A&M. Last year at this time, Kenny Hill was the Heisman favorite after one week. Let’s see if Allen can be just as awesome against a Power 5 in the opener (against his home-state team, Arizona State) and sustain said awesomeness.

#8 Malik Zaire, 6-0, 222, jr., QB, Notre Dame. Let’s see what – who – drove Everett Golson to transfer away from the Fighting Irish.

#6 Corey Clement, 5-11, 219, jr., RB, Wisconsin. Six straight years, Wisconsin has either had a 1,500-yard back or two 1,000-yard backs. Clement vs. the Tide front seven is a tasty primetime matchup.

#1 Braxton Miller, 6-2, 215, sr., WR, Ohio State. Someday we’ll look back at this era of Ohio State and be wowed in amazement that a two-time conference player of the year was the third best player at his position on his own team. Big game for the Bucks on Labor Day Night, by the way.

#?? Louisville QB. I know it’s a matter of national importance to keep his starter confidential, but whoever Bobby Petrino starts – Reggie Bonnafon? Will Gardner? Kyle Bolin or Lamar Jackson? – will be under pressure to perform extremely well the first three weeks of the season vs. Auburn, Houston and Clemson.

No. 15 Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (in Houston) ~ 7 p.m., ESPN

The Pac-12 South and SEC West appear to be loaded. Lets see which conference would seem to have the better top-to-bottom depth.

Brenner picks: Sun Devils 45, Aggies 40

Texas at No. 11 Notre Dame ~ 7:30 p.m., CBS

Saw the Longhorns pegged as a long-shot upset pick. Scoring points normally aids winning football games. Notre Dame’s not the ideal defense for the start of Charlie Strong’s sophomore effort.

Brenner picks: Fighting Irish 20, Longhorns 10

No. 20 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Alabama (in Arlington) ~ 8 p.m., ABC

Alabama doesn’t have a surefire quarterback? What else is new. Put the Tide down for double-digit wins again. Roster’s too talented.

Brenner picks: Crimson Tide 30, Badgers 20

No. 1 Ohio State at Virginia Tech ~ 8 p.m. Monday, ESPN

This could and should be a trickier game for the Buckeyes than we think. Yeah, they’ll be motivated to wipe away last year’s lone loss to the Hokies, but the only thing harder than reaching the mountaintop is staying there. Virginia Tech, in its own lest-we-forget stadium that’s a challenging visit, will frustrate the Buckeyes’ newfangled offense the way Minnesota did so to TCU last night. It just won’t result in a win.

Brenner picks: Buckeyes 23, Hokies 14

North Carolina 34, South Carolina 30 (Thursday, in Charlotte). “Marquise! Hey, it’s Aaron from the future. Aaron 24 hours from now, to be exact. Man, it sure is hot here in Charlotte. So listen, wanted to tell you South Carolina is 11-0 the last two years when it wins the turnover battle, and 4-5 when they lose the turnover battle. I don’t mean to tell you your business, but you might wanna remember that tonight in the red zone when you see the wheels in Skai Moore’ head slowly turning. My gift to you, bud.”

@Utah 24, Michigan 17 (Thursday). Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh is 0-3 in openers with his new college team, so obviously he’s destined for greatness. And I swear, that was my picked score. It’s all downhill from there.

No. 2 TCU 48, @Minnesota 20 (Thursday). Two out of three ain’t bad for Night 1. Of course, it wasn’t that easy for the Horned Frogs, but that might speak more to a) the effect of home-field advantage and b) Minnesota maybe, kinda, sorta being capable of flirting with 10 wins this year.

No. 4 Baylor 37, @SMU 10 (Friday). Like Harbaugh, not an ideal opener for Chad Morris. At least he’s got the fanbase revived.

@Boise State 28, Washington 27 (Friday). The Chris Petersen bowl! If it isn’t close, Petersen’s got a long year ahead against a really, really tough schedule. By the way, Boise State’s a playoff contender. If the Broncos can win at BYU, Virginia, Colorado State and Utah State along the way, that’s a worthy 13-0 schedule.

No. 21 Stanford 21, @Northwestern 6. No way David Shaw doesn’t snap his finger and turn this around. Cardinal defense is too good.

@No. 12 Clemson 56, Wofford 17. Inside the Game coming your way later today.

@Pittsburgh 35, Youngstown State 13. Sign me up for James Conner – or rather, sign James Conner up for my hypothetical fantasy college football team. Bo Pelini beware.

@No. 13 UCLA 34, Virginia 12. The beginning of the end for Mike London, who could have benefitted from an N.C. State-like non-conference schedule.

Louisville vs. No. 6 Auburn (in Atlanta) ~ 3:30 p.m., CBS

Head on over to AL.com and the Louisville Courier-Journal, which have done comprehensive jobs covering the Bobby Petrino-Auburn history. (Also, Petrino in Atlanta alert!) Beyond the coaching drama, this is a really good matchup; Auburn’s power spread vs. Louisville’s mean ol’ defense. The Cards lost a bunch on the back end to the NFL – they’re like a mirror image of Clemson’s defense – so they should be strong enough up front to contend. Don’t be surprised if there’s 160 snaps in this game. Petrino vs. Gus Malzahn, with weeks to prepare, is also reason alone to watch – two great football minds. Jealous of y’all who get to flip over to CBS after Clemson’s game to check this out live.

Brenner picks: Tigers 34, Cardinals 33

That’s it for the Pep Talk. The boys of fall are ready to roll. Are you?

-AB