The Kickoff: Notre Dame vs. Michigan has meaning

A week of college football is in the books. What’s in store for Week 2? Let’s find out in this week’s edition of “The Kickoff”:

1. A Lil’ Crow with a Side of Sentimentality

I’ve spent the last few days eating crow. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried crow before, but it’s really bad. It’s disgusting. On top of the whole eating crow thing (Does anyone know where that saying originated? I can’t find it anywhere on Wikipedia.) there’s the removal of my foot from my mouth and the pulling of my tail from in between my legs, too.

You get it.

Yes, I was wrong on Michigan-Western Michigan last Friday. Could you blame me, though? I thought the Wolverines would be distracted. I thought all those young players would be exhausted from a week of controversy, tears and media attention. I also thought Western Michigan, with a senior quarterback and a host of playmakers, would have had the decency to show up for the season opener. I had Western Michigan pulling the upset and I was wrong. Very wrong.

Michigan fans, let me be! My e-mail inbox has been assaulted and I’ve gotten more “I told you so’s” from the 734 area code than one man can possibly take.

But I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Michigan looked damn good last weekend. Bask in that recognition, U-Mich fans. Because I’m about to pull a switcharoo.

(Wait for it.)

For as good as the Wolverines looked against Western, Notre Dame looked even better versus poor Nevada.

(There it was!)

And so, here we are. Michigan-Notre Dame! Just like that, the hype machine gets dusted off and put back in use. For the first time in three meetings, Notre Dame faces Michigan and neither program can be considered to be in total disarray. This year’s meeting has all that the TV networks could ever dream for: Controversy, freshmen quarterbacks, big-name coaches, unbeaten records.

It’s ratings gold. Or, at the very least, it’s worthy of being aired. ESPN has its Notre Dame machine working overtime with Lou Holtz talking 10 wins, Dick Vitale ranting and raving, and Mike Golic saying “I told you so.” And Michigan has its guys working, too.

At the very least, there’s hope in Ann Arbor and South Bend this week.

And you know what? It’s nice.

We can complain all we want about the attention this game is getting, but it’s good for college football to have this rivalry game mean something. Even if it really doesn’t lead to something in the end, even if Michigan wins four games the rest of the year and Notre Dame’s defense crumbles once it faces a non-WAC opponent it’s good to have a mid-September Wolverines-Irish game worth seeing.

So, to that, I say welcome back, Michigan-Notre Dame. We’ve missed you. Illusion or reality, it’s great to at least think you mean something. And if you give us a classic anything close to the one another rusty rivalry broke out Monday night, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

As for my pick?

Even with the crow feathers stuck in my teeth and the taste of my foot still lingering on my palate, I have to go with Notre Dame. I just can’t see the Wolverines defense shutting down that Irish offense. Clausen and Floyd may be the best 1-2 in the nation and the Notre Dame defense — something I’m fairly sure did not exist the last two seasons — looked stout against that Nevada Pistol offense.

Listen, I know we shouldn’t get too carried away over wins against Nevada and Western Michigan. But sometimes it feels good to be positive. Sometimes it’s nice to feel like the game you’re watching matters.

And heading into Saturday’s contest I’m kinda sorta excited.

Based on how these games have gone the past few years, that’s saying a lot.

Welcome back, Michigan-Notre Dame. It’s good to have you mean something.

Even if you really don’t.

The Pick: Notre Dame 34, Michigan 30.

2. There’s nothing Hotty Toddy about the flu

Weird stuff this week out of Oxford, Miss., where everyone’s summertime darlings — the ’09 Ole Miss Rebels — reported an unheard-of 17 players suffering from the flu or flu-like symptoms. Fifteen of them missed practice on Tuesday. Fortunately for Houston Nutt’s squad, Ole Miss has a bye week this weekend.

But, umm, seriously … 17 players?

Yes, 17 players. One of them happens to be star quarterback and future NFL first-round pick Jevan Snead. I’ve heard critics say his performance Sunday afternoon in the 45-14 win over Memphis was underwhelming. It was. But the dude was sick! Cut him some slack.

Of course, the flu hasn’t just hit the Oxford campus. Not to cause panic, but it seems like the bug is everywhere across the southeast. According to USA Today, flu or flu-like symptoms have been reported of late by athletes at Tulane, Duke, TCU, Alabama, Louisiana Tech, South Florida, SMU, LSU and Florida State.

The AP reported last week that Stillman College canceled its home opener against Clark Atlanta because of swine flu-related reasons, while Georgia coach Mark Richt kept a red-shirt freshman home from the Bulldogs’ trip to Stillwater last weekend because of a reported positive H1N1 test.

It’s no surprise that athletes are vulnerable to such viruses and are the quickest to spread them. I’m no doctor, but it only makes sense this would be the case when student athletes live together in the same dorms, change together in the locker room, sit together on the bus, and compete with one another on the field. And guess what? They probably hang out together, too.

We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks, but you’d really hate to see any team’s national championship dreams derailed because of something as unpredictable as an outbreak of the flu. Ole Miss is doing all it can — there are signs reminding athletes to wash their hands throughout Rebels training facilities and there are fluids at the ready — but it’s anybody’s guess when the team shakes it.

Let’s hope before Oct. 10.

That’s when Alabama comes to town with an SEC West title possibly in the balance.

3. Tough on the Buffs

For as bad as Oklahoma’s loss to BYU in Dallas might have been Saturday, Colorado’s “L” in Boulder on Sunday was worse. We spent all summer hearing about how improved the Buffs would be. How this was the year Dan Hawkins’ boys really turned it around and brought the Colorado program back to prominence. There was talk of a Big 12 North title.

And then they lay an egg?

At home?

To their in-state rivals?

C’mon.

The offense was dreadful, managing only 252 yards. On the ground, Colorado ran for a whopping 29 yards on 21 attempts. The passing offense wasn’t much better. The defense? Heinous. CSU put up 376 yards of offense … in the first half.

Colorado heads to the Glass Bowl on Friday for a trip to Toledo. Though the Rockets got their butts handed to them last weekend at Purdue, the Buffs have anything but an easy rebound game in Ohio. Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt set a school record with 67 pass attempts and threw for 411 yards in the 52-31 loss. Tim Beckman certainly has no problem with his senior quarterback airing it out, and that very type of offense could end up giving Dan Hawkins’ young defense fits. In Stephen Williams (15 catches, 185 yards, 2 TDs) and Eric Page (12 catches, 128 yards, TD), Toledo has two legitimate wideouts to worry about.

Of course, the Rockets defense didn’t exactly look like the ’76 Steelers out there while Purdue compiled 315 yards on the ground in the blowout victory.

With only five days to prepare, all that goes with a road game, and an offense that can light it up, I’m taking Toledo in this one.

And if the Rockets win, I don’t want to hear about Colorado being a “sleeper” team anytime soon. Not next summer, not the next summer after that.

I’ll put them on probation. For unwarranted hype.

4. Joe Cool

I’d be lying if I said I knew very much about Joe Webb before last weekend.

I doubt I’m alone.

I’m getting to know him now.

Then again, you’ll raise a few eyebrows when you start a season by passing for 221 yards and rushing for 194 in the same game. Webb, UAB’s senior quarterback, was Mr. Everything in Saturday’s 44-24 upset of Rice. Webb went 12-for-15 for two touchdowns through the air and ran for two scores as well. One of them, a 71-yard dash, was the highlight of the game.

Webb may want to frame the NCAA individual statistics leaders page from his local newspaper. After one week, the Wenonah (Ala.) High School product is second in the nation in rushing (194.0), total offense (415.0) and passing efficiency (247.8). Move over, Tim Tebow.

Webb should only add to those numbers on Saturday when UAB hosts SMU.

Too early for a little Heisman chatter?

Why the heck not?

5. Hey Jenny

Each week we like to check out what the blogs are saying. This week’s nod is to the guys at “Hey Jenny Slater,” a UGA-based blog that always has me laughing. Their take on Virginia coach Al Groh’s future in Charlottesville after Saturday’s loss to William & Mary:

“Al Groh is as good as roadkill at UVA this year. And not even the OK kind of roadkill where the animal in question is pretty much intact and you can still tell what species it was, but the nasty, spread-across-two-lanes kind of roadkill that’s probably been run over three or four separate times and is pretty much just a greasy splatter of unidentifiable organs.”

Read the rest here.

Last week’s upset picks

I was 1-1 — on the money with Robert Griffin and Baylor over Wake, but couldn’t have been further off with Western Michigan over Michigan. Have I mentioned that I ate some crow this week? And that it tasted really, really bad? If a waiter or an ex-girlfriend offers you a plate of crow, don’t eat it. It might be tempting. It might look good. But seriously, don’t do it. It’s really horrid.

Overall upset picks record: 1-1.

This week’s upset pick #1: Washington State over Hawaii.

This week’s upset pick #2: Louisiana-Lafayette over Kansas State.