As summer slips away and the color of the leaves change into an array of orange, yellow and reds the nation turns its eyes toward the one true religion – football. As the cooler temperatures dip down to 50 degrees on a September morning, I think…where is this place? It sounds magical. And, as with most of life’s mysteries, I’ll just assume it’s happening in Vermont. Because as the that third wave of sweat rolls down my lower back, I assure you New Orleans is anything but autumnal.
Yet, even without the kaleidoscope of color to greet us along St. Charles – and even if fall weather isn’t in the air – we are now on the brink of another football season. That glorious time of the year where lines are drawn in the sand, complete strangers have conversations while standing in line, grown-ups sometimes act like children, children become heroes, and everybody and their momma has an opinion – the absolutely undisputable correct opinion – on how to improve their hometown team.
Now here’s what I think, buddy and DON’T you…you know how it goes.
Welcome to the Fear, New Orleans Saints fans. After falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-14, the Saints are still winless in the pre-season. The defense, after two solid performances to open the pre-season, were continually torched by Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers rolled up 231 yards offense in the first quarter.
However, Drew Brees still played well behind some suspect blocking and Willie Snead hauled in a beautiful 17-yard touchdown pass. The running game was non-existent (again) and I was in a Superdome suite devoting a lot of my time to eating meat pies.
So, that just leaves one last pre-season game where the starters will barely play, if at all. The Saints will once again have plenty of question marks heading into week one of the regular season – now only 12 days away.
So, get ready for a bunch of talk about putting the pre-season behind them, staying focused and having a positive attitude. Folks will start saying the Saints have a great shot at beating the Raiders, Giants, Falcons and Chargers. “They could go into their bye week 3-1.” You get the picture.
And you know what? You should think that way. It’s what makes sports fun. We’ve had enough realism this year. So, put on those Black and Gold-tinted glasses and dream big. It’s going to be fine.
If you head up St. Charles you will walk directly into Dream Central. Unlike previous campaigns, there is an air of excitement around the Tulane Green Wave football program that could get intoxicating with an upset or two.
Coach Willie Fritz, who has already improved Tulane’s recruiting success, will unveil his Green Wave on Thursday as Tulane takes on Wake Forest at 6 p.m. Tulane enters the game heavy underdogs to the Demon Deacons – who many pick to finish last in the ACC. So, make no mistake, Fritz and the boys will be facing an uphill battle this season. But the buzz is back.
Glen Cuiellette, a redshirt sophomore, will be under center for Tulane, winning the quarterback competition over freshmen Darius Bradwell and Johnathan Brantley. Cuiellette has all of one snap of game time experience under his belt.
Fritz has repeatedly said that he will install packages to play another quarterback in certain situations. But for whom? And what packages? And what is the base offense going to be, anyway? Fritz says he always adapts to his personnel but, historically, has heavily favored the rushing attack.
I expect the same this year. Tulane is young at quarterback and in the receiving ranks. Yet they have a strong stable of running backs. Dontrell Hilliard should get the bulk of the carries. The junior led the Wave last year with 646 yards rushing. Even more impressive was Hilliard’s 5.6 yards a carry. He’s joined by Sherman Badie, Josh Rounds and Lazedrick Thompson in the backfield. Now, just imagine one of these guys getting loose around the corner and breaking away down the sideline in front of a jumping Yulman Stadium. Those goose pimples are real, folks.
Oh yeah, the Angry Wave is back too. Roll Wave.
Speaking of running backs, our friends in Baton Rouge have some good ones, too. The sixth-ranked LSU Tigers will once again ride the powerful locomotive that is Leonard Fournette in their perennial quest to dethrone the Alabama Crimson Tide. Fournette, straight out of St. Augustine High School, is joined by Catholic High’s Derrius Guice to form the best backfield in the country.
The Tigers will have the ground game, but – everyone say it with me – any title hopes will come down to the quarterback play of Brandon Harris. The Tigers get a stiff early-season test Sept. 3 against the Wisconsin Badgers at Lambeau Field. The Badgers are picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big 10 this season, and a lot of Tigers fans seem to be taking this game for granted, but it’s going to be a good one.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Red River Brewing’s “Session 18” IPA
Playlist Recommendation: Thin Lizzy – “The Boys Are Back In Town”
Around The Way
Speaking of good – how about all of the great games this opening weekend? Four Top-20 clashes go down this weekend. #3 Oklahoma battles #13 Houston, #16 Georgia plays #20 North Carolina and #17 USC gets murdered by #1 Alabama on Sept. 3. Two days later, #12 Ole Miss takes on #4 Florida State. It’s really a beautiful time to be alive.
Unbelievably, if the Houston Cougars upset the Sooners, they’ve theoretically punched their ticket to the NCAA playoffs. If the Sooners win, they’ll punch Louisiana-Monroe next week, before taking on #5 Ohio State, and then #14 TCU. Good heavens.
If those games aren’t enough to quench your pigskin thirst, on Sept. 4 you can also check out traditional powerhouses Notre Dame versus a “will they finally be good again” Texas Longhorns, and on Sept. 10 the trendy SEC East pick Tennessee Volunteers play the Virginia Tech Hokies at Bristol Motor Speedway in front of 150,000 fans because why not. Football is back, baby!
Goodbye, world. Hello, TV.