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The College Football Report: Mind The Sacred Chickens

The 2013 college football season kicked off Thursday night, and we here at The College Football Report are both excited and relieved to see the season start. The excitement stems from our undying love of the sport, and the relief from our exhaustion with the offseason. (Read: Johnny Manziel.) More on that later.

The storylines of the 2013 season will be dominated by a short list of subjects, and before we start suffering from hype fatigue (Over/Under: October 20), let's cover each in brief:

The SEC: Will the Southeastern Conference ever lose a BCS championship game again?* SEC teams have gone 9-1 from the birth of the BCS in 1998 through 2012, and expect to take home the goofy crystal football again this season.** The smart money is on Alabama (at 3-1 odds) to win. Other SEC contenders include Georgia (12-1), Texas A&M (12-1), and South Carolina (20-1). Haters will find themselves rooting for Ohio State (5-1; see below), Oregon (8-1), or . . . that's it.

The BCS: This is the last year of the much maligned Bowl Championship Series, the target of every snubbed team's ire and a rich source of material for every sports commentator. The lame duck system will die with a whimper after the 2014 VIZIO BCS National Championship Game, hosted by The Rose Bowl and broadcast by ESPN on January 6, 2014. Selections for the game will be announced, appropriately enough, on Selection Sunday***, December 8, 2013. We put the over/under on ESPN commercials in the intervening month at . . . a million.

Sadly, the end of the BCS means we will bid fond farewell to The BCS HAL 9000, the computer responsible for brewing up the BCS rankings by combining the Harris Interactive Poll, the USA Today/Coaches Poll, tea leaves, knuckle bones, six other computer rankings, dropping outliers, and consulting the Sacred Chickens****. Despite numerous tweaks over HAL's lifetime, the buggy oracle repeatedly failed to please everyone. We look forward to the debut of the four-team playoff system (the aptly named College Football Playoff) next season, which the NCAA ensures will produce equally unsatisfactory results.

We can only hope the capricious machine enjoys more success in a second career. We hear there's an opening for a cameo role alongside Mr. Coffee in Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money. Aloha means goodbye, HAL.

Ohio State: Urban Meyer's 2012 squad went undefeated (12-0) but stayed home during bowl season due to NCAA sanctions. Entering his second season at OSU, Meyer fields a Heisman candidate at QB, junior Braxton Miller, and four returning starters on the offensive line. Sounds like the Buckeyes are a shoe-in for the Big Ten championship and a championship berth, right?

Probably. Miller posted eye-popping numbers last year (2,093 yards passing, 15 TDs and another 1,271 yards and 13 TDs rushing), so Ohio State should be fine on offense. The D could be the only minor weakness: all four starters are gone from the defensive line.

We expect Ohio State to enter "The Game," the annual match-up with Michigan, undefeated. If so, and OSU manages a win at "The Big House" to end the regular season, you can write the Scarlet and Gray in as the last team to lose the BCS against the SEC. Enough about Ohio State. We feel dirty.

Alabama: From the start of the Associated Press poll in 1936, no team has won four championships in five years. Only Nebraska ('94, '95, '97) and Notre Dame ('46, '47, '49) came close, winning three in four years. The Tide will face early tests against Virginia Tech in Week One, followed by an early bye week, and an away game at Texas A&M in Week Three. Win those, and the remainder of the schedule looks like clear sailing.

We sense opposing teams enter games against The Tide with a sense of dread. Alabama resembles a team you might face on "Expert" mode in a football video game. Your team is rolling, trouncing the computer, racking up the stats, when your PlayStation decides enough is enough. Three hours and eight reboots later, you realize it's just not going to happen.

Our favorite element of Alabama's success? The loaded backfield. 'Bama loses Eddie Lacy (1,322 yards, 17 TDs, 6.5 yards per carry) and just moves sophomore T.J. Yeldon up to starter. Yeldon, as a backup mind you, posted 1,108 yards, 12 TDs, and 6.3 yards per rush last year. Yeldon produced in big games as well, putting up 108 and a touchdown in the championship game against Notre Dame. (Then again, it was Notre Dame.)

If you aren't familiar, we encourage you to check out footage of Yeldon's top plays in 2012. Bonus: a Musburgerism punctuates #4. ("Oh my. Oh my. What do we have here?") As you watch, keep in mind he was a freshman.

And . . . reboot.

Jadeveon Clowney: We called out Clowney as a deciding factor in our predicted win (final score, 33-28) for South Carolina over Michigan in the 2013 Outback Bowl. In the game, Clowney made a huge play (now known as "The Hit") in the fourth quarter, forcing and recovering a fumble with the Gamecocks***** trailing 22-21. You can find the highlight easily - just start typing "Clowney" into the search bar and pick the first result that pops up. Jadeveon appears on every preseason Heisman watch list, but he may post fewer big plays in 2013. Teammate Devin Taylor moved on, going in the fourth round of the NFL draft, leaving some question as to how the d-line will allow Clowney to avoid double-teams. But maybe when you are 6'6" and run a 4.6 second 40 yard dash, it doesn't matter.

Johnny "Football" Manziel: The tiresome clamor over Johnny Manziel's behavior dominated the offseason, as the 2012 Heisman winner stirred controversy with every tweet, signed autograph, and crashed frat party. Manziel seemed determined to keep his name in the press, and the latest news out of College Station ensured the lead-up to Week 1 brimmed with Johnny Football updates. The NCAA suspected the freshman profited from an autograph signing event during the offseason, but following an investigation found no hard evidence to prove anything other than indiscretion. In what appears to be a face-saving gesture, the NCAA and Texas A&M agreed to suspend Manziel for the first half of Saturday's game versus Rice for "violating the spirit" of NCAA bylaws 12.5.2.1 and 12.5.2.2. Cue the hyperbole, moralizing and outrage. Now you can understand why we're relieved to have actual games to watch.

Our Picks For Week One:

Buffalo at #2 Ohio State (-34.5)
Mississippi State at #13 Oklahoma State (-13)
Florida Atlantic at Miami (-31.5)

And finally, we can resume the annual "bet against the Kentucky Wildcats" tradition. New coach Mark Stoops notwithstanding, we will take Western Kentucky (+4.5) and the points on Saturday.

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* No.
** The SEC's lone loss came last season when LSU, an SEC team, lost to Alabama, another SEC team.
*** Doesn't March Madness hold the rights to Selection Sunday?
**** Ancient Romans took the Sacred Chickens very seriously. The chickens would augur success or failure in battle through their reaction when presented with grain: if the poultry didn't peck at the offering, the Roman forces would wait until the following day. General Publius Claudius Pulcher infamously ignored the chickens before a major naval engagement in the First Punic War in 249 BC. When the chickens refused the grain, Claudius tossed them overboard, crying "So that they might drink, since they refused to eat!" and sailed against the Carthaginians. Suffice it to say, Rome lost the battle, with nearly 100 ships sunk or captured. Woe to those who don't mind the chickens.
***** Totally different than Sacred Chickens.

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Mike Luce is our man on campus. He welcomes your comments.

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