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VOL. 129 | NO. 169 | Friday, August 29, 2014
Don Wade

Don Wade

Wade: College Football Returns With Passion

By Don Wade

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First off, I don’t believe everything that Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper says.

“Coach Lane Kiffin is a great coach and a great person to be around,” Cooper said of the Crimson Tide’s new offensive coordinator. “Coach is a likable guy.”

So we have established Amari Cooper’s opinions are not infallible. That said, he speaks the truth about fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium, which in turn goes to a broader truth.

“It seems like they love the game more than the players,” Cooper said. “They are excited each week. It’s crazy out there.”

Yes, it is crazy out there – from Tuscaloosa to Oxford to Starkville to The Swamp. And yes, on a smaller scale, even on Tiger Lane outside Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Cooper’s right that fans do love the game more than the players do.

But Tigers fans deserve a special salute. Much is made of the time Bear Bryant played a game on a broken leg. Impressive as that was, it couldn’t have been as painful as decade after decade as a Memphis football fan.

We know Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen has to spend wisely – a new indoor facility and all that – but if money was no object then all long-time Tiger fans should get a gold watch. Or at least a sheet cake 100 yards long.

Until then, here are a few predictions. And if you disagree, well, know that what looks like a sweet beagle in my backyard is really a trained killer.

Memphis: I like coach Justin Fuente. I like the Tigers’ defense. I hate the front part of their schedule – at UCLA, Middle Tennessee at home, at Ole Miss, at Cincinnati, Houston at home. And I don’t quite believe in quarterback Paxton Lynch – not yet, anyway. Looks like 5-7, which would represent slight progress. I suppose.

SEC West: A year ago, Auburn surprised everyone. Yet all the national experts have forwarded Alabama to the new four-team national playoff. I’m not so sure. Though Alabama’s schedule isn’t that concerning, their quarterback situation is. Florida State transfer Jacob Coker could not distance himself from fifth-year senior Blake Sims and both were expected to get snaps in the opening game against West Virginia.

Plus, I’m tired of picking Alabama. Or LSU. Or even Auburn. So I’m running way out on a creaky limb and saying the SEC West title will be decided on Nov. 29 when Mississippi State goes to Oxford to play Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. How fun would that be?

SEC East: Everybody’s picking Georgia now, after a lot of early love for South Carolina. Some people like Florida as a dark horse but I’d advise those people to stay away from the betting windows (games at Alabama and Georgia, plus at Florida State to end the season). I’ll take South Carolina to win the division and I’ll also put down Vanderbilt for a school-record fourth straight bowl trip, this one under first-year coach Derek Mason.

Tennessee is so young this year they could wear those little orange sleepers made for babies. Coach Butch Jones has had to rebuild both the offensive and defensive lines. Early in the season, the Vols play at Oklahoma and Georgia in back-to-back games. Later, they go to Ole Miss, home against Alabama, and at South Carolina in successive weeks. And home games against Florida and Missouri are hardly sure things. Like the Tigers, I see 5-7 and a good chance for a better 2015 season.

Of course, this suggests waiting till next year. You know, for success, for a bowl, etc. And no one in Knoxville or Memphis or anywhere else wants to do that.

“A lot of people have expectations for us and we don’t want to let them down,” said Memphis nose tackle Terry Redden.

It’s the fans, after all, that love college football best and bleed the most.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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