The ancient Greeks believed a total eclipse indicated the gods were angry. The Chinese believed it was a dragon eating the sun. The Mayans suspected it foretold the apocalypse.
What might a rabid college football fan think when the sun disappears behind the moon Monday afternoon in parts of the United States?
Monday’s path of totality will pass directly over both Clemson and Columbia . The only other Power Five conference schools directly in the 60-mile wide total eclipse path as it tracks across the continental United States are Oregon State, Nebraska, Missouri and Vanderbilt. Considering it also skirts close to the campuses of Tennessee and Georgia, it doesn’t bode well for the SEC East.
Coming on the eve of the 2017 college season, anyone superstitious must think any football programs in the total blackout path won’t win their respective divisions. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise in most of those outposts, but it will not be a welcome development for the reigning national champions.
Clemson is certainly well equipped to contend again to win the Atlantic Division and the ACC crowns and return for a third consecutive year to the College Football Playoff. But the chances are unquestionably a little dimmer now that the Deshaun Watson era is over.
It’s that time of year to shine a little light on what might happen to our favorite area teams and other educated guesses when our favorite season kicks off over the next two weeks. For what it’s worth, I picked Clemson to win it all last year, should have been right about Watson winning the Heisman Trophy and came within acceptable margins of error on every other local team except Georgia Southern, whose poor efforts exceeded all expectations.
It should all come down to Nov. 11. That’s when Florida State rolls into Death Valley for the annual only-game-that-matters in the ACC. Considering it’s the last regular season conference game for both teams, it will have the feel of a playoff showdown. The good news for Clemson is it can afford to lose one of its stern ACC preliminary road tests at Louisville, Virginia Tech or N.C. State and still win the division by beating FSU, but this shapes up to be the Seminoles’ turn.
The Coastal Division champion will be irrelevant again in the end. Any one of five teams have a chance, but it will come down to the regular-season finale between Miami and Pitt to determine who will lose in the championship game. Since Pitt doesn’t have to play any of the Atlantic’s “Big Three,” the Panthers get the nod.
Local assessment: Clemson (10-2), Orange Bowl bid; Georgia Tech (8-4), TaxSlayer Bowl.
It’s SEC East title or bust for the Bulldogs this season. There’ll be no excuses this time if Georgia isn’t able to secure the conference’s weakest division for the first time since 2012. Kirby Smart has all the right weapons and a year of experience under his belt. Road games at Tennessee and Auburn present the hardest challenges, but if they beat Florida that should be enough.
Of course, it all ends with a date with Alabama, who will win and be declared the official second “home” team at Mercedes-Benz Stadium where they might play three times this season.
Local assessment: Georgia (10-3), Orange Bowl; South Carolina (6-6), Camping World Bowl.
The comfortable option offense should return, but the schedule doesn’t bode well for Georgia Southern to bounce back too far from a demoralizing 5-7 season. The Eagles have to play the three best Sun Belt teams including favorites Appalachian State and Troy on the road. Season finale win at newcomer Coastal Carolina might be required to get bowl eligible. The most exciting thing about Georgia State will be its newly remodeled Turner Field home.
Local assessment: Georgia Southern (6-6), Cure Bowl; Georgia State (5-7).
It’s hard to look beyond the chalk, but my hunch is that Michigan will upset everybody’s Big Ten favorite Ohio State to slip into the four-team field with Alabama, Southern Cal and Florida State. (Sorry again, Big 12.) The season will begin and end with the same teams facing each other in Atlanta. Alabama will win the marquee opener but Florida State will claim the rematch that matters in January. Or vice versa.
Louisville QB Lamar Jackson might be the favorite to repeat, but unless he can score wins over heavyweights FSU and Clemson he’ll get judged beyond the highlight reels this time. Georgia’s Nick Chubb will be the top running back in the mix, but something tells me O.J. Simpson is released on parole in time to see USC quarterback Sam Darnold claim the Trojan’s record eighth stiff-arm trophy over Florida State’s Deondre Francois.