Everyone's undefeated…for now
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
Unless there's a considerable discrepancy in talent level, opening games are typically close affairs. That should certainly be the case for the Enquirer's five area teams, all of whom play a rivalry game that has historically been close and features two opponents that match up very well on paper.
"At this point, you're both undefeated, so you know that both teams are going to battle until the very end," Falkville coach Neil Estes said when asked why opening games are typically competitive.
But no matter how tight the game might be Thursday or Friday, one team has to win and one team has to lose. Here's my best guess at figuring out who those teams will be, as well as some predictions for those teams you care about (Alabama and Auburn) and the team I care about (Notre Dame).
Austin Black Bears (0-0) at Hartselle Tigers (0-0): You would be hard-pressed to find a more competitive rivalry the last three years. Hartselle is 3-0 against Austin in that span, but those three wins have come by a total of just 14 points. Last season's wild 37-34 triple-overtime win for the Tigers helped to galvanize the team for a strong run the rest of the season. This year, Austin has 21 players returning to a team that has high expectations in coach David Norwood's fourth season. Hartselle loses several key players from last year's team, but also has plenty of talent returning on both sides of the ball. This one is as close to a coin flip as it gets, so I'm doing what I usually do with games that look close on paper – going with the home team…Tigers 31, Black Bears 28.
Falkville Blue Devils (0-0) at Danville Hawks (0-0): Falkville's 13-12 victory last season broke a four-game winning streak for the Hawks over their county rival. This season, Falkville has high hopes for a team that returns most of its key starters on the offensive side of the ball. Meanwhile the Hawks are trying to erase the memory of last season's start, where Danville went 0-3 with consecutive one-point losses. This should be a good one…Blue Devils 21, Hawks 17.
Priceville Bulldogs (0-0) at Brewer Patriots (0-0): Every team has its rivalry game, but few have as much historical meaning to them as this one. Priceville's students once attended Brewer, which is why Brewer coach Billy Coleman has said this game is "like brothers playing against each other." Last season, the Patriots and Bulldogs played a very competitive game with Priceville coming out on top 27-20. Both these teams are probably stronger and more experienced on the defensive side of the ball, so expect a low-scoring affair that's a nail-biter to the end…Patriots 17, Bulldogs 14.
Western Carolina Catamounts (0-0) at Alabama Crimson Tide (0-0): This game is 100 percent guaranteed to be a blowout, but Alabama fans have still learned to be wary of the Catamounts when they visit Bryant-Denny Stadium. The last time it happened, then-junior quarterback Brodie Croyle tore his ACL and missed the rest of the 2004 season…Crimson Tide 42, Catamounts 3.
Kansas State Wildcats (0-0) at Auburn Tigers (0-0): Give Auburn some credit. The Tigers have played some relatively strong teams in their home openers the last few seasons – a loss to USC in 2003, a 2005 loss to Georgia Tech, a win against Washington State in 2006. The Wildcats could very easily win this game, especially if heralded quarterback Josh Freeman gets time to throw. But against Quentin Groves and the rest of the Tigers' strong defensive line, that might be easier said than done…Tigers 28, Wildcats 20.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (0-0) at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (0-0): A very young Irish offense will be led by a quarterback making his first career start, regardless of whether it's veteran senior Evan Sharpley, sophomore dual-threat Demetrius Jones, or golden boy freshman Jimmy Clausen. Throwing a green quarterback into a tough opener against a defense masterminded by highly regarded coordinator Jon Tenuta is a recipe for trouble, even if the Calvin Johnson-less Yellow Jackets don't have enough offense to make it a blowout…Yellow Jackets 24, Fighting Irish 17.