Guerry Clegg commentary: Only 97 days until college football season kicks off

sports@ledger-enquirer.comMay 24, 2014 

Technology can do wonderful and amazing things. Yet, sometimes, just the simplest advance can be so comforting.

One such advance would be the count-down to kickoff features on most college football websites.

The comforting thought: We're now down into double digits before instep meets leather. I know Al Cirado's famous saying was, "Toe meets leather," but who kicks straight-on any more?

Ninety-seven days and counting, by the time this reaches your doorstep, until that first Saturday. Unlike many opening Saturdays that are filled with glorified practice games, this one features a full day of thrills.

Granted, Georgia Tech's opening opponent -- Wofford -- isn't much to get excited about. But then things get serious. Alabama plays West Virginia at the Georgia Dome, Auburn hosts Arkansas and Clemson visits Georgia.

That's still a good ways off. There's still plenty of time for key players to get arrested, flunk out or transfer because they don't like what they see on the depth chart. So it's too early to make predictions with any confidence, not that predictions made three minutes before kickoff mean anything either. But there really is so much that can happen.

Actually, there's so much that WILL happen, only it will happen behind the scenes. College coaches will tell you this is a critical time for the development of their teams. Conditioning starts almost immediately after the previous season ends. Then comes spring football, which concludes around mid-April.

That time between those spring games and the August report dates gets overlooked by us as fans and the media. But that's when some back-up player decides that if he wants to play, he's going to have to out-work the guy, or guys, ahead of him on the depth chart. We focus on returning starters and incoming players -- freshmen and junior college transfers. But the ones who more often than not make the biggest impact are those veterans who have finally matured.

Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson was one of those players. He played in 10 games as a sophomore in 2012 and made six tackles all season, two of those in the opener against Buffalo. Last year, Wilson became just the third Bulldog ever to lead the SEC in tackles, racking up 133.

Having nine returning starters on each side of the ball can be nice. But sometimes a little attrition can be a positive thing.

The same can be said for coaching changes. Sometimes, the players are ready to hear a new voice. Alabama has a new offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin, the former Tennessee and Southern Cal head coach. It's easy to marginalize Kiffin as the spoiled brat son of a … former NFL coach. Even his own boss, Alabama athletic director Bill Battle, recently confessed, "My first reaction, because I didn't know Lane, wasn't very positive."

If Kiffin were working anywhere else, he might become a distraction. But his immediate boss is Nick Saban, the ultimate CEO of a college football program. College players love Kiffin's brashness. Besides, it's not as if he's coming in turning a spread offense into the run-and-shoot. As long as Saban is the head coach, the Crimson Tide will have a hard-nosed running game to set up the passing game. Having T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry to give the ball to doesn't hurt, either.

Georgia has an entirely new defensive staff. It's probably unfair to blame Todd Grantham, the former defensive coordinator, for all of the Bulldogs' defensive problems last year. The fact is they just weren't very good on the line and in the secondary. That being two-thirds of a defense poses a bit of a problem.

If nothing else, though, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has brought in a fresh perspective and some refreshing candor. Pruitt's daily message to the players -- issued both verbally and by frequently shaking up the depth chart -- has been bluntly simple. A player's recruiting credentials and even past accomplishments at Georgia guarantee him nothing. Each day is a new opportunity.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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