Midsummer night's dream reveals puckish prognostications for '08
Because it's June, and because June is slower than an Ivy League defensive back when it comes to college football news, the boss e-mailed me with a quirky story idea.
He pointed out that Midsummer's Eve was upon us, and the day has a long tradition of being a time for telling fortunes. Some guy named William Shakespeare even built a story around Midsummer's Eve -- and the suggestion was that I do the same.
After reacquainting myself with "A Midsummer Night's Dream," it seems Shakespeare himself might have had football on the brain when he wrote it. You don't believe me? I have the evidence.
Ten reasons to believe Shakespeare was a college football fan before his time (not even counting the fact that Notre Dame had a star halfback of the same name in the 1930s):
"Lord, what fools these mortals be!" -- Was that Puck? Or Tim Tebow?
"Days of absence, sad and dreary, Clothed in sorrow's dark array, Days of absence, I am weary; She I love is far away." -- The average college football fan in the dog days of summer, waiting for the season to begin.
"Masters, spread yourselves." -- Billy Shakes correctly predicting the era of the spread offense.
"The course of true love never did run smooth." -- West Virginia University versus native son, alumnus and former coach Rich Rodriguez.
"Swift as a shadow, short as any dream " -- Swift? Short? Is there any doubt the Bard was presaging Missouri's pass-and-catch tandem of speedy wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and diminutive quarterback Chase Daniel?
"Now the hungry lion roars, And the wolf behowls the moon; Whilst the heavy ploughman snores, All with weary task fordone." -- Penn State and NC State will take big steps forward in '08, while Mark Mangino and Kansas could be caught napping in the hypercompetitive Big 12.
"Not a mouse shall disturb this hallowed house " -- 16th century version of Under Armour slogan, "We must protect this house!"
"Away with us to Athens; three and three, We'll hold a feast in great solemnity." -- Tennessee fans will mash the panic button with both hands when the Volunteers are .500 after visiting Georgia in the sixth game of the season.
"Over hill, over dale, Thorough bush, thorough brier, Over park, over pale, Thorough flood, thorough fire, I do wander everywhere " -- Shakespeare channeled Troy coach Larry Blakeney, whose team plays seven road games and two home games through Nov. 1 -- including trips to last year's BCS Championship Game participants LSU and Ohio State.
"Farewell, sweet playfellow: pray thou for us; And good luck grant thee thy Demetrius!" -- LSU must say goodbye to receiver Early Doucet but might not miss him much if Demetrius Byrd steps up.
Inspired by the mad game the Bard brought to the Globe, I have consulted Puck and the fairies and will do my own soothsaying. Midsummer predictions for college football 2008:
1. Notre Dame will be better.
Perhaps improved enough to lose another bowl game. But part of the Fighting Irish fan base won't notice, because it'll be consumed with watching for Scourge of Humanity Ty Willingham to fail at Washington.
2. A superstar coach in the SEC will resign/retire.
The league's coaching ranks have become too crowded with A-listers for everyone to survive. Five guys have won national titles: LSU's Les Miles, Florida's Urban Meyer, Alabama's Nick Saban, Tennessee's Phil Fulmer and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier. A sixth (Auburn's Tommy Tuberville) has a 13-0 record on his résumé. Three more (Georgia's Mark Richt, Arkansas' Bobby Petrino and Mississippi's Houston Nutt) have at least one 10-win season. One guy (Kentucky's Rich Brooks) has taken a team to the Rose Bowl. And we haven't even mentioned the league's reigning coach of the year (Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom). That leaves one school -- Vanderbilt, natch -- without a coach who has some big-time bragging rights on his résumé.
Problem is, not all the big winners can win big. And when this season is over, the guess here is that someone will decide (or be convinced) that it's time to get out of the sausage factory. Leading candidates: Fulmer and Spurrier.
3. Rick Neuheisel won't bet on his own team in the office bowl pool.
The new UCLA coach got a mulligan and a bad lie at the same time. He's back in the game after being justifiably shunned for years, but inherits an offense that hasn't thrown for even 200 yards in a game since the fifth contest of 2007, then saw both its leading quarterbacks get hurt in spring ball. With only nine starters back and a nonconference schedule of Tennessee, BYU and Fresno State, the Bruins won't go bowling in '08.
4. Ohio State at USC is the nonconference game of the year.
And if the Buckeyes win it on Sept. 13, they'll be eight flimsy Big Ten games from another berth in the national championship game. Wouldn't that be special?
5. Georgia at Arizona State won't be bad, either.
The Sept. 20 game in Tempe will give fans the opportunity to argue dry heat versus humidity.
6. Texas' streak of seven straight seasons with at least 10 wins will end.
The Longhorns don't lack talent, but they drew a killer Big 12 schedule: three 2007 bowl teams from the North division (Colorado, Missouri and Kansas), and they'll play two of those teams on the road. And in addition to facing Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, they must face trendy breakout pick Texas Tech in Lubbock. Burnt orange fans are encouraged to beat the rush and start criticizing offensive coordinator Greg Davis now.
7. No coach in America will be under more pressure than Tommy Bowden.
Clemson should be the class of another underwhelming ACC season and should be in the national championship discussion. Unless, of course, the Tigers do what they've done best in recent years: lose games they shouldn't. They're 8-8 in their past 16 games as a favorite. That's terrible. Bowden is in his 10th year and hasn't done better than 5-3 in league play since 2000. Given the loaded depth chart, it's time to step up and stay up.
8. The Big East wins the scheduling derby again.
A league that has shown a knack for creating huge late-season matchups will do it once more with South Florida at West Virginia on Dec. 6. At least one of the two will be in the top 10 at the time. Possibly both. Weather advantage: Mountaineers.
9. The one unit in all of college football with the most on its shoulders is
BYU's secondary. If that quartet of new starters comes through, the Cougars can go 12-0 and crash the BCS. If not, how does a fourth straight Las Vegas Bowl sound? The good news for BYU is that the two high-profile early tests (at Washington on Sept. 6 and UCLA on Sept. 13) are against teams that don't throw the ball with great distinction.
11. Mississippi at Arkansas on Oct. 25 will be the most compelling mediocre game of the year.
Houston Nutt comes home to see what Bobby Petrino has done with his old office and old offense. He might want to consult with Roy Williams on playing Kansas or Rick Pitino on playing Kentucky for pointers on how to handle the hate. Then again, he already had plenty of hate to handle while he was the coach of the Razorbacks.
12. At season's end, Joe Paterno will name himself Coach For Life and barricade himself inside the football office at Penn State, saying they'll never take him alive.
When the news reaches Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden will say, "Dadgummit, if he can do it, so can I." Two-state standoff ensues.
13. The 2008 season foretold here will end the way "A Midsummer Night's Dream" ended.
With an admission that none of this is real. Play it again, Puck:
"If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream "
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.