On HBO’s Hard Knocks (Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons) these past four weeks, one thing is clear: the starry-eyed rookies miss college. Like many who played football through high school, I’ve been cussed at with a myriad of blue streaks and been ranted at  with the best of them. So when I watch Hard Knocks every year, I’m rarely taken aback when one of the coaches gets in the face of a rookie or young player and lets him have it. Tuesday night was an exception.  Special Teams coach Keith Armstrong was “addressing” his unit in the film room the day after they had given up a blocked field goal and a touchdown on a blocked punt (albeit in a pre-season game). It was a classic dressing-down that I wish I could have found the audio for.

armstrong

When Armstrong was “coaching up” Malliciah Goodman (a 2nd-year backup defensive lineman out of Clemson who allowed one of the blocked kicks), the following tongue-lashing caught my attention:

Do you know what they’re saying about you in the coaches’ meeting? They’re saying ‘he doesn’t care!’ and ‘he thinks he’s too good for special teams!’ Are you a starter? Are you a superstar? No! You ain’t even good enough to be an asshole!

I had to rewind a few times and make sure I heard that right. Talk about a “low anthropology”! Wow. To be fair, at the end of the episode, we see Goodman making a great play in the next game and being greeted warmly by Armstrong as he came off the field. “Tear ‘em down so you can build ‘em up” happens at all levels in sports. However, when playing a game becomes a profession, such a chewing out can make a player wonder from game to game if he’s still going to have a job next week.

It’s not so in college football. Sure, there are college coaches out there that can make Keith Armstrong sound like Andy Griffith, but there’s a pageantry and a purity to Saturday afternoons in the Fall (especially here in the South) that is in some ways a last bastion of playing for the love the game before it begins to be about a paycheck. So (since, let’s face it, you don’t come to Mockingbird typically for fantasy football advice, though you can email me) here’s your “just for fun” Mockingbird Top 10 College Football rankings, and a few predictions.

The (first ever) Four Team Playoff:

1. Alabama – You won’t like Nick Saban when he’s angry. Short field goals run back for touchdowns by bitter rivals to win games make him angry. The rest of the SEC (just a smidge down overall this year) will incur his wrath this season as the Tide secures the number one seed in the first ever 4 team playoff. So what if Nick Saban doesn’t know who his QB is at the moment…

2. Florida State – The defending champs face arguably the easiest schedule among these top 10 this season.  Anything less than rolling undefeated into the 4 team playoff will be viewed as a disappointment. Jameis Winston comes back to attempt to become only the second repeat winner in Heisman Trophy history.  Don’t bet against him – ACC DBs defend only slightly better than Big 12 DBs.  That’s not a compliment. Don’t expect the Seminoles to win by the impressive margins that marked their games last season.  Jeremy Pruitt (their very underrated defensive coordinator) left for Georgia.

3. Michigan State – (sleeper pick) Mark Dantonio is the best coach that no one knows about.  He consistently over-achieves and has steadily upgraded the roster the past few seasons. When Ohio State QB Braxton Miller went down for the season a few weeks back, Michigan State became the favorite to go through the Big 10 unscathed. Even a loss at Oregon Sept 6 (in what promises to be the “greenest” college football game ever) won’t keep the Spartans from securing this spot…. but I’m betting on them to pull the upset in that one.

4. Georgia – (homer pick) The only SEC championship in the Mark Richt era happened the year after their (at the time) all-time leading SEC passer, QB David Green – moved on, and DJ Shockley came in his senior year and led the Dawgs to the title.  It could happen again. The new all-time leading SEC passer, Aaron Murray, now gives way to QB Hudson Mason. Georgia has the second-best player in America in RB Todd Gurley. The Dawgs may not have enough to get past Alabama, but it’s gonna be fun to sit here in the ATL and watch them try.

The Rest

5. Stanford – The Pac 12 is going to be very top-heavy this season with the Cardinal, Oregon, Arizona St., UCLA, and USC, but Stanford (known for their Big 10 style ruggedness) has their biggest, baddest team in years.

The Stanford Tree mascot in a classic SportsCenter Ad:

6. LSU – They’ve lost some key pieces on offense, but bring back a big-time D and the best freshman RB in the country in Leonard Fournette. Only the gauntlet that is the SEC West stands in their way.

7. Oregon – Marcus Mariota may be the most experienced QB in college football. However, teams are beginning to bring in consultants (really) to learn to defend the Ducks’ fast pace style, and it’s starting to work… gotta love 13 gazillion uniform combinations though.

8. Ohio State – The loss of Braxton Miller is crushing, but a very easy schedule and Urban Meyer give the Buckeyes hope. The winner of their game with Michigan State will likely slip into that 4 team playoff.

9. Baylor – If you have the best defense in the big 12 (like Oklahoma) you’re still not very good, but if you have the best offense in that league, you’re going to be the most fun team to watch – winning 75-65 weekly.

10. Texas A&M – (I’m cheating) They just whooped up on a very good South Carolina team in their opener last night. Johnny Bench, cough, I mean Johnny Football has moved on, but the cupboard appears to be much more full than we thought.

National Champ: Alabama  Heisman Trophy: Jameis Winston Coach of the Year: Mark Dantonio

I’m gonna miss THIS guy: