College Football

After a topsy-turvy 2007 college football season full of surprises, the 2008 college football season opened like business as usual. No less than 20 teams among the AP’s Top 25 Preseason Poll won their opener.

It would be hard to call 2 of the 5 losing teams as an upset-No. 9 Clemson lost at home to No. 24 Alabama 34-10, and No. 20 Illinois lost to No. 6 Missouri 52-42 on the road. This was a preseason poll and all 4 teams were ranked.

The only three real upsets were No. 17 Virginia Tech’s loss to host East Carolina, 27-22, since East Carolina was unranked, No. 25 Pittsburgh losing its opener at home to unranked Bowling Green 27-17, and No. 18 Tennessee’s overtime loss to host UCLA 27-24.

The 20 ranked winning teams racked up some pretty impressive opening victories:

No. 1 Georgia hosted and defeated 1-AA Georgia Southern 45-21. Georgia hosts Central Michigan next, another easy opponent.

No. 2 Ohio State hosted and shut out 1-AA Youngstown State 43-0. Ohio State hosts in-state rival Ohio next.

No. 3 Southern California (USC) traveled to Virginia and won easily on the road 52-7. USC takes a week off and then hosts Ohio State on Sept. 13, giving them lots of time to prepare for the Buckeyes.

No. 4 Oklahoma hosted and ripped apart 1-AA Chattanooga 57-2. Oklahoma hosts Cincinnati next, another lightweight.

No. 5 Florida hosted Hawaii and gave the Warriors a taste of top competition, 56-10. Florida hosts in-state rival Miami next.

No. 6 Missouri hosted and defeated No. 20 Illinois 52-42. Both of these teams should be good again this year, but it does not appear than either of them has a defense against a good offense. Missouri hosts in-state rival Southeast Missouri State next while Illinois hosts in-state rival Eastern Illinois. Both should win easily.

No. 7 Louisiana State (LSU) saw 1-AA Appalachian State coming to Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and promptly sent them packing with a 41-13 loss. LSU hosts Troy next. Troy should get run over.

No. 8 West Virginia hosted and defeated 1-AA Villanova 48-21. West Virginia travels to East Carolina next and the Mountaineers from the Big East Conference had better be on their game. The East Carolina Pirates from Conference USA are on a big time roll. Coach Skip Holtz led East Carolina past Boise State last year in the Hawaii Bowl, giving him two huge wins in a row.

No. 10 Auburn hosted and shut out Louisiana-Monroe 34-zip. Auburn hosts Southern Mississippi next.

No. 11 Texas hosted and smashed Florida Atlantic 52-10. Texas travels to in-state rival Texas-El Paso (UTEP) next, another easy opponent for the Longhorns.

No. 12 Texas Tech’s pass-happy offense blew by 1-AA visitor Eastern Washington 49-24 and will travel to Nevada next.

No. 13 Wisconsin feasted on Akron 38-17 in the Badgers’ home opener, and host Marshall next. Many pundits are looking at Wisconsin as a powerhouse in the Big Ten this year. Akron might agree.

No. 14 Kansas treated visiting Florida International like road kill in a 40-10 victory. The Jayhawks host weak Louisiana Tech next.

No. 15 Arizona State hosted and turned back 1-AA in-state rival Northern Arizona 30-13. Next up for the Sun Devils is visiting Stanford, which won a big game in its home opener against Oregon State 36-28.

No. 16 Brigham Young (BYU) hosted and stormed past 1-AA Northern Iowa 41-17 and now travels to Washington to face a young, inexperienced Husky team.

No. 17 Virginia Tech lost to host East Carolina 27-22 and should easily rebound when the Hokies host 1-AA Furman next. Trust me when I say it will not be a good day to be Furman. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, the master of special teams play, got beat when East Carolina’s T. J. Lee scooped up his own blocked punt and ran it in for a 27-yard touchdown with 1:52 left to seal the Pirates’ victory. Beamer and his band of Virginia Tech players will take it out on Furman. Virginia Tech should drop in the first regular-season AP Poll this week, especially since East Carolina was an unranked team.

No. 18 Tennessee traveled to UCLA and lost a heartbreaker to UCLA 27-24. The Volunteers led 14-7 at the half, led 14-10 after the 3rd quarter, watched UCLA take a 24-21 lead with 27 seconds left in the 4th quarter, managed to tie the game at 24, and then lost in overtime when UCLA’s kicker made a 42-yard field goal and Tennessee’s kicker missed a 34-yarder. The win represented the first game and first win for new coach Rick Neuheisel’s UCLA coaching debut at his alma mater.

No. 19 South Florida hosted and stomped Tennessee-Martin 56-7. Next up for South Florida will be a trip to in-state rival Central Florida. South Florida surprised a lot of teams last year with a 9-4 record, including a 56-21 loss to Oregon in the Brut Sun Bowl.

No. 20 Illinois traveled to No. 6 Missouri and lost 52-42 in a high-scoring offensive shootout.

No. 21 Oregon hosted and put a licking on Washington 44-10. The Huskies, who only trailed 14-10 at the half, proved no match for Oregon’s spread offense and speed. Oregon hosts Utah State next while Washington has its home opener against BYU. Coach Ty Willingham and his Washington players will be lucky to leave Husky Stadium with their shirts on after BYU gets done with them.

No. 22 Penn State hosted and stomped a mud hole in 1-AA Coastal Carolina 66-10. Penn State will host a very angry Oregon State team next. The Nittany Lions had better be ready because the Beavers play tough, hard-nosed football to say it kindly.

No. 23 Wake Forest traveled to Baylor and got the job done, 41-13.

No. 24 Alabama traveled to No. 9 Clemson and the Crimson Tide rolled out with an impressive 34-10 victory. We predicted that Clemson could be in trouble with a capital T, and in fact they were. Alabama led 23-3 at the half and outscored Clemson 11-7 in the second half. Alabama entertains Tulane next in the Crimson Tide’s home opener. The Bryant-Denny Stadium will be rockin’, and unless the Earth caves in, Alabama will be 2-0.

No. 25 Pittsburgh had its season opener at home against Bowling Green and came up short, losing to the Falcons from the Mid-American Conference, 27-17. Is Pittsburgh that bad? Yes. Bowling Green is a Mid-American Conference team and Pittsburgh plays in the Big East Conference. If Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt keeps this up, he will never get any respect. Are you aware that Bowling Green won the Mid-American East title last year, went 8-4 overall and played in the GMAC Bowl? Yes, the Falcons lost to Tulsa 63-7 in their bowl game, but at least they went.

Pittsburgh last year was 5-7 overall and spent the season sucking pond water. A lot of fans are in prayer in Pittsburgh, hoping the Panthers will get better. Will someone please inform rabid Panther Nation fans that it is OK to pray like it depends on God, but the Panther players need to act like it depends on them. Pittsburgh should fall right out of the first regular-season AP Poll and take its rightful place in obscurity.

Seven of the 8 non-ranked teams that needed to win their opener did. Only Michigan, which lost its opener at home last year to 1-AA Appalachian State 34-32, managed to lose again at home in the Big House to Utah, 25-23. The loss represented the first game and first loss for new coach Rich Rodriguez. Had Michigan not come up with 13 points in the last quarter, the Wolverines would have lost 25-10. Do you think they sell Utah jerseys in Ann Arbor? In fairness, Michigan did end up at 8-4 last year and did beat Florida 41-35 in the Capital One Bowl.

The 7 non-ranked teams that won included:

Arizona over Idaho 70-0 (49-zip at the half), Arkansas over 1-AA Western Illinois 28-24 (don’t laugh, at least the Razorbacks won), Boise State over 1-AA Idaho State 49-7, Boston College over Kent State 21-0, Connecticut over 1-AA Hofstra 35-3, Kansas State over North Texas 45-6, and Nebraska over Western Michigan 47-24 (the Cornhuskers still have a lot of work to do).

Add-on winners include Colorado at home over in-state rival Colorado State 38-17 (this game is in the same category as the Oregon-Oregon State civil war shootout every year), and Wyoming at home over Ohio 21-20 (many Wyoming backers have made big bucks betting on Wyoming at home over the years).

And my pick for game of the week? The mighty Buffalo Bulls (hear my mighty roar) scored in every quarter to paste visiting Texas-El Paso (UTEP) 42-17. Keep an eye on Buffalo. The Bulls, with coach Turner Gill, have decided to stop being the NCAA’s doormat and start beating people because they can.

That’s the story on this opening week wrap-up. Other teams may have played and won, but until they stop standing around and looking important rather than actually beating someone, they get no coverage here.

Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley

Read my other detailed, knowledgeable, interesting articles on football, including:

“Famous Quotes by Vince Lombardi, Knute Rockne and Lou Holtz During Football’s Annual Bowl Season”

“How to Predict When Teams Are Overrated and Due for an Unexpected Loss”

“The Sagarin Ratings: What They Are, How to Read Them and What to Do With Them”

and my 14 consecutive weekly wrap-up articles on the 2007 College Football Season as well as wrap-up articles on all 32 College Bowl Games.

Northeast Alabama on the World’s Longest Yard Sale Route

Hundreds of folks participate as vendors and shoppers each year in the World’s Longest Yard Sale. The route stretches for 690 miles through six states along the Hwy 127 corridor from Gadsden, Alabama to Addison, Michigan. Communities and individuals will clean out their closets and attics and welcome buyers over a four day weekend in early August. There are great bargains to be found and plenty of interesting people to meet along the way. Businesses participate by holding sidewalk sales and special promotions. Some communities plan additional festivities over the weekend. Covering the entire route is difficult, so most travelers will concentrate on a small portion. Many people take time to explore points of interest along the way. Here are some highlights covering the southern part of the World’s Longest Yard Sale route in northeastern Alabama.

Travelers can expect to find more than 1,000 vendors in Alabama. There are treasures to be found from antiques to furniture, collectibles, furniture, household items, clothing, fresh produce, and homemade jams. The yard sale trail begins in Gadsden, Alabama, at Noccalula Falls Park atop Lookout Mountain. Local legend claims that an Indian princess jumped from the waterfall here to avoid marriage to a man she did not love. Today the park has an animal habitat exhibit, pioneer village, campground, and mini golf. The road outside the park heads north and becomes AL Hwy 176. The route between Gadsden and Chattanooga, Tennessee is known as Lookout Mountain Parkway, although route numbers will change several times.

Bargain hunters should travel along the parkway to Fort Payne, Alabama. The Big Mill Antique Mall is worth exploring, as are other antique shops located along Gault Avenue downtown. Fans of the country music group Alabama may want to stop by the Alabama Fan Club and Museum, located at 101 Glenn Boulevard, while in town. North of Fort Payne, Lookout Mountain Parkway travels through scenic Little River Canyon and DeSoto State Park. Here travelers can take a break from the highway and enjoy the mountain scenery. The state park’s Mountain Inn Restaurant makes a great stop for lunch or dinner.

Mentone, Alabama is a small mountain resort town atop Lookout Mountain with shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfast inns. Shoppers will find several art galleries in town and in the Log Cabin Village. On leaving Mentone yard sale shoppers will turn onto AL Hwy 117, which will take them into Georgia for a few miles and on toward Chattanooga, Tennessee.


Wine Trails – Wine Travel Blossoms in Alabama

Much of Alabama’s wine country is located in the central part of the state, where the hilly terrain is conducive to vineyards and grape growing. South of Birmingham, it’s a downhill run to Montgomery, the state capital, and Mobile, a lively port city hugging the Gulf Coast.

When you visit, you’ll navigate Interstate 65, which cuts a north/south path through the heart of Alabama. Travel is a breeze and most attractions are easily accessible off the highway. Currently, there are three wineries in the southern half of Alabama, so when you combine winery visits with the friendly cities of Montgomery and Mobile, you’ve got the makings of an ideal 3-4 day getaway.

Planning The Route: Two I-65 Wineries

Our plans called for a mid morning departure from Birmingham with an overnight stay in Montgomery. Then, a half day’s drive to Mobile and the subtropical climate of Mobile Bay and the Gulf Coast. Two Alabama wineries sit along the I-65 corridor between Birmingham and Montgomery, which are 90 miles apart. And so, after a light breakfast in Birmingham we headed south on I-65 with our sights set on Vizzini Famrs Winery. Located only 1/2 hour south of the city, Vizzini is open daily at 10 a.m. and is easy to find right off exit 234.

Vizzini offers an onsite deli and outdoor patio where you can enjoy lunch overlooking the vineyards. We arrived at 10:30, too early for lunch, although we did snack on freshly baked bread and local cheese from the deli counter.

You’ll have your choice of about a dozen Vizzini wines, made from a combination of west coast and Alabama grapes. If you’re familiar with our travelogues, you know we like to “drink local” and sample wines made with local grapes. At Vizzini Farms Winery, that means a terrific Cabernet Franc, whose smooth flavor compared favorably to Virginia or California wines of this style.

Sensing how much we liked the Cabernet Franc, our tasting guide suggested the Sangiovese, a red Italian table style wine that had us thinking of a pairing with barbeque. Among others we liked were a Pinot Noir, Blush, and a pleasantly surprising Riesling that was right in our sweet spot. We aren’t sure where the grapes originate for Vizzini Farms’ Riesling, but we recommend it as a “must try”. Crisp and a bit sweeter than many Rieslings, we wish we’d bought more than one bottle.

Less than 10 minutes away, only a mile off exit 228 near the town of Calera, is the beautiful and welcoming Ozan Vineyard and Cellars. If you’re pressed for time and can only visit one winery in Alabama, Ozan is a good choice. Situated on a 24 acre estate in the midst of Alabama wine country, this relatively new winery boasts a continually expanding vineyard with emphasis on the Norton grape.

Ozan’s Wine Train

One of Ozan Vineyard’s more interesting projects is their monthly wine train excursion, which combines wine tasting with a leisurely train ride through the countryside. Operating from April through November, each trip offers a different environmental focus, depending on the season. These Saturday journeys last three hours and include wine tasting, gourmet box lunch, and theme narration. See Ozan’s website for more details.

We settled in for a taste of Ozan’s Norton Red Label. Norton wines are fast becoming our red wine favorite, having been introduced to the style in Missouri and southern Illinois. We weren’t surprised to see it here, as the countryside reminded us of central Missouri. This wine is big and bold, with an appealing black cherry flavor and mildly oakey finish. Also try the Reserve Merlot, vinted from local grapes and aged for 16 months.

For something sweeter, there’s Ozan Peach. Peach wines are big in Alabama and this one is really good! Very pleasant and well made, it’s not overwhelmingly sweet and has the aroma and flavor of farm fresh peaches.

There are almost a dozen wines to try here, with special releases planned through 2009. Only minutes off I-65, it’s an ideal stop between Birmingham and Montgomery. Ozan is a big supporter of the Alabama Wine Trail and helps enhance promotion of the Alabama wine industry. They’re open Fridays and Saturdays, 11-6.

Down I-65 To Montgomery

Less than an hour from Ozan is Alabama’s historic state capital, Montgomery. Located in the heart of Montgomery’s downtown a few short blocks from the Alabama River is a Montgomery landmark, Daisy’s Diner. Daisy’s is southern cooking personified. There’s a set menu at Daisy’s, and daily specials, usually focused around a “meat and three”. This means you’ll get one meat and three side dishes. From the moment we walked in, we were mesmerized by the scent of fried chicken, which was nothing short of outstanding. The outer breading was crisp and tasty, the chicken itself moist and tender. We also ordered a plate of meatloaf, with buttered corn, squash casserole, and turnip greens on the side. What a delicious introduction to Montgomery!

With just over 200,000 residents, Montogomery isn’t particularly large. It’s easy to navigate, especially the walkable downtown area. The city is rich in history, with numerous civil rights landmark sites. The best place to start is historic Union Station, an 1890’s era building housing the Montgomery Visitors Center. We viewed a short video overview of the city and visited “The Depot”, Montgomery’s official gift shop. You can also buy $1 all day passes to the Montgomery Trolley System, which will transport you all around the downtown area.

From here, your choices are many. Visit and tour the Alabama Capitol, explore historical sites, or spend an afternoon amidst the speciality shops on Mulberry Street. This is a government town, so the downtown is bustling, especially during the day.

We enjoyed meeting some local Montgomerians, who were delighted we were spending some time in their city. They claim many tourists bypass Montgomery on their way to the Gulf Coast and never experience the city’s charms. We enjoyed our visit very much, and recommend a day or two stay for anyone traveling through Alabama.

Wine Travel – Alabama’s New Wine Trail

If you’ve ever felt that wine travel is best suited for summer time, perhaps by the end of this travelogue you’ll have a slightly different perspective. It’s January as we write this, and winter has its usual vice grip on the Midwest. But all around the country, wineries are welcoming visitors and hosting wine trail events. Actually, the traditional off season is the perfect time to visit your favorite winery. Crowds are lighter and chances are you’ll rub elbows with the owner or winemaker who can personally provide insight into their craft. It’s an ideal way to learn more about wine in a relaxed, leisurely setting.

In spring 2008, we caught wind of a new wine trail being developed and marketed in the Deep South. And so, in an effort to escape the winter doldrums, we set out for the milder climate of Alabama to discover the burgeoning Alabama Wine Trail.

The Alabama Wine Trail: Background and Challenges

Although Alabama isn’t typically known as a wine producing state, there is a long history of grape production and wine making here. Like other southern states, the muscadine grape reigns supreme, but Alabama winemakers are developing a surprising array of excellent wines. Much of north central Alabama offers a mountainous terrain, with numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation. Of course, where there are mountains, there are sure to be valleys. This, combined with a long growing season, gives the Alabama wine industry an excellent opportunity to thrive as time goes on.

Wine Trails USA was delighted to see Alabama designate an official wine trail. If you’re interested, be sure to request an Alabama Wine Trail brochure from the Alabama Travel Council. It’s a beautiful brochure outlining Alabama’s eight wineries, all within an easy drive from the state’s three main cities of Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile.

There was, however, a large amount of publicity devoted to the Alabama Wine Trail at its launch, unfortunately not all positive. Long standing anti alcohol biases are quite prevalent in the state, and wineries have overcome numerous hurdles to open for business, let alone market their products. Fortunately, through a lot of hard work and persistence, the Alabama Wine Trail is open for business and capitalizing on the wine travel and agri tourism trend. We’re rooting hard for the success of Alabama wineries and their wine trail, and we hope our visit and this travelogue helps open a few eyes.

Alabama Wineries – East of Birmingham

We chose Birmingham as our base of operations for two nights since four of Alabama’s wineries are situated within a 45 minute drive east of the city. Interstate 20 cuts east/west across Alabama and intersect with Interstate 59 just northwest of Birmingham. Either route will take you into a hilly, almost mountainous, terrain that’s home to Alabama wineries.

Our first winery to visit was Wills Creek Vineyards, just a short distance off Interstate 59 exit 188 in the small town of Attala. Arriving just after 10 a.m. on a crisp but sunny day, we had the winery tasting room all to ourselves. Wills Creek specializes in muscadine wines with interesting twists, as some are dry and others the more traditional sweet.

We enjoyed just about everything we tried, especially the terrific Sirano Limited Release. This bold red wine, similar to a Syrah, is moderately dry with flavors of dark fruit – we tasted plum and blackberry. Also, don’t miss Blazing Sun Pinot Grigio, a friendly white wine with pleasing citrus flavors. We bought a few bottles of this to take home, our very first Alabama wine purchase!

The winery itself is located in the midst of the Duck Valley Wildlife Preserve, and the grounds are pleasant and peaceful. Stop for a few moments and breathe in the fresh air … it’s almost as refreshing as the wine!

Just a few miles south of Wills Creek is White Oak Vineyards, in Anniston just north of Interstate 20. Open on Friday afternoons and Saturdays, White Oak boasts a beautiful tranquil farm setting amidst the rolling hills of central Alabama. Here you’ll enjoy an eclectic variety of twelve wines, ranging from sweet to crisp, all made with Alabama pride. Surprisingly, we found a Chambourcin and also a Burgundy, with the Burgundy made from Norton grapes. Reflecting on last year’s trip to Missouri, we noted the terrain is quite similar in this part of Alabama. The Burgundy in particular was outstanding, with bold intense flavors that to us stacked up against any other Burgundy we’ve tasted.

You should also try White Oak’s fruit wines, especially the Peach. This is such a fun, easy sipper and it’s a real taste of Alabama, as the state is known for its peach crop almost as much as neighboring Georgia. On the drier side, there’s Villard Blanc, an elegant white offering that also made its way home with us.

Alabama Wineries – Day Two

About 35 minutes southeast of Birmingham in Harpersville, AL is Morgan Creek Vineyards, a state of the art winery producing a wide range of wines. Ranging from dry to very sweet, Morgan Creek’s wines are made with fruit and various grape varieties, including the muscadine grape. A stalwart of the south, the muscadine grape is generally quite sweet but are also a perfect blend with fruit and other grapes.

We sampled most of Morgan Creek’s wines and came away most impressed with three in particular. First in our hearts was Noble, a dry red offering with a unique finish of strawberry and dark cherry. We’d serve this one room temperature as a partner to a mild cheese or a strip steak. Next, we liked Cahaba White, just slightly sweet with a bit of a spicy palate mixing well with the fruit. Finally, Regal Red, in the burgundy style and brimming with dark cherry flavors.

In summer, Morgan Creek offers fireworks displays in conjunction with live music nights. You can bring a picnic, enjoy wine tasting, and listen to music under the stars, all capped off by a rousing fireworks show.

Our final winery in this chapter of our Alabama Wine Trail travelogue takes us to Bryant Vineyards in Talladega. If that name sounds familiar, it’s due to the famous Talladega Speedway that draws thousands of visitors each year. Bryant Vineyards is just a few miles away from the track.

Bryant Vineyards has been producing wine since 1985, with grapes grown on land that has been in the Bryant family since the late 1800’s. You’ll find a full range of muscadine wines here, including our favorite, Country White. This is a perfect wine for warm summer nights, or cold January nights for that matter! We also liked Festive Red, a dark red table wine that we felt benefitted from a slight chill.