Headlinin’: SI covers the unusual suspects

Day of the darkhorse. The cover curse lived large last year, when three of the five teams featured on the front of Sports Illustrated’s regional previews — Missouri, Ohio State and Georgia — fell far, far short of national expectations, and a fourth, Southern Cal, was snubbed again by the voters after its fourth loss as a double-digit favorite in three years. Ever the egalitarian doom-bringer, SI turned its attention this year to the underdogs: Of the regional cover boys, Oregon, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss and Penn State, none is really considered a legit national championship contender of the variety that usually graces the "[Insert team] is No. 1" headline; in this case, none is even projected as No. 1 in its own conference. But given the buzz and potential of those four schools, they are four of the most interesting teams of the season, if nothing else — and as 2008 proved yet again, those "[Insert team] is No. 1" covers haven’t always gone so well, anyway. Right, Keyshawn?

Curse aside, congratulations to Oklahoma State for gracing the cover for the first time in school history, for anything. (Even Barry Sanders didn’t make it.) Just, uh, don’t let it go to your heads, huh?

For the affluent sadist … Speaking of buzz, I don’t know how much there is surrounding USC’s trip to Notre Dame on Oct. 14 after last year’s embarrassing 38-3 blowout in the Coliseum, the Trojans’ seventh straight win in the series. The average score of those games: USC 41, Notre Dame 14. Clearly this remains a really sizzling ticket.

No, seriously, it does: According to Forbes, USC at Notre Dame is the most expensive game of the upcoming season, with tickets topping out at $3,500. In fact, SC games account for three of the most expensive tickets in Forbes’ top 10, with the Trojans’ dates with UCLA ($1,650) and Ohio State ($1,500) also fetching top dollar; only Georgia fans, who’ll have to shell out in the neighborhood of $2,000 per home game thanks to staggering donation requirements, will be paying more. By those standards, the actual game of the year nationally, Oklahoma vs. Texas ($1,389) is a steal.

Bummer, man. Well, no need to hurry back … The initial verdict on Aaron Corp’s "injury" during USC’s Monday practice was nothing: He missed all of three plays before returning to the lineup. Turns out, though, it was something: Corp woke up in pain and didn’t practice Tuesday, instead "wearing a slight grimace on his face" as backup/freshman phenom Matt Barkley tried to make the most of his COMPETITION TUESDAY with the first team.

Ultimately, this is probably going to look a lot like Mark Sanchez’s preseason knee injury last year, which kept Sanchez out of practice for a few days but was quickly forgotten and cost him zero snaps during the season — Corps is scheduled to undergo an MRI today, even though the X-rays Tuesday reportedly said he didn’t suffer any ligament damage. But Corp doesn’t seem to have the unassailable grip on the job Sanchez did (Pete Carroll himself brought up the name Wally Pipp and begged out of speculation about the future of the job), and every rep he misses is a chance for Barkley to even an already-narrow gap between him and significant playing time.

Buckle up for Brantley Ball. Aaaaand speaking of significant playing time, it sounds like Florida has committed to spreading it around, even at quarterback:

GAINESVILLE – Expect to see John Brantley quarterback the Florida Gators in the first halves of games for once — and not just against cupcakes or in mop-up time.
"He’s starting to earn that right," said Meyer at UF Media Day. "Unless he screws up and starts to hit reverse on that practice field, then we’ll back off. "
"But Johnny, we have to get him ready to go. He’s starting to really impress me. … He’s becoming John Brantley, the future star quarterback of the University of Florida. … It’s fun to watch."

Just another step toward eliminating the total Tebow-ness of the offense, of course, but a farsighted one to make Brantley more of a known quantity before the offense is his show in 2010. Unlike Tebow’s largely random appearances behind Chris Leak in 2006, Brantley will probably be on a regular rotation, say, the third series of the first half (and a substantial portion of most fourth quarters, in all likelihood).

Quickly … Much more news on the Florida front after UF Media Day: Athletic director Jeremy Foley has "not seen much negativity at all" about Urban Meyer’s big raise. Apparently Foley hasn’t been reading the papers in South Carolina. … Brandon Spikes remains a terrifying human being in basically all respects. … And Gator quarkback Jeff Demps thinks about a 1,000-yard season, hones his clichés. … Oklahoma is so short at center for the moment that the Sooners are letting tight end Brody Eldridge handle some snaps, just in case. … He won’t be there long, but Rutgers’ All-Big East tackle, Anthony Davis, A href="http://blogs.mycentraljersey.com/rutgers/2009/08/11/day-1-camp-notes/">practiced with the second team offense after showing up to camp a little overweight. … North Carolina signee Donte Moss, an elite, five-star prospect at defensive end, will face "internal discipline" after a misdemeanor arrest for assault stemming from a dorm room fight with a teammate last month. … Notre Dame receiver Duval Kamara will be sidelined by knee surgery for the next two weeks of practice. … Ticket sales are up at Pittsburgh, not so much for the Labor Day showdown between Florida State and Miami. … Texas’ own players couldn’t even name the Longhorns’ leading tackler last year. … Alabama moved into its new practice digs Tuesday. … Meanwhile, ex-Bama linebacker linebacker Ezekial Knight, shuffled from the crowded Tide roster last year due to a heart condition, is attempting to resurrect his career at Stillman College. … I’ll go ahead and give this a solid "no." … Surprise: Lawrence Phillips is found guilty again. …

Kyle Bunch

Partnerships for R/GA Ventures. Raised in California, adopted by Texas. Opinions expressed here are mine and they are fantastic.

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