The wait is finally over, all you college football fans. The Xs you've been marking on your calendars, counting down the days, it's finally come to an end.
That's right – my Blitz column is back, baby!
I know this is what your weekend edition has been missing these past 7 months, and your patience is finally being rewarded.
(Pause for laughter/groaning)
But, seriously, I'm happy to be back in the saddle talking college football for the next 4-plus months.
And I've been counting down the days on my calendar, too. See, the 2013 slate starts with something I've been dreaming about for far longer than the last half-year.
In the 2012 season opener, I was thrilled to get the chance to cover an Iowa football game from the press box at Soldier Field. As an Iowa City native and lifelong Hawkeye fan, the opportunity to actually cover the team I know more about – past and present – than any other in my life was a dream come true.
This afternoon, however, I'm going to see that press-box trip and raise you a venue.
When I was about 8 years old, I decided I wanted to be a sports reporter. I can actually remember the moment clearly, if not the exact date. I was in the basement of the house I grew up in, watching college basketball and listening to Dick Vitale wax poetic (read: scream crazily) about a player or a coach or something or other (he screams crazily about a lot of things, and a lot of the time, so they all run together after awhile).
But I digress.
So there I was, watching a basketball game on TV and playing basketball on my NERF hoop, and I had a sudden realization. It knocked me off my feet – literally, I sat down on the couch as my eyes grew wide and the wheels turned in my brain.
Wouldn't it be great, I asked myself, if I could get paid to talk about sports? You know, make a living watching, talking, eating, sleeping, breathing the thing you love most.
So there it was, my future laid out before my little eyes. Before I could drive, before I could ride my bike more than a few miles from home, before I had any friends who didn't attend Helen Lemme Elementary, I started drawing up a road map.
Now, things didn't go exactly as I imagined. I always wanted to do college sports on TV or radio – I was a broadcast major at the University of Iowa – but I took a slight detour … and I've loved my last 13-plus years in the Sauk Valley.
I've enjoyed covering the myriad athletes and teams this area has to offer. I've met so many amazing people, and had so many chances to be places and see things that I could only imagine as a kid – and almost all of them have surpassed my wildest dreams.
I expect this latest opportunity to be no different.
Growing up in a family of season-ticket holders – both sets of grandparents, my aunt and my parents – I've probably seen nearly a hundred games in Kinnick Stadium. And at some point during most of those games, I've taken a few seconds to wonder what it would be like to sit in that press box and watch the Hawkeyes from the top of the stadium.
This afternoon, that's exactly where I'll be. As much fun as it was to watch NIU and Iowa play, then talk to former Sterling standout Tyler Loos in the bowels of Soldier Field 364 days ago, it's going to be even more memorable to do those same things in the stadium I grew up in.
And there's even a mention in the press credentials kit that reporters are allowed to walk on the sidelines in the game's final minutes to get to the locker rooms and do postgame interviews.
First the press box, then possibly the Kinnick Stadium turf? I feel like a kid at Christmas.
And it's almost time to open my presents.
N. Illinois at Iowa
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City
Line: Iowa by 3
What's up: NIU is looking to avenge it's only regular-season loss last season, a last-minute one-point affair at Soldier Field on Labor Day weekend, and the Huskies are doing so with a potential Heisman-candidate QB. Iowa is looking for its 13th straight win in a season opener, but the Hawkeyes have never played their first game of the year against a team who played in the Orange Bowl the previous January – and they're doing so with a QB who's never taken a snap in an actual game before.
My pick: Iowa 24-21
Virginia Tech vs. No. 1 Alabama
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Line: Alabama by 20
What's up: Virginia Tech is known for its stingy defense, and usually challenges itself with a tough game in the first few weeks every season. But the Hokies have bit off more than they can chew in the Crimson Tide, who should dominate both sides of the ball against Frank Beamer & Co.
My pick: Alabama 38-14
No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
Line: Georgia by 1½
What's up: The game of the week – and possibly one of the top 10 of the season, when all is said and done. One of these talented teams will take an immediate hit to their BCS national title hopes, while the other will pick up a win that just may propel them into that conversation as the season wears on.
My pick: Georgia 31-28
No. 20 TCU vs. No. 12 LSU
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Line: LSU by 4½
What's up: The Tigers' last trip to the season-opening Cowboys Classic resulted in a 40-27 win over Oregon and kicked off an undefeated regular season in 2011. But the Horned Frogs are dangerous every year lately, it seems, and they beat Oregon State 30-21 in Arlington in 2010.
My pick: LSU 34-21
No. 19 Boise St. at Washington
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Husky Stadium, Seattle
Line: Washington by 3½
What's up: The Broncos are ranked, but still aren't favored to win in a Pac-12 stadium. But they've made a killing as underdogs over the past several years, and the Huskies should beware. Talent will only decide part of this battle; grit, determination and willpower may mean much more.
My pick: Boise St. 42-41
No. 22 Northwestern at Cal
When: 9:30 p.m. Monday
Where: California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley
Line: Northwestern by 6
What's up: The Wildcats enter the season ranked for the first time in a dozen years … and they're reward is a road trip to the West Coast. Northwestern is the better team, but jet lag has a way of catching up to you at the worst possible times. I don't know how much defense there will be in this one.
My pick: Northwestern 48-34