By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
LAGUARDIA AIRPORT -- I now know what it feels like to call an audible.
After ascertaining around 7 p.m. ET last night that I was about to fly into a city, New Orleans, that could very well be under an evacuation order by this time Sunday, I decided it might not be in my best interest to cover Saturday's LSU-Appalachian State game. I'd been looking forward to the trip all summer -- mainly to spend the first Saturday of the season in arguably the finest tailgate town in the country -- but generally speaking, it's best to avoid flying someplace that's currently in a state of emergency.
All is not lost, however. Far from it. With a little last-second jostling last night, I was able to find a surprisingly affordable flight to St. Louis for Saturday's Missouri-Illinois showdown. (My Atlanta-based fellow Sweeper Cory McCartney has Clemson-Alabama covered.) I'll be boarding my flight momentarily. While college football's inherent unpredictably often causes us to change travel plans on the fly, this is without question the quickest turnaround (and under the most unusual circumstances) I've ever pulled off.
The good news is, most likely, I'll be seeing a better game. (Though if Armanti Edwards somehow springs for 350 on LSU, I'm going to be cursing myself.) I'm extremely interested to see whether Chase Daniel and the Missouri offense will be as potent as they were last season after losing RB Tony Temple, TE Martin Rucker and several reliable receivers. I'm equally interested to see whether the Tigers' defense is as dramatically improved as has been rumored. (Daniel has said often in fall camp that he's facing far more complex coverage than he did in practices a year ago.)
And of course, I'm very interested to see how far the Juice Williams-Arrelious Benn passing combo has evolved since last year's Rose Bowl. Perhaps more importantly, will Illinois be able to run the ball sans Rashard Mendenhall.
Last year's game was a 40-34 showdown in which Williams missed a significant part of the game due to injury. If this year's game features more of the same fireworks, it should be well worth the trip -- but I will miss the gumbo.