Liotta: O’Sullivan is key to 49ers’ success 

I’ve been reduced to praying that J.T. O’Sullivan doesn’t get hurt.

What does it say about the current state of the 49ers that a guy playing for his eighth NFL team over the past six years and has never started a regular-season game in this league is my key to the upcoming season — and has me praying he doesn’t miss a down?

I’ve convinced myself that the Niners can surprise some people this season if their quarterback is simply adequate. And O’Sullivan appears to be the only guy in The City with a chance to reach that level. He doesn’t have to be great (even though that would be nice).

Average would be a huge improvement over what the 49ers have gotten from that position over the last year.

What the 49ers can’t afford in 2008 is a disaster at quarterback. And that’s exactly what Alex Smith has looked like for a year now. The fact that Shaun Hill couldn’t beat out Smith for the backup job says all we need to know about him. If either of these guys reaches the field this season, it will officially be a disaster.

The other thing that needs to be in the prayers of the 49er faithful is a quick start, a successful September. I’m talking 2-2 at worst. Why? Because October is going to be the month from ... well, you know.

The New England Patriots, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants and the Seattle Seahawks — the two teams from last year’s Super Bowl, the division champion and the trendy pick to be the most improved team in the league. That’s what October holds for the 49ers.

But for the next four weeks, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic: The defense has improved. Vernon Davis is ready to be a star. Frank Gore and DeShaun Foster give the 49ers a solid running attack. The return of Manny Lawson. The surprise named Josh Morgan.
If all these factors break the 49ers’ way — which is not out of the question — this team can be competitive. And once a team is competitive in this league, anything is possible.

But only if O’Sullivan doesn’t get hurt.

Random thoughts
Predictions: NFC division champs will be the Cowboys, Packers, Seahawks and Saints, with the Vikings and Eagles as wild cards. The AFC division champs will be the Patriots, Steelers, Colts and Chargers, with the Jaguars and Jets as wild cards. The Chargers will win the AFC Championship Game. The Cowboys will win the NFC Championship Game. And the Chargers will beat the Cowboys 23-20 in the Super Bowl.

Cy Young race: With four weeks to go, I think the National League Cy Young Award race is down to the Giants’ Tim Lincecum and Arizona’s Brandon Webb. Lincecum has to cut into Webb’s lead in victories to have a chance.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

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