We pick up with where we left off in previewing Week One’s five-day college football bash. This section starts with games on Saturday night and continues through Sunday & Monday.
BYU-Oklahoma (7, ESPN)
Alabama-Virginia Tech (8, ABC)
The ‘Bama-Tech showdown is the one game that features two teams ranked in the Top 10. The Crimson Tide are #5, with the Hokies right behind at #7. I think it’s a bit of a stretch for both teams, but this much is certain—both bring Top 10-caliber defenses to the Georgia Dome for this neutral-site showdown. Alabama has the better talent, and as much as I respect Frank Beamer, I don’t believe Nick Saban is going to be outcoached enough to negate that. Furthermore, Virginia Tech was devastated in August by a season-ending injury to running back Darren Evans. The brilliant sophomore would have been the top playmaker on the field, something that can’t be overemphasized in a defensive game that’s likely to tip on a handful of big plays. I think Alabama will win, but the Tech path to an upset is reasonable—keep it close and hope Beamer’s fabled special teams can come up with a play that swings it.
Oklahoma is an overrated team this year, with an offensive line too weak to be considered for a serious national title run. I would rank them about 10th, but their weaknesses aren’t going to be exploited on this night, as they play the first regular season game of any kind in the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium in Arlington. BYU doesn’t have the pass rush to bother Sam Bradford. Look for their own quarterback, Max Hall, to have a decent night, but for OU to put this one away early. And speaking of putting games away early, Texas and Florida both have tune-ups in this time slot, against UL-Monroe and Charleston Southern respectively. And for those of you into staying up for the late-night show—or college students looking for something to put on TV during the keg party—there’s two late TV games. Maryland goes to Cal (10 ET, ESPN2). The Golden Bears are out for revenge after losing on the East Coast a year ago. LSU will visit Washington (10:15 ET, ESPN). The Tigers are going to win. Whether they blowout the lowly Huskies will be an early clue as to whether LSU is back is a serious SEC & national contender.
Ole Miss-Memphis (Sun, 8 ET, ESPN)
Cincinnati-Rutgers (Mon, 4 ET, ESPN)
Miami-Florida State (Mon, 8 ET, ESPN)
Sunday night’s game is interesting enough, as I think Ole Miss is a Top 10 team, with only Texas, Florida and USC being convincingly better. Jevan Snead will get a nice prime-time showcase, as will his top target in Shay Hodges. Memphis isn’t a bad team, but even at home they are not going to match up with the Rebels.
Monday’s games may not be the best of the weekend, but as conference showdowns they are the most consequential. This is particularly true of Cincinnati-Rutgers. There’s a lot of pressure on Rutgers to step up in this game. A new stadium was built last season, and it goes without saying that the donors didn’t intend for it to be a playground for a Papajohns.com bowl team, as the Scarlet Knights were a year ago. They expect a Big East champion, and with Cincinnati having achieved that goal a year ago, excuses will run thin. Rutgers has everything going for them—experienced team versus a rebuilding squad on opening day, plus homefield advantage. Failure to win this game would be a huge disaster for Schiano.
When Miami and Florida State started this Labor Day tradition several years ago, I’m sure ABC/ESPN thought it would be a bigger deal than it’s turned out to be. It might have been what Notre Dame-Michigan used to be—the first big national showcase game of every year and the clear signal that college football was back for a new season. Both programs are on—relatively speaking—hard times. Florida State is in a position similar to Rutgers. They are the team with the experience. They are the team with homefield. In this case, we can further add on that they are the team that’s endured an offseason of negative press clippings. It will be a long year for Bobby Bowden if he doesn’t beat his nemesis here.
Thus concludes the Week 1 previews. Will be back Sunday night for a recap of the first part of the weekend.