So ESPN's College GameDay crew is heading down to Knoxville for No. 18 Florida's game against No. 23 Tennessee, under the lights at Neyland Stadium. ESPN? Catering to the SEC? Crazy, yes, we know.
Thing of it is, there's a better game, one that actually means something that very same week. That'd be No. 20 Notre Dame at No. 10 Michigan State, also under the lights—an 8:00 PM kickoff at Spartan Stadium.
So what's the deal? Why go down to Knoxville if you've got a better deal on the table? And make no mistake, MSU-ND is the better game. Here's why.
This game has an actual conference championship contender in it. Sure, Tennessee and Florida are both ranked (something that's a little rarer than either fan base would like to admit), but just barely—and for crying out loud, look at the teams from, oh, No. 16 or so on down. That is a mess of mediocrity. It's such a task to rank these teams at the end of the ballot that there are 17 different teams also receiving votes.
Michigan State, on the other hand, looks like the best team in the Big Ten (and possibly by a substantial margin, if the defenses at Michigan and Nebraska are legitimately this terrible and Wisconsin continues its freefall). There's Ohio State, sure, but the Buckeyes aren't even eligible for the postseason, which will undoubtedly give rise to the "Michigan State 44, Purdue 14" Big Ten Championship in December.
Meanwhile, Tennessee and Florida look...decent. Just decent. Even Florida fans' smack talk to Texas A&M via poorly executed PhotoShop acknowledges this; since when should "the worst Gators team in a decade" coming to any town merit GameDay's attention?
And it's not as if this is a business decision for ESPN to favor its own properties over some other network's. The Michigan State-Notre Dame game is the ABC (or ESPN on ABC, whatever) prime time game of the week. It's on an equal standing as last year's Notre Dame-Michigan game, and ESPN certainly had no qualms about hyping that game.
Also, let's talk star power. We know Michigan State has a Heisman contender in Le'Veon Bell, who exploded on the scene with a dominating 50-touch performance to lead the Spartans over visiting Boise State in Week 1. Yes, Bell had a quieter day against Central Michigan, but that was by design—and he still punched in two scores in the easy win.
Now, let's talk about Heisman contenders on Tennessee and Florida. OK, that was a nice talk. Moving on.
And finally, yes, we say this every damn September, but this could be the year that Notre Dame is back (stop laughing) and finally relevant again (seriously, stop laughing). The Irish are ranked and have what'll end up being a quality win over Purdue (STOP LAUGHING) on their docket already, and if there's anyone the media is dying to have back in the conversation, it's Notre Dame.
Moreover, MSU-Notre Dame isn't just some game. It's a bona fide rivalry, and one of the most entertaining of the last decade. In their last 10 meetings, Michigan State and Notre Dame have split the series 5-5, and that includes the Mark Dantonio game-winning, heart-attack-inducing fake field goal of 2010, a Spartan choke (and subsequent radio rant) that'll live in infamy in 2006 and a sneaky-great 44-41 Spartan overtime win in 2005 to welcome Charlie Weis to the rivalry.
All in all, over the last 10 years, Michigan State holds all of a 10-point advantage in overall score; the average final is 27.3-26.3 in the Spartans' favor (how they each managed to score three-tenths of a point we'll never know), and seven of those games were decided by seven points or less (including four with a three-point margin). These teams get some seriously good games out of each other.
So we've got the last, best hope of the Big Ten up against one of its best rivals, one of the most (if not the most) historically recognizable college football programs of all time. And then there's Tennessee and Florida, two teams that'll be fighting for a trip to the Outback Bowl by the end of the year.
Come on. This shouldn't have even been close.