The Dirty Dozen: 12 underrated but TiVo-worthy college football matchups for 2009
Going into the college football season, there are certain games that will be on every Buffalo Wild Wings’ TV, every Las Vegas jumbotron, and every Tom, Dick, and Harry’s HD widescreen.
“Cant-miss” games such as Ohio St./USC, Florida/LSU, and Texas/Oklahoma are going to be great, however, there are many other games to be played in 2009 that demand attention.
Watch the ESPN game-of-the-week if you must (I know I will), but set your TiVo for these less appreciated, yet very intriguing contests.
Three Opening Weekend Games
Oregon at Boise St.–Thursday, September 3rd
While this game may already be on your radar, its too good not to mention, and due to the 10pm EST start time you may have to record it anyway. As a college football fan you cannot ask for more on the first night of games. Seeing this on the schedule was like finding $20 in an old pair of jeans.
This game will have a major impact on the psyche of each team, as Oregon looks to ride RB LeGarrett Blount to a BCS berth and Boise tries to continue its giant-killing ways. The return of blazing WR Titus Young will improve an already potent Bronco attack with Kellen Moore at the helm.
This is a BCS-bowl worthy matchup on the first day of the season, the winner of which can feel good about their title hopes. The loser will have a steep mountain to climb to achieve their preseason goals in 2009.
Nevada at Notre Dame–Saturday, September 5th
On paper, this is one to gloss over while you find the channel Ok St/Georgia is on. However, the outcome of this game could create huge ripples that will affect each program’s season.
Do-it-all QB Colin Kaepernick along with thunder/lightning combo Vai Taua and Luke Lippencot in the backfield make the Wolf Pack a delight to watch. Notre Dame comes in with great expectations on the shoulders of a junior class with loads of talent. Led by Jimmy Clausen, this Irish team needs to win 10 games this season before he, and the rest of the program, is labeled a bust.
A Notre Dame win would be a solid victory and may lead to a redemption season. But if Nevada wins, it will give them a victory to springboard them into BCS-busting status while the Irish’s entire season will crumble under unmet expectations. In a worst-case scenario, a midseason firing of coach Charlie Weiss may follow.
BYU v. Oklahoma (at Arlington, TX)–Saturday, September 5th
One of the more interesting games of the year, period.
There is no need to rehash the all-time type greatness of OU’s offense led by QB Sam Bradford and TE Jermaine Gresham. However, in this neutral site contest, the Cougars may be able to score with the Sooners. All-WAC QB Max Hall, RB Harvey Unga, and TE Dennis Pitta round out a gritty BYU offense that scored 34.3 points a game last year. Despite the skill position talent, this game will be decided on the lines.
BYU boasts a strong defensive front seven, six of which are returning starters. Mountain West all-time sack leader DE Jan Jorgensen and the rest of the defense will try to take advantage of Oklahoma’s green offensive line and get to Bradford.
If the Cougar D can disrupt OU’s juggernaut offense, a massive upset could be waiting in Arlington.
Three Conference-Defining Games
California at Oregon–Saturday, September 26th
The king of the Pac-10 is still USC, however, there may be a changing of the guard this season.
Cal has been stocking talent for years and with arguably the nation’s most talented rusher, Jahvid Best, the time is now to make a championship run. Oregon, as discussed previously, has the running game to contend, but also can stretch the field with USC transfer WR Jamere Holland.
The winner of this matchup will still have to face Southern Cal, but will control their own conference destiny and be in good shape to dethrone the five-time champs.
Wake Forest at Clemson–Saturday, October 17th
The ACC Atlantic division may as well be a piñata, since the spoils are completely up for grabs in 2009. However with Florida St reeling from 75% of the offense graduating or being dismissed, Clemson and Wake are the teams to beat.
Gutsy QB Riley Skinner leads a veteran Wake offense for the fourth straight year, but will have to keep stud Tiger DEs Ricky Sapp and DaQuan Bowers at bay. The rebuilt Deacon defense may be susceptible to Clemson’s one-two punch of RBs CJ Spiller and Jamie Harper.
This game will likely determine the Atlantic champ, and earn them a ticket to Jacksonville.
LSU at Ole Miss–Saturday, November 21st
Like every year, choosing the best game in the SEC is like having to decide between a Lamborghini, a Ferrari and a Porsche; you can’t go wrong.
After a disappointing 2008 campaign, LSU looks to be back at full strength and will contend for an SEC title. Their quarterback situation, last year’s Achilles heel, is more stable as Jordan Jefferson finished strong and had a good spring. The Tiger defense is always tough, but will be tested by Jevan Snead and the Rebels.
If LSU truly is on the rebound and Ole Miss meets expectations, this late season contest will be for the right to play Florida in Atlanta, which is kind of like earning a spot in a frat only to endure freshman hazing.
Three Out-of-Conference Games
W. Virginia at Auburn–Saturday, September 19th
Seeing this on the schedule brings to mind the classic C + C Music Factory song, “Things That Make You Go Hmmmm.” The Big East brings its top shelf talent to the plains of Auburn for a game that will be a measuring stick for each squad.
Auburn has about as much offensive identity as the X-Men villain Mystique. They need to figure out go-to guys at almost every offensive skill position, but can rely on senior RB Ben Tate to carry the rock. Their historically stout defense will try to contain the West Virginia offense, which has run all over the Big East in recent years.
Although the Mountaineers have lost their all-time greatest player, QB Pat White, junior RB Noel Devine remains. He should be able to twist, dart, and bounce around tacklers like he did in the YouTube videos that made him a legend in high school.
The winner will take a quality win into conference play and position itself for a strong year.
Southern Miss at Kansas–Saturday, September 26th
Kansas starts this game with a disadvantage: Southern Miss has has had this one circled in red sharpie since the schedule came out, while the Jayhawks marked off a few games against Texas, Oklahoma, etc.
The Eagles’ trio of QB Austin Davis, RB Damieon Fletcher, and WR DeAndre Brown fuel an offense that scored over 30 points a game last year. The leaky Kansas defense better tighten the screws or USM will certainly light up the scoreboard.
On the other hand, KU has a few playmakers of their own. Less-heralded than his Big 12 counterparts, QB Todd Reesing’s pass attack ranked 8th in the country last year. It’s a good thing Southern Miss returns all their secondary from 2008, as they will need it to compete with Reesing and WR Dezmon Briscoe. Potential All-CUSA DT Anthony Gray mans a defensive line which will try to contain shifty Kansas RB Jake Sharp.
This game is sure to have some explosive offense as Southern Miss vies for a chance to announce itself to the world, or at least get an invitation to the suddenly visible BCS-busting club.
Ga Tech at Miss St.–Saturday, October 3rd
A great game to watch while waxing your Delorian, the Back to the Future Game is sure to be interesting.
Second year Ga Tech coach Paul Johnson runs an offense straight out of the 1930s. His triple option produced an offense that ran for 273 yards per game in 2008. A beautiful yet brutal thing to watch, the Yellow Jackets went old school and just outmuscled teams to a surprising 9-4 record.
Mississippi State, however, has brought in a shiny new toy: the spread option. Dan Mullen, an Urban Meyer protégé, takes over as the head coach of the Bulldogs and brings the offense of the future. As the coordinator of Florida, he ran an offense that was 4th in the nation last year, which is astounding considering the second string was usually playing the 3rd and 4th quarters.
These contrasting styles will clash and may cause a ripple in the space-time continuum, but it will be fun to witness. Mullen just better realize that Florida QB Tim Tebow didn’t catch a ride through a wormhole over to Miss St with him.
Three In-State Conference Games
C. Michigan at W. Michigan–Saturday, October 17th
The annual Michigan Directional All-Star game is sure to be a real treat this year. Each team boasts an NFL-caliber QB: Dan LeFevour for Central and Tim Hiller for Western.
LeFevour burst on to the scene 3 years ago as a freshman, and is still making plays with his arm and feet, throwing for over 2,700 yards and leading the team with 592 rushing yards a year ago. The entire Chippewa scheme begins and ends with #13, so it bodes well that his top three WRs from 2008 return. Throw in the fact that Western’s defense was decimated by graduation and there is a powder keg of offense just waiting to explode here for Central.
The Broncos boast a potential first day selection in Hiller, who checks in at 6’5” and 230 pounds. He has prototypical size and an NFL arm to boot, which he has used to toss for over 8000 yards and 73 TDs in his career. Western will need a few WRs to show up as a few of Hiller’s former targets finished up their education, but their sturdy ground game should help until that time.
This meeting could determine the MAC West champ as well as the MAC Player of the Year, depending on which QB outshines the other.
Rice at Houston–Saturday, November 7th
Houston QB Case Keenum threw for over 5000 yards last year, which is more than he will have to travel for this meeting with Rice. This inter-city rivalry is oozing with offense, as both teams were top 10 scorers a year ago.
Keenum and Co. shredded opposing defenses for over 400 yards through the air and look to do more of the same, as top WRs Tyrone Carrier and Patrick Edwards are back again, along with 1000 yard rusher Bryce Beal. The Cougars should light it up against a Rice defense that was very porous last season, but returns eight starters to its 4-2-5 scheme.
Rice may have a questionable defense, but makes up for it with a high-powered offense that scored 41.3 points a game last season. Star QB Chase Clement is gone but Alabama transfer Nick Fanuzzi is eligible and will compete. Fanuzzi sounds like he belongs in The Godfather, but he can shoot up opposing corners with a strong arm and good mobility. Only a few WRs return from their 4-wide spread attack, so the Owls may not be a potent as a year ago.
This rivalry game will be a fun one, especially for those that like a lot of points on the scoreboard. So sit back, crack open a cold one, and enjoy two programs on the rise battle it out for the city title.
FAU at FIU–Saturday, December 5th
This isn’t the other Florida rivalry game, it’s the other-other-other-other one. Way down on the totem pole of relevance lie Florida Atlantic and Florida International Universities.
Atlantic has had success and is a budding Sun Belt power, going 2-for-2 in bowl games recently. Senior QB Rusty Smith mans an offense that returns many stars from a team that beat aforementioned Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl last year. The main cause for concern is the offensive line, which will be breaking in 4 new starters, but that might not be so bad considering coach Howard Schnellenberger broke in an entire new program only 9 years ago.
International is a mirror image, returning most of the O-line and defense in addition to much of the skill positions. Utility man T. Y. Hilton can score catching, running, or returning the ball, and the Owls defense will have to watch him on every snap.
Last year this game produced over 100 total points, and this year it could do the same. It should be an exciting match against two newer teams just scratching the surface of their potential.