Hockey, done. NBA, done. Euro '08, done. College Baseball, done. MLB, at about the half way point, or as I like to call it, the time when people in Cincinnati, Kansas City, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Colorado, and Baltimore start thinking about football. Football? Don't mind if I do!
(By the way, for the following mentioning in the Bret Bielema category, that is brought up for Wisconsin’s scheduling of Akron, Marshall, Fresno State, and Cal-Poly this season, UNLV, Wazzu, Northern Illinois, and The Citadel last season and Bowling Green, Western Illinois, San Diego State, and Buffalo in 2006. Or in other words, a BCS team vs. non-BCS cupcake. Good work Badgers.)
My Top Games for September:
August 28-September 1 weekend—
The only reason I’d watch this game is if my other option is Oprah: Utah State at UNLV, 2007 Combined Records—4-20
Scheduled game that makes Bret Bielema wish he’d of thought of that: Georgia Southern at Georgia. This game becomes more fun in my eyes with former Buckeye Antonio Henton now at the helm for Georgia Southern.
Appalachian State at LSU. I know everyone has already circled this date as an obvious upset, so therefore by reverse effect, it won't happen. You can imagine if it did though. LSU doesn't have the same QB, RB, DT, LB, FS, WR, and a host of other role players that are still smiling about the lickin' they put on the 'Bucks. I'm just sayin'...I hate the SEC.
Alabama at Clemson. The stupidity of college football scheduling is not that Ohio State faces Youngstown State opening weekend or Oklahoma takes on Chattanooga in game one of 2008.
It's that teams like 'Bama and Clemson decide to start their untested season off with a tough game yet play Western Kentucky and The Citadel/South Carolina State respectively later on in the season.
Hawaii at Florida. Florida opens with Hawaii yet play The Citadel the second to last week of the season. Hawaii gets to experience the post-Brennian Period, poundings in the Swamp included.
USC at Virginia. USC doesn't take it easy either, but they have been playing a particularly strong non-conference schedule for about four years straight now. Good for them. I hope Maualuga gets hurt before September 13 anyway.
Tennessee at UCLA. ABC's traditional Labor Day Monday night game will not involve a turnover induced slap fest between Florida State and Miami for the second consecutive year. I'm elated.
GAME OF THE WEEK:
Illinois at Missouri (in St. Louis). So a couple of the games above could be here, but this game will tell the entire Big 12 and Big 10 what to expect from these surprises from last season.
Will Juice complete more passes to Arrelious Benn than to guys with Tigers on their helmets? Will Chase Daniel be able to lead Mizzou to an undefeated season now that they don't have to play Oklahoma twice?
This game helps Longhorns' and Nittany Lions' fans alike feel more comfortable about these perennial bottom-dwellers returning to their rightful position. Of course, that's only about the loser.
September 4-7 Weekend—
I'm halfway tempted to skip this weekend altogether. If you are planning a wedding, barbeque, random trip to Nova Scotia, or anything else during football season, I'd do it this weekend.
Oh wait...you're telling me that the NFL starts this weekend, thank God! Because there's some really terrible football on Saturday. And no the Bengals don't play on Saturday thank you.
The only reason I’d watch this game is if my other option is Oprah: You’ll have to be more specific. Navy at Ball State, Murray State at Indiana, New Hampshire at Army, Western Kentucky at Eastern Kentucky, SE Louisiana at Mississippi State. And on and on they go.
Scheduled game that makes Bret Bielema wish he’d of thought of that: Florida International (or the 120 ranked team in D-I last season) at Iowa (a week after they opened with Maine).
Oregon State at Penn State: I've got the Beavers pegged as a sleeper this season in the PAC-10 coming off a quiet 9-4 2007 season. Penn State will do well to survive this game even with it being in Happy Valley. The Anthony Morelli Era is over Nittanies. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the talented Daryll Clark. Who? Exactly.
Miami at Florida: This isn't even a big game any more. That's sad. I miss the days when Florida football teams got more coverage than a Red Sox-Yankees series on ESPN (I’m lying). Even though Florida football fans are about as rabid as women’s high school rugby fans, this game is still important. Tebow becomes Heisman front runner before the game when he leads the Swamp in prayer and then plays a game of football.
The Main Course:
Cincinnati at Oklahoma: UC got an unfortunate blow when Ben Mauk (who I'm told has high school, jock quarterback, "I'm the coolest guy ever and a jack off" syndrome from people in his hometown of Kenton) didn't get a sixth year of eligibility. Hey buddy, it's ok. You graduated the same year as I did from high school, it's time to be a big boy and get a real job.
Remember about seven months ago when Oklahoma last played a Big East team? West Virginia's annihilating offense only mustered a five point victory against the Bearcats last season. This is a highly underrated, nonconference game.
September 11-13 Weekend—
The only reason I’d watch this game is if my other option is Oprah: Alcorn State (2-8 in D-IAA last year) at Troy (who are tuning up for the Bucks the next week).
Scheduled game that makes Bret Bielema wish he’d of thought of that: Chattanooga at Florida State. Chattanooga will get softened up two weeks earlier against Oklahoma. Oh, and the Mocs were 2-9 last year.
Kansas at South Florida: If the winner of this game would play the winner of the Illinois/Mizzou game, it would be for the championship of overachievers from last year. Both teams came out of nowhere last season to contend for their league titles and hold spots in the top five.
While USF lost a lot on defense they still benefit from having George Selvie on D, ex-mohawk wearing Matt Grothe at QB, and a schedule consisting of Tennessee Martin, Florida International, and Syracuse.
Kansas meanwhile gets one more season of Todd Reesing, another blubber filled season of Mark Mangiano, and in the unfortunate department, have to play at Oklahoma, and home against Texas and Texas Tech this season. Once again, another who's in and who's out game.
Oklahoma at Washington: Oklahoma gets back to back sneaky games. I just want to point out real quick that 1) Washington would be my true sleeper pick in the PAC 10 if they didn't play BYU, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame nonconference as well as at Oregon, at USC, and at Cal in conference.
And 2) Washington was 4-9 last season, but hung around with Ohio State (11-2), almost knocked off USC (11-2), led at halftime against Arizona State (10-3), were tied at the end of the third against Oregon (6-1 with Dennis Dixon at the time), led by two touchdowns in the fourth before collapsing against Arizona, battled in a brawl against Oregon State (9-4) without Jake Locker, and came within 44 seconds of taking Hawaii (12-1) to OT.
I'm just saying they were better than 4-9 last year.
North Carolina at Rutgers: Year two of the Butch Davis experience begins, and this could be a turning point for the Heels. If T.J Yates is healthy, they'll upset a few teams. Now if they just had a defense to speak of.
Rutgers, now without both Ray Rice and Brian Leonard, will become more pass oriented this season with Mike Teel and his two 1,000 yard WRs. The Scarlets (rough way to screw up a nickname) are supposed to start their slow decline back to mediocrity, but I see this as a huge game for their season.
I think they can get back to contending for the Big East championship (see exhibit A, B and C rankings of pass defenses in the Big East last season A—Cincy No. 89, B—Louisville No. 87, C—West Virginia No. 17 but lost all but one starter in secondary).
GAME OF THE WEEK:
Ohio State at USC: More like game of the season. OSU did it again and went out and got themselves into a de facto play-in game for the BCS Championship. Their battles with Texas proved to be as much both years and now we get two seasons of Buckeyes vs. Trojans.
OSU enters the game with two tune-ups against Youngstown State and Ohio, while USC took on more of a challenge with a game against UVA and then a bye week before OSU comes to town.
I've been looking forward to this game since I stood in Darrell Royal Stadium post-game singing the Ohio State fight song and celebrating victory. I couldn't wait to do that in the Coliseum.
In order to get that chance the following things will determine the game:
1) In mop up roles in the previous two games, how much will Terrelle Pryor be used to gain experience for this game? Will he be used at all?
2) Moala, Maualuga, Cushing, Mays. I'm just starting to study what USC's defense has done the past two seasons and it already scares me. This team will uncharacteristically live and die by its defense this season. Does Boeckman get shaky feet like he did the final few games of last season against a very high caliber D?
3) Ohio State hasn't lost a non-conference, regular season road game since 2001 against UCLA, in LA. While that omen I don't like, I do like the fact that this group of 10 starting seniors and 18 returning starters has more experience and more wins (33-5 the last three seasons) than any other group in the country other than their opponents (USC is 34-5 the past three seasons).
Unfortunately that experience has often been losing in a big way in the Championship game, but it is experience.
I'm giddy for this game.
Week of September 18-20—
The only reason I’d watch this game is if my other option is Oprah: Northeastern at Syracuse. Remember when Syracuse was good and Philly fans didn’t hate Donovan McNabb yet?
Scheduled game that makes Bret Bielema wish he’d of thought of that: UMass at Texas Tech. Although I must say, Bielema would never knowingly agree to play a D-IAA playoff team, which UMass was last year.
West Virginia at Colorado: This Thursday night special at Folsom Field will show us if nepotism has paid off for the Buffs. It may even show if blind stupidity came with re-signing Bill Stewart for West Virginia. But either way it shows us that the time has come to watch football Thursday-Monday nights. In other words, it’s fall...on September 22.
LSU at Auburn: If the Tigers don’t get tripped up by Appalachian State or Troy or North Texas before this game, it will be their first test of the season and the first in three out of four on the road to open the SEC.
Auburn on the other hand traveled near and far in their first three games to play UL-Monroe and Southern Miss at home while facing Mississippi State in Starkville. Battle tested the both of ‘em.
Winner of this game becomes front runner for SEC West crown. ‘Bama may also be involved this season.
Georgia at Arizona State: I’ve made a big deal out of this game, and in case you didn’t hear the stat, it’s the first time since 1967 that Georgia has played a regular season game outside of the SEC states. Ridiculous.
Now, while most people have this game pegged as a non-conference game of the year outside the OSU/USC battle, I see it as USC at Nebraska ’07, part two. Way over-hyped game, dominating performance by the team that was supposed to win.
So much so that after the game Georgia will go ahead and accept the bid to the BCS Championship game because they obviously are the best team in college football…again.
The Main Course:
Florida at Tennessee: Once upon a time, this was the best game in September year in and year out. Maybe not the best played game as they usually ended in blow outs, but definitely the most hyped and important.
Why is this my game of the week this week then if it’s no longer that important? Because it’s a blatantly obvious game that Florida will obviously win. In the grand scheme of things, upsets are only true upsets if no one thought they could happen.
This game qualifies as such. The Vols downfall this season has been widely reported and it’s quite likely they’ll enter the game at 1-1 with a loss to UCLA. Florida is supposed to contend for a BCS Title and a repeat Heisman for Tebow.
Fun fact you just learned from me: Tennessee has never beaten Florida in a season that Florida wound up with a better record. Ever. Now is the time.
Week of September 25-27—
The only reason I’d watch this game is if my other option is Oprah: Central Arkansas at Tulsa. I wish Central Arkansas’s name was the Fighting Scottie Pippens.
Scheduled game that makes Bret Bielema wish he’d of thought of that: Rhode Island at Boston College. I know Matt Ryan is gone, Eagles fans, but seriously, Rhode Island? After a little research on their ESPN.com page I found out the Rams have two verbal commitments for 2008, and both are graded as 40s.
USC at Oregon State: I told you I thought the Beavers have a shot this season and I mean it. USC has to travel to Corvalis this season to face last year’s second ranked PAC-10 defense (behind the Trojans) and a team that has given them both a recent loss (2006’s 33-31 thriller in the fog) and another scare (2004’s 28-20 win over Derek Anderson). Should be a fun Thursday night game.
Alabama at Georgia: If ‘Bama wants to get back on top they have to knock off a top Dawg. Bad joke I know, but seriously, if UGA doesn’t fall to the Sun Devils the week before, I’ll be cheering for the Tide in this one. Don’t forget Alabama almost won last season over the Dawgs, but they haven’t won between the hedges since 1995.
Illinois at Penn State: This night game in Happy Valley should be a dandy (sorry Keith) and will overshadow what’s generally a bigger conference game in Wisconsin at Michigan. If Illinois has survived undefeated thus far, I’m wondering how Juice will do under the lights with 108,000 whited out fans screaming at him. Penn State will hopefully have found their QB by now, if not, it’s gonna be a long season in Nittanyland.
THE MAIN COURSE:
Virginia Tech at Nebraska: The Hokies replace 21 players this season, and Nebraska was downright awful last season. With games against Georgia Tech and North Carolina prior, VaTech could be coming in with some losses under their belt.
It’s not the same with Nebraska though as they should come in unscathed having played a schedule that our good friend Mr. Bielema would be proud of. The sea of red was undaunting to USC last season; let’s see what it does to the Hokies with Sean Glennon back at QB minus his tailback Branden Ore.
I stop at September because after that, who knows what's going to be a good game. We didn't see South Florida, Oregon, Arizona State, or Missouri coming last year. I'd wager to say 3-4 of the marquee games in October and November will involved teams no one is talking about right now. But you might as well cross off Baylor from that list because I'm pretty sure they'll be last.