With the passage of June, July, and August come the final barriers that remain between the college football fan and the 2010 college football season.
Greeted with open arms, banners unfurled, and heightened anticipation, the commencement of the college gridiron campaign is a landmark event in the year of sport.
Layers of dust and unsightly smudges are removed from high definition televisions, the grease in the Fry Daddy is made fresh and ready, and the outside refrigerator is cleared of summer fare such as bulky watermelons, jell-o molds, and bottled water in order to make ready the space for our faithful fall time friends lager, pilsner, and ale.
As the season kicks off, it is hope that reigns supreme in the hearts of all true college football fans.
Fans of all teams walk with the confidence only a 0-0 record can provide; regardless of recruiting reports, preseason predictions, and early rankings, they believe that this could be “their year.” Ah yes, the freshness of the new season provides them with the optimism of the early dawn...no wins, no losses—just blissful anticipation.
Though this hope spreads itself across our fruited plains, from coast to coast, from the borders of Canada to the boundaries shared with Mexico, nowhere does hope exist in more abundance than within the fans of those 25 teams selected to compose the preseason Top 25.
Now not only does the hope live in our own chests and breasts, but it also lives in the experts' keen brains, in the computer models, in the pages of the magazines that we will gladly shell out 10 dollars for if only to see our team logo listed among the 25 teams most likely to be successful.
Oh the joy, oh the happiness that only a new season, with real, solid expectations validated by football authorities can bring!
That said, we know deep in our biased hearts that each of our magnificent dreams will come crashing down, sooner or later, as the game clock runs out on one of the games listed on our schedule and we suffer our first grueling defeat of the year.
In the summer we carefully scan the schedule, searching; we may be able to pinpoint the first loss, or it may take us by nasty surprise. But chances are it will come.
In 2009, only five of the 120 Division I teams made it through the regular season unscathed. That is roughly a diminutive four percent of the entire field.
So, when will the preseason Top 25 teams (rankings are according to Athlon Sports) lose their first games? Who will shock, surprise, or be expected to conquer (and therefore whip up on) the top 20 percent of college football?
Indeed, where will the vision of a perfect season end?
The following slideshow attempts to tackle this daunting task...
First Loss: Sept. 18 at Auburn
Will Clemson QB Kyle Parker sign a contract with Major League Baseball?
This is the question that will likely decide the destiny of the 2010 Clemson Tiger football team.
If Parker stays, Clemson has a chance at making a run in the ACC. If he goes and joins the Colorado Rockies as a first round pick, Clemson will still have a good team, but it may not be good enough to play successfully in a stacked ACC.
Regardless, Clemson’s Sept. 18 meeting at Auburn may prove too much for a Clemson team with more than one question mark.
First Loss: Oct. 9 at Florida
The LSU Tigers won at the Swamp in 2004 but won’t be able to overcome the Gators in 2010.
Tim Tebow’s replacement John Brantley won’t be the key to this game. Instead, the rushing stylings of Jeff Demps and the rest of Florida’s backs will beat down LSU’s young but improved defense.
LSU’s offense, led by Jordan Jefferson, will begin to gel after the loss to the Gators, and the Tigers will streak through the remainder of their schedule, including a wild upset against the Crimson Tide.
First Loss: Sept. 11 at Alabama
The Sept. 11 meeting between Penn State and Alabama will be one of the early highlights of the 2010 season.
Penn State’s young quarterback(s) will be somewhat successful against a fledgling Alabama defense that returned only two starters. But Alabama’s seasoned offense will completely wear down and then dominate Penn State’s defense featuring three new linebackers.
This game will be close, but any chance of the Nittany Lions knocking off the Crimson Tide will be negated by the questionable play of Penn State’s special teams squad.
First Loss: Sept. 25 vs. South Carolina, at home
This game will be a nail-biter. Auburn’s seasoned offensive line will prove a stern test for the South Carolina defense (which will be one of the top units in the SEC for 2010).
In the end, Gamecocks QB Stephen Garcia and RB Marcus Lattimore, along with the rest of the South Carolina offensive unit, will prove too much for the Auburn defense.
The “old ball coach” shocks the Tigers in Jordan-Hare Stadium with an early season upset.
First Loss: Oct. 16 at Texas A&M
Missouri will likely be 5-0 going into their game against the Aggies in College Station. Tiger confidence is high after an early win vs. Illinois followed by large margins over McNeese State, San Diego State, Miami of Ohio, and Colorado.
The A&M game marks the beginning of the tough leg of the Tigers' season, including consecutive games against Oklahoma (at home), at Nebraska, and then at Texas Tech.
A&M, on the other hand, will come into the game vs. Missouri after a heartbreaking loss to Arkansas played in Arlington, Texas.
A&M beats Missouri by a larger than expected margin. Missouri’s questionable defensive backs are eaten alive by the Aggies' Jerrod Johnson and company, and surprisingly the Tigers' potent offensive attack is stifled by an A&M defense that is astonishingly solid under new coordinator Tim DeRuyter.
A confident Missouri is ultimately surprised by a scrappy Aggie squad that is sick and tired of losing to quality opponents.
First Loss: Sept. 4 at Michigan
UConn returns 16 starters for the 2010 season, and anticipation is at an all-time high as the Huskies are realistically in the running for a Big East title.
That said, the Huskies' Sept. 4 date with Michigan in the Big House will prove to be too much of an early test for UConn.
Michigan can’t lose the home opener to UConn, and Rich Rodriguez knows it. Nobody at Michigan will care how good the Huskies are, how high they are ranked, or if they are a contender in the Big East title race or not.
Michigan must win this game, and they will.
The Big House will be loud, and the Wolverines’ sheer athleticism and improved offense (with recruiting finally catching up with Rodriguez’s spread-option offense) will overpower the Huskies.
First Loss: Sept. 4 vs. LSU, in Atlanta
Though the Tar Heels come into the 2010 season full of realistic dreams of bowl victories, division championships, and more, their season will begin with a loss in Atlanta.
It is unfortunate for the Tar Heels that this game won’t be played later in the season, giving the improved North Carolina offense time to gel properly.
Though LSU will struggle on defense, they will be able to stop the Tar Heels effectively enough to walk away with a win.
The loss will do nothing but inspire the Tar Heels to go on and have the special season they have dreamed of.
In the world of the BCS, an early loss is always preferable to a late season loss. This will work to North Carolina’s advantage.
First Loss: Nov. 20 at South Florida
Pittsburgh will be 9-0 coming into Raymond James Stadium for their meeting with the South Florida Bulls.
Wins over Utah, Miami, Notre Dame, and Rutgers have Panthers fans whipped up into a literal football frenzy. This team could go all the way.
Pitt comes into its game with the Bulls off a huge win on the road over fellow Big East title contender UConn. The UConn game was a thriller and went right down to the wire with the contest being decided in the final moments of the game.
South Florida should be no problem for the Panthers, who are looking ahead to their final two games at home against West Virginia and on the road vs. Cincinnati.
Ultimately, the Panthers are looking a bit too far down the road and are caught unawares by an aggressive Skip Holtz-led Bulls team, resulting in a costly upset.
Despite the loss, Pitt goes on to finally win a Big East crown and earns a BCS bowl bid.
Learning from the debacle in Tampa, the Panthers make an unprecedented run in the 2011 season and have an opportunity to play for a national championship.
First Loss: Sept. 25 vs. Alabama, at home
Arkansas goes into its Sept. 25 matchup with defending national champion Alabama fresh off a thrilling victory between the hedges at Georgia.
The Razorbacks are riding high, feeling lucky, and glad to be playing the Crimson Tide at Razorback Stadium.
Despite the good vibrations, the emotional win over the Bulldogs looks to have taken a toll on the Razorbacks, and they fall short of winning their second SEC game for 2010.
In the end, Arkansas’ defense can’t shut down the Crimson Tide attack, and combined with a kicking game that hasn’t even come close to coming together, this results in a disappointing Razorback loss.
First Loss: Oct. 16 vs. Ohio State, at home
Wisconsin should be undefeated coming into their mid-October matchup with perennial powerhouse Ohio State.
The Badgers will enter the game with a lot on the line and eager to prove they are a real threat to capture a Big Ten Title.
Ultimately, the Badger defensive and offensive squads will fall short of stopping and scoring on the Buckeyes.
The advantage of playing at home will be trumped by the disadvantage of playing an Ohio State team stacked with talent who, despite an early loss, may well go on to play in a BCS game.
First Loss: Sept. 18 vs. Arkansas, at home
The Georgia Bulldogs, fresh off a win vs. South Carolina on the road, won’t see what is about to hit them, head on, when the Razorbacks come to visit on Sept. 18.
The scrappy Bulldogs defense will keep Georgia in the game all day long, but in the end they will be burned by one big play.
Craziness will prevail between the hedges, and the game will be decided by a late, long Razorback touchdown pass hurled downfield by Ryan Mallett.
First Loss: Sept. 23 at Pittsburgh
Miami enters its third game of the season, at Pittsburgh, after a thrilling defeat of the Buckeyes at the Horseshoe.
As a result, the Hurricanes shoot up the rankings, and the national media descend upon Miami as the ‘Canes are once more considered a national title contender.
Pitt comes into the game also undefeated after sound victories over Utah and New Hampshire. Even though the game is on the road, Miami has the edge in confidence after the stunning upset of the Buckeyes.
Throughout the actual game Pittsburgh plays like the favorite, as Hurricanes QB Jacory Harris is harassed by the aggressive Pitt defense, which wreaks havoc on an offensive line featuring three new starters.
Harris’ three interceptions ultimately equal a disappointing Miami defeat and, conversely, a landmark Pittsburgh victory.
First Loss: Sept. 11 at Oklahoma
You absolutely have to respect a program that schedules a tough non-conference opponent early in the season. Oklahoma and Florida State are two such programs.
Jimbo Fisher already has much to prove in his first season as the head man at Florida State, and his Sept. 11 visit to Norman is a perfect place to showcase his new Seminole regime.
Unfortunately for Fisher and Florida State, the Sooners under Bob Stoops have only lost two games in Norman during his 11-year tenure.
The 2010 Florida State game will not be No. 3.
Ultimately Oklahoma’s offensive unit, now devoid of serious injuries and led by Landry Jones, DeMarco Murray, and Ryan Broyles will overpower a young Florida State defense (with a new scheme and coordinator) that hasn’t had the time necessary to come together.
More than mere home field advantage will power the Sooners over the Seminoles in Norman; Bob Stoops’ offense will beat up on little brother Mark Stoops’ defense.
First Loss: Not Applicable
The 2010 Iowa Hawkeyes will capture the imagination of the college football nation as they make a magnificent, perfect run through the 2010 schedule.
Experience and maturity gained in 2009 converts magically into a string of Hawkeye victories in 2010.
The nation is surprised, but shouldn’t be, as Kirk Ferentz and company have been quietly taking care of business for a decade in Iowa City.
The Hawkeyes defense is even better than promised, and the Ricky Stanzi-led offense gets it done week in and week out. Questions at offensive line are answered early, and the young but aggressive line just improves as the season goes on.
Early wins over Eastern Illinois, Iowa State, Arizona, and Ball State lead to a series of breathtaking Big Ten victories.
Penn State falls in Iowa City, Michigan loses ugly in the Big House, and the Badgers and Spartans both get beaten (barely) in Kinnick Stadium.
November begins with road wins at Indiana and Northwestern, and then the Buckeyes are absolutely demolished in a shocker in Iowa City as 70,000-plus Hawkeyes go absolutely insane.
The season ends with a close win at Minnesota that is almost derailed by a missed Iowa field goal late in the game. The Hawkeye defense comes up with a late score off a turnover, saving the game and the undefeated season.
Iowa’s unpredictable run is complete when Ferentz leads his Big Ten Champion Hawkeyes onto the field Jan. 10 in Glendale, Arizona for the BCS National Championship.
First Loss: Sept. 4 vs. Oregon State, in Arlington, Texas
The TCU Horned Frogs will not lose their first game of 2010...or will they?
Coming off a brilliant undefeated regular season capped off with a BCS bowl bid in 2010, TCU will manage to disappoint the newly inspired Horned Frog fanbase in its 2010 opener.
Far from a neutral site, TCU will travel about 30 minutes down Interstate 30 from Fort Worth to Arlington to play Oregon State in the new Cowboys Stadium.
A throng of TCU faithful will no doubt be on hand to greet their team and cheer them on. The party will end there.
Oregon State’s new QB Ryan Katz will silence all doubters as he leads the potent Beaver offensive attack against a TCU defensive backfield devoid of its 2009 star power. Brothers Jacquizz and James Rodgers will combine to provide the knockout punch to a TCU team whose offense never had a chance to get revved up.
TCU will go on to run the tables on the rest of its schedule, winning 11 straight games and becoming a part of the BCS equation once again.
First Loss: Sept. 6 vs. Boise State, at Landover, Maryland
Virginia Tech has a young, inexperienced defensive unit; three of its four starting linemen are gone, as are five other defensive starters.
This is not the year that the Hokies want to face the top-ranked Boise State Broncos in the season opener.
The Broncos have not lost a game since 2008, are 26-1 in two seasons, and are returning 20 of the 22 starters from last season’s Fiesta Bowl.
Virginia Tech’s untested defense will face 2009’s top-ranked scoring offense when they face Boise State in the opener.
Boise State will win this game and likely go on to win the rest of the regular season games on their schedule.
Virginia Tech, on the other hand, may use a rough opener to build on, and if their defense can improve quickly, they may well be in contention to make a run for an ACC championship.
First Loss: Oct. 30 at USC
Oregon has suffered the monumental loss of QB Jeremiah Masoli to an arrest and burglary charge, which resulted in a 2010 season suspension.
One has to wonder how the Ducks will respond to the loss of Masoli and how this will change the chemistry of the 2010 team.
One thing is certain: The Ducks will be talented across the board with the exception of the question at QB. The offensive line returns all five starters, LaMichael James will be back running the ball after a one-game suspension, and its linebackers are among the best in the country.
Oregon’s schedule is such that they can sort out many of their issues in September, where, with the exception of a Sept. 11 meeting at Tennessee, the Ducks will face relatively easy opponents in New Mexico, Portland State, and Arizona State.
By the beginning of October it should be fairly clear if the Ducks can get it done or not without Masoli, and if the answer to this question is affirmative, Stanford, Washington State, and UCLA should also be games where they can manage victories.
The Oct. 30 meeting with the USC Trojans may be the point where the Ducks run out of luck. If USC stays healthy, they will likely knock the Ducks out in Los Angeles.
First Loss: Sept. 18 at Texas Tech
No, lightning won’t strike twice, but yes, Texas will lose its conference opener in Lubbock against the new Red Raiders.
Though the Longhorns are undoubtedly deeper and more athletic, the scrappy Texas Tech squad will find a way to get it done in Lubbock. It won’t be dramatic, and it won’t be pretty.
The Longhorns will effectively shut down the passing game (with a few notable exceptions) with its awesome secondary, but, unthinkable in the Mike Leach era, Tech will be successful on the ground with backs Baron Batch and Eric Stephens running the ball effectively.
The Horns’ Garrett Gilbert will throw a couple of interceptions, and Tech’s defense will stifle the young Texas offense.
In the end, a missed Longhorn field goal will be the difference, and the Red Raider Nation will rejoice as Tommy Tuberville wins his Big 12 debut and make huge strides in healing the rift between Team Leach supporters and his own.
First Loss: Oct. 16 vs. Texas, at home
Nebraska will be 5-0 going into its much anticipated game vs. the Longhorns in Lincoln. It will be called a preview of the Big 12 championship game even though Texas will be a disappointing 3-2 going into the game with losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma.
Nebraska will have gained confidence with relatively easy wins against Western Kentucky, Idaho, Washington, South Dakota State, and Kansas State, but they will have the displeasure of facing a young Longhorns team that has finally managed to put something together.
Garrett Gilbert and the rest of the Texas offensive squad will have weathered a few storms, finally gelled, and will effectively put the Blackshirt defense on the ropes.
Additionally, the Texas defense will easily handle a Nebraska offense that has not faced quite as athletic and talented a defense thus far in a win-filled season.
The supposed preview of the Big 12 Championship will feature the Longhorns roping the Huskers in a less than memorable meeting in Lincoln.
Texas will undoubtedly be motivated to leave Nebraska with something to think about before they leave for the Big Ten. This game will say more than any Hallmark card ever could.
First Loss: Oct. 2 at Alabama
Florida and Alabama have met the past two seasons to decide the SEC Championship. Will the 2010 meeting be another preview of this game?
Well, that remains to be seen, but we do know that TVs all over the nation will be tuned in to see Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer as their 4-0 teams clash in the regular season.
Both teams will have question marks at defense, but in the end home field advantage and experience at the quarterback position will give the Crimson Tide the edge in its meeting with the Gators.
This game could very well go down to the wire, but at the end of the cord you will find Saban with a big grin on his face.
First Loss: Nov. 27 at Oklahoma State
The Oklahoma Sooners almost seem like a dark horse candidate after their disappointing 8-5 mark in 2009.
But let us not forget that the Sooners were an injury-ridden squad in 2009, and given a fresh healthy set of players, Bob Stoops may be in the perfect position to make another fantastic run.
The Sooners will finally manage a win over Texas after losing four out of the last five meetings with the Longhorns, and they will also beat Florida State, Cincinnati, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech on their way to an 11-0 record going into the final game of the season.
Oklahoma won’t ride into Stillwater with any expectations of a blowout. Stoops will have his teamed amped up and ready to finish what they started, rivalry or no rivalry.
But the Cowboys will be ready to play the role of the spoiler, and with a potent offense and a defense that finally has learned to come together (albeit the last game of the season), they will pull off a stunning upset over the Sooners.
The Sooners will have to make un-Sooner-like mistakes and will knock themselves out of the running for the national championship.
Nevertheless, don’t forget about the Sooners in 2011, who will return a high percentage of experienced starters and be poised to make another run both in the new, sleeker Big 12 and the BCS.
First Loss: Not Applicable
Boise State will go another entire season without losing a game.
After a decisive win against Virginia Tech in the opener, the Broncos will run the tables and win out. The Sept. 25 matchup against Oregon State at home will prove challenging, but otherwise the Broncos will win in a fairly decisive fashion.
The big question will be, once again, if the BCS computers can compute a scenario wherein Boise State plays for a national championship.
Will their strength of schedule stand up, who else will go undefeated, and will the powers that be in the national media believe that that Boise State will garner enough attention to attract massive viewership in the title game?
I hope so, because if the Broncos can go unscathed and post a 25-0 mark over two seasons, or a 38-1 mark over three seasons, then the gallant boys from the bright blue turf deserve the right to compete for the whole shooting match.
Let’s stop the talking and see how good the Broncos really are...
First Loss: Nov. 27 vs. Notre Dame, at home
USC, despite its new coach and offseason shenanigans, has the sheer athleticism and skills to win every game on their schedule.
Actually, the season really sets up nicely for the Trojans: non-conference games vs. Hawaii, Virginia, and Minnesota to start the season, with home games against California and Oregon later on.
It is realistic that Lane Kiffin and company could very possibly (if Kiffin can effectively lead and the defense can gel) be 11-0 coming into their Nov. 27 game at home against the Fighting Irish.
But if it hasn’t already happened earlier, the Trojan party bus will stop then and there.
In a classic battle of new coaches with giant expectations, Brian Kelly’s improved Irish defense will be too much for an overconfident Kiffin and his Trojans.
First Loss: Sept. 11 vs. Miami, at home
Ohio State will win a bunch of games in 2010. Their second game of the season vs. the Hurricanes will not be one of them.
Other than playing the smaller schools in Ohio, Ohio State schedules one great non-conference game per season. Last year was USC, previously it was the series with the Texas Longhorns, etc. This year it is Miami’s turn.
Ohio State has a tendency to lose these games, and luckily for the Buckeyes, the BCS has a short memory and has a tendency to forget about the early losses. Conversely, if the Buckeyes win the said non-conference blockbuster, the BCS remembers it and rewards Ohio State for its efforts.
Terrelle Pryor has historically played better later in the season than earlier, and this will be the case in the 2010 matchup with the Hurricanes. Pryor will struggle, turnovers will occur, and Miami will play well on offense (against a Buckeye defense that lost five starters), and the Hurricanes will win.
The Horseshoe will be eerily silent, but the Buckeye fans know that their team will play well for the rest of the season and have a shot at a BCS bid.
In the end, Iowa may be the team that finally stops Ohio State’s run of five Big Ten titles.
First Loss: Nov. 6 at LSU
Alabama will likely be 8-0 going into Baton Rouge to face LSU. If so, they will not have lost a game since the 2008 season.
Both teams began the season with questions on defense, and both have potentially explosive offenses.
This game will be close, back and forth, and extremely physical. The LSU fans will be loud, and Tiger Stadium will be teeming with energy and cocktails, eager to vanquish former LSU coach Nick Saban.
In the end, the defending national champions will lose the game by a missed field goal booted by a freshman Crimson Tide kicker, the Tiger fans will go crazy, and it will be one wild night in Baton Rouge.
Alabama will win its remaining three games but miss out on the SEC Chamionship.