With the college football season fast approaching, fans across the nation are cleaning the summer grit off of their grills, repainting their man-caves, and ordering fresh gear in anticipation of the most important college football season in a while.
Why is this the most important season?
First, with no Tim Tebow, we have no clear-cut candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
Obviously the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is back at Alabama, but Mark Ingram is no shoo-in for a repeat. With the emergence of guys like Kellen Moore, Ryan Mallett, and Jacquizz Rodgers, anything could happen.
Second, there is no clear-cut favorite to win the national championship. Obviously, reigning champion Alabama is a favorite, but the Tide lost eight starters on defense. Ohio State, Boise State, Oklahoma, and Florida should be favorites as well, but schools like Auburn, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin are not too far away from making some noise either.
Lastly, this is the last year before we see a fundamental shift in conference powers. Nebraska and Colorado are fleeing the Big 12. Utah is joining the Pac-10. The ACC is in flux, and the Big East wants Notre Dame.
2011 will start a new era for college football with a conference championship in the Big 10+2 and the Pac-12.
Saddle up, boys and girls, it is going to be a fun ride. The following games will get your heartbeat racing just knowing that they are not too far away.
10. Oregon State Beavers vs. TCU Horned Frogs — Sept. 4 at Arlington, TX
Just how well will TCU rebound from its Fiesta Bowl loss last January? After all, it did lose star defenders Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington to the NFL. However, QB Andy Dalton is still at the helm and the Horned Frogs success has helped in recruiting, replenishing talent well over the last several years.
TCU will battle an Oregon State squad that will be featuring Heisman Trophy candidate, RB Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers’ 21 rushing touchdowns in 2009 was third best in the country.
The only question mark for Oregon State is who will be its starting quarterback? Ryan Katz and Virginia-transfer Peter Lalich are still competing although both are limited in experience.
In what will be an opening week preview of the team that could possibly represent the Pac-10 in the BCS and TCU, a known BCS-party crasher, expect fireworks to go off.
9. Connecticut Huskies at Michigan Wolverines — Sept. 4
UConn is on the verge of making something happen in the Big East. Last year, the Huskies lost five games but in all five losses they were outscored by a total of 15 points (three points per defeat).
With 17 starters returning from a team that beat South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com bowl a year ago, the Huskies look to make a bid for their first ever BCS appearance by winning the Big East.
Michigan, on the other hand, is trying to get back to winning double-digit games in a single season. Rich Rodriguez is already on the hot seat and his tandem of Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson at quarterback has been very inconsistent. Let’s not forget that the defense has been subpar, ranking 91st nationally against the run a year ago.
This will be a statement game for UConn, if it can win. Michigan, on the other hand, needs to stave off the surging Huskies. In what will be an overlooked but important Big East-Big Ten showdown, UConn has the most to gain from going into Ann Arbor and stumping the Wolverines, while Michigan has the most to lose if it falters to the historically inferior Huskies.
8. Miami Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Panthers — Sept. 23
This might be the second-most important non-conference game for Randy Shannon’s Canes, but it could get added significance pending whether or not they win or lose the big game before this one (see No. 1 in these rankings of games to be played).
Miami is not afraid to play tough teams and it is looking to get back into the fray of the elite. Even if the Hurricanes lose to Ohio State the week before, they could make a statement by letting QB Jacory Harris air it out against a middle-of-the-road pass defense in Pittsburgh.
Head coach Dave Wannstedt is not going anywhere but he has been slowly turning this program around. He has a star running back in sophomore Dion Lewis, a star wideout in Jonathan Baldwin, and one of the most feared left tackles in the country with Jason Pinkston. The defense is as good as it was a year ago, returning six critical starters from a team that finished 19th best in the nation in scoring defense.
With other dates set at Utah, at Notre Dame, and the usual suspects in the Big East, Pittsburgh needs to find a way to knock off Miami. It should begin on defense.
On the other hand, this game could set the tone for the rest of the Canes' season, regardless of what happens on 9/11 at Ohio State.
7. Clemson Tigers at Auburn Tigers — Sept. 18
Clemson enters the 2010 season with one of the best defensive lines in all of the country. Led by DE Da’Quan Bowers and DT Jarvis Jenkins, the Tigers will prove to be extremely difficult to run against. Add in the fact that they are bringing back most of their secondary that finished seventh nationally against the pass in 2009 and the Auburn Tigers will have a formidable foe on September 18th.
Clemson will be debuting its new weapons at wide receiver and running back too.
The Auburn Tigers are a sleeper to make a run at the national championship. Their “quick-strike” offense instituted by head coach Gene Chizik resulted in the Tigers completing 29 scoring drives in less than two minutes last season. With 18 starters returning on both sides of the ball, look for new quarterback Cameron Newton to have no problem managing the game for this squad.
Auburn would like to build off a thrilling overtime victory in the Outback Bowl last year but it will have a tough time getting RB Onterio McCalebb going off the bat. Auburn will need to find a way to stymie the Clemson defense. Meanwhile, Clemson will have to find rhythm offensively in order to survive this contest in the Iron Bowl.
6. West Virginia Mountaineers at LSU Tigers — Sept. 25
West Virginia is a super-sleeper on the national title scene for 2010. With 10 starters returning on a strong defense that finished high in most defensive rankings in 2009, the Mountaineers could come into LSU and do what others before them have not been able to do—beat the Bayou Bengals.
RB Noel Devine is one of the best in the country but the true question mark is sophomore quarterback Geno Smith.
LSU, on the other hand, is coming off a year where it finished 9-4 but ranked 112th in the country in total offense. LSU never shies away from playing anybody but it may have to be cautious in its approach this year. The Tigers still have turmoil at QB, but Jordan Jefferson is expected to open as that starter. The defense is returning seven new starters as well.
It is extremely difficult to waltz into LSU and win under the lights. Is it impossible? Not anymore.
The thing is, West Virginia is not getting any media love since Rich Rodriguez bailed on the Mountaineers, but LSU is trying to recover from a poor offensive showing a year ago.
5. LSU Tigers vs. North Carolina Tar Heels — Sept. 4 at Atlanta, GA
Although I have already talked a little about LSU, this is one of those games that could be a statement game for the Tigers, especially if they survive the Mountaineers.
LSU typically plays well in the Georgia Dome and this could be one of those games where star senior wide receiver Terrance Toliver goes off for a joy ride.
North Carolina needs to show the country that it is for real. Stacked top to bottom with NFL talent, head coach Butch Davis will need to prove the Tar Heels can compete against the SEC and a stronger ACC.
The offensive line remains intact and RB Shaun Draughn is one of the best in the country. They bring back nine starters from the nation’s sixth best defense in 2009 as well.
Knowing the woes that LSU can have on offense makes this an intriguing matchup when one considers how good the Tar Heel defense really is. The ACC needs a big win against one of the elite teams in the country and it could come here.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions at Alabama Crimson Tide — Sept. 11
The Penn State Nittany Lions are entering a season of transition. They will be led on offense by a new face—QB Kevin Newsome. Newsome’s job is not even secure when one considers the skill set possessed by freshman Paul Jones.
Defensively, the Lions will have a strong line and linebacker corps but their secondary could be a large question mark.
Alabama enters the year as the defending national champions. With eight starters returning on offense, this team that averaged 32.1 points per game could see an increase in that due to the progression of QB Greg McElroy. Also, Mark Ingram returns to defend his Heisman Trophy Award.
On defense, only one starter returns from a year ago, where the Crimson Tide ranked second in the nation in total defense.
This game could go two ways—a blowout or a low-scoring affair. If it is a blowout, I expect the score to settle favorably with ‘Bama. On the flip side, both schools have great defenses that could turn this into a punch, punch, grind kind of battle.
3. Florida State Seminoles at Oklahoma Sooners — Sept. 11
Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder has many pundits pondering how good this team will be this year. In year one of Bobby Bowden’s absence, the Seminoles have the best team they have had in several years on paper.
The offensive line is the best...not in the state or in the conference. The best in the country. The defense is fast and strong. Altogether, the 2010 ‘Noles will resemble the ‘Noles of the ’90s.
Oklahoma has failed to live up to expectations the last two seasons but a new face at quarterback could change all of that—Landry Jones.
On the flip side, the defense does have some question marks, but it will be up to experienced seniors Jeremy Beal and Adrian Taylor to provide the guidance to get the Sooners back into the top tier of the college football world.
This game will be huge for both schools. They are both beginning new eras—Florida State with Jimbo Fisher and Oklahoma with Landry Jones. This is a contest where the ACC needs to prove it can hang with the big dogs and it is up to Jimbo Fisher, in his first major contest as head coach, to prove the naysayers wrong.
2. Boise State Broncos vs. Virginia Tech Hokies — Sept. 6 at Landover, MD
With 19 returning starters from a squad that went 14-0 in 2009, including a win in the Fiesta Bowl, the Boise State Broncos are favorites to vie for a national championship.
QB Kellen Moore is one of the best in the nation and WR Titus Young is as explosive as anyone. Boise State told anyone and everyone that it would play anyone and everyone anywhere; home, away, or on a neutral field. The Broncos got what they asked for.
One would think that Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer would have a national title under his belt by now, but he doesn’t. With a blossoming offense led by QB Tyrod Taylor and a powerful running attack, all the Hokies have to do is shore some things up on defense and they will be in the conversation.
This game favors the Hokies considerably since it is just up the road from their campus. Regardless, Boise State has proven that it deserves to be mentioned with the elites of the college football world.
This game could preserve Broncos’ head coach Chris Petersen’s legacy some more. On the other hand, this could be one step closer for Virginia Tech in attaining its dreams of winning a national title.
1. Miami Hurricanes at Ohio State Buckeyes — Sept. 11
This is the big one for the Canes. Going into the "Horseshoe" and knocking off the Buckeyes would go a long way for the Canes in bringing their swagger back.
Essentially, this would put this young and fiery team back into the national spotlight, something it held for a couple of weeks last year before losing a couple of nonsensical games.
Ohio State is ready to prove everyone wrong. The Buckeyes have put together the best team the school has seen since, well, I will get to that!
Led by QB Terrelle Pryor, this squad is primed and ready to show the nation that it is not willing to accept a loss to the Hurricanes on its home field. Instead, Ohio State wants to send the Canes back to where they came from—as a redeveloping football program.
Many consider the January 3, 2003 BCS National Championship between the Canes and Buckeyes to be the greatest college football game to ever be played. Well, in the first meeting since this great game full of great performances, major injuries, and damaging controversy, the Buckeyes get to host the underdog Canes.
It should be a good one and I guarantee you that the nation will be watching.
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