Unlike the pros, there's no preseason here. There's no warm-up. Right from the first kickoff, every game matters. Especially in a no-playoff world, every game matters.
While losing in Week 1 might not derail your entire season, it could be that last little piece of information the computers need to keep you out of the BCS championship game. Or it could mean that your rival gets picked for that hoped-for bowl bid.
But exactly half of the teams playing in Week 1—like every other week—will lose. So which teams are the ones you simply don't want to play in Week 1?
On September 3, Arkansas and Missouri State will meet for the seventh time in history. Not surprisingly, Arkansas is a perfect 6-0 in the series.
In fact, the series is so lopsided that in six combined games, Missouri State has managed just 33 points to the Razorbacks' 294.
Arkansas will also be starting the 2011 season ranked in the Top 25, and it'll be looking to show the rest of the SEC that life after Ryan Mallett won't be such a drag. Although Mallett provided a great impact at Arkansas, the Hogs have a lot of talent spread around the field. Plus, all of their skill position players (except Mallett) will be returning for 2011, most notably Knile Davis, the Hogs' leading rusher.
After three seasons in Fayetteville, it looks as if Bobby Petrino has the Razorbacks ready to make a move back to the top of the SEC West. Missouri State will simply be the first team to fall to this new era of Arkansas football. But it certainly won't be the last.
Sparty has spent the entire offseason listening to how MSU was a pretender last season. The Spartans' 11-2 season was a fluke. They didn't play Ohio State. They lost to Iowa. They got pummeled by Alabama.
Month after month reading about how Michigan State wasn't the team everyone thinks it was—and on top of it all, lowered expectations for 2011.
That's enough to get under anyone's skin.
Michigan State will start the 2011 season with something to prove. The new Big Ten seems somehow bigger, badder and tougher now that division play has been added and a championship game looms on the horizon.
The Spartans are on a mission in 2011 to prove that they are a legit emerging power in the Big Ten, and the first team to stand in MSU's path is Youngstown State.
YSU was once a football power in its own right. The Penguins won four FCS titles in the '90s and appeared in six championship games with Jim Tressel as head coach.
Since Tressel left for Ohio State to start the 2001 season, Youngstown State has had a grand total of one playoff year (2006), losing in the third round to Appalachian State. In 2010, YSU was an abysmal 3-8 (1-7 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference).
What do you get when you have an FBS team that was 11-2 last season and is looking to prove itself combined with a pretty awful FCS team in Week 1?
As the song goes, “Victory of MSU!”
If you're Louisiana-Monroe, putting Florida State on your schedule a few years ago didn't seem like such a horrible idea.
After all, when the game was scheduled, Florida State wasn't exactly a BCS contender.
But the Seminoles are back near the top of the rankings, and they're the ACC favorite heading into 2011. Louisiana-Monroe isn't even favored in the Sun Belt.
What's more, there are a lot of people around the country calling the hype surrounding Florida State just that: hype. E.J. Manuel and company will be looking to dispel a few preconceived notions about the 2011 Seminoles, and ULM is going to find itself in the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.
This September 3 game in Tallahassee will get ugly, and it will get ugly very quickly.
When you put up over 520 yards per game and practically your entire offense is coming back for another season, you have to feel pretty good about your chances.
That's exactly what Oklahoma State has on tap for 2011. Only Oregon and Boise State managed more yards per game (521 for Boise State, 530 for Oregon). Oklahoma State will also be headed into the new season with a Top-10 ranking and high hopes for its Big 12 campaign in 2011.
Because of the loss of two teams from the Big 12, divisional play and the conference championship game are history, at least for now. Curiously, the Big 12 has decided that everyone is going to play everyone else in the conference. That only leaves three non-conference games before the start of Big 12 conference play on September 24.
The first opponent for Okie State is Louisiana-Lafayette on September 3. The Ragin' Cajuns finished 2010 with a pitiful 3-9 record, and their only wins came against Louisiana-Monroe, North Texas and Arkansas State.
Last year's contest against Oklahoma State ended pretty badly for the boys from Lafayette. The Cowboys put up 54 points en route to a 26-point victory. Lafayette, for its part, also has a history of bad starts, losing every Week 1 game against an FBS program since its 1990 opening week win against Tulane. In the other openers over that span Louisiana-Lafayette is just 2-1 against the FCS.
Don't expect a slow start from the Cowboys. They've won their last three season openers. For the Ragin' Cajuns, this all spells one thing: disaster.
So Michigan hasn't always had the best starts to seasons as of late: a heartbreaking loss to Utah, 25-23, in 2008, and we all remember the shocking loss to FCS Appalachian State in 2007.
But with those two exceptions, Michigan has won its season opener dating back to a 1998 loss to Notre Dame to start the year. Before that, you need to go back to a 1992 tie with the Irish or a 1990 loss to Notre Dame, back during the era where Michigan vs. Notre Dame opened every season.
For those of you who really like stats, Michigan hasn't lost a season opener to another school from the state of Michigan since a 1952 loss to Michigan State—a year MSU went 9-0 and won the national championship.
The last time the Western Michigan Broncos came to Michigan Stadium, it was for the season opener of the 2009 season. For a Rich Rodriguez-coached Michigan team that ended the season 5-7, U-M was pleased as punch with a 31-7 drubbing of WMU, Michigan's third-largest margin of victory against an FBS program under Rodriguez.
With Brady Hoke taking over at Michigan, hopes are high. Add that to the fact that a successful coach like Hoke now has the talent pool of Michigan, with players like Denard Robinson at his disposal. Western is coming off a 6-6 season, which looks even worse when you're a MAC program.
Suffice it to say the Broncos don't have a prayer in this one. Michigan Stadium is sure to be rocking with 113,000 or so fans to see Brady Hoke in his debut. Western will have to play the game of their lives just to make sure it doesn't turn into a joke by halftime.
It really won't take long for Will Muschamp to get Florida back into BCS shape. After all, we're talking about a program that's proven it's capable of recruiting the best athletes in the nation, developing them to their fullest potential and then riding that talent to win after win.
It's hard to believe that last season was a huge down year for the Gators. After all, they finished the season 8-5, finishing with a win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl. But 8-5 isn't going to cut it at Florida. Gator fans have been accustomed to much better.
Muschamp's first campaign as a head coach will start against Florida Atlantic. It's difficult to call FAU an “in-state rival,” as FAU really has little hope of beating Florida, now or really ever. Although both programs call the state of Florida home, they probably could not be more different. Florida is a program always in search of BCS glory. FAU is a program in search of not being embarrassed by the BCS AQ programs.
Florida is looking for its 22nd consecutive opening week victory, dating back to 1990. With the depth of talent that Will Muschamp has available, it would be surprising if FAU put up more than token resistance, pushing its record to 0-2 all-time against the Gators.
You need to go all the way back to 1985 to find the season when the Cornhuskers last lost their first game of the season.
Going back to 1970, Nebraska is 35-5-1 in its opening contest. Nebraska doesn't seem to be in any danger of messing up its current streak of 25 consecutive opening week victories, as it has been scheduling cupcake opponents in Week 1 going back to 2003, when the Big 12 put Oklahoma State on its schedule.
Still, when you're going up against a team as good as Nebraska with a win streak as long as it is, it's easy to simply assume you're going to lose. No one would blame Nebraska's 2011 Week 1 opponent for that assumption.
Chattanooga was a 6-5 program in the FCS last season. Far from a top-flight FCS program, Chattanooga has only been to the FCS playoffs once in its history—1984. In the past few seasons, Chattanooga has struggled to reach .500, including a 1-11 2008 season and a 2-9 2007 season. Since 1992, the Mocs have only had four winning seasons.
Now, they'll face a team that is almost a guaranteed winner in Week 1 from one of the tougher FBS conferences.
Nebraska certainly wants to start its Big Ten career off in style. Not only will Nebraska be amped up for the first game with the Big Ten logo on its field, it'll also be looking to make a statement. If the Huskers don't win this game by 45 points, there will be a lot of surprised people around the Big Ten.
You have to give Oklahoma some credit. It's not often a team like Oklahoma would schedule a team from last season's Top 25 as their opening game. Granted, OU probably didn't know Tulsa would be ranked at the end of 2010 when the game was originally scheduled, but Oklahoma still gets credit for not playing a cupcake.
Oklahoma is going to top most rankings coming into 2011, and for good reason. The Sooners are oozing talent, and they're expected to tear through the Big 12 en route to a BCS championship berth.
Before Sooner fans get too far ahead of themselves, there is some business to be taken care of, starting in Week 1.
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane finished 2010 ranked as the No. 24 team in the nation after an impressive 62-35 victory over Hawai'i in the Hawai'i Bowl. Their only losses last year came against Oklahoma State (no surprise) and C-USA opponents East Carolina and SMU, all of whom were bowl teams a season ago.
The Golden Hurricane also return a nice selection of talent for 2011, and that should put them among the favorites to win the 2011 C-USA championship.
But as good as Tulsa might be in C-USA this season, it's not Oklahoma. The Sooners are big, fast and hungry for yet another Big 12 championship. They're also eager to put that whole “BCS curse” behind them once and for all.
Before last year's Fiesta Bowl win, Oklahoma was just 2-5 in BCS games. While a win was nice in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, a lot of people retort with “but they played Connecticut.” While UConn wasn't exactly the toughest opponent Oklahoma could have played in a BCS bowl, a win is a win.
The Sooner nation is looking to silence its critics. A BCS championship would do just that. Oklahoma should be focused on the prize right from the start of fall practice. As far as it's concerned, Tulsa is just the first of 12 bugs to be squashed en route to the only game of the season that matters.
So the 2010 season didn't exactly start out well for the Hokies. A close loss to Boise State can probably be excused. But following that up with a loss to FCS James Madison?
Thanks to the way the BCS is structured, Virginia Tech still made a BCS game, but they really ought to have a rule that if you lose to an FCS team, you're disqualified from playing in a BCS bowl. Shouldn't they?
Regardless, Virginia Tech recovered nicely from its season-opening disaster, winning its next 11 games before getting demolished by Stanford in the Orange Bowl. Don't expect the Hokies' 2011 season to start out like 2010.
First off, there won't be any looking past FCS opponents. Perhaps it was the heartbreaking loss to Boise State that left Virginia Tech feeling hung over going into its egg-laying travesty against JMU last season. Perhaps it was just JMU's moment in the sun. Perhaps someone spiked the Gatorade. Whatever the reason, Va Tech is looking for redemption, and it'll have that opportunity in Week 1 in 2011.
Virginia Tech will welcome FCS Appalachian State on September 3. While everyone remembers ASU's stunning victory over Michigan back in 2007, the Mountaineers haven't really been the same program since. Appalachian State is 0-3 against FBS programs since and has had difficulty in the FCS playoffs since its 2007 national championship season, posting a postseason record of 4-3 and failing to advance out of the second round in two of the last three seasons.
It's not that ASU is a bad FCS team, per se, but just don't expect a team like Virginia Tech to lose to another FCS team so soon. The Hokies will be ready for the Mountaineers, and Appalachian State will return to North Carolina 0-1 for the third time in four years.
While the Tigers aren't really expected to have much chance at repeating last season's BCS championship run, there's not a single person in the entire country who doesn't expect Auburn to win the first game of the season handily.
Auburn hosts Utah State on September 3 to open the 2011 season. While Auburn obviously finished last season 14-0, the Aggies from Utah State finished with their 10th straight season of four or fewer wins. In fact, Utah State hasn't had a winning season since its 6-5 campaign in 1997.
While there are many teams that believe Auburn is ripe for the picking in 2011, the only thing Utah State can truly hope for is not to be laughed off the field. The Auburn players are also hoping to show the rest of the SEC and the country that they can play too. They'll be anxious to showcase their abilities in the opening week, and that isn't a good thing if you're a Utah State fan.
Last season, the Cardinal thoroughly demoralized and embarrassed FCS Sacramento State in their opening week 52-17 victory. The Hornets didn't stand a chance against Andrew Luck and company, and the game result was clear probably before the opening kickoff.
Well, Luck is back in action for Stanford this season, but he'll be without much of his supporting cast.
Even so, Andrew Luck is one of the nation's top players, and it's difficult to overstate his abilities. Add in the fact that Stanford's Week 1 opponent this season is one of the worst FBS programs, and you have the perfect recipe for another huge Cardinal win.
San Jose State stumbled and fumbled their way through last season en route to a 1-12 record. That lone win also came in a 16-11 victory against FCS Utah State, a team that was just 6-5 in the FCS last season. The future for San Jose State looks exactly like its past. There's no real reason for hope in 2011, and Stanford should win this game because of the first quarter score alone.
The Crimson Tide have certainly led the way when it comes to scheduling the weakest non-conference opponents possible. While SEC teams use the age-old and tired argument that their conference schedule is so tough that they need to schedule weak non-con opponents, the rest of the country uses that as a reason to criticize the SEC.
Once again, Alabama will start the season against an opponent that should be beaten by at least 45 points: Kent State.
While Kent State isn't quite as bad as San Jose State—Alabama's Week 1 opponent from 2010—the Golden Flashers are pretty bad. The MAC is easily one of the weakest, if not the weakest, conferences in the nation, and Kent State could only manage a 5-7 season in 2010, including a 4-4 record in the MAC.
At last Alabama doesn't have a team on its schedule this year that had never played football before (as in the 2010 game against start-up Georgia State).
Speaking of playing abysmally bad MAC programs, let's move on to Ohio State, lest anyone think that it's just the SEC that's guilty of poor non-conference scheduling.
The only difference here is that the Big Ten conference as a whole entered into a contract with the MAC to have each Big Ten team play a MAC school each season. Of course, this was done not only out of the pretty much guaranteed win the Big Ten program would get, but as a favor to the MAC as well.
In the Midwest, the MAC is virtually ignored. MAC games are not shown on television. MAC games are poorly attended. MAC games rarely get covered in the newspaper beyond a box score. Game highlights are not shown on the 11 o'clock news. The MAC, even if its own backyard, gets no recognition.
The Big Ten and the MAC hoped to change all of that with the contract that goes one step further than scheduling games. Each year, at least one Big Ten school will play a road game against a MAC school. This, of course, almost never happens on the MAC school's campus, but at a regionally available NFL stadium.
Still, Ohio State is facing two MAC programs this season, in Weeks 1 and 2. The first victim will be Akron.
So much press has been devoted to the “Tattoo Five” and their resulting suspension. While it's true that Terrelle Pryor and the rest won't be playing against Akron, there's absolutely no one who believes that will make one ounce of difference in the outcome of the game.
The Zips were a laughable 1-11 (1-7) last season, and they don't appear to be headed for any breakout seasons anytime soon. Ohio State, for its part, is loaded with talent, even without the suspended players on the sidelines. The plain facts are that even if Ohio State lost all of its starting players, it'd still be able to beat Akron by three or four scores.
Ohio State is also in the position of having to prove to the rest of the Big Ten that it should still be taken seriously. If the Buckeyes don't beat Akron by five touchdowns, the rest of the conference could take that as a sign of weakness.
Expect Ohio State to pour it on and not stop until the final gun.