Ranking the 10 Best Games of College Football 2012 Opening Weekend

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2012

Ranking the 10 Best Games of College Football 2012 Opening Weekend

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    Before you know it, the 2012 college football season will be upon us.

    Fans across the nation are already counting down the days until kickoff, and based on the opening week slate of games, the season will get off to an impressive start.

    With so many great games just on the first weekend of play, we've decided to give you a helping hand in deciding what games to watch, what games to DVR and what games to skip over entirely.

    Here's our top-ten ranking for the best games of the opening week of the 2012 season!

Texas-San Antonio at South Alabama

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    Thursday, August 30, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    Who? What?

    Exactly. We don't blame you if you've never heard of these two programs. After all, up until two years ago, neither of them existed.

    Now, these two programs are already making the leap to the FBS.

    So why would we put Texas-San Antonio at South Alabama on our list of top ten games in Week 1?

    It's exactly the kind of game that football purists love—and hate.

    We love it because it features two new FBS programs vying for just a little bit of love. South Alabama has joined the Sun Belt and UTSA is a new member of the WAC, so it's likely the time in the spotlight will be all too brief for both teams. But as long as they're here, they might as well make the best of it.

    We hate it because it features two new FBS programs that likely have no business playing in the FBS. Think about it—these two programs have a combined three seasons of NCAA football under their belts. If programs like Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Youngstown State, Delaware and James Madison can find a worthwhile spot in the FCS, why do these two upstart programs feel the need to edge their way into the FBS?

    And it's not like the states of Texas and Alabama are football-deprived.

    Still, it's going to be interesting to see how these teams fare in their new life as “big time” programs. Our guess is that this will be the one and only time over the next several seasons anyone outside of their tiny fanbases will pay attention.

Texas State at Houston

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    Saturday, September 1, Time and TV Coverage TBA

    Another FBS newcomer is the Texas State Bobcats.

    The difference between Texas State and the aforementioned newcomers (UTSA and South Alabama) is that TSU has actually been playing football for quite some time. In fact, the Bobcats first fielded a football team in 1904. Texas State also has a couple of Division II national championships under its belt (1981 and 1982), and won an FCS conference championship as recently as 2008.

    Texas State will get an instant challenge from in-state (and recently successful) Houston.

    The Cougars will try to convince the nation that they're still the same team without Case Keenum taking the snaps.

    We doubt it.

    Keenum was one of those rare, once-in-a-generation kind of quarterbacks for a program like Houston, and the Cougars will struggle without his command on the field. Still, Houston should be more than a match for poor Texas State.

    We've added this game to our list because we're very interested to see how a historical “small program” like Texas State will handle the transition to the FBS, and how well Houston will be able to cope without Case Keenum—and with a new head coach, Tony Levine.

SMU at Baylor

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    Sunday, September 2, 6:30 PM EDT, TV Coverage TBA

    This game may have been more fun to watch last season, but it's still an important game for both programs.

    We all know why we want to see what Baylor can do this season. Losing a player like Robert Griffin, III is hard under the best of circumstances. And this isn't the best of circumstances for Baylor.

    First of all, it's Baylor. The Bears aren't exactly a historically important football program, and RG3 is probably the best thing that's ever happened to this little program from Waco.

    Add in the talk about how RG3 won the Heisman Trophy because he made a bad team pretty good, and you begin to see to size of hole Baylor finds itself in for 2012.

    On the other end of the field, June Jones is trying everything under the sun to take that one, last, mighty step out of the abyss SMU found itself in for the last two decades. A win over a now-respected in-state AQ program like Baylor may be just the thing the Mustangs need to finally be welcomed back to the ranks of worthwhile Texas programs.

Massachusetts at Connecticut

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    Thursday, August 30, 7:30 PM EDT, TV Coverage TBA

    Another newcomer to the FBS this season is Massachusetts.

    Considering the state of Connecticut shares a lengthy (for Connecticut) border with Massachusetts, this could become the beginning of a budding new rivalry in football.

    It will also give us a nice barometer of where UMass stands, and how far a Big East program like UConn could fall during the perceived implosion of the conference.

Washington State at BYU

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    Thursday, August 30, 10:15 PM EDT, ESPN

    Brigham Young had a pretty successful 2011 season, considering it was its first without a conference home.

    The newly independent BYU football team cut a swath through much of the country last season, finishing with a 10-3 record—best amongst the four FBS independents.

    The next test of the Cougars will be taking on a heavier workload in 2012 and inching closer to a coveted BCS at-large spot.

    The first task for the Cougars will be dispatching the traditionally weak Washington State Cougars.

    But not so fast; this WSU team will probably be walking a little taller than those to which we're accustomed.

    Not only did Washington State improve their record to 4-8 last season, but WSU went out and got itself a new head coach.

    And not just any head coach. Mike Leach.

    BYU should win this game, considering all of the talent on the roster, the home field advantage and the fact that Washington State likely still won't be anywhere near the top of a conference like the Pac-12, at least for a few more years.

    But with Mike Leach at the helm, there's bound to be some entertaining surprises from the Cougars from Washington State.

    Plus, we can't wait for his press conference.

Texas A&M at Louisiana Tech

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    Thursday, August 30, 7:30 PM EDT, ESPNU

    On the surface, this game looks like any other Week 1 contest featuring a power AQ conference program against the supposedly weaker non-AQ team.

    But scratch just below the surface and you have a game that could be quite intriging—not to mention entertaining to watch.

    If you think a team like Louisiana Tech has no shot against SEC foe Texas A&M, all you need to do is take a look at the Bulldogs' 2011 performance.

    The defending WAC champions are entering their final season in the conference before heading to Conference USA for 2013, and you can bet that the Bulldogs are eager to go out on a high note. Last season, the Bulldogs finished with a 8-5 record which included narrow defeats to Houston (35-34), Mississippi State (26-20 in overtime) and TCU (31-24).

    But it's that game against Mississippi State that grabs out attention.

    Last season, Mississippi State finished 7-6. Last season, Texas A&M finished 7-6. The Aggies might be new to the SEC, but Louisiana Tech isn't a stranger to SEC opponents.

    On top of that, Louisiana Tech will be the home team in this contest, hosting the Aggies at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, LA (Louisiana Tech's normal home site is Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston, LA).

    Sure, the Aggies should be favored. And they'll probably be double-digit favorites, too. But don't be surprised if the Bulldogs stick around long enough to really make this game exciting down the stretch.

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech

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    Monday, September 3, 8:00 PM EDT, ESPN

    There's nothing quite like starting the season with a conference divisional game with massive post-season implications.

    That's exactly what we'll have when Georgia Tech travels to Lane Stadium to take on defending ACC-Coastal champions Virginia Tech.

    Georgia Tech, for its part, finished 2011 in a tie for second place in the Coastal Division, with a surprising 6-0 start.

    This season, Georgia Tech won't be sneaking up on anyone, and it may be the Hokies on the defensive early. Virginia Tech returns just three offensive starters from last season, so it will be interesting to see how Frank Beamer's squad handles this Week 1 conference battle.

Boise State at Michigan State

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    Friday, August 31, 8:00 PM EDT, ESPN

    Boise State is slowly but surely “arriving” on the big-time college football scene.

    Once again, the Broncos will travel into the belly of the beast to play a top BCS-AQ program in hostile territory.

    If Lane Stadium and the Georgia Dome weren't bad enough, Boise State found an opponent at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing for 2012. And Michigan State hasn't lost there since 2009.

    Spartan Stadium is one of the most hostile environments in the nation, with fans almost on top of the field and a noise level that is enough to make you cry.

    This game will also tell us a lot about each program.

    Both Boise State and MSU lost quite a bit of talent this offseason, and there will be plenty of new names to keep you reaching for your game-day program.

    Can MSU replace the on-field leadership? Can Boise overcome the loss of perennial All-Star Kellen Moore?

    But what's really cool about this game isn't the fact that top up-and-comers are going to be going toe-to-toe; it's the fact that this game is just the first in a preview of a home-and-home series set for 2022 and 2023.

    Okay, so we'll have to wait a bit for those games, but we're giving MSU mad props for actually agreeing to play Boise State at Boise State.

    Now if only an SEC or Big 12 team could find the courage to do such a thing...

Notre Dame vs. Navy

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    Saturday, September 1, 9:00 AM EDT, CBS

    No one really likes waking up early on Saturdays.

    But if you want to catch this epic installment of the classic Navy-Notre Dame series, be sure to set the alarm and prepare the coffee pot.

    Navy and Notre Dame are set to tangle at 2 PM on Saturday, September 1.

    The only problem there is that it's 2 PM local time and the game is being played in Dublin, Ireland. That gives this game a 9 AM kickoff for folks in Annapolis and South Bend.

    If you're a Navy or Notre Dame fan living in California, it's even worse. This game kicks off at 6 AM PDT—which is nothing compared to those poor sailors at Pearl Harbor who will need to slide out of their racks at 0300 to catch this one.

    The Irish will be playing for the Irish in Dublin, and while Navy likely has little hope of knocking off Brian Kelly's BCS-hopeful team, it should be quite a spectacle to watch—which is why it gets our No. 2 spot on the countdown.

Michigan vs. Alabama

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    Saturday, September 1, 8:00 PM EDT, ABC

    Is there seriously any college football fan in the nation who will have something better to do on Saturday evening?

    This is easily the top showdown of Week 1, and there's a lot riding on this early game.

    While a loss won't derail either team's BCS prospects, it's clear that an Alabama loss hurts the Tide a lot more than a Michigan loss hurts the Wolverines.

    First off, Alabama is the defending BCS champion.

    Secondly, the Tide back-doored their way into the title game last season—and that's not likely to happen two years in a row.

    And perhaps most importantly, the Alabama and SEC faithful will have to ditch one of their two favorite arguments to make the title game with a loss to Michigan.

    SEC fans love to tell the rest of the nation how “their” conference is a cut above the rest. While that's certainly been true over the past half-decade or so, the college football world is cyclical, and it won't last forever.

    The old argument of “even a one-loss SEC team is better than an undefeated Big Ten/Pac-12/Big 12/ACC team” might not fly when that one loss is to a potentially undefeated Big Ten team.

    The second argument the SEC fans love to throw out there is how much better the SEC is compared to the Big Ten.

    What if Michigan wins?

    If the Wolverines do the unthinkable (from the SEC point of view), then those two arguments become mutually exclusive.

    If the Big Ten is so inferior, then Alabama should be shamed for losing. But if the SEC is so good it should get a shot anyway (with one loss), then what does that say about Michigan (and the Big Ten)?

    So you can see how the two arguments won't jive if the Tide falter against Michigan.

    We're not predicting a Michigan win, mind you. But don't be surprised if this game turns out to be a lot closer than SEC fans would like...

    Because of the national implications, and the fact that both of these teams should be highly ranked in the preseason polls, we're naming the Michigan-Alabama season opener as our top Week 1 game of the 2012 college football season.