The NCAA Football season begins in two days, and save for a couple of snoozers, opening weekend this year kicks off with a bang. Much like the NFL, the NCAA has expanded its opening weekend from a one-day event on a Saturday, to a Thursday - Monday weekend long extravaganza. Now, Friday and Sunday don't offer much beyond seeing how real Ole Miss is this year, and the battle for supremacy in Colorado (yawn), but Thursday, Saturday and Monday are filled with intrigue.
The college football season kicks off with the Ole Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks heading north to play NC State. Not a huge game, but a lot of people look at South Carolina as a potential sleeper in the SEC East. If they struggle with NC State, don't look for them to be able to compete with the Gators and Bulldogs.
Thursday does feature a matchup of ranked teams. Oregon travels to Boise State in a very intriguing match up, as Boise State continues to try to prove that they, and other non-BCS schools are just as worthy of a National Title shot. (Let's not forget, the only Division I school to go undefeated last year was not the Florida Gators, but rather the University of Utah) Beating a ranked Oregon team, out of the Pac-10 would be just another step for schools like Boise State, Utah and BYU. And speaking of BYU...
BYU will get its shot in the spotlight on Saturday, as they take on defending Big 12 Champion and National Championship game loser, Oklahoma in a neutral-site game. The 20th ranked Cougars will try to stifle last year's best offense and Heisman Trophy winner, Sam Bradford. If this game gets into the 30s or higher, OU could make a mess of the Cougars.
Two other games on Saturday feature ranked teams going head to head. A great SEC-Big 12 Battle in Stillwater, Oklahoma, as the Georgia Bulldogs head west to take on Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant and the Oklahoma State Cowboys....the trendy sleeper pick in the Big 12. Georgia's defense will have to try and find a way to slow down OSU's high powered offense. What makes OSU dangerous is their vastly underrated defense, which gave Big 12 QBs, including Chase Daniel and Colt McCoy, fits last year.
In the game of the weekend, 5th ranked Alabama plays 7th ranked Virginia Tech in a battle of two teams who believe that they can get to the National Championship game. Both are veteran teams with veteran head coaches. But Va Tech has already been stung by injuries and I just don't think they are as good as their pre-season ranking, and I believe they will have a hard time keeping up with the athleticism of the Crimson Tide. I think 'Bama rolls the Hokies.
Other games of note on Saturday: Baylor plays at Wake Forest. If you get a chance, watch this game and pay close attention to Baylor Sophomore QB Robert Griffin. It wasn't until the 9th game of the season that then-Freshman Griffin finally threw his first interception of the season, against Missouri. He is poised for a breakout season. He's probably still a year away, but I believe he will be in NYC for the Heisman presentation following the 2010 season. Also Saturday, Missouri and Illinois play their Arch Rivalry game in St. Louis. Mizzou is coming off its most successful back to back seasons in school history, with consecutive 10-win seasons and a top-5 and top-20 finish, respectively. But, Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and John Mackey Award winner for best college Tight End, Chase Coffman are all gone from the offense. Can Blaine Gabbart (#4 High School QB in the country in 2007) take over the reigns along with outstanding RB Derrick Washington or is it back to the bottom of the Big 12 for Mizzou? Another game of interest on Saturday is the Citadel at North Carolina. Why is this game one I will be paying attention to? Not because I think UNC can be upset (or even that the Citadel can come within 40 points of the Tar Heels) but because UNC is my pick to win the ACC and go undefeated this year, which means they are my dark horse pick to compete for a National Championship. And Roy Williams and Tyler Hansborough aren't even involved.
I have two teams on upset alert on opening weekend. I don't think Wisconsin is going to be all that great this year and Northern Illinois is one of the better MAC teams. I think N. Illinois is going to give Wisconsin all they can handle and may even leave Madison with an upset win. And FAU, the boys from Boca Raton, Florida head into Big 12 country to take on the popular pick to win the Big 12 North, the 24th ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. It will be a sea of red up there in Lincoln, but the Huskers better be ready. Howard Schnellenberger beat the 'Huskers for the 1983 National Championship (albeit with the Miami Hurricanes) so he'll know what to expect and have his boys ready for a fight.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WATCH
The top two teams in the country are also playing on Saturday.....well, sorta. The defending National Champion Gators and 2nd ranked Texas Longhorns get their first tests of the season (cough, cough). The Gators are 73-point favorites against Charleston Southern and Texas is "only" a 43-point favorite against Louisiana-Monroe. Apparently St. Mary's School for the Blind and the Little Sisters of the poor were already booked on Saturday. C'mon fellas, man up and play some real teams.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
The long weekend concludes with the much-ballyhooed Miami-FSU rivalry on Monday Night Football. The 18th ranked Seminoles have the more veteran team and the more seasoned head coach (even if he has been much maligned lately). They also have the home field advantage this year. But the young Canes have the better athletes and if they can keep it close late, may have an opportunity for the upset. But if the Canes struggle early, look for their youth to show through and for FSU to take advantage. The Canes will need to protect QB Jacory Harris on offense while pressuring FSU QB Christian Ponder, in order to have a real chance.
However the first weekend shakes out, it promises to be an entertaining weekend and an unpredictable season.