Thursday, February 10, 2011
2011 College Football Week 1 Preview
The Super Bowl is over, and as always at this time of year, I miss football. It's over six and a half months away and insanely, though we can put a man on the moon, we haven't yet figured out a way to play meaningful football year-round.
So, in what has become a tradition in this space, I present a Week 1 preview of college football, which I tout as the first in the nation (even though I've done no research to substantiate that claim), to give us football fans something to happily think about for the next half year. In fact, I recommend re-reading this article every day until football begins anew.
Speaking of traditions, a big game is once again played in Atlanta in Week 1. Last year, the game pitted LSU vs. North Carolina, There was a great deal of hype surrounding the game, which I did not quite understand. North Carolina hasn't played in a bowl more meaningful than the Meineke Car Care Bowl in ages. To their credit, UNC had LSU on the ropes, but next year's matchup, Boise State and Georgia looks equally uncompetitive on paper.
One thing lost among the accolades bestowed on Boise is how impressively they start seasons. They knocked off ACC champ Virginia Tech (in what was essentially a road game for the Broncos, as this game will be) in last year's opener, and Pac-10 champ Oregon in the opener the year before (you may remember that as the famous LeGarrette-Blount-punches-Byron-Hout game).
Georgia was not competitive last year, and while I don't see them standing in the way of Boise State, maybe they will pull a UNC and we'll have a great game. Might be something about the Georgia Dome water.
Dallas has also taken to hosting a premier, neutral-site matchup to start each year, and they got a great one lined up, Oregon/LSU, in what will be the first meaningful football game to be played in Cowboys Stadium since the Super Bowl. It will be Oregon's third taste of SEC football within 12 months, as they pasted Tennessee on the road last year and then of course lost to Auburn in the National Championship Game. It's hard seeing this game not being close.
The old Southwestern Conference will enjoy a bit of a renaissance in Week 1, as no less than three games featuring former SWC foes matchup.
Rice at Texas is probably the least compelling of the three games, but it would be amusing if we discover that Texas still has not hit their nadir and loses to lowly Rice.
The other two games feature four teams that all earned bowl berths last year. SMU, after decades, is finally shaking the rust off their "Death Penalty" sanction in 1987 (in fact, it is said that the reason the NCAA hasn't meted out another Death Penalty since is because they did not foresee the long-term devastation to the SMU program, who once upon a time was a national power with guys like Eric Dickerson and Craig James — The Pony Express). They've earned back-to-back bowl bids, but it won't be easy to stay competitive with Texas A&M in Kyle Field.
Texas A&M is coming off their best season (in terms of season-ending ranking) since 1995 and, Cotton Bowl loss aside, is coming into 2011 with tons of momentum. They won their last five regular season games, including victories over favorite Nebraska, Big 12 champ Oklahoma, and a watershed victory over their rival Texas.
Baylor has enjoyed a similarly impressive turnaround, staying in the Big 12 South title race until they sputtered down the stretch. They earned their first bowl berth since 1994, and now find themselves in perhaps their biggest ever non-conference home game against TCU, who of course is right up there with Boise State in terms of huge success from a non-BCS conference.
I'd like to call a Baylor victory, not based on analysis, but out of the sheer geographical ridiculousness of TCU joining the Big East conference. Who else is looking forward to those TCU/Rutgers basketball games?
Given the way the teams ended the year, one of the strangest results of the year was Colorado throttling Hawaii 31-13 last year. True, Hawaii are not exactly road warriors, but they ended up right in the mix with with Nevada and Boise State for the WAC crown, and Colorado was ... Colorado.
They will meet again in Hawaii this year, and I hope that ESPN, as they sometimes do, air the Hawaii production team's broadcast of the game on ESPN3/ESPN Gameplan. This is because their play-by-play man, Jim Leahey, is a hidden gem and the most dulcet voice in the game. Those late-night Hawaii games are the perfect way to end a long day of college football.
Because we haven't had enough college football games crammed into baseball stadia lately, the Cal Bears will take on Fresno State at Candlestick Park. Fresno State was once mentioned in the same breath as TCU and Boise State as mid-major giants, but flamed out after their 50-42 loss to USC in 2005, the year the Trojans were unstoppable until the Rose Bowl (and one of the seasons wiped out by the NCAA due to the Reggie Bush violations), and have since lost their way. This is a great opportunity for the Bulldogs to get their mojo back.
The final game I'd like to highlight on a personal level (indulge me) is Akron at Ohio State. I'm from Akron and a diehard Zips supporter. I attended Ohio State and I'm a diehard Buckeye supporter. I HATE HATE HATE when they play each other. But play each other they do, because Ohio State generously rotates games amongst the Ohio MAC schools (they play all of them between 2006-2012, with Cincinnati and Youngstown State thrown in) thereby granting them some brief visibility and a hefty paycheck.
It's the sports equivalent of incest, and angers God, who views sports through my eyes. I grit my teeth and root for the Zips, because a win would mean more to their program than a loss would hurt OSU's. But I'm trying to figure out a way they can somehow both win, and root for that outcome instead.