Monday, July 20, 2009

New Schedule Previews: Part Two - College Football

This is part two of my three-part series about the best match-ups of the wonderful sports season that starts this NHL preview came first, and now I'll follow with college football. NFL - coming soon.

My favorite aspect of watching an entire season of college football is not having to wait until half way through the season to watch legitimately entertaining games (hello, college basketball?). As a fan, you get your money's worth from early September through the regular season and into early January. The 2009 schedule is no different; seemingly every week is packed with meaningful games. All the usual conference powerhouse games are there -LSU/Florida, Penn State/Ohio State, Alabama/Auburn, Texas/Oklahoma, etc. - but I'm much more interested in what games are scheduled out-of-conference. So, in honor of the start of the fall season, here are my picks for the best five non-conference games.

5. Oklahoma at Miami (FL) (October 3)

All kidding aside, who schedules games for Miami? The 'Canes start the season at Florida State, host Georgia Tech, travel to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech, and welcome Sam Bradford and company to Florida in the most brutal four-game stretch I've ever seen. Miami is much improved under Randy Shannon, but can you see them finishing any better than 2-2 in the first four? I can't, and I can easily see a possible 1-3 start. Look for Oklahoma's offense to roll through Miami (like they did last year in Norman, 51-13) while they anxiously await the arrival of Texas two weeks later.

4. Georgia at Oklahoma State (September 5)

We know coach Mike Gundy is a man (he's now 42), but his program has seen a huge rise since that rant. The Cowboys hung tough in an awfully competitive Big 12 South, went 9-4, beat then-3rd-ranked Missouri, and then played Texas to the wire before faltering against a rough schedule down the stretch. The 'Boys return their three top playmakers in quarterback Zac Robinson (25 TD passes in 2008), running back Kendall Hunter (1,555 yards and 16 TD's), and wide receiver Dez Bryant (1,480 yards and 19 TD's). Meanwhile, Georgia is a program in prime position to rebuild in '09. The Bulldogs lost Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno to the NFL, but Georgia has always recruited well, so expect those spots to be filled with talent quickly. Unfortunately for Mark Richt, that talent probably won't develop quick enough to succeed in the ultra-tough SEC, and starting the season at Oklahoma State isn't going to help.

3. Oregon at Boise State (September 3), Utah at Oregon (September 19)

These two games take the title of "Most Intriguing" for me, for a few reasons. I'd like to see just how good Oregon is under all that ugliness (secretly, I love UO's uniforms, I love that they're different, I love that they're neon). They have serious athletes on that team (as opposed to lazy athletes, I guess) and I'd love to see how fast they can score 40. However, neither small-conference team is a pushover, as they've demonstrated in year's past. I'm crazy about story lines like Boise and Utah, but I'm just hoping for great games.

2. Southern California at Ohio State (September 12)

I like one other game better, but, on paper, there is no better match-up. USC won't have too much trouble repairing the pieces lost to the NFL in the long term, but expect there to be a definite learning curve which makes this game more evenly-matched, because with a fully experienced roster, USC would stomp on the Buckeyes. However, that isn't the case, and I'm interested to see what Terrelle Pryor can do on such a big stage in his second year. If he has improved his passing (I trust he has), this could be a huge win for OSU and the Big Ten.

1. Alabama at Virginia Tech (September 5)

I love the potential of this game to be a fantastic start to the first Saturday of college football. Both teams are ranked inside the top ten in many preseason polls, and both hope to contend for conference titles and the national championship, so this is a huge statement game for the team who wins. I'd be lying if I said I didn't like the Hokies in this one: they rarely lose at home, and Beamerball works magic in seemingly every meaningful game. Highly entertaining, highly defensive, and a highly wonderful atmosphere (as always) in Blacksburg. Needless to say, I'm high on this game.

Honorable mention: TCU at Clemson (9.26), Auburn at West Virginia (9.19), Florida State at Brigham Young (9.19), USC at Notre Dame (9.17), BYU @ Oklahoma (9.5)

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