College football, the only sport where I don’t like how the champion is determined, begins a new season with a slate of games beginning on Thursday with the immortal matchup of Presbyterian against Wake Forest. That matchup, and many others similar to it, can be found all over the sport’s opening weekend, which is filled with five days of FBS football games. The FBS universe as we know it was on the verge of imploding over the course of a few days in the summer, as teams either made plans to move, made threats to move or planned or announced moves to different conferences. At the end of the shakeup, only a few teams moved, with those moves set to take place (for the most part) next season. So, as we begin to enjoy the last season of FBS football as we know it, a few thumbnail previews of some of the more interesting matchups of the first weekend of the season:
No. 15 Pittsburgh vs. Utah: Dave Wannstedt has a talented squad that many people think can win the Big East. Stop me if you’ve heard that before. If last season was the season the Panthers finally turned a corner under Wannstedt, this year’s edition hopes to continue the momentum. Utah is finishing its last season as a member of the Mountain West, before it heads to the Pac-10; while not as highly regarded as other Utah teams of the past, it surely will want to finish that last season on a strong note.
No. 14 USC vs. Hawaii: For a coach that hasn’t really done much, Lane Kiffin has mastered the art of failing upward. Unfortunately for him, his first couple years with the Trojans will find his squad playing for not much more than pride, thanks to the heap of sanctions thrown at USC by the NCAA for misdeeds in years past. USC still has a bunch of talented players; it remains to be seen whether they will play with a passion for the game, or just go through the motions in a season with no bowl or national championship to shoot for.
Purdue vs. Notre Dame: Now that the Charlie Weis era has ended, Brian Kelly steps in to try to bring the Irish back to national relevancy. Either Notre Dame has to start winning more games, or perhaps give up its tightly held independency (i.e., join a conference) to become more important to the BCS conversation. Many feel the Irish have enough talent to win at least eight games this season; but will the team win the games it’s supposed to win and not lose the ones it shouldn’t? The story begins on Saturday.
Connecticut vs. Michigan: I’ll bet there are days that Rich Rodriguez wishes he were back at West Virginia (or maybe not). The Rodriguez era for the maize and blue has not quite gone according to plan. As such, the temperature under his seat is starting to warm, and is getting warmer every day. I don’t think many people feel the Wolverines will win the Big Ten (Eleven? Twelve?), but there has to be some sense of improvement, or upward trajectory, or RichRod may be out of a job.
No. 24 Oregon State vs. No. 6 TCU: Oregon State is the only school that will play both of the non-automatic qualifiers that are garnering lots of early season attention. This game with the Horned Frogs is loaded with importance on both sides. A TCU win gives them a boost of legitimacy as they make a case for a BCS bid and a possible national championship run. As for the Beavers, a win on the road against a top-10 team stamps them as a force to be reckoned with, against Boise State and the rest of the Pac-10.
Navy vs. Maryland: As a Terp fan, you have to hope that this season will be an improvement on last season’s 2-10 disaster. Will Ralph Fridgen win enough games to keep him around as head coach, with a head coach already in waiting and a new athletic director on the scene? Can the Terps defeat Navy, a team coming off an impressive season that ended with a resounding bowl win over Missouri, and an athlete in quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who broke Tim Tebow’s record for rushing touchdowns last season?
No. 3 Boise State vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech: The other non-automatic qualifier with lots of hype will get the national spotlight against what may be the best the ACC has to offer. The eyes of all college football fans should be glued to this matchup-will a loss by the Broncos instantly mark them as pretenders? What will a loss by the Hokies mean for their chances at a national championship run?
Any predictions? What games are you looking forward to on the opening weekend of the college football season?