Now that the United States has been eliminated from the World Cup, the overwhelming majority of my sporting attention has shifted back to the other beautiful game: college football. Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to enjoy the remaining two weeks or so of the World Cup, but I'm dreaming of days in Tuscaloosa and spending time at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Despite being decidedly Tide-centric, I enjoy watching other teams play as well and especially in the early season when there are a lot of non-conference games on the slate. Here's five non-Alabama non-conference games of 2010 that I'm looking forward to:
5. Oregon State vs. TCU (Arlington, TX) - September 4th - 6:45 p.m. - ESPN
The Horned Frogs are coming off an impressive 12-1 BCS busting season that saw their only loss come at the hands of fellow BCS busters Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. Remember, TCU was one clock review away from probably playing Alabama in the national title game. TCU returns nine starters off of 2009's potent offense (a tackle and an RB were the only losses.) TCU will be favored over Oregon State and should be poised to make another run at the BCS. Their opening game in a technically neutral site should be an early litmus on whether or not that's a real possibility. A late game at Utah is their other major obstacle.
4. Oregon at Tennessee - September 11 - 6:00 p.m. - ESPN2
Despite winning the Pac-10 in 2009, Oregon could still be classified as a team that underperformed last year based on pre-season expectations. Needless to say the opening day loss to Boise State and the suspension of LeGarrette Blount kind of derailed their season despite the conference title. Controversy and player dismissal are once again the talk of Eugene with QB Jeremiah Masoli being dismissed from the team on June 9th. It'll be interesting to see what the Ducks can muster when the roll into Neyland Stadium. The Volunteers have been drama magnets themselves over the last season or two with Lane Kiffin coming and going in a year's time as well as a gas station robbing incident involving several UT players that shed an unwanted spotlight on the program. For Tide fans, it'll be interesting to see how their rivals' new coach on the block Derek Dooley fairs in his first real test (the Vols open the season against Akron.) This one conflicts with the Penn State at Alabama game so have your DVR ready or click over during commercials in the Bama game.
3. Florida State at Oklahoma - September 11 - 2:30 p.m. - ABC/ESPN2
The Seminoles and Sooners both ease their way into the 2010 campaign by taking on Samford and Utah State respectively before a clash in Norman in Week 2 to see what both storied programs are made of this year. FSU will be led by new coach Jimbo Fisher. Talk about a heck of a first road test. Oklahoma could use this as a statement game to show they're back in contention after a disappointing 2009.
2. Boise State vs. Virginia Tech (Landover, MD) - September 6 - 7:00 p.m. - ESPN
A year after being the only other undefeated team besides Alabama, a lot of people feel it's Boise State's time to shine and make a legitimate run at the national title. They return 21 starters and only have two major tests: this opener against Virginia Tech and a late September contest at home against Oregon State. Besides those two, Boise should run through the remainder of their schedule without any serious threat of defeat. Tech, on the other hand, lost more than half of their starters from last year to graduation, but Frank Beamer's teams have been nothing if not consistent with seasons of ten wins or more in eight of the last ten years. This Labor Day showdown will have a lot of eyes on it considering it's the only game on that night.
1. LSU vs. North Carolina (Atlanta) - September 4 - 7:00 p.m - ABC
The good people at the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic apparently decided someone besides Alabama could represent the SEC in the annual SEC vs. ACC showdown. Les Miles' seat is one of the hottest in the conference despite being only a few years removed from a national title because of multiple unimaginably bad clock management gaffes that blew winnable games. Such is life in this conference. If Miles is going to salvage his career at LSU, getting a win against North Carolina would be a great way to build up some goodwill early. The Tarheels are trying to take things up a notch in Butch Davis' fourth season in Chapel Hill. The Heels were awful under Davis' predecessor and fans are hoping the Tarheels staunch D will be able to take them beyond the 8-5 record of the past two seasons (their best back to back outings since the Mack Brown years.)