On Wednesdays this season, I'm going to be providing my list of five "must see" non-Bama games of the week. Some weeks it'll be hard to pick just five, and sometimes it'll be a struggle picking more than 2-3 worth watching. Knowing that I'll watch nearly anything in week one (heck yeah I'm DVR'ing Central Washington at Minnesota Duluth on Thursday!), it was a bit tougher this week than it'll often be. With that being said, I urge you to fire up your DVRs and I present you with "What to Watch" for Week 1 of the glorious return of college football. All times central. (note: I will use AP rankings until BCS rankings come out.)
OREGON (16) at BOISE STATE (14)
Thursday, September 3rd - 9:15 pm - ESPN
This choice is sure to delight bammer, with his love of mid-majors and the PAC-10, but it is a significant game because it features two ranked teams and has immediate BCS bowl implications unlike pretty much any other game on opening weekend. If Boise State can win this game, the Broncos have virtually nothing standing between them and the program's second BCS Bowl bid. The remainder of their schedule features such tasty cupcakes as FCS team California-Davis, Idaho and New Mexico State. They're pretty much staring down the barrel of a one game season right off the bat. Win it, and they're pretty much in the BCS if they handle their business the rest of the way seeing as they're currently the highest ranked non-BCS team. Lose it, and they're likely looking at 11-1 and a trip to the Humanitarian Bowl.
Sports Illustrated recently ranked Oregon #11 and put QB Jeremiah Masoli on a regional cover billing the Ducks as a team that could shake up the BCS in 2009. Oregon's schedule is, needless to say, a wee bit tougher than Boise's and has to get past USC who has at least shared a part of the last seven PAC-10 crowns. The Ducks dropped last year's contest against Boise State 37-32, but Oregon had already lost their first and second string QBs by week four of the season (not to mention using three QBs, including Masoli, in the game against the Broncos.) I would imagine continuity at QB is going to greatly help the Ducks this time around. I expect the scoreboard operator will be getting a workout in Boise in what's likely to be a crazy affair on the smurf turf.
GEORGIA (13) at OKLAHOMA STATE (9)
Saturday, September 5th - 2:30 pm - ABC/ESPN(Gameplan)
If you'd told anyone at this time last year that Oklahoma State would enter the 2009 season ranked higher than Georgia, they'd probably ask you what you'd been smoking. Oklahoma State received a whopping one vote between the two polls in the 2008 preseason whereas Georgia was ranked #1 in both. What a difference a year makes in college football though. Georgia lost two of its big stars in QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno. Oklahoma State posted a very respectable 9-4 record last year with their losses coming to Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and Oregon (and only the losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma were by significant margins.)
The Cowboys return starting QB Zac Robinson who threw for 3,064 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushed for another 562 yards and eight more touchdowns in 2008 while the Bulldogs go with Joe Cox, a senior whose thrown for 432 yards and five touchdowns in his three previous seasons in Athens. Though one is typically excited by the prospect of Big 12 offense vs. SEC defense, Georgia's defense has been a bit underwhelming the last year or two. They finished 10th in the conference last year in scoring defense and gave up 38 points or more on five occasions (Alabama, LSU, Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Florida) though they did manage to win two of those. I imagine there will be some Cowboys out for revenge after Georgia spanked them by 21 points in the 2007 season opener.
BYU (20) vs. OKLAHOMA (3)
Saturday, September 5th - 6:00 pm - ESPN
It's good to see another neutral venue showcase game emerging on the scene. The Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta is one we're obviously familiar with, but another one is starting up in Dalls this year. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, in collaboration with ESPN now has a neutral site showdown on opening weekend in Dallas planned for the next five years. There have been rumors that Alabama will be invited to participate in this game at some point.
Normally a Big 12 vs. Mountain West showdown wouldn't attract much attention, but this is Oklahoma and BYU is a ranked theam. Oklahoma will be led by Heisman winner Sam Bradford and the Sooners will be looking to return to their form of putting up absurd numbers after Florida held them to only two touchdowns in last years BCS Championship game. BYU finished the 2008 season with a 10-3 record, but lost pretty severely to the best competition they faced (a 32-7 loss to TCU and a 48-24 loss to Utah.) I'm not going to pretend to know a ton about BYU's defense, but I think this is one of the marquee matchups of opening weekend that has the potential to get ugly. Though they won the games, BYU gave up a ton of points against UNLV (35 points), Colorado State (42 points) and Washington (27 points....the second most the Huskies scored in a game during their 0-12 run.)
MARYLAND at CALIFORNIA (12)
Saturday, September 5th - 9:00 pm - ESPN2
This is probably going to be viewed as the oddest choice choice of the bunch by most of you, but seriously, outside of the four game featuring two ranked teams (ours included), there's not a ton of critical matchups on opening weekend as it's typically viewed as a tune up weekend by most programs. I was tempted to recommend some contest involving a future Alabama opponent, but most of them are playing a bunch of duds (Louisiana Tech, Western Kentucky, Jackson State, Missouri State, Memphis, etc.) I was tempted to include South Carolina at NC State, but NC State has had a losing record three years running and it doesn't stir much excitement for me outside of being on opening night. With that being said, I'm going for Maryland at Cal. Though unranked, the Terps have at least been to bowls the last three years and it'll be interesting to see if California will live up to their preseason hype right out of the gate. With a #12 ranking, they should handle their business at home against a middle of the road ACC team, but I'll be tuning in to see just how they handle it.
MIAMI at FLORIDA STATE (18)
Monday, September 7th - 7:00 pm - ESPN
The games between these two Sunshine State rivals tend to be pretty closely contested (you'll have to go back to 2001 to find one that was decided by 10 points or more.) Though both programs have lost a bit of their luster from their heydeys during the 80s and 90s, there's enough history and talent to make it make the list for week one. Added to that is the fact that this is a conference game and therefore more meaningful than most opening weekend games, it's a cinch to make the list. Most people agree that Bowden needs to hang it up at FSU, but he and JoePa seem to be in a race to see who can last the longest and neither program seems ready to dismiss their long lasting coaches. Miami's Randy Shannon is attempting to clean up the mess left by Larry Coker and at least improved the team from year one to year two of his tenure even if only narrowly (5-7 in 2007 to 7-6 and a bowl bid in 2008.) Two historical powerhouses, one ranked team and a conference matchup makes this one worth tuning in for.