Five weeks from Thursday, college football makes a triumphant and necessary return to television sets. This is not the college football defined or degraded by conference realignment or child sex abuse or which moronic fan base decided tweeting at recruits was a good idea. Instead, shockingly, we simply get to watch a game. A beautiful, rabid sport of physicality on grass with thousands of maniacs wildly cheering on third down because there’s a sheet of paper on their wall with the university’s name on top.
On August 30th, whistles blow, helmets smash and the 24-7-365 conversation shifts from the board room to the locker room. As the days before that epiphany lessen, Rant Sports will peek at the schedule and inform you where your eyes should turn between weekend trips to the lake, local establishment or Bed Bath and Beyond. I don’t know if we’ll have time.
South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Steve Spurrier opening week without Stephen Garcia? A travesty. Should the Gamecocks hold a double-digit lead late on the improving Commodores, I wouldn’t put it past the ‘ole ball coach to call a flea-flicker just to see if James Franklin’s head explodes.
UCLA at Rice
Jim Mora, like many coaching transplants from the pros, will treat this like an NFC Championship. Perhaps, considering his background there, ball control and field position need not become more important than food and water. The number of future CEO’s in Rice Stadium might trump the number of prospective draft picks on the field.
Texas A&M – Louisiana Tech (Shreveport)
The debut of Kevin Sumlin and his dynamic offense against a coach in Sonny Dykes who’s no slouch himself on a playsheet. If Jameill Showers finds a groove early, the Bulldogs won’t have the horses to upset the Aggies. But if he doesn’t, well there’s always a casino nearby to forget losing the opener of your inaugural SEC season.
Washington State at Brigham Young
Mike Leach is back on a college football sideline. The Cougars could play Morehouse College, a band of 10 year-old kids or Craig James’ Senate campaign staff and I’d still watch. That his return places him on the opposing sideline of his alma mater makes it more special for the quirky pirate-lover.
Tennessee – North Carolina State (Atlanta)
Year Three of the Derek Dooley era requires eight victories more than likely to reach the fourth. Tom O’Brien’s Wolfpack aren’t slated for BCS contention but they’re plenty dangerous under the offensive control of underrated Mike Glennon. An explosive Volunteer offense should equate to a relatively easy victory. A Derek Dooley-led team never makes winning simple.
Boise State at Michigan State
50 wins walked the stage and exited when Kellen Moore graduated. Chris Petersen doesn’t give a shit. He’ll find a fly-fishing wrestler in the Idaho wilderness and the gun-slinger will have a higher completion percentage than your quarterback. As for the game, Sparty wins on the annual ballsy special teams call from Mark Dantonio.
Notre Dame – Navy (Dublin)
College football in Ireland. Red heads, whiskey and the distinct aroma of a dumpster fire beckon when Brian Kelly’s quarterbacks throw four picks.
Hawaii at USC
Norm Chow, finally a head coach, leads Hawaii against the school where he experienced his greatest success. How many times do the Trojans go for two? Six? Seven? Foot on the throat, knee to the sternum Lane Kiffin is the best.
Ohio at Penn State
Most of the American college football populace will have a glancing eye on this game. Cheer wildly if the Bobcats stumble into a victory or watch in slight discomfort when Bill O’Brien says, “it’s us versus the world” without a shade of irony in his post-game presser.
Miami at Boston College
Assuming the ‘Canes haven’t been sanctioned out of the galaxy by September, I’m intrigued by this matchup of coaches on similar, yet parallel trajectories. Frank Spaziani’s pink slip arrives in January. Al Golden has job security even if he posts a 6-6 record. Miami had better beat Boston College now because in 2013, post-NCAA sanctions, they’ll be more than a few walk-on’s loading the depth chart.
Wyoming at Texas
There’s a layer of cautious optimism in Austin that a sterling defense is ready to contend. David Ash decides how quickly. Dave Christensen’s Cowboys like to keep their offense up-tempo and Manny Diaz enjoys a good blitz with his steak. Expect the rising defensive coordinator’s unit to prevail with a not all that surprising offensive assist from true freshman runner Johnathan Gray.
Clemson – Auburn (Atlanta)
Dabo Swinney and Gene Chizik, recruiting maestros no one seems to take seriously. Is Auburn’s ceiling under the current head coach eight wins sans a Cam Newton-esque talent? Will Brent Venables’ overhaul of the Clemson defense ensure the Tigers don’t give up 70 points in a bowl again? Does Samantha Steele’s promotion mean ESPN upgraded in losing Erin Andrews? These are the interrogatories of our time.
Michigan – Alabama (Arlington)
Brady Hoke’s work on the recruiting trail put the Wolverines on the fast track to reasserting Big Ten dominance. Those prospects can’t keep Denard Robinson from tossing jump balls in Jerry World though. And if there’s a secondary to avoid indecision against, it’s a Nick Saban-coached unit. Should Michigan spring the upset, Harvey Updyke plans to sacrifice Lloyd Carr at the feet of Bear Bryant’s statue. Roll Tide, Paul.
Arkansas State at Oregon
Gus Malzahn’s introduction as Red Wolves head coach. Chip Kelly’s back as Gordon Bombay after flirting with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Expect scoring, street agents and if we’re all lucky, an appearance by Kristi Malzahn. “And Gus was like, shut up.”
Colorado State – Colorado (Denver)
The Rocky Mountain Showdown has seen the Buffs take seven of the last nine from the Rams. Jim McElwain arrives, formerly the offensive coordinator at Alabama, to inject life into Colorado State but until he hires Boulder public enemy Bradlee Van Pelt to his staff, I’m withholding judgment. The Buffs haven’t settled on a quarterback, perhaps they’re waiting on six or seven other guys to transfer in but Jordan Webb (nee of Kansas) and Connor Wood (nee of Texas) give Jon Embree options. Like Jon Gruden though, that’s never enough signal-caller’s.
Kentucky at Louisville
2012 may be Joker Phillips’ swan song in Lexington. The Wildcats scratched out a late season victory over Tennessee in 2011 that probably saved his job. Would a victory over the burgeoning Cardinals do the same? It won’t matter. Teddy Bridgewater possesses a name destined for a star in a hit CBS crime drama and Charlie Strong’s foundation has made him very attractive to SEC programs. This game isn’t as dialed-in as the hoops version but it would be enjoyable if Rick Pitino and John Calipari found a way to spar over it.
SMU at Baylor
Robert Griffin III left his Heisman in Waco and Art Briles’ heart in New York City. Nick Florence inherits the spread duties and his initial start in 2012 won’t oppose a very stingy defense. Instead, this game figures to mirror the 2011 barn burner of an opener between Baylor and TCU if Garrett Gilbert stays turnover-free. The former Texas Longhorn must show that he’s past racking up interceptions and comfortable in June Jones’ offense. Marcel Darius is in Buffalo so sleep comfortably Garrett, he can’t get to Waco.
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
Paul Johnson’s triple option versus Frank Beamer’s special teams bonanza. The Hokies play on Labor Day on a seemingly annual basis. I’ll watch this because I can’t get enough of the sport but damnit, I don’t have to enjoy the product.