Run and Shoot: August 2008 Archives

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August 25, 2008

50 Things That Will Happen In College Football In 2008

Every college football season comes with numerous certainties that we can all count on. So I've decided to take the first 50 things that I'm sure will happen and lay them out for you here. Feel free to disagree with any of these, I'm so sure I'm right that I'll shave my head if I miss out on any of these 50 predictions for 2008.

So here you go. Here's what will happen:

1- There won't be a 2-loss national champion this year.
Like a Bigfoot sighting (or another hoax), it's hard to believe that last year really happened. As you recall, it took some outlandish, even unthinkable circumstances for LSU to fall into the No. 1 slot. Sure there's parity, but don't expect this to become the norm.

(Ricky Jean-Francois and the Tigers will need to do better than last year to repeat as national champions.)

2- There won't be an undefeated national champion this year.
Face it, it's a long season. Expecting 19-22 year olds to play at the top of their game each and every week for 13 or 14 weeks is impossible. There's going to be a letdown - or two. Conference championship games, 12-game schedules, early August training camps, college football has never been this long of a grind.

3- In fact, the eventual national champion will need a truck-load of lucky breaks.
Think about how close both Florida and LSU both came to not even getting into the last two national title games. Had UCLA not beaten/upset/stunned USC in '06, it's another Trojan national title. And last year, if not for:
- Pitt shocking West Virginia
- Missouri beating Kansas
- Oklahoma beating Missouri
- Dennis Dixon's injury
- Some kid in Jersey controlling things with his Ouija Board,
then LSU is sitting at home on January 7th, or at least drinking in the balcony's of Bourbon Street and not preparing for a game.

The days of USC vs. Texas dominating all season until the title game seem long in the rear-view mirror, don't they?

4- Tim Tebow won't win the Heisman.
Hold your witch hunt Gator chompers, I didn't type "Tebow Sucks" or something. But the Gators will have more weapons (hello Emmanuel Moody and Percy Harvin), apparently a change in philosophy and less of a burden on the man with the "S" on his chest. Besides Gator fans, what do you want, more wins? Or another Heisman?

5- Georgia may be No. 1 now, but the Dogs won't win the national title this year.
Three reasons:
1- The questionable O-Line (Sturdivant's injury)
2- The bigger target on Moreno's back (Will have to run better away from Athens)
3- The Gators (or late season visits to LSU, Kentucky and/or Auburn)

Oh and if you need another one...
4- Karma (you remember that full-team end zone dance last November? Bad move UGans)

6- The one team that will play above its ranking will be Kansas.
Don't blink. This 12-1 team should be legit again. Hard to believe that a team that returns Todd Reesing at QB, nine starters from the best defense in the Big 12 and welcomes J.C. All-American Jocques Crawford at running back is ranked way down in the teens. The early season win over South Florida will be your first clue.

7- Playing an easy schedule will continue to be the best way to make it to a BCS bowl game.
What other sport has this warped advantage? Look at the schedule strength of these three BCSers at the end of last year's regular season:
Ohio State - 73
Kansas - 90
Hawaii - 119
Why on Earth the BCS eliminated the strength of schedule component to the equation is still way beyond me. As my previous column on non-conference schedules shows, there's no reason for teams to play tough opponents. Sigh.

8- Unlike recent years, there will actually be some interesting football to watch in September.
*Ohio State at USC
*Georgia at Arizona State
*Tennessee at UCLA
*Kansas at South Florida
*Wisconsin at Fresno State
*Virginia Tech at Nebraska

Although, we're still not talking about the old days here. But it's a helluva lot better than the last few years.

9- The most telling non-conference game out there will be the Georgia-Arizona State game.
Either OSU or USC could lose their matchup and easily still play for the national title. But the Dogs trip to the desert will be a big indicator of whether, A) Georgia REALLY IS number one worthy, and B) if State REALLY IS good enough to actually provide a challenge to USC in Pac 10 play.

And with Dennis Erickson's pedigree, if the Devils win that game, put them down as a darkhorse for the national championship.

10- TV will continue to be the "great equalizer" in college football.
It's almost rare to find a school that doesn't have 75% of their games on the boob tube. So while USC, Ohio State, Florida, Oklahoma and the like can promise all their recruits that they'll be on TV every week, now, so can Kansas, UConn, Arizona State and Kentucky. Thus, good athletes find their way to those campuses as well and make the college football landscape more even than ever. Yes, dare I say, that "parity" word that everyone is tired of hearing.

11- The talk of the SEC and Big 12 getting their own TV networks will pick up as the season goes along. Soon to become a demand.
You KNOW those big money boys won't let second tier mates like the Big 10 and the Mountain West be the only ones with their own networks. Deals are probably in the works as we speak.

12- There won't be as many 1-AA wins over Division I teams as there were last year. (And keep in mind I refuse to use those stupid FCB or FCS monikers that we've been force-fed).
Appalachian State's win over Michigan jump-started lower division teams to eight wins over upper division big shots in 2007. Good Gawd! For perspective, there were only four of those type of "upsets" in the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons combined. There won't be THAT many this year. However...

13- If you're looking for some lower division teams to beat some Division I teams, here are a few upsets to watch for:
*Montana State at Minnesota (Sept. 13)
*North Dakota State at Wyoming (Sept. 13)
*James Madison at Duke (Aug. 30)
*Delaware at Maryland (Aug. 30)
This is America, we love an underdog story.

14- The SEC will be the best conference again, but will beat each other out of a national title shot this time.
Too much balance, man. Just too much balance. And as you know, each and every road trip is a perilous one. The breaks won't fall the SEC's way this time.

15- Internet boards will still be chock full of SEC vitriol when someone dares to suggest it's not as strong of a conference as it claims to be.
Look, everybody has conference pride. There are over-vehement, foaming-at-the-mouth rabid football fans everywhere. But not like this. Well, the good part is that there are a lot more quality out-of-conference games than usual, so we'll be able to judge how much better the SEC is... or (dare I say at the risk of being beheaded) how much weaker than expected they are.

16- The next big rumble you feel in the Earth's core will be from those angry football fans firing off pissed-off Emails.
Readyyyyyy, go.

17- The biggest "Turnaround Team" this year will be MIssissippi.
After going 3-9 last year under Ed Orgeron - also known as Fish Out of Water - Houston Nutt injects a new enthusiasm, has 16 returning starters, a hot transfer QB in Jevan Snead and a schedule that eases the Rebs into the season. As Pat Forde pointed out, Ole Miss could (maybe even "should") be 5-1 in October, which would surpass their win totals for every year since 2003.

18- Ricky Jean-Francois' name will get butchered more than any other players' name in the country this year. (Well, other than Navy QB Kaipo-Noa Kaneaku-Enhada)
The LSU D-Tackle will also make a lot of people in Bayou Country forget about Glen Dorsey. If his performance in the SEC and BCS title games are any indication, this guy's ready to bust out like Demi Moore in Striptease. Teaming with D-Ends Tyson Jackson and 6th-year senior Kirston Pittman, the Tiger line will still have plenty of bite.

19- Alabama will beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
Six years, man. Six. These two angry rivals haven't been this one-sided since the days of the Bear. But glory is on the other cleat this time since the Tigers have won the last six meetings in the series. And you know Nick Saban realizes that Bama administrators hired him to put an end to this distasteful streak. Amongst other things.

20- The one pre-season non-Top 25 team that will be ranked the highest at the end of the season will be Utah.
In fact, lots of rags have BYU pegged as the biggest BCS-buster possibility this year, but behind injury-free QB Brian Johnson, the Utes can go offense-for-offense with the rival Cougars. The big difference will be the fact that UU has a lock down defense that will be the best in the Mountain West.

21- Ohio State will win the Big 10 for the fourth straight year.
That's the working definition of a "no brainer" if there ever was one. Though there are some up-and-coming coaches and programs to cause some worry (Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, when Rodriguez gets them rolling), OSU has lapped most of the Big 10 field.

22- This will be Joe Paterno's final season as head coach.
I hate to say it. And I hate to see it. I freakin' LOVE JoePa. Like a Gene Vincent song, he's so old school, it's cool. But he's smart enough to realize that the program must go on without him. Save for a Big 10 title and a trip to the BCS title game, an end to an era is nigh.

23- Bobby Bowden will get his wish and outlast Joe Paterno, keeping the wins record in his corner.
Bowden leads Paterno 373 to 372 in victories entering 2008. FSU will improve to 9-4 or 10-3 and Coach Bowden will see fit to stay in charge another season as he watches JoePa give his farewell speech.

24- Clemson won't win the ACC.
Oh they'll look like gang-busters for most of the season. They'll beat Alabama in Atlanta, then James Davis and C.J. Spiller will run for a couple of miles in romps over The Citadel, N.C. State, South Carolina State and the like. But then, November spawns a monster. Roadies to Chestnut HIll, Tallahassee and Charlottesville are added to a rivalry game with Steve Spurrier U. and there's also the chance that the Hokies await in the ACC title game. Too many potholes.

25- Somebody out there will come forward with an explanation of why the University of Texas football website is officially called ""
Apparently Coach Brown didn't see that "Miracle" movie about the 1980 U.S. hockey team where Herb Brooks said, "The name on the front of your jersey is a hell of a lot more important than the name on the back."

26- Oklahoma will win the Big 12 again.
One of the big differences between last year and this year will be consistency. Even though he led the nation in passing efficiency (which is an amazing feat for a newbie), Sam Bradford will get the advantage of experience this year. So look for a team that looks to make amends for its youthful mistakes in 2007.

27- That vast sea that separated the Big 12 North and South will get smaller and smaller.
Kansas and Missouri started it last year. In 2008, Colorado and Kansas State, who beat Oklahoma and Texas respectively last year, will be the ones to close the gap even more. In 2009, it's Nebraska's turn. Whaddya know, this Big 12 merger is finally starting to help the Northern schools, not just the Southwest Conference schools.

28- The post-game press conference will go back to being boring again.
Last year we had Mike Gundy's "I'm a man, I'm 40!" freakout, Les Miles debunking Kirk Herbstreit's hot job-hopping scoop and Mike Leach's pig-chicken-commitment ramble. I guess these guys are beginning to realize anything freaky will get re-posted on YouTube in the form of a Coors Light faux press conference spin-off. Too bad. For a while there it looked like it wasn't going to be the usual, sleep-inducing coach-speak.

29- Cornhusker fans will have to be content with just a winning season this year, no national championships.
Don't expect the spirit of the mid-90s to return to Lincoln just yet. Oh sure, the energy will be there. Bo Pelini will have his guys flying around. The Big Red nation will be back to the loud level of the pre-Callahan days. But if it weren't for an embarrassingly easy schedule, it might be another 5-7 season. But the biggest thing will be the defense will improve from bottom of the grain silo bad to somewhere in the Top 40 this year.

30- Texas Tech will finally have a football team that Bobby Knight can be proud of.
Yes, Tech is in some pre-season Top 10s. Believe it. Mike Leach's QBs usually have a knack of going from unknown to throwing for three country miles each season. Graham Harrell is no unknown, he's cocked and loaded to throw to Frosh phenom Michael Crabtree and a slew of other good hands people. Now... will there actually be a defense in Lubbock? Besides that sick man-to-man that Coach Knight uses.

31- Another new surprise or two will emerge from the Big East.
Rutgers and Louisville in '06, Cincinnati and South Florida in '07. Who's next? I'm looking your way Pitt and UConn.

32- Pitt's LeSean McCoy will have over 1,000 yards by mid-October.
Barring injury, that is (knock on wood). The image of his 148 yards vs. that West Virginia defense that was dead-set on stifling him is still fresh in my mind. His first six games will be:
*Bowling Green
*at Syracuse
*at South Florida
*at Navy.
Most of those teams are defensive sieves waiting to happen. Run LeSean, run.

33- If you've got four-and-a-half or five hours to kill, the best way may be to take in a WAC game.
Fresno State is the favorite behind QB Tom Brandstater and a chip-on-its-shoulder defense. But watch out for Nevada behind the play of wiry Colin Kaepernick and RB Luke Lippincott. These two teams should take over where Boise State and Hawaii have been the last few years. Also, with scores like Nevada's 69-67 win over Boise and New Mexico State throwing the ball 50 times a game under Hal Mumme, get comfortable if you're in the stands for this conference.

34- If there's one team everybody in the country should be pulling for it's Florida International.
Who can't love these guys? The Panthers went 1-11 last year, opening with Penn State, Maryland, Miami and Kansas. The bloodletting won't be much better to start this year as they face Kansas, Iowa, South Florida and Toledo. But on October 4th, they'll host North Texas, the team they beat last year, 38-19. They also close with three winnable home games vs. Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe and Western Kentucky. We are ALL cheering for you Golden Panthers.

35- The term "in space" will be used even more ad nauseum than ever before by talking heads and media types.
This vogue gem has gotten so popular, nobody even knows what a tackle "in the open field" means anymore.

36- ESPN GameDay will continue to largely ignore the West when it comes to live broadcast locations.
Of the 155 on-campus regular season GameDay sets, only seven have come from the Pacific time zone.

37- The DIRECTV Game Plan option keeps getting progressively worse.
A couple of years ago when DIRECTV first offered the Game Plan, it was pretty good idea with some pretty decent games on the docket each week. But with all the new networks and TV contracts out there, DIRECTV can only spoon us so many Utah State vs. Louisiana Tech games to throw your money away on.

38- That new 40-second clock between plays will help, but not enough.
College football is a game that needs to be sped up significantly. These three hour, thirty minute marathons are getting out of hand. This is a small step in the right direction. Emphasis on small.

39- Pass interference will still be called way too often.
It's become the football equivalent to basketball's "tickle foul" where a player gets an infraction for practically just breathing on an opponent. You know it's getting out of control when a penalty becomes a viable weapon for a team trying to move the ball down the field. C'mon rules committee, ease up on pass interference. Contact is inevitable. And besides, put some emphasis back on the running game, anyone can pass block. Let's see teams have to play more smashmouth. This IS football, after all. You pansies.

40- The three biggest comebacks in college football will be:
1- Oregon State WR Sammie Stroughter.
The hero of the USC upset in '06 has put bouts of depression and injury behind him, and his catching and returning ability will be back in full force.
2- Boston College LB Brian Toal.
The heart and soul of the Eagle D is back, leaving one to wonder if BC would've held on to its No. 2 ranking had he been around late last season.
3- Defense in the Big 12.
With teams like Baylor, Nebraska and Oklahoma State all ranking in the hundreds in total defense and nine teams rated No. 56 or higher, you have to figure there was an inordinate amount of time spent on that side of the ball this past spring and summer. Or, well, let's HOPE there was because last year was inexcusable.

41- The three biggest injury/suspension losses in college football will be:
1- Georgia OT Trinton Sturdivant.
The back side protection for Matthew Stafford and swift ability to pull-and-clear-a-path for Knowshon Moreno were his specialties. (Well, so was taunting dances vs. Florida, but I won't bring that up here.)
2- UCLA QB Ben Olson.
This guy just can't stay off crutches. All that talent has never been able to shine. Plus, there's no Patrick Cowan to lean on as he was lost to a knee injury.
3- Virginia Tech RB Brandon Ore
He was the key to taking pressure off of QBs Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor and establishing a punch-first mentality in the offense.

42- The three biggest off-the-radar players in the country will be:
1- Dan LeFevour, QB, Central Michigan.
Joined Vince Young as only the second QB to ever pass for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a season.
2- Ronald Hilaire, DT, Buffalo.
Drafted as the 27th pick in last May's CFL draft, he decided to stay in school for his senior year and will be one of 18 returning starters in Turner Gill's program.
3- A.J. Jefferson, Fresno State
Led the NCAA in kickoff returns with a 35.8 yard average. Brought two kickoffs and a blocked field goal back to the checkerboard end zone last year.

43- More so than most years this will be the year of the Two-Quarterback System.
Get used to it. It's not for sure, but it looks like the it's possible that Ohio State, USC, Virginia Tech, Texas (really?) and a good portion of the SEC appear ready to use multiple QBs for various reasons. Especially those with hot-shot incoming Freshmen that could be program-changers. As well as giving chat rooms and message boards plenty of fodder.

44- The military fly-over will continue to be one of the most overrated facets of college football.
And no, this isn't un-American here. I just have to believe that the U.S. Armed Forces have more pressing matters on their hands for their brave men and women than to spend a couple thousand dollars and 2.35 seconds of our lives by flying over a college football stadium at the speed of sound. Here's the gist of it: SFX: WOOOOOOSH!. Crowd: Wow!

Then it's over.

45- Lower tier bowl games will continue to bamboozle people and keep their facade alive.
I've said it for a number of years now, if we college football fans just all agreed in solidarity to ignore and refuse to attend all the meaningless bowl games, they would lose money and eventually just go away. How cool would it be to see nothing but parents, girlfriends and thousands of empty seats in these games?

46- Oh, and speaking of, there will still be about 15 too many bowl games played this year.
Remember when bowl games went to teams that had a good season? You know, not for teams with .500 records.

47- The most embarrassing bowl names on this year's bowl roster will be the International Bowl, the Congressional Bowl and the Bowl.
Can you imagine taking a 5-star recruit into a school's Hall of Honor and seeing THAT name on a trophy? Here's a new idea: How 'bout if those bowl games give away winner's door stops, instead of trophies? Well, at least we're saved from the indignity of the Bowl.

48- The BCS will continue its tradition of screwing everything - teams, players, fans, truth, justice and the pursuit of happiness in general.
I know, this prediction isn't going out on a limb at all. But can we really take another finale to the regular season where there is a one-loss team atop the polls and six two-loss teams below them? And is it REALLY good to have people arguing, as those in favor of the BCS will smugly point out?

49- The BCS title game will come down to:
Ohio State vs. Oklahoma
Call it the revenge match for Uve Von Schamman.

And I'd like to invite 90% of college football to quit rolling their eyes just because the Bucks made it back to the biggest game of the year again.

50- Hopefully, there will be at least ONE play out there in college football land where the referees don't hear a single complaint from the coaches on the sidelines.
If you've ever been down on the sidelines or at field level, you understand how coaches never stop bitching at the refs.

August 12, 2008

2008: Grading the non-conference schedules


We've created a vicious cycle in college football. Sure we all love the fact that just about every game is on TV nowadays. And because coaches and athletic directors want their teams to look good on TV, so they schedule a lot of limp fish opponents. Because wins beget bowl games. Bowl games begets job security. Job security begets more money. Thus, more money is insured by wins. You spin me right round baby right round, like a record.

No longer do college football teams across the country take chances. Or, well, rarely do they. Have you noticed how boring Septembers have become, except for the occasional Appy State upset of Michigan or Ohio State showdown with Texas?

It's because the more school administrators and coaches feel they can cha-ching a few million per home game and pile up easy Ws to boost their bowl chances and national title chances, the better. I mean, who can blame them? It's an easy choice to make.

But what about the fans in all this? Do we really want to hear Fowler and Herbstreit break down another impending Monster State bloodletting over Cupcake Tech?

And tickets for these embarrassments? I say that there should be a sliding scale for ticket prices that requires games with weak-sister opponents to be cheaper. So, if you wanna play a home game against a team with a hyphen in its name? Okay, then the price of a ticket is $20. If you play a directional school, that's a $15 ticket. You wanna play a Division 1-AA team (I refuse to us that stupid new name for this classification)? Fine, tickets are now 10 bucks for that one. Division II opponent? Screw it, it's free. C'mon down and walk on into the stadium. Concessions are free too.

So with that as a backdrop, here's a look at the Top 25 schools and their respective non-conference schedules. Let's get the red pen out and grade how they did in scheduling and what these games mean to you and I as college football fanatics who have noticed the dearth of intriguing games in September over the last few years.

vs. Georgia Southern
vs. Central Michigan
at Arizona State
vs. Georgia Tech

Grade: C

First, let's give props to an SEC team agreeing to take a risk by going on the road into a tough environment. Nice work people, especially when you consider the last time UGa played a ranked non-conference team on the road in September was 1987 at Clemson (Knowshon Moreno was two months old at the time). CMU could be the best MAC team out there... not that I was thinking the Bulldog schedulemakers were looking for the MAC's best when they devised their slate.

2- USC
at Virginia
vs. Ohio State
vs. Notre Dame

Grade: B

With the Pac 10 going to a full nine-game schedule (so each team plays every other team. Novel idea huh? Every conference should downsize and follow suit.), the Trojans will only play three non-conference games. As is their wont, SC at least tries to play tough teams. They can't help it that Notre Dame is awful now. But that showdown with the Buckeyes is going to be a real treat and the biggest intersectional showdown of national championship contenders this year.

vs. Youngstown State
vs. Ohio
at USC
vs. Troy

Grade: C-

Give the Bucks some credit as well as they are following up on their epic battles with Texas from 2005 and 2006 with a home-and-home series with USC. If not for OSU, the non-conference battles of the recent past would be much more boring. But the remainder of their non-Big 10 slate is pretty awful. And yet, keep in mind their struggling with lowly Akron last fall as well. Gives hope to OU and Troy.

vs. Chattanooga
vs. Cincinnati
at Washington
vs. TCU

Grade: C-

Look, they tried to have an interesting non-conference game last year. Remember the Miami matchup? Yeah, it was supposed to be an 80s flashback but gave us a 51-13 stinkpot instead. My guess is that Cincy, Udub and the Frogs will give the Sooners a better challenge. Still, not tough enough. But keep in mind that the Bearcats finished in the Top 25 last year. Still, this slate makes you wish that annual blood-bath with Texas was back as a non-conference game. I mean, if you're a Sooner fan, how can you get excited about a season opener against a team called Chattanooga?

vs. Hawaii
vs. Miami
vs. The Citadel
at Florida State

Grade: C-

Isn't it strange to think that that the toughest challenge in this group could come from Hawaii? I mean they ARE the only returning BCS team of the bunch. But we are all sure that Florida will thoroughly paste the Warriors, aren't we? Though this isn't your father's Canes and Noles, still give the Gators a pat on the back for trying here. Renewing the rivalry with The U will probably pay dividends in a few seasons.

6- LSU
vs. Appalachian State
vs. Troy
vs. North Texas
vs. Tulane

Grade: F

To give these guys a failing grade is almost not severe enough. Former A.D. Skip Bertman loves money. And that's obvious by their eight home games, which promise 90,000+ each Saturday in Tiger Stadium. But these four games should be half-price... nay, third-priced tickets. Unless the defending national champs can insure us all that the game with the lower division national champs comes down to a last play field goal like last year's Michigan game. Otherwise, all Tiger fans deserve a letter of apology. Sorry Skip, you'll have to pay for the paper you write it on too.

vs. Illinois (in St. Louis)
vs. Southeast Missouri State
vs. Nevada
vs. Buffalo

Grade: D+

With the relative improvements of the two teams, that season-starter with the neighboring Illini has become one of the most intriguing non-conference games in the country. Juice Williams vs. Chase Daniel. Sweet. But you have to like the supporting cast around Chase a little bit more. And don't fall asleep on Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick, he's a lightning bolt of action that could cause problems. The other games are mere scrimmages. But look at it from a coach's perspective, MU misses Oklahoma and Texas A&M in the Big 12 rotation. So a national title run could be in the cards.

vs. Villanova
at East Carolina
at Colorado
vs. Auburn

Grade: B-

I don't know if Rich Rodriguez is the one to thank here (sorry at the mere mention there 'Neer fans), but this is a pretty good selection of opponents. It's not often a BCS bowl team goes on the road and plays a decent mid-major team in its stadium. Most big-money schools run away squealing like a little girl over the very thought of that. Not WVU. The Blue & Gold also make a trip to a football field 5,430 above sea level. Add to all that a visit to Mountaineer Field from an SEC team? Nice.

vs. Alabama (Atlanta)
vs. The Citadel
vs. South Carolina State
vs. South Carolina

Grade: C+

Now THIS is how you schedule a game that will keep your team motivated in their pre-fall workouts. I like the pair of SEC matchups. With a senior-dominated team this season, you have to expect the Tigers to be able to handle the pressure in these matchups. Bama and Carolina are on the way back on the national scene, but CU should be favored in both. The other two games? Suit up the J.V. team. James Davis C.J. Spiller could both go for 2-bills+ in each of them.

vs. Florida Atlantic
vs. Arkansas
vs. Rice

Grade: C-

Get this, when was the last time Texas played UTEP? Ten years ago? Twenty years ago? Fifty years ago? How 'bout never. Strange huh? And here the Horns are going on the road to play them too. That's a nice olive branch to extend to a fellow UT school. Even if it IS in another time zone. The Arkansas game could've been a lot more interesting if it had taken place last season with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones taking part. Talk about easing into their season, after these four gimmees, the Horns take a week off before starting Big 12 play at Colorado, followed by Oklahoma and Missouri.

vs. Louisiana-Monroe
vs. Southern Miss
at West Virginia
vs. Tennessee Martin

Grade: C

Great Scott! That October 23rd trip to WVU should be a wicked-good showcase - Thursday night. National TV. By the time that game comes around we'll know better whether the Plainsmen are the SEC West heavies they're expected to be. They also get a week off beforehand, making it the first game of the "second half" of their season. But watch out for the USM game, new coach Larry Fedora will be looking for a marquee win to introduce his tenure. And that's a trap game for a new quarterback (be it Kodi Bruns or Chris Todd) in a new system to faceplant in.

vs. Akron
vs. Marshall
at Fresno State
vs. Cal Poly

Grade: D

Typical Big 10 slate, as they start the season with a sacrificial lamb from the MAC. And this isn't exactly a 2004-vintage MAC team in the Zips. This will be the third time in four years that UW has opened with a MAC opponent. New QB Allan Evridge should be able to handle the job, after spending 2005 as the K-State starter. But game No. 3 is a trek most teams wouldn't dare make, to Fresno's boneyard. And how odd is that season-ender vs. D 1-AA Cal Poly? Maybe they'll need the break.

vs. Florida International
vs. Louisiana Tech
at South Florida
vs. Sam Houston State

Grade: D

Damn. The Jayhawks need to act more like their basketball brethren and play some higher quality non-conference opponents. The trip to Tampa will be pretty good. If you recall, the Bulls were actually the No. 2-ranked team in the country at one point last season. It'll be Matt Grothe vs. Todd Reesing. That game will provide KU the chance to prove that the only one-loss team in the BCS ranks from last year is better than their under-appreciated pre-season ranking.

vs. Eastern Washington
at Nevada
vs. SMU
vs. Massachusetts

Grade: D-

Excuse me, I'm having bad flashbacks. And this time it's not the peyote. But this looks more like one of those old Kansas State out-of-conference slates, doesn't it? And you know Mike Leach, he's not one to let up on an opponent when they're pinned down in a figure four leg-lock and screaming "uncle." Remember last year's 75-7 embarrassment of Northwestern (La.) State? Get ready for more of that. For a team that some rags even have as a pre-season Top 10er, the Raiders should challenge themselves more.

vs. East Carolina (Charlotte)
vs. Furman
at Nebraska
vs. Western Kentucky

Grade: C-

I think there should be a law that a big BCS team should not be allowed to host a mid-major and then NOT return the favor. Or in this ECU case, play the next year's game at some neutral NFL field. (Then again, as I think of it, there ought to be a law against the BCS as well. But I digress.). A game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium would be more treacherous for the Hokies. By the way, any other season, roadies to Florida State and Miami would be pretty impossible. But this is the new millennium you know?

vs. Northern Arizona
vs. UNLV
vs. Georgia

Grade: C+

Considering this team crumbled after its 8-0 start last year, including a 52-34 thrashing to Texas in the Holiday Bowl, the three games before Georgia comes to town will need to be confidence builders. But getting the Dogs to come to Sun Devil Stadium is a great coup. Dennis Erickson's crew face the usual risks with a high-profile team like UGa paying a visit. It could be a momentum builder for a national title run or a crusher for another middle-of-the-Pac finish.

17- BYU
vs. Northern Iowa
at Washington
vs. UCLA
at Utah State

Grade: C-

Uh-oh. People are saying the Coogs have the best chance of anyone of being a BCS buster this season. And their non-conference docket isn't exactly full of potholes. Washington is in save-our-coach mode and UCLA is in year one of the Rick Neuheisel/Norm Chow experiment. So both are vulnerable... or maybe both are out to prove something. Well keep this stat in mind, over the last two seasons, the Cougars are 20-0 after September 16th.

vs. UAB
vs. Northern Illinois
vs. Wyoming

Grade: C-

Ooh, this is good. A return to the scene of where Peyton Manning nearly got ambushed 11 years ago. And on opening day at that. Standing ovation for Phil Fulmer and company, they're one of the few SEC teams that has gambled in the non-conference, scheduling home-and-homers with the likes of Notre Dame, Syracuse and Miami in recent years. The other three are of the name-your-own-score variety.

vs. Missouri (St. Louis)
vs. Eastern Illinois
vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
vs. Western Michigan

Grade: D+

Again, big time hip-hop-hoorays for that re-newed rivalry with the Tigers, pin-pointing an ascent to respectability for both programs. Weird to think that four years ago, both Ron Zook and Gary Pinkel were on coaching hot seats. Both are flourishing now. But a loss to Mizzou here will expose the fact that Zook needs to pull better opponents than these directionalized/hyphenated tomato cans. Especially if the Big 10 is to get any respect nationally.

vs. Utah State
at Purdue
vs. Boise State

Grade: C-

I marked this "C" down in pencil because this could easily transfer to a D-grade since both the Boilers and Broncos appear to be on a down cycle. Maybe it's just a C-for-effort kind of thing. In this day and age, it's admirable for any team willing to trek across the country to play another BCS team. But October will bring USC, UCLA and Arizona State in consecutive weeks, so even the lucky timing-factor of the non-conference will catch up with the Ducks eventually.

vs. Tennessee-Martin
at UCF
vs. Kansas
at Florida International
at North Carolina State

Grade: B-

Points for diversity. Points for challenge. Points for intriguing road trips. Strong work. I wonder how much the energy-infusing Jim Leavitt had to do with this? Love the Friday night showcase game with Kansas. What a treat for college football junkies everywhere. Another thing that's cool to point out here, I'd like to see too-big-for-their-britches Miami and Florida State take a roadie to FIU. No wonder USF is becoming the second best program in the state. They're winning good karma points.

vs. Coastal Carolina
vs. Oregon State
at Syracuse
vs. Temple

Grade: D+

I readily admit, this grade would be a lot better if Syracuse was worth its salt like back in the Donovan McNabb days, because they join the Lions as the two most intriguing teams in the Northeast - with the possible exception of Boston College. Gotta love the intersectional matchup with OSU as well. Still, as weird as this may sound, remember when the Lions played better schedules as an independent? It may be time for JoePa U. to secede from the Big 10 so the Earth can return to its axis.

at Baylor
vs. Ole Miss
vs. Navy
vs. Vanderbilt

Grade: C+

Most any other season, this non-ACC slate may just be Wake trotting out as sacrificial lambs. But this is the Jim Grobe era Deacons, and he may be the runner-up to Bill Snyder in the Coach of the Century voting. A team that has recently gone to a BCS bowl, they aren't afraid to open away from home - albeit it is just Baylor, but you get my drift here. And they also get a chance to rub an SEC nose in the dirt when the Rebels visit. In ACC play, they get conference fave Clemson at home. This could be a Deacon-type year.

vs. Utah
vs. Miami (Ohio)
at Notre Dame
vs. Toledo

Grade: C+

That's a tough home opener for the Rich Rodriguez era in Ann Arbor, since the Utes are expected to be possible BCS busters. And look, give the Maize and Blue SOME credit, if they're going to play a pair of those weak sister MAC teams, at least they're going to face off with two of the better teams in the conference. The Red Hawks should be especially good on defense. This will be a young Michigan team, especially on offense, so the non-conference won't be stringent, but a test none-the-less.

at Rutgers
vs. Wisconsin
at Toledo

Grade: A
C'mon, can anybody really beat the slate put together by Mr. "Anyone. Anytime. Anywhere." himself, Coach Pat HIll? What's not to like about this guy's attitude and this team's ambition? This slate rules. And Coach Hill's attitude permeates the entire campus too, as witnessed by the school's baseball national championship team. My only question is, how the hell did they entice the Big Red from cheese country to come out to the Raisin Valley? Either way, that's so cool.


DI-A College Football

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