Get out those raccoon coats, everybody, it's college football season. Yessir, there's nothing like a good old-fashioned college football ... Thursday.
The season kicks off with a real dandy: Southeast Missouri State at Cincinnati. I can certainly see why that one was moved off of Saturday. Then again, how will the hungry hordes in TV land pick between that tilt and Buffalo at Rutgers, Tulsa at Louisana-Monroe and Miami-Ohio at Ball State? Those games all kick off at 7 p.m. EDT too.
The main event of the evening is an hour later on ESPN. Southeast Louisiana at New Mexico State. Just kidding, it's national title contender LSU at Mississippi State, which is a contender to score six points Thursday night. If LSU loses interest for a while.
LSU is ranked No. 2, behind USC. Rutgers is No. 16. Two other ranked teams are playing Thursday. Boise State, No. 23 in the Associated Press poll, No. 24 in the USA Today, hosts Weber State on the blue field, and Louisville, 10th in the AP and 11th in the USA Today, puts it all on the line against Murray State.
You remember the Racers from their glorious 1-10 season last year, when they came within a touchdown of giving up twice as many points as they scored and, among other things, they lost 33-7 to Samford, which went 3-8 including a win over Miles College. I'll save you the Googling: It's in Alabama. Murray State's one win came against Indiana State, which had one win.
Louisville better bring it.
Not to single out the Cardinals. This is the time of year when our nation's football powerhouses curse the fates that they're not allowed to schedule middle-school teams. There's precisely one game this weekend between AP top-25 teams that isn't dictated by conference schedules: No. 12 Cal vs. No. 15 Tennessee.
Pretty good, you say. First week of the season, what do you expect? Teams have to get their feet wet, etc. etc. But here's the thing: One nonconference top-25 game in a week is a lot. Looking at the preseason AP 25, there are five (5) games between top-25 teams who don't have to play each other because of conference rules. All year.
Aside from Cal-Tennessee, there's No. 2 LSU vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech and No. 4 Texas vs. No. 22 TCU on Sept. 8; No. 1 USC vs. No. 20 Nebraska on Sept. 15; and No. 6 Florida vs. No. 19 Florida State on Nov. 24. That's it.
The top-25 teams play roughly 100 nonconference games, and they managed to schedule five against each other, one-tenth of what they could have scheduled.
I realize most of these games were scheduled several years ago, but the top 25 doesn't change all that much from year to year. More than half of the teams in this year's preseason rankings are perennials. An Oklahoma-Michigan game scheduled in 2001 would have been a safe bet to be a marquee game in '07.
It might have turned out to be a dud. But then, what, Michigan vs. Appalachian State -- that's this Saturday at noon EDT -- was a surefire humdinger?
The top 25 will change as the season progresses, so there will be other games between ranked teams, though most of those will be conference games. By the same token, we could lose some of the precious few we have.
And before you praise the conference system for ensuring that the other 34 scheduled games between top-25 teams happen, remember it's the same system that guarantees a steady diet of easy wins every year for these powerhouses.
Texas, for example, plays four games against preseason top-25 teams: TCU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Nebraska. TCU is a nonconference game the Longhorns went out and scheduled, and good for them. Oklahoma and Texas A&M are rivals the Longhorns would play without a conference in common. So the fact of the Big 12 ensures that Texas-Nebraska game.
It also gives us that two-game Texas road trip at midseason to Iowa State and Baylor, which both went 4-8 last year. Wouldn't you rather see Texas playing the likes of Ohio State and Florida?
That college football isn't even interested in figuring out a way to make that kind of game happen more often is a bigger failing than its absurd system of crowning a champion every year.
There's plenty of opportunity, even leaving the conferences in place. Aside from TCU, Texas' nonconference opponents this year are Arkansas State, Central Florida and Rice, which believe it or not is a pretty tough schedule for a top-ranked team.
Ohio State will busy itself with Youngstown State, Akron, Washington and Kent State. Aside from its rivalry game with FSU, Florida will take on Western Kentucky, Troy and Florida Atlantic.
And so it goes, up and down the top 25. Much as I'd hate to deprive the world of Ohio State vs. Youngstown State in a given year, call me crazy, but I'd rather see something like Ohio State-Georgia, a game that has never once been scheduled, though they were forced to play each other in the 1992-season Citrus Bowl.
Cal vs. Tennessee. Pretty good. I bought a ticket. Cough up a game like that, conference or nonconference, more than two or three times a week nationwide and college football would have a hell of a thing going.
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