Every week for the next 5 weeks I will write a column on my top games on the NCAA Schedule. For four weeks we will go region by region (1. Southeast, 2. North, 3. Midwest, 4. West Coast, 5. Top 10 games in the nation). These are the games I am most looking forward to as a broadcaster and fan this fall.
Now that the NFL Schedule has been released and dissected how about the NCAA Schedule? There is no definitive release date but now that West Virginia and the Big East have settled their differences, Temple saved the day so Big East teams didn’t have to play home and homes against each other, we know who is banned from post-season games (welcome to Ohio St. Coach Meyer) and who is back in the mix (look out for the Trojans) we can now let the dust settle and identify the most intriguing college games in the country.
We will go region by region depending on which conference you follow or where you are in the country and identify the top 10 games to keep an eye on. Then we’ll reveal our 10 biggest games of the year that will have significant BCS and national championship implications.
So without further ado, get your travel map ready, open up that fall calendar, break out the face paint, rehearse the fight song and let’s begin making plans for the best games in the country to attend (or let the spouse know you are completely unavailable for honey-do lists, yard work, or shopping trips to Tanger Outlets on these specific days).
Top 10 Games in the Southeast (These are in no particular order. And don‘t look too far into me listing some VT games first. Yes I went to school there and it was the first games I wrote on the list. Get over it. We‘ll get to the Clemson and USC games further down):
Georgia Tech @ Virginia Tech, Monday September 3, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN):
So this game may not scream national championship implication, but it’s intriguing for a couple of reasons. Georgia Tech started last season red hot at 6-0 and amidst the national rankings. Then they ran into the meat of the ACC Coastal Schedule of UVA, Miami, and VT (lost all 3). This year GT sees all three of those schools in the first month of the season, and it begins with a road date in the feature Monday night game on opening weekend in Blacksburg. VT fans won’t know what to do with themselves on opening weekend with a home game, as typically VT travels to a neutral location to get trounced by the nations best to start the year (next year they will try their hand at Alabama AGAIN in the Chik Fil A kick off). And last year if you weren’t named Clemson, you couldn’t figure out the Hokies. Plus they return eight defensive starters which is the bread and butter of this squad and return a big pro style quarterback who has the ability to “QB sneak” it for 13 yard TD’s. A lot of questions around the GT program as well so looking forward to the first Monday Night Football game of the year in all of football.
Virginia Tech @ Pittsburgh, Saturday September 15:
Former Big East Rivals, future ACC Rivals, playing at Heinz Field, likely Sat. night match up, beer sales are allowed, conference respect for the two conferences who have been the worst BCS conferences the last five years. Where can I purchase tickets?
Virginia Tech @ Clemson (Oct 20)/Florida State @ Virginia Tech (Thurs Nov 8):
I’m putting these two games on the same line because despite the lost of Ryan Williams and four senior receivers, the Hokies are still head and shoulders above the rest of the Coastal division. Their biggest competition will be UVA and if that game was in Charlottesville to end the season I might give the Cavs a chance to win that game for the first time since… when is the last time UVA beat VT? Wasn’t Matt Schaub the QB and Heath Miller the TE? Yikes. The only likely situation for VT to lose an ACC game is against the opposing division so chances are one of these games will be an ACC Championship Preview. All three of these teams have major aspirations of putting the ACC in position to compete on the national scene, but will one stand out above the rest? The Clemson vs. VT game has particular interest because it will be the 3rd stadium in the last three games the two teams have played. The last eight games have been played in four different locations when you throw in the 1999 Gator Bowl. Coming into last season VT had won six in a row and of course Clemson won the two games in Blacksburg and Charlotte last year. But the road team seems to have the advantage in this one. The last time Clemson beat VT in Death Valley? 1988.
And what more can be said about FSU vs. VT. Two storied programs. Always an exciting game. Thursday night football in Blacksburg in November. Depending on how Clemson’s season is going this game could very well be for the inside track on the ACC’s BCS bid.
Clemson vs. Auburn, Saturday Sep 1, Atlanta, GA:
Every year football fans in the southeast can look forward to the kickoff the college football season with an ACC team or Boise St vs. an SEC opponent in the Chick Fil A Kick off Classic. This game has replaced the former “Kick off Classic” that used to officially start the season as the game to tune into. And now other NFL stadiums are following suit with a line up of fantastic opening weekend non-conference match ups. This is no different. Auburn is a mid-tier SEC team this season so this is a must win for Clemson and the ACC. The SEC has a record of 3-1 in this game (3-0 vs. the ACC, the first loss was last year Georgia losing to Boise) but this year the ACC gets two cracks at it and will be favored to win both games. The Friday night appetizer is a match up between N.C. State and Tennessee.
Clemson @ Florida State, Saturday Sep 24:
Top tier college teams seem to be moving premier match ups earlier and earlier in the season. And it makes sense due to the BCS formula. Lose on Thanksgiving and you’re done. Lose in September in a tight one to a good team, and you still got a chance to fight your way back into the conversation. But this is not only a conference but divisional match up between hands down the best two teams in the ACC this year. And after a 35-30 let down for the Seminoles in South Carolina, they get the Tigers for their first road trip of the season coming to Tallahassee.
South Carolina @ Clemson, Saturday Nov 24:
Thanksgiving in SC is a tradition not for the Turkey, but for the Tigers and Gamecocks that gets served up every year. While I totally disagree with this being the last game of the season (can a guy bring back BIG Thursday to kick off the season in SC?) it’s still the most anticipated game of the year for the Palmetto State and has recently been garnering more and more national attention. Had Clemson not blown it on the road at Georgia Tech and laid an egg at N.C. State this would have been a match up between top 10 teams last year. Instead it was the #9 Gamecocks coming out party on national TV for Connor “The Beast” Shaw and a final score of 34-13, which actually looks a lot closer than the game actual was. This year the game is in Clemson and new Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables will try his hand at slowing down a Gamecock Offense that lost one of the best receivers in the country, but returns a very good young QB and if healthy, one of the best running backs in the country. Those of us in sports talk radio can only hope that these teams can navigate their conference schedules and create one of the premier college football Thanksgiving weekend match ups in the entire country… because this year don’t bank on LSU vs. Arkansas being what it was last year.
Alabama vs. Michigan, Saturday Sep 1st, Cowboys Stadium:
Remember above when I said other NFL stadiums were beginning to follow suit with the Chick Fil A Classic? The Cowboy Classic in Arlington has quickly positioned itself as the game to watch on opening weekend. The Classic has no direct conference ties as you would think they would work to put a Big 12 team in every year. Last year it was Oregon vs. LSU. This year it’s the defending national champions vs. defending Big 10 and Sugar Bowl champions and both teams come in locked and loaded. Plus can you think of a better match up of traditional non-conference programs? Kudos to Nick Saban who doesn’t hide behind a consistent top 5 ranking and a difficult SEC schedule. Next year it’s Virginia Tech in the season opener for the Tide. Last year it was a road match up in week two against Penn State.
Georgia @ South Carolina, Sat Oct 6/Georgia vs. Florida, Sat. Oct 28:
Georgia started off last year with two of the toughest back to back games anyone played in the country and they paid dearly for it with an 0-2 start and the fans chirping for Mark Richt to be fired, but I also was on the air saying Richt should not be fired and that Georgia was the BEST 0-2 team in the country. Turns out I was right as they rattled of ten consecutive wins and earned their way into the SEC Championship. They needed some help though from Auburn and Arkansas to knock off USC so this year if Georgia doesn’t want to have to cheer for opposing SEC teams they must take care of business in the SEC East. I still see Florida as the #3 team in the division having lost lighting and super fast lighting at the running back/WR/return man position to the draft. But UT, UK, and Vandy are awful, so if there’s a game to watch for UGA it’s the match up with Florida. Plus it’s called the Worlds Largest Cocktail Party. Line me up a beverage from The Landing and let’s play football! It also will be the best football game the city of Jacksonville will see all year. Sorry, Jags. You’re still terrible even with Justin Blackmon.
South Carolina @ LSU, Sat Oct 13/South Carolina vs. Arkansas, Sat Nov 10:
Last year SEC teams played five divisional and three non-divisional games. With conference expansion those non-divisional games decrease. That’s good news for SEC East powers USC and Georgia being in the easier to navigate eastern division. The bad news for USC is that the two games they get this year are on the road against LSU and home against Arkansas. The good news though is that the Razorbacks lost head coach, Bobby Petrino, due to a motorcycle accident while entertaining his 25 year old mistress (who no-less was engaged to another member of the athletics department, what a mess). USC was a perfect 5-0 in the East last year but could not defeat Auburn or Arkansas and got knocked out of the SEC Championship game. This year they must figure out a way to go at least 1-1 and will add Missouri as a 6th opponent on the East schedule.
East Carolina @ South Carolina, Sat Sep 8/East Carolina @ North Carolina, Sat Sep 22:
Thanks to conference expansion and ECU’s invite that got lost in the mail from the Big East, Conference USA literally covers the continental United States. ECU’s top three games on a regional basis that will get fans the most excited are all non-conference. The season starts with an in-state match up with the always dangerous FCS foe Appalachian State. They then will travel to South Carolina and North Carolina two of the next three weeks. If ECU ever wants to get consideration from a BCS conference they need to go out and occasionally beat the big boys (and not lose to App State). So it will be a critical opening month for the Pirates. Interest in ECU football outside of Greenville will die down quickly following September, especially if they go 0-2 vs. ACC and SEC opponents. The good news for Pirate fans? After the team racked up some serious miles on their Capital One Credit Card last year with multiple trips to Texas, ECU will play five of the final eight games at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and road trips are to the states of Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida which makes for a favorable conference schedule. Oh and for the first time in 6 years there is no Case Keenum on the Houston campus. He’s still in Houston, but playing with the Texans. Good news, Pirates!
Original content from ESPN The Team and #MYRSports, Aaron Marks opinion column. Marks is the host of “The Drive” which airs daily from 4-6 p.m. on Myrtle Beach’s ESPN Radio 100.3 ‘The Team’. For comments on his weekly column e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org