Smart Football’s college football viewing guide: opening weekend

After perusing the television listings and gametimes, I’ve set out a rough chart to see how much football I can force upon myself. Games of interest sorted by timeslot.

The best moment in football -- leading the men to the field

Thursday, Sept. 1.

Murray State at Louisville (ESPNU, 6:00pm): Obviously watch the game to see the good work Charlie Strong has done with Louisville’s development on defense and as a team generally, but also watch because Murray coach Chris Hatcher is an old Airraid guru who continues to throw the ball around. Hatcher won a Divison II National Title at Valdosta St, but his stint at Georgia Southern didn’t go quite as well. It’d be a shock if Louisville didn’t control the game, but, hey, Pat Forde already picked the Cardinals to lose this one.

Friday, Sept. 2.

TCU at Baylor (ESPN, 7:00pm): If you’re watching football this is your choice, and it’s actually a pretty good one. Art Briles and Robert Griffin III should continue to put on a show at Baylor, but Gary Patterson’s vaunted 4-2-5 defense should be able to control the game. Even if you don’t watch live (it’s unlikely that I will), it’s worth the DVR to study that Patterson/Briles matchup.

Saturday, Sept. 3.

Appalachian State at Virginia Tech (11:30am, ESPN3): This one has a big point spread, but Appy State is one of the best spread offense teams around; as VT defensive coordinator Bud Foster said in just a bit of hyperbole: “They’ve got a great scheme and they’ve been doing it a long time. I’m not sure what they do wasn’t invented right there. . . . A lot of people take credit for it, but these guys run it as good as anybody.” Foster knows a thing or two about defense, and his team will be stretched by the Appy State attack. Anytime there’s a disparity in levels talent should win out, but this one could get interesting.

Minnesota at USC (2:30pm, ABC or ESPN2): You can see my rationale for watching Jerry Kill’s debut over at DocSat. (It still could get ugly though.)

South Florida at Notre Dame (2:30pm, NBC): Notre Dame has a lot to potentially lose in this game, as if Brian Kelly opens this season with a stumble against a (supposedly) lesser but still talented opponent, good will might be in short supply. South Florida shouldn’t roll over but neither should it score a lot itself; the outcome of the game will largely depend on if Dayne Crist can show why he was picked to be ND’s signal-caller. This isn’t so much of a DVR-and-study game as it is one to keep your eye on: If it’s close into the fourth quarter, tensions will be high and the natives will be restless.

UCLA at Houston (2:30pm, FSN): Hinton seems to think UCLA has a lot to play for in this one, but, while I agree that Neuheisel is on thin ice, I have less confidence that UCLA’s offense will be able to do enough to slow down a Case Keenum led Cougar attack. Maybe Houston comes out in a flurry of turnovers, but unless UCLA’s defense plays lights out I see Kevin Sumlin’s squad (led by Keenum and co-offensive coordinators Kliff Kingsbury (a Mike Leach/Dan Holgorsen protege (and former quarterback)) and Jason Phillips) scoring at least 30 on UCLA. Do you see UCLA doing the same? In other news, I have no clue what offense Neuheisel is running these days, having given the Nevada pistol-option stuff a try last season. Maybe UCLA surprises me but I think Houston at home is a plenty safe bet.

East Carolina at South Carolina (6:00pm, FSN/ESPN3): Spurrier’s gamecocks have high hopes this season, but first they have to deal with Ruffin McNeil’s East Carolina squad. Coach McNeil lost, well, a lot of weight, but he’s hoping to shed a defense that ranked last in the country last year. To bone up, Spurrier hasn’t known who to study: ‘“Their defensive coordinator I think came from Brigham Young, and their staff visited Air Force last year,” Spurrier said. “So, we’ve been watching a couple of teams, you’d say, ‘What are you watching them dudes for?'” ECU’s offense, on the other hand, was actually pretty prolific under offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley (yet another former Mike Leach guy!), and quarterback Dominique Davis returns with a year of seasoning. He should be better, as ECU’s offensive was a bit up-and-down and was rather dink-and-dunk heavy. That said, I’m expecting South Carolina to puts around with ECU for awhile but to eventually take control of the game: This is potentially Spurrier’s best Gamecock squad, and it’s hard to believe they won’t come out fired up and handle business against the Pirates.

Boise State vs. Georgia in Atlanta (7:00pm, ESPN): Possibly the most interesting matchup of the whole weekend, superficially — and maybe even practically, from the view of, say, November — this game is not all that important, but tell that to the two teams (or their fan bases). Boise brings back Chris Petersen and quarterback Kellen Moore (he of the beautiful footwork and pinpoint accuracy), but they lost their top two wideouts, along with offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. For Georgia, the story is all about the (hopeful) continued development of quarterback Aaron Murray, who, despite the Bulldogs many struggles last year, looks like another apt pupil in Richt’s line of quarterbacks. For Boise, the question is whether they can replace the firepower they lost and win the battle in the trenches as they have when they’ve upset big conference teams before (think Oregon), while for Georgia the question is whether this team is a team or will be less than the sum of its parts. I have no clue what to expect from Georgia this year, but they are one of the most dangerous teams out there. Saturday night will go a long way towards showing whether they’ll be as dangerous as a lot of people think they can be.

LSU vs. Oregon in Arlington, TX (7:00pm, ABC): Mandel’s piece that I commented for captures most of my thoughts, though to me the key question for Oregon’s offense will be how they replace Jeff Maehl and develop outside threats for when secondary players come up in run support. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis is one of the best and he is well versed in stopping a spread attack. LSU’s offense, however, is a total mystery, given Steve Kragthorpe’s personal concerns and the various suspensions and so on. If you only watch one game this weekend, this should be it.

Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011

Marshall at West Virginia (2:30pm, ESPN): Holgorsen’s first game as head coach, against a traditional rival that took them to overtime last season? Self-recommending.

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  • Anonymous

    I forgot to mention Louisiana Tech (Sonny Dykes, Tony Franklin) versus Southern Miss (Larry Fedora), but that’s another decent one worth DVR’ing for the offensively obsessed.

  • Acrolite

    Love the site, Chris. But, I want to clear something up. Marshall is NOT a “rival” of WVU.

    They’re both in-state schools, of course, but WVU has played the Thundering Herd a whopping 10 times (5 of those in the last 5 years)… since 1891. WVU has won every game.

    A “rivalry” would seem to indicate that they play regularly, have a storied hsitory or that they occasionally ruin each others’ seasons… or even that the teams look forward to playing each other. The WVU – Marshall series fails all of those tests and will, thankfully, come to an end soon.

    Go Eers
    Eat S— Pitt

  • Robert

    No love for the June Jones-Tim DeRuyter matchup sunday night?

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