While many Americans prepare for their fantasy football drafts this weekend before the NFL season kicks off on Thursday, September 8th, Christmas has come a week early for football fans with what ESPN is calling the “greatest opening weekend in college football history.”
When you look at these opening weekend match-ups, you’ll understand the hype. #1 Alabama vs #20 USC (Arlington, TX), #18 Georgia vs #22 North Carolina (Atlanta), #2 Clemson at Auburn, #5 LSU at Wisconsin (Green Bay, WI), #10 Notre Dame at Texas, #3 Oklahoma vs #15 Houston, #11 Mississippi vs #4 Florida State (Orlando, FL), #16 UCLA at Texas A&M, and Kansas State at #8 Stanford. Just a half decade ago, this would have seemed like an impossible dream as virtually no coach in the top 25 (or near the top 25) would gamble so early in the season. Traditionally, the opening weeks of the college football season have been riddled with blowout after blowout as coaches of top teams would schedule “cupcake games” to prepare their teams for their tougher conference schedule.
Not anymore. The college football playoff selection committee has made it very clear that the strength of schedule will play a major role in the selection process for the four-team playoff. Scheduling philosophies changed seemingly overnight as athletic directors and coaches shifted focus.
In the old Bowl Championship Series that relied purely on mathematical formulas that favored undefeated records, teams had little incentive to schedule tough non-conference games. The key was getting to 12-0 or 13-0 with little consideration for fans, players or entertainment value. The tables have turned for the better.
To get a better picture of how incredible this opening weekend is; consider that this weekend has four non-conference games between preseason ranked teams; now consider that in 2009 there were four of those … the entire season. In the 2010 season there were only 5.
Another unique factor of the first weekend of college football is the simple economics of big neutral site games with USC and Alabama playing at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX; Georgia and UNC playing in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA; LSU and Wisconsin playing at Lambeu Field in Green Bay, WI; and Ole Miss taking on Florida State in the Orlando Citrus Bowl. The big, professional venues provide huge opportunities for both teams and conferences to cash in on these Labor Day Weekend matchups.
The most watched game of the weekend should be the USC-Alabama matchup Saturday night at 8pm on ABC, which should challenge the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech season opener a decade ago as the most watched Saturday Night college football opener ever. While the best matchup of the weekend on paper will come on Monday night with #4 FSU and #11 Ole Miss.
Undoubtedly, the best opening weekend in college football in quite some time … if not, all time.