It’s just around the corner. Real, live, American tackle football. And while most are frothing at the mouth for the NFL, and the Cowboys in particular (and I love watching the Cowboys like everyone else), I am even more pumped for the arrival of the college game. The first three weeks of the season are where the bulk of the inter-sectional games are played. Often times, they will provide significant clues about how the season will unfold, so with that in mind, let’s run through some of the games involving teams of local interest I think will be crucial.
TCU at Minnesota, September 3
It’s always interesting when a highly ranked team opens on the road. Even more interesting when that highly ranked team is playing a pretty darn good team on the road. Even more interesting when that highly ranked team often times has not lived up to the hype when the hype has been placed on them. I don’t think anyone expects perfection in week one (last year Ohio State struggled mightily on the road at Navy and lost the next week at home to Virginia Tech before they got their act together), but how will the Horned Frogs handle the road, and the weight of expectations? Stay tuned.
Texas at Notre Dame, September 5
It will take a lot for Texas to win this game, especially with their uncertainty at QB. The end of the season offensive debacles against TCU and Arkansas are going to weigh heavily here. Can the young Horns overcome? On the defense, I can’t wait to see Malik Jefferson play, and especially against what should be a prolific Irish offense. Can he be the best Texas LB since Derrick Johnson?
Arizona State – Texas A&M in Houston, September 5
They say football is all about the QB, and Kevin Sumlin has a decision to make between Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. But it’s the Aggie defense that is the story here. Even with Myles Garrett rushing the passer, that defense was a disaster last year. Enter John Chavis, who has turned out some of the nastiest SEC defenses of the last two decades at Tennessee and LSU, and will try to conjure up memories of the Wrecking Crew in College Station. “The Chief” and his crew get an early test from the Sun Devils who, under former Allen HS coach Todd Graham, are expected to be one of the top offenses in the nation.
Oklahoma at Tennessee, September 12
Without question this is my favorite non-conference game – not just here in the region, but nationally. Does Bob Stoops, in his 17th season still have something on the fastball? The Sooners are the chic dark horse pick in the Big 12 behind TCU and Baylor. But was OU’s 8-5 season a year ago on the heels of that Sugar Bowl blowout of Alabama just a blip or a sign of true decay? Tennessee has been incredibly ordinary (and at times just bad) for the last decade, but Butch Jones has been recruiting like crazy the last two years plus, and plenty of people are expecting the payoff to be this year. Are these two programs like ships passing each other in the night? Are they both ready to play a higher level? Or are they both not ready for prime time? A night game on the banks of the Tennessee River? A perfect setting.
Texas Tech at Arkansas, September 19
If there is any team primed for a bounce back season it’s the Red Raiders after their 4-8 cratering that included an 82 point meltdown at the hands of TCU. A bounce back win at Arkansas, who were “that team” by the end of last season no one wanted to play, would go a long way toward the Red Raiders believing they’ve righted the ship. Like A&M, Tech brought in a respected defensive coordinator (David Gibbs) to try to get things right. Gibbs first job is to toughen his troops up. He’ll find out just how tough and physical they are against a huge, physical offensive line and power running game that few in the college game can match. The Hogs will be without their leading rusher from last year, Jonathan Williams (out for the season), but like Williams, Alex Collins also rushed for over 1000 yards last year.
So there you have it. Five early games that have more than their share of intrigue. After these five games, you might not need the Cowboys or the NFL on Sunday (Kidding. Just Kidding. Really).