South Carolina hemorrhaged nearly 700 yards in a loss to Texas A&M last Thursday, and that wasn’t even the most egregious stat. The Aggies’ sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill, who only attempted 22 total attempts all of 2013, threw for 511 on the Gamecocks, completing 44 of 60 passes (!) for three touchdowns.
Outside Columbia, South Carolina’s never been confused for a Saban-lead Alabama. But still: A Spurrier team is not supposed to look like an overmatched FCS opponent, even if one of the program’s all-time best defensive ends left after last season. A&M and Hill torched the Gamecocks on “national” (if your cable provider was kind enough to provide the SEC Network in your area) television, the first game of an engorged slate throughout the opening weekend.
By the end, South Carolina-Texas A&M was the only real upset. Alabama and Florida State got challenged, Oregon and Oklahoma cruised. This weekend’s slate of games could go the same way: lots of blow-outs, a few scares, and maybe a scoreline similar to South Carolina-Texas A&M in one of the two games that pairs ranked opponents against each other. It’s still non-conference season, so beer might be the biggest motivating factor for approximately 98 percent of these games.
Here’s why you should watch the other 2 percent with or without beverage.
Akron vs. Penn State, ABC/ESPN2: 12:00 p.m.
Typically, Ohio State is the program that, every few years, provides MAC schools the opportunity to spring an upset against a Big Ten power, only to snap glory from Kent or Ohio or Miami somewhere in the third quarter. Penn State’s now that school: after losing to Ohio in 2012, the Nittany Lions could again be upset-prone against Akron for a few reasons. They’re coming off a last-second win in Ireland; the NCAA’s draconian sanctions against the program are finally crunching roster depth; and Terry Bowden’s got Akron playing well through the air and defensively, dominating Howard (yeah, we know) 41-0 last Saturday. We’re not saying it’s going to happen, but it could happen. Plus, every other game before 3:30 sucks, so…
No. 15 USC vs. No. 11 Stanford, ABC/ESPN3: 3:30 p.m.
Ah, here we go. A Pac-12 game that’s on before the bars on the east coast close. And the two programs are ranked and coming off blow-out wins? Bingo. A victory for either program sets the tone for conference play and, assuming neither team goes into a post-week 2 death-spiral, could look good in the eyes of the playoff committee if either makes a run for one of the four spots. For Stanford, a win here is a huge confidence booster before it plays the other five ranked teams on its schedule. A Trojan win places those preseason controversies comfortably in the rear-view mirror. Casual fans can just revel in cheering against two schools that are known for producing some of the most insufferable alumni on the west coast.
No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Oregon, FOX: 6:30 p.m.
Michigan State beat Stanford in a classic Rose Bowl in January, which all of a sudden anointed the Spartans as a Big Ten power not to be f*cked with. The win was impressive; however, Stanford and Oregon play fundamentally different football. Stanford relies on the power game and not making mistakes. The Cardinal is essentially a great Big Ten team that happens to be in the Bay Area. Oregon’s spread offense–marshaled by Heisman contender Marcus Mariotta–is an entirely new beast for State to slay, but the Spartans are also the best Big Ten team to take the challenge. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has created a near-perfect system to potentially slow the Ducks, hoping to channel some of the same mojo Ohio State employed in the 2010 Rose Bowl against Oregon. A win for either team is a great early-season statement.
Michigan vs. No. 17 Notre Dame, NBC: 7:30 p.m.
There’s a chance you dislike these programs and well, chances are you probably hate both. However, this is the final meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan for the foreseeable future, a rivalry that stretches back to 1887. Although they’ve only met 41 times, Midwestern college football fans know this as the Rust Belt’s most storied rivalry outside Michigan’s annual game with Ohio State. The game itself should be fun, too: Notre Dame and quarterback Everett Golson looked great against Rice, and Michigan has the Devin’s—Gardner and Funchess. It’s worth catching at least for a quarter. And if you’re a Midwestern Irish Catholic who can eat the host at Sunday mass, it’s required viewing.
Virginia Tech vs. No. 5 Ohio State, ESPN: 8 p.m.
Personal disclaimer: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, so my football weekends begin and almost end on Saturdays (lol, Browns). This past Saturday–unable to view the game because of CBS Sports’ PPV situation–left me nervously combing through Twitter for updates. I nearly had a panic attack before quarterback JT Barrett’s 80-yard touchdown bomb against Navy. Luckily, Virginia Tech isn’t Navy and doesn’t rely on the arcane (a college football journalist used this adjective to describe Navy’s offense perfectly) triple-option. Unfortunately, it’s also Virginia Tech: Frank Beamer’s program is consistently good for a nine- or ten-win season and always formidable. Ohio State’s secondary, its achilles heel last season, wasn’t tested against the run-always Midshipmen, so this game could once again be too-close-for-comfort for Buckeye fans looking to escape unscathed before Big Ten conference play.