Most Important 2007 CFB Non-Conference Games
by Robert Ferringo - 08/08/2007
One of my favorite elements of college football is the regional bias and regional jingoism that cultivates in hamlets and townships across this great nation. I mean, what's more fun than geographic stereotypes? We all know that southern schools are populated by nothing but racist hillbillies. Clearly the players on West Coast schools don't like tackling or physical play, or they're another surfer boy with frosted tips and a sweet leather bracelet. And it's obvious that the IQ of the average Midwestern fan doesn't top the number of scholarships at Nebraska. In fact, it's so obvious that when my school meets another program from one of these areas it's my solemn duty to remind the opposing fans of our native differences.
Ah, hatred. Good times.
The non-conference portion of the college football schedule is, in my eyes, one of the unintended benefits of the Bowl Championship Series. It's not as if teams didn't schedule pre-conference clashes against other powerhouse programs before the BCS. But in college ball's current form I feel that teams are more willing to set up home-and-home series with other nationally recognized schools in order to bolster recruiting, infuse some revenue and buzz, heighten their own profile, and as an outlet for their natural territorial urges. In The Old Days, schools didn't need to seek out strong schools from other major conferences - that's what the bowl games were for.
These early fall fracases not only set the tone for the season but also provide a sense of order and codification. They not only drum up regional acrimony but they also supply handicappers a true measure of Relative Strength between conferences, a qualification that is essential to later Bowl Season success.
For example, the strongest conference in the country last year - top to bottom - was the SEC. That's a given. But you know who No. 2 was? It was the Big East. The teams from the Beast had the highest winning percentage against fellow BCS schools in non-conference games (67 percent) and had by far the highest mark against the spread in non-cons overall (22-7 ATS). So was it any surprise when the Big East went a perfect 5-0 (3-2 ATS) in their bowl games? I say no.
So before sexual assault charges and shoddy tackling derail many a dream of championship fame and glory, here's a look at the 10 biggest non-conference games on tap for the 2007 season:
(Memo to Notre Dame fans: every game that the Irish play is a non-conference game, and every game that the Irish play is deemed a "Big Game" by the bobbleheads in the mainstream media. Therefore, I left Notre Dame off my list. If you don't like it, I say too bad and get ready for your team to suck again this year. They have 6-6 and Meineke Car Care Bowl written all over them. Deal with it.)
Sept. 1 - Illinois at Missouri (3:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 1)
The Juice will be turned loose in St. Louis. That's Juice Williams, the sophomore quarterback for the upstart Illini. Missouri has a snappy signal caller of its own, Chase Daniels, as well as eight starters from an offense that managed 30.1 points per game. There should be about 70 points scored here and it will be interesting to see how Ron Zook - who isn't exactly renowned for his game planning or in-game management - handles the multiple formations of the host Tigers.
Sept. 8 - Miami at Oklahoma (Noon, Saturday, Sept. 8)
This will be the first big test of the Randy Shannon Era in Miami. The Hurricanes bring back 17 starters - including eight from the country's No. 7 defense in 2006 - but could still be posted as dogs when they head to Norman. The reason: Bob Stoops. The Sooners return a lot of experience as well, and Stoops is 27-5 against current ACC members. But three of those five losses have been to the 'Canes.
Sept. 8 - Oregon at Michigan (3:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8)
I smell the first big upset of the season in this one right here. The Ducks have 14 starters back, including an electric backfield with Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart. Are the Ducks tough enough to tangle with the Wolverines? We'll find out in what should be an exciting Pac-10-Big Ten match-up in The Big House.
Sept. 8 - Virginia Tech at LSU (9 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8)
One week after what promises to be an incredibly emotional home opener, the Hokies are going to have to regroup and head south into the Bayou. This is a critical matchup of two national championship dark horses and should be a defensive struggle. Both schools return eight starters from the No. 1 (Va. Tech) and No. 3 (LSU) defenses in the country last year.
Sept. 8 - South Florida at Auburn (9 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8)
I know this one looks like a mismatch on paper, but the Big East was the No. 1 conference in country last year in non-conference BCS winning percentage (67 percent). The Bulls are a BE sleeper, and Auburn should be down a bit from the success they've had over the past three seasons. However, the Tigers are 5-1-1 against current BE schools, while USF is 0-4 against the SEC.
Sept. 15 - USC at Nebraska (8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8)
Last year the Trojans absolutely maimed the Huskers, 50-14, out on the Left Coast. But now they get to face USC in Lincoln, where they are 4-2 against the spread as a home dog over the past seven years. The Trojans will also be facing an old foe, Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller. Keller managed 347 yards and two touchdowns in a near upset of USC back in 2005 as the leader of Arizona State. We'll see if the Huskers and their transient signal caller can have revenge.
Sept. 20 - Texas A&M at Miami (7:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 20)
The Hurricanes are clearly not ducking anyone this year. This will be a Thursday night, primetime affair when the Aggies roll into South Beach. The trouble is that this will be A&M's first game against a bowl-quality foe on the season and they are 1-3 SU and 0-5 ATS in non-conference road games against BCS foes since 2002. Making matter worse, Miami is 9-0 on Thursdays since 2000 and with a home game the previous Saturday the short week won't hurt the 'Canes as much.
Sept. 27 - Southern Mississippi at Boise State (7:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 27)
Yeah, laugh all you want. But ask the Sooners about what the boys from Boise are capable of. These are two of the best non-BCS teams in the country and it should be an interesting contest. Boise State is 13-1 against CUSA programs and 11-0 in non-conference home games. However, the Golden Eagles will have an extra week to prepare and are 12-6 off a bye since 1991.
Sept. 29 - Alabama at Florida State (TBD, Saturday, Sept. 29)
I'm sure that the Seminoles will give Nick Saban a congenial welcome back to the state of Florida. The natives (and Dolphins fans) will likely be parading around Jacksonville with pitchforks and automatic weapons awaiting the traitorous Saban's return. Saban will also be squaring off against his former offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher. The problem is that the Tide may have enough offense to make this one interesting, FSU has never beaten Alabama, and the neutral field may bring out just enough Crimson to give the "visitors" a boost.
Oct. 5 - Utah at Louisville (8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5)
Steve Kragthorpe couldn't handle the Utes last year in the Armed Forces Bowl as the head coach of Tulsa last year. I get the sense that with Brian Brohm and a stacked Cardinals offense behind him he'll fare a bit better this time. Utah brings back 16 returning starters (avg. age - 29) and will be a tough out. But if Brohm and UL want to meet any of their lofty goals they'll need to make a statement here.
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