Fall Football Preview: Top CFB Conference Games
by Robert Ferringo - 7/20/2009
Lyndon B. Johnson once said that the United States was not just a nation but "a nation of nations". I couldn't think of a more apropos description of the college football landscape, as the regional rivalries, secular loyalties, and local legends and lore that shape each individual conference are really what provide the foundation for what makes this sport so great.
Only one team can win the national championship. But there are 11 separate conference crowns and 16 different divisional titles through this great land that around 120 different college programs are all battling for. And within each conference and each division there is an individual tipping point that will determine how these bragging rights and accolades are won and lost.
Unpredictability is one of college football's great virtues. But as we peer down that landscape we are certain to locate some of the most important situations in the sport. Here are the Top 10 Conference games on tap for the 2009 college football season:
11. Southern Miss at East Carolina (No. 28)
These are the two most experienced, most talented, most physical teams in Conference USA. And before you roll your eyes at that let me tell you that CUSA is this year's MAC. Last year teams from the MAC gave BCS schools all kinds of problems. Southern Miss has owned this series (11-2) and I suspect both will be bowling. But this is a big game that should determine the conference champion.
10. Pittsburgh at Rutgers (Oct. 16)
Pittsburgh has the talent, but Rutgers has the schedule, to win the Big East this year. As a result, this game might not turn out to mean as much as I believe it will. But the bottom line is that I think that this game will feature the two best teams in this watered down conference this season so it makes the list.
9. Utah at BYU (Nov. 28)
You know all hell breaks loose when those wacky Mormons get together. And considering that both teams are full of 30-year-olds this version of the Holy War should be plenty physical. BYU got absolutely demolished in last year's meeting but I think that they have the upper hand this time around. I don't think either team is good enough to garner BCS Bowl consideration but this game should still decide the Mountain West and position one of the two teams for a January bowl game.
8. Florida State at Clemson (Nov. 7)
The top two teams from the Atlantic don't meet until late in the season, which will add to the excitement surrounding this one. Florida State won by two touchdowns last year in a little Bowden revenge game, but the Tigers had taken three straight prior to that. Lots of athleticism and some serious defense should be played in this one, with a potential date with Virginia Tech (or someone else) in the ACC Title Game at stake.
7. North Carolina at Virginia Tech (Oct. 29)
The ACC Coastal is absolutely loaded this season and any one of four teams (throw in Miami and Georgia Tech) really could take not only the division but also the conference title. But I'll focus in on these two teams because I think it's the most intriguing matchup and could be the best game. It's a Thursday nighter in Blacksburg and a revenge game for North Carolina. They dominated the Hokies last year but Tech fluked its way to a 20-17 win.
6. Alabama at Mississippi (Oct. 10)
The best in the SEC West will bang heads in early October to establish which team from this division will likely end up taking a crack at Florida in the SEC Title Game. The last four games in this series have been decided by an average of just three points apiece, with last year's incredible comeback by Ole Miss falling just short in a 24-20 game. 'Bama has dominated the series but the Rebels will be favored here.
5. Texas at Oklahoma State (Oct. 31)
This trip to Stillwater is one of just a few legit obstacles that Texas has standing between it and a trip to the National Championship Game. The last two meetings have been decided by four and three points, with the Longhorns having to overcome a 21-0 deficit to escape with a win here two seasons ago. Two of the best quarterbacks in the nation will be dueling here in a game that will be must-see-TV for NFL scouts.
4. Ohio State at Penn State (Nov. 7)
Unless Illinois can materialize as a Big Ten sleeper then a trip to the Rose Bowl will be decided in Happy Valley in early November. The teams have split the last four years with Ohio State winning blowouts in 2006 and 2007 and Penn State taking games by seven points apiece in 2005 and 2008. I don't think that either squad is a national title contender, but there is no doubt that this one will have BCS implications.
3. Georgia vs. Florida (Oct. 31) - Jacksonville
Florida is the prohibitive favorite to win back-to-back BCS championships. But in order to do that the first step is to win the SEC East and then the SEC Championship. Well, there is a decent chance that Georgia will be 5-0 in conference when they face the Gators in Jacksonville at the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. The Bulldogs have two weeks to prepare and loads of revenge after taking a 49-10 beating there last season.
2. USC at California (Oct. 3)
The Pac-10 might be determined before the halfway point in the season. The Golden Bears are one of the few teams that can go toe-to-toe against the Trojans, talent-wise, and the fact that this game is in Berkley definitely gives the Bears an edge. USC has won five straight in this series but two of the wins were by a TD or less while the other two were by just 14 points, which is far below their average margin of victory. Unfortunately for Cal, they play at Oregon the week before while USC has basically a scrimmage against Wazzou. But there should be no lack of focus, or motivation, on either side in this one.
1. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Sept. 17) - Dallas
The Red River Shootout will determine the front-runner for the Big 12 championship and, consequently, give one of these teams the inside track for a shot at the BCS national title. Texas physically dominated the Sooners in a big upset last year - in a game that Texas trailed 21-10 in - and then had to watch as OU was given a berth in the National Championship Game as the season unfolded. This year the Longhorns should be favored and they'll be looking to make a statement. But this will be OU's third Big Game of the year, as the Sooners face BYU to open the year and Miami two weeks prior to The Shootout. For Texas, the Sooners will represent by far their biggest test to date. Texas has won three of four in this series and double digits have decided nine of the last 10 meetings. But something tells me that this is going to be a one-possession game in the fourth quarter and that Heisman winner Sam Bradford and hopeful Colt McCoy will be left shooting it out in downtown Dallas.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and you can purchase a full season's package of his football selections for just $25 per week! Click here for details.
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