The egalitarian season is under way. College football. And it’s not that college football programs are on equal footing. Nothing could be further from true. It’s egalitarian because, while pro football franchises are the province of significant media markets (Green Bay, Wisconsin, being the notable exception), every state has a college or university that purports to play football at some level. Mind you that there will never – emphatically, NEVER – be a contest between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the University of Maine Black Bears. No freak of schedule or post-season bowl game will ever lead to such a match. But as the season unfolds, that L.L. Bean crowd up North will rejoice in the Saturday afternoon triumphs of the Black Bears with nearly the same enthusiasm as those Wholly Rollers down in Tide country.
Labor Day weekend offers a football feast that won’t be matched again until bowl season. Montana already has gotten things started by upsetting North Dakota State, which was so efficient in winning the last four FCS national championships that the Bison have played host to the ESPN Saturday morning funfest, Game Day. Up from the Football Championship Subdivision, though, a full weekend of college football awaits couch potatoes nationwide.
North Carolina vs. South Carolina should be interesting enough to get West Coast office workers to steal glances of the Thursday afternoon game (5 p.m. ET on ESPN). It’s an Atlantic Coast Conference versus Southeastern Conference game, but without the big thunder of conference top-tier teams. The interest here is what’ll Coach Steve Spurrier have this season. TCU at Minnesota (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) is the tastiest matchup for Thursday. TCU (left) – ranked No. 2 in most polls – has gotten so much pre-season buzz as a contender for the college football championship playoffs that fans will want to scout the Horned Frogs. Ten games await fans Thursday, though, on outlets that vary from the ESPN “family of channels” to CBS Sports Network, Fox sports channels and the conference channels of the SEC and the Pac-12.
The Baylor Bears at the SMU Mustangs, with a 6 p.m. ET kickoff on ESPN, likely is the best of seven games Friday, what with Baylor being one of the pre-season favorites – ranked No. 4 – to contend for the national championship. But a goodly portion of visceral response awaits Coach Chris Petersen when he takes his Washington Huskies to the familiar blue turf of Boise State (9:15 p.m. ET, Friday on ESPN). Petersen formerly coached at Boise State and led the Broncos to two big-time victories in the 2007 and 2010 Fiesta Bowls. Broncos fans feel spurned.
Stanford at Northwestern (11 a.m. ET on ESPN) should bring out the brightest on Saturday morning, if not quite the best. Stanford is ranked No. 21 and Northwestern is unranked. The fun game to watch might be Texas at Notre Dame (top), 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The Longhorns are coming off a mediocre year and a real fan-tester for second-year coach Charlie Strong. Notre Dame didn’t play for the national championship. For Fighting Irish subway alumni, ’nuf said.
The HBCUs get a little national love when the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and South Carolina State University kickoff at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN in the 11th MEAC/SWAC Challenge Presented by Disney. Two sure bets: it’ll be hot as Hades in Orlando and the half-time show will be, as the kids like to say, “off the chain.”
All weekend roads lead to Labor Day evening when consensus No. 1 Ohio State (left) travels to Blacksburg, Va., to battle Virginia Tech at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. College football purists will recall that the Hokies slapped the Buckeyes silly last year (35-21 in front of 107,517 suddenly quieted Ohio State fans). And it was that game that sent both teams in divergent directions – Ohio State regained footing, ran the table and won the first large-school national title in a playoff series. Virginia Tech slipped from the Penthouse to the lower floors, finishing at 7-6 by beating Cincinnati in the Military Bowl. Both teams have a point to prove.