The excitement is building as the debut of college football is now right around the corner. This season looks to be interesting, as plenty of programs around the country think that this could be their year to claim a national championship. And indeed, numerous programs are very capable of reaching the pinnacle of college football at the brand new BCS Championship Game in Glendale, Arizona. Letís take a look at the best matchups that dot the Labor Day weekend schedule, then sit back and get ready for another great season of collegiate action.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Florida State at Miami
What a great way to cap off the Labor Day weekend, a conference battle between bitter rivals to wrap up the initial weekís action. These same two teams tangled last year on Labor Day, with the Seminoles emerging victorius 10-7 in a defensive slugfest. The Canes are very much looking forward to getting back onto the field to remove the sour taste from their mouths of last yearís season-ending 40-3 shellacking at the hands of LSU in the Peach Bowl. While on the other sideline, Florida State is coming off a mediocre season by their programs standards, although the Seminoles were still able to capture the ACC championship by upsetting Virginia Tech in the conference title game. Letís take a look at how these teams stack up against each other.
The Seminole leader is QB Drew Weatherford, who last season took a struggling Florida State offense and placed them on his shoulders, leading his troops to the ACC title. In the process, Weatherford led the ACC in passing yards for a freshman, without receiving much assistance from the running game and operating behind a patchwork offensive line. Miami will counter the upgraded Seminole offense with speed galore on their attacking, aggressive defense. The Cane front seven looks to be tremendous and is likely to force Florida State to attack them through the air as the one Hurricane defensive weakness looks to be at the cornerback position. The question remains, can the FSU offensive line provide Weatherford with enough time to dissect the Miami secondary? Stay tuned.
Headlining the Hurricane offense is QB Kyle Wright, who much like his counterpart Drew Weatherford, has had to work behind a struggling offensive line. Wright has the talent to direct the offense, but he still must become more consistent if this Hurricane team wants to join the national championship hunt. The overall success of this offensive unit will rely heavily on how the offensive line develops as a cohesive unit and provides Wright and the running game with room to operate. Florida State will look to stop the Miami offense with an inexperienced unit that has to replace a great deal of star players from last year. The linebacker corps needs to replace the greatest amount of talent, as 4 top-notch players have departed, but returning All-America candidate Buster Davis is back to lead the unit and provide stability. This will be an interesting battle as the rebuilt FSU defense will start the season with a stiff challenge from a more balanced Miami offense.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Notre Dame at Georgia Tech
Notre Dame has its sights set firmly on achieving a national championship this year; anything less is likely to be considered a disappointment for the gang from South Bend. The Irish better be careful as this yearís Georgia Tech squad is talented, and if you review last seasonís results, the Yellow Jackets have a knack of knocking of highly-ranked opponents, as Auburn and Miami both fell victim. This contest features tremendous offensive skill players in Heisman candidates QB Brady Quinn and WR Jeff Samardzija of Notre Dame and WR Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech. This group of playmakers alone will make this a fun game to watch, as this battle is likely to feature a great deal of passing as both teams like to throw the ball downfield, and with both schools still having questions to be answered in the secondary, expect a full night of the long ball. An opener on the road against a top-flight opponent will provide Notre Dame with a great barometer on this teamís overall potential.
Southern Cal at Arkansas
After last seasonís 70-17 rout in favor of Southern Cal, this game may not seem to be a likely candidate for a must-see contest. But, this could very well end up being a highlight of week one action as this is a quite different Arkansas Razorback team, and this game is in the friendly confines of Razorback Stadium. The Hogs return 19 starters, and the offense should make major improvements, led by one of the nationís best ground attacks and a top QB prospect in new recruit Mitch Mustain. The Trojans lost massive amounts of talent, but Pete Carroll has recruited tremendously over the past 5 years so the shelves remain well-stocked. USC will attack the Arkansas defense with one of the best receiving corps in the nation, while the Trojan stop troops look to be much improved over last yearís unit. This clearly is one of the most intriguing matchups of week one, and the revenge minded Razorbacks will be psyched up to perform for the home crowd.
California at Tennessee
Sitting quietly on the West Coast and out of the national spotlight but now building into one of the nationís best programs are the California Golden Bears. No better way to see how far the Bears have come than to see them perform against a motivated bunch of Volunteers looking to erase the memories of a painful 2005 season. This Cal team has All-American candidates littered throughout the roster, and an opening day showcase for a national audience is exactly what this program needs. The Tennessee defense will need to be prepared for a healthy dose of running backs, Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, both returning 1,000 yard rushers. Tennessee is focused on improving on last seasonís 18.6 points per game and the talent is in place to make it happen, led by an outstanding corp of receivers. If California can win in Knoxville, this team immediately establishes itself as a national title contender. If Tennessee wins, the Volunteer faithful will know that their program is back on track.
Northern Illinois at Ohio State
The Buckeyes have been getting a significant amount of pre-season publicity and are expected to challenge for the national championship. Although a great deal of talent from last yearís team departed, the Buckeyes remain loaded, especially on offense, led by Heisman candidate QB Troy Smith. Northern Illlinois is going to attack the outstanding Ohio State offense with an undersized defensive unit that will need to rely on its overall speed to compensate. The Huskie offense is fun to watch, led by RB Garrett Wolfe, all 5 foot 7 inches of him, and he has the potential to give the inexperienced Ohio State defense fits. Remember last season when Northern Illinois opened the year at Michigan and gave the Wolverines problems before falling 33-17. The Buckeyes better not be looking ahead to their visit to Texas the following week as the Huskies are a very dangerous team.
Hawaii at Alabama
Talk about a clash of styles, the high-octane offense of Hawaii and the rugged, smash-mouth defense of Alabama. Last year for the Warriors, QB Colt Brennan led the nation in total offense as he threw for 4,301 yards, and he has all of his key targets returning. The Tide loses 7 starters from the nationís top-rated scoring defense, but Alabama always has replacement parts to step in and perform on the defensive side of the football. Key to watch for in this game include how will the Hawaii spread offense perform against a top-notch defensive unit, especially after traveling 4,500 miles to reach their destination. This is the first trip of Hawaiiís 32,000 miles of travel to road venues in 2006, more than any NFL team will travel during the season.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Toledo at Iowa State - Thursday 7:00 PM CDT
An interesting matchup to start the season, as one of the MAC title contenders heads on the road to battle one of the expected challengers in the Big XII North. This one should provide plenty of scoring as the Cyclones return 10 starters on offense, while Toledo always unleashes a top-notch scoring unit.
South Carolina at Mississippi State - Thursday 7:00 PM CDT
The Gamecocks can probably think of a better way to start the season than a conference matchup in hostile territory. Mississippi State will be improved, while Steve Spurrierís unit looks to build upon last seasonís 7-5 campaign.
UTEP at San Diego State - Thursday 9:00 PM CDT
An intriguing clash of teams which should be in the mix for their conference championships. UTEP will bomb away from the air, while San Diego State will churn out the yardage on the ground.
Nevada at Fresno State - Friday 7:00 PM CDT
Another conference battle to launch the new season features a Fresno team that is looking to rebound from last seasonís collapse, while Nevada returns 15 starters from last year's 9-3 team whose only conference loss was to league champion Boise State.
Rutgers at North Carolina - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Rutgers is aiming at putting together a 2nd consecutive bowl season for the first time in the programís history, and a win over UNC would set the tone. The Tar Heels look to have their best team in years and are focused on not getting tripped up in their home opener.
Stanford at Oregon - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
The Ducks, a young but talented bunch, play host to a Cardinal squad that has its sights squarely set on achieving the program's first winning season since 2001.
Southern Mississippi at Florida - Saturday 5:00 PM CDT
Southern Miss is always a dangerous non-conference opponent, especially as an opening game. The Gators need to be focused and ready to avoid an early-season derailment.
Virginia at Pittsburgh - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT
The Cavaliers are a young team and are in a rebuilding mode. On the other hand, the Panthers are an experienced bunch who are quite capable of challenging for the Big East crown.
Utah at UCLA - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT
Hopefully the scoreboard operators will be in mid-season form for this contest as both teams are likely to move the ball and up and down the field in a high scoring, entertaining game.
Washington State at Auburn - Saturday 6:45 PM CDT
Auburn has the makings of a national title contender, but they better not take this improved Wazzou squad lightly.
Brigham Young at Arizona - Saturday 9:15 PM CDT
Beginning year three of the Wildcat rebuilding project, this Arizona team finally has the talent to earn a bowl bid. BYU is also looking much improved and will present a stiff challenge to the folks in Tucson.
Kentucky at Louisville - Sunday 7:00 PM CDT
In-state rivals are always a great way to kickoff the season, especially in prime time. Louisville will be a big favorite, but Kentucky gave the Cardinals all they could handle a year ago.