Week two of the College Football Season actually began last night with something I’ve never seen before. Fox Sports 1 broadcast the Louisiana Tech-Western Kentucky game by using announcers that were in a studio in Los Angeles with an on-site sideline reporter. I’ve never seen any network do that on football. Now it’s happened on other sports particularly international events like the World Basketball Championships and some of the events in the Olympics, but football broadcast from a studio. That’s a new one. If I’m Conference USA I fully understand that on the opening night of the NFL Season when Pittsburgh is at New England, no one outside of Ruston, Louisiana or Bowling Green, Kentucky is actually going to care or watch this game. It’s Conference USA’s fault for scheduling it in the time slot and it’s likewise Conference USA’s fault for allowing one of their broadcast partners to treat this game like it’s an international soccer “friendly” between Costa Rica and Mexico. If I’m the commissioner of Conference USA I’m having a discussion with Fox Sports today about treating a game that we’ve given you the rights to broadcast as a second rate broadcast and possibly exploring other broadcast partners. This game was never going to move the ratings needle nationwide anyway, but it deserved better than Dave Wandstedt sitting in a studio in Los Angeles trying to tell you what is happening on a field in Kentucky. Even worse is that Conference USA is going to let Fox do it again tonight. FS1 will broadcast Miami and Florida Atlantic with the announcers in the studio again. Is it any wonder Fox Sports 1’s ratings are dismal for reasons other than the two clowns they have doing their nightly highlight show. Shame on Fox, but really shame on Conference USA.
Now onto this week’s match-ups. The quote marquee game of the week matches Oregon and Michigan State in East Lansing. This one gets the prime time spot on ABC on Saturday night and is between two of the top five teams. Michigan State is a four point favorite and as powerful as Oregon has been over the past few years it’s easy to predict that Oregon takes care of business. I’m not buying it, I like Michigan State at home and stay on track for their game against Ohio State in November.
Actually, the most interesting game to me is not Michigan State-Oregon, but Oklahoma at Tennessee. I grew up a huge Oklahoma football fan: you know the days of the Wishbone Triple Option Offense with Jamel Holloway, J.C. Watts, Spencer Tillman, Patrick Collins, Keith Jackson and Derek Sheppard. Not to mention Barry Switzer who had a couple of pretty good coordinators pulling the strings on the wishbone offense – Mack Brown who won a National Championship at Texas, and Jim Donnan who coached Marshall to a 1-AA National Championship before coaching Georgia. This is not that Oklahoma because outside of some high school and lower level college teams, you are not going to see college football programs line up in a wishbone formation again. But, to me it’s still the team of my youth and I actually get to be in the stadium to see those uniforms I grew up watching on television in person. Now living in Tennessee and most importantly being married to a Tennessee graduate, I’m statutorily obligated to wear orange. I think that’s set forth in Tennessee law somewhere, but when you watch this game understand there will be at least one person in orange hoping the guys in red win the game. The last time Tennessee was ranked and played a ranked team at home was September 15, 2012 when Florida came to Knoxville and won 37 – 20. I don’t think it’s going to be that kind of a score, but the difference to me is that Oklahoma’s defensive line has upperclassmen with experience, and Tennessee’s offensive line consists mostly of sophomores and freshman. I like O-U to win and get out of town. Now, my next goal is to see at game at Oklahoma and of course, the O-U/Texas game in Dallas.
College football is all about history and tradition. A lot of that went the way of the dinosaur when these conferences expanded to 14 teams. One of the casualties was the “backyard brawl” between West Virginia and Pitt. They’ve played 104 times over the years, but haven’t played in several years. Fortunately, it’s coming back from 2022 – 2025 so somewhere out there’s a 8 or 9 year old that will play in those games and he won’t care anything about history and tradition, but the fan bases will and that’s why this game should always be played. This week is not the backyard brawl as West Virginia hosts FCS Liberty in Morgantown. WVU is coming off a 44-0 pasting of Georgia Southern and should cruise past Liberty to a 2-and-0 start and two weeks to prepare for their first challenge against Maryland and then the gauntlet known as the Big XII.
The first ACC game of the year comes on Saturday as Syracuse hosts Wake Forest. Call it a hunch, but I have a feeling that Wake Forest is going to surprise some people this year so I like Wake to win on the road.
Notre Dame makes its first-ever trip to Virginia. I would have never guessed that in all of Notre Dame’s travels they would have never been to Charlottesville. These two did play in the 1989 kickoff classic at Giants Stadium in New Jersey and if memory serves me well, Virginia got kicked around in that game. I would expect the same here as well. Virginia is going to struggle, but at least give them credit for playing UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State, which is a lot better than scheduling Furman, and Purdue.
That brings us to Va. Tech and Furman in Blacksburg. The last time Va. Tech played on a Monday night and then turned around on Saturday to play an FBS team, they lost to James Madison. That game however was an in-state match-up. This is just a mid-level Southern Conference team. It’s an excellent opportunity for Va. Tech to get some work in for the younger players and no one needs it worse than quarterback Brendan Motley. Let’s just hope Va. Tech’s coaches put him in a position to be successful. The school loves to point out in its game notes that Scott Loefler coached Tim Tebow at Florida. Well, then Scott Loefler should look at how Florida used Tebow and his big body and do the same thing with Motley. We will see but I have a distinct feeling that rather than tailor the offense to him and let him grow into it, he’ll be on a short leash with a back-up looking over his shoulder. Va. Tech still wins, but the natives will remain restless.
And before I just start making picks, it’s nice to see the return of the other backyard brawl between Marshall and Ohio. These two annually played the “battle of the bell” when they were both members of the MAC and the schools are separated by a little over an hour. I’m taking the Bobcats to spring the upset. Call it a Marshall letdown after beating a Big Ten team last week or just call it a shout-out to my buddies who went to Ohio.
Miami over Florida Atlantic; Utah over Utah State in the battle of the beehive state; Florida State has to get up early to play an 11:30 a.m. game against South Florida presumably because ESPN needs to clear the air for Serena Williams and the U.S. Open by 3:00 p.m. South Florida is hideous and FSU should have no trouble covering the 28 point spread; Penn State needs to find some offense and figures to do so against Buffalo of the Mid-American Conference; U-Conn over Army; Louisville over Houston (say didn’t this used to be a Conference USA game?); Wisconsin finds it easier this week in beating Miami, Ohio; Kansas State over UT-San Antonio; Michigan gives Jim Harbaugh his first win at the school over Oregon State; Maryland over Bowling Green (who the hell did Bowling Green’s schedule anyway?); Clemson over Appalachian State; Colorado over U-Mass; Texas Tech beats UTEP; Ole Miss over Fresno State; Ohio State is a 41 point favorite over Hawaii. The OSU team I watched on Monday night (minus the second quarter zone out) could beat Hawaii by twice that amount; Minnesota to beat Colorado State on the road; Ga. Tech cruises past Tulane in Atlanta; Georgia opens SEC play by beating Vanderbilt (you know you suck when you are a 21 point underdog at home); Rutgers over Washington State; Wyoming over Eastern Michigan; Arkansas over Toledo; Alabama crushes Middle Tennessee State; Upset alert: Iowa State over Iowa; California over San Diego State; Western Michigan over Ga. Southern; Pitt over Akron; Florida over East Carolina; Missouri thumps Arkansas State; Memphis over Kansas; Arizona beats Nevada on the Road in Reno; SMU over North Texas; Texas A&M over Ball State; South Carolina beats Kentucky at home; Cincinnati over Temple; Upset alert part two: Rice over Texas as Texas is apparently just dysfunctional right now; New Mexico State over Ga. State; Nebraska over South Alabama; Florida International over Indiana on the road in Bloomington; USC big over Idaho; New Mexico over Tulsa; LSU finally gets to play and beats Mississippi State; Boise State over BYU in Provo; Air Force over San Jose State; Stanford looked awful against Northwestern, but Central Florida looked worse against Florida International so take Stanford in this one; UCLA gets a trip to Las Vegas and should have no trouble with UNLV; Auburn over Jacksonville State; Charlotte over the Blue Hose of Presbyterian; Purdue over Indiana State; Illinois over Western Illinois; Boston College over Howard; Washington over Sacramento State; Central Michigan over Monmouth; Southern Miss over Austin Peay; Northern Illinois over Murray State; TCU over the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin; Northwestern over Eastern Illinois; Kent State over Delaware State; North Carolina over North Carolina A&T; N.C. State over Eastern Kentucky; Duke over North Carolina Central; Texas State over Prairie View A&M; Old Dominion to beat Norfolk State in an City of Norfolk rumble; La. Monroe over Nicholls State; La. Lafayette over Northwestern State; Oklahoma State over Central Arkansas; Baylor big over Lamar (Why can’t Baylor schedule someone?); and Arizona State over Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly is a 1-AA program that turned out some pretty good coaches over the years (John Madden, Joe Gibbs and former San Diego Chargers coach Don Coryell).
With that we move onto our lower division games of the Week
FCS – Richmond @ Hampton. These two cities are just 78 miles apart, but this is only the third meeting between the two schools. Richmond has won the previous two games.
Division III – Wisconsin-Whitewater opens defense of its title against Bellhaven. Wisconsin-Whitewater has made December in Salem, Virginia a part of its tradition. The Warhawks have won 6 of the last 8 Division III titles and the last two. Their coach Lance Leopold parlayed that success into a division one job at Buffalo so the Warhawks debut a new coach, but I bet my buddies in Salem already are counting on seeing Whitewater back in Salem the week before Christmas.
The NAIA game of the week – Campbellsville, Ky at Webber International. Why? Because I like the name Webber International, a proud member of the NAIA Sun Conference located in Lake Wales, Florida.
Junior College – Snow Junior College from Ephram, Utah on the road at Arizona Western in Yuma. Snow J.C. has placed plenty of players in Division One over the years and how can you not like a school whose mascot is named “Buster the Badger”.
And finally, I saved Division II for last because it’s Fairmont State at Concord in Athens, West Virginia. It’s a pretty little campus nicknamed “The Campus Beautiful” and it has a fierce group of loyal alums. The reason I picked this game is two-fold. First, Concord is one of the teams that I covered in my seven years as a sports anchor at WVVA and they were okay, but not great. In the seven years I covered their games, their record was 33-38-1 with a best of 8-2 in 1991 and a 1-9 disaster in 1994. Consider that last year Concord won 13 games while making it to the Division II National Semi-Finals where frankly they were just over-matched against Minnesota State-Mankato. Often times during the 90s, the band led by my buddy Randy Budd was the best part of the games. Randy took a group of a musicians (most of whom were kids from the area or from other parts of West Virginia) and absolutely got the most out of them and they could not only hold their own against bigger bands at bigger schools, they were better than most. Some of his students have gone on to lead bands of their own and is there any greater compliment to a teacher than that? No there isn’t and I’m proud to say that as Randy’s band announcer for a couple of years I was a small part of it. Very small part. The capper to Randy’s tenure as the band director at Concord had to be the halftime show featuring Gilligan himself. Yes, Bob Denver lived in Princeton, West Virginia and was actually a regular at WVVA. It’s interesting to be sitting in your office working on your scripts for the 6 p.m. sports and have Gilligan tap on the glass of your office. The first time it happened, I thought “wait am I drunk right now?” So, in one halftime show, Bob Denver led the band at halftime in what else, but the theme from Gilligan’s Island. Secondly, this game is going to be televised by my former employer WVVA. They’ve signed on to do 3 Concord telecasts this season. Now, I’m not one of these guys to tell you how better our sports was back in the day because I was on the one doing it, because that’s clearly not the case. There are more toys to work with and apparently a greater commitment to sports at that station that ever before. Frankly, getting to do anything while I was there was impossible. Hell, I couldn’t even get a trip to the 1997 Gator Bowl when West Virginia played North Carolina, and the starting quarterback for WVU was from Peterstown just 25 miles from the station’s back door. So, I am proud that WVVA has made a commitment to televise local sports LIVE and I hope the kids in charge of sports now at that station know just how lucky they are and how much some of us “old guys” would have loved to have been presented with those opportunities. Live shots are the norm at WVVA now. Live shot in my day was dragging a cable out of the front door during a snow storm so my buddy Glenn could do his weather segment in the snow. I shot his weather segment, took off my coat and sat down and did the 3 minute sports segment. That’s the beauty of small market. As for the game, from 1995 – 2009, Fairmont beat Concord 11 of 15 times, but Concord has won 6 in a row. I think they’ll make it 7.
And before I get off here, let’s take a moment to remember all of those who died in the senseless attacks on this country on September 11, 2001. For those of us who were not alive when President Kennedy was killed, this is OUR moment that we will never forget and frankly shouldn’t forget.
Enjoy the football and the weekend…