Video: Bowden's 2007 season preview
Obviously, there are two or three "big games" that everyone is keeping their eyes on, but, if you look closer, there's more. Considering all the interesting plots that could develop throughout the season, the weekend is full of major stories waiting to be written.
Here is my list of what you need to be looking for: (All times Eastern)
The Big Three
Georgia Tech at Notre Dame (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
Folks, Notre Dame is Notre Dame and Charlie Weis needs to have a very good year in South Bend. It is being said that he has the Fighting Irish playing a more exciting brand of offensive football, but that they still don't get the top level of talent or play the top level of defense to get back into the championship hunt. Year three needs to show that ain't so. Georgia Tech could be better offensively this year even without the services of wide receiver Calvin Johnson. … but the bigger question is will they ever be great and not just good?
No. 15 Tennessee at No. 12 Cal (Saturday, 8 p.m.)
After Tennessee blasted the Bears last year, 35-18, to open the season, don't think that Cal coach Jeff Tedford has not had this one circled on his calendar. Cal will be interested in making a statement for the West Coast and would like to showcase its sensational Heisman hopeful, DeSean Jackson. Tennessee is desperate to get back into the national spotlight after a few years of relative mediocrity. Coach Phil Fulmer is also looking to get off the proverbial hot seat. Everything, from staff to the talent level, looks to be back in place for the Vols.
No. 19 Florida State at Clemson (Monday, 8 p.m.)
This is a nationally televised prime-time version of a family feud that has lost most of its luster, but not one bit of its drama. Neither team is predicted to finish in the top 10, but man is there going to be some nail-biting going on in the Bowden family. FSU has hired a bunch of talented new coaches to ensure that the old man does not go quietly into the night. This is the first edition of the final chapter of the book on his career and he believes it will have a very happy ending. Son Tommy will be playing for much more than just his legacy, but more like his mailing address in Clemson, S.C. He has had a very good career at Clemson, but not a great one and they want nothing less than a great one. The truth – my truth anyway – is that both teams can recover from a loss here and still have an outstanding year. OK, maybe I am having a hard time with my objectivity on this one.
Other interesting matchups
Washington State at No. 7 Wisconsin (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
Can head coach Bret Bielema avoid the sophomore slump after going 12-1 in his first season at Wisconsin? Bill Doba needs to show that he can put a better team on the field than last season or he might be in trouble.
No. 2 LSU at Mississippi State (Thursday, 8 p.m.)
I just want to see if the No. 2 team in the country looks like the No. 2 team in the country. Also, can LSU quarterback Matt Flynn resemble JaMarcus Russell and can Mississippi State resemble a good football team?
Washington at Syracuse (Friday, 8 p.m.)
These teams both have to get back on track as contenders in their respective conferences. Both programs see this as a game they can win and when the most important goal is a winning record and not a conference championship you need to take them where you can get them.
Colorado State at Colorado (Saturday, noon)
Both teams have very tough non-conference schedules, and this in-state rivalry game is one both need to win. Sonny Lubick, in his 15th season at CSU, has 20 returning starters from his 4-8 team last year; 10 on offense, nine on defense and one on special teams. The Rams need to stay healthy to have a chance at competing for the Mountain West championship. Colorado is coming off a dismal 2-10 season, but second-year coach Dan Hawkins looks like he's got things going in the right direction. His son, Cody, a redshirt freshman, will start at QB. That could prove to be a very interesting storyline during the Buffs' quest to win six games, and get to a bowl game.
East Carolina at No. 9 Virginia Tech (Saturday, noon)
How will the team, the students, the faculty, and the community react to their first real national exposure since the tragic events of April 16? A sidebar will be the fact that this could be coach Frank Beamer's best team ever at Virginia Tech.
Utah at Oregon State (Thursday, 10 p.m.)
Utah's offense has the potential to be one of the best in the country. The Utes bring back 10 starters on offense, but lost five good starters on defense, their secondary being the biggest question. That question could be answered this week if Oregon State star wide receiver Sammie Stroughter ends up playing. He has practiced with the Beavers after saying that he would take a leave of absence to deal with the deaths of two family members and a former coach. Special teams for both the Utes and the Beavers will be fun to watch.
No. 14 UCLA at Stanford (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
New Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh has already put his foot in his mouth by firing up USC and questioning the academics at his alma mater, Michigan. I'd like to see if he can put his foot in the backside of UCLA on the field this Saturday. But with 10 starters returning on both offense and defense, Karl Dorrell's Bruins should walk all over Stanford.
Wake Forest at Boston College (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
Was last year just a fluke for ACC champion Wake Forest? Fifteen returning starters say they are for real. Boston College was consistently good under coach Tom O'Brien, who left for N.C. State. The Eagles are now guided by first-year mentor Jeff Jagodzinski.
Mississippi at Memphis (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
Just a couple of struggling programs that are going to get started out on the right foot or the wrong foot this weekend.
Missouri at Illinois (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
Missouri has Nebraska at home this year and a real chance to win the Big 12 North title and needs to show its moxie against up-and-comer Illinois. And with all the great recruits coach Ron Zook is hauling in for the Fighting Illini, this is a good one to show the fruits of his labor.
Arizona at BYU (Saturday, 5:30 p.m.)
Mike Stoops arrived in Tucson with the high expectations that come when your last name is Stoops. Now, he needs to get his program over the hump with a winning season, maybe just to save his job. BYU is a real sleeper out of the Mountain West which, if it can find the right replacement for quarterback John Beck, could be primed for a great season.
Baylor at No. 22 TCU (Saturday, 6 p.m.)
Losing its last four games of 2006, Baylor heads to play Mountain West power TCU. Baylor has no clear choice at quarterback. TCU has an NFL prospect, DE Tommy Blake, who can wreak havoc on opposing QBs.
Oklahoma State at No. 13 Georgia (Saturday, 6:45 p.m.)
Oklahoma State is heading into a potential breakout season with an explosive offense. If history is any indication, Georgia will be just as sporty on defense. This should make for a great showdown between the hedges in Athens. Georgia is a legitimate contender for the conference championship and Oklahoma State could contend in the Big 12 if they are strong enough to win a game such as this one.
Kansas State at No. 18 Auburn (Saturday, 7:45 p.m.)
Ron Prince did a great job in taking Kansas State to a winning season and a bowl game in his first year as coach. But he is always going to be compared to Bill Snyder. Can Prince bring the level of talent back up to where Snyder had it? I think the question is not will he, but how soon. Auburn, which is expected to compete with LSU for the SEC East title, is sick and tired of hearing about Nick Saban and what he and Alabama are going to do. Auburn will want to take out its frustrations on the visiting Wildcats.
Texas Tech at SMU (Monday, 4 p.m.)
After going 6-6 in 2006, coach Phil Bennett enters his sixth year at SMU. The Mustangs are looking for their first bowl appearance since 1984. Their sophomore QB, Justin Willis, was the Conference USA Freshman of the year , and 10th in the nation in QB rating. He will hopefully provide the leadership necessary to win close games and earn a bowl bid. Texas Tech has made seven straight bowl appearances, including an exciting, come-from-behind win in overtime last year in the Insight Bowl. With few starters coming back, it could be a tough year for the Red Raiders, but I'll bet coach Mike Leach starts the season with a "W."
- Terry Bowden