College Football fans are like six year old kids at Christmas.
It takes the season FOREVER to get here, and then, in a blink if s gone.
Every year, that first weekend prior to Labor Day grinds home, then before you know, it’s time for Thanksgiving, the Tech game, all those grand rivalries, and the regular season is over. The goal is then to win that first Saturday in December and then on into the new year, capturing the biggest of college football prizes. But the meat of the season, the tailgating and anticipation, takes place in those glorious three months … September, October and November.
For Georgia fans just electric with anticipation and excitement at the dawning of the Kirby Smart era, the long wait is over. And what a way to begin.
Georgia and North Carolina meet in the Georgia Dome — unfortunately not in Sanford Stadium or Kenan Stadium, which would make for a great home and home, staggered with the Bulldogs games against Notre Dame in 2017 and 2019, not to mention that both beautiful campuses make for preferable tailgating spots to the gulch and are huge booms for the college town economy.
Not being a fan of neutral site games, unless they’re the classics like Georgia-Florida, Oklahoma-Texas and Army-Navy, that’s the only downer of this first weekend of the season. Not enough of them are being played on college campuses.
At least big name opponents are squaring off against one another in large numbers.
If you agree that the season is like Christmas, not only has that magical morning arrived, College Football fans are starting with stocking stuffers. No, these are the big presents, in big, or small boxes. Cars, flat screens, electronics, bowl game tickets, jewelry for the ladies (I was pretty easy for my parents at Christmas, anything Georgia,
Star Wars and football cards) … College Football Santa is coming down the chimney with one of the amazing array of season opening showdowns in the history of the sport. We’ll start with the Bulldogs and Tar Heels. It’s the first meeting since 1971, which is hard to fathom considering these are the state universities of neighboring states, collegiate athletics royalty, and laden with ties between the two. That includes the 1971 Gator Bowl, which Georgia won 7-3 to cap an incredible 11-1 campaign. The game pitted Vince Dooley against his brother, the late Bill Dooley, who was a big part of the Bulldogs revitalization, serving as offensive line coach in Athens from 1964-66 before embarking on a highly successful head coaching career. Bill Dooley passed away recently at the age of the 82, leaving heavy hearts on numerous campuses, including Athens and Chapel Hill.
Kirby’s Canines debut on a prime time stage. For the winner, there is hope for a special season. For the loser, quests for conference crowns and victories over arch-rivals are still well within reach.
Front and center with this colossal cavalcade of opening weekend action is of course the SEC.
Starting things off Thursday September 1, Vanderbilt hosts South Carolina. For the winner, a bowl berth is within reach.
That same night, Tennessee, taking a page from its longtime nemesis Steve Spurrier, hosts Appalachian State to get a head start on the following Saturday’s Bristol Motor Speedway matchup with Virginia Tech. Think Butch Jones will mention the Mountaineers 2007 win at Michigan?
Friday night, September 2, Kansas State visits Stanford.
Then there is the main event, Saturday, September 3. The first game of the day will actually be played in Dublin, Ireland, as Tech battles Boston College. While covering the Olympics in Rio, two of my Irish camera operator friends informed me they would be working the game and asked me who to root for? So guess who’s hat Eoin and Ollie will be wearing behind the camera?!
It is then front and center with the SEC.
There is the clash of college football titans, Alabama and Southern Cal in Arlington, Texas. These two have played some historically significant games through the years, most notably the Sam “The Bam” Cunningham game in Birmingham that helped spur the integration of Alabama and the SEC, and the Trojans 24-7 win at Legion Field in 1978.
LSU and Wisconsin lock up at Lambeau Field. I have to admit, this is pretty cool. The Fightin’ Tigers have been money in these games under Les Miles, while the Badgers are dying for a win over a marquee SEC foe.
Hot-seat Game One is in College Station, as Texas A&M hosts UCLA. Kudos for playing this at Kyle Field, and the great atmosphere of the Aggie faithful. A loss to UCLA, a major player in the PAC-12 this year, will get the clock ticking even faster on Kevin Sumlin as Houston’s Tom Herman is the hottest commodity in the land … and the state of Texas in particular.
Herman’s Cougars open with Oklahoma on this magical Saturday. Imagine what a win over the Sooners would do to those circumstances. More on Texas in just a bit.
Saturday night on the plains, it’s Auburn and Clemson. Kudos to these two for playing on campus. Auburn will have its hands full, Clemson is hoping for a return to the playoffs. A victory would be enormous for Gus Malzon, who’s seat is toasty.
Moving on to Sunday, the teams with the second and third most wins in college football history meet in Austin, as Texas hosts Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish embarrassed the Longhorns a year ago, and Texas, which could be pretty good is looking for redemption and a jump start to 2016. For third year coach Charley Strong, it is huge. He is an excellent coach — Georgia fans know that all too well from his stellar defenses at South Carolina and Florida — and Texas is one of the best jobs in the country. So will it last, or is this just a marriage that won’t work? The ‘Horns and Irish have played in some big ones through the years, the ’78 Cotton Bowl at the top of the list.
The weekend concludes Labor Day night in Orlando, with Ole Miss and Florida State. The Rebels lost three first round draft choices, but should still be very good. Florida State is primed for another run at the playoffs. By the way, three of the Rebels first four games are with the Seminoles, Alabama and Georgia.
Ho Ho Ho, enjoy this first weekend of college football, and remember, though it’s “only” Labor Day weekend, it will be Thanksgiving as soon as you blink.