College football fans have had 2016’s opening weekend schedule circled for about a year and a half now. As games like Alabama-USC joined games like LSU-Wisconsin, and with Houston-Oklahoma gaining Playoff ramifications thanks to the Cougars’ rise, it became clear that something special was happening.
As of a few days ago, ESPN’s now repeatedly billing it as the greatest college football opening weekend ever.
It’s a very good weekend. It has four games between AP Top 25-ranked teams (OU-UH, Georgia-North Carolina, Bama-USC, FSU-Ole Miss) and at least half a dozen other games that anybody anywhere should be interested in.
But best ever? Nah.
CBS Sports found four seasons since just 1985 with at least as many ranked-vs.-ranked games in Week 1. 1998 had double as many. And while spreading all this across five nights sounds nice and means Notre Dame-Texas and FSU-Ole Miss don’t get thrown on during other big games, the best game before Saturday is ... uh ... Kansas State-Stanford?
What is special here: We’re getting back to the way the sport should work. Good teams should play good teams from other parts of the country before bowl season.
For one thing, in 2006, the NCAA started allowing each team to play a 12-game schedule every year. Most teams added cupcake opponents. Colleges like easy wins and home-game profits, and every team now has room for plenty of those per year.
One of the College Football Playoff’s stated goals is to encourage teams to play tougher schedules. Athletic directors talk about the perceived pressure to arrange quality matchups (because fans can’t yell at you if your coach can’t handle the elite schedule you gave him, at least for a while), the Big Ten and SEC have mandated their teams to play at least one Power 5 non-conference opponent per season, and neutral-sites have emerged as a way to make better games happen. So sure, the Playoff’s helped.
Probably more important, though: ESPN’s investment in college football. Kurt Dargis, ESPN’s director of programming and acquisitions, in an interview with Saturday Blitz:
It’s kind of a three-party process between the schools, the organizers and us. It takes about that long to get these done. There are some big headliner games beyond this season which we’ve already begun working on. Next year we have Michigan and Florida in Arlington. Alabama is playing Florid State in Atlanta on Saturday and Tennessee is playing Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Monday night. BYU is playing LSU in Houston…so, we’re working on those games in the outer years and our goal is always to have those things done two, three or four years ahead of time.
He’s talking specifically about kickoff times and which networks to put these games on, but there’s no question that ESPN’s influence throughout the sport has helped push schools toward games worthy of opening-weekend spotlights. And when ESPN helps make a good weekend, as ESPN's done here, ESPN will let you know about it. That's fine!
(Those "12th games" are arriving in Week 2 this year, by the way, with likely no games between AP-ranked teams. Week 3 looks great, though!)
Bill is cranking through advanced conference predictions, with detailed win projections for each team. The ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Independents, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC are up, with the rest coming today.
Jim Harbaugh tried to answer a question about Colin Kaepernick. Let’s just say he ended up having to tweet through it.
South Carolina got its highest-rated commit in years, and Bud explains why it’s an even bigger deal than it sounds.
Let’s talk through the 2016 season #narratives we’re already sick of! The comments are mostly people arguing about whether the SEC’s overrated or not, so I think the king of all arguments is still the king.
It’s not easy to see how Auburn beats Clemson, other than Jordan-Hare madness or whatever.
Urban Meyer doesn’t agree with a player’s year-long suspension, meaning it was a school rule of some sort.
If Tyrone Swoopes were to have some big moments as Texas’ starting QB this year, that would be pretty neat.
Hell yeah. Noel Devine, producer of some of the greatest highlight videos ever, is returning to WVU to finish his degree.
PREVIOUS: Combining Boston College’s defense and Texas Tech’s offense would give you the country’s best team. Combining their other units would give you the worst.
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