June 30, 2010

Plenty of good story lines in the 2010 schedule

One of the beautiful aspects of college football is how every game can tell a story and every season can add a piece of the sport's history.

The 2010 season brings us no shortage of "story line" games. These might not be the biggest games of the season. They might not be nationally relevant. Frankly, some might not even be competitive.

Instead, these are games that might be more interesting for their back stories or the personalities involved than what will happen on the field.

An eventful offseason consisting of coaching moves, NCAA probation and conference realignment adds another wrinkle to some of the "story line" games for 2010:

"The Game That Should Not Be Played Bowl"
USC at Hawaii, Sept. 2
USC received a two-year bowl ban, scholarship limitations and four years of probation, but it got to keep a trip to Hawaii. The NCAA allowed this game although USC's punishment forbids them from scheduling 13 regular-season games. (A little background: Teams that play at Hawaii are permitted to add an extra game to the schedule, and USC and the Warriors agreed to the game several years ago.) The decision might be more of a benefit for Hawaii, which will face a high-profile opponent rather than a second FCS program on its home schedule.

"The Big Ten Only Has Room for 12 Bowl"
Illinois vs. Missouri in St, Louis, Sept. 4
During all the speculation during the conference realignment drama, one of the most realistic scenarios was Missouri moving to the Big Ten. Or so we thought. The Big Ten invited Nebraska and Missouri remained in the shrunken Big 12. If Missouri wants to take out its frustrations on the Big Ten - assuming the Tigers are still sore about the whole thing - it could punish Illinois. The Tigers have beaten the Illini in each of the past three season openers, including 37-9 in '09, so if Missouri is out for blood, would anyone really notice the difference?

"The Mike London Bowl"
Richmond at Virginia, Sept. 4
A first-year coach opening the season against his previous team isn't unprecedented, not even at Virginia. Former Cavaliers coach George Welsh lost 20-16 to Navy in the 1982 opener after coaching the Midshipmen from 1973-81. The intrigue in this one is how closely matched these programs might be. Richmond is two years removed from a FCS national title, which came in London's first season as coach. Last season, the Spiders went 11-2 in the Colonial, the toughest conference in the FCS. The Spiders return only seven starters, but they added former USC quarterback Aaron Corp, who will be eligible immediately. Meanwhile, Virginia is coming off a 3-9 season in which the Cavs lost their 2009 opener to William & Mary - a Colonial member.

"The Bobby Bowden Jimbo Fisher Reunion Bowl"
Samford at Florida State, Sept. 4
A lot of folks believe this contest is on Florida State's schedule because it would have been the first game in a season-long goodbye to Bowden. The first 31 of Bowden's 389 career wins came at Samford, called Howard College when Bowden coached there from 1959-62. Still, even without Bowden, the game has a degree of nostalgia because of new FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. He quarterbacked Samford in 1989, when he was Division III National Player of the Year. His first coaching job was at Samford, when he was offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for two seasons. The head coach at Samford at the time? Terry Bowden.

"The Excessive Celebration Bowl"
Washington at BYU, Sept. 4
If Washington wins, scores or even gets a first down, don't expect quarterback Jake Locker to show much emotion. The last time these teams met, in 2008, Locker scored on a run to cut BYU's lead to 28-27 with two seconds left. Locker chucked the ball into the air, which drew a questionable 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. BYU blocked the long extra-point attempt and Washington endured its second loss in what would become an 0-12 season. The Pac-10 backed its officials and said the call followed the letter of the law. But the call sure didn't sit well with fans.

"The Craig James Bowl"
SMU at Texas Tech, Sept. 5
Fans of the forward pass were denied a chance to see Mike Leach take on June Jones in a game in which the combined amount of passing attempts would have been in triple digits. The consolation prize will have to be SMU's game against like-minded Houston on Oct. 23. For now, part of the run-up of the game likely will center on Craig James. As a player, James was part of the "Pony Express" backfield with Eric Dickerson at SMU. Last season, James and his son, Adam, were at the center of the controversy that led to the end of Leach's tenure in Lubbock. Presumably, James will not serve as analyst for this game when it airs on ESPN.

"Alabama's Trip Down Memory Lane Games"
The Crimson Tide's schedule-makers sure gave the media a lot of fodder for stories this fall:
Penn State at Alabama, Sept. 11: The first regular-season meeting between the schools in 20 years also is a rematch of some notable bowl games. Bear Bryant's first bowl team at Alabama lost to pre-Joe Paterno Penn State 7-0 in the 1959 Liberty Bowl; Nittany Lions quarterback Galen Hall - who now is the Nittany Lions' offensive coordinator - executed a fake field goal for the score. Alabama won the next bowl meeting 13-6 in the 1975 Sugar Bowl to end an eight-bowl winless streak. And Alabama claimed the national title in the 1979 Sugar Bowl with a 14-7 victory, thanks to a goal-line stand.
Alabama at Duke, Sept. 18: After leading Alabama to a 10-0 season and a Rose Bowl victory in 1930, Wallace Wade bolted for Duke, where he won 110 games (he won 61 at Alabama). This game will be played at Wallace Wade Stadium. He was the first coach to take a Southern team to the Rose Bowl (Alabama beat Washington 20-19 in 1926), and he guided the Tide to national titles in 1925, '26 and '30. An Alabama coach leaving for Duke? Hey, it was a long time ago.
Florida at Alabama, Oct. 2: This will be the first meeting between Nick Saban and Urban Meyer away from the Georgia Dome. The last time the teams met in Tuscaloosa was 2005, when Mike Shula was Alabama's coach; the result was a 31-3 Tide rout that was Meyer's first loss at Florida. What most remember from that game, though, probably was the gruesome broken leg suffered by Tide wide receiver Tyrone Prothro.
Georgia State at Alabama, Nov. 20: If The Bear and Saban are on Alabama's coaching Mount Rushmore, Bill Curry is ... well, he's somewhere else. He went 26-10 as the Tide's coach from 1987-89, but three of the losses - and none of the wins - came against Auburn. Curry now is the coach at FCS member Georgia State, which will be fielding its first team this fall. Georgia State will receive a hefty check and a hefty beating - and there will be more than a few Tide fans who will revel in the hefty beating.

"The Terry Porter Bowl"
Miami at Ohio State, Sept. 11
Much has changed in the eight seasons since these teams last met. Jim Tressel was a second-year coach when the Buckeyes beat Miami in the Fiesta Bowl for the 2002 national championship. That 31-24 double-overtime loss was the last time the Hurricanes played for the national championship and the beginning of the end for Larry Coker. Miami fans still hold a grudge against Terry Porter, the Big 12 official who called a fourth-down interference penalty on Miami cornerback Glenn Sharpe that gave Ohio State a first down in the first overtime. That the flag seemed to fly in, oh, about 5 seconds after the play ended is what really ticks off UM fans.

"A Non-Conference-Game ... For Now Bowl
Colorado at California, Sept. 11
The only way this is a compelling matchup in the expanded Pac-10 is if the winner gets to host a Phish concert in its football stadium at the end of the season. (It's fair to say that Berkeley and Boulder are, uh, free-thinking campuses.) This is the only meeting this season between a Pac-10 school and Colorado or Utah.

"The Option Bowl"
Georgia Tech at Kansas, Sept. 11
Carl Torbush is Kansas' veteran defensive coordinator, but he might ask new Jayhawks coach Turner Gill to sit in on a handful of defensive meetings before this matchup. No one has run the triple option in the 21st century better than Paul Johnson's teams. Few in college history ran the option as well as Gill, who went 28-2 as a starting quarterback for Nebraska in the early 1980s.

"The Chain Reaction Bowl"
West Virginia at LSU, Sept. 25
This will be the first meeting between these programs, but they are inextricably linked, thanks to the events of Dec. 1, 2007. LSU coach Les Miles led his "damn strong football team" to a win over Tennessee in the SEC championship game amid rumors he'd bolt for Michigan, his alma mater. That same day, Pittsburgh shocked West Virginia 13-9 in Morgantown, knocking WVU out of a spot in the BCS championship game. Two-loss LSU got the spot in instead. It was the last game for WVU coach Rich Rodriguez, who ended up getting the job at Michigan - the job everyone assumed was going to Miles. WVU interim coach Bill Stewart had the "interim" tag removed after leading the Mountaineers to a win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Five days later, Miles and LSU won the national title. A "thank you" is in order from both coaches during the pre-game handshake.

"The No-Hard-Feelings Bowls"
Miami at Pittsburgh, Sept. 23, and Boston College at Syracuse, Nov. 27
Games between ACC and Big East teams are fairly common during the regular season, but this is the first time former Big East members Miami and Boston College will play former league opponents since the ACC expanded. Virginia Tech defeated West Virginia in 2004 and '05 after the Hokies bolted for the ACC, but none of the three new ACC teams have ventured into Big East territory to face anyone other than Louisville, Cincinnati and USF since then. The Miami-Pitt game will be an intriguing coaching matchup, as well; UM's Randy Shannon was a linebacker for Pitt's Dave Wannstedt when the latter was defensive coordinator for the Hurricanes and the Dallas Cowboys. They also served on the same coaching staff with the Miami Dolphins.

"The Pete Carroll Classic"
Washington at USC, Oct. 2
This isn't just a matchup between former USC offensive coordinators Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin; five members of USC's 2003 national-title staff will be on the sidelines for this game. Nick Holt is Sarkisian's defensive coordinator at Washington, while Ed Orgeron and Todd McNair are assistants for Kiffin. (USC's return trip to Seattle next season will be even more interesting. That way, at least Pete Carroll could be in the stands to watch several of his old assistants.)

"The Dooley Bowl"
Tennessee at Georgia, Oct. 9
Here's one week Vince Dooley will be excused if he doesn't root for Georgia. Dooley coached the Bulldogs to 201 wins and the 1980 national championship, but now his son, Derek, is the coach at SEC East rival Tennessee.

"The Don't-Let-the-Door-Hit-You-on-the-Way-Out Bowl"
Texas at Nebraska, Oct. 16
The fans in Lincoln are renowned throughout college football for being among the most gracious to visiting crowds. Even Big Red fans have their limits, though. First, there's the memory of last season's Big 12 championship game, when officials added a second to the clock after Texas quarterback Colt McCoy threw the ball out of bounds on what appeared to be the last play of the game. That set up Texas' game-winning field goal and sent the Longhorns to the national title game. The schools' relationship further disintegrated this offseason when Texas flirted with the Pac-10 and Nebraska joined the Big Ten. Nebraska might like its new conference home and Texas might be happier with its 10-team league and fatter TV contract, but that doesn't make the break-up any cleaner. Did we mention this could be a preview of the final Big 12 championship game - which, to Nebraska's chagrin, will be played in the state of Texas?

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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