May 25, 2009

Monday with Mike: Chance to make a statement

Sometimes, there's more at stake than a mere victory when teams get together.

Sometimes, what happens on the field can resonate for a while. In that vein, here's an elite eight of "statement games" in the first month of the season:

8. Nevada at Notre Dame, Sept. 5: There's nothing like beating Notre Dame even a so-so Notre Dame to get a school some national attention. Nevada plays host to Missouri on Sept. 25 in a game it could win, but beating the Irish would do vastly more for the Wolf Pack's profile. Nevada coach Chris Ault's "Pistol" offense has gained some recognition, but a win over the Irish truly would pique interest in the formation. A victory also would show that Nevada is a team to be reckoned with in the Western Athletic Conference race. Conversely, a loss at home to the Wolf Pack would really set the wolves a-howlin' around Charlie Weis. Notre Dame needs a decisive win.

7. Georgia at Oklahoma State, Sept. 5: This is supposed to be Oklahoma State's season to challenge in the Big 12 South, but a Cowboys loss would end any talk of that. And given how Georgia underachieved a bit last season, a loss in the opener would put some Bulldogs fans on edge. At its simplest, this is a Big 12 vs. SEC showdown, and the winning league will be able to crow.

6. USF at Florida State, Sept. 26: This is the first meeting between these universities, and Florida State has everything to lose and nothing to gain. FSU is an established program; losing to USF at home would mean the Seminoles' reputation would take another hit. An FSU victory, on the other hand, wouldn't really resonate nationally because the general consensus would be that the Seminoles should beat their upstart "neighbor" from Tampa. Conversely, this is another chance for coach Jim Leavitt and his USF program to make some national noise. While this is an intrastate matchup, folks nationwide know all about Florida State. And if you don't think the USF coaching staff would be able to make some hay with a win over Florida State on the in-state recruiting trail . USF also plays Miami this season. If the Bulls lose both, it's somewhat expected. If they split with their in-state foes, it further legitimizes the program. But if they sweep? Oh, my.

5. TCU at Clemson, Sept. 26: Clemson's reputation took a hit last season, when the Tigers were the preseason ACC favorite but ended up losing six games. Even though TCU is one of the two or three best non-"Big Six" programs in the nation, a loss by Clemson at home in this one would further hurt the Tigers. The reason? "Good" ACC programs shouldn't lose at home to any non-"Big Six" program. TCU, meanwhile, could further burnish its reputation by going into one of the most hostile environments in the ACC and coming out with a win. Indeed, a victory in this one and the Horned Frogs make a strong statement that they'll truly be in the hunt for a BCS bid.

4. Texas Tech at Houston, Sept. 26: Houston has had a prolific offense for most of this decade, first under Art Briles and now under Kevin Sumlin. But those numbers, for the most part, have been ignored because the Cougars play in a league generally bereft of defense Conference USA and really have beaten no one of note. That changes if the Cougars beat Texas Tech. This would be a huge victory for Sumlin's program and legitimize Houston as a possible top-25 team. Tech wouldn't gain much with a win, but given the Big 12's mediocre bowl showing, a loss in this one by the Red Raiders would add further fuel to "the Big 12 is overrated" talk.

3. Oregon at Boise State, Sept. 3: Boise State is going for its second consecutive victory over the Ducks; the Broncos won in Eugene last season. A Boise win serves notice that, once again, the Broncos are a threat to go 12-0 and be a "BCS-buster." It also serves notice that Boise needs to be in the discussion about West Coast "power programs." But a Boise victory also would further damage the Pac-10's rep. An Oregon win, meanwhile, for the most part would be shrugged off: "Hey, Oregon should beat Boise. What's the big deal"? (What's up for discussion later is what happens if Boise goes 12-0 and is the lone unbeaten team in the nation. After last season, would an unbeaten Broncos team get a chance to play for the national title?)

2. Alabama vs. Virginia Tech in Atlanta, Sept. 5: Last season, Clemson went into a season-opening game against Alabama in Atlanta as the prohibitive ACC favorite. The Tigers left Atlanta with their tail between their legs, and the ACC's reputation took a big hit. Clemson coach Tommy Bowden eventually was fired in the aftermath. As the season played out, though, what seemed like an upset at the time instead became an example of how quickly Alabama had rebuilt under Nick Saban. This season, Virginia Tech will go into the game as the preseason ACC favorite, and you can bet the Hokies will be far better prepared than the Tigers were last season. Alabama has some issues on offense, most notably on the line and at quarterback. Can the Hokies not exactly an offensive juggernaut themselves take advantage? This game is bigger for the Hokies and the ACC as a whole than it is for the Tide, who aren't expected to win the SEC.

1. USC at Ohio State, Sept. 12: This is huge for Ohio State in particular and the Big Ten in general. Ohio State has lost its past four "big" non-conference games, and as a result, the Big Ten also has taken a public-relations hit. The Buckeyes can ease some of that angst by beating the Trojans. With a victory, Ohio State becomes a legit national title contender and Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor presumably would wedge himself into the Heisman picture. A USC victory would further damage the reputations of Ohio State and the Big Ten, and push the Trojans squarely into the national title picture and remove the Buckeyes from that same picture. This will be the first real test for new USC quarterback Aaron Corp and for a rebuilt Trojans defense.

Ten others offering some intrigue, in chronological order:

Baylor at Wake Forest, Sept. 5: If Baylor wins, it hurts the ACC more than it helps the Big 12.

Pittsburgh at Buffalo, Sept. 12: This is a big chance for the MAC to erase the bad memories lingering from the league's awful postseason showing last season.

Air Force at Minnesota, Sept. 12: This is another chance for the Mountain West to make a statement and another chance for the Big Ten's reputation to take a hit. This will be the first game in Minnesota's new on-campus stadium.

Western Michigan at Indiana, Sept. 12: Indiana looks to be the worst team in the Big Ten, while Western should be one of the two best teams in the MAC. Still, any time a MAC team can win in a Big Ten stadium, it's a good day for the MAC.

Virginia at Southern Miss, Sept. 19: A victory by the Golden Eagles would help Conference USA's reputation. And even though Virginia is supposed to finish near the bottom of the ACC's Coastal Division, a loss also hurts the ACC's image.

California at Minnesota, Sept. 19: It would be hard to take California seriously as a Pac-10 contender if the Golden Bears lost this; it also would harm the Pac-10's reputation. Meanwhile, this is chance for Big Ten backers to say, "One of our weakest programs beat one of the Pac-10's strongest programs. So there."

West Virginia at Auburn, Sept. 19: A loss hurts the Big East. Yes, the game is at Auburn. But WVU should be one of the legit title contenders in the Big East. Auburn likely will be picked to finish fifth in the SEC West.

Florida State at BYU, Sept. 19: This is a big game for BYU for two reasons. One, a win further helps the Mountain West's reputation. Second, BYU can gain back some respect with a victory in a "big" game. And it's big for FSU because the Seminoles shouldn't lose to BYU.

Missouri at Nevada, Sept. 25: While a win over Notre Dame would be magical for Nevada, a victory at home in this one is far more likely. A win helps the WAC and hurts the Big 12 North.

Rutgers at Maryland, Sept. 26: An ACC-Big East "showdown," and to the victor goes all the resultant smack-talk spoils.

Grid bits

There will be no change in the Big 12 tiebreaker this season. Instead, at the league's annual spring meetings, the athletic directors decided they would like to "continue to review the policies," commissioner Dan Beebe said.

Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff who has promised to file an antitrust lawsuit challenging the legality of the BCS in his role as Utah attorney general announced last week that he will run for the U.S. Senate as a Republican. Shurtleff will challenge incumbent Republican Bob Bennett. "Instead of promoting principles of individual responsibility, he let us down and looked upon government as the solution," Shurtleff said. Hmm. I believe Shurtleff was just fine with the recent Congressional hearings on the BCS you know, the one called by a Texas representative who has introduced legislation that would prevent the NCAA from labeling a game a national championship unless it's the outcome of a playoff system. That sure sounds like "government as a solution" to me, as does spending state money on a football problem. But, hey, Shurtleff has a law degree and everything, so

Notre Dame looks to be exploring an opportunity to play some games at the new Yankee Stadium, most likely against Army. It's a great idea for the Irish for numerous reasons. First, it takes them on the road to the nation's largest media market. Second, beating Army is a given, so it's a sure win. Third, the old Yankee Stadium was the site of some memorable Army-Notre Dame games in the past, as in 1946, when the teams played to a 0-0 tie. That game featured four eventual Heisman winners, and the tie snapped Army's 25-game winning streak. Each team finished unbeaten and the Irish were awarded the national title.

Kudos to Boise State coach Chris Petersen and his wife, Barbara, who are donating $150,000 to help build a new campus building for the business school.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for He can be reached at

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