Welcome back to school, college football. Is that too corny? No matter; nobody from Nebraska is watching these games today anyway out of misery and sadness, so corn will have nothing to do with it.
It’s not even really the start of the “return” of college football, what with the advent of “Week 0” and Thursday-plus-Friday games sprinkling the landscape. I’ve heard a few souls trying to dismiss the Week 0 slate out of frustration, but that’s hard to do when you’ve got Notre Dame and USC playing that previous weekend—or at least I’d like to think USC did, but I am not one of these few lucky souls what happens to possess access to the Pac-12 Network.
In fact, now’s a good time to talk about that grim wraith floating heady over the sport. The whole of the summer was composed of aggressive realignment; blow after blow directed to the ancient west coast conference most recently named the Pac-12, and more aptly named the Pac-2 once everyone leaves. The Los Angeles-based programs at USC and UCLA made their intentions to leave known last year; this year saw the stated departures of Oregon and Washington to the Big Ten, plus Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State to the Big 12. Now this week, Stanford and Cal (Berkeley, the hippies) decided that all oceans are just the same body of water if you think about it, and pledged to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, along with the reanimated corpse of the legendarily executed Southern Methodist.
It sucks for a lot of reasons, and it sucks because while realignment’s long been a game played by the powers that be, it was more like chicken. Sure, Texas flirted with joining the Pac-12 once upon a time to form a super-conference long before this; and maybe the SEC added Missouri to their larder, but nothing like this. What is this? A sport defined by regionality, simply carving up an entire coastline and redefining it in turn as either the Midwest, Texas-adjacent or another Carolina I guess?
Now we’re here, all manner of anarchy is at the door. People are howling and screaming and jumping from windows. Mass panic in the streets. The end of days. The whole sport’s gone mad, changing faster than anyone can catch up. You can’t walk down a street in Ann Arbor without tripping over some drug addict who moonlights as a sports talk radio host screaming about the evils of NIL money. Charter and Disney are at each other’s throats and ripping these games off cable TV right before kickoff. Everyone seemingly wants to blame the NCAA, not comprehending that they’re nothing but the self-same schools ripping into the sport’s flesh.
Of course, there’s the tastemakers saying this is fine. After all, don’t you want bigger games? Don’t you want Texas in the SEC? Wouldn’t it be cool to see Michigan take on UCLA in the Rose Bowl every year? (Answer: no it wouldn’t, you freak.) Don’t you want the best teams in the best conferences, damn the Olympic sports, damn any overtures to athletics, damn geography, damn expenses, damn common sense? Don’t you want to pay thousands of dollars just to see your team play in some god awful city you’ve never been to on the opposite side of the country? Don’t you want this sport, this beautiful twisted awful thing defined by regional flavor and smaller schools colliding with bigger ones, taken apart piece-by-piece and reassembled until it resembles something more corporate and sensible to dickhead New Yorkers; doesn’t it just make more sense to turn college football into NFL Sweet’N Low?
So here it is. This may be the last hurrah of college football before everything looks far more weird, and not in the good-weird way. One last chance for vengeance upon the wretched face of Texas. One last Bedlam. One last Apple Cup. One more time for Utah to ruin someone’s season (probably USC’s). One last taste of all the small things that defined the western half of the country before that’s all squeezed out in the name of whatever the hell we’re chasing.
The good news is the Pac-12 is going out with a bang. In its final year, the conference looks to not be awful, so if you want to stay up I encourage you to do so. It happens to also feature the grand prize for any NFL Draft watcher: Heisman incumbent Caleb Williams, starting quarterback for the USC Trojans. He’s already played a game this year, and he already turned a botched snap into a 76-yard touchdown. He’s got NFL teams so horny that the Arizona Cardinals are already blatantly tanking in hopes to land him; I genuinely hope someone pulls a Houston-Chicago situation just so we can avoid such a foul fate. I also hope whoever wants to watch him this week has the aforementioned ultra-rare Pac-12 Networks. I don’t.
The Trojans are luckier than other early-season favorites. Alabama is unusually cagey about their quarterback situation, while Clemson is starting something called “Cade Klubnik,” and this is considered a far better spot than where they were last year at that position. Georgia is starting a quarterback that backed up Stetson Bennett. I guess I’m trying to say, I get why Wolverine fans are excited about JJ McCarthy.
Speaking of local news, Michigan State already played and got their spooks out of the way early with Central Michigan. We can safely put them to the side for this week. That pile of panic is already done.
We can also go ahead and put Jim Harbaugh to the side for a while. The Michigan head coach is in all manner of trouble with the NCAA, and I don’t believe a self-imposed 3 game ban is going to fool them much here. Whatever their enforcement wing is, starved and delirious from resources, it’s not stupid and it knows there was more than a cheeseburger. As if on cue, all manner of football writers are predicting Harbaugh will flee back to the comfortable of the NFL’s great big shield; this time they might have a reason to be right.
Boy howdy though, that three-game banishment will really hurt Michigan. What the hell are they going to do without Harbaugh’s genius against the likes of dreaded East Carolina, wrathful UNLV and hoary Bowling Green State University? We can hardly contain our trepidation!
TCU taking on Colorado entices me, if only to see how far drunk the sporting world is from the kool-aid of Deion Sanders. That said, the real prize on Saturday night belongs to an old rivalry renewed in blood: Penn State and West Virginia. It feels spicy, and Penn State has a proper chance to upset the Big Ten apple cart this year.
I’ll also probably make a point to watch Florida State take on LSU come Sunday. Last year’s half of the (Jesus, really?) neutral site home-and-home series saw some truly bizarre twists and turns and a fine party spoiled for Tigers coach Brian Kelly. This year, the Seminoles are becoming a sexy pick for TV heads to make the playoffs. I don’t buy it just yet, but it’s a fine sporting event all the same.
Enjoy yourself out there, chavales.
No. 17 TCU vs. Colorado — FOX
No. 12 Tennessee vs. Virginia — ABC
No. 20 Oklahoma vs. Arkansas State — ESPN
No. 25 Iowa vs. Utah State — FS1
No. 2 Michigan vs. East Carolina — Peacock
3:30 p.m. ET
Indiana vs. No. 3 Ohio State — CBS
No. 10 Washington vs. Boise State — ABC
No. 13 Notre Dame vs. Tennessee State — NBC
No. 11 Texas vs. Rice — FOX
Auburn vs. UMass — ESPN
No. 19 Wisconsin vs. Buffalo — FS1
Hampton vs. Grambling (3 p.m. ET) — NFL Network
7:30 p.m. ET
South Carolina vs. No. 21 North Carolina — ABC
No. 7 Penn State vs. West Virginia — NBC
Wyoming vs. Texas Tech — CBS
No. 23 Texas A&M vs. New Mexico (7 p.m.) — ESPN
Colorado State vs. Washington State — CBSSN
No. 4 Alabama vs. Middle Tennessee — SEC Network
UL Monroe vs. Army (7 p.m. ET) — NFL Network
Rutgers vs. Northwestern (12 p.m. ET) — CBS
Florida A&M vs. Jackson State (3 p.m. ET) — ESPN
San Jose State vs. No. 18 Oregon State (3:30 p.m.) — CBS
No. 8 Florida State vs. No. 5 LSU (7:30 p.m.) — ABC
Monday, 8 p.m. ET
Duke vs. No. 9 Clemson — ESPN