Posted: Wednesday July 27, 2005 4:03PM; Updated: Wednesday July 27, 2005 7:59PM
Vince Young will lead his Texas team into the Horseshoe to face Ohio State in one of the top non-conference matchups this season.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Every summer, when I get my first peek at the college football schedule, I do not get excited about Michigan-Ohio State, Oklahoma-Texas or even Notre Dame-Southern Cal (admittedly, not much to be excited about in that last rivalry of late).
It isn't that I loathe great rivalries. It's simply that those teams play one another every season. No, what I live for is seeing the teams who rarely meet, or have never met, play one another. I love to see unusual pairings.
Hey, it's the same reason we love interleague play or Dancing With the Stars. It's the difference between watching Frankenstein or watching Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (the film, by the way, which director Quentin Tarantino credits for setting him on his career path).
Contests between schools who do not compete in the same conference are known as "intersectional games," except in the Southeastern Conference, where they are known as "wins." See, SEC teams rarely schedule worthy non-conference foes and even less often do they leave home to play them. Les Miles isn't just an SEC coach; it's an SEC credo. This year the 12 SEC schools will play a total of six intersectional games on the road. They are:
Sept. 1: Vanderbilt at Wake Forest Sept. 17: Mississippi State at Tulane Sept. 17: Arkansas at Southern California Sept. 17: Kentucky at Indiana Nov. 5 : Tennessee at Notre Dame Nov. 26 : Georgia at Georgia Tech (though this is actually an annual rivalry)
Kudos to the Hogs and Vols for risking their seasons with a tough road trip. Shame on Auburn, Florida and LSU for playing it safe. Memo to the SEC: This is why you can go undefeated and not play for the national title. We don't want to hear how the SEC is the toughest conference in the nation after it went 3-3 last bowl season.
Memo No. 2 to the SEC: There's this contraption, see. You put people in it and it magically transports them through space. No, not the General Lee. An airplane. Try it sometime.
Back to our story. Intersectional matchups, without fail provide, some of the most memorable moments of any season. Just a few examples:
Boston College 47, Miami 45 (1984): Doug Flutie to Gerard Phalen. Miami 31, Michigan 30 (1988): The Hurricanes trailed 30-14 midway through the fourth quarter and won. Colorado 27, Michigan 26 (1994): The Miracle in Michigan: Kordell Stewart's pass is tipped by Blake Anderson to Michael Westbrook on the final play. Washington 38, Miami 20 (1995): The Huskies end the Hurricanes' NCAA-record 58-game unbeaten streak. Arizona State 19, Nebraska 0 (1996): The Sun Devils hand the Huskers their first regular-season loss in four years. Miami 48, UCLA 45 (1998): The hurricane-delayed (some three months) contest allows the Hurricanes to wipe out the Bruins' national-title hopes.
There are dozens more from just the past 20 seasons, which I've failed to mention. The point is, intersectional matchups rock. Athletic directors owe it to fans to schedule at least one non-conference opponent who is better than a 10-point underdog each season. A cursory glance at the list above illustrates Miami and Michigan deserve extra-special props for giving the people what they want. Notre Dame, being an independent, plays nothing but non-conference games, so I did not include them, but the Irish always play at least three top-10 teams each season -- or so it seems. This year they're Michigan, Southern Cal and Tennessee.
Here's my list of this year's top 10 intersectional games (not including the previously mentioned Notre Dame games), in chronological order:
September 3: Boise State at Georgia. The Broncos finished 11-1 and second in the nation in scoring offense (48.9 ppg) a year ago, and everyone on offense is back. The Dawgs were ninth in scoring defense. Credit BSU coach Dan Hawkins for giving his players the experience of playing between the hedges. This is Bad News Bears at the Astrodome material.
September 3: Wyoming at Florida. Don't laugh. It's Urban Meyer's debut in The Swamp, but the coach on the visitor's sideline has an impressive a resume too. Joe Glenn won three national titles in the past decade: two at D-II Northern Colorado and one at D-IAA Montana. Plus, Wyoming played Utah a year ago, losing 45-28, so Glenn is game-prepped for Meyer.
September 3: Georgia Tech at Auburn. These two schools are only about 110 miles apart and have a long, heated history. The Yellow Jackets and Tigers met 91 times between 1892 and 1987 but have played just once since (Tech won 17-3 in 2003). Tigers must replace four NFL first-rounders from their 13-0 squad. It's also on national TV in prime time.
September 10: Texas at Ohio State. This is THE GAME this year, and on my birthday! (45 more shopping days). Aaaand, the Yankees host the Red Sox while the Irish visit Michigan the same day. I'm fixin' to 'splode, I'm so psyched. The Horseshoe is the place to be this day. Longhorn QB Vince Young versus Buckeye linebacker A.J. Hawk, arguably the nation's top offensive player against the top defensive player. As for linebacker last names, Hawk belongs up there with Butkus and Stonebreaker.
September 10: Arizona State at LSU. A pair of 9-3 squads from a year ago meet in Death Valley. The Tigers learned their lesson about Pac-10 schools last season, when Oregon State came a callin'.
September 17: Oklahoma at UCLA. This is the most attractive brand-name game this side of Texas-Ohio State, but does anyone really believe the Bruins can pull off the upset in this Grapes of Wrath Bowl? The better question is whether this will be the Sooners only visit to Pasadena this season.
September 17: Pittsburgh at Nebraska. Let the commentators talk about ex-NFL coaches Dave Wannstedt and Bill Callahan. I'm more interested in seeing how Panther QB Tyler Palko operates amidst the Red Sea.
September 21: Bowling Green at Boise State. The MAC daddies and conference player of the year, quarterback Omar Jacobs, invade the Smurf Turf in Boise for this Wednesday night matchup. Bronco QB Jared Zabransky will be fired up to prove he's the better passer in this game.
September 24: Colorado at Miami. An awesome matchup ... in 1990! But a clash such as this gives the Buffs a chance to recoup some credibility on the same field where they clinched the national title against Notre Dame (IT WASN'T A CLIP!!!! OK, I'm fine now) on New Year's Night, 1991.
November 19: Fresno State at Southern Cal. Again, don't laugh. The Trojans play at Cal the week before, so there's the potential hangover-factor when Pat Hill and the Bulldogs visit. Fresno State is 3-0 versus Pac-10 in the past two seasons.