PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Pitt and No. 11 Florida State will have Labor Day all to themselves, but in the meantime, a new college football season, as usual, has snuck up on us. Here are five contests that should make for entertaining time-killers:
1. North Carolina at No. 6 South Carolina – Tonight, 6:00, ESPN
For Pitt fans, it’s an opportunity to scout a future conference opponent. The Heels are led by talented senior quarterback Bryn Renner, who threw for 3,356 yards and 28 touchdowns against just seven picks in 2012. More importantly, though, if you haven’t seen South Carolina junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney play, you should. He’s a rare defensive Heisman candidate after coming in sixth in last year’s voting, he has 21.0 career sacks and 35.5 career tackles for loss, and the NCAA essentially changed its rules just because of him (a new “targeting” rule, which bans a certain type of helmet-to-body contact).
2. Purdue at Cincinnati – Saturday, 12:00, ESPNU
If you’re among the masses who have grown sick and tired of me shamelessly plugging my alma mater, don’t worry. This isn’t what it looks like. If you’re into the whole “where are they now?” thing, you might want to keep your eye on the Boilermakers. Once upon a time, Rob Kugler was paving the way for the North Allegheny offense to the first of its three straight WPIAL titles, and Armstead Williams solidified a Gateway defense that ruled the Foothills Conference. This weekend both will be starting as sophomores for Purdue, with Kugler under center, and Williams at linebacker. Kugler earned regular playing time as a redshirt freshman, and Williams, last year, had eight total tackles as a backup in eleven games.
3. Temple at No. 14 Notre Dame – Saturday, 3:30, NBC
This will be the first marquee game for the new American Athletic Conference, which, in case you didn’t get the memo, consists of Big East and Conference USA refugees. Commissioner Mike Aresco wants it to be granted “power conference” status should the other heavy hitters someday distance themselves from the NCAA and form their own super-division. An upset by the Owls in South Bend would certainly help. For ex-Gateway coach Terry Smith, who has already set up a recruiting base locally and nabbed a couple of his former players, it’s his first game as Temple’s wide receivers coach. Meanwhile, junior Connor Reilly leads the new-look Owls at quarterback, and Brian Kelly hopes Butkus Award winner Jaylon Smith can be the next Manti Te’o (minus the off-field oddities, we hope).
4. Virginia Tech at No. 1 Alabama (Georgia Dome, Atlanta) – Saturday, 5:30, ESPN
There’s that adage about how a rising tide floats all boats. Not only do the Hokies hope to rise above the Tide, they hope, in doing so, to draw positive national attention to the ACC. The rise of the Tide continues to keep the SEC, which is going for its eighth straight national championship this year, atop the totem pole of perception. This Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game should boil down to the battle of wits between Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, a legit Heisman candidate, and Virginia Tech gunslinger Logan Thomas, who made watch lists for several honors, including the Walter Camp Award (another player-of-the-year trophy). The x-factor may be how well Frank Beamer’s defense does against T.J. Yeldon, an 1,100-yard rusher as a freshman.
5. No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson – Saturday, 8:00, ABC
Like Pitt, Virginia Tech, and UNC, the Tigers have a great opportunity to build credibility for their league on opening weekend. As is the case with that other ACC-SEC affair, whichever quarterback triumphs statistically probably gets his team the victory. Tajh Boyd returns to Clemson for his senior season after throwing for 36 TD’s against just 13 INT’s as a junior, and he could be the top pick in the approaching NFL Draft. He ranked among the top ten nationally with 3,896 yards in the air. Fellow senior Aaron Murray will be the crux of the Bulldogs’ offense after leading the nation with a 174.82 efficiency rating last year. He matched Boyd’s 36 scores and threw just ten picks in 2012.
(Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)