COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW
The 2011-12 season is a very exciting one for the members of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Committee. This year, the Sugar Bowl will host not only the 78th annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic (Tuesday, Jan. 3), but also the 2012 Allstate BCS National Championship Game (Monday, Jan. 9). In 2008, the last time the organization sponsored two games, the city and state realized an economic impact of over $400 million. While preparation has been underway for this "double-hosting" for many months, the games finally begin this week, kicking off this Thursday with 15 games, including two nationally-ranked teams (No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 20 Mississippi State) in action. Games continue straight through the weekend, including a Labor Day game between Maryland and Miami.
Here's a brief look at this week's games involving the AP Preseason Top 25 (all game times are Central).
PRESEASON? WHAT PRESEASON?
No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU (Saturday, 7 p.m., ABC): Both teams have experienced offseason turmoil, but both teams still have national championship aspirations. One will pick up a huge resumé-builder in this Cowboys Stadium showdown.
No. 5 Boise State vs. No. 19 Georgia (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN): The majority of the preseason projections have Boise State landing in New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but the Broncos need to get past the Bulldogs, who hope to climb back into the upper echelons of college football this year.
USF at No. 16 Notre Dame (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., NBC): Second-year head coach Brian Kelly has the Fighting Irish poised for a return to greatness, but that train could be derailed by an under-rated South Florida team - under the guidance of none-other-than Skip Holtz, son of former Notre Dame mentor Lou.
BUS TRIP BATTLES
No. 20 Mississippi State at Memphis (Thursday, 7 p.m.): Mississippi State is just adjusting to owning a national ranking, therefore it scheduled a road game (172-mile trip) to open the season (one of two ranked teams playing on the road to open the year). The Bulldogs quietly won nine games last year and have been listed as an SEC West darkhorse; while Memphis won just one game last year.
No. 14 TCU at Baylor (Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN): TCU rolled over the Bears 45-10 at home last year, but now the Frogs travel 83 miles to face Baylor and star quarterback Robert Griffin, III.
Tulsa at No. 1 Oklahoma (Saturday, 7 p.m., FX): The Sooners are the popular preseason pick for the BCS Championship game - imagine if in-state rival Tulsa and gunslinger quarterback G.J. Kinne made the 133-mile drive and upended the favorites in week one.
San Jose State at No. 7 Stanford (Saturday, 4 p.m.): The Spartans will take a 17-mile drive to face-off against heavily-favored Stanford and star quarterback Andrew Luck, who had been projected as the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft before he opted to return to school.
Florida Atlantic at No. 22 Florida (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPNU): The final year for legendary head coach Howard Schnellenberger (200 games as a collegiate head coach) will kick off with a 300-mile trip to Gainesville to face the Gators and coach Will Muschamp (zero games as a collegiate head coach). Coaching experience likely will not be a factor as Florida looks to rise back into national prominence.
Marshall at No. 24 West Virginia (Sunday, 2:30 p.m., ESPN): The favorites in the Big East for 2011, West Virginia will open the season against state rival Marshall, which treks 207 miles in hopes of pulling off an upset after taking the Mountaineers to overtime last year.
SMU at No. 8 Texas A&M (Sunday, 6:30 p.m.): Some have pegged the Mustangs as a possible BCS buster; unfortunately for them, they travel 180 miles to face a team some have picked as a national championship contender. The Aggies will use Manning Award Watch Lister Ryan Tannehill to look to outgun SMU and its own Watch Lister, Kyle Padron.
UNLV at No. 11 Wisconsin (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN): Wisconsin's quarterback questions should have good answers as former N.C. State star Russell Wilson (pictured above at N.C. State last year) transferred to Madison and quickly earned not just a starting job, but also a team captain position.
Akron at No. 18 Ohio State (Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPN): At one time, it was thought the Buckeyes would just need someone to hold the quarterback position until Terrelle Pryor completed a suspension, but now that Pryor has gone to the NFL, this game will be the start of a new QB era in Columbus.
Miami (Ohio) at No. 21 Missouri (Saturday, 11 a.m.): After losing star quarterback Blaine Gabbert to the NFL (drafted No. 10 by the Jaguars), the Tigers hope a stout defense and sophomore James Franklin, a wildcat specialist last year, can allow them to contend in the 10-team (for now) Big 12.
Utah State at No. 23 Auburn (Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPN2): For the first time in 20 years, the defending national champion isn't in the preseason Top-10. Not only that, it's the first time in history (back to 1936) that the defending SEC Champ was not in the preseason Top-10. Much of that drop is due to the departure of Heisman Trophy and Manning Award winner Cameron Newton.
Kent State at No. 2 Alabama (Saturday, 11:20 a.m., ESPN GamePlan): Despite graduating quarterback Greg McElroy, the Crimson Tide is loaded on defense and returns Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson, making them a favorite for the BCS title game in NOLA.
VOTE FOR MANNING STARS
College football fans, be sure to "like" the official Allstate Sugar Bowl Facebook page (linked above) and check back each week to vote for the Manning Award Star of the Week. The top quarterback performances from each week will be posted giving you the chance to vote for what you think was the best effort each week of the college football season.
MORE FBS vs. FBS
Louisiana-Monroe at No. 6 Florida State (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., ESPNU): The Seminoles are the favorite in the ACC as head coach Jimbo Fisher looks to lift them back into the upper echelons enjoyed by Bobby Bowden at the turn of the century.
Minnesota at No. 25 USC (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., ABC or ESPN2): The Trojans enter their second season ineligible for postseason play, but they were still picked as the favorites in the Pac-12 South Division and quarterback Matt Barkley is expected to be a top Heisman and Manning Award contender.
Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 9 Oklahoma State (Saturday, 6 p.m.): The Ragin' Cajuns will have their hands full against the high-powered Cowboy offense which features strong-armed quarterback Brandon Weeden and sensational receiver Justin Blackmon. East Carolina at No. 12 South Carolina (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN GamePlan): The Pirates have a talented quarterback in Manning Watch Lister Dominique Davis, but Steve Spurrier has the most talent he has ever had in Columbia, led by star sophomore Marcus Lattimore and man-child defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, tabbed by many as the top freshman in the country.
FBS vs. FCS
Youngstown State at No. 17 Michigan State (Friday, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network): The Spartans will be more fired up to play Jim Tressel's other former team (Ohio State on Oct. 1), but expect strong leadership from quarterback Kirk Cousins, who delivered one of the more memorable speeches of the 2011 offseason.
Appalachian State at No. 13 Virginia Tech (Saturday, 11:30 a.m., ESPN GamePlan): Virginia Tech may be breaking in the next Cam Newton with highly-touted sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas, a 6-6, 254-pound speedster. However, the Hokies are aware of the risk of letdowns against FCS teams - they lost to James Madison, 21-16, last year.
Chattanooga at No. 10 Nebraska (Saturday, 2:30 p.m.): The Cornhuskers debut in the Big Ten this season, and are expected to challenge for the league title, but their opener isn't expected to be much of a challenge. Missouri State at No. 15 Arkansas (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN GamePlan): The Razorbacks, with what is expected to be a much-improved defense, could contend for the title in the ridiculously powerful SEC West (five of six teams ranked), even with Tyler Wilson debuting as their starting quarterback.