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Saunders: College Football Whiffs on Opening Week Opportunity



College football is back! 

There’s the pageantry, the bands, the cheerleaders, tailgating, and … about seven competitive high-level football games over the first two weekends. 

Its been obvious for quite some time that the College Football Playoff committee cares a lot more about how many games teams win than who they beat, and that, combined with the pervasive greed that dictates nearly every decision in college athletics means that in that final week of August and the first week of September, when there’s no meaningful NFL games being played, college football is giving us its absolute worst.

Here’s the rundown of the best game at every time slot so far this season:

Sat, Aug 25

5:30 p.m. Duquesne at UMass. No disrespect to the Dukes, but this doesn’t move the needle in any meaningful way, so much so that it was barely televised.

7:30 p.m. Hawaii at Colorado State. Assuming you bailed on the Dukes getting blown out in Amherst, you could tune in to what was a fun matchup between a bottom-tier and a middle-tier Mountain West teams. Not bad, especially for the football-starved.

10:00 p.m. Wyoming at New Mexico State. The options this late at night will always be limited, and Wyoming has been fun the last few years, but if I’m honest, I’d prefer the extra couple of hours of sleep.

Thurs., Aug. 30

7 p.m. UCF at UConn. UCF coming off an undefeated season where they claimed a national championship, and trying to keep its streak in the always heated Civil ConFLiCT? OK, I’ll bite. Better than Purdue and Northwestern, which is probably the most boring possible matchup of the Power 5 conference that most frequently tries to lull its viewers to sleep.

10 p.m. UC Davis at San Jose State. You’ll get one game and you’ll like it. At least there was an FCS upset to spice this one up a bit.

Fri., Aug 31

6 p.m. Army at Duke. The cadets bring an inspired crowd everywhere they go, Army plays a fun offense and Duke is legitimately one of the better ACC Coastal teams this year. More inspiring than Syracuse at WMU and Utah State at Michigan State, even though the latter turned out to be a closer game.

9:30 p.m. Colorado at Colorado State. The Rams again? Hey, it’s an in-state rivalry, so at least someone, somewhere probably cares about this game, right? Right?

Sat., Sept 1

Noon, Texas vs Maryland. There was plenty of intrigue around the Terps following the death of lineman Jordan McNair and the suspension of coach D.J. Durkin. Texas, the only team the media consistently overrates more than Notre Dame, presented a challenging and interesting opponent.

3:30 p.m., Washington vs. Auburn. Salute the Huskies, who came all the way east to play a game against a top opponent. The domed NFL venue sucked some life out of this one. How much better would it have been at Jordan-Hare? But it’s still tough to quibble about top teams playing.

7:30 p.m., Michigan at Notre Dame. Jim Harbaugh is quirky enough to keep Michigan interesting even when they’re not particularly good and any chance to show off Notre Dame’s campus is a good one. A traditionalist’s favorite.

10:45 p.m., BYU at Arizona. Despite firing Rich Rodriguez, Arizona was a dangerous team last season and well, BYU is kind of a power-conference team. Best of a bad bunch.

Sun., Sept. 2

3:30 p.m., North Carolina A&T at East Carolina. Somehow, there was no noon game and this was the only afternoon game on the last Sunday without NFL football. A&T rescued everything with an upset, but what a waste.

7:30 p.m., Miami vs LSU. The Canes got clocked, but this was an interesting matchup of upper-tier SEC and ACC teams that don’t see each other that often. Unfortunately, once the Tigers pulled away, there was nothing else to flip to, as this was the only game on.

Mon, Sept. 3

Perhaps unknown to the schedule-makers, the first Monday in September is a holiday that most people have off work. Everybody’s at home. Or at a party. Or barbecuing. But those are activities that practically demand a football game on in the background. Sorry, folks. None available until the sun had set.

8 p.m. Virginia Tech at FSU. Props to the Hokies for taking a road game and winning it. It wasn’t crisply played, but the matchup of Top-25 teams, the return of Deondre Francois made this a game worth watching.

That’s it. That’s the list. While college football was the only game in town, if you planning this out carefully, you could have seen 14 games over the first two weeks. 

Of those 14, only five (six if you count BYU) would have been between power-conference opponents. Three had FCS teams.

That’s not college football’s best, and it needs to change. Labor Day weekend could be a rousing kickoff to the college football season with big game after big game after big game and national championship implications from the very start.

Instead, there it was full of also-rans, sub-par matchups and teams that no one wants to see, and a few outright empty time slots.

College football is popular, but its popularity is not incontrovertible. CBS, ABC, NBC and ESPN all saw viewership declines from 2016 to 2017. The powers that be need to step up and a find a better way for the sport to put its best foot forward on the opening weekend.

Might Pitt be at the forefront of that change? Pat Narduzzi hinted as his Monday press conference that Pitt might not always schedule an FCS team the first week and that there may be ACC vs. ACC games placed on the schedule there. In 2022, the Panthers will start their season against West Virginia in the resumption of the Backyard Brawl. Now that’s appointment television.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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