Opening day has arrived for college football, and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier’s heart is beating a little faster.
“I keep thinking: As long as I’ve been doing this, I should be calm and collected,” he said, “like it’s another day at the ballpark.”
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But it’s not just another day or weekend for Spurrier or for anybody else who follows college football. The Ol’ Ball Coach gets a jump on the season tonight when the Gamecocks play North Carolina.
At Texas A&M, the outlook for the season got a little brighter Wednesday. The school and the NCAA announced they could find no evidence that quarterback Johnny Manziel had accepted money for autographs, though he will serve a first-half suspension Saturday against Rice.
A potential disaster was averted for an Aggies program looking to build on last year, which resulted in an 11-2 record and a Heisman Trophy for Manziel. And fans could breathe easier, while the butterflies continued to flutter around the coaches.
“They’ve been sitting on my stomach,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. ”I don’t know if you ever get over that feeling.”
College football functions differently from other sports. Success for teams with national title aspirations is necessary from the outset, and potential obstacles to undefeated seasons are identified as soon as a schedule is made public.
After a couple of weeks of NFL play, the statistic about how few 0-2 teams make the playoffs begin making the rounds.
In college football, by comparison, 0-2 starts for promising programs engage message-board and social-media conversation about the next coach.
Perhaps that will change next season, when the season ends with the College Football Playoff.
This is the 16th and final year of the Bowl Championship Series system, which works to identify two teams for a championship game. On Wednesday, Bill Hancock, the BCS president who also will oversee the College Football Playoff, called the BCS “remarkably successful” and that history will view this chapter favorably.
Alabama certainly will. The Crimson Tide plays Saturday in one of the weekend’s blockbuster games — against Virginia Tech in Atlanta — in its opening bid to become the first college program to be recognized as a national champion through the BCS or major wire service polls over three straight years.
Tide coach Nick Saban sees plenty of upside to meeting a high-profile opponent in an opening game. It worked for Alabama last year when it rolled over Michigan in Arlington, Texas.
“When you play a good opponent in the first game, it really enhances the offseason program, spring practice, summer conditioning,” Saban said. “And playing at a neutral site, it’s almost like preparing for a good team on the road.”
Another neutral-site marquee game on Saturday matches LSU against TCU in Arlington.
“Expectations are strong, and you want to be a great team,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “Now, it’s time to do it with live bullets.”
The Tigers don’t unfasten the holster until the weekend. Tonight, 17 games involving major Division I programs kick off, and the Southeastern Conference is going to have an early leader because Mississippi visits Vanderbilt.
Eight more games are set for Friday, including Kansas State’s 7:30 p.m. opener against North Dakota State, with action seeping into Sunday and Monday, which has become traditional on college football’s opening weekend.
But the biggest game of the weekend from a poll-shakeup standpoint is Saturday, when fifth-ranked Georgia travels to No. 8 Clemson, in the first of two early games that could define the Bulldogs’ season. Next week, Georgia plays host to SEC rival South Carolina.
Win both, and Georgia could find itself in the driver’s seat in terms of national perception. Lose both, and check the message boards.