Thursday's should be fun

Thursday's should be fun

Thursday's should be fun
By Christian Alexander

The 4th of July has a lot of meaning to Americans and in that regard I'm no different from anyone else. That said, I must confess that after the fireworks, hot-dogs, burgers and beers one of first things I think of on the 4th is just how close we are to another season of college football. I know, not very politically correct but it's the truth.

Of course my favorite night for college football is Thursday and so even though we're not halfway through July, I figured it certainly wasn't too early to take a peek at the Thursday night schedule for 2008.

Best Game

Oct. 23 Auburn at West Virginia: This one really stood out to me as the best matchup on Thursday night. Auburn enters the season with a ton of questions as the Tigers will be breaking in a new QB, two new coordinators and trying to make up for the loss of four NFL draft picks from the defensive side of the ball. West Virginia again has high hopes and again QB Patrick White will be a huge part of that. This time however the Heisman Trophy candidate will have to do it without RB Steve Slaton. That loss might be manageable with RB Noel Devine - a Slaton clone if there could be one - to run the ball behind a stacked offensive line. The loss of Coach Rich Rodriguez? That loss might prove much harder to recover from. SEC teams are used to playing in front of packed houses and hostile crowds on the road but even Auburn might get rattled in this one.

Runner-up: Oct. 2 Pittsburgh at South Florida. By the time this one rolls around we should have a good idea if the Bulls have a shot at 10 wins. Also considered: Nov. 6 Maryland at Virginia Tech. By November the Hokies should be looking to wrap up the Coastal division with their sights set on Clemson in the ACC Championship.

Closest Game

Sept. 11 North Carolina at Rutgers: Two very evenly matched programs here heading in opposite directions. Considering the incredible job that Greg Schiano has done at Rutgers, fans of the Scarlet Knights shouldn't get upset if the team takes a small step back this season. The New Jersey program is certainly not yet at the level where it can automatically reload top talent every year and so you have to figure that losing studs like RB Ray Rice will take its toll. Still, I expect QB Mike Teel and company will be fun to watch. The Tar Heels have been at the other end of the college football spectrum in recent years but with Butch Davis and an incredible athletic brand to recruit behind, I expect this program to make big strides. With 19 total returning starters, this game will be a great early measuring stick for UNC. Remember, the Heels had six losses by a touchdown or less in 2007, finishing at 4-8. I expect seven wins from the boys from Chapel Hill this year and this could be one of them.

Runner-up: Dec. 4 Louisville at Rutgers. Last game of the regular season for both programs and the way things are shaping up in the Big East this year the winner of this game could go bowling and the loser is probably done for 2008.

Most Revealing Game

Sept. 18 West Virginia at Colorado: We all know West Virginia will be loaded so this will be a great measuring stick for the Buffaloes. Colorado hit rock bottom in 2006, finishing 2-10. Coach Dan Hawkins, who won a ton of games at Boise State, is slowly turning this program around. Of course, the key to any rebuilding project is recruiting and Hawkins is starting to land some blue chippers. RB Darrell Scott arrives as one of the most coveted freshmen in the nation and should see immediate playing time. Boulder has seen its fair share of upsets over the years. A shocker here would cement Colorado's return to national prominence.

Best Rivalry Game

Nov. 27 Texas A&M at Texas: Maybe I shouldn't count this as a Thursday night game since it will likely be played during the day. Regardless, this matchup is always one of the best to watch. The Aggies have won the past two and you can bet that doesn't sit well with the folks in Austin. However, while A&M only returns five starters on each side of the ball, it does have some key pieces back on offense, and has a good shot to make it three in a row against their rival.

Best Chance for an upset

Sept. 25 USC at Oregon State: Strangely enough, this will only be the Trojans third game of the season. By this point most teams will have played twice as many games. Everyone should remember the last time USC traveled to Corvallis as the Beavers stunned the Trojans 33-31, ending their 27 game Pac-10 winning streak. It will take some more magic for another upset here but if inexperienced QB Mark Sanchez isn't ready in what will surely be an extremely hostile setting, this one could get interesting.

Runner-up: Nov. 13 Virginia Tech at Miami. The Hokies will be trying to wrap up their division while the Canes want to prove they are relevant again. Miami is no longer playing in the Orange Bowl so we'll have to wait and see if Dolphins Stadium - their new home - can create the incredible home-field advantage this program has thrived on for years.

Best Team playing on Thursday night

Southern Cal: USC is coming off an 11-2 season and has six straight top-four finishes, BCS bowls and Pac-10 titles. This team actually lost 10 players in the NFL draft last year but projects to be better in 2008. That is the definition of reloading.

Worst Team playing on Thursday night

Vanderbilt: You gotta tip your hat to Bobby Johnson and the job he has done at Vandy. This team is always outgunned in the SEC and yet routinely gives the big boys fits, occasionally pulling off a shocker. Unfortunately this season is sizing up to be a rough one for the Commodores. On the bright side, they have a defense to keep them competitive. However, the entire offensive line is gone, as is their QB - did I mention that all-time SEC receptions leader Earl Bennett left after his junior year for the NFL? Points will be hard to come by for a Vandy team that was 5-7 in 2007. 2008 will be worse as I have them winning three games - while going 0 for 8 in the conference.

Worst Game

Nov. 20 Miami at Georgia Tech: Few teams have successful seasons while in the midst of major overhaul to their system. With Paul Johnson now at the helm, the Yellow Jackets figure to struggle mightily this season as they adapt to the run-oriented offense the coach brought from Navy. Tech will have seven new starters on both offense and defense, including at quarterback, where inexperienced sophomore Josh Nesbitt will get the nod. Meanwhile, the Canes have a bad habit of playing down to their opponent's level, especially in conference and especially on the road. What's that spell? Bad game.

Biggest blowout

Aug. 28 NC State at South Carolina: I was tempted to pick on Vandy again here since they figure to get drilled against the Gamecocks on Sept. 4 but I thought maybe, just maybe that Commodores defense can keep it respectable at home. Little chance of that happening when the Wolfpack pay a visit to Columbia. I don't doubt that Tom O'Brien will slowly but surely build a winner at NC State but Spurrier and company should have their way with the visitors in this one.

Best Month

October: Not a bad one in this bunch!

Oct. 2 Pittsburgh at South Florida: Sorry Gators fans, Bulls QB Matt Grothe is the most fun signal caller to watch in the state of Florida.
Oct. 9 Clemson at Wake Forest: If Clemson beats Alabama on August 30 they will coast to 5-0 entering this game. The scary part for the Tigers is this will be their first road game of the year. Could be a trap.
Oct. 16 Florida State at NC State: Chuck Amato seemed to have the secret to beating the Noles when they visited Raleigh. But he is gone now - can Tom O'Brien work the same magic?
Oct. 23 Auburn at West Virginia: Great matchup of heavyweights. While the Mountaineers will likely be undefeated Auburn will have to beat LSU and Tennessee, among others, to make it this far unscathed. Either way, this should be an awesome game to watch.
Oct. 30 South Florida at Cincinnati: The Bearcats bagged 10 wins in 2007 and while that was no fluke it will be tough to replicate this season. This game will begin a brutal stretch for Cincy as after the Bulls they go to West Virginia, Louisville and then face Pittsburgh at home.

On the deuce....

Aug. 28 Oregon State at Stanford: I tried to think of a way to work in a mention of this game but the only remarkable thing I noticed about it was it was on ESPN2. I always get accused of being anti-west coast when it comes to my college football preferences - and there is probably some truth to that - but honestly I don't think it will hurt to miss this one.

Complete 2008 Thursday Night College Football Schedule

Thu., Aug. 28 NC State at South Carolina 8 p.m. ESPN
Thu., Aug. 28 Oregon State at Stanford 9 p.m. ESPN2
Thu., Sept. 4 South Carolina at Vanderbilt 8:30 p.m. ESPN
Thu., Sept. 11 North Carolina at Rutgers TBD ESPN
Thu., Sept. 18 West Virginia at Colorado 8:30 p.m. ESPN
Thu., Sept. 25 USC at Oregon State 9 p.m. ESPN
Thu., Oct. 2 Pittsburgh at South Florida TBD ESPN
Thu., Oct. 9 Clemson at Wake Forest TBD ESPN
Thu., Oct. 16 Florida State at NC State TBD ESPN
Thu., Oct. 23 Auburn at West Virginia TBD ESPN
Thu., Oct. 30 South Florida at Cincinnati TBD ESPN
Thu., Nov. 6 Maryland at Virginia Tech TBD ESPN
Thu., Nov. 13 Virginia Tech at Miami TBD ESPN
Thu., Nov. 20 Miami at Georgia Tech TBD ESPN
Thu., Nov. 27 Texas A&M at Texas 8 p.m. ESPN
Thu., Dec. 4 Louisville at Rutgers TBD ESPN

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