ESPN analysts Bob Davie and Rece Davis take a look at some of the most intriguing games on the 2004 ESPN/ESPN2 television schedule:
USC vs. Virginia Tech, Aug. 28: The key to the 2004 season's first game is how the Trojans handle the success of last year versus how the Hokies handle the disappointment of last season. Losses in its last three games in 2003 should have Virginia Tech highly motivated to rebound. USC is a favorite to win a second straight national title, but the first game of the season is always scary -- particularly against an opponent that excels in special teams.
Texas at Arkansas, Sept. 11: The Horns and Hogs used to meet annually when they were Southwest Conference rivals. In fact, just the mention of the teams makes me think back to the great matchups between Darrell Royals' Texas squads and Frank Broyles' Arkansas teams. Everyone knows how important the Oklahoma game (Oct. 11 on ABC) is to Mack Brown and Texas, but after the way the Hogs beat the Horns in Austin last year, this non-conference game will be almost as important. The teams, tradition and rivalry should add up to an unbelievable atmosphere in Fayetteville.
Penn State at Wisconsin, Sept. 25: Both the Nittany Lions and Badgers should be 3-0 when they open their Big Ten conference season in Madison, Wis. It's an opportunity for Penn State to grab an important early win and gain confidence to help put the disappointing 2003 campaign behind them. On the other hand, Wisconsin is as talented as any team in the Big Ten and should compete for the conference title. It will be a wild scene on a Saturday night in Camp Randall Stadium.
Navy at Air Force, Sept. 30: The Midshipmen and Falcons will wage a battle of wishbone offenses in a game that will feature as much pageantry and intensity as any in college football. In fact, it will be like a bowl game with the winner taking home the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy. Navy, which upset Air Force in 2003, may have been the most improved team in all of college football last season.
TCU at Louisville, Nov. 10: The Horned Frogs and Cardinals will meet in a Wednesday night matchup between the two best teams in Conference USA. TCU outlasted Louisville in a 31-28 thriller last year. The 2004 contest should be just as exciting and will probably decide the C-USA championship. Could there be a better way to spend a Wednesday evening?
USC vs. Va. Tech, Aug. 28: I look forward to seeing the USC offense back on the field, particularly quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush. The Trojans are the best returning team in the country and with the problems Virginia Tech had on defense last year this could be a chance for USC to put up big numbers. How will the Hokies answer this challenge to open their first season as members of the ACC? This will be a good measuring stick for a Tech team that has struggled against top-tier competition in recent seasons.
Texas A&M at Utah, Sept. 2: The offense Urban Meyer runs at Utah is fun to watch and the Utes also play good defense, making them worthy of the preseason hype they are getting. They should win the Mountain West Conference this season. Texas A&M is an interesting case because it seemed the team never really bought into the philosophies of head coach Dennis Franchione, making it important for the Aggies to get off to a good start against a team that easily could have beaten them in College Station last season.
Oregon State at LSU, Sept. 4: Watch the quarterbacks. The only question on LSU's team right now is the QB position with Marcus Randall stepping in for the departed Matt Mauck, and if that question is answered positively starting against Oregon State then LSU will be a national title contender. As for the Beavers, senior Derek Anderson has plenty of talent but is prone to throwing untimely interceptions. Against a Nick Saban defense that has had plenty of time to prepare Anderson could be in trouble. An Oregon State victory would be a mammoth upset.
Notre Dame at BYU, Sept. 4: This is an important year for Notre Dame. Brady Quinn is an emerging star at quarterback and most people want to know if the Irish personnel have found some sort of comfort level with Tyrone Willingham's West Coast offense. I expect that to be the case for the most part. Things have spiraled out of control a little bit at BYU with two straight losing seasons since the Cougars went 12-2 in 2001. A win here would be a nice step on the road back.
Georgia at South Carolina, Sept. 11: The Bulldogs are getting a lot of preseason hype as a possible No. 1 team, but I'm not as sold on the Bulldogs as some because quarterback David Greene spent a lot of time on his back last season. The line returns intact but was not impressive as a group at all last year. South Carolina is a team that could be a sleeper in the SEC with coach Lou Holtz taking over the offense led by experienced quarterback Dondrial Pinkins and the defense having a bit of a different look. The Gamecocks won't win the league or even their division, but they could spring some surprises on people.
Texas at Arkansas, Sept. 11: A revenge game for the Texas after the Longhorns were upset by Arkansas at home last season. Texas once again has national championship talent but the question, as always, is whether they have the toughness to win the big games on the schedule. Cedric Benson has been a very good running back for three years at Texas but I want to see if giving up minor-league baseball has allowed him to dedicate himself fully to becoming an All-Everything kind of player. The Razorbacks' roster was gutted in the offseason but Matt Jones is perhaps the most entertaining all-around quarterback in the country with his ability to improvise.