If you live in Florida and you like college football, Saturday is a dream come true for you. Big matchups, rivalry games, controversy... there's even a fantastic matchup on the undercard. In fact, USF is playing by far the least compelling game of the week, which hasn't happened in years. Here's why you should sit down in front of your TV around 3:30 this Saturday afternoon and not get up until nearly midnight, when the couch has conformed into the shape of your prone, corpulent body.
TENNESSEE AT #16 FLORIDA -- 3:30pm
Even if you have no plans to watch this game, you should at least have the TV on for a couple of minutes at the start, because it's the first CBS game of the season, and you know what that means.
The Florida-Tennessee rivalry is so good because it was built on mutual success. Even though the game is nearly always in the middle of September, there were so many years along the line where the winner was practically assured a spot in the SEC championship game. Then there was Steve Spurrier with his constant tweaking of Tennessee and his casual disdain for their team, which spread to the fan base. Witness one of my favorite titles for a YouTube video ever, describing a pick-six by the Gators in the 1997 game -- "P. Manning completes 88 yard TD pass to T. George." (In case you didn't get the hint, the description of the video reads, "Peyton Manning completes a beautiful 88 yard TD pass to Tony George.")
While the Gators have beaten the Vols six years in a row and this matchup doesn't have quite the same luster as it used to, this should still be a fun game to watch. Florida whipped up on FAU and UAB, but now they have their first potential test. Tyler Bray could be the best Tennessee quarterback since Peyton Manning (note: this would not take very much), but there's still a difference between slinging it at home against Cincinnati, and taking it on the road to Gainesville. It's still worth watching, even if it doesn't end up meaning very much in November. Didn't the Notre Dame-Michigan game teach us that even games between merely half-decent teams can still be insanely entertaining?
UCF AT FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL -- 6:00pm
Here's the thing. A lot of my fellow USF fans are conditioned to hate both these teams to the point where a matchup between the two would cause them to spend the whole night rooting for a comet to hit the stadium. Instead, I really want to see this game. One of the guys on our blog is openly debating whether or not he should skip our own game and make a four-hour drive to Miami to be in attendance. It's that intriguing. (And apparently it's only on ESPN 3, which means you can watch it hours later if you're invested in any of the other games on the list.)
Both teams are coming off pretty impressive wins. FIU went on the road and beat Louisville for their first-ever win against a BCS conference opponent. They earned it, too. The Golden Panthers led the whole game, bottled up the Cardinals' running game (even if Louisville OC Mike Sanford turned in a total botch job) and T.Y. Hilton had an extra gear that no one on Louisville could match. It was stunning and also not stunning to watch. FIU had been close to winning a game like this for several years, and you knew it was going to happen eventually. Meanwhile, the Knights gashed Boston College 30-3. BC is going to be absolutely terrible this year, but UCF did what you're supposed to do to a terrible team if you think you're good. They got a super-efficient game from Jeff Godfrey and held the Eagles to only 142 yards of offense and just 1-for-12 on third down conversions.
What most interests me about this game is that although the two teams aren't all that far apart in talent and potential, it could be the first zero-upside road game UCF has ever played. The Knights are heading out on the road to face an in-state opponent who has absolutely nothing to lose. FIU's already on a high from beating Louisville, and they're going to treat this like it's a BCS game or something. If you're a fan of the team that's supposed to win, there is no more exasperating game to watch. There's a good chance your team comes out totally flat, while the other team and their fans are all impossibly fired up. All you want is to see your team shut up the home crowd and get a huge lead so you don't have to worry anymore. USF's played at least four of these games in the recent past. Although they won every time, they never got that huge lead in any of those games. They were all still in doubt in the last few minutes. Not good times.
FLORIDA A&M AT #20 USF -- 7:00pm
Come for the football! Stay for the Marching 100! Leave immediately after halftime! Because that's what everyone will do anyway. The Bulls should cruise in this one.
#17 OHIO STATE AT MIAMI -- 7:30pm
The jokes pretty much write themselves for this game (the "IneligiBowl" is my personal favorite). The two teams most beleaguered by NCAA activity in the off-season, both of whom are still quite talented and are both led by first-year coaches who may or may not have total control of their teams, all topped off by the recent history of these two teams against each other in big games. Ohio State barely held off Toledo last Saturday to preserve their 90-something-year winning streak against in-state schools, and although you could make the argument that the Buckeyes were holding back for this game... it's still Toledo. Miami hasn't played since Labor Day, when they lost to Maryland in what looked like a classic Edsall-ing. The Terrapins scored two defensive touchdowns and kicked four field goals in a 32-24 win, but the Hurricanes also gave up nearly 500 yards of offense to RANDY EDSALL AND GARY CROWTON. THIS IS SO INCONCEIVABLE THAT I HAD TO GO ALL CAPS. On the other hand, Miami had five defensive starters suspended against Maryland, three of whom return this week. So it's unclear whether the Hurricanes really do have problems or not, and it's only one game anyway.
This is a pretty even game on paper, but the train wreck potential is still high if you believe either one of these two teams are teetering on the edge of a mini-spiral.
#1 OKLAHOMA AT #5 FLORIDA STATE -- 8:00pm
Do you really need me to tell you to watch this game? The list of unanswered questions leading up to this game is as long as it is interesting. Does Oklahoma deserve their #1 ranking? Is this the moment when the Seminoles assert themselves as a national power again? Has Florida State figured out a way to slow down Landry Jones and Oklahoma's drag-race offensive tempo? How will the two teams react to their first real tests of the season? Is Big Game Bob going to make another ill-timed appearance? Will Jimbo Fisher kick a 52-yard field goal while trailing 44-7 in the fourth quarter, like he did in last year's Sooner blowout?
You'd be watching this game even if it wasn't happening in Florida. But the fact that it is makes it the cherry on top of a terrific day of college football in the Sunshine State.