Is there anything better than a hardcore road trip to watch an exciting game of college football? Of course not. But what if we could put together the -ultimate- road trip for 2006? I've attempted to do that today. The schedule is grueling, and some very tough choices have to be made, but I think you'll agree that the trip I've put together would be, well, a dream. So let's do it.
Monday, September 4, 2006: Florida State at Miami (Miami, Florida)
To start the party, we travel to Miami for one of the best rivalries around, Florida State-Miami. It's hard to predict how these teams are going to fare this year, but they're both Top 15 teams, without a doubt. Kyle Wright should only improve from his inconsistent, but somewhat promising, 2005 campaign, though the Hurricanes have questions on the offensive line with Eric Winston's departure. Equally interesting will be the face of the team under the sweeping coaching changes. Florida State is the more interesting title contender, returning Drew Weatherford (who came on strong late in the year), RB Lorenzo Booker, and a gaggle of talented receivers. If the defense can clamp down, the ACC title should be theirs.
Saturday, September 9, 2006: Ohio State at Texas (Austin, Texas)
I don't think I need to say much about this game, do I? An absolute -monster- of a game. Both teams will be in the Top 5, the game will be under the lights in primetime on national television, and I fully expect it to be the rowdiest home game in DKR history. Yep, you heard that right. The winner of this game probably moves to #1 in the polls.
Saturday, September 16, 2006: Michigan at Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana)
A special rivalry loaded with tradition, and a chance for both teams to make a statement about their chances to contend for the title in 2006. Notre Dame will be returning Brady Quinn (Heisman frontrunner?), RB Darius Walker, and WR Jeff Smartypants on offense, with Weis calling the shots. The big question, of course, is on defense, where the Irish were pitiful last year. Which means, of course, that Michigan's Chad Henne will have to take a leap forward this year. Running back Mike Hart has the talent, but he needs Henne to play better to open up more for the run game. If Henne and Avant can make the leap, Michigan can contend. If not, it may be more disappointment for the Maize and Blue.
Saturday, September 23, 2006: Iowa State at Texas (Austin, Texas)
I probably missed a great game this Saturday, but my perusal through all the top teams' schedules didn't yield much of great interest. Thus, a weekend in Austin to see my Horns. Iowa State's in trouble.
Saturday, September 30, 2006: Alabama at Florida (Gainesville, Florida)
DeMeco Ryans and Brodie Croyle are gone, which means the Tide may be headed for a dropoff. Florida, meanwhile, is loaded up for a run at the national title. Is this Chris Leak's year to break through? Urban Myer's second year at the helm will be uber-super-duper-scrutinized. Don't forget, though, that Year II at Bowling Green and Utah were the big leaps forward when Myer was there, so this could be the year for the Gators. If things do pan out well for Florida on the football field, Texas may get bumped from the top of the Major Sports Pantheon.
Saturday, October 7, 2006: Texas vs Oklahoma (Dallas, Texas)
With apologies to the huge LSU-Florida game, there's no way I can miss this one. If the Horns get by Ohio State, they could find themselves ranked #1, while OU -should- enter this game undefeated and in the Top 5 as well. OU will try to win behind the strength of a healthy Adrian Peterson and a year of experience for Rhett Bomar. Texas, meanwhile, will be fielding a quarterback with no Red River Rivalry experience. Texas' offense won't be as good as last year, but the defense may be even better. Just a huge game.
Saturday, October 14, 2006: Florida at Auburn (Auburn, Alabama)
Kenny Irons and Brandon Cox return to lead what should be an improved Auburn offense, while the defense will once again be strong. This is the biggest game for Auburn, along with Alabama. If they hold serve at home this Saturday against Florida, an SEC title and national title berth is within reach. The Gators, meanwhile, play the third of a brutal four game stretch (Bama-LSU-Auburn-Georgia). If they do manage to win all four, look out: they have to be considered favorites to make the BCS title game.
Saturday, October 21, 2006: Iowa at Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
I wanted my road trip to include a visit to the Big House, and this was the Saturday that worked. If Ohio State is the favorite to win the Big 10, this is the battle between the next best teams. For Iowa, quarterback Drew Tate should improve upon his inconsistent 2005 campaign, while RB Albert Young is an underrated runner. Still, they lost a lot of talent on defense, so winning on the road against Michigan seems like a tall order. If Michigan drops this one at home... Brian may kill himself. Or, more likely, start officially calling for Lloyd Carr's head on a platter.
Saturday, October 28, 2006: Florida vs Georgia (Jacksonville, Florida)
You didn't think my ultimate road trip wouldn't include The Largest Cocktail Party In The World, did you? And a chance to meet all those great Georgia Bulldog bloggers? Please! By this point, the Dawgs should have their quarterback situation sorted out. Either JT3 will have led Georgia to a strong record and held the job, or if not, the Matt Stafford era will likely be underway. The key for the Dawgs, I'm convinced, isn't really quarterback, though. Much like Texas, if Georgia's going to win, it'll be behind a terrific backfield and a punishing defense. The quarterback simply needs to manage the game well, especially late in tight contests. Poor Florida has one of the top teams in the country, but as noted, this is a brutal schedule.
Thursday, November 2, 2006: West Virginia at Louisville (Louisville, Kentucky)
The West Virginia hype is in full force after their surprising win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl in January, so I wanted to catch them in action once. Their schedule isn't particularly tough, except for this one trip to Louisville, truly their season defining matchup. If the Mountaineers want a chance to play for the BCS title, they'll have to show up strong on this Thursday evening, nationally televised matchup with their one true tough opponent. Louisville won't be easy, either. QB Brian Brohm returns, along with the talented duo of RB Michael Bush and WR Mario Urrutia. Expect the Cardinal faithful to be revved up for this primetime matchup.
Saturday, November 4, 2006: LSU at Tennessee (Knoxville, Tennessee)
Could there be a matchup between two more unlikable coaches? Fulmer and Miles are just kind of gross. For the Vols, they certainly can't do any worse than they did in 2005. The big question will be if Eric Ainge is ready to step up and be the quarterback of an elite team. A new offensive coordinator is supposed to help, but questions certainly remain. Meanwhile, LSU returns after a terrific 2005 season that culminated in the waxing of Miami in January. JaMarcus Russell is no slouch at quarterback, but the defense has some big shoes to fill with the losses of DTs Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams.
Saturday, November 11, 2006: Texas Tech at Oklahoma (Hell, On Earth)
We'll stay in the Big 12 for this Saturday, taking a chance to catch the gimmicky offense of Texas Tech. They managed to get by OU (barely) in Lubbock last year, but a win in Norman this year seems out of reach. The biggest loss was versatile running back Taureen Henderson. I can't see their offense matching last year's, though they'll still manage to pass for their 400+ yards per game. Peterson will be too tough for Texas Tech.
Saturday, November 18, 2006: Michigan at Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio)
The magnitude of this game nationally will be determined by these teams' success or failure in earlier games, but even if both teams lose every contest prior to this one, the fans won't be any less jacked up. A rivalry that equals Texas-OU is a must-see, and I expect a tough battle. I'm not as sold on Ohio State as some, and I'm optimistically thinking that Henne is ready to take a leap forward, so I won't count out Michigan in this one just yet. This really is a defining season for Lloyd Carr.
Friday, November 24, 2006: Texas A&M at Texas (Austin, Texas)
Not only because I want to see Texas, but I want to be present when Dennis Franchione's death sentence is officially served. The Aggies are in deep trouble, again. The once proud program has become, well, pretty pitiful. Except I don't pity them.
Saturday, November 25, 2006: Notre Dame at USC (Los Angeles, California)
Notre Dame feigns themselves national title contenders. Is this realistic? They have several things going for them. First, they're Notre Dame. If they're good, they'll get hyped. Second, their schedule. Save the date with Michigan, the schedule isn't terribly imposing. If they do get by the Wolverines, this trip to USC will seal their national title game fate. Win and they're all but a lock to play in the title game. The Trojans, meanwhile, should have whatever early-season kinks that accompany a new quarterback worked out by this point. If Sanchez or Booty proves to be the real deal, they're going to be elite once more. If not, the Irish can win this.
Saturday, December 2, 2006: USC at UCLA (Pasadena, California)
Of course, I'll reserve the right to abandon this game for one of the conference championships, but since there's no way to know who's playing in those, I'll take the known commodity for now. If USC is "down" this season, Bruin fans will be salivating for a chance to knock out their rivals. If they lose once again, they'll be creeping into bitter, stepchild status.
Monday, January 8, 2007: Texas vs Notre Dame (Glendale, Arizona)
There: a prediction for you. The Horns and Irish matchup for the title game. If it happens, you'd better believe I'll be there. Again.