The wait is almost over, and the most wonderful time of the year is finally within sight. College football season kicks off Saturday with five FBS games on the schedule.
Stanford and Rice face off in Australia, which is kind of odd, and Hawaii will travel more than 5,000 miles to play in front of 5,000 people at UMass. However, those aren’t even close to the strangest matchups of the season.
Largely thanks to major conference schools scheduling home-and-homes with “Group of 5” schools instead of paying out a big guarantee for a one-off home date, there are a number of matchups that may inspire a few double-takes. The following list doesn’t necessarily represent bad games, they’re just… weird.
September 1: Boston College at Northern Illinois
Why is this weird? Partly for the visual of Steve Addazio re-enacting the “106 miles to Chicago” scene from Blues Brothers that I can’t get out of my head. Partly for a nominally major conference team agreeing to play a Friday night game in DeKalb against a team that has been a powerhouse in the MAC for close to a decade.
NIU racked up five straight seasons of 10 or more wins, including an Orange Bowl appearance in 2012. They slipped to eight wins in 2015 and just five last fall, but should be back in the MAC title race again this season. Meanwhile, Boston College continues to be as forgettable a team as there is in the country, going 7-6, 7-6, 3-9 and 7-6 in Addazio’s first four seasons.
Dudes, it’s 106 miles to DeKalb. We’ve got a roster full of three-stars, an offense coached by Scot Loeffler, it’s dark and we’re about to lose to a MAC team. Hit it.
September 2: Louisville vs. Purdue (in Indianapolis)
Why is this weird? In a week featuring neutral-site matchups like Alabama/FSU and Michigan/Florida, this version of one feels just a touch anti-climactic.
Jeff Brohm is going to do amazing things for the Boilermakers, but Purdue is probably still two seasons away from being a watchable team, and Lamar Jackson is going to put up ridiculous numbers in this game.
Purdue lost to Notre Dame in Indy back in 2014, which means that Purdue will soon have played at least two games at the site of the Big Ten Championship before Michigan ever does.
September 2: BYU at LSU
Why is this weird? Unlike most of the other games on this list, the weirdness here doesn’t come from the on-field matchup. This is here for what’s going to happen in the parking lots outside Death Valley.
LSU’s fanbase has a hard-earned reputation as one of the booziest in the nation, and things could get rollicking among BYU backers as well. After all, that week they’ll be celebrating the fifth anniversary of the LDS church announcing that it was okay to drink caffeinated soda.
The game could be interesting, but the juxtaposition of drunken Tigers and mortified Mormons during tailgates could make this the strangest evening all season.
September 8: Oklahoma State at South Alabama
Why is this weird? The school that lost* to Central Michigan at home last year travels to play the team that beat (no asterisk necessary) Mississippi State on the road. Like Itchy and Scratchy Land, this is a place where nothing could possib-lie go wrong.
South Alabama only finished 6-7 last year and may actually take a small step back this fall, so the Cowboys should make it out of Mobile without too much trouble, but scheduling a Friday night road date at the home of a fourth-tier bowl game is an odd choice.
September 9: Miami at Arkansas State
Why is this weird? What, is there something weird about leaving South Beach to play a game at a school where they once gave away a deer stand to lure fans into the stadium? Granted, that promotion wasn’t the last time that particular coach was in the news for offering unusual inducements to attract people.
Playing strange road games is Miami’s new trademark. They went to Appalachian State in 2016 and will play at Toledo in 2018 and at FIU in 2020.
September 9: Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech
Why is this weird? The Bulldogs vs. Bulldogs showdown features an SEC West team playing a road game just four hours from home in a stadium that holds just 28,000 people and yet somehow it isn’t even a sellout yet.
Mississippi State should know better than to schedule this kind of game away from the comforting clang of cowbells in Starkville. In 2008, they opened their season at Louisiana Tech, becoming the first major conference team to play in Ruston. MSU lost that game, 22-14.
“Yes,” you may say, “but that was a Sylvester Croom-coached Mississippi State team, so of course they lost.” That is true, but Louisiana Tech was coached at the time by Derek Dooley, who went on to only win four games against SEC teams in three seasons while actually coaching in the conference at Tennessee.
September 16: UCLA at Memphis
Why is this weird? Because this isn’t basketball.
After a 4-8 season in 2016, you could fry an egg on Jim Mora’s seat. He starts this year by hosting Texas A&M, and then travels cross-country to play a solid Memphis program on the road at 9:00 am Pacific time two weeks later. That is not a great formula for continued employment.
This year’s version of the Tigers are not up to the Justin Fuente/Paxton Lynch vintage, but they figure to be in the AAC title hunt. Meanwhile, UCLA is on its third offensive coordinator in three seasons, bringing in former Michigan OC Jedd Fisch to try to keep Josh Rosen in one piece for the entire fall.
September 16: Oregon at Wyoming
Why is this weird? This is a no-win situation for Oregon, who will be coming off a big-name showdown with Nebraska and then have to play a road game against a solid Mountain West team.
Ask most college football fans to name a Wyoming player and they’ll quickly come up with star quarterback Josh Allen. Ask them to name another and they’ll probably try to change the subject, but this is no one-man show. Wyoming finished 2016 with an 8-6 record and ranked a solid 61st in S&P+. They lose a lot of playmakers on offense, but should still put up points this fall.
Add in the fact that War Memorial Stadium sits at 7,215 feet above sea level, the highest altitude of any stadium in FBS, and that new Oregon coach Willie Taggert is just starting a fairly significant rebuilding process, and there are plenty of reasons for the Ducks to worry.
September 16: North Carolina at Old Dominion
Why is this weird? UNC isn’t exactly breaking into new recruiting territory by playing a game in Virginia – they play at UVA or Virginia Tech literally every year.
The Monarchs won 10 games last season and figure to be at least competent again this fall, so it’s not like the Tar Heels can choose to not show up and just get credit for the game anyway.
Add in the fact that ODU’s stadium holds just 20,000 people and it’s not exactly shaping up to be an amazing road trip for UNC football fans, if that is a thing that exists.
October 28: Missouri at UConn
Why is this weird? You mean besides the thought of an SEC team traveling to an area not exactly known as a recruiting hotbed in the middle of their conference schedule?
Or besides the idea of “UConn Head Coach Randy Edsall” making you feel like you’ve traveled back in time solely to watch unremarkable, boring football?
Really it’s because this is a rematch of one of the worst, most unwatchable games of the decade, a 9-6 Missouri win in 2015. That one featured a combined 67 rushes for just 162 yards and was decided on a botched fake field goal.
This year’s version is weird, but it can’t possibly be worse.