NCF Nation: 071210 hot

The hot game in the Big East

July, 12, 2010
It's the middle of summer, and it's hot outside. Like, blazing hot. But around here, our minds always drift to the fall. And that got us wondering: What are the hottest games in each conference this season?

Here's my pick for the Big East:

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, Dec. 4

When the Big East added new teams for the 2005 season, Pitt and Cincinnati tried to inject some interest in their matchup by starting a trophy game and calling it the River City Rivalry.

Well, it turns out that they didn't need an ugly trophy or a goofy name. They just needed to play some important, hotly contested games, and that's really been the case of late. Cincinnati won at home in 2008 to wrap up the Big East title, as its fans streamed onto the field while Pitt still had the ball and an outside chance of winning. Then last year, in a game that built to a fever pitch all season, the Bearcats beat the Panthers 45-44 at Heinz Field in a furious comeback with the league's BCS bid on the line.

Big East officials scheduled this year's meeting for the season's final weekend, no doubt hoping for some more drama. Both teams figure to be major contenders for the conference crown again, and Pitt wants revenge for the last two years. Whether the Panthers can get past the Bearcats now that Brian Kelly is gone will be one of the hottest subplots of the fall in the Big East.
Asked to identify the most heated game on the 2010 Big Ten slate, I was a bit stumped. Don't get me wrong, the Big Ten is loaded with long-standing rivalries as well as several great new ones. Ohio State-Michigan always will get the blood boiling on both sides. So will Wisconsin-Minnesota, Michigan-Michigan State, Purdue-Indiana, Penn State-Ohio State and, in recent years, Iowa-Penn State.

But we're looking for 2010 games that have a little something extra. Think Texas-Nebraska this fall at Memorial Stadium. There's bad blood there, especially after recent events. In Lincoln, they're already getting ready for the Longhorns.

Maybe the Big Ten is too damn civil these days, but the key figures in this league seem to like each other too much. We need a good coaching spat -- the Danny Hope-Rich Rodriguez exchange last season was entertaining, albeit not overly memorable -- or some trash talk between players. Could we get a coach running up the score on a rival, please? The SEC and Big 12 can't have all the fun.

One game this season certain to have some added fuel pairs Michigan and Michigan State on Oct. 9 at the Big(ger) House. The in-state rivalry always has some juice, but this year's matchup brings a little extra. Since Mike Hart's "little brother" comment after Michigan's 2007 win at Spartan Stadium, Michigan State has grown up a bit on the field.

The Spartans have won back-to-back games against Michigan for the first time since winning three straight from 1965 to 67. They claimed last year's contest in dramatic fashion, prevailing in overtime after squandering a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead in all too familiar fashion.

Suddenly, Michigan State is the team that has gone bowling in each of the last three seasons, while Michigan has spent back-to-back winters at home after making 33 consecutive bowl appearances. Spartans seniors like Greg Jones can finish their careers 3-1 against Michigan with a win this fall.

Like any in-state rivalry, Michigan-Michigan State affects the local recruiting scene. By any measure, Michigan State has upgraded its in-state recruiting efforts under Mark Dantonio, landing prospects like Edwin Baker, Larry Caper, William Gholston and Lawrence Thomas (2011 verbal). There's a perception held by some that the Spartans have surpassed Michigan in local recruiting, although Michigan has focused much of its efforts on other areas while still bringing in elite local prospects like William Campbell, Devin Gardner and Brennen Beyer (2011 verbal).

But to be considered the state's elite program, Michigan can't keep losing to the Spartans. Rodriguez needs to win this fall to keep his job, and this is the type of game that can build some much-needed goodwill from the Michigan brass. He doesn't want to be the first coach to drop consecutive home games to Michigan State since Bump Elliott in 1965 and 1967. Michigan's small senior class doesn't want to finish with a losing record against the Spartans.

Bottom line: there's plenty at stake Oct. 9. Regardless of the temperature, things will be hot inside the Big House. This game doesn't need trash talk or billboards, although I wouldn't be opposed to either.

Paging Mike Hart ...

Huskers-Horns' bad blood will boil

July, 12, 2010
The close finish, a disputed, but replaced second, and Bo Pelini's post-Big 12 Championship outburst would have already made this year's Nebraska-Texas game in Lincoln on Oct. 16 a nationwide must-see matchup.

Factor in Nebraska's exit from the Big 12 after this season, add athletic director Tom Osborne's verbal grenades lobbed in the direction of Austin, and the Big 12 Championship rematch has a strong case as the most heated game of any on the college football schedule for the upcoming season.

All the off-the-field shenanigans might not be in the players' minds when they take the field, but they'll affect the atmosphere inside Memorial Stadium thanks to Nebraska fans wishing they could fill the stands this afternoon in anticipation of a game still over three months away. The sting of a BCS bowl denial at the hands of the Longhorns also helps, and the university isn't shying away from the newly drawn bad blood either, releasing a video that further hyped the game, tagged with the slogan, "Wear Red. Be Loud. Beat Texas." The video is hosted on the website

"These past few months, thunderstorms weren't the only power building over the Great Plains," says the video's narrator.

A statement from Nebraska assistant athletic director Michael Stephens to read:

“ is an athletic department website produced in partnership with the Omaha World-Herald and UNL Communications. I think it is important to note that it is not a ‘Beat Texas’ site but rather a website that will be used to celebrate, thank and connect Husker fans across the world. In doing this we do hope to create some energy to help our team beat Texas but that certainly is not the sole focus. This will become much clearer when the full site goes live on August 7th.”

Colleague Pat Forde called the statement "an inevitable but ineffective backpedal toward pretend politeness" in his column on Nebraska-Texas as the Bad Blood matchup of 2010.

Bragging rights for decades could be on the line for this game, unless they meet again in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with even more on the line.

Nebraska's mild dislike for the Longhorns -- their conference companions for under two decades -- has grown exponentially in just the past year. Texas took the upper hand on the field last December, and Nebraska welcomed the Big Ten's advances this summer, becoming the 12th member of a more stable, more financially beneficial conference.

To quote a member of the Nebraska media recently on the matchup: "Let's just say Nebraska's reputation as having college football's most hospitable fans will be put to the test."

Forde tackles the rivalry in his most recent column:
That game continued a remarkable run of futility against Texas for the Huskers. They’re 4-9 against the Horns, just 1-8 since the two became conference mates in 1996. That includes a current five-game losing streak, the last three decided by a total of six points.

For a school long accustomed to crushing its peers, that’s tough to take. So, too, has been the migration of conference clout from Lincoln to Austin.

Nebraska was one of the kingpins of the Big Eight when the league took in a life raft of four schools from the crumbling, corrupt Southwest Conference. But it didn’t long for the Longhorns to flex their muscles, helping block schools from signing partial academic qualifiers and helping usher in a league playoff game. In recent years the disproportionate conference revenue-sharing plan has tilted even more in favor of Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 South, and away from Nebraska and its overmatched brethren in the North.

So, yeah, there are a few reasons why Nebraska didn’t mind hitting the eject button on any conference that included Texas. And a few reasons why the Corn People dearly want to beat Bevo on their way out the door to the Big Ten.

The boiling point in the SEC

July, 12, 2010
There might be hard-boiled eggs at the 2010 Egg Bowl. Blood will be boiling on both sidelines when Mississippi State travels to Ole Miss for the regular-season finale on Nov. 27, which figures to be the hottest SEC rivalry this coming season.

How important is the annual Egg Bowl to rivals Mississippi State and Ole Miss?

Well, the Rebels waited only one day to fire former coach Ed Orgeron -- after Ole Miss brass declared he would return the next season -- after his team lost to Mississippi State 17-14 in 2007. The Rebels blew a 14-0 lead in the fourth quarter, after Orgeron gambled on fourth down from midfield and failed.

A year later, the Bulldogs fired former coach Sly Croom a few days after his team was embarrassed 45-0 by the Rebels in 2008, the third-worst rout in the 106-year history of the in-state rivalry.

Last season, new Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen didn't wait long to throw gasoline on the Egg Bowl fire by repeatedly referring to Ole Miss as "that school up north." Then the Bulldogs wrecked the Rebels' chances of playing in a New Year's Day bowl game with a 41-27 upset in Starkville in the 2009 regular-season finale.

After leading the Bulldogs to their third win over Ole Miss in five seasons, Mullen proclaimed "this program is on the rise, maybe to the contrary of what some others are saying around the state."

Perhaps adding salt to the Rebels' wounds, MSU officials included the score of the '09 Egg Bowl in its "official" attendance of 34,127 fans at their April 17 spring game at Scott Field.

The teams play again at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford on Nov. 27.

SEC, 071210 hot

Pac-10 heat check

July, 12, 2010
USC can’t play its way into the Rose Bowl. The Trojans can’t go to any bowl game, BCS or not. But on Oct. 9, they can win at Stanford. That just may be enough.

On the scale of hot rivals, Stanford has become the Trojans' own private habanero. Last November, the Cardinal humiliated the Trojans, 55-21, in Los Angeles. Stanford’s 27-point fourth quarter not only blew open the game, but it also shredded whatever belief USC -- fans and players alike -- held that the Trojan dynasty might continue.

USC hadn’t lost a game in November since 2001, Pete Carroll’s first season.

USC hadn’t allowed 55 points since -- well, ever.

Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh had been a gnat buzzing around Carroll’s face since he took the job ahead of the 2007 season. That Cardinal team, a 41-point underdog to the Trojans, beat them, 24-23. Yes, that means the last USC team to win a home game against Stanford featured Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. When Carroll left in January for the Seattle Seahawks, he had a losing record against one Pac-10 coach. He went 1-2 against Harbaugh.

Carroll may be gone but most of the players who withstood that humiliation return. Their memory of Stanford’s fourth-quarter romp is the sort that lingers. When the Cardinal scored a touchdown to go ahead 48-21, Harbaugh sent his two-point-conversion team onto the field.

USC stopped the conversion, but it was the thought that counted. After the game, Carroll accosted Harbaugh at midfield and asked, "What’s your deal?"

Knowing an opportunity when it sees one, the Stanford athletic marketing office set up a cafeteria-style plan for Cardinal fans in 2010. They may buy a ticket to the USC game and two other Stanford home games. It’s called, "What’s your deal?"

Bringing the heat in the ACC

July, 12, 2010
Miami was hot. Quarterback Jacory Harris was in the Heisman Trophy conversation. The No. 9-ranked Canes had just knocked off two ranked opponents to start the season.

And then they went to Blacksburg.

A pouring rain and stifling Virginia Tech defense extinguished Miami’s fire quickly last fall. Last year’s 31-7 loss to the Hokies was a humbling experience, as the Canes fell behind 21-0 and Harris was pressured into critical mistakes, including a fumble that led to a touchdown after his fifth snap.

This year, if Miami is going to make a run for the Coastal Division title, it can’t afford another sloppy performance against the Hokies. It’s July, so rising temperatures are the theme here today on, and this year’s Virginia Tech-Miami game has the ingredients to be the most heated contest in the ACC this fall. With the high expectations surrounding both programs, the Coastal Division title could be determined on Nov. 20 in what will be Miami’s final conference game.

Virginia Tech hasn’t defeated Miami on the road since 2006, but the Hokies have won three of the past five meetings. Miami’s defense -- which allowed standout running back Ryan Williams 150 yards and two touchdowns last year -- will be looking for redemption. Harris, who only completed 9 of 25 passes, will be looking for more production. And Virginia Tech? Well, it will be playing to maintain the edge it has had over Miami since joining the ACC.

That in itself should be enough to have the Canes steaming.