Friday, October 5, 2012
October is an all-you-can-eat buffet
By Ivan Maisel ESPN.com
Do not adjust your calendars. It is only the first week of October. The leaves are still on the trees. The baseball playoffs are starting just now. Santa Claus is not in the stores.
It will be a strange sight to see Georgia playing South Carolina in October.
And yet, in terms of college football angst, if measured by the importance of the games of the next four Saturdays, there should be a snap in the air and a turkey in the oven.
September has gone and taken its rent-a-victim games with it. September gave us its poor, huddled masses, their athletic directors yearning to be free to accept an $800,000 check at their expense. October is upon us. The only FBS team playing an FCS team this week is UAB. As they say in Bessemer, bless its 0-4 heart.
No, conference play is in full swing, and your remote is going to need new batteries by month's end. October has never been without big games -- Notre Dame plays USC or Stanford at South Bend in mid-October every year. Georgia and Florida have met on the Saturday before or after Halloween since the SEC expanded in 1992.
But this season, October looks like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Make that a seafood buffet. On the shores of Mobile Bay, they call it a jubilee, a sporadic event in which all manner of seafood moves into shallow water as if to present itself to the masses and their sauté pans.
It's entirely possible that October 2012 is just that -- a football jubilee. Everywhere you look, there are big games.
There is the SEC East, reasserting its power just in time for No. 6 South Carolina to play No. 5 Georgia, No. 4 LSU and No. 10 Florida on the next three Saturdays.
Five Big 12 teams made it to October unscathed. No. 8 West Virginia and No. 11 Texas play each other on Saturday night, and No. 18 Oklahoma will meet the Longhorns in the Red River Rivalry a week later. That's one of the few recognizable mileposts in an October revamped for our rooting pleasure.
The Mountaineers' next three games are No. 11 Texas, unbeaten Texas Tech and No. 7 Kansas State. Texas Tech will see West Virginia and raise them. The Red Raiders' October is No. 18 Oklahoma, No. 8 West Virginia, No. 15 TCU and No. 7 Kansas State.
The riches are not limited to the SEC and the Big 12. Six of the past 10 Border Wars between No. 2 Oregon and No. 23 Washington have been played on Oct. 30 or later. But this season, the Ducks and the Huskies play Saturday night with more than their mutual disdain at stake. The winner will join No. 14 Oregon State (should it beat Washington State) as the only undefeated teams in the Pac-12 North.
Even outside of conference play, a treasure trove awaits. The revival of No. 9 Notre Dame, 4-0 with a defense worthy of the best that played for Lou Holtz two decades ago, has occurred in the same season as the Irish are confronting a meaty schedule. October includes No. 18 Stanford and No. 17 Oklahoma, not to mention old rival Miami, 4-1, which prepares to play the Irish at Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday night.
Enjoy it while you may. The plethora of great games is in large part due to the frantic reshuffling of games that took place as schools moved from one conference to another over the past couple of years.
Notre Dame's defense is reminiscent of some past Irish teams.
Georgia and South Carolina, a fixture on the first or second Saturday of the season since the Gamecocks joined the SEC 20 years ago, will kick off Saturday. That is a result of the league's effort to shoehorn Missouri and Texas A&M into the schedule this season.
SEC executive associate commissioner Mark Womack said Thursday that the league had "to fit in everything for everybody. We also wanted to get the new guys' schedule off with an interesting game."
In Week 2, when Georgia normally would have been at South Carolina, the Dawgs played at Missouri. Though next season's schedule is not official, several websites have reported that Georgia and South Carolina will move back to Sept. 14.
It might be the third weekend, but it's a lot closer to where they are accustomed to playing. The rivals, who played nearly every year in the three decades prior to South Carolina's arrival in the SEC, haven't played in October since 1971.
Stanford and California will play the Big Game on Oct. 20. The only other one of the previous 114 Big Games not played in November or December took place on March 19, 1892 -- the rivalry's inaugural.
That move did not go over well with the Bears or the Cardinal. The Pac-12 pleaded for understanding. The calendar includes only 13 Saturdays between the beginning of September and the end of November. That's 13 Saturdays for 12 games. There is less room for maneuvering.
It might be realignment. It might be luck. Or it might be simple math. There are more games to be scheduled on fewer Saturdays. Perhaps none of us should examine it. Perhaps we should just sit back and enjoy the jubilee. Close your eyes and you can just smell the butter heating up on the sauté pan.