No More Cupcakes

FAYETTEVILLE — If Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer had the 2006 schedule to do over again, he would likely choose a much easier first game.

Rather than easing their way into the season as a heavy favorite against a team like Louisiana Tech or Eastern Carolina — as in years past — the Volunteers host ninth-ranked California on Saturday.

That's not exactly the type of opponent that Fulmer had in mind for the season opener, especially coming off last year's disastrous 5-6 finish.

"This year you'd probably like to have had a couple (of opponents) that were lesser than what Cal is because they're certainly a fine football team," Fulmer said. "You just never know when you make those schedules so far in advance."

Apparently, other college football teams have taken a similar approach when it comes to scheduling their season openers.

They've scrapped the chance for an easy win against the likes of Louisiana-Lafayette and Southwest Missouri State to face a top 25 opponent.

For some schools, the national exposure that comes with playing an elite team is worth the risk of a potential loss.

Originally, Arkansas was scheduled to open the season against Utah State, which has lost its last eight season openers. But that game was moved to the second week of the season so the Razorbacks could host sixth-ranked Southern California at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday on ESPN.

"I'm glad it's like this now," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "It's a big ball game, and USC has a great football team with a lot of national recognition. Everybody recognizes USC, recognizes the white horse and the Trojan and all those things.

"The schedule is laid out the way it is, and our guys are looking forward to it. I'm just glad it's the way it is."

On the same day that Arkansas faces USC and Tennessee takes on California, Vanderbilt will look to keep it close at No. 14 Michigan.

And barring another hurricane delay, No. 11 Florida State will open the season for a third straight year against No. 12 Miami on Monday night in a game that could affect the Atlantic Coast Conference race, as well as the national championship picture.

"Meeting (the Hurricanes) in the 10th game of the season, we may have guys banged up or things of that sort. So it's good to start out with them," FSU cornerback Tony Carter said. "I like it. It gets you ready from the start."

The second week of the season doesn't offer much relief for some teams, either. No. 19 Penn State travels to South Bend, Ind., to face second-ranked Notre Dame.

And in a game already being hyped as one that could decide which two teams play in the BCS national championship game, third-ranked Texas hosts top-ranked Ohio State.

"I think we're all anxious to see (if Texas can create that magic without Vince Young), and we're not going to learn that against North Texas this week," ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. "We're going to learn it that night (in Austin) in a pretty big atmosphere — one of the biggest atmospheres of the whole year."

But not every team believes in being tested the first or second weekend of the college football season.

Georgia, which has opened up against Utah State, Georgia Southern and Arkansas State over the last few years, faces Western Kentucky at home on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the rest of that day's schedule includes such potential blowouts as Louisiana-Lafeyette at No. 8 LSU, Northeastern at No. 17 Virginia Tech and Florida Atlantic at No. 18 Clemson.

Like Arkansas, Vanderbilt thought it would be in its best interests to change its season opener in order get on national TV.

Originally, the Commodores were scheduled to open up at home against Middle Tennessee State. But then ESPN approached Vanderbilt about traveling to Michigan for a nationally televised season opener.

To no surprise, the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee State were replaced by "Go Blue." Of course, it took some negotiating and much debate before Vanderbilt agreed to open the season at Michigan.

"We went back and forth debating whether we should or shouldn't, and finally when we decided to play the game, I think everybody got extremely excited about it," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. "Our players were certainly fired up.

"I think when you play a quality opponent like that, it tells you a lot about your team right off the bat. But also it gives them a little spurt to work harder in the offseason."

There are no cupcakes here.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories