All the talk, all the predictions, all the work and game planning leads every program to this moment. The first game of the season. Every team across this country of ours starts undefeated, their hopes yet to be grounded in harsh reality. It's a moment prior to kickoff where the faithful in Ypsilanti, Michigan dream their Eastern Michigan Eagles just may be able to finish with a winning record.
It's the belief that Army might finally turn it around and that they'll get their chance against Temple, who themselves feel that this is the season they finally break through. Every program has yet to fail at its goals, yet to upset its fans and yet to lose. It's where predictions are laced with hope and doubt quieted for at least a moment. But like life, nothing is everlasting and these fans who sense a better future for their program are shaken back into reality. Army fans will eventually concede their team still isn't there yet. While maybe Temple is a few years away as well. But the anticipation leading up to that moment is difficult to explain. You feel it building as the players take the field, line up and boot that ball deep into the blue or black sky.
Tonight, 28 teams kick off their season. Not all will provide good games. In fact, most probably don't interest anyone outside of the regions these programs hail from. But that doesn't mean the entire night is a waste and there are some good games to watch. If only for the storylines they may provide.
Here are some of the games I think are most intriguing.
UTEP @ Buffalo
Many probably wouldn't care for this game, being it pits two non-BCS teams that finished below .500 last year. However, I disagree. UTEP appeared to be heading in the right direction during the first two seasons of Mike Price's career there. After back-to-back 8-4 seasons and a program on the rise, the Miners have stumbled, only winning 9 games the past two years. One more then Price managed in either his first or second, which means another losing year might just push him out of El Paso -- even with all the good he's done there.
On the other side is a program that seems to be opposite of UTEP. Even though the Bulls only managed to win 5 games last season, the exact number as UTEP, it was a dramatic increase from the year before and they even positioned themselves to be in contention for a spot in the MAC championship game. It didn't work out that way for Buffalo, as they lost two crucial conference games down the stretch, but with more inspired play, this is a team capable of competing for a bowl berth. A victory over UTEP to open the season would put them closer to that goal.
Wake Forest @ Baylor
If nothing, this is at least two BCS teams going at it. Baylor is terrible, but it'll be interesting to see if Art Briles can quickly turn things around. His first test, though, is a solid Wake Forest team that is expected to make noise in the ACC this season. I don't really think this game will be close, but if it is and Baylor somehow manages the upset, which I guess is entirely possible, what a better way to start your career there if you're Briles.
N.C. State @ South Carolina
This is probably the best game of the night, since these are two teams that have underperformed recently, especially South Carolina. Steve Spurrier enters his fourth year as the Gamecocks' coach and while he hasn't been bad, I think most would admit he hasn't nearly blown the doors off the place like expected. Last season was disappointing for them, as it was for the Wolfpack, so this game offers both programs a good starting point for the 2008 season.
Oregon State @ Stanford
This is an interesting game on two fronts for me. First, Oregon State is an opponent of the Utes, so it'll be interesting to see how they stack up against a rather mediocre Stanford program. The other interesting thing about this is that this is a conference game and while I don't think the Cardinal will contend for the Pac-Ten, Oregon State very well could. A loss to open the conference season, though, could wreck those hopes.
And there you have it. My minimal and vague take on some of the games tonight.