Our sights are set this season for the College Football Playoff on January 8, 2018 by hook or by crook designating our 39th season doing this crazy stuff as our Journey to Atlanta. We made it to Tampa physically last season. Great airfare, cost effective accommodations, but the CFP ticket prices escalated way out of reach. We watched the prices on the internet continuously rise. The one guy we saw selling on the streets of Tampa had removed his outer shirt and on his white t-shirt he wrote out in black magic marker, “two tickets, section 350, $4400”. I didn’t have the necessary funds on me, nor did I run to the nearest cash machine. We plan to nip that problem in the bud this season. Collegefootballfan.com has to attend a CFP game within geographic reach one time at least or our name isn’t collegefootballfan.com. And it’s evidently not going to get any cheaper. While focused on getting to the national championship game, we are also going to have one hell of a great regular season schedule, again, leading up to it! This year, it even starts earlier than usual, August 26, to get us to about 30 games in all this year featuring most levels of NCAA football competition. This ties the record for our earliest start dating back to 2001 when we saw Georgia Tech defeat Syracuse in the Meadowlands in the Kickoff Classic. It’s only June, and we are primed to go! The preseason publications are just coming out.
On August 26, we kick off in New England, home of the World Champion Patriots, but not at Gillette Stadium as we were originally led to believe. This will be played by two teams of extreme geographic reaches of American college football when the Hawaii Rainbows travel all the way to newly renovated Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium, home of the UMass Minutemen on their home campus in Amherst. Hawaii finished last season 7-7 with a bowl win at home (we refer to this as a consolation game) and a 46-40 win at home late in the season versus UMass. They return the favor. We expect to see a pretty competitive game despite the Minutemens’ 2-10 record a season ago as an Independent. One of our guests, Mike Ford, might actually bring us a lobster for our tailgate as he originally got us excited about when he came to his first game with us up at Penn State. We’ll see.
The following week on Thursday evening, we attend our first of four games on four consecutive days over the Labor Day weekend. We start with two very competitive programs of the last few years at the D-3 level when the Wesley College Wolves visit the Aggies of Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The Wolves finished 9-3 last season and played into the second round of D-3 playoffs falling to powerful John Carroll of Ohio. The Wolves also fell in their season opener at home last season to Del-Val, 21-14. The Aggies posted a 9-2,7-2 record and finished the season with a win over Muhlenberg in the Centennial-Middle Atlantic Bowl Championship. This should be another competitive battle to start our season. It should make up for what we will see at 7 pm the following evening when we join Rutgers alum and faithful follower Frank Scarpa to tailgate and join him in his obligatory commitment to his Alma Mater when they face last season’s No. 4 team, the Washington Huskies. We call this our obligatory commitment to see the typically over-rated, over-hyped, overly optimistic Scarlet Knights come down from media heaven and face reality. UW whipped them in Seattle in last seasons opener, 48-13. We expect the same here. On Saturday afternoon, we travel to a favorite FCS venue, Goodman Stadium off I-78 in Bethlehem, PA where Lehigh’s Mountain Hawks, 2016 Patriot League champs, host the perennially good Villanova Wildcats who went 9-4 last season before falling to South Dakota State in the FCS playoffs. The Cats defeated the Hawks early last season at home, 26-21. Looking forward to seeing a good match-up here by two teams vying to get back into post-season playoff contention. This game will mark the first time since 1985 that the Wildcats will not be playing under HC Andy Talley who retired after the 2016 season with an overall career collegiate record of 252-155-2. Taking over will be his Associate HC and assistant for 30 years at Villanova, Mark Ferrante. At the risk of dating myself, back in 1982 we attended a D-3 Playoff game where Ferrante quarterbacked under Talley at St. Lawrence University in a win over Wagner College in Staten Island. Time flies when you’re having fun! To top off the four-game weekend, well head down I-95 of Sunday to FEDEX Field in Landover, Maryland to see West Virginia clash with Virginia Tech. This will be the first time we ever see the Mountaineers play as a member of the Big 12, and this will be the first Hokie game we’ll attend without Frank Beamer along the sideline. Justin Fuente successfully took over the program a year ago winning the Coastal Division of the ACC with a 10-4 record including a Belk Bowl win over Arkansas. WVU ended up with a 10-3 tied for second in the Big 12, but lost to Miami in the Russel Athletic. WVU vs. VA Tech – a great FBS game to attend during the first weekend of the 2017 season! We look forward to tailgating with some VA Tech alum to get fired up over this one.
The following Saturday, we look forward to seeing our first Pitt-Penn State game since 1992. This will be the second game of a scheduled four game series between the two old rivals, but were hoping that the two schools can figure a way to revive this rivalry every season. A great in-state rivalry at the start of the season gets the juices flowing to prime both teams for their upcoming conference schedules. Last season, Pitt came away with a 42-39 win. This marks the first trip of three we’ll be making up to Happy Valley this season with great expectations that the Nittany Lions will be in Atlanta when we get to the CFP Championship game!
In week four on our Journey to Atlanta, we head to Philadelphia on Friday night to catch an early Saturday morning flight to meet up with cousins Frank and Anthony for our first game ever in Minneapolis. Of course, we aren’t only catching a very economical flight out of Philly, but we’ll be stopping by The Linc on Friday night to watch Temple play under new HC Geoff Collins, formerly DC at Florida, to see UMass for the second time early in our season. We’re looking to see how the Owls are shaping up after former HC Matt Rhule, a great football coach in our opinion, set up shop in Waco, Texas to take over the reins at Baylor, a program with some significant off the field issues that Rhule will be challenged by to keep this Big 12 program afloat. Temple lost some key personnel after winning the AAC championship last year including three players drafted and several seniors who signed on as free agents. QB will be key role to fill as P.J. Walker started for the Owls the last four years. On a positive note, Junior RB Ryquell Armstead returns after last season with 919 yards and 14 TDs. In Minneapolis the next day, I’ll be attending my first ever Golden Gopher home game at TCF Bank stadium. I always loved their fight song Minnesota Rouser played as background music for NCAA highlight films on TV back in the ’70s (dating myself again). They will host the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. The Golden Gophers are now mentored by new HC JP Fleck off his 13-1 Mid-American championship season at Western Michigan. As a former Rutgers HC, Frank Scarpa is joining us only to imagine if Fleck had only stayed at Rutgers. Typical Rutgers fan. MTSU appears on our slate for only the second time. We added them in their inaugural year when they joined the FBS in 2000. We saw them thrash another first-time FBS program, UConn, 66-10. This should be a competitive game, but we think the home team will take them to their new house in the end. A year ago, the Blue Raiders finished 8-5 while the Gophers won nine against four losses.
On September 23, we will travel to our first of only two Navy games in Annapolis this year (thanks to Penn State playing three games we want to see while Navy is also at home). We may not have Big Tailgate this year as our options relative to our incident at West Point last season have soured us on going back. However, we do plan to arrange a Boys Weekend with the guys at the Navy-Cincinnati game this season. Festivities include a tour of the Academy, the Navy Museum at Preble Hall, Bloody Mary’s at Fran O’Briens Anthony House, tailgating at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, dinner somewhere in downtown Annapolis, and smokes at the Annapolis Cigar Factory to catch up on late games. And in the middle of it all, the Midshipmen will host the Bearcats for the first time as American Athletic Conference foes. The Mids, hit hard by injuries late last season, look to be back in the hunt for the western AAC title. Zach Abey played the last three games at QB, and despite losing all three, improved along the way leading the triple-option offense to 45 points in a 48-45 loss to Louisiana Tech in The Armed Forces Bowl. Experience returns on the front line and at the skilled positions for the offense. Improvement will need to come on the defensive side that allowed opponents to score 28.9 ppg in high-scoring contest last season. LB D.J. Palmore returns with a team-leading six sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. Fellow SR LB Micha Thomas returns after leading the D with 107 stops last season. Steady PK Bennet Moehring returns to HC Ken Niumatalolo’s squad. Coach enters his 10th season in Annapolis with a record of 77-42. The Bearcats come to town with new HC Luke Fickell who took over as HC for the Ohio State Buckeyes for one season in 2011. He looks to develop a squad that finished 4-8 a season ago with only one win in the AAC. Reports say his offense will need some time to develop and will probably rely on its defense to keep it within striking distance. However, with games on three straight Saturdays including Michigan before heading to Crabtown, Fickell’s Cats will need to learn how to handle the triple option quickly. DE Kevin Mouhan and DT Marquise Copeland will be called upon to lead the Bearcats charge against the Navy’s deceptive running attack. We look forward to a fun weekend at The Naval Academy.
Our final weekend of the first full month of the season continues in the American Athletic Conference. We will be back at The Linc for cheese steaks and Houston vs. Temple in another first-time regular season West vs. East clash in the conference. Both teams lost their stalwart starting QBs from last season in four-year starter P.J. Walker for the home team and Greg Ward, Jr., the Cougars Heisman candidate entering the season a year ago. Both programs start off with new Head Coaches as well as mentors from both AAC schools took on new challenges at Big 12 programs in Texas. Former Florida Gator DC Geoff Collins takes over at Temple while former Cougar QB Coach Major Applewhite takes over at Houston. Applewhite may have gained a little advantage in this one as former Temple DC Mark D’ Onofrio is one of his two now at Houston. Leading the defense on the field for U of H will be Soph DT Ed Oliver who is listed on everybody’s All-American team. He was second in the nation last season with 23 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Applewhite will look to replace Ward with former Texas A&M QB Kyle Allen who we saw touted highly after he led the Aggies over a very shoddy South Carolina defense in his opener in the 2014 season. We saw the evening as way over-hyped, and things went downhill for him when he played against real competition four weeks later. We’ll get to see if we can note any improvements since we last saw him. Maybe Applewhite can help him under his guidance. Collins has a rebuilding task on the Owls defensive side of the ball. Safety looks to return the most experience with Sean Chandler and Delvon Randall back. With his Florida experience as DC, Collins could be the right coach in the right place at the right time to rebuild. Offensively, he will be analyzing several candidates to take over for Walker at QB who could pass and run. He may be bringing along a new offense balanced to pass from the QB position than to run it. He’s got good returnees with RB Ryquell Armstead (919 yards, 14 TDs) and WR Ventell Bryant (42 catches for 648 yards returning) leading a corps of experienced Owl pass catchers. Temple will have tough road ahead to repeat with South Florida looking improved in the East, but this game definitely looks to be a competitive one. We look forward to tailgating with a few local friends in the area and some good cheese steak sandwiches somewhere in Philly.
Look for our October game preview here next week.