It’s conference play now for just about everyone. Some other conferences stagger their schedules, noticeably the Pac-12 to accommodate the schools that routinely play Notre Dame (Stanford, USC) and the SEC, to accommodate season-ending ACC rivalries and those ferocious non-conference marquee matchups like New Mexico State (Georgia), Furman (Florida), Citadel (South Carolina), Middle Tennessee State (Tennessee), sigh… … Georgia Southern (Alabama), Western Kentucky (Louisiana State), Samford (Auburn) and Tennessee-Martin (Mississippi State). Did I miss anyone? Oh yeah: Louisiana Tech (Ole Miss).
For the B1G TEN in its new divisional format, it’s almost nothing but conference play going forward. The game grabbing everyone’s attention is Wisconsin-Nebrasky, the primetime game that lured ESPN’s Gameday to Madison to see Nebrasky’s first B1G TEN conference game. Elsewhere, Ohio State hosts the other defending conference champion from yesteryear, Michigan State — the proud alma mater of acting titans like Bubba Smith (RIP Hightower) and, of course, Robert Urich. Depending on your measure, this might be the second most intriguing B1G TEN game of the week. This is contingent on how much you value Illinois-Nerdwestern being Game 1 in conference play for both schools, how much you are interested by Illinois’ potential to make noise in the B1G, and how much you think getting PersaStrong back at quarterback helps the Nerds.
Until then, there’s other stuff you’ll be watching. And here it is in the usual fashion.
- South Florida @ Pittsburgh (ESPN, 8:00pm ET). It’s just not Thursday night football without a Big East conference game. Seriously, I don’t even know what that would look like or what my day would be without deciding between a Big East football game and an MLS game on at the same time. The Big East: strong enough for regional feeds on Saturday, but made for Thursdays.
- Houston @ UTEP (Regional, 8:00pm ET). So, Houston — otherwise known as that undefeated team that is always pretty good and a trendy pick to be a threat to bust the BCS in December — is not on national TV. But the Big East is. Which is totally 100% fair, mind you.
- Utah State @ Brigham Young (ESPN, 8:00pm ET). This Beehive State quasi-rivalry continues in 2011, now that Brigham Young is independent and free to schedule whoever the sam heck (minding the audience) it pleases. You might remember last year’s game (also played on Friday in Week 5). The Cougars embarrassed themselves so badly that Heavenly Father, a BYU alumnus, booster and long time fan, called for and received the resignation of the offensive coordinator at the end of the season. But, it’s Friday night football and you have no right to complain about the game, beyond rightfully complaining that Friday night college football needs a doubleheader.
- Texas A&M v. ArKansas [in JerryWorld] (ESPN, 12:00pm ET). Twenty years removed from ArKansas’ decision to leave the Southwest Conference for the Southeastern Conference, Texas A&M follows them east. Whatever the SEC does with divisional alignments, it looks like the old SWC members will play yearly going forward. This just happens to be A&M’s chance at saying they can compete against the mighty SEC before jumping into the thick of it in 2012. Fortunately, ArKansas is coming off a game where they figuratively wet the bed… just like Texas A&M in the second half of its game against Oklahoma State.
- Minnesota @ That Team Up North (BTN, 12:00pm ET). Tough brake for Minnesota. A week removed from losing to an FCS team for the third time in five years1, they have to travel to Ann Arbor to take on another FCS team. Count me as one of those that thinks the lore of the Little Brown Jug game died when Bo Schembechler single-handedly terminated the rivalry. Minnesota has won just three times since 1969, the year Schembechler became coach of the Wolverines. As an outside observer, I look at it like the Illibuck game, which Woody Hayes damn near killed when he took over in 1951 (though John Cooper tried to revive it). Still, there are “Jug-ists”, purists of this tradition thrilled that this is a yearly game because the dumb Leaders/Legends divisions put the two schools in the same division. I don’t know what division that is, though. Are we Legends or Leaders? Anyways…
- Nerdwestern @ Illinois (ESPN2, 12:00pm ET). Normally a season-ending rivalry game for both schools, it now kicks off conference play for both schools because Delany insisted on punting the Michigans west and putting Illinois and Wisconsin on islands to themselves in the east.2 Dan Persa, he of the PersaStrong Heisman campaign, is finally back at quarterback for the Wildcats. The bigger question, though, is why is this not being played at Wrigley Field so we can watch one-way football again? It’s not like the Cubs are doing anything with Wrigley Field this time of year…
- Penn Shtate @ Indiana (ESPNU, 12:00pm ET). So, did Indiana sell this home game against Penn Shtate as well, or is Indiana actually playing a home game in Bloomington in lieu of playing in front of Penn Shtate’s alumni community on the Eastern Seaboard?
- Air Force @ Navy (CBS, 12:00pm ET). A great viewing option if you love flexbone triple option football, like CBS’ packaging of football games and can stomach Steve Beuerlein in small doses. At least, I think he’s the color commentator in these occasions. It’s him, Mike Leach or Rich Rodriguez. Pick your poison.
- Kentucky @ Louisiana State (“SEC Network”, 12:21pm ET). That could not be coincidence that the Tigers gets West Virginia and Kentucky football back to back like that. I hope LSU fans brought enough moonshine back to Baton Rouge to share with what the Kentucky fans (do they exist?) are bringing with them.
- Nevada @ Boise State (Versus, 2:30pm ET). I’m sure you remember the game last year, where Ostrich Man led the upset of #4 and undefeated Boise State. Well, Kaepernick is in the pros and Nevada sucks this year. In short, the revenge factor means this gets ugly, and fast.
- Auburn @ South Carolina (CBS, 3:30pm ET). South Carolina lost a very gritty game on the road in Tuscaloosa in 2009, which Alabama used en route to Mark Ingram’s Heisman and Alabama national championship #136.49 (decimal point national champions too). South Carolina won the return leg in Columbia last year. The Gamecocks also lost at Auburn last year (and in the SEC title game too, badly) en route to an Auburn national title. Auburn happens to suck out loud this year. So… yeah.
- Baylor @ Kansas State (ABC/ESPN, 3:30pm ET). You’re not watching this game. Don’t bother. Oh, did you know Robert Griffin III has more touchdowns than incompletions?
- Georgia Tech @ North Carolina State (ABC/ESPN, 3:30pm ET). You’re not watching this game either. Oh, did you know Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington leads the nation in QB rating and yards per attempt and such? Because he does! I just thought I’d be the first to tell you that amazing statistic that absolutely no one talks about. No one!
- Michigan State @ Ohio State (ABC/ESPN, 3:30pm ET). This is what you’re watching. Oh, did you know tha… oh, you already know about Robert Griffin III and Tevin Washington? Oh. Oh I see…
- Arizona @ USC (Regional, 3:30pm ET). Remember that four week stretch of Murderer’s Row for Arizona? It ends on Saturday at USC. Their result in the other three games? Losses at Oklahoma State, at home to Stanford and at home to Oregon.
- Bethune-Cookman @ Miami (FL) (ESPNU, 3:30pm ET). Why is this on TV?
- Clemson @ Virginia Tech (ESPN2, 6:00pm ET). This is the other game of the week. ACC fans, curious why they don’t have much respect nationally, felt this should have hosted Gameday. It did not, but that doesn’t make this any less interesting. Expect Cinderella’s glass slippers to break in Clemson. Clemson is undefeated at 4-0, but against their best efforts to be 1-3 (Wofford, Auburn, Florida State).
- Texas @ Iowa State (FX, 7:00pm ET). That this is a revenge game for Texas is just too amusing.
- Duke @ Florida International (ESPNU, 7:00pm ET). Penn Shtate v. Indiana, Bethune-Cookman v. Miami, Duke v. Florida International. ESPNU certainly got its pick of the litter today.
- Alabama @ Florida (CBS, 8:00pm ET). Am I actually saying this? I believe I’m actually saying this: GO GATOR. Charlie Weis will hit Nick Saban with that decided schematic advantage, I’ll tell you what. BOOM! Knock these motherfuckers out! … … … sigh. At least this is in Gainesville, so I’ll have some peace and quiet.
- Nebraska @ Wisconsin (ABC, 8:00pm ET). Blah blah blah first B1G TEN game for the Cornhuskers blah blah Barry Alvarez is a Nebraska grad blah blah blah blah. If Wisconsin is going to win, can they beat #8 Nebraska so badly to where they become ranked #18? Thereafter, I can belligerently taunt “Bo Nebrasky’s ranked 18th in the AP College Football Poll!” all next week until everyone stops following me on Twitter.
- Notre Dame @ Purdue (ESPN, 8:00pm ET). Oh, Purdue. Didn’t see you there. Didn’t know you still… you know, did stuff.
- Ole Miss @ Fresno State (ESPN2, 9:15pm ET). The SEC gets an unfair wrap for not scheduling well out of conference and not going far to test their credentials. That’s mostly just Florida who deserves that criticism. Credit Ole Miss for going out to Fresno for this game. Also expect them to get their ass kicked for their efforts.