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What should Notre Dame fans be watching this weekend? The options aren't great, a but a lot of ND opponents take the field, and teams start their quest for the coveted Big Ten championship.
For my money, there are two ideal times to settle in and watch a ton of college football. The first is after Notre Dame wins a noon game, where you can relax after 3pm and smile every time the score rolls across or you see a halftime highlight. "Hey, did you see that? ND won," you can say to your friends for the entire day, and it's a fun joke and you laugh and your soul doesn't hurt. (The opposite of this is when ND loses a noon game and you feel like death the rest of the day. I was in Vegas for the Navy '10 debacle, meaning it was a 9am start and even worse. The worst.)
The second best day is on a bye week, especially coming off a win. Notre Dame cannot lose this weekend, which means you get to sit back and watch other teams shoot themselves in the foot. It's not the most top-heavy schedule, but there are a few interesting games before we get into October and the heart of conference play. Let's do this.
Thursday, September 27th:
#8 Stanford at Washington, 9pm, ESPN: The Huskies were supposed to be a sleeper this year, with quarterback Keith Price a darkhorse Heisman candidate. In their one legitimate contest, they were blasted by LSU 49-3. If Steve Sarkisian's crew can't steal one here, they could be in a very deep and very early PAC12 hole, with their next games at #2 Oregon, vs. #13 USC, at Arizona and vs. #18 Oregon State.
Friday, September 28th:
Hawaii at BYU, 8pm, ESPN: A pretty gross game, but it's a chance to check out a future Notre Dame opponent in the Cougars. BYU has looked increasingly bad against Utah and Boise State following their opening-night win against Washington State, so it'll be interesting to see if they can right the ship against a bad Rainbow Warriors team.
Saturday, September 29th:
#25 Baylor at #9 West Virginia, 12pm, FX: If Baylor is actually decent this year (and that's about the kindest word you can say about them at this point in the season), this might be the day's best game. Geno Smith could be this year's RG3, a quarterback in a spread offense putting up ridiculously-crazy numbers and forcing Heisman voters to place him atop the ballot. This is Morgantown's first Big XII game, so good luck to any Baylor fans that made the trip north.
North Carolina State at Miami (Fl), 12pm, ESPNU: Worth watching so you're familiar with next week's Shamrock Series opponents. This could be the rare double-trap game, as the Wolfpack host Florida State next week and the Canes head to Chicago for their primetime showdown with the Irish.
Tennessee at #5 Georgia, 3:30pm, CBS: Derek Dooley could realllllly use a win here. Georgia might be realllly good (and they're obviously realllly lucky in that they miss both Alabama and LSU during the regular season). The Dawgs are going to have a battle all season for the SEC East with Florida and South Carolina, so they can't afford to drop a home game to a non-contender here.
#17 Clemson at Boston College, 3:30pm, ESPN2: The Tigers were very game down in Tallahassee, eventually succumbing to the talent of the ‘Noles and their inherent need to be Clemson. Boston College has been competitive but is 1-2, and Frank Spaziani might be returning to his natural profession of squashing Goombas and freeing princesses.
#14 Ohio State at #20 Michigan State, 3:30pm, ABC: Congrats to the Buckeyes on finding their way outside of Columbus! Only took five weeks. It would be really reassuring as a Notre Dame fan if the Spartans were to come out here and squash Urban Meyer. I wouldn't bet on it, I'm just saying it would be nice.
Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati (in Landover, MD), 3:30pm, ESPNU: Do the Hokies want back in the Big East? After traveling to Heinz Field for an improbable beatdown at the hands of Pitt, Cincinnati and Va Tech square off at FedEx Field, home of the Redskins. Cincinnati has been very solid so far this season, and this would be a very nice win for the Big East as a conference.
#4 Florida State at South Florida, 6pm, ESPN: Speaking of great opportunities for the Big East. The Bulls are coming off a loss to Ball State, while the Seminoles look like they're on their way to an undefeated regular season. Still, weird things happen against the Bulls, especially in Tampa. If Jimbo Fisher sees his team drive down the field, only to have a fumble return 99 yards for a touchdown, I wouldn't weep for him.
#12 Texas at Oklahoma State, 7:50pm, Fox: It is fun having FX and Fox in rotation for big games, keeps our options varied. Texas has a very shiny ranking courtesy of a relatively soft schedule and a lot of returning starters off a great defense. They also are a program that is barely over .500 since Colt McCoy went to the NFL. Oklahoma State lost a lot from their near-national championship season last year, and after flopping against Arizona, this is a chance for Mike Gundy to once again prove his manhood.
Wisconsin at #22 Nebraska, 8pm, ABC: They are wearing ridiculously terrible uniforms for this game, which will feature two teams looking for an edge in the highly-competitive Big Te...haha, I'm sorry, I can't. I almost got through it. When can we order our "Notre Dame - 2012 Big Ten Champs" t-shirts?
#18 Oregon State at Arizona, 10pm, Pac12 Network: After getting walloped at Autzen, RichRod gets to regroup against a surprising Oregon State team. If the Beavers can get past this game, they don't play another ranked team until November 10th when they travel to Palo Alto.
#2 Oregon vs. Washington State (in Seattle), 10:30pm, ESPN2: Once Mike Leach has his system fully in place and the Cougars are like his latter-year Texas Tech teams, this is going to be really, really fun. This will only be fun if you are a Duck partisan.