Tonight in your living rooms and on your laptops: Two storkish quarterbacks, two stone-faced coaches and a reason to watch San Jose State besides geography, for once.
The opening act
7:30 p.m.: Tennessee vs. NC State (ESPNU). All summer long, we have pointed to the likely length of this game as its greatest attraction factor. Between Tyler Bray, Mike Glennon and the recent history of both teams’ ground attacks, this first game in the Georgia Dome could easily stretch until Auburn and Clemson faithful begin setting up their Saturday tailgates.
The natural matchup to watch tonight is the Vols’ aerial offense against State’s secondary. Of the two combatants, Tennessee’s passing game gets more attention on account of Justin Hunter, the highly publicized departure of Da’Rick Rogers and Tyler Bray being Tyler Bray. But SEC types remain unfamiliar with Wolfpack cornerback David Amerson at their own peril: The junior in the No. 1 jersey led the nation in interceptions last season, and will presumably be dogging Hunter all night long. For added flaky layers of uncertainty, Hunter’s game tonight will be his first since tearing his ACL in Week 3 against Florida last year; Rogers replacement Cordarrelle Patterson is a brand-new juco transfer, and tight end Mychal Rivera is recovering from an ankle sprain. Oh, and State dings its own depth by holding senior cornerback C.J. Wilson out of tonight’s action with an unspecified “eligibility issue.”
Look at us, building this up to be a shootout. After last season, which was almost entirely useless for data-mining purposes, we’re uncomfortable betting on Tennessee either way. For all we know, Rajion Neal could have a breakout game at running back for the Vols behind a solidified offensive line, Mustafa Greene could blow up for the ‘Pack after missing all of 2011 due to injury and this thing could finish 21-20 on a special teams facepalm.
We suspect not. But we’ve been wrong before, and will be again. We’ll also be in the Georgia Dome tonight to find out in person.
8:00 p.m.: No. 24 Boise State @ No. 13 Michigan State (ESPN). You know when we really would’ve liked to have seen these two programs play? The end of last season. In last year’s season opener, the Broncos smoothly disposed of a Georgia team it took the Spartans three overtimes to beat in the Outback Bowl. Kellen Moore versus Kirk Cousins in an aw-shucks quarterback duel! Doug Martin scampering at a top-10 rushing defense! What might have been.
Tonight, we meet their successors: Joe Southwick steps in for Boise (with sack-happy Spartan Denicos Allen all set to give him a very impolite welcome to the big-time), and Michigan State offers up Andrew Maxwell (who should have a somewhat easier night against nine new starters on the Broncos defense). Andy Staples will be on the scene in East Lansing, and breaks down tonight’s matchup in greater detail here. Is this the year Boise State’s beanstalk finally snaps in Week 1, or is it always going to be a mistake to underestimate the Chris Petersen Process? Will Boise ever field a running back as adorably nicknamed as the Muscle Hamster again? Who would you want to receive an “I’m very disappointed in your behavior” dad lecture from less, Petersen or Mark Dantonio? At least one of these questions will be answered tonight.
10:00 p.m.: San Jose State @ No. 21 Stanford (Pac-12 Network). The Spartans are on the upswing! We really, really think so! This night, however, will be more of a boulder-strewn plateau to traverse. Tune in for the debut of Andrew Luck’s replacement, Josh Nunes.