And so begins the BCS farewell tour in college football. Parting gifts optional.
Each week of the season, we’ll have the Tense 10. Ten games where the heat is on somebody to prove something. So with the first kickoffs of the last BCS season imminent ...
1. Georgia at Clemson: Pretty tough to be a top-10 national title contender and have a bayonet stuck in your hopes on Aug. 31, but that’ll happen to one of these two. No. 5 Georgia has played football for 120 years, and this is the first time the Bulldogs have ever opened against a top-10 opponent. Clemson, at No. 8, has its highest preseason ranking in 25 years. The neighbors, 59 miles apart as the Hail Mary flies, have avoided playing one another since 2003.
2. Alabama vs. Virginia Tech in Atlanta: The Tide schedule lists 12 opponents, but the true foe is History, meaning every week is vital, because History never blinks. Alabama is trying to become the first program ever to win four titles in five years. The roster includes 13 returning starters and 13 graduate students. Unlikely that Frank Beamer will have two mediocre Virginia Tech teams in a row.
3. LSU vs. TCU in Dallas: LSU watched 11 — count ’em — 11 underclassmen leave early for the NFL. TCU might have the best defense in the Big 12 (which ain’t saying a lot). So the revamped Tigers are in some peril here, but it is strictly against SEC policy for any member to lose to a non-conference opponent in a high-profile game.
4. Northwestern at California: Northwestern returns the bulk of a 10-3 team, and California comes off a 3-9 record that got its coach fired. So what could vex the Wildcats? Location, location, location. The Big Ten has more trouble going west than the pioneers ever did, with a perfectly awful 5-20 record in true road games against the Pac-12 since 2000.
5. Northern Illinois at Iowa: What’s the last thing a beleaguered Big Ten coach with melting job security needs? A season-opening home loss to a Mid-American Conference team. But that could happen to Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. Quarterback Jordan Lynch — the common man’s Heisman candidate — is back with seven other offensive starters at Northern Illinois, which outscored opponents 540-278 on its way to a Cinderella Orange Bowl bid.
6. Ohio at Louisville (Sunday): There is mass snickering at Louisville’s schedule, which is doughy enough to be displayed in a bakery window, but Ohio started 7-0 last season and is dangerous. Imagine the ridicule heaped on the Cardinals if they struggle.
7. Temple at Notre Dame: Bad news for the Owls; the Irish are 57-12-1 against first-time visitors to Notre Dame Stadium. But what everyone is anxious about is how Tommy Rees looks at quarterback as Plan B, since Plan A — Everett Golson — is in exile. Notre Dame could use more offense. The Irish won eight games last year when they scored 22 or fewer points in regulation and aren’t likely to get away with that again.
8. Rice at Texas A&M: Anyone else have an autograph request for Johnny Manziel? No? Good. Maybe the offseason reality show can end now, and he can get back to playing quarterback, where his passing gets a lot more applause than his tweeting. This shouldn’t be an unduly trying test, but the scrutiny on Manziel — who will sit out the first half — is enormous, and every twitch will be studied for hint of wayward focus. Even against Rice.
9. Boise State at Washington: The Broncos went 11-2 last season which might sound pretty good to you and me but qualifies as a mild slump in Boise. They did beat Washington 28-26 in a bowl game, and here they are, together again. Trips to Seattle are not easy, but Boise State needs this if it wants one last fling as a BCS-buster.
10. USC at Hawaii (Thursday): The Trojans have never lost to the Warriors, but more than one team has misplaced its intensity on a trip to the islands. After last year’s bellyflop — from preseason No. 1 to a 7-6 dysfunctional mess — Lane Kiffin’s seat couldn’t be hotter if it came out of the microwave. A 30-13 victory against Hawaii likely will do little to cool it.