From sea to shining sea, the ultimate college football road trip

(Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times)(Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times)
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Imagine, for a moment, the ultimate college football road trip: the chance to see 20 games spread over 15 weeks — but with a few caveats. There can be no scheduled return to the same stadium (though a conference title game provides an exception), no team can be seen more than twice, and there’s a requirement to pay a visit to each of the six automatic qualifying BCS leagues. Look elsewhere for the money to fulfill such a dream. But with an afternoon of tinkering and scheming, it wasn’t hard to develop a full schedule to maximize the 2011 college football season.

Sept. 2: Texas Christian at Baylor

Friday night under the lights in Texas … and with an unbeaten team from 2010 facing one of the nation’s most electrifying quarterbacks in Baylor’s Robert Griffin? That will work. The Horned Frogs face a trying road schedule, starting with this in-state date. Baylor has some hype for a change - but will it fizzle from the start?

Sept. 3:Louisiana State vs. Oregon

Waco and Arlington, Texas, are separated by a little more than 100 miles of highway, making this a manageable two-part weekend. The Will Lyles Bowl features a pair of top-10 teams, with 2010 national runner-up Oregon seeking to make an early statement despite unwanted offseason headlines while facing SEC contender Louisiana State.

Sept. 10:South Carolina at Georgia

It won’t take long to identify the SEC East favorite. While Florida adjusts to a new staff, Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks can make life miserable for coach Mark Richt, who finds himself with an impatient fan base after a 6-7 season. South Carolina’s chances for success Between the Hedges will be pinned on all-SEC knucklehead QB Stephen Garcia. Ruh roh.

Sept. 17:Oklahoma at Florida State

Are the Seminoles a national power again? There’s no better way for Florida State to find out than to upend a BCS title contender in the opening weeks of the season. The Sooners will bring a Heisman candidate (Landry Jones) into Tallahassee to face the Seminoles, the preseason favorites to win the ACC.

Sept. 24:Arkansas at Alabama

The first game in the Alabama/Arkansas/

Louisiana State round-robin likely to sort out the SEC West, this could be a matchup of top-10 teams. After three likely wins, it also will be the first major test for Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson, who will be scrutinized after taking over for Ryan Mallett.

Oct. 1:Nebraska at Wisconsin

Welcome to the Big Ten, Cornhuskers. Your reward for a first conference game in your new home? A trip to Camp Randall to face the Badgers and new quarterback Russell Wilson, a coveted grad school transfer from N.C. State. But if you miss this, fret not. Both teams could win their divisions and meet in the league title game.

Oct. 8: Florida at Louisiana State

A week after facing mentor Nick Saban, new Florida coach Will Muschamp brings the Gators to Death Valley in what could be a make-or-break moment for both teams. Or, Les Miles will have navigated early tests with Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia and have a top-five team to go with his grass-chomping glory.

Oct. 15:Michigan at Michigan State

It’s not a weekend of great games, so a contest of substantial local intrigue is worth checking out. The Wolverines need a win to avoid matching their longest skid ever against the Spartans (four). Meanwhile, Michigan State will be in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch and could be in search of a life preserver for its season.

Oct. 22: Oklahoma State at Missouri

The Cowboys and the Tigers belong somewhere on the schedule, thus the presence of a de facto Big 12 title eliminator. Both teams will have made difficult road trips by this point (Oklahoma State to Texas A&M and Texas, Missouri to Oklahoma) and possess superb offenses. Defensive purists can take a pass if they choose.

Oct. 29: Wisconsin at Ohio State

It’s back to Big Ten country for what could amount to a Leaders Division title game. Even though the Buckeyes might have a few losses, they’ll be as dangerous as at any point in the season. Ohio State will have its four suspended (and tattooed) players back and an extra week to prepare for the only team that beat it a year ago.

Nov. 5: Texas A&M at Oklahoma

The Aggies seem to be a trendy top-10 pick, but they’ll be fairly tested at this stage. It will only be their second venture outside of Texas (after a trek to Iowa State), and it sets up as their most difficult game. But beware a rout: Oklahoma has won five of the teams’ past six meetings in Norman by at least three touchdowns.

Nov. 12: Texas Christian

at Boise State

The one-year overlap between the Horned Frogs and Broncos in the Mountain West sets up this showdown on the blue turf of Boise. If the Broncos make it out of Atlanta with a defeat of Georgia in the opening week, they should be unbeaten and looking to crash the BCS - and maybe make a push for a spot in the top two.

Nov. 17: North Carolina at Virginia Tech

A visit to Blacksburg is best done on a Thursday night, and this could wind up being the Hokies’ Coastal Division clincher. First-year starting quarterback Logan Thomas should be settled in nicely by then for Virginia Tech, which has a chance to be perfect through 10 games as it prepares to face the Tar Heels’ talented defense.

Nov. 19: Southern California at Oregon

After a cross-country flight (is there any easy way to get from Blacksburg to Eugene?), it will be time to check back in on the Ducks. They play Stanford a week earlier and might receive an even sterner offensive test from the Trojans. Well, assuming Southern California is still mentally engaged in a year that can’t end with a bowl bid.

Nov. 24: Texas at Texas A&M

When the Longhorns were last seen on the field, they limped away from a home loss to the Aggies last Thanksgiving that denied them bowl eligibility. Texas A&M has won three of the past five in the series, a fact likely creating as much angst among Texas faithful as the inability to watch high school games on their own TV network.

Nov. 25: Pittsburgh at West Virginia

Without the need to be at a Big East game, Arkansas-Louisiana State is a complete no-brainer for this spot. But as it stands, the Backyard Brawl has a chance to decide a BCS berth, and it might do so with tons of points. Both schools hired spread impresarios to replace underachieving coaches. Their tenures will be measured against each other, starting here.

Nov. 26: Notre Dame at Stanford

Andrew Luck’s likely home finale on the Farm might have some BCS implications of its own. If Stanford follows the same season arc as last year - beat everyone but Oregon - it could need a defeat of the Fighting Irish to snag a spot in the Rose Bowl. A BCS bid could be at stake for Brian Kelly’s team, which last earned one in 2006.

Dec. 2: Pac-12 title game

This could mean a return trip to Oregon or Stanford, but it’s still an important game to wedge into the schedule. Both of those teams begin the season harboring national title aspirations, but turning back Arizona State (or whoever the Pac-12 South produces) in the cold of December is a necessity to cash in on those hopes.

Dec. 3: SEC title game in Atlanta

At last, it’s back to SEC country - a place you could realistically never leave if seeing a meaningful national matchup is the priority. The teams change (seven schools have made it in the past five seasons), but the upshot remains the same: The last five winners of this game claimed the national championship.

Dec. 10: Army vs. Navy in Landover, Md.

Navy’s dominance in the series - nine wins in a row - has yet to diminish the emotion of the rivalry. Also of interest: This date at FedEx Field is the closest these two service academies have come to meeting in Washington. It won’t impact the national title race, but it surely will provide some of the best pageantry of the season.

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