The trick to college football scheduling involves more than just whom you play. It is all about when you play them.
BYU and Utah have game-planned brilliantly this week, booking Oregon and Florida State, brand-name opponents that have all the traditional packaging and not much of the usual substance. They offer considerable credibility, without the full effect.
That's not say to these opponents are incapable of staging upsets -- more about how that word applies to Utah-Oregon in a moment -- of the nationally ranked local teams, just that catching them at other times in history would have been far more frightening.
The variables of Ute running back Matt Asiata's health and the state of BYU's makeshift offensive line create more intrigue about these games. So do the talents of quarterbacks Jeremiah Masoli of Oregon and Christian Ponder of FSU. Otherwise, the reality is these teams are just not that great.
Through two games, including one against a Purdue team picked to finish low in the Big Ten, Oregon ranks 107th in the country in total offense, averaging 254 yards. And now the Ducks have to face Utah's defense.
After two games, including one against Jacksonville State of the Football Championship Subdivision, Florida State is 111th in pass defense, allowing 299.5 yards a game. Next: BYU quarterback Max Hall.
So the timing is nice for the Utes and Cougars to match themselves against members of college football's elite -- at least, in outward appearance.
Florida State is "a storied football program," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Oregon's Autzen Stadium is "one of the most hostile environments in college football," said Utah's Kyle Whittingham.
That's not all they said, but reputation and noise are certainly the calling cards of these opponents, beyond any performance-driven attributes.
Oregon's offense was horrible in the season opener at Boise State, and that was with star tailback LeGarrette Blount, now suspended for the season after his postgame punch of an opposing player. The Ducks scored 38 points against Purdue, but only with help from the defense. Coach Chip Kelly, formerly the offensive coordinator, charitably described Oregon's offense as "a work in progress."
Yet somehow, the Ducks are favored Saturday. Las Vegas point spreads are not predictions, they're designed to elicit a betting response, but this one is astounding. And you'd better believe the Utes will make use of this information.
"We're underdogs this week?" asked Ute linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, with a mixture of joy and incredulity, as a huge smile covered his face.
Having won 24 of their past 25 games, the Utes still thrive on that stuff, and likely will cite it as motivation Saturday, as they did against Texas Christian (which was almost correct) and Alabama (wholly inaccurate) last season. Either way, somebody's victory will be labeled an "upset."
In Provo, BYU is favored against an FSU team that scored 12 points in the last minute of a 19-9 win over Jacksonville State. That's not even an in-state rival -- Jax State is in Alabama -- although there is the disclaimer of FSU's natural letdown, playing five days after a heartbreaking loss to Miami. The Gamecocks also have a legitimate quarterback, LSU transfer Ryan Perilloux.
Still, the Seminoles' allowing 12 completions of 20-plus yards in two games is remarkable. If Hall has time to throw, he'll torch them and BYU's home dominance will continue into a fourth season.
The consolation for FSU is a return game in Tallahassee next September, when Hall and Dennis Pitta will be gone. By then, the Seminoles may have found themselves defensively. But no such rematch with Utah is in store for Oregon, whose search for an offensive identity has a fast-approaching deadline.
Saturday, Utah's major college football programs will face Florida State, Oregon and Texas A&M. The results of Sept. 6, 2003, the last time there was such a convergence of big-name opponents:
» USC 35, BYU 18
» Texas A&M 28, Utah 26
» Nebraska 31, Utah State 7