Four Down Territory: Neutral Site Games, Michigan-Notre Dame and Off-Field Issues
1st Down: Doing The Math on Neutral Site Games: Week 1 in College Football has become the home of marquee neutral site games. This year is no different as #6 Washington plays #9 Auburn in Atlanta, Tennessee plays #17 West Virginia in Charlotte, #8 Miami plays #25 LSU in Arlington, TX and Louisville plays #11 Alabama in Orlando. Three of these games as well as Colorado/Colorado State (Denver), Ole Miss/Texas Tech (Houston) and Texas/Maryland (FedEx Field) are in NFL Stadiums giving those venues an extra game and income. For the teams playing it is a chance to play a one-off game without having to go home and home. In the marquee home and home match-ups the teams get one home payday across a two-year period. With neutral site games teams make a big check up front and play a good opponent without having to travel to a road game the next season where they make no money.
2nd Down: Alabama is Anything But Neutral: Since 2007 Alabama has played 9 neutral site non-conference games in 11 years. In Alabama’s nine neutral site games they are 8-1 and have played 5 times in Atlanta, 3 times in Arlington, TX and 1 time in Jacksonville. Of note: the average margin of victory in those nine previous games is just under 19 points. During those nine games Alabama has played teams from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12 without ever having to leave the South. The only break in neutral-site games was a home and home with Penn State in 2010 and 2011 which had been rescheduled from 2004 and 2005 when Alabama was just coming off NCAA probation. Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore asked Penn State to postpone the series a few years. The 2005 matchup would have been huge as Penn State finished 11-1 and ranked #3 while the Tide finished 10-2 and ranked #8.
3rd Down: Hello Old Friend: #14 Michigan travels to meet #12 Notre Dame for the first time since 2014. The two teams are separated by about 135 miles as the pigskin flies and both rank among the most storied programs in the history of the game. This is the 43rd meeting in a series led by the Wolverines 24-17-1. THE player to watch in this game is without question Michigan QB Shea Patterson a transfer from Ole Miss. In 10 games played over two seasons he has completed over 60% of his passes for 23 TDs and averaged just under 314 yards per game. Patterson is the latest of a number of transfer quarterbacks to play for Harbaugh at Michigan. If Patterson can stay healthy and perform at the level he showed for Ole Miss, Michigan has tremendous upside in 2018. The Wolverines will need him to really play well if they hope to end a Big Ten Title drought dating to 2004—the longest drought in Michigan History.
4th Down: Off-Field Issues Looming: Both #5 Ohio State and Maryland will be without their Head Coaches as they host power-5 conference teams in opening games (Ohio State vs Oregon State and Maryland vs. Texas). At Maryland the team is dealing with the death of teammate Jordan McNair, paid administrative leave for their head coach and an investigation into how that incident and others were handled. Saturday the games will be played amid these lingering issues. While coaches want to believe players can tune everything out and focus on the game, it is easier said than done. Friends, fellow students and family members all want to talk about the off-field stories. Ohio State is in a far better position with its investigation completed, a decision rendered and experience in this type of season. In 2012 Urban Meyer took over a team on NCAA probation and led a focused approach that resulted in a 12-0 season. Ohio State also has several former Head Coaches on the staff with real game day leadership.