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Plotting a course through the 2009 season

Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - My ultimate road trip would be one that started in early September and carried into the month of December. The spots on the map, marked by stick-pins, would just so happen to be the sites of the best college football games of the year. So, with that in mind, here is how I would spend my time during the 2009 campaign

Week one provides a couple of intriguing choices, with Georgia traveling to Stillwater to battle Oklahoma State, Oregon taking on Boise State on the blue turf and BYU getting an opportunity right out of the gate to make a statement when it tangles with Oklahoma in a kind of neutral site affair in Arlington. However, I am going to point the car south towards Atlanta to watch powerhouses Alabama and Virginia Tech get it on at the Georgia Dome. Nick Saban and Frank Beamer both have top-10 teams from a talent standpoint, and the winner of this one could climb into the top-five in the early going. The Tide absolutely destroyed what was supposed to be a quality ACC program (Clemson) early on last year, but expect the Hokies and their tenacious defense to provide more in terms of competition.

The following week features Notre Dame at Michigan and although this is a game with plenty of intrigue, Columbus is the only real destination, as the Buckeyes seek revenge against USC. Ohio State was manhandled out in California last year and looks to return the favor this season. With superstar Terrelle Pryor's confidence growing, that could very well happen, considering the Trojans are probably the most vulnerable they have been in recent memory, with an influx of youngsters, including under center.

Tim Tebow and company are primed for yet another run at the national crown.
Utah and Oregon will provide plenty of fireworks and Florida State at BYU will keep me tuned in, but there is only one place to be the weekend of September 19th. Although I am doing a good deal of "back-tracking" already, I must head south for the second time in three weeks for the SEC showdown between Tennessee and Florida. The Volunteers are under new leadership in Lane Kiffin and are already dealing with a great deal of adversity with injuries and the like. To make matters worse, Tennessee will be taking on the defending national champions in Gainesville. Tebow and company are primed for yet another run at the national crown, and this game could be a springboard to just that.

The easy thing would be to head back to Columbus for Illinois at Ohio State, as two of the nation's most athletic signal-callers will go toe-to-toe. Another game of note includes a tough TCU team taking on Clemson, but "Happy Valley" is the place to be on September 26th and will find Penn State looking to make a statement against an Iowa team that spoiled the Nittany Lions' opportunity for a perfect season in 2008.

"Go west young man" is the phrase that comes to mind heading into October. That is exactly the advice I will follow, as the Pac-10 showdown between USC and California should provide plenty of fireworks in Berkeley. By this point, we should know all we need to about the Trojans, but the Golden Bears will present a real threat, with tailback Jahvid Best leading the way.

The weekend of October 10th will be highlighted by Georgia Tech at Florida State, Alabama at Ole Miss and Georgia at Tennessee, but the Bayou is next on the itinerary, as the defending national champs make a dangerous road trip to Baton Rouge for a night game against LSU. The Tigers were embarrassed last year by the Gators, and Les Miles would like nothing better than to derail the Florida freight train.

The weekend of October 17th promises to be one of the best of the year, with marquee matchups like Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech battling for ACC supremacy, and USC traveling to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. Both games have to be considered "must-watch television," but the destination is the Lone Star State, where the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns duke it out in the Red River Rivalry.

Choices abound the weekend of October 24th, with USC seeking revenge against Oregon State, Oklahoma set up for perhaps a "trap" in the form of a a road trip to Lawrence against a tough Kansas team, and the always-entertaining Penn State at Michigan matchup. However it is time to put the Mountain West center stage and TCU at BYU should certainly deliver. The Cougars' explosive offense against the Horned Frogs' stingy defense -- what more could you ask for?

To close out the month of October it could be a stop in Eugene for USC at Oregon. The Trojans have won seven straight Pac-10 crowns but that reign may just end in 2009, as the Ducks possess all the talent necessary to earn the top spot in the conference. Providing both teams take care of business up to this point, this should be a shootout with everything on the line. However, the annual showdown between Florida and Georgia in Jacksonville is where I will be. The Gators will have another national title in sight and will view the Bulldogs as one of the last real obstacles in the way.

It is back to Happy Valley to begin the month of November, with Ohio State and Penn State jockeying for position atop the Big Ten. If both programs survive unscathed to this point, the conference crown and likely spot in the BCS national championship game are there for the taking.

Following what could be a very physical game at Penn State, Ohio State returns home to take on Iowa in Columbus, in a matchup that has "upset" written all over it. Another key game has Notre Dame traveling to Pittsburgh, but the Mountain West once again wins out, as Utah takes on TCU in Fort Worth. Both teams could be undefeated at the time if everything works out for them, and this should be another opportunity for the MWC to show that it belongs.

What is not to like about the third weekend in November? It will be a tough call, with Ohio State at Michigan and LSU at Ole Miss, but Kansas at Texas gets the nod here. The Jayhawks are a good team with a great signal-caller, but can they go on the road and knock off the Longhorns? It is certainly worthy of a "look-see."

I will close out November with a "two-fer" as Friday, November 27th will find me in Morgantown for the "backyard brawl" between Big East foes Pittsburgh and West Virginia. In-state rivalries will highlight Saturday's action, with Utah at BYU, UCLA at USC, Clemson at South Carolina, Georgia at Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State at Oklahoma and finally Florida State at Florida. I wouldn't be against a third Mountain West stop, as BYU and Utah could very well be playing for a BCS bowl berth, but the only thing standing between the Gators and yet another national title could be the Seminoles.

Without knowing who will be playing for conference crowns, there are only a smattering of games to close out the regular season in early December. With that, my final destination is Eugene, where Oregon State and Oregon will battle in another installment of the "Civil War."

Three months on the road seems grueling, but the payoff would be a great college football season, and the entertainment value well worth the wear and tear.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Haynes

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