Ball State, Boise State and Eastern Michigan.
What do they have in common?
The answer is simple. They, along with a few others, make up a throng of teams that some of the SEC's finest will welcome into their homes to walk all over during the early part of the 2000 season.
Yes, it's a newly-found tradition used from coast to coast, with the SEC being no different play the worst of the worst and get your guys some experience before the big boys come calling.
Case in point, the Florida Gators.
No. 9 Florida opens their slate with the Ball State Cardinals on Sept. 2. Sounds mildly respectable (mildly at best) until you look at the fact that the Cards went 0-11 last season. Hmmmm.
The Gators' second contest has to be a test to get ready for a week three meeting with SEC rival Tennessee, right?? Actually, no. Florida will host another of the Volunteer State's funded universities Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 9. Incidentally, the Blue Raiders just recently moved into the Division I-A ranks in 1998.
The powder puff phenomena is one that Gator head coach Steve Spurrier has enacted for years, and who could argue with the theory as Florida seemingly always finds their way near the top of the conference heap.
The early cupcakes ambling down to The Swamp in early September might even help Spurrier to figure out whether Rex Grossman or Brock Berlin have what it takes to upbraid Jesse Palmer from the starting QB slot which ever one throws 10 or more touchdowns in a game is the starter. Sound fair?
C'mon Steve, just keep the score under 80, okay?
Another example of a team just looking get a couple of early Ws is South Carolina.
But let's face it, couldn't the Cocks and head coach Lou Holtz use a win or two after slumping to a defeated 0-11 record in 99.
South Carolina welcomes New Mexico State (Sept. 2) and Eastern Michigan (Sept. 16), with a conference rivalry game against Georgia (Sept. 9) sandwiched in-between. And if Carolina intends on avoiding another 0-for season, a win in one of those two games, against the Aggies or the Eagles, would be key.
Other early laughers include Arkansas hosting Southwest Missouri State on Sept. 2 and Boise State on Sept. 16, LSU opening up with Western Carolina on Sept. 2 and Kentucky playing South Florida in Lexington on Sept. 9.
Bear in mind, sometimes the cupcakes can almost become a little too rich for those trying to dine upon them just ask Auburn when they nearly fell to Appalachian State and Idaho in 99 and Nebraska when they struggled at home against Louisiana Tech in 98.
But, kudos to those teams who brave the idea of playing half-way decent competition early in the year to help prepare for tough conference foes on down the road.
Tennessee is an example of this.
The Vols open up with 23rd-ranked Southern Mississippi on Sept. 2, a show of confidence for a team that just lost nine guys (five juniors) to the NFL. The Golden Eagles come to Knoxville with virtually nothing to lose and the Vols could be fighting for their lives by night's end, with a new quarterback feeling his way under the lights.
And, if you want to talk interesting matchups, look no further than the meeting between No. 10 Georgia and Georgia Southern in Athens.
The best of Division I-AA against one of the best from Division I-A, the top two teams in the state of Georgia, Southern's tailback Adrian Peterson against a highly-touted Bulldog defense and the list of things to watch goes on and on.
The test of whether a powerhouse small college, like Georgia Southern, can hang with a big-name university, like UGA, will be conducted on the large scale at Sanford Stadium on Sept. 2.
In other respectable openers, Auburn hosts Wyoming on Aug.31, Kentucky plays at Louisville on Sept. 2, No. 18 Ole Miss hosts Tulane on Sept. 2 and No. 3 Alabama travels to UCLA on Sept. 2.