Coach Dick Tomey's willingness to fly his fourth-ranked Arizona Wildcats 1,900 miles east to play No. 3 Penn State today at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa., says a lot: He must think he has quite a football team.
Risking a season-opening loss is always scary for a team with national championship dreams. Risking one of these games on the road against a top team? That just isn't done.
Joe Paterno knows that much. He just about fell off his chair when someone asked if he would have agreed to play in the Pigskin Classic if the game was in Tucson.
"In Arizona? In August? Sure I woulda," the Penn State coach said, his Brooklyn accent steeped in sarcasm. "We woulda played 'em anywhere."
Most of Tomey's players never have been closer to Pennsylvania than the Rockies. And add a dash of jet lag to the novelty factor. But as Hawaii's coach for a decade, Tomey knows better than most how to handle a football team on a marathon trip, and he said he is making no special preparations.
At Hawaii, "we traveled west to east quite a bit to play in our conference, and those trips are more arduous and difficult than any anybody could possibly make on the mainland," Tomey said. "The biggest thing is you have to go with a good team."
He has that, and it's a team that provides an appropriate start to an opening weekend of college football that seems likely to revolve around quarterbacks. Arizona's co-quarterbacks Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins take on Penn State's much-maligned starter Kevin Thompson, a graduate of Damascus High School.
Also today, No. 1 Florida State and Chris Weinke square off with Louisiana Tech's Tim Rattay, who threw for nearly 5,000 yards last season.
Or try North Carolina State at No. 17 Texas, where Jamie Barnette, the ACC's total offense leader in 1998, hooks up with the Longhorns' Major Applewhite, who threw for 2,453 yards and 18 touchdowns.