ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – This three-day Labor Day weekend is arguably the most exciting time on the American sports calendar. Its only competition being early February with the Super Bowl and MLB Spring Training.
But baseball’s playoff push, opening weekend of college football and the final week of the NFL preseason makes for some of the most watchable games in sports. Especially in St. Louis. Local enthusiasts will have a lot to keep track of, but these five match-ups are the most important:
1) College football – Ohio State at Virginia Tech: The returning National Champion Buckeyes had only one loss in 2014. It was to VT in Ohio’s home opener, 35-21.
But why should St. Louis be watching? For running back and 2013 graduate of John Burroughs High School, Ezekiel Elliott. Three times he took the Bombers to the Dome in the Missouri Football State Championship, but failed to win it. But he needed only one chance in college to go to the big dance, and win it.
Elliott’s last two games for Ohio were the National Championship and the Sugar Bowl. He scored a combined six touchdowns with 477 rushing yard and earned a National Championship Player of the Game award.
Monday night’s game at 7 p.m. on ESPN may be the first time we know who will be quarterbacking Ohio, since head coach Urban Meyer is keeping the surprise in his back pocket. If it’s Cardale Jones, expect Elliott to see 20 or more carries. But if J.T. Barrett earns the spot then Elliott may be in a lesser role and split rushing attempts with the agile quarterback.
2) MLB – St. Louis vs. Pittsburgh: Truth is, even if this were the middle of December, watching the St. Louis Cardinal’s Twitter feed would probably be one of the most important games of the weekend in St. Louis.
Going into Thursday’s games the Redbirds have a six-game lead on the Bucs in the NL Central. St. Louis’s magic number is 25, with 29 games left in the season. Since it is never too soon to look at magic numbers, right?
Worst case scenario for St. Louis this weekend is being swept, which still keeps them four games up. But the Cardinals still play Pittsburgh three times and have six games against Chicago before the regular season ends.
If St. Louis falls off the deep end, they will in all likelihood face the Cubs or the Pirates again, in the single-game Wild Card Playoff.
This weekend’s games at Busch Stadium are Friday at 7:15 p.m., Saturday at 3:05 p.m. and Sunday at 7:05 p.m.
And of course every game can be heard on KMOX 1120 radio.
3) College Football – Mizzou vs. Southeast Missouri State: St. Louisans who are west of the Mississippi better soon learn the name Terry Beckner Jr. This 6’4” 300 pound defensive lineman just graduated from East St. Louis High School in the spring and already he is forcing reporters to ask head coach Gary Pinkel if Beckner is as good at past lineman, Sheldon Richardson. If it weren’t for disciplinary issues, Richardson may have been a conference defensive player of the year, but instead was taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Beckner was ESPN’s No. 2 overall ranked recruit in 2015 and an obvious Under Armour All-American. He wasn’t expected to start this season, until Harold Brantley suffered a season ending injury from a car crash, followed by the dismissal of another projected starter, Marcus Loud. But if you have to start, or give significant playing time to a true freshman, Terry Beckner Jr. is the one you want.
Mizzou hosts SEMO at 3 p.m. on the SEC Network.
4) International Soccer – USA vs. Peru: Non-soccer fans from St. Louis may be tired of hearing it, but St. Louis was once the soccer capital of the U.S. There is no reason we can’t still be it.
St. Louis heros Frank Borgi, Harry Keough or Charlie Colombo may no longer be on the USA Men’s National Team. But Tim Ream, 2006 graduate of St. Dominic High School, will represent the USA and St. Louis in its two warm-up matches against Peru and Brazil in the coming week.
The defender’s first appearance for the U.S. came in November 2010 against South Africa, a game the U.S. won 1-0.
The next two friendlies against South American opponents will lead to an Oct. 10 match-up with Mexico. The winner of that match will advance into the 2017 Confederations Cup, a tournament of the top eight international teams in the world, and seen as a preview of the World Cup in 2018 in Russia.
USA is ranked 29th by FIFA with Peru at No. 49 and Brazil at No. 5 in the world. The Stars and Stripes host Peru in the nation’s capital on Friday at 6 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
5) NFL Preseason – St. Louis vs. Kansas City: As unwritten NFL laws go, St. Louis will likely only use its most prominent players in the first few series of the game. Starters will mostly be out after the first quarter, then back-ups and guys fighting for a roster spot will make their closing arguments to the Rams coaches.
But even though quarterback Nick Foles, about to enter his first season with the Rams, won’t play more than two series, don’t take your eye off the next quarterback in line, Case Keenum. Keenum has thrown more passes than any other Rams QB this preseason, and the Rams traded for the former Houston backup,which means there is an interest in something he does.
By no means will Keenum start over a healthy Foles, but with an offensive line projected to start two rookies, there could be a learning curve and Foles will see the worst of it.
St. Louis will host the 2015 Governor’s Cup tonight at 7 p.m. on Fox.