Before the Clock Starts: T-8 Weeks

July's here, which means we are technically a month away from college football. OK, it's the beginning of July, and football starts at the end of August, putting us eight weeks from the glory of Labor Day Weekend.

This year, I'm returning to Before the Clock Starts a little earlier than I did last year. Last year, I went through the six AQ conferences; this year I've cast the net a bit wider.

Since starting the Band on the Road project, I've included the MEAC and SWAC. While they don't play the highest level of college football, there's no denying that HBCU fans take bands more seriously than those at predominantly white institutions. And with all due respect to the CIAA and SIAC, my personal compromise was to stick to Division I programs.

As with last year, we'll take a look at what conference champions do before the clock starts: The pregame show. Designed to set the tone for the football game to follow, pregame shows are, by design, high-energy, crowd-focused, and school-centric.

MEAC Champion: Bethune-Cookman University Marching Wildcats

SWAC Champion: University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South (M4)

Of course, since I am dipping into the FCS ranks, I can't ignore the school who actually won it all at that level of competition, North Dakota State University and its Gold Star Marching Band.

And finally, from without the six AQ conferences, one school, Northern Illinois University, crashed the BCS party with an appearance in the Orange Bowl. Representing the Mid American Conference, the Husky Marching Band.

Before the Clock Starts will continue each Saturday until the clock starts on the 2013 season. Stay tuned!