Saturday Morning Splurge
Charlie Weis and Rich Rodriguez need positive stars to mute hot-seat talk
Syracuse hopes Duke point guard-turned-'Cuse QB is ready for action
Two Pac-10 backs look to prove they're healthy -- and Heisman worthy
The 10 storylines to watch as college football Saturday arrives -- at long last.
Is Greg Paulus game-ready? A little more than five months ago, Paulus was playing in the NCAA basketball tournament with Duke. Now, he's a starting quarterback for a BCS team. (A BCS team that won just 10 games in the past three years, but a BCS team nonetheless...) Paulus' quick ascent to the starting role surprised some, but keep in mind new head coach Doug Marrone's arrival leveled the playing field by requiring everyone to learn a new system. More importantly, naming Paulus the starter gave Syracuse football something it's sorely lacked this decade: intrigue.
Will defense win out in the Georgia-Oklahoma State game? After failing to make good on last year's preseason No. 1 ranking and losing its starting QB and RB to the NFL, Georgia enters 2009 with more manageable expectations. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, garnered much preseason hype as a sexy sleeper pick. The Cowboys boast the nation's top offensive trio -- QB Zac Robinson, RB Kendall Hunter and WR Dez Bryant (the best of the lot) -- but all that firepower has overshadowed their defensive deficiencies. Mark Richt's teams don't train in$184 million complexes, but they're used to relying on defense and winning on the road.
Will Michigan start on a positive note? Well, it's a little late for that. With lawsuits and alleged NCAA rules violations casting a cloud of negativity and doubt over already hazy Ann Arbor, Rich Rodriguez can't afford another slow start. A week ago, Rodriguez probably would have survived a mediocre season. Now, it's bowl or bye-bye. A looming Week 2 showdown with Notre Dame makes an opening-game win essential, but Michigan lost to worse teams than Western Michigan last season.
Speaking of Notre Dame, are the Irish really a top 25 team? Nevada's pass defense is bad. Really bad. Worst-in-all-the-land bad. And so Notre Dame will probably win this game. That said, even after Jimmy Clausen connects with Michael Floyd and Golden Tate for a touchdown or two each, don't go off upset alert. The Wolf Pack can put up points in a hurry, and a young (though vastly talented) Irish line may not know how to handle their trademark Pistol formation. Don't be surprised if Notre Dame struggles enough, even in victory, to stoke the hot-seat fire.
Will Cal and Jahvid Best redeem themselves against Maryland? The electric Best has his eyes on a Heisman-worthy 2009 campaign, but he's got some more immediate concerns. Tops on the list: not falling to unranked Maryland for a second year in a row. This season, the time zone favors Cal, but for Best & Co. to redeem themselves, Cal needs to shore up its red zone defense and Best needs to notch more than 25 rushing yards. And, you know, avoid spewing Gatorade on the field.
Can Gene Chizik and Lane Kiffin quiet the critics? The controversial coaches (Chizik as a hire, Kiffin as a person, or at least a persona) won't get the chance to prove their worth against SEC foes just yet, but their coaching legacies at Auburn and Tennessee, respectively, still start Saturday. That means it's Chizik's first chance to placate the hordes of Auburn fans who sweat bullets each time they recall his 5-19 record as Iowa State head coach, and Kiffin's first chance to show he's got the walk to back up all that pre-meditated talk.
Will the entire state of Oregon end the weekend in a deep depression? The Ducks may be in total disarray but the Beavers still have high hopes. Those hopes, of course, rest primarily on sophomore running back Jacquizz Rodgers' now healthy shoulders. The Heisman candidate told SI.com contributor Lindsay Schnell he's stronger and faster than ever, which should frankly terrify opening foe Portland State and every other team on Oregon State's 2009 schedule.
Have injuries leveled the field in Oklahoma-BYU? Don't expect the BYU game to mark the beginning of another Heisman-winning or 50-touchdown season from Sam Bradford. Not when he's playing behind a line featuring four new starters, and not with his favorite target, All-America tight end Jermaine Gresham nursing an injured knee. BYU, though, must contend with injury and o-line concerns of its own ... and the concern of facing a stout Sooners' D.
Can Missouri still put up big points? Meet Blaine Gabbert, the kid tasked with replacing Chase Daniel, the most prolific passer in Tigers' history. The good news: Gabbert, the No. 2 QB recruit behind Terrelle Pryor in the 2008 class, isn't short on skill. The bad news: playmakers Chase Coffman (taking his lumps on a TV screen near you each week on Hard Knocks) and Jeremy Maclin now take their snaps on NFL fields, offensive coordinator Dave Christensen now calls plays for Wyoming and new OC David Yost seemed to prefer running a more vanilla offense this spring. That won't fly with Illinois QB Juice Williams and WR Arrelious Benn, who form one of the most explosive tandems in the country, lighting it up for the other side.
Will Florida see its title hopes derailed against an up-start Charleston Southern team? I kid. The real question: Will Florida cover that mind-blowing, record-setting, downright-mean 73-point spread? If not, all your betters can blame Andre Debose's temperamental hammy.
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