Saturday Morning Splurge
Notre Dame and Michigan battle in the Big House to prove they're relevant again
BYU looks to maintain its momentum, and Landry Jones looks to keep OU on track
Plus: Lane Kiffin's first test, the showdown at the 'Shoe, Oregon's season restart
The 10 storylines to watch this Saturday.
How will Tennessee do in a "real" game? Last season's Tennessee-UCLA game marked the beginning of the end for Phil Fulmer and the beginning of the beginning for Rick Neuheisel -- as a motivational speaker, at least. The Vols are anxious to avenge last year's overtime loss and to play their first "real" game of the season (the 63-7 win against Western Kentucky in the opener did not, it seems, qualify, as afterward coach Lane Kiffin said, "our guys don't know what it's like to play 80 plays in a real game."). Kiffin and his all-star coaching staff spent the week prepping a young Vols team for a physical battle, and Bryce Brown and Co. seem poised to respond. We know what Neuheisel would tell Tennessee's youngsters if he coached in Knoxville. Just keep fightin', kids. It'll make a difference.
Will BYU maintain its momentum against Tulane? For reasons unknown, ESPN broadcast Tulane's season opener on Sept. 4, and the Green Wave looked less-than formidable against the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne manhandled Tulane's defense in his first career start, which bodes well for BYU's senior signal-caller, Max Hall. It's hard to focus on a team like Tulane when most of the country is talking about your BCS-busting chances, but neither Hall nor coach Bronco Mendenhall will let the Cougars lose sight of the task at hand. In which case, the real question is: Will more than 12 Tulane fans show up this week?
Which young gun will shine brightest in USC-Ohio State? If you're anything like my friend and colleague Stewart Mandel, you likely believe USC's true freshman golden boy is the second-coming (of Joe Montana, that is). If you're anything like Ohio State's sweater-vest donning coach Jim Tressel, you care a lot more about your dynamic sophomore speedster's spiral than what he writes on his eye black. If you're anything like most college football fans in America, you're chomping at the bit to see Matt Barkley and Terrelle Pryor, two of the nation's most exciting young talents, gun it out in an electric environment with BCS dreams on the line.
Is this the week Washington notches a win? Last Saturday, the Huskies hung with LSU in the first half, teasing fans into thinking their 14-game losing streak was about to end. With Jake Locker, the Tim Tebow of the West, back under center and new head coach Steve Sarkisian, formerly of USC, calling the shots, the Huskies notched 478 yards of offense against an LSU squad that was supposed to return to defensive prowess under coordinator John Chavis' direction. Ultimately, the Huskies couldn't outlast a Tigers squad that could contend for the SEC crown, but it didn't matter. The vibe was more important than the outcome, and it was clear newfound optimism had poked a hole through the clouds in the Pacific Northwest. This week that streak, now at 15, ends against Idaho.
Will swine flu cost a team victory? Friday, news crossed that North Carolina will be without starting fullback Bobby Rome and defensive tackle Jordan Nix this week, as both players tested positive for "probable" swine flu. At last tally, the flu had knocked out 30 Ole Miss Rebels and 10 Wisconsin Badgers, and that was after sidelining 27 players at Tulane, 16 at Washington State and two-to-three-dozen at Duke in the week's prior. Holy hand sanitizer. Yes, bacteria and viruses often jump from teammate to teammate (anyone else have less-than-fond memories of a ringworm outbreak among the high school wrestling team?) and yes, college campuses are in general cesspools for harmful sub-atomic matter, but what, exactly, gives? America's marching bands and color guards seem to be doing OK.
Can Landry Jones rise to the occasion? Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones is in an unenviable position. Sure, a fair few kids grow up on the Plains dreaming of leading the Crimson and Cream to victory, but lest we forget, Jones' first crack at that ended in crushing defeat. Plus, most kids want to be the hero, not the guy tasked with replacing the hero after he sprains his AC Joint. The icing on the cake? If there's a topic more popular than what Sam Bradford's injury means for Oklahoma, it's how Jones' beard looks like a porn-stache when partially obstructed by his chinstrap and facemask. Ah, modern media. The good news: Jones may not be Bradford, but Idaho State (this week's opponent), isn't Texas.
Are Notre Dame and Michigan back? Headed into the season, it looked like this game would be little more than a cruel reminder of how things used to be. All of a sudden, it's a matchup between two resurgent coaches and two resurgent teams -- at least we think. Both teams shined in opening-week smackdowns and hope to take a sizeable step toward renewed relevance with a win in the Big House. Notre Dame boasts an enviable pair of receivers in Michael Floyd and Golden Tate, but Michigan's got a dynamic duo of its own. Look for the Wolverines to mix things up by lining up freshmen QBs Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson together. Michigan could win this one, but Notre Dame should. For the good of the programs -- and the good of the sport -- let's hope it's a competitive battle, whatever the final result.
Can East Carolina beat West Virginia -- again? The Mountaineers couldn't have been pleased when the NCAA granted Pirates QB Patrick Pinkney a sixth year of eligibility. Last season, Pinkney completed 22 of 28 passes in ECU's upset win, a performance that seemed even more impressive next to WVU's anemic offense. ECU's offense struggled in the opener this season, but remember, the Pirates' D held the Mountaineers to a field goal last season, and that was with Pat White. Good luck, Jarrett Brown.
Can Oklahoma State keep playing SEC-style defense against Houston? The fact that Oklahoma State beat Georgia wasn't all that surprising. The way the Cowboys won, though, was. The Pokes used a dominant defense to stifle the Bulldogs, but contrary to popular thinking, Houston may prove a tougher test, at least offensively. The Cougars boast their own star QB in Case Keenum and are one of five FBS teams that averaged more yards from scrimmage than Oklahoma State in 2008. Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant should have big games, but so will their opposite numbers. Cowboys' RB Kendall Hunter could be the difference-maker.
Will Oregon show up against Purdue? You bet, and in feather-adorned uniforms to boot. The Ducks are eager to salvage their season, but to do so they'll have to beat a Purdue team that impressed in a 52-13 season-opening win over Toledo -- yes, the same Toledo team that mauled (admittedly forlorn) Colorado on Friday. Right now, Oregon and Chip Kelly need what Purdue has -- a little Hope. And, you know, a running game.
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