Seven Saturday storylines to watch in Week 3:
After tomorrow, the 2011 regular season will be almost a quarter gone. Eight months of waiting drag past interminably, and once it's upon us, football time blazes past with dizzying speed. Cherish this weekend for that reason, and for the opportunity to obtain a third point of triangulation for your favorite team. Poised in Week 1 and sloppy in Week 2? It's the third data point that goes the farthest toward revealing the true character of a team.
Except for these first two squads, of course. We might have to wait until this time next year to pin them down:
• And you will know us by the trail of suspensions: You get a fistful of costly suspensions. And you get a fistful of costly suspensions. And you get an ongoing NCAA investigation! And you get an ongoing NCAA investigation! This Ohio State-Miami tilt, hotly anticipated since the moment it was scheduled, has collapsed into the Oprah's Favorite Things episode from hell. Miami is the favorite here, but how any team could be designated a favorite with so much roster flux is anybody's guess. The AP wire report tells us a total of eight players will return to one team or another for Saturday-night action in whatever they're calling the stadium Miami plays its home games at now. The spin cycle of scandal might be slowing, imperceptibly. But just stop tempting fate until the book is closed on this one, would you, Buckeyes center Mike Brewster?
After everything we’ve gone through, it’s got to a point now where I feel like nothing can break us. We have gone through so much, we have handled so much, we just keep getting closer, and at this point nothing can affect us.
This one's an obvious tip, but watch out for some real-time babytown frolics at quarterback on both sides. Flashily erratic Jacory Harris gets the QB1 nod for the 'Canes, while onlookers will keep an eye out for blue-chip newcomer Braxton Miller as elder statesbro Joe Bauserman soldiers on for the Buckeyes.
• Point by point by point: Why we don't know anything about the following eight squads, and what Saturday might do to fix that:
- No. 15 Michigan State at Notre Dame: The Spartans have hummed along in relative obscurity for more than two weeks now. Despite being ranked in the top 15, they still can't be counted on to pull out a win over an 0-2 Notre Dame outfit because their two wins were obtained by trampling Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic. The Irish, for their part, have 10 (TEN!) turnovers in two games, and surely that has to slow down at some point just by the law of averages, right? (right?)
- No. 18 West Virginia at Maryland: Are the (undefeated, to be sure) Mountaineers' shaky starts attributable to the unexpected and abrupt insertion of a first-time head coach at the wheel, complete with all necessary personnel problems? Or are there real structural issues with this team? And is a Maryland squad we've only seen play once, against a highly suspect Miami team, competent and patient enough to grind those stress fractures into exploitable holes?
- Tennessee at No. 16 Florida: Who's caught more of a break over a fortnight of overmatched competition: Tyler Bray against the willing and nubile secondaries of Montana and Cincinnati, or Will Muschamp's defense against lackadaisical attacks from FAU and UAB? Is anybody in the SEC East fit to take on the paradigm shift that has South Carolina sitting atop what was once college football's most feared division?
- Washington at No. 11 Nebraska: Is a team favored to win the Big Ten letting Fresno State hang around for two and a half quarters cause for concern? And what on God's green Internet are we to make of Washington needing a last-minute endzone interception to beat Eastern Washington, then putting away high-scoring Hawaii with relative ease?
• Battle for the belt: The marquee matchup of Week 3 will pit No. 1 Oklahoma against No. 5 Florida State in primetime. Andy Staples will be camped out in Tallahassee for the duration; more from him later on. In the meantime, Bill Trocchi breaks down the action.
• We catch 'em, you buy 'em: On high upset alert this week are (or should be, if they know what's good for them):
- Penn State: Wounded, still juggling quarterback questions, and on the road against a Temple team that's handled its first two weeks with alacrity.
- Central Florida: That UCF defense against one-man show T.Y. Hilton is the weekend's most compelling matchup.
- Memphis: It feels like piling on to insinuate the Tigers could lose to an FCS team this weekend, but perhaps the ensuing chest compressions will pump some life into college football's most pathetic outfit.
• BIOHAZARD DO NOT TOUCH: Games which should not be consumed by nursing mothers, pregnant women, or persons with compromised hearts or immune systems:
- Texas vs. UCLA: Did you hear about the Bruins importing the soccer team's manager to shore up their special teams?
- Ole Miss vs. Vandy: Never trust Houston Dale Nutt against an overmatched opponent.
- Washington State vs. San Diego State: The Cougars have scored 123 points in two games since losing their starting quarterback five plays into the season, and the Aztecs struggled past Army after entering the season as darkhorse favorites to upset Boise State or TCU. Something's radioactive here.
- Eastern Michigan vs. Michigan: Listed here because Eastern Michigan is 2-0, and that ought to be noted for posterity.
- Auburn vs. Clemson: Hey, remember that time Clemson types attempted to dye a lagoon orange for a rivalry game and ended up with a pool full of what looks like foundry abattoir runoff? (Result at right.)
• Ow, my football team hurts: Will even a $10 Groupon deal manage to put butts in bleachers to see a winless Duke team versus an also-winless Boston College outfit? And will Louisville-Kentucky be called off at halftime, the score tied 5-5, due to "sadness"? • Your fix: Best bet for pure, uncomplicated football goodness between reasonably adept teams? Oklahoma State-Tulsa and Navy-South Carolina. Lots of passing, lots of running and lots of big hits, as the universe intended.