By Stewart Mandel
September 05, 2010

After winning his Notre Dame head-coaching debut with an inarguably solid 23-12 victory over Purdue, Brian Kelly was asked by a reporter if he felt like a "white knight."

Easy, now. It's one game. Let's not go rushing to conclusions...

Yeah, right. Who am I to lecture anyone about presumptuous analysis when, two games into last season, I gushed over Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier's potential while all but declaring Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor a bust? A year later, the latter is a Heisman candidate and the former is a third-stringer.

Oh, how hard it is to keep from reading too much into various first impressions after opening weekend. On the one hand, I feel like I learned a lot. On the other hand, I feel like I've been burned by many of the same parties before.

If Albert Einstein knows what he's talking about, you may be doomed to insanity if you've already reached the following conclusions:

Michigan has itself a quarterback

• When we last heard this: Last season.

• Why this might be presumptuous: See Forcier note above.

• Why this time might be different: Um, did you watch Denard Robinson? The guy was a machine against UConn, rushing 29 times for 197 yards while completing 19 of 22 throws for 186 more. Just as importantly, Michigan's other parts -- most notably the offensive line -- clicked as well, and Rodriguez's spread-option offense finally evoked its West Virginia form.

The only concern is Robinson's durability. Can a generously listed 6-foot, 193-pound quarterback make it through a season running 25 times a game? He briefly left Saturday's game after a shot to the hip at the end of one run. "He probably ran more today than we'd like," said Rodriguez. "I think that's a little bit much, but at the same time, he can handle it."

There's something wrong with Florida's offense

• When we last heard this:The first half of 2008 and '09 .

• Why this might be presumptuous: The center snap is usually fixable.

• Why this time might be different: While Mike Pouncey's repeated wild pitches against Miami of Ohio were most emblematic of Florida's offensive "incompetence," as Urban Meyer put it, the stench went far deeper than that. The Gators, playing without three injured or suspended veteran offensive linemen, flat-out couldn't move the ball for nearly three quarters against a MAC team that went 1-11 last season.

"It would be tough to win with this performance against an SEC team," said quarterback John Brantley. You think?

Mind you, Florida's offense (its running game in particular) struggled early in both of Meyer's BCS championship seasons, and like those units, this one will improve. The difference: This time there's no Tim Tebow to automatically bulldoze his way to three or four yards. Perhaps a healthy offensive line will give Brantley more opportunities to spread the field. If not, the SEC East is open for takers.

Notre Dame is "back"

• When we last heard this: 2009, 2006, 2005, 2002...

• Why this might be presumptuous: The Irish began last season by pitching a shutout (35-0 over Nevada) and wound up 6-6.

• Why this time might be different: You could have made a laundry list of all the areas in which Notre Dame needed to improve under Kelly, and the Irish hit all of them against Purdue: offensive balance, fundamentally sound defense, more pressure on the quarterback and fewer penalties (two). Charlie Weis left behind veteran talent, and it stands to reason that Kelly, a more proven head coach, can iron out the wrinkles.

Still, it will be some time before we can truly gauge Notre Dame's progress. If the defense holds down Michigan's Robinson next weekend, we'll probably start seeing some "Return to Glory" headlines, but try not to forget that the Wolverines are themselves coming off a 5-7 campaign.

Matt Barkley is the next great USC quarterback

• When we last heard this: The first half of last season.

• Why this might be presumptuous: He was playing Hawaii.

• Why this time might be different: He did throw five touchdowns, and looked darn good doing so. Say what you will about Lane Kiffin (whatever it is, he's heard it), but he does have a pretty long history of developing college quarterbacks. His greatest feat at Tennessee was turning Jonathan Crompton into an NFL draft pick. Whereas former offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates seemed to baby Barkley as a freshman, Kiffin showed little hesitation letting Barkley air it out in the opener.

USC's signal caller will obviously face much better pass rushes as the season progresses, and we'll have to see whether his receivers (Ronald Johnson, Robert Woods, David Ausberry) can excel when facing opponents over which they don't physically tower. The guess here is that Barkley's in for a big season. USC's defense, on the other hand...

So you may have heard about a little game taking place Monday night in Washington, D.C. There are so many things I'm curious about, I don't know where to start. Will Frank Beamer try to run the ball down the Broncos' throats or cut Tyrod Taylor loose, perhaps letting him test Boise's one glaring question mark, sophomore cornerback Jamar Taylor (the guy replacing first-round pick Kyle Wilson)? Will Kellen Moore have time to stand in the pocket and fire (if so, pray for the Hokies), or will Bud Foster ratchet up his trademark pressure even with a bunch of new starters?

But perhaps the most intriguing question is: How will the pollsters react to the result? Boise State is already in unchartered territory (No. 3 in the AP, No. 5 in the coaches'). A Broncos win probably won't affect much for now (perhaps the coaches might deign to move Boise ahead of Florida?), but what if the Hokies win? Barring a blowout, there should be little shame in Boise losing to a fellow top 10 team, but I have a feeling the voters will drop the Broncos far more harshly (10 to 12 spots) than they would, say, No. 5 Texas if it lost to No. 8 Nebraska (four to six spots).

One thing's for certain: No. 6 TCU, coming off a 30-21 win over Oregon State, would move ahead of the Broncos in the non-BCS pecking order. Barring a colossal upset, you can pencil in the Horned Frogs for at least a 7-0 start (prior to hosting BYU). Is it too soon to look ahead to what could be the Game of the Year in the Mountain West when TCU visits Utah on Nov. 6? Talk about some defense. On Saturday, the Frogs held Oregon State to 255 total yards and Beavers star Jacquizz Rodgers to 75 yards on 18 carries. Two nights earlier, Utah held Pittsburgh to 266 yards and Panthers sophomore Dion Lewis to 75, his lowest total since ... well, since entering college.

Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe believes in playing two quarterbacks. Even as former starter Ryan Perrilloux played his way to Ohio Valley player of the year honors last season, then-sophomore Marques Ivory saw significant time. Ivory was the Gamecocks' starter Saturday at Ole Miss, leading a nine-play, 71-yard drive and completing a two-point conversion with 18 seconds left to finish a 21-point comeback and take the Rebels to overtime.

At that point, however, the Gamecocks' coach of 11 years decided to make a change. "It's like a baseball manager working his pitching staff," Crowe said Sunday. "You go with your gut." All day, he'd been finding ways to use his talented true freshman, Coty Blanchard, the reigning Mr. Football in Alabama and Baltimore Orioles draft pick, who, throughout preseason practices, had dazzled with his ability to improvise. "He's a little bit of a Doug Flutie-type player," Crowe said of the 6-foot, 180-pound quarterback. "If he'd been 6-2, we never would have gotten him."

Facing a do-or-die fourth-and-15 in the second overtime, Blanchard hit receiver Kevyn Cooper in the back of the end zone for a remarkable 30-yard touchdown strike. With his defense dragging and facing the prospect of a third overtime, Crowe decided to end it right there. He called a play for Blanchard to either tuck and run or, if the defense pinched, throw a shovel pass. Or, he could throw to an outside receiver.

"There were three things he could do," said Crowe, "and he did the one thing I didn't think you could do." With an Ole Miss defender flying at him, Blanchard instinctively jumped and threw a short pass over the top to running back Calvin Middleton to complete the school's first win over an SEC foe.

The Gamecocks, who went 8-3 each of the past two seasons and led Florida State into the final minute a year ago, have gotten more competitive every year under Crowe, 62, himself a former SEC coach. Remarkably, Saturday's win came almost 18 years to the day after the then third-year Arkansas coach lost an opener to another I-AA team, The Citadel, leading to his abrupt dismissal the next day."If you stay in this long enough," he said, "it goes both ways."

Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games.

Title game: Alabama vs. Ohio State

Rose: Oregon vs. Boise State

Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Connecticut

Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Wisconsin

Sugar: Georgia vs. Texas

Nothing's changed since my preseason projections -- yet. Yes, the Huskies got drilled at Michigan on Saturday. But Pitt got outmuscled at Utah and Cincinnati's offense went silent at Fresno State. West Virginia played an FCS foe. If we were going solely by this weekend's results, the new Big East favorite would be ... Syracuse, which went into the Rubber Bowl and dismantled Akron, 29-3. And I'll wait for next week's Florida State game before rendering judgment on the Sooners.

• Georgia's season got off to a pleasant start Saturday with a 55-7 rout of Louisiana-Lafayette highlighted by new coordinator Todd Grantham's dominant defense. But a storm suddenly hovers over Athens, as star receiver A.J. Green has been sidelined by an ongoing NCAA investigation. Georgia coach Mark Richt remains mum on the subject, but indications are the probe has expanded beyond the infamous South Beach agent party (which Green has said he did not attend).

• Late Saturday, I listened to an ESPN News anchor repeatedly say the name Kenjon "Barmer" during a highlight package from Oregon's 72-0 rout of New Mexico. The sophomore who ran up 207 rushing/receiving yards and five touchdowns in the first half is named Kenjon Barner, last seen running for 64 yards in the Rose Bowl. When LaMichael James returns from suspension next week at Tennessee, Ducks coach Chip Kelly has plans to put both on the field.

• With the Big 12's decorated quarterback crop of the past few years off to the NFL, it's time to make way for the runners. Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter (257 yards, four TDs vs. Washington State), Kansas State's Daniel Thomas (234 yards, including a back-breaking 35-yard score with 58 seconds left) and Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray (218 yards on 35 carries against Utah State) notched the three highest rushing totals of the weekend (through Sunday).

• After their team's nearly disastrous collapse against North Carolina, LSU fans can at least take heart knowing what an absolute stud they have in cornerback Patrick Peterson, who set a school record with 244 return yards -- in the first half. It's also no coincidence he was on the bench when the Tar Heels began their comeback from a 30-10 deficit on a 97-yard touchdown pass from T.J. Yates to Jheranie Boyd. "I guess [the coaches] thought we had a comfortable lead," said Peterson.

• Speaking of Yates, his unexpected 412-yard, three-touchdown performance -- six yards short of a game-winning drive -- makes you wonder just how good this UNC team could be had scandals not decimated its roster. Not to rain on the Heels' moral victory parade, but the NCAA situation figures to only get worse, as evidenced by defensive line coach John Blake's resignation Sunday. What was supposed to be UNC's strength -- the defense -- has become a nightmare.

• Two presumptuously early candidates for All-America defensive ends: Missouri's Aldon Smith, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, had 10 tackles, three for loss (including two sacks) against Illinois, while Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan -- third nationally in sacks last season -- had seven tackles, 2.5 TFLs, a forced fumble and seemingly a zillion hurries against Notre Dame. I'm sure somewhere, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn is laughing at the suggestion.

• Last winter's two highest-rated running back recruits wasted no time making an impact at their respective SEC schools. Auburn's Michel Dyer ran for 95 yards on 14 carries against Arkansas State, while South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore scored twice against Southern Miss. I've been skeptical of Auburn's preseason hype, but there's no question its offense could be scary. Former Florida quarterback Cam Newton ran for 171 yards and threw for another 186 and three touchdowns in the Tigers' 52-26 win over their Sun Belt foe.

• It looked like old times at Nebraska's Memorial Stadium -- with a quarterback running the ball more than he threw it. In his first start, redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez dashed for 127 yards (highest by a Huskers QB since the Frank Solich era) and three touchdowns in a 49-10 romp of Western Kentucky. To rev up last year's horrific offense, Huskers coach Bo Pelini has committed to the quarterback run game. "[Martinez] can execute any part of the game," he said.

• I did a double take a couple weeks ago when I saw Louisville running back Bilal Powell -- who'd never previously run for even 400 yards in a season -- on the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list. But the senior broke an 80-yard touchdown and finished with 153 yards on 16 carries in the Cardinals' 23-16 loss to Kentucky, which, coupled with a surprisingly strong defensive performance, gives Louisville fans some hope to start the Charlie Strong era.

• Washington launched an extensive preseason Heisman campaign for Jake Locker -- including sending him on two East Coast media junkets -- but ultimately, it's up to the senior quarterback to distinguish himself. Against BYU, Locker delivered another solid (20-of-37, 266 yards) but unspectacular performance in a 23-17 loss to the Cougars. That's mincemeat in the QB-rich Pac-10, where Arizona's Nick Foles, for one, went 32-of-37 for 360 yards in a 41-2 rout at Toledo.

Ruffin McNeill got passed over at Texas Tech. Dominique Davis wore out his welcome at Boston College. Together, both coach and quarterback enjoyed quite the dramatic debut at their new school, East Carolina. Davis' Hail Mary pass to 6-8 receiver Justin Jones gave the Pirates a 51-49 win over Tulsa on Sunday. McNeill clearly brought Mike Leach's passing offense with him from Lubbock: Davis, briefly BC's 2008 starter, was 27-of-46 for 383 yards and five touchdowns.

• The Brian Kelly-to-Butch Jones transition at Cincinnati might not be as seamless as I anticipated. Zach Collaros and the Bearcats got off to a fast start against Fresno State with two early touchdowns, but the Bulldogs shut them out the rest of the way, holding the previously prolific offense to 241 total yards and collecting eight sacks -- three less than the Bulldogs had all of last season.

• The first game of the Jimbo Fisher era Saturday against Samford included some impressive numbers (the 59-6 score, Christian Ponder's four TDs on 12 completions) and one noticeable sore spot: 15,000 empty seats.

Champ Bailey II? On Saturday Georgia's Branden Smith became the first Bulldog since Bailey in 1998 to start on offense (receiver), defense (cornerback) and special teams (punt returns).

• Heck of a debut for Cal's true freshman receiver Keenan Allen. The five-star recruit notched 120 yards on four catches in a 52-3 win over UC-Davis.

• I would say Kansas' ghastly 6-3 loss to North Dakota State marked a dark day for Jayhawks fans, but with the Northern Iowa hoops upset, a ticket-scalping scandal, a disgraced athletic director ... is it even in the top five this year?

Georgia State, an FCS start-up program led by former Alabama and Kentucky coach Bill Curry, played its first-ever game last Thursday, and more impressive than the result (a 41-7 win over NAIA foe Shorter College) was the turnout, as a crowd of 30,237 converged on the Georgia Dome. To put it in perspective, that's higher than the 2009 season averages for 44 FBS teams, including at least one from every BCS conference except the SEC.

The average FCS home attendance figure last season: 8,025.

More than anything, that's why Curry's program has a chance to be successful in a hurry. There is no larger city in the country more passionate about college football than Atlanta, and clearly the appetite is vast enough to accommodate more than just the Dawgs and Yellow Jackets. Even after the novelty wears off and the crowds dwindle to half that, you'll still be looking at a school with more resources, more support and more fertile recruiting turf than 90 percent of its FCS competitors.

Meanwhile, imagine what it must be like to be a Georgia State student. One year, your school doesn't have a football team. The next, it exists, and it's playing in the same stadium that LSU and North Carolina filled two nights later. They even have a fight song.

Twenty months after being diagnosed with bone cancer, Boston College's All-America linebacker was back on the field making tackles (four of them, while playing about 20 snaps) in the Eagles' win over Weber State. His much-chronicled journey has inspired millions around the country, including one very special sideline guest Saturday.

As Kevin Armstrongfirst wrote for back in July of '09, Sister Barbara Anne Hallman, a 76-year-old Franciscan nun in Mishawawka, Ind., and herself a colon cancer survivor, took a particular interest in Herzlich's story and began penning letters of encouragement. Barbara Anne happens to be a huge Notre Dame fan, ironic given the teams' bitter relationship, but the two struck up an ongoing correspondence throughout Herzlich's recovery.

Along the way, Boston College AD Gene DiFillippo promised to fly her in if Herzlich made his anticipated Sept. 4, 2010 return. And he did. Sister Hallman told the Boston Herald she hadn't missed a Notre Dame game in 60 years before Saturday, but it was clearly worth it.

"My love for Notre Dame football has never been tested like this," she told the paper. "But how can I root against Mark?"

Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:

Miami at Ohio State, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): Terrelle Pryor got off to a hot start against Marshall, but so did Jacory Harris (12-of-15, 210 yards, three TDs) against Florida A&M. It will be a defining game for both players, and both teams, as they look to position themselves among this season's national elite.

Florida State at Oklahoma, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): This one got a lot more interesting after Utah State QB Diondre Borel carved up the Sooners' secondary Saturday, leaving nervous Sooners fans to "Ponder" the Seminoles' impending visit. We'll find out a lot more about both teams' defenses by day's end.

Penn State at Alabama, Saturday (8 p.m. ET):Robert Bolden became the first true freshman QB ever to start an opener for Joe Paterno. He played well, but Youngstown State is one thing. Meanwhile, on the other sideline, fifth-year senior Greg McElroy may get goose bumps when he watches film of Penn State's shaky secondary.

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