College Football Preview, Week 3: Battle In Top 5 Headlines Weekend

NORMAN OK - SEPTEMBER 11: Lamarcus Joyner #20 of the Florida State Seminoles returns a kick against Sam Proctor #27 of the Oklahoma Sooners at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 11 2010 in Norman Oklahoma. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Top ranked Oklahoma is on the road this weekend in maybe the biggest non conference game of the season when they travel to Tallahassee to take on fifth ranked Florida State. It's the second meeting in two years for the traditional powers, but with both ranked in the top five, this one will impact the race for the national championship.

WEEK 2 REWIND

Not much was decided in terms of who the true contenders are for the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans.  Everyone in top five had a fairly easy go of it with Alabama, LSU, and Florida St all winning by relatively comfortable margins while Oklahoma and Boise St took the weekend off. 

However, behind the top five there was a wave of wild finishes, upsets and near misses that certainly stopped the hearts of several coaches around the country.  The first such heart stopper was at Jordan Hare Stadium where after most declared them a dead team walking after having to rally against lowly Utah St on opening weekend, the defending champion Auburn Tigers out slugged the previously 16th ranked Mississippi St Bulldogs in a back and forth affair, 41-34.  In a game where defense was considered optional, it was back-up Tigers safety Ryan Smith who made the play of the game, going low on 250 pound Bulldogs QB Chris Relf at the goal line to prevent what would have been the tying touchdown in the final seconds. 

The hits kept on coming in the SEC where Georgia Bulldogs coach Mark Richt was thought to be coaching for his job at home against No. 12 South Carolina after two subpar years and an opening week beat down from Boise St. on his resume.  After jumping out to a an early lead, the Bulldogs had trouble holding on to the football, surrendering three non offensive touchdowns (two of them to Melvin Ingram) in the final three quarters including a back breaking fumble late in the fourth quarter that allowed the Gamecocks to put the game away 45-42.  The fourth quarter alone featured 39 points and over 300 yards of total offense.

Outside the SEC, Ohio St got everything it wanted from the visiting Toledo Rockets and then some.  The Rockets led 8-7, 15-7, and 22-21 before running back Carlos Hyde scored late in the third to give the Buckeyes a 27-22 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. With three minutes to play in the fourth quarter though, Toledo recovered a fumble and marched 55 yards to the Ohio St 17 yard line before being stopped on fourth down.  Had Toledo converted and gone on to win the game, it would have been the first loss for Ohio St to an in-state opponent in 90 years.

In the game that was selected as our upset special, the 24th ranked Texas Longhorns found themselves trailing the BYU Cougars 13-3 at halftime before making a change at quarterback.  Longhorns coach Mack Brown decided to bench incumbent starter Garrett Gilbert and rotate his three remaining quarterbacks, chief among them Case McCoy, younger brother of Longhorns great Colt McCoy.  McCoy hooked up with Jaxon Shipley (younger brother of Colt McCoy’s favorite target Jordan) to help set up Longhorns running back Cody Johnson to punch in the winning score with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.  A late stand by the Texas defense allowed them to escape with their record unblemished, 14-13. 

This week the games get more important as three teams in the top five will face ranked opponents including No. 1 Oklahoma.  They’ll travel down to Tallahassee, Florida to tangle with No. 5 Florida St in the most intriguing game of the weekend.  Not be outdone, LSU is opening SEC play Thursday when they travel to Starkville to battle Mississippi St.  Both games have national championship and Heisman implications and headline a big weekend in college football.

MAIN EVENT

No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners (1-0) @ No. 5 Florida St. Seminoles (2-0) – Sep. 17 @ 8:00 p.m. (ABC) This is quite possibly the biggest game that the Seminoles have played since these two met for the national championship back in 2001. After a number of years of mediocre play in the final years of Bobby Bowden’s coaching career, Jimbo Fisher’s troops are looking for respect.  Playing in a weaker than usual ACC, and without another top 15 team presently on their schedule, this may be the one chance the Seminoles have to make their case as a legitimate contender for the national championship.  On the flip side, Oklahoma is actually in a similar situation.  With the departure of Nebraska to the Big 10 this season, Texas A&M is the only other team ranked in the top 15 that the Sooners will face.  With the entire country watching, the Seminoles oft-maligned defense will be under the spotlight against Sooners quarterback Landry Jones and his high powered offense.  It’s also the first time this season for Seminoles quarterback EJ Manuel to show that he’s capable of leading the team to big things against top ranked teams.  His only start against a highly ranked opponent was the shootout loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game last year.  Bob Stoops’ team won this game handily last year in Norman, 47-17.

UNDERCARD

No. 3 LSU Tigers (2-0) @ No. 25 Mississippi St. Bulldogs (1-1) – Sep. 15 @ 8:00 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN3.com) This is a tall order for the Bulldogs.  They come into this game on a short week after a brutal road loss to Auburn and now must face an even better team in LSU.  Fortunately for Dan Mullen’s kids, this game is in Starkville, which can be one of the more intimidating environments in the SEC.  LSU on the other hand has no such problems.  They essentially had a bye week, brushing aside lowly Northwestern St, 62-3, and resting most of their players to prepare for this one.  Enigmatic but electric Jordan Jefferson likely won’t be back for the Tigers this season, which means Jarrett Lee will run the show at quarterback.  He wasn’t called upon much in their season opening win over Oregon, but may be asked to do more in this one.  The Tigers bruising defense is what fuels their engine though, and for the Bulldogs to have a chance, quarterback Chris Relf is going to have to show that he can make plays down the field with his arm in order to open holes for running back Vick Ballard.

No. 17 Ohio St. Buckeyes (2-0) @ Miami Hurricanes (0-1) – Sep. 17 @ 7:30 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN3.com) In an off-season that was riddled with scandal, rule breaking, and sanctions, no two schools were in the news more than Miami and Ohio St.  The Buckeyes are still missing a number of top threats like DeVier Posey that were implicated in the memorabilia sales that led to the firing of hugely successful former coach Jim Tressel, but have managed to keep their heads above the water thanks to a light schedule that included two MAC opponents.  The Hurricanes meanwhile will be getting a number of impact players back for this one including linebacker Sean Spence and quarterback Jacory Harris.  Harris has had an up and down career at Miami, and his return to the starting lineup this week has been met by some trepidation from Hurricanes fans, but Harris can do a lot to justify his never ending hype by beating the Buckeyes.  On the other side, the ever steady Joe Bauserman took every snap in the teams win over Toledo.  What that means for freshman phenom Braxton Miller is uncertain, but as long as Bauserman stays away from turnovers, the always stout defense will do the rest.

No. 23 Texas Longhorns (2-0) @ UCLA Bruins (1-1) – Sep. 17 @ 3:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN3.com) Last year, a mediocre Bruins rolled into Austin and left the Longhorn football team in shambles.  UCLA forced four first half turnovers, racked up 264 yards on the ground and walked away with a dominating 34-12 win.  The loss was part of a tailspin that saw Mack Brown’s club lose seven of their final nine games and resulted in the team’s first losing season since 1997.  After a great deal of upheaval on the coaching staff in the off-season, Texas is off to a 2-0 start, though it’s not been an easy road.  The team has already cycled through four different quarterbacks before settling on Case McCoy and needed a late second half rally to fend off BYU last week.  Now they travel to Pasadena where they’ll have an opportunity to repay the Bruins for the beating they absorbed in Austin.  The Bruins meanwhile haven’t exactly had a dream start themselves.  After a tough loss at Houston on opening weekend, the team had to grind out an ugly win against San Jose State last week.  Running back Derrick Coleman will anchor the ground game for UCLA that was so effective last year, while the return of quarterback Kevin Prince will give the team an aerial attack as well.

TOP 25 UPSET WATCH

No. 15 Michigan St. Spartans (2-0) @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish (0-2) – Sep. 17 @ 3:30 p.m. (NBC) The Irish might be the best 0-2 team in the history of college football, and they’ll be desperate for a win on Saturday when they tangle with Michigan State.  Over the past two seasons Notre Dame has invented creative ways to lose football games, but last week’s meltdown in the closing moments against Michigan was especially spectacular.  It was a game that they controlled from the outset; leading 24-7 after quarterback Tommy Rees was tossed his second touchdown pass of the game.  But the wheels came off the defense in the fourth quarter and Denard Robinson did what Denard Robinson does, making spectacular plays all over the field. Michigan St on the other hand has had an easy go of it the first two weeks with a pair of overmatched opponents coming to East Lansing for a check and a beating.  The Spartans were grossly overrated last season and with most of the same team returning against a Notre Dame team that is loaded with talent, the Irish would seem due to win a close game.  Despite the tough start, Notre Dame might be the better team, and Las Vegas seems to agree instilling the Irish as four point favorites.   It’s won’t be an upset in Vegas, but the rankings say otherwise.

LOCAL SPOTLIGHT

Duke Blue Devils (0-2) @ Boston College Eagles (0-2) -- Sep. 17 @ 12:30 p.m. (ACC Network/ESPN3.com) It's been a bad start to the season for Boston College.  They lost their home opener to a back-up quarterback, they were blown out in their first road game of the season, and now they've lost their offensive coordinator to a health problem.  Fortunately for the Eagles, the Duke Blue Devils are in town, and this isn't a basketball game.  The Blue Devils are also 0-2 and coming off a beating at the hands of likely number one draft pick Andrew Luck and the Stanford CardinalSean Renfree will lead the Duke passing attack which is actually fairly potent.  Donnie Fletcher and the Eagles depleted secondary will need to be much better than they've been to this point in order to contain explosive Duke wideout Conner Vernon.  On the other side, Chase Rettig will look to make some improvements after he struggled badly against Central Florida last week.  The sophomore quarterback will need to make quick decisions as Duke is likely to blitz a great deal and test the Eagles suspect offensive line.

Iowa St. Cyclones (2-0) @ Connecticut Huskies (1-1) -- Sep. 16 @ 8:00 p.m. (ESPN2/ESPN3.com)

Maine Blackbears (1-1) @ Albany Great Danes (1-1) -- Sep. 17 @ 6:00 p.m.

Rhode Island Rams (0-1) @ Massachusetts Minutemen (1-0) -- Sep. 17 @ 6:30 p.m.

Georgetown Hoyas (2-0) @ Yale Bulldogs (0-0) -- Sep. 17 @ 12:00 p.m.

Harvard Crimson (0-0) @ Holy Cross Crusaders (1-1) -- Sep. 17 @ 1:00 p.m.

Brown Bears (0-0) @ Stony Brook Sea Wolves (0-2) -- Sep. 17 @ 6:00 p.m.

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