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AROUND THE COLLEGE NATION
September 9, 2004

SUPER FRIDAY

When the college football schedule came out a few months ago, Friday, September 10th didn't look all that impressive. After all, the only game scheduled involved two teams that were basically huge question marks: Oregon State and Boise State. OSU, we knew, had the talent to be a good team, but would they live up to expectations? And even if they did, would they be anywhere close to good enough to compete in the PAC 10? BSU lost one of the nation's best QBs in Ryan Dinwiddie after last season. With Fresno State picked by many as a top 25 team, the college football nation wondered if the Broncos could make a lot of noise in the WAC?

Now that we've started the season, this Friday looks about ten times as big as it did when that schedule was released during the summer. Not only did Oregon State and Boise State show they'll be threats in their respective conferences this season with impressive performances last weekend, Hurricane Frances caused the postponement of the Florida State/Miami matchup scheduled for last Saturday. That showdown, ranked as one of the top matchups of the entire 2004 season, was moved to this Friday, doubling the number of games on Saturday-eve and probably tripling the excitement of college football fans.

Oregon State was just minutes away from beating defending national champion LSU. The Beavers missed three extra points, any of which could have given OSU a huge road win to start the season. Though they are replacing Dinwiddie at QB, the Boise State offense showed plenty of life on Saturday. The Bronco offense put up 65 points on in-state rival Idaho and ran away with their first win of the 2004 season.

The OSU/BSU matchup is one of those great regional games that is especially cool because it has a BCS conference team traveling to take on one of the better non-BCS teams in the country. The Broncos were just one game away from possibly making the BCS in both 2002 and 2003. In both years, BSU dropped just one game, losing at Arkansas in '02 and at Oregon State (ironically) in '03.

How will Oregon State respond to the disappointment still lingering from last week? Will the Beavers still feel the pain and come out flat? Or will coach Mike Reily have his team ready to play, knowing they can hang with the big boys of the college football world? After all, any team that can nearly knock off LSU in Baton Rouge certainly has a shot at winning the PAC 10. And speaking of disappointment, BSU's only loss just last season came at the hands of the Beavers; it was a controversial two-point loss. Think the Broncos want a little payback?

Now looking towards the FSU/Miami battle, it's been a tough week for Seminole head coach Bobby Bowden. After having the team's first game of the season postponed (and it was a game that has been talked about since the end of the 2003 season) and having to deal the general stress of having a hurricane bear down on your home, Bowden's former son-in-law and nephew, just 15 years old, were both killed in a car accident over the weekend. And all this while the coach is supposed to be preparing for one of the biggest games in the history of Florida State football.

And why is it one of the biggest? Not just because it's the first game of the season. Not just because both teams are many experts' picks to make the BCS. Not just because the two teams are in-state rivals and fight for the same recruits year in and year out. It's because of this: for the first time ever, the FSU/Miami showdown has conference implications. With the 'Canes moving to the ACC this season, the winner of the game gains an early edge on the rest of the conference and likely has their toughest league game of the season already behind them.

It's also a chance for highly-propped players to make some noise. FSU QB Chris Rix hasn't beaten the Hurricanes in his career, and if he wants a shot at the Orange Bowl and this year's national title, the time is now to learn how to win a big game. For Miami QB Brock Berlin: he is still living off the high school hype from Louisiana where he was ranked as one of the top prep QBs in the nation. The attention has always followed Berlin. When he decided to transfer from the University of Florida, everyone in the nation wanted to sign him. If he wants anymore positive attention, he needs to show that UM's slump in mid-season 2003 was just a fluke. Otherwise, many may associate Berlin with the recent lack of success of Hurricane football.

A COLLEGE FAN'S DREAM

ESPN, the nation's self-proclaimed leader in sports, recently announced that they will be forming a new TV network entitled ESPNU. That network, as best I understand, will focus on college sports entirely, namely college football, men's basketball, and women's basketball. Other sports, such as college baseball, will also be shown. ESPN already airs the entire College World Series each year but has not shown any regular season games in many years.

In addition to regular season action, ESPNU will also air spring college football as well as some select high school football games and replays of live games shown on ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC. This looks to be a huge addition to ESPN's vast network that now includes multiple TV stations, a radio network, a magazine, and a website. ESPNU is scheduled to hit the ground running in March of 2005.

HITS & MISSES FROM WEEK ONE

HIT: Washington State...The Cougars went on the road to non-BCS school New Mexico and claimed a huge, three-point win to start the season. It seems WSU finds themselves disrespected at the start of each season but somehow proves themselves as one of the PAC 10's better teams in recent years.

MISS: Notre Dame...The Fighting Irish needed a win at BYU to start the season and couldn't quite come up with it. The Cougars, also desperate to get their program back on track, claimed an important three-point victory and got their season off to a good start. Many wonder how much time Ty Willingham has left in South Bend. The answer is not much if he doesn't begin to win. And the BYU game is one of the easier ones on the schedule all season.

HIT: Utah...One of my top picks as a BCS contender in 2004, the Utes absolutely destroyed Texas A&M last Thursday night. Second-year head coach Urban Meyer, who was previously at Bowling Green, will be at the top of the list for vacant coaching positions after this season. Speaking of Notre Dame....

MISS: LSU...Sure, the Tigers won, but shouldn't the defending national champions look a little more polished? The good news for coach Nick Saban is that he and his staff can now use this to light a fire under the team. It's obvious the Tigers will have to come ready to play each week to beat quality competition.

HIT: Purdue...The Boilermakers throttled Syracuse Sunday in both teams' season opener. Coach Joe Tiller's team was picked behind usual favorites Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten. Though I still think the Wolverines are the team to beat, Purdue showed that they are capable of grabbing one of the top two spots in the league standings this season if things fall their way.

MISS: Hawaii...Timmy Chang, thought of as one of the nation's top QBs, returns to June Jones' Warriors, and UH loses to D-IAA Florida Atlantic at home to start the season. Not good, especially since fellow WAC members Fresno State and Boise State looked good in Week One.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH IN WEEK TWO

(1) Pat Hill and Fresno State visit Kansas State this weekend. KSU lost a non-conference game to Marshall last year and could lose another here. RB Darren Sproles is one of the nation's best, but does he have a supporting cast? We'll find out where both teams stand this weekend.

(2) Texas travels to Arkansas, a team that returns only one starter on offense, Saturday night. However, that one starter is QB Matt Jones, one of the most slippery QBs in the country and a proven winner. Texas has a reputation for not living up to expectations while Arkansas continually overachieves. The Horns want revenge for UA's win in Austin last year. Will they get it?

(3) Sylvester Croom got off to a fine start in Starkville last week. The competition stiffens a little for Mississipi State this Saturday though. Tommy Tuberville's Auburn Tigers, ranked as one of the nation's top 20 teams, travel to Scott Field and bring with them possibly the best 1-2 RB punch in the land. Has MSU really improved that much or is Tulane that bad of a team?

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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