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REMEMBER THE TITANS - A HUGE WEEK LOOMS
September 8, 2010

SCS.com Back in 2005 (my first full season at SCS.com), the second week of the season brought a massive opportunity for the Big Ten Conference to make statements in threee absolutely massive games highlighting the best week of non-conference play that season. On paper, Iowa looked like favorites going to Iowa State, Michigan was also favored to beat Notre Dame, and Ohio State was hosting the most important game of the year against Vince Young and Texas. That week, like many others, proved that games are not played on paper. Iowa State crushed their rival, Michigan dropped a close decision to the Irish, and Vince Young began his magical season with a comeback drive to defeat the Buckeyes a few months before he would do the same to USC for the national title. The Big Ten not only squandered what I had called "a big opportunity," they never really recovered until last year when Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State brought honor back to the league in out of conference play and bowl games. This week brings one of the biggest slates of big games in recent memory, and again, three Big Ten teams are right at the forefront. OSU-Miami, PSU-Alabama, and ND-Michigan are more than enough opportunities to once again prove where the conference stands on a national stage. Before we jump into the week at hand, a look back at a wild first week is warranted.

The biggest story going into last weekend was the biggest tests for BCS busters TCU and Boise State. I believe it can safely be said that both passed with flying colors. On Labor Day night, Boise State recovered from blowing a 17-0 first quarter lead to get a crucial defensive stop and drive down the field to defeat Virginia Tech in Hokie country. While Kellen Moore did not always look crisp and there's a lot of growing to do on special teams despite Kyle Brotzman being a great kicker, this Broncos team is for real once again and does merit serious consideration for the BCS Championship if they run the table. However, that is a debate for 12 weeks from now that may be revisited upon the two biggest remaining games on the schedule: Oregon State and Nevada. Speaking of the Beavers, OSU also traveled across the country to face TCU in Cowboys Stadium, but lost the opportunity to drive for a tie on their last drive when a snap went over the head of Ryan Katz for a safety. However, TCU showed why they also could be a national title contender by shutting down Katz and the Rodgers brothers after a wild first half. The Horned Frogs also still have some big tests such as Utah left to manage before the debate can begin. However, neither team could afford a loss and both teams kept their national championship hopes alive after the first week.

Another clear theme throughout college football were the usual jitters of new personnel in their first games and first game communication issues. Nowhere were these problems more clear than at the Swamp, where Florida was rolled by Miami of Ohio for three quarters, then blowing the Redhawks out by 22. John Brantley only threw for 113 yards, and 97 of those came on two fourth-quarter passes. Eight fumbles and another dozen QB-center exchange issues sullied a great performance by the Gator defense including four forced turnovers. Considering running back Thomas Merriweather was ejected for throwing a punch to leave Miami rather one-dimensional on offense, the performance of the Gators was totally unacceptable for a team considered a national title contender. While John Brantley can only get better, he will need much more help from his recievers and his offensive line (especially center Mike Pouncey) to get things turned around before the Alabama game October 2. Fans in Georgia and South Carolina must be salivating to have their defenses go up against the Gators this year, which is a far cry from the Tebow years.

Another SEC team also had a very bad day on Saturday, and that was Mississippi. The Rebels expected another ho-hum FCS game against Jacksonville State, but the Gamecocks erased a 21 point deficit to force overtime, where a minor miracle happened on 4th and 15 from the 30 yard line. QB Coty Blanchard bombed a pass into the back of the end zone where Kevyn Cooper snagged it with inches to spare on his one foot in bounds. JSU then went for the win and snapped off the two point conversion when Blanchard found running back Calvin Middleton over the middle. Mississippi blew a perfect opportunity to bring in Jeremiah Masoli, who surprisingly won his NCAA appeal on Friday to play this season, and now faces the prospect of defeating some high-quality SEC teams to even begin thinking about bowl eligibility. Expect Masoli to have much more playing time next week as Mississippi looks to correct the problems of the first week breakdown. The lessons to take away from this is (1) do not forget Appalachian State or anyone else can defeat your team on any given Saturday, and (2) you have to take care of business and not let off the gas when up by 21 points. There is no room for relaxing with a lead in college football, and Mississippi will not forget that lesson anytime soon.

On the other hand, sometimes the week 1 games reveal that the situation is a lot more promising than originally thought. Michigan came into this season with lowered expectations following two losing seasons and a coach on the hot seat, but QB Denard Robinson finally showed why the Rich Rodriguez offense is so feared when the right quarterback takes the snaps. No disrespect to the other great options Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner, Robinson is another coming of Pat White and that is exactly what Rodriguez knows how to use. Although some steps forward on offense were expected, especially against a mediocre UCONN defense, the Wolverine defense could be the surprise unit in the Big Ten this season. The Huskies were totally shut down all day by the Wolverines, led by new CB J.T. Floyd, who forced a critical fumble in the red zone from D.J. Shoemate. For all the surprise in Ann Arbor, there perhaps was more in South Bend where Brian Kelly's debut went as well as his other coaching conquests thus far. New QB Dayne Crist threw for 205 yards and RB Armando Allen added another 95 on the ground to pace a potent offense. The real surprise was the Irish defense, which forced two interceptions from Purdue QB Robert Marve and kept the Boilermakers out of the endzone until the fourth quarter. These two resurgent starts set up a monster showdown this weekend, which will be previewed in a separate short article later this week as Notre Dame has been kind enough to invite us to cover the game. I will also have an article covering the gameday experience and of course, the story of whomever comes out of that epic showdown. For Notre Dame, this game could mean the BCS, while Michigan could become an instant conference contender with a victory in South Bend.

The limited use of special uniforms for big games last season made for some nice moments and some weird looking teams like OSU at Michigan in November. This year, the Buckeyes will again have a modernized version of an old national championship team (1942) in the Michigan game, but the special one-time use uniform designs are seemingly all over the major programs at some point in 2010. The first big spotlight of these special uniforms was the Labor Day showdown of Boise State and Virginia Tech. The Hokies wore all black including black helmets and orange and maroon trim. The numbers on the jerseys faded from maroon to orange and looked very nice, while the black helmets should see some play down the road as an alternative to the normal maroon (and much better than the white helmet). Meanwhile on the other sideline, Boise State had what can only be explained as the "retro Jets" uniform syndrome. Whomever designed the gray-and-white paneled jerseys must have been blind because there was nothing attractive about that uniform. The helmet had a nice stylized Bronco dominating once side of the helmet, but the cardinal sin of nothing on the other side of the helmet. Only the Steelers should ever be allowed to use that terrible idea, and one can only hope Boise State hides those jerseys forever. I applaud teams that mess with tradition a bit and do the off-color uniform once in a while, but more care needs to be taken in deciding what those designs should look like as half or more of them turn out terrible or silly.

Before turning to the games of the week (except for ND-UM), one final topic comes to mind and that is Saturday falling on the ninth anniversary of 9/11/01. While the overdramatic tributes may seem a bit stifling after nearly a decade, we should never forget the heroes/titans in New York on that day and our armed forces, who fight every day overseas for the betterment of everyone watching college football and reading this article. If you have a soldier in your life, please take the time to thank them for their selflessness and their courage in laying down their life or a significant portion of their young life in defense of all things we hold true. One also hopes the young men playing for the three service academies also have a great day on Saturday, even if the scoreboard does not end up in their favor. Without the troops, none of this would even matter. So kudos to all of you.

The first game of the week is Florida State at Oklahoma, an interesting inter-sectional game featuring two BCS conference favorites. The Seminoles rolled to a 42 point halftime lead in a 59-6 romp of Samford last week, while Oklahoma struggled to get past Utah State in a 7 point win. The competition level rises quickly for the Sooners as Christian Ponder looks to enhance a good start to a Heisman campaign after throwing for four touchdowns in the opener. RB Ty Jones will also look for another 100 yard day on the ground, but the real story will be Ponder against a seemingly weak secondary. Utah State QB Diondre Borel threw for nearly 350 yards, and cornerbacks Demontre Hurst and Jonathan Nelson will need to do a much better job against the likes of Jarmon Fortsen and Taiwan Easterling. On the other side of the ball, QB Landry Jones will need to improve on a sub-.500 passing efficiency against a good Seminoles defense. Florida State will be sorely tested up front by the Sooners offensive line and star RB Demarco Murray, who already has over 200 yards to start the 2010 season. Look for Oklahoma to try and control the clock and keep the crowd in the game by limiting Ponder's opportunities to face that embattled secondary. Although Oklahoma always seems to find a way to win at home, Ponder is absolutely the worst-case scenario for a defensive backfield looking for confidence. Florida State pulls a major upset for the ACC with a 4 point win in Norman.

The second game of the week is a renewal of an old rivalry as Penn State travels to Tuscaloosa to take on the defending national champs Alabama. Each team rolled to an easy season-opening victory, but the sledding will be very different in week 2. For the Nittany Lions, the key to the game will be whether freshman Robert Bolden can handle the heat of 100,000 hostile fans in his second start. Bolden did throw an interception in his first game, but Penn State will try to limit his decision-making under fire by handing the ball off to Evan Royster as much as possible. Royster could find some openings with DE Marcell Darius out another game for suspension. However, Alabama will stack the line against Royster and should force Bolden to beat them. The Crimson Tide are not exactly suffering in Mark Ingram's absence due to injury, but Trent Richardson will also likely be shut down by a talented Nittany Lions defensive front. Just like the Lions, the Crimson Tide offense will need to be driven by the passing game to move the ball. However, QB Greg McElroy has never lost a game as a starter at any level of football and the reason why is his smart decision-making under pressure. McElroy will have a big game and Bolden will make two critical turnovers that will make this game seem less close than it really is. Crimson Tide by 14.

The final game of the week is a rematch of the epic 2002 National Championship between Miami and Ohio State. Each team rolled to easy wins over underwhelming competition on Thursday night openers, and each of the talented quarterbacks will look to be the difference this week. For the Buckeyes, Terrelle Pryor threw for 247 yards and made a pair of well-timed runs for first downs in the opener, showing better command of the college game and an arm comparable to Troy Smith from a few seasons ago. When not tracking down WR Devier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, the Miami defense will have to contend with a talented running back trio in Daniel Herron, Brandon Saine, and Jamaal Berry, each running behind a veteran offensive line. The Hurricane defense has not been tested at all, and the only saving grace may be that Jacory Harris also can stretch defenses in practice. The Buckeyes defense did not look impenetrable in the opener, but the focus is taken off when the offense explodes for over 525 yards. Jacory Harris also threw for over 200 yards and 3 touchdowns in the opener, but he may find the going more difficult when Brian Rolle leads the blitz with Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence backing him up. The one difference in this game may be the running game, where Miami does not have a real leader and will certainly struggle against the Buckeyes, who rarely give up 100 yard rushing days to even the best running backs. Unless the Hurricanes can force OSU to play from behind early, expect the Buckeyes to grind this game with the running game and try to follow the formula that won them a national championship and also was used by Wisconsin in last year's bowl loss for Miami. Ohio State pulls away late for a 10 point win.

The Remainder of the Weekend - Week 2

(4) TCU defeats Tennessee Tech
(5) Texas defeats Wyoming
(6) Nebraska defeats Idaho
(7) Oregon defeats Tennessee
(8) Florida defeats South Florida
(9) Iowa defeats Iowa State
(11) Wisconsin defeats San Jose State
(13) Virginia Tech defeats James Madison
(14) Arkansas defeats Louisiana-Monroe
(15) Georgia Tech defeats Kansas
(16) USC defeats Virginia
(19) LSU defeats Vanderbilt
(20) Utah defeats UNLV
(21) Auburn defeats Mississippi State
(24) South Carolina defeats Georgia
(23) West Virginia defeats Marshall
(25) Stanford defeats UCLA

2010 GOTW Record: 3-0
Last Week: 3-0
2010 Overall Top 25 Record: 22-1
Last Week: 22-1

Fitz Top 10 - Preseason

1. Boise State (1-0)
2. Ohio State (1-0)
3. Alabama (1-0)
4. TCU (1-0)
5. Iowa (1-0)
6. Nebraska (1-0)
7. Texas (1-0)
8. Miami (1-0)
9. Oregon (1-0)
10. Wisconsin (1-0)

Just Missed: Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Arkansas

As I mentioned above, I will write a more thorough preview of the Notre Dame vs. Michigan showdown coming up on Friday, to preview the last big game of the weekend. Also do not miss South Carolina hosting Georgia, which may determine the true frontrunner in the SEC East with Florida seemingly down after one week. The best part of opening weekend was that all the big games lived up to their hype, ending with dramatic fourth quarter stops or game-winning drives. The most improvement supposedly happens between the first two weeks of the season, so for all these teams facing huge showdowns in week 2, this axiom hopefully comes true. Boise State and TCU have been confirmed as legitimate BCS Championship contenders, and this week will determine if Oklahoma, Alabama, and Ohio State can join them in the upper echelon. Have a fantastic week and feel free to email me if you are going to be in South Bend on Saturday.

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