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September 17, 2009 The venue was two of the largest stadiums in America, the Big House and the Horseshoe, two freshman quarterback grew up in front of our eyes Saturday. Two weeks ago, Tate Forcier was in a three-way battle for a starting position and ended up splitting time with a running quarterback perhaps more suited to Rich Rodriguez's offense. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Matt Barkley was overcoming the veteran Aaron Corp for a starting position everyone thought Corp had wrapped up weeks ago. In Week 1 both Forcier and Barkley were successful against inferior competition, but the spotlight came quickly in Week 2 of their young careers. Forcier's task was taking on a ranked Notre Dame team at home with tons of talent, while Barkley was tasked with facing 106,000 hostile fans at Ohio State. All signs pointed to failure.

But then, something amazing happened. In the late afternoon, Notre Dame had stormed back behind Jimmy Clausen to two touchdowns in four minutes of the fourth quarter to take a 34-31 lead. Then the Wolverines wilted on their possession with five minutes left and punted the ball deep to Notre Dame, which looked like game over. But then, Notre Dame failed to run out the clock and offered Forcier one more chance with two minutes left and 57 yards to drive. Forcier was brilliant in the two-minute drill, avoiding pressure and tossing accurate balls to his talented wide receivers. Forcier then finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Greg Matthews, and Michigan crushed all the hearts of the Irish with 11 seconds to go. Although the final drive was conducted aat his home stadium, Forcier put up monster numbers of 22 for 33 with 240 yards and 2 touchdowns passing, as well as 70 yards and a touchdown rushing. There's now absolutely no doubt Forcier is the quarterback Rodriguez has sought and will be the Michigan man of the future.

Then the true entree of the football schedule hit the airwaves, USC at Ohio State. The crazed Buckeye crowd was larger and louder than ever seen before, with ten hours of tailgating to prepare for another momentus game. For fifty-four minutes, the crowd rattled in Matt Barkley's ears as USC struggled to put up the 10 points they had. However, the Buckeyes failed to capitalize on their dominating field position, and USC received a punt at their own 14 yard line with just over five minutes to go. Barkley walked into the huddle with a smile on his face and put the ball into his best playmaker's hands in RB Joe McKnight. McKnight made some amazing plays against the defense that had stuffed Barkley and company all day, and Barkley managed the drive like a pro. When the drive was punctuated with a 2 yard touchdown by Stafon Johnson with a minute to go, Barkley had silenced the crowd and the critics who said he was not ready. In the toughest environment Barkley may see in all three or four of his years at USC, he pulled his team to an epic victory. The kicker in this game was that Barkley sustained a shoulder bruise in the third quarter on his throwing arm in a similar tackle that put Heisman winner Sam Bradford out a week earlier, but Barkley never left the game or the spotlight despite this problem.

While the performances were a great start, the question remains: is this just a mirage or a sign of things to come? In the case of Tate Forcier, this kid is the real deal. Michigan will not be undefeated or in a BCS bowl this year, but a lot of teams will be knocked around in the Big Ten by the renewed Wolverines. Although Forcier will likely still see some split time with the better runner Denard Robinson, even without his shoes tied, Forcier has locked up the majority of future playing time because he brings a true dual-threat package. In Rodriguez's offense that will only get better with 1-2 more recruiting classes, Forcier will continue to put up monster games and be a nightmare for defenses to prepare for. Forcier is the real deal. As for Barkley, at this point the success is but a mirage. USC quarterbacks have a habit of going onto great things in the Carroll era, as Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart, and Carson Palmer are Sunday regulars. I have little doubt Barkley will eventually become a high-quality pro prospect under Carroll's offense and tutelage. However, Barkley is not making any great plays, just managing a game and limiting his mistakes. Barkley will look good because of McKnight and the talent around him, but USC will likely lose a game or two this season unless Barkley improves quickly. Thus, this success is a mirage as far as 2009 is concerned.

Keeping with the theme, another Conference USA team jumped into prominence with a big 2-0 start for the second straight year. Last season East Carolina looked poised to perhaps run the table after beating Virginia Tech and West Virginia, but ended up 8-5. This year Houston snuck right up on freshly-minted top 5 team Oklahoma State and now finds themselves in the national rankings alongside power programs and the regular quad of BCS busters in Boise, Utah, BYU, and TCU. Unlike the Cowboys they just knocked off, the Cougars will get a week to savor this victory with a bye before another big showdown against Texas Tech. QB Case Keenum is one of the hidden stars in the non-BCS conferences, and he has a more experienced supporting cast than he has ever had before. Keenum and company will put up a lot of points but may struggle to get a defensive stop when they need it most. In this manner they are very well-suited to beating the Big XII South teams, but conference play will be a challenge in the underrated Conference USA. Houston is not a mirage, but they also will not get the benefit of the doubt for BCS consideration unless each of Boise State, Utah, TCU, and BYU lose. That's not likely, so Houston as a BCS buster is a mirage.

Although the ACC and Big Ten seem more maligned in the national media, the Big East remains the weakest BCS conference due largely in part to their smaller size. Nevertheless, some good stories like Greg Paulus giving up the hardcourt for the quarterback role at Syracuse have been interesting storylines to start the year. Cincinnati made a statement pair of wins at Rutgers and in a 70 point win against SE Missouri state, while West Virginia has also notched a couple of hard fought victories. With South Florida and Pittsburgh also at 2-0, is the Big East good enough to have a true national title threat? As it turns out, the conference does have a national title contender and it is returning surprise champion Cincinnati. The Bearcats have not missed a beat defensively despite breaking in 10 new starters, and the offense will carry the defense through a lot of battles behind veteran QB Tony Pike and the best athlete in the conference WR Mardy Gilyard. Also look for Gilyard to make a couple back-breaking plays in the return game. Cincinnati is the real deal and will continue to build on their BCS appearance last year. If things break right, UC could indeed be in the title game in Pasadena, and this success story is no mirage.

What's not a mirage is great action in week 3, as a handful of ranked teams begin conference play early while may others travel to their toughest out-of-conference tests. Although the Trojans and the Buckeyes got more headlines last weekend, our first matchup of the week is a very similar Pac-10 travels east battle as California visits Minnesota. The Golden Bears are now widely considered a co-favorite in the Pac-10 race, but California has struggled mightily on the road the past two seasons. While the Golden Gophers have not torn up the competition in their first two games, TCF Bank Stadium is rocking on campus and Minnesota players will be ready to prove last year's hot start was no fluke. California is led by Heisman contender RB Javhid Best, who has made talented QB Kevin Riley's life easy. Minnesota's defense will need to keep a spy on Best at all times or else he will break huge plays with regularity. The Golden Gopher offense is led by WR Eric Decker, who will likely break 100 yards again against a Pac-10 defense. In the battle of the Goldens, California just has too much of a talent disparity in their favor to lose another tough road game. Cal wins by 10.

The second game of the week is a Thursday night ACC showdown with Georgia Tech heading south to face Miami. Each team won their ACC openers their last time out, but for the Yellowjackets this is a shorter week while the Hurricanes come off a bye. The Yellowjackets have dominated this series of late, and it all has been forced with the running game. With quarterback Josh Nesbitt's early struggles in the passing game, look for Paul Johnson's option attack to test whether the Hurricanes defense is truly better this year. Miami will counter with the opposite attack, an aerial assault led by QB Jacory Harris. To win this game, each team will need to find a way to get defensive stops against their relatively one-dimensional offensive opponents. Although Miami is improving and has the home field advantage, the Yellowjackets control the clock with their attack and Miami's defense is not yet back to the early decade dynasty form, which is what it needs to be to stop Georgia Tech cold. Yellowjackets win going away by 14.

The game of the week is the second time Virginia Tech has stepped into this spotlight in two weeks, this time against Nebraska at home rather than Alabama. Nebraska has come out to a hot start offensively against lesser competition, but new starting QB Zac Lee will be truly tested for the first time in Blacksburg. This will also be another test for dual-threat Tyrod Taylor of the Hokies, who is sending mixed signals after looking frazzled against Alabama and like an all-star against Marshall. Virginia Tech will again look to control the game on the ground with freshmen running backs Ryan Williams and David Wilson, but the Nebraska defense is returning to the Blackshirt glory that led them ten years ago. Neither offense will run amok in all likelihood, which means this battle will be won in the trenches and on special teams. While Beamerball is typically the way to decide such games, the Hokies have troubled special teams for the first time in recent memory. The Cornhuskers return the favor from a year ago, winning this one by 4.

2009 GOTW Record: 3-3
Last Week: 1-2

Fitz Top 10 - Week 2
1. Florida (2-0)
2. USC (2-0)
3. Alabama (2-0)
4. Texas (2-0)
5. Boise State (2-0)
6. Penn State (2-0)
7. California (2-0)
8. BYU (2-0)
9. Mississippi (1-0)
10. TCU (1-0)

Just Missed: Georgia Tech, LSU, Oklahoma, Utah, Ohio State

While the first two weeks have brought us some surprising success stories, we may not know for another month how these stories will play out. The key this week is redemption, as teams like Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and Ohio State try to get their seasons back on track before it is too late. While the national title hopes for Oklahoma State might already be a mirage exposed, there are a lot of weeks left in the season for these fast and slow starters to keep trucking towards the summit. Enjoy the dwindling days of summer as we enter fall and the chill of football season crosses the nation. See you next week!

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