Try to get inside Mark Stoops' mind. Florida State's 43-year-old defensive coordinator is going to pick a fight with his big brother this weekend in front of 80,000 people.
Take a tour of Robert Bolden's brain. Try to understand the joy of an 18-year-old quarterback playing his second career game in a shrine of college football, at night, before 101,000 in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
You might want to also visit the psyche of Cameron Heyward. The pressure is on. Heyward is an All-American-caliber defensive end for Ohio State. His dad played in the NFL. But on Saturday, the son must protect his house. Heyward's defensive coordinator started the trash talk months ago which turns out to be just in time for Miami for come to town.
"I want to go on record," Jim Heacock told a group of high school coaches in the spring, "and say this will be the best defensive line ever to play at Ohio State."
Three stories from what is, until further notice, the biggest weekend of the college football season. Sure, it's early. Week 2. Usually we have to wait until October for a conglomeration of these types of matchups. It's still Showdown Saturday.
It's clear that no one is comfortable with playing such huge games so early. Alabama is without star defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and probably without Heisman-winning tailback Mark Ingram. Bolden is Penn State's freshman quarterback who found out he was starting four days before the Nittany Lions' opener against Youngstown State.
So what does it mean facing No. 1 Alabama in your second game since the senior prom? The natural tendency is to be overwhelmed. The historical significance of this game almost makes the eyes melt. This almost certainly will be Paterno's last visit to Tuscaloosa. While the brand names are attractive, the actual game might not be.
Alabama is an 11½-point favorite. As for Bolden, this is baptism by Tide. The irony is inescapable. In what might be Paterno's last season, he is playing one of his youngest quarterbacks.
It's a different kind of uncomfortable for Mark Stoops. He grew up with brother Bob and two other brothers in the blue-collar town of Youngstown, Ohio. The Stoops brothers are/were notorious. Bob is the oldest having, just turned 50 on Thursday. Mike coaches Arizona. Mark left Mike's staff to become Jimbo Fisher's defensive coordinator at Florida State.
Oldest brother Ronnie, 53, is fond of re-telling stories of tackle football games in the neighborhood. On the streets. No pads.
The Stoopses, then, were born for this moment. With the retirement of Bobby Bowden, they might be the reigning first family of football. Bob has won six Big 12 titles and a national championship at Oklahoma -- in 2000 against Florida State. Saturday marks the teams' rematch at Memorial Stadium. This time it's personal considering none of the brothers have gone against each other as coaches.
Mark has risen steadily up the ranks, having coached Ed Reed and Sean Taylor as Miami's defensive coordinator on the Hurricanes' last championship team. Fisher needed someone reliable to turn around a defense that was giving up 435 yards and 30 points per game in Bobby Bowden's final season.
The only certainty is a Stoops is going to walk out of Memorial Stadium a winner.
"I don't think any of us like it," Bob Stoops told reporters. "I've said it before, the only time you'd want to play your brother is if it's a championship game."
Heyward has his own burden, trying to live up to his coach's bold offseason proclamation. It's hard enough trying to beat No. 12 Miami, chasing its own faded legacy. Now the 'Canes have bulletin board material. "We welcome the challenge," Heyward said. "If you ever want to be great, you've got to aim high. We all want to be great. The only way to be great is to be better than everybody."
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That's kind of the idea on Showdown Saturday.
Scoping the nationThe ramifications ...
Penn State-Alabama: Has anyone else noticed that if Ingram doesn't play, his chase for consecutive Heismans is over? Yeah, it was going to a long shot anyway, but it is significant we have to re-evaluate the race this early. Ingram's backup, sophomore Trent Richardson, may be ready to take his shot. He meets all the qualifications: Top runner (for now) for No. 1 Alabama.
Miami-Ohio State: Ohio State just wants to win to keep its title hopes alive. A Miami victory announces the Hurricanes are back. Maybe. It hasn't been that long since the Hurricanes have beaten a top-five team on the road, 2005 at Virginia Tech. In fact, they are 6-2 in such games since 2000. On this long strange journey back to prominence, Miami cannot afford a blowout loss. A 20-13 defeat where the 'Canes are competitive into the fourth quarter would be acceptable. A win? The 'Canes would be back. Maybe.
Michigan-Notre Dame: Denard Robinson just saved Rich Rodriguez's job. That was WWL's first impression last week when Michigan's quarterback was embarrassing UConn. There is hope, a spirit back with Michigan football. Robinson is the triggerman that Rich Rod has had in his offenses since Shaun King at Tulane in 1998. An 8-4 season looks possible. That would help AD Dave Brandon get past possibly crippling NCAA penalties.
Florida State at Oklahoma: Pressure's on Christian Ponder. He missed the last four games last season but still has his own Heisman website. It's on him in Norman, facing a defense that was porous against Utah State last week. The Sooners gave up 441 yards, 340 of those on 12 plays to the Aggies. FSU gave up only 20 sacks last season, none last week to Samford. This is doable, cp7.
Dirty Vols: Incrementally, Derek Dooley is moving more and more toward the personality of the man he replaced. Dooley made news this week when he said the Vols need more "shower discipline."
"We've had a few staph infections, so we did a clinic ... on proper shower technique and soap and using a rag," Dooley said. "We put some new rags in -- y'all think I'm kidding, but I'm serious.
"We had, I told them, the worst shower discipline of any team I've ever been around."
The Vols can have all the B.O. they want, Saturday is more about discipline in the front seven. Oregon's LaMichael James returns to the lineup.
It has not been a good week for Turner Gill: The AD that hired Kansas' coach, Lew Perkins, retired a full year ahead of schedule. In what looks like a panic move following a loss to I-AA North Dakota State, Gill has changed quarterbacks for the Georgia Tech game, from Kale Pick to Jordan Webb. One game into his career as a coach in a BCS conference, critics are suggesting the old Nebraska quarterback might be overwhelmed.
|Turner Gill's debut went so bad at Kansas, North Dakota State's coach is even taking shots. (AP)|
"Quite frankly, I think we're going to be playing a better opponent," Bohl said of this week's game against Northern Iowa, which he called "a much more physical, aggressive football team than KU."
Strange comments since Bohl coached with Gill at Nebraska from 1995-2002.
Somewhere, Bill Self is cringing.
Wide open SEC East: As long as you can manage the center-quarterback exchange you've got a chance in the division formerly known as the SEC East.
Florida (vs. South Florida) doesn't have its rhythm down. Georgia and South Carolina don't have all their players. Vandy (vs. LSU) lost last week's battle of brain power to Northwestern. Tennessee seems to have its hands full with Oregon. Don't sleep on Kentucky.
It's up to the Bulldogs and Gamecocks to hold up the "honor" of the division this week. Georgia is missing A.J. Green for three more games. South Carolina is missing tight end Weslye Saunders and is unsure about two other players.
That makes for a lot of game-worn jerseys on the open market.
Hurricanes just keep on scoring: The NFL season opens with an amazing streak still intact. For 122 consecutive weeks during the regular season, at least one former Miami player has scored a touchdown in an NFL game.
WWL question of the week: Who was the leading rusher in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl? (Miami and Ohio State meet Saturday for the first time since that game.)
Quote of the week from the Ol' Turkey Inseminator, Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell ...
On his head coaching debut last week against Northwestern:
"The one thing I forgot to check right off the bat was which way the wind was blowing. I used to be in charge of that years go, 'Which way is the wind blowing? Which way do you want to kick?' ... I was learning how to work the headphones. I've been practicing on the switch there a little bit."
Answer: In a game that featured Willis McGahee and Maurice Clarett, Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel rushed for 81 yards.