Senior Writer

Weekend Watch List: LSU-Oregon might be biggest of year


If the summer of sleaze hasn't been oily enough, consider this: the loser of the Will Lyles Bowl -- an already besmirched top-five matchup between Oregon and LSU at Cowboys Stadium -- will be trying to become ... Miami.

Wait, don't turn on the shower just yet. It's not quite that dirty.

An explanation: The loser of the first top-five opener on a neutral field in 27 years isn't necessarily out of the national championship race. But history tells us they're not exactly in the mix either. The last eventual national champion to lose its season opener was Miami in 1983. The Hurricanes were boat-raced by Florida that year 28-3 before going on to win 11 in a row to start a dynasty. That would be the Miami that was just starting to woof and pose and ultimately Shapiro its way into the national consciousness.

While no one is saying LSU or Oregon is a dynasty just yet, there is hope for the loser this weekend. But only a little. Only four times since 1950 has a national champion either lost or tied its first game. (Colorado was the last such team, tying Tennessee 31-31 in the 1990 opener.)

Why is this relevant? If you haven't noticed, the Cowboys Classic is a de facto BCS championship game -- in September. Such a game -- an opener between top-five teams on a neutral field -- hasn't been played since 1984. That year, No. 1 Auburn lost to Miami 20-18. It was a strange poll that year, with the Hurricanes debuting at No. 4 in the coaches poll and No. 10 in AP.

That was also the year everything fell into place for BYU to win its only national title.

Saturday resembles the college football version of the Daytona 500. The best stuff is up front. LSU-Oregon may end up being the most significant regular-season game of the year. Considering the early date, a rematch in the BCS title game wouldn't be out of the question.

The winner continues as a national championship candidate. The loser, particularly if it's Oregon, has a lot of work to do.

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If they lose, the Ducks would have lost back-to-back games to SEC powers in championship settings. The pollsters would notice. While Oregon showed well against Auburn, it still lost and now faces the growing shadow of the Lyles investigation. Yes, LSU has its own issues with Lyles and a certain bar fight, but you have to wonder: If Oregon loses will we see it back at this level for a while?

It comes down to LSU having a better chance to rehabilitate itself in the polls. After LSU, Oregon plays only one team currently ranked in the coaches poll, Stanford. (USC is No. 25 in AP but not eligible for coaches.) LSU plays six in the AP poll. That's seven overall, more than half of its regular-season schedule.

"I say Oregon [has the most to lose]," said BCS guru Jerry Palm. "LSU has a chance to win the SEC and beat Alabama, Arkansas ..."

In a way, the SEC wins either way Saturday night. What a shock. LSU already has won a national championship (2007) despite losing two games. The second loss came after giving up 50 points at home in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Yeah, you might say the SEC gets the benefit of the doubt.

That's good news for LSU, which is without its best playmaker, Russell Shepard, suspended for at least the Oregon game for discussing an NCAA inquiry with a teammate. As stated previously in this space, the Tigers can get by -- even win the SEC -- without Jordan Jefferson.

Shepard is another matter. He was LSU's third-leading receiver and fourth-leading rusher. It's clear the coaching staff hasn't figured out how to use him yet. But missing a home-run threat against a speed defense tips this game more in favor of the Ducks. Cowboys Stadium was potentially his national stage, his breakout game.

Now he's in the wings, not even a bit player as the NCAA and law enforcement further weigh on LSU's fate.

"I think all of us," Miles said, "are looking forward to football."

Scoping the nation

Last one out of Columbus, please turn out the lights: Just to be clear, yes, Ohio State will be able to field a team Saturday in its opener against Akron.

Connor Shaw starting for South Carolina: WWL knew there was a reason Spur Dog gave Stephen Garcia five chances. Wait, what?

Garcia will see time against East Carolina, but is this what you want from a guy you've sold out for?

Georgia reach: There are obvious reasons Boise State is favored despite playing in what amounts to a road game in the Georgia Dome in front 70,000-odd hostile voices.

It has done it before. Anymore remember Landover? That wasn't a fluke a year ago against Virginia Tech. The Broncos blew a 17-0 lead only to win in the final 69 seconds against the soon-to-be ACC champions.

It has done it a lot. Since being embarrassed six years ago at Georgia, Boise State became, well, Boise State. The Broncos are 6-3 against BCS conference schools since 2005.

It is unfazed. Boise State had perhaps the best receiving pair in the country last season in Austin Pettis and Titus Young. True, that means nothing Saturday. But coach Chris Petersen isn't even blinking after losing a combined 142 catches, 2,166 yards and 19 touchdowns to the NFL.

Kellen Moore's final season begins with Boise State favored vs. a Top 25 BCS team playing near home. (AP)  
Kellen Moore's final season begins with Boise State favored vs. a Top 25 BCS team playing near home. (AP)  
Only two returners have caught 20 career passes -- Tyler Shoemaker (60) and Kellen Moore's brother Kirby (21). But who knew Pettis and Young before they broke out? Shoemaker and Moore are both at least 6-feet-1 and 200 pounds. If it's one thing Boise State does well, it's receivers. Especially when Kellen Moore is completing 70 percent.

It is better. All you have to do is look at the All-America team. WWL is fairly certain Boise State has never had linemen on both sides of the ball like left tackle Nate Potter and defensive tackle Billy Winn. Don't sleep on tailback Doug Martin, who could play in the SEC at 5-9, 215. Martin ran for 1,260 yards while playing behind the most efficient quarterback in the country.

Let's say what few are saying: if Georgia wins, it will be a flat-out upset.

Holtz Bowl: Is it just me or does a Notre Dame loss to South Florida absolutely wreck the Irish's season? WWL is hearing too much ND love. There is so much emotion built into the opener against the Bulls, you wonder if the Irish can recover if they lose.

"We're not getting off the bus with a camera around our necks," South Florida coach Skip Holtz said.

Walk-on wonder: Ten days after being put on scholarship, all Caleb Russell has to do is replace an All-American and the No. 2 pick in the draft. Russell is taking over at Texas A&M for Von Miller at defensive end in the Sunday opener against SMU.

To say that Russell's story is inspirational is like saying A&M is kind of interested in the SEC. First, there aren't many walk-ons that hang on for three years paying their own way. Russell just wouldn't go away and was finally awarded a scholarship by coach Mike Sherman on Aug. 25. He earned it.

In 2008, he redshirted. In 2009, Russell appeared in one game wearing the fabled No. 12 "Twelfth Man" jersey on a kickoff. Last year he had four tackles in eight games. On the day his grandmother was killed in a car accident, Russell had a key sack of Baylor's Robert Griffin III.

There is little that compares to getting that scholly.

"He stood up and went to shake my hand," Russell said of his meeting with Sherman, "but I just went over there and gave him a big hug. It's a shock because coming in as a walk-on, you're told all this stuff that you're lower than normal."

We're all day to day: And Joe Paterno remains 50-50. "I want to be downstairs," he said. "That being upstairs is for the birds." Calm down, we're not talking afterlife. JoePa is referring to being on the sidelines or in the press box due to health issues for Penn State's opener against Indiana State.

The Dana Holgorsen era begins: Geno Smith, your Heisman candidacy begins Sunday against Marshall.

Fear the merchandise: Maryland is in full mock mode for Monday's Labor Day night opener against Miami.

Sucks to be U? Pressure's on the Terps, who have beaten the 'Canes once since some obscure game in 1984.

More proof that college football rules: Texas-San Antonio expects a crowd of more than 50,000 in the 65,000-seat Alamodome for its first-ever game. Larry Coker returns to the game facing his alma mater Northeastern State. The Roadrunners begin play in the WAC in 2012.

Selling out: With Nebraska moving to the Big Ten, Oklahoma takes over the Big 12 lead in consecutive sellouts, with the 75th coming in Saturday's season opener. The streak started with Bob Stoops' first home game 12 years ago. In that time the Norman, Okla., population has grown by 24,000. Owen Field/Memorial Stadium's capacity has grown almost 10,000. OU is 72-2 at home during that time. Good luck, Tulsa.

Something to chew on ... and spit out: WWL is desperately trying to keep it on the field this weekend as conference realignment swirls around us like smoke wafting from Cliff Harris' rental. Until there is something solid to go on, it's best to remember the words of a great philosopher: When it hits, Realignment Armageddon is going to be quick and vicious.

"I can get to 16 teams in 15 minutes."

Thank you, Mike Slive.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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