Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: Huge stakes for Irish, Dawgs


Brian Kelly is red-faced. You may have seen the video.

And not because his team handed South Florida a gift-wrapped, rain-soaked opener complete with five turnovers. It's much deeper than that. Notre Dame, those angels of August, stand at the brink of 0-2 heading into the Michigan game.

That's significant because the past three Irish teams to lose their first two games ended up with losing seasons. Reading the preseason dispatches, an 0-2 start was near impossible. These are urgent times, then, with Notre Dame traveling to Ann Arbor for Michigan's first night game.

Steve Spurrier tweaking Brian Kelly could be a sign that Spurrier is confident in his team. (AP)  
Steve Spurrier tweaking Brian Kelly could be a sign that Spurrier is confident in his team. (AP)  
Freaking out is the least of Kelly's problems. If cussing and gesticulating are crimes against God and man, Bobby Knight would be in solitary. (We can only hope.) You think Lou Holtz or Charlie Weis may have dropped an f-bomb or two in their time?

But, as with everything Notre Dame, the episode was dissected like a frog in middle-school biology. The National Catholic Register went so far as to question whether Kelly should be fired after his sideline outbursts.

Kelly's mouth and ability to spontaneously combust have been a nice distraction this week. But the real issue at hand is Notre Dame being among a handful of teams with seasons at stake in the second week. Georgia's Mark Richt has probably been reminded a few times he absolutely has to beat South Carolina. Auburn can't be too encouraged hosting Mississippi State after having to rally against Utah State. Oregon State got beat at home by Sacramento State. Next up: No. 8 Wisconsin. It would be a good idea if Tennessee's Derek Dooley didn't lose at home to Cincinnati.

So feel no special sympathy for ND. Kelly was the one who proclaimed Dayne Crist quarterback for 2011, then subbed Tommy Rees for him in the opener. Rees will start against Michigan.

"Nobody wants to go in and change their quarterbacks each and every week," Kelly said.

Expect a better Irish this week, but also expect a Michigan team jacked out of its mind. This game will tell a lot about which way these programs are headed. The last two Irish coaches to start 0-2 -- Weis and Bob Davie -- were fired within three years.

So, yes, there is hope. If a Ball State grad from Ohio, hired away from San Diego State who spent eight of his 30 years in coaching in Ann Arbor can be considered a Michigan Man, then anything can happen.

Holy ---! We're talking about Brady Hoke.

Scoping the nation

Two legendary programs, four quarterbacks: Perhaps if you DNA-engineered the best talents of Rob Bolden, Matt McGloin, A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims, you would get one serviceable starting quarterback between Penn State and Alabama.

The problem is that neither program has a clear No. 1 as No. 2 'Bama heads to Happy Valley. How in the name of Namath and Blackledge does this happen? This might be another week of auditions within the context of a historic showdown. McCarron/Sims threw a combined four interceptions against Kent State. McGloin/Bolden threw for only 114 yards against Indiana State.

Quarterbacking and parking could be an issue.

Those are big ol' hints that the defenses may decide this return game from 2010. Penn State was barely competitive in last year's 24-3 loss in Tuscaloosa. A Penn State upset (which would be JoePa's 403th win) would significantly change the national picture early on.

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Cocky: You know Steve Spurrier is feeling it when he starts calling out other coaches. That's exactly what happened when the Ball Coach tweaked Kelly last week.

Remember, the status of Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw is a series-by-series proposition at South Carolina. But you kind of know that's always possible with Spurrier. As mentioned, Kelly locked into Crist then quickly changed to Rees.

"I could be like those other coaches," Spur Dog told reporters last week. "The coach at Notre Dame said it was a very close competition and this guy is our quarterback for the year. ... When you say you're going to do something, you're supposed to do it, aren't you?"

Translation: Spurrier is breaking out the smack because he knows the Gamecocks are good, perhaps better than many of us think.

Bulldozed: The worst part for Georgia in last week's loss to Boise State had to be the backstreet mugging by the Broncos linemen on both sides of the ball. Those Bulldog linemen had some new tattoos -- the futuristic Bronco logo from those new Pro Combat unis -- stamped all over them after being run over.

Having pride is one thing. Bowing up and hitting back is another. This is on Georgia's linemen. Gut check in Athens. Smack down by the Cock-a-doodles. A year ago, Spurrier leaned on Marcus Lattimore 37 times for 182 yards. Expect more of the same until the Dawgs respond.

They breakin' bread: And in TMZ news, tailback Marc Tyler returns for Southern California (vs. Utah) after a one-game suspension for being dumb.

Pac-12 brain teaser: Utah-USC is the first-ever Pac-12 game. Fellow Pacific Dozen members California and Colorado play in Boulder in a nonconference game.

It's not that complicated. The Buffs played in Berkeley in 2010. The games were already on the schedule as non-cons when the league formed last year.

The Comeback Kids: Auburn had better be against Mississippi State. Only two defending national champions in the history of the AP poll have dropped out after the first week. Auburn is one of them, after winning.

The Bulldogs have scored at least 30 points in four straight games, the longest streak in school history. Auburn still has the nation's longest winning streak at 16.

Silly signage:Auburn also is one of those schools using those funky secret-code play-calling cards. Oregon popularized them last year using rebus-like images to create the language for an offensive play. Auburn seemingly has simplified things even more. The Tigers are getting their cues from famous figures

Indulge WWL, if you will, as it tries to decipher some of the play calls from the Tigers sideline ...

Barack Obama: Run around a lot, make gestures with arms, do nothing.
Cam Newton: Take all you can get.
Aubie: Silent count. (Mascots don't speak.)

Happy birthday, Bob Stoops: May the next 51 be just as successful.

Something to chew on ... and spit out: First, WWL would like to thank Spurrier for helping write half this column, but when the man is on, he's on.

In breaking down the Georgia game this week, Spurrier couldn't keep from assessing the skills of Boise State in Week 1: "When they jog down the field, they look like Wofford or Furman or those teams."

Can't wait for that South Carolina-Boise Sugar Bowl.

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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