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CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: Are the 'Noles back? We'll find out soon


Bobby Bowden won't be there, on purpose.

The season's next Game of the Year -- No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 5 Florida State -- seemingly would require a pregame papal blessing from the patriarch of college football. But FSU's former coach is intentionally staying away.

"I haven't been to a game since I left. I wanted to separate myself from the new coaching staff," said the 81-year-old legend.

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There is no animosity, Bowden just wants to leave Jimbo Fisher to carve out his own space. In his fifth year at FSU (second as head coach), Fisher has brought the Seminoles to the brink of re-entering the national conversation for the first time in a long time.

That's really what OU-FSU is about. Are the Seminoles back? It's a significant question and a lofty goal considering Bowden's two national championships and 14 consecutive top-four finishes. Doak Campbell Stadium is the house that Bobby built but one that Fisher is hoping to rock again on Saturday. The implications? Bowden isn't shy.

"If they win this game," he said, "I'd say they're back."

That's a relative statement in Tallahassee. What's "back"? Fisher is chasing Bowden's legacy. It might help, first, to win an ACC title, something that has occurred once at FSU since 2003.

The once-uncomfortable Bowden-Fisher transition has been separated by time and space. Jimbo has been part of the Bowden inner circle, having played for Terry Bowden at two different colleges. Later, Jimbo was Terry's quarterbacks coach at Auburn. It took Fisher only one season to get FSU back into the top five.

"I really don't recommend it," Bowden said of the coach-in-waiting trend. "I didn't recommend it at our place. That's something our president and AD put in. I didn't fight it. I knew I was down toward the end of my career. It worked out fine for Florida State because Jimbo is the answer, I believe."

No doubt the hyper Fisher has been flogging the revenge angle this week. Ever since a 47-17 thrashing in Norman last year the Seminoles have been vowing to show their best. We'll see. Under Bob Stoops, Oklahoma is used to playing in these type of games.

"They are playing it at practice every day," OU's Frank Alexander said for FSU's rhythmic war chant. "We hear that chant, it kind of gets me motivated."

The winner stays in the BCS title chase. It's too early for this game to define the season. Oklahoma is better equipped to suffer a loss because its Big 12 schedule will allow it to get back up in the rankings. Meanwhile, Bowden will join most of the nation, watching it in the barcalounger of his choice.

"If I was 55 or 60, I'd be fighting to get back in it," he said. "But at my age, it was time to get out. Now for the first time, I get to watch these games with no pressure. I'll be pulling for Florida State, but I won't lose any sleep."

Scouting the Nation

Passion bucket: Is WWL the only one who thinks FSU is all-in emotionally a bit too much for Oklahoma? That's great if it wins, but can the Seminoles rebound if they lose?

There's a trip to Clemson up next. While the schedule is favorable regardless, be advised, Osceola Heads. There's plenty more work to do.

Linda Blair Syndrome: FSU's biggest challenge, again, will be adjusting to Oklahoma's offensive tempo. Last year, the defense -- particularly the secondary -- got run off the field. OU ran 84 plays in that 30-point rout in Norman and averaged 87 plays for the season.

"We knew it was going to be fast," FSU linebacker Nigel Bradham said, "but not that fast."

FSU heads on a 180-degree swivel are recommended.

The Key Matchup: Oklahoma defensive end Ronnell Lewis vs. FSU's E.J. Manuel.

OU's best defensive lineman, nicknamed "The Hammer," regained his eligibility in August. No matter what the outcome, figure that the Seminoles quarterback will become extremely familiar with Lewis. If Manuel has enough time to throw, Lewis isn't doing his job. If he is, Manuel must create space with his legs.

"It's not the most complicated offense we've played, but what they do, they do well," Oklahoma linebacker Tom Wort said. "E.J., he'll stay in the pocket -- he wants to make the throws."

Motivation: Obviously, FSU wants to rebound from an embarrassing loss. Even though OU won a seventh Big 12 title, it has its own issues left over from 2010. After rising to No. 1 in the BCS standings in October, the Sooners lost two of the next three to Missouri and Texas A&M.

"That was probably one of the worst feelings we had, losing that game, letting that atmosphere effect us," Wort said of the 36-27 Missouri loss. "We were really disappointed and almost embarrassed. I feel like this attitude this week is different."

ACC, this is your life: Or at least your weekend. For the first time in conference history, four ACC teams are each playing host to nationally ranked non-conference opponents on the same day.

We'll know by Saturday night if the ACC is worthy of admitting Texas to the league after these games:

Oklahoma at FSU: see above.

Ohio State at Miami (Fla.): see below.

Auburn at Clemson: Are the Tigers just good or you know what? This game defined Auburn's season early in 2010 (27-24). Gene Chizik has won his past 10 games decided by eight points or fewer. Until someone stops Auburn, take that offense to prevail in Death Valley.

West Virginia at Maryland: Geno Smith and Danny O'Brien have accounted for 1,013 yards in total offense this season.

The Ineligibowl: Long before he quit on his teammates, refused to cooperate with the NCAA and became the poster child for arrogant, entitled college athletes everywhere, good ol' Terrelle Pryor was the original bag man.

At least that's what it seems like, after the incredible revelation this week that TP was reportedly handing out envelopes of cash to teammates at a charity event. No matter how much you love the football side of this game, it's hard to get very far away from the moral implications of Ohio State-Miami.

Which soon-to-be-in-NCAA-jail program deserves to win less? We'll go with the Buckeyes, who still are dealing with an ongoing investigation even after its infractions committee hearing in August. Balance the reinstatement of three Buckeyes against the possibility that Jacory Harris, himself returning from a suspension, could toss multiple interceptions.

The state of the Sunshine State: What does it say that Tennessee-Florida is the third-best game in Florida this week?

Sure, Florida State and Miami are playing bigger games, but WWL can't wait until Vols-Gators matters again. For now, Tyler Bray is the gift from Lane Kiffin that keeps on giving. WWL is leaning toward Tennessee and the only Vols quarterback besides Peyton Manning to throw for 400 yards in a game.

"We're going to build the team around [Bray and his receivers]," said Derek Dooley, who needs this one bad.

Tennessee has lost six straight in the series.

There's depth, then there's Nebraska depth: It's possible that up to 15 former or current walk-ons could play Saturday for Nebraska against Washington, seven of them starters. Bo Pelini has taken special care to revitalize the walk-on program that Tom Osborne made famous.

Pac-12 a natural fit for Texas: No, there is no breaking news here, but Texas is more than familiar with the Left Coast heading to Pasadena this week to play UCLA.

Mack Brown will have competed with Texas in the Rose Bowl stadium more times (five) than nine current Pac-12 or Big Ten schools have played in the Rose Bowl game. Texas has played in three Rose Bowl games since UCLA played in its last Granddaddy (1999).

It all started to go downhill for Texas when Alabama's Marcel Dareus knocked Colt McCoy out of the BCS championship game in January 2010. Since then, the 'Horns are struggling both on the field (7-8) and in the studio (Longhorn Network).

Dear Michigan State: Baylor, UAB, South Florida and Colorado State want their uniforms back.

Dear Notre Dame: Your 10 turnovers in the first two games is one more than Wisconsin had all of last season.

Something to chew on ... and spit out: The Big 12 has the nation's No. 1 team, including three in the top 10. If this is it for the Big 12, the conference is going out like a stuntman on fire.

Um, that would be hot.

The league is off to a 14-1 start in nonconference games. Absolutely no one outside of the conference office seems to know. In a couple of weeks, this factoid might be buried somewhere on the Internet along with the Colorado Rockies all-time scoring leaders (the NHL team, not baseball), Great Moments in Seattle Pilots history and a breakdown of the Kentucky Colonels draft picks.

Read Son of Weekend Watch List in Dennis Dodd's blog Dodds and Ends

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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