Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: Weis, Saban in a battle of wits


Charlie Weis does have a few things in his favor if you happen to doubt his ability to scheme against Nick Saban's defense this week.

You might have heard of the Gators offensive coordinator's three Super Bowl rings, two first-round quarterbacks and Pro Bowl reclamation project. We can argue about Alabama-Florida from now until kickoff, but one truth remains: Weis is the offensive antonym to Saban's defensive smarts in this game.

To label him the game's best play caller is redundant. It is a rep more than a decade in the making. In the NFL, at Florida through four games, yes even at Notre Dame. (His performance in the 2005 Bush Push game still resounds.) Everything Charlie Weis touches, turns to yards.

Shame on you if you forgot.

"I've been pretty well schooled to not think this whole offensive play-call thing is about [me]," Weis said this week.

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Humility does not become him. That schooling he mentions come from Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, Weis' NFL mentors.

"You have to find out who you have and what they can do, and then try to do a lot of that," Weis said. "That might sound general. That's how Parcells and Belichick kind of taught me. What do you have? What do they do? Just do that. Don't try to be overly creative."

That reinforces the fact that Florida's offensive resurgence during a 4-0 start isn't Moneyball. It's fairly simple as we head into the latest Alabama-Florida showdown.

Before Weis, Florida was 82nd in total offense, 10th in the SEC in 2010. This season, No. 22 nationally, first in the SEC. Rushing in 2010: 44th nationally, sixth in the SEC. Passing: 88th and 10th in the SEC.

This season: 10th nationally in rushing (No. 1 in SEC) averaging 92 more yards per game. Quarterback John Brantley has improved, if only incrementally. He has gone from a 59 percent passer to a 64 percent passer. The dazed and confused Brantley of '10 has been less evident.

Those are just numbers, mostly against bad teams. They are another indicator that things get better when Weis is around. OK, he was miscast, perhaps, as Notre Dame's head coach. But when he left, the Irish went from a top 10 offense to No. 61 in Brian Kelly's first year.

With Weis around as OC in 2010, the Kansas City Chiefs were No. 1 in rushing. Quarterback Matt Cassel went from No. 25 in passer rating in 2009 to a Pro Bowl in 2010. This year, without Weis, it's a mess. Kansas City is second-last in passing, third-worst in total offense.

Brantley, while not spectacular, has at least looked more comfortable playing in a pro-style offense. Weis summed up an inconsistent career when he told the quarterback in the spring: "Where are you going to go?"

"In Kansas City I was in the same boat," Weis said. "Coming off a bad year, not a lot of love thrown in his [Cassel's] direction. Me dealing with Matt so recently gave me a good framework to deal with John."

Here's what is most absurd about Saturday: The thought that Weis has those three rings, but hasn't done anything until he beats Alabama?

Please. Through stretches of their previous seasons it seemed like Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps were ill fits. They seemed like complimentary parts instead of playmakers. A year ago Rainey almost squandered the gift of a Florida scholarship after the "Time To Die" episode.

Now they are two of the most improved players in the SEC. Rainey (411 rushing yards) has 78 touches rushing, catching and returning. His previous career high was 112. Demps is averaging 9.4 per carry. They have combined for 123 touches through four games after getting 210 touches all of last season.

"They're the two fastest guys I've ever had," Weis said. "Who has ever had two guys who can run this fast? I can't recall a team having two guys have guys run this fast."

That speed evaluation includes the NFL. Demps is a former NCAA champion in the 60- and 100-meters who ran with the U.S National team this year. Some claim Rainey beat Demps in one of staged sprints a few years ago. But against Alabama, they have combined for less than 120 yards in three previous meetings.

That's what these two weeks come down to. Florida is going to be back on top or still rebuilding. Alabama is followed by a trip to LSU.

"The first thing you look to see if there are any weak links," Weis said. "You don't see that."

It's another challenge, one that Weis has faced before. While there is much more than his call sheet involved on Saturday, it's nice to have some weapons to go along with a resume.

"Now," he said after a September easing into life in the SEC, "it's October."

Scouting the Nation

Star bored: What kind of George Lucas nerd gets into Tide-Gator week like this?

"You've got kind of a master vs. padawan thing going on between you and Nick [Saban]?"

You've probably seen or heard that Florida's coach played along with the Tampa TV reporter who went obscure reference on Florida's tightly-wound coach.

Muschamp: "What's a padawan? ... I don’t know what a padawan is. You didn't call me a bad name, did you? I don’t speak French, either."

For those of you who have actual lives, a padawan is a Jedi's apprentice. In other words, Saban gave Muschamp his first major gig, as LSU defensive coordinator. So if you're dying for a Star Wars comparison, I might have gone with the Yoda and Luke. But, hey, whatever floats your Death Star.

Has it been that long? Nebraska-Wisconsin marks the first Big Ten game between two top-10 teams since Oct. 25, 2008. Penn State beat Ohio State 13-6 when a fumble by freshman Terrelle Pryor helped clinch it for the Nittany Lions.

Not much has changed since then, has it? Pryor and his coach are gone, Penn State has split its last eight games and the league has expanded. Thanks to the addition of Nebraska, Camp Randall is seeing its first game between two top-10 teams in almost 50 years.

"We're ready to shock the world," said Nebraska's Taylor Martinez. That, from the quarterback of the nation's No. 9 team. "We're here [in the top 10]," Wisconsin's Bret Bielema said. "We don't plan on leaving." Nebraska-Wisconsin preview

Climpson: It seems like we do this every year with Clemson: Overrate the Tigers or put their coach on the hot seat. Sometimes both.

That's what happens when your program hasn't won a conference title in 20 years. These Tigers are about to find out their worth in a trip to Virginia Tech. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (1,255 passing yards) and freshman Sammy Watkins (433 receiving yards) are the rock stars this week, but greater athletes than those have been shut down in raucous Lane Stadium.

Clemson could become the first ACC team to win three consecutive games over ranked teams. Virginia Tech could forge a path to a fourth ACC title in five years. Clemson-Virginia Tech preview

Rebound Bowl: Texas A&M's defense needed hits of pure oxygen this week to catch its breath after being beaten down by Oklahoma State. The Cowboys ran 95 plays, 57 of them in the second half. WWL hasn't seen so many Aggies cramp up since the administration rushed to accept the SEC's offer.

Saturday is not an SEC audition against Arkansas in Cowboys Stadium. The audition was last week against a suspect Cowboys defense. The Aggies failed. Arkansas could prove even more dangerous coming off an embarrassing loss of its own to Alabama. Texas A&M-Arkansas preview

The smartest man on the plains: Once again, Bill Snyder reminded us he is a genius.

Kansas State's coach barely opened his playbook in opening wins against Eastern Kentucky and Kent State. The 71-year-old sand bagged us again when the Wildcats won at Miami (Fla.)with an inspiring goal-line stand.

In a Big 12 loaded with Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and others, the Wildcats weren't expected to do much this season. Frankly, Snyder is perceived to be on the downside of his career.

But K-State is now 3-0 for the 16th time in Snyder's 20 years heading into a huge game against Baylor. You can talk about Snyder playing non-conference cadavers all those years, but consider this comparison with Joe Paterno.

If his first 20 years with Penn State, JoePa went 3-0 exactly eight times. That is with an independent's schedule that could be completely massaged by the head coach.

The nation's best player: That K-State defense (sixth nationally, up 100 spots from last season) now gets Robert Griffin. There hasn't been an adequate explanation as to why Baylor ended up with the junior who is at the moment the most dynamic player in the country. And at least not a nice, tidy, heart-warming one.

Until now. In the end, it may be simple loyalty that got Griffin to Waco.

The Baylor quarterback committed to Houston but followed Art Briles when the coach left for the Bears, but that begs the question: What was a player of Griffin's caliber doing committing to non-BCS Houston in the first place?

His parents are both military. Great kid. He finished seventh in his high school class. Griffin's athleticism was unquestioned. As a 17-year-old freshman, having coming in a semester early, he won the Big 12 400-meter hurdles and finished third nationally.

A lot of schools wanted Griffin, a four-star recruit, as an "athlete". Texas and LSU among them. Even the former Baylor staff wasn't sold. Somehow they all whiffed.

In the end, Baylor ended up being Griffin's best option at being able to play college quarterback.

"Recruiting is a game," Griffin said. "There are a lot of lies that are said in recruiting, and [Briles] was more of an honest coach than a lot of others for me." Inside College Football: Who is Robert Griffin?

Something to chew on ... and spit out: Houston Nutt is merely on the hot seat at Mississippi. Mississippi chancellor Dan Jones released this letter Thursday saying he has been threatened and it could "get real ugly" if he doesn't fire AD Pete Boone.

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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