Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: Michigan-Alabama showdown a glimpse of things to come


Sometimes it all just fits together during opening week: Tigers play Tigers in Atlanta. Cougars and Cougars opened Thursday night in Provo. A couple of Tech giants -- Virginia and Georgia -- meet Monday. Somewhere in there the Irish play in Ireland.

The first Weekend Watch List feels sooo serendipitous. Thank God the season is sooo here!

Get used to it, Michigan and Alabama. Get used to the hype and pomp and $300,000 luxury suites.

Get used to Texas, at least playing big games in Cowboys Stadium.

What you'll experience Saturday night is a lot like what we'll all experience two years from now. The first playoff season arrives in 2014. If you don't think Jerry Jones is going to be involved in securing some or all of those games for Cowboys Stadium, you're nuts -- or at least Tony Romo.

Don't think of Michigan-Alabama, then, as a one off. It's more like a dress rehearsal. These teams could be back in two years at the end of the season. There are approximately 130 players, combined, on both rosters who would have eligibility left in 2014.

Michigan is on the rise right now. Alabama isn't going away anytime soon. See where this is headed? Beyond Saturday. Familiar names in familiar places. The list of BCS busters is shrinking by the day. They're either been snatched up by major conferences (Utah, TCU) or trending downward (Boise State).

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So why not Michigan and 'Bama two years from now? The commissioners want to make this playoff thing like a Super Bowl. What better place than a palace that hosted the 2011 Super Bowl? Jones loves college football. Sure, these neutral-site games make him money but mostly they make his stadium, and Dallas, college football headquarters.

That's a bit of what's at stake Saturday. We've written about it on more than one occasion.

Now it's time for the Wolverines and Tide to take a look at their future. It starts in Arlington, Texas. It could end here too, in January 2015.

As for the game itself, no one is talking about AJ McCarron. Nick Saban didn't bring his quarterback to SEC media days. McCarron wasn't made readily available in 2011. We found out about those mysterious initials after the Penn State game.

This time a year ago, McCarron was still duking it out on the depth chart with Phillip Sims. Now he is a championship quarterback who proved his passing ability could win a national title game.

"Alabama just won the national title and no one ever talks about their quarterback," said Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. "He just managed the game. He made some plays and he's a good player but I'm not sure he's a future top-five pick in the NFL, too."

And there is nothing wrong with that. We would just like to hear a little from the hero of New Orleans. As a strategist, Saban wants to throw head shots, gut shots and jabs as usual. How about a deep shot from AJ? Pregame: No. 8 Michigan-No. 2 Alabama, 8 p.m. ET Sat.

What does it say, by the way, that No. 2 in the country is a 13½-point favorite over No. 8? This.

Oregon (vs. Arkansas State) begins chasing a third straight BCS bowl and all WWL can ponder is ... what was Darron Thomas thinking?

The Ducks' former quarterback left early and went undrafted, leaving open a QB battle won by redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota. Sophomore Bryan Bennett then apparently considered transferring.

D.T., you played in consecutive BCS bowls. You would have started this season for the nation's No. 5 team. Whoever gave you advice was a fool but ultimately the decision was up to you.

Before a ball is snapped, it is the worst decision of 2012. Pregame: Arkansas State at No. 5 Oregon, 10:30 p.m. ET Sat.

We are approaching that magic point where it's time to ask who's playing instead of who's out.

Suspensions. Defections. Transfers. Is it WWL or are those preseason depth charts becoming not worth with the ink spent to print them?

Will Da'Rick Rogers cause the Vols to lose face by losing their grip on a promising season? Auburn center Reese Dismukes started every game in 2011. He took his future so serious that Dismukes went out and got himself suspended for the Clemson game. Balancing things out, receiver Sammy Watkins will miss the game for the other Tigers.

Notre Dame will be without its starting quarterback (Tommy Rees) and leading rusher (Cierre Wood) against Navy because of off-field issues.

Michael Dyer, Isaiah Crowell and Tyrann Mathieu are almost distant memories.

Most on the line going forward?

Tajh Boyd won't have his top receiving threat as Clemson opens against Auburn. (Getty Images)  
Tajh Boyd won't have his top receiving threat as Clemson opens against Auburn. (Getty Images)  
Clemson: Coming off a beatdown from West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers must come out strong against Auburn. Pregame: No. 14 Clemson-Auburn, 7 p.m. ET Sat.

Notre Dame: At full strength the program faced one of the toughest schedules in school history. The Irish will beat Navy but will they win eight? That's the recent standard. Pregame: Notre Dame-Navy, 9 a.m. ET Sat. (CBS)

Auburn: Never mind what WWL just said about Clemson. That national championship seems so long ago. Another five-loss season for Gene Chizik will not go over well.

You've either got one quarterback or alternating quarterbacks: Will Muschamp plans to rotate his Florida quarterbacks by quarter in the first half of the opener against Bowling Green. The QB controversy doesn't end there. Muschamp then plans to huddle with new offensive coordinator Brent Pease and decide on the second half.

Why is this not a worse tease than Nik Wallenda tightrope walking over Niagara Falls?

Muschamp also has a couple of safety harnesses built in. As mentioned, Florida is now Texas A&M's opener next week. Advantage Gators if you consider Bowling Green what it should be: A typical MAC tuneup game.

Also, the worst that can happen is that Muschamp keeps both his quarterbacks happy. The "loser" -- perhaps the guy who doesn't start the A&M game -- is less likely to transfer. Pregame: Bowling Green at No. 23 Florida, 3:30 p.m. ET Sat.

Twenty-nine years separate Norm Chow and Lane Kiffin, but for four years they shared the same offensive meeting room.

Chow (now at Hawaii) and Kiffin (beginning his third year at Southern California) were Trojans assistants together from 2001-04. Chow as the grizzled veteran, Kiffin as the cheeky, rising star. Chow left Troy for the Tennessee Titans after Kiffin was elevated to offensive coordinator. It was not a comfortable departure for the vet, who has three championship rings with BYU and USC.

Speaking of serendipitous. At age 66 Chow takes the field in the Coliseum for his first game as a head coach at the place where he won two of those championships. Despite two Pac-10/12 stops since then, it has also been eight years since he won at the Coliseum. Pregame: Hawaii at No. 1 Southern California, 7:30 p.m. ET Sat.

OK, Aggies let's hear it. Good or bad that now, thanks to Isaac, the opener is pushed back to next week against Florida?

If you pressed "bad" welcome to the clubbed: Florida gets a chance to tune up against Bowling Green, while redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel debuts against the Gators.

There goes the Oct. 13 bye week. The Aggies now play 12 straight games. Beginning Oct. 13, Texas A&M plays at Louisiana Tech, at home vs. LSU, at Auburn, at Mississippi State and at Alabama.

The Brazos County district attorney just called. Is it possible to sue a hurricane?

Upset of the week. Full disclosure -- this is, admittedly, a salute to Ohio's Frank Solich. The former Nebraska coach doesn't exactly light up a room. Nebraska let him go nine years ago because that lack of pizzazz was reflected in his offense. Never mind that Solich won more games in his first six seasons (58) than Bob Devaney or Tom Osborne.

Despite winning 75 percent of his games in Lincoln, it wasn't good enough. In a way, Nebraska has paid for jettisoning Solich ever since. It wanted more juice, it got the black hole that was the Bill Callahan era. It wanted fire, it got Bo Pelini.

But championships? Nebraska doesn't have any since 1999. Meanwhile, Solich is on the top of his game in his eighth year at Ohio, winning at least a share of three MAC East titles since 2006 while posting 10 wins and the program's first bowl win since 1968 last season.

The man himself might be boring, but his offense led by junior Tyler Tettleton is the MAC version of Rich Rodriguez's finest attacks at West Virginia. The dual-threat Tettleton accounted for almost 4,000 yards in 2011 as the Bobcats scored at least 29 points eight times.

First irony: Solich has a gaggle of former Nebraska coaches on his staff, including offensive coordinator Tim Albin. Second irony: Ohio's offense is everything Solich isn't as a dinner guest -- exciting and innovative. Third irony: Ohio just might be the best team on the field Saturday at Penn State.

The Bobcats have that established quarterback and return eight defensive starters against a Penn State offense that had trouble moving the ball with Silas Redd.

Ohio was able to think mostly about trying to beat Penn State during camp. The obvious distractions for the Nittany Lions in that same time frame are, well, obvious.

Bobcat Goldthwait, Solich ain't. But a competent Bobcat? Good enough to win on Saturday. Pregame: Ohio at Penn State, noon ET Sat.

Price remains right: Remember Mike Price, took Washington State to a Rose Bowl, one-time toast of Pullman?

Disgraced at Alabama?

Yeah, that Mike Price. He rolls into his ninth season at Texas El-Paso two wins shy of becoming No. 2 in wins at the school. Price has recovered, rehabbed his rep in out-of-the-way El Paso. UTEP, though, carries six consecutive losing seasons into the opener against Oklahoma. Nearing the end of his career (supposedly), FBS' fourth-oldest coach (66) gets a glorious chance to knock off the No. 4 Sooners.

"I'm happier than I've ever been ...," Price said. "I hate to disappoint all the people who want to get rid of me." Pregame: No. 4 Oklahoma at Texas-El Paso, 10:30 p.m. ET Sat.

Adopted Ohio State media policy of the week: No tweeting while reading WWL.

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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