Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: Welcome back to relevance, Vols, Gators, 'Horns and Bruins

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From the genius who gave you Ohio over Penn State in Week 1, and Sacramento State over Colorado in Week 2, the number to remember in Week 3: Zero.

As in the number of points Notre Dame will score against Michigan State. Yes, really. WWL loves him some Spartan Dawgs.

Cut, paste and start emailing your buds. Hey, it's all about page views, baby. Sufficiently shocked, you are now prepared to peruse Weekend Watch List ...

Welcome back, old friends

A hearty hand clasp to Tennessee, Florida, UCLA and Texas. Where you been? Wait, don't tell us -- some sort of irrelevant limbo. Gosh, that's hard to say about four national programs that have won a combined 2,877 games, but it's true.

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There are reasons Tennessee, Florida and UCLA all hired new coaches since 2010. In the now, Derek Dooley has shown slow and steady progress in Knoxville. Will Muschamp came back at halftime for the first time against Texas A&M (he had been 0-5). Jim Mora Jr. is lighting it up in Westwood after being away from the college game for 28 years.

Speaking of a long time, Mack Brown, at age 61, has had the foresight to go This Old House on Texas' offense. He scrapped the Longhorns' spread and rebuilt it in the image of an SEC program.

For now, in Week 3, all four matter again. UCLA (hosting Houston) has put up 1,299 yards in two games (playing five freshmen on offense) and given up almost 800. Suddenly, the Bruins are something they never were under Rick Neuheisel -- exciting. Nebraska is still trying to figure out how UCLA gained 653 yards last week.

"I've been sick to my stomach since that game," Huskers coach Bo Pelini said.

Mora told us he was going to give this team an identity. The first Bruins head coach in at least 35 years with a defensive background has given UCLA some bite. Johnathan Franklin leads the country in rushing and has more yards -- 431 -- than 100 FBS teams.

Texas (at Mississippi) is taking baby steps toward the balance it has lacked since Colt McCoy went down against Alabama more than 2½ years ago. Quarterback David Ash is completing more than 70 percent of his passes, but the running game's the thing. If the 'Horns get through Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and West Virginia the next three games, it should be a heck of a Red River Shootout next month.

The Florida-Tennessee game hasn't been this big since -- what? -- 2007? That was the last year both teams were ranked coming into the game. Tennessee hasn't beaten Florida since 2004. Since then the Vols haven't had a 100-yard rusher, 100-yard receiver or 300-yard passer vs. the Gators while averaging 1.8 yards per rush.

That isn't a rivalry, it's a statistical nightmare -- for the orange side. The 2009 game was big, but only because Florida wanted to beat the snot out of the snotty Lane Kiffin. The Vols were more than respectable that day, losing 23-13. WWL forever remembers Eric Berry going head-to-head with Tim Tebow.

But it wasn't vintage Florida-Tennessee. Now, the third week of September seems a little more sacred. Saturday's winner merely has a step up on finishing third in the SEC East. For now, that's enough.

Last year the four teams combined to go 26-26. Only Texas and Florida were above .500. UCLA played in that embarrassing Pac-12 title game when the South Division "champ" USC was banned from a bowl. This season the Welcome Back 4 are all 2-0 -- and ranked.

That's what 2,877 wins will get you. It's up to them from here.

Panic meter

Auburn (needle buried in the red): So much for the national championship honeymoon. Gene Chizik is 8-7 since winning it all in 2010. But even if the Tigers (0-2 prior to Louisiana-Monroe) win the rest of their games, Chizik's job is in danger. Never mind Kiehl Frazier's clueless start or Mississippi State claiming it knew Auburn's offensive signals last week.

If Alabama wins a third championship in four years, Chizik is in danger of being canned -- by the Tide's accomplishments.

Arkansas (extremely high): John L. Smith basically knew his fate before the season started. The only surprise is that after blowing a three-touchdown lead to Louisiana-Monroe, some in Hogland are willing to hire back Bobby Petrino. Now.

Season goals suddenly sank to the bottom of an Ozark mud hole. The program could be embarrassed further, in a different way, if Alabama is of a mind on Saturday. The question you have to ask yourself: Last Friday was it more likely that Louisiana-Monroe would beat Arkansas or Arkansas would beat Alabama?

Big Ten (high): The Large 12 is one Michigan State loss to Notre Dame from being out of the national championship race in mid-September. Wisconsin can't run and can't score. Penn State can't kick. Ohio State can't go to a bowl. Michigan kicked off the season being embarrassed by Alabama.

Northwestern has the league's only two wins over BCS-conference schools (Syracuse and Vanderbilt).

USC (mild): Football Camelot was purring along this week when Lane Kiffin brought undue attention to himself by banning Los Angeles Daily News reporter Scott Wolf for reporting an injury. While the situation has been smoothed over, this is not the kind of distraction Kiffin needs to introduce to what has been an almost perfect start to the season.

Note to all coaches: When you try to limit media access, you forfeit the right to complain about lack of respect or position in the polls. We can't rank you accurately, if we can't see you.

This is not the kind of distraction Southern California needs heading into Stanford. Matt Barkley and his fellow seniors are 0-3 against the Cardinal. Stanford is motivated, talented and knows how to beat the Trojans. The question is whether they can do it with Josh Nunes. USC must quickly grab this game by the throat after messing around against Syracuse.

Packed 12

Much was made of the Pac-12's excellent day last week (6-1 vs. BCS-conference schools, three wins vs. AP top 25 for the first time since 1985). Let's see a repeat in these key nonconference games ...

Cal at Ohio State: Remember Aaron Rodgers -- at Cal? Yeah, it's been a while since Jeff Tedford produced a serviceable quarterback. The latest, Zach Maynard, has missed only nine of 43 throws to date. Half brother Keenan Allen has caught at least one pass since his career started 26 games ago.

Colorado at Fresno State: CU has the look and feel of a winless team. If it doesn't win at Fresno State, its best chance the rest of the season comes next week at Washington State.

Arizona State at Missouri: The Sun Devils have scored 108 points in the first two games. In a revenge game, Missouri must rebound from an emotional loss to Georgia. If the beat-up offensive line can hold up, they will, something like 45-41.

Playing the percentages

Wake Forest may have won 66 percent of the last six games against Florida State (four), but FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel says the 'Noles have used only three percent of the playbook in walkover wins against FCS sacrificial lambs Murray State and Savannah State.

"That might pose a tough week for Wake Forest to prepare for all the things we can do," Manuel said.

Clemson (on Sept. 22) will be watching too.

What do John L. Smith and Nick Saban have most in common this week?

Answer below.

Paul Rhoads is God

WWL has the softest of spots in its heart for Iowa State's inspirational coach. Thanks to YouTube, he has become a national phenomenon because of the string of upsets. The latest was last week's win that was ugly but inspirational, mostly because it was over big, bad, Iowa (from the bad Big Ten, see above).

"I may not be able to make a speech like Paul Rhoads," Barack Obama said during a campaign stop, "but I'll try."

Turns out Rhoads -- the man who replaced Chizik in Ames -- has the best 40-game record of any Iowa State coach (20-20) since Clay Stapleton (1958-61). The Cyclones play Western Illinois, trying to go to 3-0 for the second straight year.

Church vs. State

Something is not quite right with Brigham Young-Utah being played in September. Chalk it up to one of the vagaries of conference realignment. This is a great under-the-radar conflict that may end soon. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham suggested in the offseason that, "Our program is bigger than the rivalry."

It seems the Pac-12's nine-game conference schedule makes playing BYU every year too tough.

This is not a good time to be a Ute. Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn had to retire this week because of multiple shoulder problems. Utah State beat Utah last week for the first time since 1997. BYU is ranked and will be looking for revenge after losing 54-10 last year.

Answer

Smith and Saban are both former conference coaches of the year. They both coached at Michigan State. They're both in their 60s. They're both in the SEC.

They've both lost to Louisiana-Monroe in their first year as a head coach at their current school.

Stat pack

Paul Chryst's influence is in the middle of middling starts at Wisconsin and Pittsburgh. Without their former offensive coordinator, the Badgers' offensive output has dropped by 200 yards per game. With him as head coach, the Panthers are 0-2 for the first time since 2005 ... You think the Big Ten is seeking an identity? The conference includes a team that has scored only one offensive touchdown (Iowa) and one that has yet to give up an offensive touchdown (Michigan State) ... Definition of volleyball: SMU (vs. Texas A&M) has caused a nation-best 10 turnovers but is tied for third in turnovers caused, six ... That was a "home" game for Louisiana-Monroe last week in Little Rock against Arkansas. The school was paid $950,000 to move the game. It will make more than $1 million this week to play at Auburn. Such is life in the Sun Belt ... Who is Kolton Browing? The world is finding out. Louisiana-Monroe's junior quarterback from Mabank, Texas, leads the country in total offense ... Reason why college football is almost totally devoid of Cinderellas and basketball embraces them: Punching bag Savannah State plays in the same conference (Mid-Eastern Athletic) as Norfolk State, the team that upset second-ranked Missouri in the NCAA tournament ... Steve Spurrier is going for his 200th career win this week against Alabama-Birmingham. Seventy-seven of those 199 wins have come with Florida. Only three active FBS coaches have more wins -- Frank Beamer, Mack Brown and Nevada's Chris Ault.

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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