If there's a day to make a major statement in college football, Saturday is the day to do it.
Nebraska, Michigan, Louisville, Oregon and TCU all look to leave the Sept. 16 weekend with higher profiles – and higher rankings in the polls. Meanwhile, Bowden Bowl VIII will feature two teams needing a major boost this week before they finish their ACC schedules.
Besides the two SEC heavyweight games of LSU at Auburn and Florida at Tennessee, the Week 3 schedule is loaded for almost every conference.
Michigan is 11-1 when Mike Hart rushes for 100 yards. He was sidelined after just a handful of carries in last year's game, but enters this year's contest at 100 percent. Expect some new wrinkles, but Hart's going to get his carries.
The left side of the line – tackle Jake Long and guard Adam Kraus – has been dominant in the new zone blocking scheme, and ball control is going to be a big part of the game plan against the Irish in an effort to keep Brady Quinn and Co. off the field.
In the passing game, Chad Henne has had no choice but to throw underneath, with generally good results. When he's tried to go vertical, either the play wasn't there or Henne tucked a bit too soon. Inconsistent route running seems to be one of the factors keeping the passing game from being what it can be, along with pass protection on the right side.
On defense, the days of letting offenses dictate the tempo seem to be over in Ann Arbor. The defensive line has the potential to be one of the best in the country and has been dominant on first down. While there's always risk playing a balanced offense like Notre Dame's, the game plan will be to prevent Quinn from getting comfortable in the pocket and picking them apart.
Michigan's game plan for offensive success will probably center on pounding the ball between the tackles and attacking Notre Dame's inexperienced linebackers. That means the Irish defensive line must hold its ground and keep the Michigan offensive line from hitting the second level. The defensive front hasn't played up to its potential through two games.
In the trenches, freshman offensive tackle Sam Young has played well enough through two weeks to earn a little anonymity despite being the first rookie offensive lineman ever to start a season opener at Notre Dame. But he may not face a defensive end as good as LaMarr Woodley for the rest of his career in South Bend. Can Young hold off the nation's sack leader?
Oklahoma players and coaches know Oregon will stuff the box to try and shut down the Oklahoma running game. They also know the Ducks are missing starting cornerback Jackie Bates.
Oklahoma receiver Malcolm Kelly is becoming a dangerous weapon in the passing game. His 6-foot-4, 214-pound frame allows him to ward off defenders in one-on-one situations down the field.
If the offensive line can protect quarterback Paul Thompson, the Sooners could have another big day through the air. Thompson completed 21-of-33 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns against Washington last week. The Huskies also employed an all-or-nothing defensive front against Oklahoma and Kelly pulled down six catches for 121 yards.
The question marks on defense, coupled with the youth on offense, makes this too big a hill for the Sooners to climb this early in the season. A road game at UAB would have been a better way to start the season. But the Sooners barely beat them at home. The smart pick is to go with Oregon until OU proves it can become a complete team on both sides of the ball.
The Oregon-Oklahoma game has evolved into a bit of a rivalry, although that is likely to end this year. The Ducks and Sooners will have played three times in the last three years, with Oklahoma winning the first two – the first in Norman and the last in the 2006 Holiday Bowl.
Ducks fans expect this year to be different, if nothing else, because the game is in Eugene for the first time. Oregon's new offense should be far better than when the teams last met.
The Ducks now also feature running back sensation Jonathan Stewart. Despite tremendous talent, Stewart could not beat out three-year starting senior Terrence Whitehead - at least as a freshman. The average Ducks fan expects a hard-fought, well-coached contest, with the Ducks winning by a touchdown.
No. 17 MIAMI at No. 12 LOUISVILLE
Gary Ferman, publisher of CaneSport.com talks about the Hurricanes:
Due to the loss to Florida State, this game has taken on larger proportions for Miami than a non-conference tilt probably deserves to. There is a lot of pressure on Miami coach Larry Coker to prove he has the UM program back on course to elite status, and the players badly want to do well.
I expect a highly stoked Miami team and would not be shocked by a performance comparable to what the Hurricanes pulled off in Blacksburg, Va., when then-underdog Miami shocked Virginia Tech with a 27-7 win last season.
This is the game Louisville's program has been pointing toward for more than a year - since the Cards let a 24-7 halftime lead over the Hurricanes slip through their fingers at the Orange Bowl in 2004. Louisville has too much firepower to be slowed down and could come away with a double-digit win because the Cardinals have the offensive talent, the home-field advantage and the coaching ability of Bobby Petrino in their favor.
Louisville is averaging 51.5 points per game at home under Petrino and they've scored more than 60 points five times in two seasons. If Louisville scores 35 or 40 points, the question becomes: Can Miami match them? It will come down to a clash of two powers.
The Cardinals have more talent on the offensive side of the football, and the Hurricanes have more talent on defense. Miami will not see an offense the rest of the season as skilled and productive as Brian Brohm and the Cardinals. Louisville won't see a defense all season as strong as the Hurricanes led by Baraka Atkins, Tavares Gooden and Brandon Meriweather.
It's a bit hard to say what will happen in Fort Worth on Saturday between the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs, but when you look at it closely it's not as hard as you might think based on the recent past.
TCU has the nation's longest winning streak at 12 games, with the last loss coming in 2005 to SMU. However, TCU has not played a quality passing offense since facing Texas Tech in 2004 when the Red Raiders won 70-35.
TCU comes into the game with a secondary that ranks 101st against the pass after games against Baylor and UC-Davis. Nobody in college football throws the ball better than Texas Tech. Can TCU stop quarterback Graham Harrell, or slow him down enough to win, is the real question.
The atmosphere should be similar to a bowl game, too - with an expected 18,000 to 20,000 Texas Tech fans in attendance. It should be a great game between top 25 opponents, and it will be close. But Harrell (359 yards per game) is just better than TCU's secondary is right now.
Although the TCU players won't admit it, the 70-35 loss in 2004 is still on their minds. They were young the last time they played and they're a lot more experienced now.
So far this year, they've played two spread attacks similar to what Texas Tech runs. Although they've given up some yards (584 in two games), they haven't given up very many points (20).
The TCU defense is a lot faster than the last time the teams met. The line is the strength of the defense, especially Tommy Blake - who recorded two sacks against Tech as a freshman. Look for him to have another nice game.
Texas Tech will throw for a lot of yards, but TCU's defense is strong in the red zone. With Jarrett Hicks possibly not playing, that takes away a huge weapon for Tech. My prediction is that TCU wins, 28-24.
Clemson's veteran offensive line could be a godsend in its matchup with Florida State on Saturday in Doak Campbell - where the Orange & White have not tasted victory since 1989. The key for Clemson will no doubt be to control time of possession in an attempt to keep its defense off the field.
It's a very good matchup for both teams, but the 'Noles at home will have the advantage over a young Clemson defense still searching for an identity. FSU by 2.
Gene Williams, publisher of Warchant.com talks about the Seminoles:
It will be strength against strength when Clemson brings its vaunted running attack - led by ACC Rookie of the Year James Davis - against a stout Seminoles defense that ranks first nationally against the run. FSU is giving up only 13 yards a game on the ground.
With Clemson having a relatively inexperienced quarterback under center in Will Proctor, you can bet Tommy Bowden will look to establish the run early. FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews will stack the line and rely on his fleet-footed linebackers to clog up the holes.
On the other side of the ball, a talented Seminoles offense has massively underachieved in the first two games and is looking for some answers - especially a running game that is averaging a pedestrian 23 yards a game. With the Tigers defense limping into Doak Campbell Stadium with several key starters out or questionable, the timing should be just right for the FSU offense to get back on track.
For Nebraska, this game will serve as an excellent measuring stick as to how far things have come since Bill Callahan has been in Lincoln. This game is also interesting in the sense that everybody in college football wants to be like USC. Ten years ago Nebraska was that program.
The one key matchup in this game will be Nebraska's defensive backs vs. USC's receivers. Southern Cal appears to have a major edge at this position. For the Huskers to succeed, they will need to limit Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith's big plays.
The one area I do think Nebraska will be able to go after is the USC secondary. The Trojans are very young there and one of Zac Taylor's biggest strengths as a quarterback is seeing the open man.
Replacing two Heisman winners has never been done, but if anyone can do it Pete Carroll can. The new-look offense put up 50 points in its opener on the road against an SEC team, and it could eclipse that total against Nebraska.
USC is an especially hard matchup for teams that are seeing Carroll's bunch for the first time, and the Huskers easily could be overwhelmed early. The defense suffered some injuries but has much better depth than last year, led by a group of linebackers that lives to force turnovers.
Nebraska will struggle on both sides of the ball and lose by a few touchdowns.