Week Three, and you, viewer, should be rounding into form. Getting to the couch a few minutes late for kickoff was understandable in the opener, tolerable last week, but now your cheeks should be sliding into that groove with precision, smorgasboard at the ready, by the time Corso begins blindly gyrating beneath whatever ridiculous mascot head he’s picked this week (hint: probably not a rooster any time soon). Your conditioning should be improving: fewer, faster, better-timed trips to the bathroom, longer periods with no non-gridiron thoughts interrupting your focus. Return flips from commercial breaks should be precise, as the logos for all the sponsors you intentionally avoided over the previous two minutes are fading from the screen.
You know the names now. You know the story lines. You know the records. The time for I-AA body bags is past. It’s time to execute.
TGIF, UNLESS YOU HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO THAN WATCH...
OKLAHOMA STATE at TROY (7:00 • ESPN2)
Quarterback controversy for the Cowboys, who for some very strange reason are on the road against the Sun Belt for the second week in a row: Bobby Reid was Mr. Hype, the blue chip made good as a sophomore, but he was weak at Georgia in the opener and went down last week against Florida Atlantic, briefly ceding the position to Zac Robinson, whose official number according to the NCAA is "#1X." But Robinson threw for three touchdowns, and Reid may get the quick hook from the lineup if the Cowboys aren’t mowing down Troy pretty quickly. Watch For: Judging from the Trojans’ 49-point yield to Florida in the first half last week, the offensive explosion we’ve been waiting for out of Oklahoma State.
On to Saturday’s feast...
NOON: THERE IS A YOUTH SOCCER GAME. GET THE ORANGE SLICES IN TIME FOR...
Main Course: PITTSBURGH at MICHIGAN STATE (12:00 • ESPN)
Uh, on second thought, take your time with the orange slices. Pittsburgh is 2-0 thanks to 24-point beatings on Eastern Michigan and Grambling, but Pitt is still beat up, without its best offensive player, still not completely sure who to book for the emergency room play at quarterback, still coached by Dave Wannstedt and still smarting from losing this game big at home last year, anyway.
The Spartans are still at least a week away from the soul-crushing disappointment than sets both wings on fire and sends the season hurtling into oblivion. Watch For: The high, high probability than Wannstedt will be forced to turn to the Panthers’ third different quarterback in as many weeks if Kevan Smith is ineffective or injured.
On the Other Channel:
CENTRAL MICHIGAN at PURDUE (12:00 • ESPN2)
See, this is a program decision that pisses me off: it’s not like Central Michigan-Purdue is just a horrible game – both teams were in bowls last year, there’ll be a ton of points – but, you know, it’s obviously secondary to its mediocre competition (Pitt-Michigan State). Meanwhile, the same network is showing one of the three most compelling games of the day, Arkansas at Alabama, at 6:45 p.m., putting it up against the end of Florida-Tennessee and the start of USC-Nebraska, automatically making Arkansas-Alabama the most difficult game of the day to focus on if you have any interest in either of those other marquee games. I’m sure the SEC is not eager to kick off at 11 a.m., and there are contracts, etc. – the Big Ten always has the early games, the SEC always has the evening – but it only makes the best games are unnecessarily difficult to watch. Watch For: A ton of points. If you haven’t seen quarterbacks Curtis Painter or Dan LeFevour (and admit it, you haven’t), both are operating prolific spread attacks against rock bottom pass defenses.
Provicialism: Akron tries to improve on its two-point, three-first down effort of a week ago at Indiana and Buffalo comes off one of the most lopsided wins in school history for a beatdown at Penn State on the Big Ten Network (both games at noon Eastern). Southern-fried Lincoln Financial action gets depressing, even moreso than usual, as participants in both the featured ACC (Virginia at North Carolina, 12:30 EDT) and SEC (Mississippi State at Auburn, 12:30 EDT) games come in close to the frayed end of their ropes already. And though Iowa and Iowa State (Noon EDT) command one of the highest single-game ticket prices in the country, but can only get on the air via Worldwide Also-Ran Versus.
MID-AFTERNOON: DRUM. HAND DRUM WITH ME...
Yes, fans, yes, I hear it. My mitts are twitiching to beat the coffee table into rhythmic submission. It sounds like...
Main Course: TENNESSEE at FLORIDA (3:30 • CBS)
Glad to see CBS and its frantic theme back after taking off the non-conference preliminaries, even if by the second quarter I know I’ll be cursing Verne "I’m Lonely, So Lonely" Lundquist’s desperate, jowel-jiggling catchphrases in between seething anti-corporate tirades directed at the annoying in-game, on-field logos superimposed in the secondary ("Third-and-long, brawt to you bah...Home Dee-po!"). Also good to have the pivotal UT-UF throwdown back in its traditional time slot ("traditional" = "when I first remember watching it," i.e. the early-to-mid-nineties).
This marks not only the annual elimination game for the SEC East race, but the first time most of the country will see Tim Tebow in a full game as a starter. He’ll be without Bubba Caldwell, and possibly the tendonitis-ravaged Percy Harvin, too, but against Tennessee’s sketchy secondary, the nation expects nothing short of perfection. Watch For: Because your girlfriend wants you to, surprisingly, and not just to ogle Tim Tebow, she promises. Please. Grow up. Because why would she want to spend hours of her day off gazing longingly into the emerald green eyes of some overgrown teen heartthrob whose inarticulate, slightly acne-scarred hunkiness will awaken her nostalgic – as well as, unbeknownst to you at this seemingly comfortable stage of the relationship, increasingly frustrated – adolescent longings, eventually sending her on a downward spiral destined to end on the lurid back pages of Scout.com, thereby bringing the omnipotent wrath of Homeland Security down on your laptop with child pornography charges that you can’t prove you’re not guilty of, resulting in a decade-long, rape-filled prison sentence, a series of ever tighter-fitting ankle bracelets, embarrassing encounters with neighbors and lifelong scorn from tomato-wielding old ladies? You just want to make the love of your life happy, right? [EDSBS legal would like to note that Tim Tebow is a 19-year-old sophomore, and therefore eligible to be gawked at in lewd and inappropriate fashion by adults of both genders. He is also an upstanding and unstoppable citizen. Acts of potential perversion and/or illegality are attributed only to the reader and his/her significant other, who, pursuant to that one video tape you swore would not wind up online, are likely to commit such acts, rather than Mr. Tebow, who is muscular and not into that sort of thing. We regret any confusion.]
On the Other Channel:
OHIO STATE at WASHINGTON (3:30 • ESPN)
Such a volatile investment of the viewer’s time: at once, OSU-Washington could pay off as the most intriguing match of the day, or could go down as you really always knew it would, with the Huskies’ star fading in the grasp of a long, slow 17-6 Buckeye chokehold. Watch For: Every fan owes it to themselves to see the Tebow-esque redshirt freshman Jake Locker, he of the outrageous "messiah" hype from the Northwest, who has lived up to his terrible billing in his first two career starts. Ohio State’s defense allowed 68 yards and three first downs last week – it was Akron, but triple those numbers, and it’s still a dominant performance, which makes this Locker’s "for real?" game for a national audience.
NOTRE DAME at MICHIGAN (3:30 • ABC)
Technically, somebody "has to win" here, but the fates of both teams have been so bad, and are so much worse going forward with a pair of true freshman quarterbacks, and have sustained such misery in their respective fan bases in such a short amount of time, that I’m tempted to predict the same outcome I envisioned for years (before Boston won it) on the occasion of a Red Sox-Cubs World Series: a 3-3 tie deep into the fourth quarter, possibly into overtime, and a devastating earthquake or other disaster cancels the finish. If only I thought either defense was capable of holding anyone – even Jimmy Clausen – to only three ponits. Watch For: Sweet, sweet schadenfreude. An epic afternoon in sadism.
TEXAS at CENTRAL FLORIDA (3:30 8 ESPN2)
Of all the games on the viewing slate Saturday, this is the only one that screams "unmitigated blowout." Watch For: A much better game than anyone expects from an inspired UCF against lethargic Texas, which wakes up sometime in the third quarter to swat away yet another mid-major fly. This is the first game/dedication of the Knights’ new, on-campus Bright House Networks Stadium, and the first home sellout in school history.
The Wild Card
ARKANSAS at ALABAMA (6:45 • ESPN)
You can’t in good conscience turn away from a tight Tennessee-Florida game, but this one has the same level of intrigue, and possibly the same long-term relevance in the SEC title race. Here is our first chance to learn how Alabama is or is not really different under Saban than it was under DuBose-Franchione-Price-Shula, and how Arkansas is prepared to respond to the ridiculous melodrama of its offseason. Watch For: Ostensibly, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones heroically plowing into ten-man fronts, dragging and throwing off tacklers like Uma Thurman cutting down the Crazy Eighty-Eight in Kill Bill until eventually swarmed over by the sheer number of defenders keyed on them. But you also know these are the two craziest fan bases among a paradise of crazy fan bases in the SEC, which makes them the craziest in the country and possibly the world, and if ever something truly bizarre was set to happen – a contingent of Arkansas fans led by Guz Malzahn and Beck Campbell storming the field to kidnap Nutt, an assassination attempt on Nick Saban by a Tider who loved the coach so much he grew to hate him, like Mark David Chapman – this must be that game. I would expect nothing less than a soccer riot, or someone projecting incriminating text messages from Houston Nutt’s cell phone on the Bryant-Denny Jumbotron. Someone in the crowd is going to be arrested, is what I’m saying, maybe a lot of someones, and here’s hoping the Leader won’t have too much dignity to cut away.
EVENING AND LATE NIGHT: WEEKEND AT BOBBY’S
Main Course: SOUTHERN CAL at NEBRASKA (8:00 • ABC)
You’re LOOKING LIVE! at fabulous Lincoln Stadiumm where, thank god, Brent Musburger wont have to deal with any more goddamn hippies in the oak trees!:
No, as we know from T.J. Simers’ in-depth reporting from the Heartland, Nebraska is pretty much only farms and farmers and cows and corn and lonesome highways and, like, actual work and that sort of thing. In fact, there are no trees in the state of Nebraska, naturally, and if there were, the only people who’d be in them are smartass, condescending Hollywood types who got knocked up there after opening their mouths one time too many.
Watch For: The first good look at the USC’s Storm Troopers of Destiny, for one, but also the possibility, however remote, that Simers has to eat his words when he calls the game "a foregone conclusion." If Bill Callahan can motion the slightly ailing SC defense to sleep, and Sam Keller can repeat the 347 yards he threw against the Trojans with Arizona State in 2005 without repeating the five interceptions, there’s a chance. There’s about an equal chance SC will win by 30, but that should be something to see, too.
On the Other Channel:
LOUISVILLE at KENTUCKY (7:30 • ESPN Classic)
So many points, such little time: Kentucky’s defense ranked 118th in the nation last year and allowed more than 450 yards last week to Kent State; Middle Tennessee score touchdowns on its first five possessions last Thursday in Louisville. The two offenses, meanwhile, have combined for 243 points in four games. Watch For: With eight months to go, it’s still possible to say something like this and it be plausibly true, so I’m going for it: Brian Brohm and Andre Woodson might be the first two quarterbacks picked in next April’s draft. Might be. See? They might. Woodson might have a breakout game in a UK upset, but as the kind of game Louisville’s defense had last week was hardly worse than the norm for Kentucky's, the draft thing seems more likely.
BOSTON COLLEGE at GEORGIA TECH (8:00 • ESPN2)
A possible preview of the ACC championship (you did know B.C. and Tech are in different divisions, right?) and completely underrated game of the week. Both teams are off to 2-0 starts of dubious merit, because none of the four teams they’ve crushed under their combined boot (Wake Forest, Notre Dame, N.C. State and Samford) have won a game yet. Unless, of course, you count Samford’s two-point victory over Western Alabama, which would be charitable of you, but not very helpful toward assessing Georgia Tech. Watch For: The impact on the ACC race. True to its word, B.C. has opened up the offense under Matt Ryan, where Tech has played it close to the vest with Taylor Bennett in a couple easy, run-driven wins against overmatched defenses. If it can do that against the Eagles – B.C. has allowed 58 yards total on the ground in two games – Tech is the favorite at home.
BYU at TULSA (9:00 • CSTV)
Post-defeat, rebounding could be much easier for BYU without a visit like this, to a quiet team hoping to establish itself as better than just a C-USA darkhorse with a win, even if that win is more likely to be counted against the slumping Cougars than it is to earn reward for a team whose mascot looks like Powdered Toast Man. Watch For: Visual evidence of Gus Malzahn’s insanely up-tempo offensive philosophy at Tulsa, which is very revolutionary, if you didn’t know.
FLORIDA STATE at COLORADO • (10:00 • ESPN)
Both of these proud programs are reeling, searching for some sort of identity, but frankly, it’s just a little late in the day to be thinking about that sort of thing, isn’t it? If FSU fans watch this game all the way through, it will be 1 a.m. at the earliest back in Tallahassee before weary handshakes are exchanged; even in the Rockies, it won’t finish until after 11 p.m. local time. But what do you think this, a morning Easter egg toss in the park? This is Division I football, brother, and if you’re not willing to play it into the wee hours with no oxygen, then you can go home. Watch For: Bobby Bowden passing out in the second half. I’m not kidding: he’s in his late seventies. He’s in the mountains. He’s up way past his bedtime. He’s going down.
Provincialism: Regional Fox networks out West are clogged with 10 p.m. games, so ignore this if you’re east of the Rockies: Idaho at Washington State on FSN Northwest, San Diego State at Arizona State and New Mexico at Arizona on FSN Arizona, San Jose State and Stanford on FSN Bay Area and, earlier in the evening (6:30 EDT), Idaho State at Oregon State on not one but two FSN affiliates, FSN Northwest and FSN Arizona. Louisiana Tech visits Cal for an old-fashioned beatin’ on Comcast Northwest. Hawaii is back on the mainland (it never left, actually, after making the 4,000-mile trip for a conference game with La Tech last week) for a game with Hawaii UNLV on the confusingly-abbreviated Mountain West network, Mtn. Back east, so to speak, Duke and Northwestern break out the Hume for the Big Ten Network.