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Chris Dufresne / On College Football

Urgency replaces spectacle this weekend in college football

Important story lines will take center stage as teams face tougher tests and set out to prove they are legitimate contenders.

October 06, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Nick Saban isn't a fan of the fast-tempo, high-scoring action, and suggests it can lead to an increase of injuries.
Nick Saban isn't a fan of the fast-tempo, high-scoring action, and… (Dave Martin / Associated…)

Last weekend was a football carnival with jugglers, clowns, cotton candy, flamethrowers and sword swallowers.

My favorite act was "The Bearded Bevo."

It was fun in a nonthreatening, do-or-die way. Who besides Nick Saban didn't like West Virginia and Baylor combining for 133 points, or the bullfight at Stillwater involving matadors Oklahoma State and Texas?

Last weekend's scoring average was the second highest since 1937 and spawned an intellectual discourse regarding no-huddle offenses and how they might be threatening the fundamental fabric of tackling.

Alabama Coach Saban worries all this fast-tempo action might lead to an increase of injuries. "Is this what we want football to be?" he said.

Some think it was just Saban's first news conference in advance of playing Oregon in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

It really is too bad more teams can't be Alabama and recruit the best offensive and defensive linemen to play football the way it was intended until the forward pass ruined everything.

The reality is there is only one Nick Saban and one Alabama and that most teams, in order to compete, have to find innovative ways to stretch the field and neutralize a powerhouse's power.

Even in Saban's own league, Georgia and Tennessee last week combined for 95 points.

This weekend feels different, though, as the sense of urgency replaces the specter of sideshow. This is knuckle-down time with important story lines taking center stage.

Last weekend was "whacked out." This is the weekend we find out:

• Is Notre Dame for real?

The Irish are in the top 10 and off to their best start since 2002, but three of their four wins have come against a Big Ten Conference that has been maligned from opening kickoff. Notre Dame's other win was against Navy.

Notre Dame's defense is ranked No. 15 nationally, but is that just a number? America's Team should get its first big test in Chicago against improving Miami (4-1). The Hurricanes average 472 yards on offense per game.

"They're a tempo team," Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly said. "They like to go fast."

Can Kelly's team keep up?

• Can anybody slow down quarterback Geno Smith and West Virginia's offense?

Texas Coach Mack Brown joked this week he had a hard time finding Manny Diaz, his defensive coordinator.

"I've been down there three times and he's got his door closed and he's under the desk," Brown said on a Monday conference call.

This clash of undefeated teams, in Austin, should give us some understanding about which team might be in this title race for the long haul.

• Is No. 3 Louisiana State a fraud masquerading as a title contender? Coach Les Miles will find out when he takes his team to No. 10 Florida after two subpar performances, against Auburn and Towson.

LSU is 5-0 against teams with a combined record of 7-14. The Tigers are No. 108 nationally in penalties and have committed five turnovers the last two games.

"I think there is an understanding that we need to play better," Miles said.

• Was Justin Wilcox the best assistant-coach hire this season?

Washington's first-year defensive coordinator turned heads Sept. 27 when his schemes shut Stanford down in a surprising 17-13 win in Seattle. For the first time in years, it seems, Washington players tackled people in open space. These are some of the same players, remember, who allowed 67 points to Baylor in last year's Alamo Bowl.

Washington plays at No. 2 Oregon, where Wilcox played and mentored under coordinator Nick Aliotti.

If Washington stops Oregon's offense, in Eugene, Wilcox should have his pick of plum head coaching jobs next year.

• Is Northwestern really the class of the Big Ten? Saturday's trip to Penn State should provide more insight as Northwestern tries to get to 6-0 for the first time since 1962.

• Is UCLA a pretender or a contender? The Bruins take their No. 25 ranking and 4-1 record to Berkeley, where they have not won since 1998.

Cal is a wounded 1-4 team with an embattled coach. It would be shocking and telling if Jeff Tedford's team did not respond with its best effort of the season.

• Texas Tech has the nation's No. 1 defense?

Seeing Texas Tech ahead of Alabama is like seeing "Burp" by "Billy and the Belchers" ahead of "Hey Jude" on the Billboard 100.

Tommy Tuberville's Red Raiders are allowing only 167 yards per game, but they have played Northwestern State, Texas State, New Mexico State and Iowa State.

Texas Tech should get severely tested when Oklahoma visits Lubbock. If not, Oklahoma may not stand the test of time.

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