No.1 Miami (Fla.) at No. 6 Florida – Saturday 5 p.m. ABC: The game of the week, if not the game of the year, takes place in Gainesville as No. 1 Miami brings its national championship and the nation’s longest winning streak (23 games) into The Swamp to face No. 6 Flordia. This game appears to have all the makings of an instant classic. The teams last met in the 2000 Sugar Bowl with Miami walking away with a 37-20 victory. Both teams are perennial national championship contenders, and this year is no different. Quite a few things have changed since last year, though.
The most notable change is the departure of former Florida head coach Steve “ball coach” Spurrier, who made the jump to the NFL after amassing 12 consecutive winning seasons, six SEC championships and one national championship with the Gators. His replacement, Ron Zook, a former NFL assistant specializing in defense and special teams with the Steelers, Saints and Chiefs, did well last week as his Gators cruised to a 51-3 victory over Alabama-Birmingham, further proving that any school with a dash in its name, well, stinks. The Gators coasted as senior wide receiver Taylor Jacobs set a new school record for receiving yards in a game with 246 and running back Earnest Graham rushed for 182 yards, making it the first time the Gators ever had a 200-yard receiver and 150-yard running back in the same game. All of this, of course, came against sub-par competition to say the least.
The No. 1 Miami Hurricanes will provide a more formidable test for Zook and company, despite the fact that the Hurricanes lost five players to the first round of the NFL draft including dominating offensive tackle Bryant “Mount” McKinnie. But the Hurricanes do return Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Ken Dorsey and much of a defense that won them the title a year ago. Dorsey will get a big chance to improve his Heisman hopes, as he goes head to head with last years runner up, Florida quarterback Rex Grossman. The Hurricanes also got off on the right foot last week with a 63-17 victory over Florida A&M, knocking A&M from the Top 25 in the Florida high school rankings. The victory also somehow lifted the Hurricanes from a tie atop the national rankings, which immediately had coaches all over the country scheduling A&M for years to come.
This is Zook’s first big game as coach and unlike Ty Willingham at Notre Dame, things won’t turn out so rosy.
Miami 34, Florida 20
Alabama at No. 2 Oklahoma – Saturday 3:30 p.m. ABC: After Alabama’s thrilling 39-34 victory last week over Middle Tennessee State, Alabama defensive tackle Jarret Johnson had this to say to ESPN: “It’s hard to be special in these parts, but to be on probation, go undefeated, do this and do that – it’s something the fans will always remember. They’ll always talk about the Alabama team that was unbeaten on probation.”
The probation he refers to, of course, was levied on the university after recruiting violations were discovered this summer.
It’s unclear what the “this” and “that” is that he’s referring to, but one things for sure, someone needs to give Mr. Johnson a schedule. It’s probably not the smartest move to talk about going undefeated the week before you play at the No. 2 team in America. Maybe a season worth of Middle Tennessee States would do the trick, but a tough SEC schedule and a game at Oklahoma makes any talk of going undefeated seem ludicrous – not to mention stupid.
Oklahoma, just two years removed from a national championship, has arguably the best defense in the country and it showed last week in a 37-0 victory over Tulsa. The score is slightly misleading though, as Oklahoma only lead 3-0 at the half. Nonetheless, with the likes of All-America defensive tackle Tommie Harris and an all-around fast secondary, the defense should carry the load this year. Senior tailback Quentin Griffin will also be a significant factor as he builds off of his 237-yard performance against Tulsa.
Oklahoma 38, Alabama 6
Fresno St. at No. 13 Oregon – Saturday 3:30 p.m.: This game is a classic matchup of two teams that have lost their All-American quarterbacks. For Fresno State it was David Carr, who went to the Houston Texans with the No. 1 pick. For Oregon it was Joey Harrington, who went No. 3 to the Detroit Lions. Both quarterbacks, particularly Harrington who saw Oregon finish at No. 2 last year, and were responsible for their schools respective revivals. This year, the quarterback position at each school is somewhat of a question mark.
Junior Jason Fife gets the honors of replacing folk hero Harrington at Oregon. In his first game, which was a 36-13 win over a tough Mississippi State team, Fife answered the doubters with three touchdowns.
Fife is a very solid replacement for Harrington. Although he doesn’t boast quite the pedigree of his predecessor, he may have more talent around him, most of that comes in the form of senior running back Onterrio Smith, who opened the season with a 124-yard performance.
Fresno State finished a surprising 11-3 last year including upsets over Wisconsin, Oregon State and Colorado. The Bulldogs lost a close Silicon Valley Classic to Michigan State despite a stellar performance from Carr. Carr is being replaced with junior Jeff Grady. Grady opened the season with three touchdown passes during a close 23-21 loss to Wisconsin, but suffered a bruised hip and was unable to play in his teams 16-14 win over San Diego State. Grady should play in this week’s game. If he does, the Bulldogs may keep it close.
Oregon 26, Fresno St. 19