— Everyone likes a good comeback story, right? Well, on one of the most dynamic college-football weekends we can remember, the biggest games have delicious subplots of revenge and retribution, along with big-name coaches who might be regaining their mojo.
The five major storylines of Week 2:
1. Hurricane Warning (Miami at Ohio State)
Yes, the past has passed. Some of the players from Miami and Ohio State were actually in middle school when the 2003 Fiesta Bowl was contested.
So what’s the sense of bringing it up?
Perhaps it’s the last, best reminder of what Miami football was all about before its dominating era got snuffed out in the desert. The Hurricanes carried a 34-game winning streak — and their customary swagger — into the national-championship game against Ohio State.
For a moment, it looked like Miami had won. In fact, for a few seconds, Hurricane players came off the sideline to celebrate. Fireworks erupted in the background. Then someone noticed a penalty flag in the end zone — defensive pass interference against Miami — and the game continued amid controversy.
It was one for the ages — Ohio State 31, Miami 24 in two overtimes — but in many ways, the Hurricanes have never recovered.
They have not played for a national title since. They have never won an ACC championship, never even qualifying for the league’s title game.
Now, after a few seasons of reloading and rebuilding under coach Randy Shannon, the Hurricanes are presented with this opportunity at Ohio State.
Just like vintage Miami, these Hurricanes are blindingly fast and deep on defense, presenting a problem for the Terrelle Pryor-led Buckeyes offense. Meanwhile, Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris is a calm and cool decision-maker under normal circumstances, but he does not react well to heavy pressure.
So there’s your ballgame. It’s on Ohio State’s defense to make life miserable for Harris. But if the Hurricanes can protect their quarterback, Miami is good enough to slug it out with Ohio State. And if that happens, the Hurricanes could have their clearest road to a national title since, well, the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.
Whether it’s admitted or not, that controversial finish still hangs over Miami’s program as a reminder of some unfinished business. Miami can get on with its new era by wiping away that bitter memory from seven years ago.
2. Onward, Christian Soldiers (Florida State at Oklahoma)
Speaking of that bitter after-taste, the Florida State Seminoles get their own reminder of a watershed moment.
Seeking back-to-back national titles at the 2001 Orange Bowl, the Seminoles went flat in a 13-2 loss against Oklahoma. The Seminoles haven’t played for a national title since. In the meantime, everything has changed.
Legendary Bobby Bowden, who had 14 straight seasons with a Top 5 finish (the last culminating with that loss against Oklahoma), is out after 34 seasons with the program he largely defined.
Jimbo Fisher, the former head-coach-in-waiting who’s out to make a name for himself, is in.
What’s to say it will be any different at Florida State?
It’s too early for national-title contention, but Fisher has clearly invigorated the program with upgraded recruiting, attention to detail and a return to urgency.
Two seasons ago as offensive coordinator, Fisher rolled the dice on unproven quarterback Christian Ponder, saying he liked the kid’s intangibles and upside. Fisher’s instincts were correct. Ponder has matured into one of college football’s top leaders. He beats opponents with his arm, his legs and his mind. With a good performance against Oklahoma, Ponder will join the short list discussion for the Heisman Trophy (the school already is heavily promoting Ponder for the award, something that hasn’t been done at Florida State in recent memory).
Oklahoma opened with a much-closer-than-expected 31-24 victory against Utah State. It extended the Sooners’ home winning streak, the nation’s longest, to 31 straight games (with an average score of 45-15).
Ponder’s contributions get front-and-center attention. But even during the most wide-open, offensively dynamic portions of Bowden’s career, the Seminoles were truly driven by a ferocious defense. Rebuilding that unit now falls to defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, the younger brother of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
3. Hunting Bear (Penn State at Alabama)
Penn State coach Joe Paterno has 395 career victories, the most in major college-football history, but he is just 5-8 against Alabama. Four of those defeats came at the hands of Alabama coach Bear Bryant, including the Crimson Tide’s classic 14-7 goal-line-stand win in the 1978 Sugar Bowl, which took away a national title from Paterno’s unbeaten No. 1-ranked Nittany Lions.
They have long memories in Alabama, where a video of Bryant still works the crowd into a fervor during the pregame of each Crimson Tide home game.
In 2001, after all, it was Paterno who broke Bryant’s record for wins by a major-college coach.
Expect Alabama to gain its “revenge’’ over Paterno, who admittedly says his Nittany Lions are “outmanned’’ against the defending national champions.
Rob Bolden, an 18-year-old true freshman, is Penn State’s starting quarterback, while Alabama counters with Greg McElroy (who hasn’t lost a start since he was an eighth-grader in Texas).
Alabama will probably be without running back Mark Ingram, last season’s Heisman Trophy winner, who missed the opener due to a knee injury. But there’s a deep wave of talent throughout the Crimson Tide roster, enough to make a mismatch out of what sounds like a marquee matchup.
4. Hail To The Victors (Michigan at Notre Dame)
The sparks always fly when it’s a meeting of college football’s all-time leaders in winning percentage (Michigan .737, Notre Dame .734). Despite diminishing returns in recent seasons, it looks like the Wolverines and Fighting Irish are back on the upswing.
For the moment, the hot-seat talk has simmered for Coach Rich Rodriguez (9-16 at Michigan).
After two seasons of watching Rodriguez attempt to incorporate his offensive system into the Michigan culture — a square-peg, round-hole exercise, if ever there was one — we finally got a glimpse of the possibilities in the Wolverines’ victory against Connecticut last week.
Sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson produced a school-record 383 yards of total offense, including 29 rushes for 197 yards, the most ever by a Michigan quarterback. Robinson showed the speed (he was a state championship-contending sprinter in his home state of Florida) and instincts associated with the dual-threat quarterbacks Rodriguez routinely produced at his previous stops on the staffs of West Virginia, Clemson and Tulane.
Robinson, in truth, looked a lot like Pat White, the old West Virginia quarterback. That’s not good news for first-year Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who remembers well the nightmarish task of defending the Mountaineers from his days at Cincinnati.
“What makes a difference is a quarterback that has real athletic ability,’’ Kelly said. “You’re isolating a defensive end or a linebacker on a quarterback that’s not just a quarterback but a great athlete.’’
That’s quite a difference.
And it could be the difference between Michigan going from mediocrity to a legitimate Big Ten Conference contender.
5. The Head Ball Coach (Georgia at South Carolina)
Steve Spurrier is one game into his sixth season at South Carolina — and many people believe the Gamecocks are no closer to contending for an SEC title.
The records: 7-5, 8-5, 6-6, 7-6, 7-6.
And now: 1-0 with perhaps an opportunity to finally take that next step.
The Gamecocks were sharp in their season-opening 41-13 victory against Southern Miss. Not only did up-and-down junior quarterback Stephen Garcia display the type of consistency and mental tenacity that Spurrier craves, the Gamecocks also unveiled a pair of true freshmen who look excellent.
Rugged running back Marcus Lattimore and shifty all-purpose receiver Ace Sanders could be two of the SEC’s biggest additions.
Spurrier needs this victory badly. As the Gamecocks’ coach, he is 1-4 against Georgia (after going 11-1 against the Bulldogs during his Florida tenure).
South Carolina or Georgia?
Georgia or South Carolina?
The winner probably establishes itself as Florida’s chief challenger in the SEC East. In his former life, Spurrier was accustomed to contending for championships. By defeating Georgia, he could find himself back in that familiar role.