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September 18, 2006

Michigan feels at home in South Bend

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The College Football Wire

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. Michigan made such a loud statement that it left Notre Dame Stadium in stunned silence.

"When we kept playing, the crowd got quiet," Michigan tailback Mike Hart said Saturday after the Wolverines' 47-21 victory over the then-No. 2 Fighting Irish. "It got quieter, quieter and quieter. And then they started leaving.

"We came here to take over the stadium. And we took over the stadium. It was like we were playing at home."

By forcing five turnovers and scoring more points than any Notre Dame Stadium visitor since 1960, the Wolverines (3-0) likely ended the Irish's dreams of a national championship while catapulting themselves into title contention.

One day after its victory at Notre Dame, Michigan soared from 13th to sixth in the Associated Press poll. The Wolverines also now boast the nation's top rushing defense.

This clearly isn't the same Michigan team that staggered to a 7-5 finish last year.

Quarterback Chad Henne is playing with more confidence. Wide receiver Mario Manningham has made the leap to stardom. Defensive end LaMarr Woodley is playing as well as any defender in the nation.

Then again, can one game alter Michigan's reputation as an underachiever?

Not if the Wolverines follow this brilliant performance by losing their Big Ten opener against Wisconsin next week. Or if they stumble on the road to Minnesota the following weekend.

After overcoming the adversity that surrounds any national power after a subpar season, Michigan must prove it can handle prosperity.

"It's all about just keeping our heads on our shoulders," Henne said. "We can't get hyped up that we beat Notre Dame. We've got to expect that and go into this (next) game with our heads held high and execute like we did today."

If the Wolverines follow that advice the next two months, they very well could enter their Nov. 18 regular-season finale at Ohio State with a spot in the national championship game on the line.

And if they don't do what Henne said? Well, the Wolverines only have to look across the state for a cautionary tale.

Michigan State also improved its record to 3-0 last September by winning an overtime thriller at Notre Dame. The Spartans went on to finish 5-6.

The Wolverines have too much talent to suffer a collapse of that magnitude. But after enduring their disappointing season last year, Michigan still must prove it's back for good.

"We know how good we can be, but the biggest thing is can we come out here and do it every week," Hart said. "We don't know. If we come out here and play every week, we should have a great team. But last year we had one great week, and the next week we'd go out and flop.

"That's the big thing. Are we going to be consistent? We know we're good now, but are we going to be consistent?''

Michigan's rise up the rankings was just one of the top 25 items to come out of this dramatic weekend of college football. Here's a rundown of the other storylines.

2. IRISH DILEMMA: Notre Dame's highly touted offense now has struggled in two of its first three games this season, but that isn't the biggest concern facing the Irish. Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija and Co. don't figure to stay down for long.

The main problem surrounds a secondary that was burned repeatedly against Michigan. The Wolverines didn't pick on just one cornerback - Manningham beat both Ambrose Wooden and Terrail Lambert for touchdowns.

That's not an encouraging sign for a team about to face star Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth against the Irish last year.

3. THE BIGGEST LOSERS: One loss doesn't necessarily knock a team out of national title contention, but fans of Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Florida State shouldn't get their hopes up.

Notre Dame fell all the way to 12th in the AP poll after a one-sided defeat on national television. The Irish can't boost their stock much because they don't face any other top 10 teams until the regular-season finale at Southern California.

Oklahoma dropped to No. 17 and Florida State fell to No. 18, which probably leaves them with too many teams to leapfrog.

4. SOONERS' SWOON: Oklahoma fans had reason to feel angry after a blown call on an onside kick helped Oregon rally for a 34-33 victory. But the game wouldn't have come down to the final minutes if the Sooners' defense had lived up to its preseason billing.

Preseason All-America linebacker Rufus Alexander leads a defense that was rated among the nation's best at the start of the season, but the Sooners have missed too many tackles while allowing too many big plays.

Oklahoma can still boost its BCS hopes in a big way by beating Texas in two weeks, but that won't happen unless the Sooners' defense lives up to its reputation.

5. CARDIAC KIDS: It remains to be seen whether Oregon can challenge USC for the Pac-10 title, but the Ducks sure do plan to make it interesting.

One week ago, Oregon scored a tiebreaking touchdown on a late fake field goal to beat Fresno State. The Ducks followed that up against Oklahoma by scoring two touchdowns in the last 72 seconds and blocking a field goal as time expired.

6. POLL TO PONDER: West Virginia's Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia last year apparently won the Mountaineers plenty of respect.

That's the only way to explain how the third-ranked Mountaineers are ahead of Florida and Michigan in the latest AP poll.

Florida and Michigan just beat nationally ranked teams on the road. The Mountaineers haven't faced a top 25 team or played away from home all season.

7. AND ANOTHER THING: While we're on the subject of the AP poll, why did LSU drop below Texas?

The 10th-ranked Tigers have allowed one touchdown all season and were four yards away from beating Auburn on the road. No. 7 Texas sandwiched victories over outmanned North Texas and Rice around a 24-7 loss at home to Ohio State.

8. STORM CLOUDS BREWING: Miami head coach Larry Coker and his team's stagnant offense have received the brunt of the criticism in the wake of a 31-7 loss to Louisville.

After stomping on the Louisville logo before the game Saturday, the Hurricanes didn't cover another Cardinal all night.

Perhaps that acclaimed Miami defense also deserves some blame.

After stomping on the Louisville logo before the game Saturday, the Hurricanes didn't cover another Cardinal all night.

Brian Brohm and Hunter Cantwell combined to go 13-of-18 for 294 yards against a Miami secondary that supposedly includes the best safeties in the nation. Miami's pass defense has produced just three sacks this season.

9. STREAK SNAPPED: The loss to Louisville dropped Miami to 1-2 and ended the Hurricanes' string of 107 consecutive weeks in the AP rankings. Miami had last fallen out of the top 25 in 1999 after a 43-10 loss to Virginia Tech.

Texas now has the longest streak with 96 consecutive weeks in the Top 25.

10. BROHM'S GONE: Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm's thumb injury shouldn't devastate the Cardinals' Big East title hopes.

Brohm will miss four to six weeks, but the Cardinals have two open dates during that time. He expects to return in time for the Nov. 2 showdown with West Virginia that should determine the Big East champion.

In the meantime, backup quarterback Hunter Cantwell ought to guide the Cardinals to victories over Kansas State, Middle Tennessee State, Cincinnati and Syracuse.

11. THE 'A' IS FOR 'AWFUL': The Atlantic Coast Conference had 51 players more than any other conference - selected in last year's NFL Draft. A dozen of them went in the first round.

The ACC might need at least a year to shore up its talent base after all those defections. Saturday's results indicate that the ACC not the Big East is the worst BCS conference this season.

Virginia lost to Western Michigan. Miami got blown out by Louisville. North Carolina State followed up a loss to Akron with a 20-point setback at Southern Mississippi. North Carolina had its hands full all day with Furman.

Even one of the few encouraging stories this season Boston College needed double overtime to beat Brigham Young at home.

12. UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Instant replay could go a long way toward determining the winner of the ACC Atlantic Division.

Clemson led Boston College 24-17 in the fourth quarter a week ago when an interception by Clemson's Michael Hamlin was overruled. Boston College ended that series with a tying touchdown and went on to win 34-33 in double overtime.

The Tigers benefited from an instant replay Saturday when Florida State appeared to recover a fumble at Clemson's 9-yard line with about five minutes remaining in a 20-20 game. Replay officials awarded possession back to Clemson, which went on to win 27-20.

13. MISSISSIPPI MISERY: It looks like another long season for the SEC's two Mississippi representatives.

Ole Miss opened its SEC schedule Saturday with a 31-14 loss to Kentucky, which finished last in the Eastern Division a year ago. The Rebels' porous defense allowed Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson to throw for three touchdowns and 290 yards.

It's even worse at Mississippi State, which scored only seven points in its first 11 quarters of football. The Bulldogs exploded for 22 fourth-quarter points Saturday, but they still fell 32-29 to a Tulane team that hadn't beaten an SEC program on the road since 1989.

14. ROAD WARRIOR?: Florida's come-from-behind 21-20 victory at Tennessee should put to rest the notion that Gators coach Urban Meyer can't win on the road.

Although the Gators lost three road games in Meyer's first season, Meyer owned a 9-1 record away from home during his two years at Utah. And he began his head coaching career by leading Bowling Green to a 20-13 road victory over 13-point favorite Missouri.

15. TOUCHDOWN MAKER: Two years ago, Florida wide receiver Dallas Baker committed a crucial personal foul that helped cost the Gators a victory over Tennessee.

He's spent the rest of his career making amends.

Baker delivered a key block to help Andre Caldwell score the Gators' lone touchdown in a 16-7 triumph over Tennessee last year. In his final game against the Vols, Baker caught two second-half touchdown passes Saturday as the Gators rallied for a 21-20 victory.

The Florida senior has scored six touchdowns in his last four games while maturing into arguably the SEC's best receiver.

16. AINGE, PALKO STRUGGLE: Tennessee's Erik Ainge and Pittsburgh's Tyler Palko entered the weekend leading the nation in passing efficiency, but both quarterbacks responded with performances that recalled their early season struggles last year.

Ainge threw two interceptions and no touchdown passes in the Volunteers' 21-20 loss to Florida. Palko also was picked off twice before throwing two meaningless touchdown passes in the final three minutes of a 38-23 loss to Michigan State.

17. TATE FEELING BETTER: Iowa quarterback Drew Tate showed just how much he means to the Hawkeyes by returning from a one-game absence and throwing three touchdown passes in a 27-17 victory over Iowa State.

Iowa had struggled to beat Syracuse in double overtime last week when an abdominal strain sidelined Tate. With Tate back in the lineup, the Hawkeyes resembled BCS contenders again.

18. REJUVENATED JARRETT: Maybe Southern California offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin should scold his players more often.

Kiffin criticized All-America wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, who had five receptions for only 35 yards in a season-opening victory over Arkansas.

The 6-foot-5 Jarrett responded by using his height advantage over Nebraska's secondary to catch 11 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-10 victory over the Cornhuskers. Jarrett's 31st career touchdown catch broke Mike Williams' school record.

19. THEY'RE FOR REAL: Only the most dedicated football fans outside the Lone Star State realize that Texas Christian owns the longest winning streak in Division I-A.

Only the most dedicated football fans outside the Lone Star State realize that Texas Christian owns the longest winning streak in Division I-A.

But the Horned Frogs just won some nationwide respect by silencing Texas Tech's high-scoring offense in a 10-3 victory over their cross-state rivals.

The Frogs' 13th consecutive win may have been the most satisfying of all.

Texas Tech had scored 10 touchdowns against the Horned Frogs just two years earlier in a 70-35 blowout. This time, the Red Raiders failed to score a single touchdown for the first time since 2000.

20. ORANGE CRUSH: Perhaps it's only fitting that Texas Tech's potent attack died the same day that Syracuse's offense came back to life.

In a game between two of the most downtrodden BCS programs, Syracuse ended an 11-game losing streak with a 31-21 triumph over Illinois.

The Orange hadn't scored that many points since their last victory a 31-0 shutout of Buffalo on Sept. 10, 2005. Their offense ranked near the bottom of virtually every major statistical category a year ago and couldn't reach the end zone on seven consecutive plays from inside Iowa's 2-yard line in a double overtime loss to the Hawkeyes last weekend.

21. SPURRIER SWEATS ONE OUT: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier suffered only the second shutout loss of his career a week ago, then suspended starting quarterback Blake Mitchell following a mid-week arrest.

Spurrier's tumultuous season almost got a whole lot worse Saturday.

The Gamecocks squeaked past Division I-AA program Wofford 27-20 only after Cody Wells intercepted a fourth-and-5 pass from South Carolina's 10-yard line with 29 seconds remaining. Wofford has beaten a Division I-A team just once in school history.

22. BUFFALOED: Colorado coach Dan Hawkins posted a 53-11 record in five years at Boise State. Don't be surprised if he matches that loss total his first season with the Buffaloes.

Other than an Oct. 7 homecoming date with Baylor or a Nov. 4 date with Kansas State, it's tough to find many possible wins on Colorado's schedule. The Buffaloes rank 115th out of 119 Division I-A teams in total offense.

And they haven't scored a point after halftime all season.

23. SURPRISE STORIES: Wake Forest hadn't won its first three games of a season since 1987. A quarter-century had passed since the last time Rutgers started 3-0.

Yet both teams remained unbeaten Saturday after Wake Forest defeated Connecticut 24-13 and Rutgers disposed of Ohio 24-7.

Rutgers looks like the real deal. Ray Rice and Brian Leonard make up a dynamic backfield tandem that should help the Scarlet Knights challenge Pittsburgh for third place in the Big East.

Wake Forest's fast start looks more like an aberration. The Demon Deacons are starting redshirt freshman Riley Skinner at quarterback and needed a blocked field goal in the final seconds to escape Duke at home.

24. AGGIE ESCAPE: It may go down as the goal-line stand that helped save Dennis Franchione's job.

Texas A&M escaped with a 28-24 victory over Army only after stopping the Cadets on three consecutive plays from the Aggies' 2-yard line in the final minute.

Franchione entered this season on the hot seat because the Aggies went 5-6 last year with the nation's worst pass defense. An early-season loss to Army would have turned up the pressure even more.

25. KNIGHTMARE: Central Florida's resurgence under George O'Leary provided one of the feel-good stories of the 2005 season. With 19 returning starters, the Knights hoped to build on that momentum this fall.

It hasn't worked out that way so far.

UCF dropped its record to 1-2 with a 24-17 home loss to South Florida. The Knights allowed South Florida redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Grothe to throw for 341 yards and three touchdowns. The best long-range plan for UCF might involve an invitation to the Big East, where the Knights could forge a natural rivalry with South Florida. But the Knights' 0-10 record against Big East foes since 2000 doesn't provide much of an argument for inclusion.

AND ANOTHER THING: WHAT'S NEXT?: Saturday produced plenty of thrills, but a look at next week's slate makes you wish the schedule could have been spread out a little better.

This weekend featured seven games that matched Top 25 teams: Auburn-LSU, Michigan-Notre Dame, Texas Christian-Texas Tech, USC-Nebraska, Florida-Tennessee, Oregon-Oklahoma and Louisville-Miami.

Next weekend only features two such matchups: Ohio State-Penn State and Arizona State-California.

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