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25 Key Storylines to Watch Heading into CFB Week 9

Jonathan McDanalContributor IIIOctober 22, 2012

25 Key Storylines to Watch Heading into CFB Week 9

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    Week 9 of college football brings a boatload of great matches. Some have teams in the BCS Top 25, but many do not. In fact, many of the top stories of the week don't carry ranking digits beside either team.

    However, there is not a single ranked vs. ranked teams matchup that isn't worth recording to ensure you get to see every play. There are battles of unbeaten teams, there are Top Five vs. dark horse matchups and there are plenty of opportunities to shake up the BCS this week.

    From the coach on the hottest seat to the game with the most potential consequences, here are college football's 25 most intriguing storylines for Week 9.

     

    Stats from ESPN.com

25. Oregon Makes Buffalo Burgers

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    The Oregon Ducks have done nothing but win in a major conference for the entire 2012 season. The majority of the points scored against them have been allowed by the backups in the second half of games, which means that the Ducks are good enough to bench the starters to build depth...just like the Alabama Crimson Tide.

    So as Oregon slides down the BCS poll, it has one question for the nation: "If we're moving down, why isn't Alabama?"

    This is a valid question, since Alabama's body of work is not even as good as the Florida Gators' at this point in the season.

    Oregon seems to have no control of its own destiny at this point. The USC Trojans, Stanford Cardinal and Oregon State Beavers are all potential signature wins for the Ducks, but even simply winning those games wouldn't guarantee the Ducks a BCS title-game berth.

    As Oregon stares down the barrel of a possible undefeated season that leads to just a Rose Bowl, there are going to be bloody carcasses of its opponents lying all over the schedule.

    The Arizona State Sun Devils are one of those carcasses already, and the Colorado Buffaloes have virtually no chance of avoiding a beatdown on Saturday.

    As Big Ten and Big East teams struggle to maintain ranking at all, Oregon fans have to be wondering what the point is of being in an "automatic qualifying" conference if the Ducks are going to meet a potential two- or three-loss Big Ten team in the Rose Bowl.

    Those frustrations will be taken out on Colorado. Anyone for postgame buffalo burgers?

24. Johnny Manziel vs. Gene Chizik

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    "Johnny Football" and the Texas A&M Aggies take on coach Gene Chizik and the "See-we-told-you-Iowa-State-let-him-go-for-a-reason" Auburn Tigers on Saturday.

    While the winner of this game is not much of a story, there is still plenty of intrigue surrounding this match.

    Can Johnny Manziel put together a potential Heisman campaign?

    Yes, his shot at the 2012 Heisman is long, but that race is still the tightest it has been all year. The real question is whether he can set himself up for a potential run to New York for the next couple of years.

    Auburn is certainly a team that will allow him to pad his stats, which really don't need that much padding.

23. Every Game Counts

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    This means you, Stanford. Yes, the Cardinal's shot at the BCS is from about half-court, but Stanford has the ability to directly affect the national title picture with every win.

    Even if Stanford doesn't make it to the BCS picture, it is a huge part of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish's strength of schedule. If Stanford falls out of the rankings, Notre Dame's chances at a BCS title berth are shot.

    Granted, even if Stanford wins out, Notre Dame might not make it to the title game. However, Stanford still has an outside shot at the Rose Bowl.

    With a perfect season from here on out, the Cardinal could earn a spot in the Pac-12 title bout for a rematch with USC. That would require a little help from both Oregon teams, but it's still possible.

    The key to all that is beating the Washington State Cougars in Week 9. Without a win here, Stanford's season will basically be a write-off. At least, compared to last year's Fiesta Bowl appearance it will be.

22. Texas Gets a "Bye" Week

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    The Texas Longhorns had lost two straight games before outgunning the Baylor Bears in Week 8 to snap the skid. Texas will face Texas Tech in two weeks and will need all the help it can get to come away with the win against the Red Raiders.

    The best the schedulers could do was give Texas a match against the Kansas Jayhawks.

    The real story here is Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis and his attempt at getting that second win to match his predecessor's prowess at the helm of this football team.

    Weis will not be on the hot seat if he doesn't win another game, but it would certainly be a good move for him to do so. He's got a few more years to prove himself here, and he's nowhere near the headlines with Gene Chizik and Derek Dooley still coaching.

    Texas needs to build momentum heading into the Red Raiders match. Can the Longhorns do it against Kansas? The Hook 'Em faithful sure hope so.

21. Clemson and the ACC Crown

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    The Clemson Tigers have to maintain focus this week, which isn't any different from the rest of the year.

    With every Florida State Seminoles victory, Clemson dies a little inside. The good news for the Tigers is that they keep winning, which is all they can do. Florida State has already dropped a game to the NC State Wolfpack, which gives the Tigers a decent amount of hope for the Orange Bowl.

    Will the Tigers continue to dominate the competition on the way to the Orange Bowl, or will they settle for the Russell Athletic Bowl this year?

    It all either comes to a halt or continues to gain steam against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons this Thursday.

20. Wisconsin: Does This Week Even Matter?

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    The story with the Wisconsin Badgers is basically how much they can be favored in the Big Ten championship match in December.

    With the ineligible Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions ahead of them in the divisional standings and a two-game lead over the Purdue Boilermakers, the Badgers are heading to the conference title game barring a devastating injury plague to the entire first string.

    So what's the story? It's Montee Ball.

    If Ball can continue to flaunt his prowess at running back, he can weasel his way back into the Heisman conversation, especially if the nation's leading quarterbacks continue to play "Who can fall the furthest from grace in one week's time?"

    With the way the season has gone so far, it wouldn't be that surprising to see the quarterback of the Ohio Bobcats win the Heisman.

19. Boise State BCS-Busting Broncos?

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    The Boise State Broncos have a "gimme" game against the Wyoming Cowboys, who are only better than the Idaho Vandals by three points...in overtime.

    The question is whether the Broncos can continue winning enough to make it into the BCS discussion. No, the Broncos are not going to be a sought-after pick when it comes to the BCS, but remember that they merely have to make it to No. 14 to be considered.

    If the Oklahoma Sooners make it to a BCS bowl and Boise is in at No. 14 or better, a rematch of one of the most adrenaline-inducing bowls of all time could look pretty tasty to the selection committee.

    One would think that it's not very likely, but this is a completely different Boise than the one that lost to the Michigan State Spartans in the season opener. This Boise State could take the Spartans by 10 points or better.

    The Broncos will need some style points between now and December to make that happen. The Broncos defense was never in question, and the offense has time to prove itself worthy before the dust settles.

18. Ohio Bobcats: Can They Make It into the BCS Discussion?

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    The Ohio Bobcats currently have wins over seven straight opponents, including the season opener over 5-2 Penn State.

    While the Boise State Broncos have consistently played the role of BCS buster, they obviously did little to help the perception of the "little guy."

    Ohio has a win over a Big Ten team that's better than the team Boise lost to, yet the Bobcats took forever to get into the rankings. The pollsters would have you believe that they are willing to put a non-AQ team into the BCS scene, but the polls say that they would just be willing to put Boise State there.

    If Ohio can continue winning, I would love to see it hit 14th or better and make it into a BCS bowl. Heck, I'd even vote for the Orange Bowl against a one- or two-loss ACC team.

    Maybe the Bobcats would get owned, but wasn't Boise State supposed to get owned by Oklahoma back in the day?

    Yeah, I went there.

17. USC Trojans and Matt Barkley's Heisman Campaign

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    Matt Barkley is still not out of the Heisman conversation and has begun his campaign anew after the complete dismantling of the cupcake Colorado Buffaloes.

    If Barkley used the Buffs to buff his stats and his confidence, this season is about to get ugly for anyone and everyone in his path to the Rose Bowl.

    Arizona is the first name on that hit list, and the Wildcats will have their work cut out for them on Saturday if they would like to make a statement by taking the Trojans down. The only advantage Arizona brings into the game is home-field advantage.

    While the Arizona offense is potent, it's the USC Trojans who field three NFL-ready draft picks on that side of the ball.

    Fight on, USC! This season is far from over, and the Pac-12 title game is the ticket to the Rose Bowl.

16. Purdue and the Case of the Questionable Pottery

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    All right, that was a little subtle. The questionable pottery is a bowl.

    The first thing one learns to make in pottery class is a bowl. In fact, many people can make a bowl without even taking classes.

    Anyway, it's much more difficult to make a bowl with a football. Purdue needs to win the majority of its games from now until the end of the season in order to make the postseason.

    It faces the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State, Iowa Hawkeyes, Illinois Fighting Illini and Indiana Hoosiers before the postseason selectors sit down at the table to pair bowl opponents.

    While that schedule looks favorable at first glance, there are some serious contenders on that list as well.

    Indiana is absolutely killing us college football fans. The Hoosiers are 10 points from being 6-1 at this point in 2012, and they have repeatedly hung with the likes of Ohio State all season long. Indiana fans would not have bet any amount of money in the preseason that the Hoosiers would have come that close to winning any of their games.

    Purdue needs to watch out for all of these teams. Every single one of them has nothing to lose, and Purdue could finish the season with an eight-game losing streak if it doesn't shape up.

    Both Minnesota and Purdue are on three-game losing streaks. Either one of them can stop the skid, but Minnesota's remaining schedule is much tougher than Purdue's. The Golden Gophers have a much smaller chance of making a bowl.

    Of course, a win over Purdue could easily begin the rewrite of their season's plot.

15. The AC-Civil War

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    This war is normally much more heated on the basketball court than on the gridiron. However, with the UNC Tar Heels' postseason ban in effect for 2012, this becomes a hot topic in the college football realm.

    What's even more interesting is that NC State will be bowl-eligible with a win over UNC. That's right, folks: UNC can become the "Good Luck Chuck" of the ACC. With a win, NC State would become the second ACC team in a row to use UNC to get to the postseason.

    Both teams that accomplished that feat would also be from the state of North Carolina. If you want to talk about humiliating defeats in the state, there's nothing worse than getting beaten by the Duke Blue Devils on the football field.

    Unless, of course, you fall to a second in-state rival immediately afterward.

    Good luck, UNC. If not, there's always basketball season.

14. Arkansas, Could It Be?

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    With the Ole Miss Rebels, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, South Carolina Gamecocks, Mississippi State Bulldogs and LSU Tigers left on the schedule, it's an understatement to say that a postseason berth is doubtful for the Hogs.

    However, if the Arkansas Razorbacks took their losses to heart and have returned to championship form, there are up to five wins standing in there.

    It's unlikely, but so was Arkansas defeating anyone 49-7 in 2012. The Hogs turned around after the Alabama loss, but it took a couple of weeks to get everything back into winning shape. In those two weeks, the Razorbacks took another two losses to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Texas A&M Aggies.

    At this point, with the 24-7 win over Auburn and the 49-7 win over the Kentucky Wildcats, Arkansas looks like it's in decent shape to make some kind of bowl.

    That streak can continue or die against Ole Miss in Week 9.

    Believe me, any bowl is better than any Hogs fan thought would happen after the ULM Warhawks travesty. Even a win over Auburn is something to celebrate right now in Fayetteville.

13. Indiana vs. Illinois

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    While it's not exactly a marquee game in the Big Ten, this game does carry meaning for the fanbases. If you've ever been a fan of a team that's had its down decade, you "know the feel, bro."

    Indiana and Illinois are mathematically alive for the bowl season, but at 2-5, both of these teams don't expect that to happen.

    Indiana, as mentioned earlier, is a scant 10 points from being bowl-eligible already.

    Indiana would like to believe that it's clearly better than Illinois. The good news for Hoosiers fans is that they will take on the Fighting Illini this weekend.

    Unfortunately, it is a road game for Indiana.

    While it may have zero national championship implications, this will be a hard-fought game between two programs that are severely in need of a win.

    Indiana has the theoretical edge, but we will see what happens.

12. Oregon State Is Established as a Contender...Now What?

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    Oregon State was the team that had a penchant for upsetting ranked teams at home. Halfway through the 2012 season, the Beavers have firmly established themselves as a legitimate contender.

    Now that the Beavers are officially awesome, they have to worry about the "Oregon States" of the world.

    Case in point: Washington.

    The Huskies have already upset then-No. 8 Stanford at home, and they host the Beavers in Week 9.

    If the Beavers walk away with this road win and hold the Huskies to under 14 points, it is more than reasonable to expect an 11-win season. (Right now, possible losses to Stanford and Oregon make it look like 10 wins are in the bag.)

    That 11-win season would make a Rose Bowl appearance highly possible. If Oregon made it to the national championship, it would be at the expense of USC. If USC loses another game and Oregon State only loses one, that's the Rose Bowl for the Beavers.

    Oregon State is more than capable of winning this game, and the Beavers continue to be a story worth watching all season.

11. Making Headlines and It's Not Even Basketball Season?

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    We humbly welcome the already bowl-eligible Duke Blue Devils to the land of authenticity. The Blue Devils have only lost to Stanford and the Virginia Tech Hokies so far this year, and they made it into the postseason in Week 8.

    The Devils haven't seen the postseason since 1994.

    On top of that, they only have one conference loss, which puts them solidly on top of the ACC Coastal Division.

    The rest of the schedule has the Devils facing Florida State, Clemson, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the Miami Hurricanes. While those aren't likely to get logged as four wins, Duke can make some serious waves in the ACC by taking down any one of those teams.

    Florida State is the first opportunity for Duke to take down a major power, and Clemson fans may want to check this game out.

    While Duke is a sure loss on paper, an FSU loss here would put Clemson in command of the ACC Atlantic Division.

10. Rutgers and the View from the Sideline

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    Rutgers hosts the one-loss Kent State Golden Flashes on Saturday and needs to be fully engaged in that battle to avoid a Cincinnati-like letdown (the Bearcats lost a road game to the Toledo Rockets last week).

    Rutgers will have its hands full with Kent State but will enjoy the luxury of home-field advantage for the fight. Kent State lost to Kentucky earlier in the season for its only loss of 2012 so far.

    Rutgers defeated Arkansas during the dark period in which we all found out just how bad coach John L. Smith is at everything except maybe narrating a Winnie the Pooh movie...as Piglet's grandfather.

    This is a must-win for the Scarlet Knights, as they are one of only two teams still undefeated in the Big East (the other is the Louisville Cardinals).

9. Somebody Has to Win This Time

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    Freshman Jalen Whitlow will be starting against the Missouri Tigers on Saturday as Kentucky's quarterback. Missouri, on the other hand, will probably be missing James Franklin yet again.

    With everything seemingly stacked against Missouri this season, it's questionable whether anyone even expects the Tigers to win this one. Of course, with Kentucky's miserable record, including a loss to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, it's equally doubtful that Wildcat fans are expecting a win.

    The good news is that both teams will be fighting with all they have, and that will yield a highly entertaining game. What makes this really interesting is that Missouri is still able to qualify for the postseason.

    With a loss to Kentucky, the Tigers' bowl chances would be pretty much dead. After all, they're not going to face a more beatable team from here on out.

    Missouri and Kentucky are both fighting for a first conference victory. Someone has to lose; the no-tie rules implemented decades ago have ensured that.

8. Tennessee and the Search for a Fundamental Tackle

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    The Tennessee Volunteers hit the trail to take on South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday. Tennessee's coach Derek Dooley is absolutely enraged by his team's performance this year, and he should be.

    Dooley still has the opportunity to earn his first win over a ranked team in his three-year stint in Knoxville.

    The bad news for him is that defense is what has beaten South Carolina so far this year: Florida and LSU both held the Gamecocks below 30 points (the Gators held them below 15).

    Tennessee's fundamentals have to improve quickly in order for the Volunteers to have an improved win count over last year's five.

    The beauty of this story is that it's a classic rags-to-riches tale. Tennessee almost always has defenders in the right place; they just fail to tackle properly.

    As soon as Tennessee begins to tackle properly, the Vols will make a Florida-like meteoric rise to the top of the SEC East.

7. Big Ten "Battle of the Bands"

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    Ohio State and Penn State both have giant postseason bans hanging over their programs. This week, the only two teams in the Leaders Division that haven't lost a conference game will clash.

    Ohio State is unbeaten in 2012, while Penn State has lost two out-of-conference games. If the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions both play as they have over the last few weeks, Ohio State's unbeaten streak will come to an end.

    That will also effectively pull the Big Ten out of any meaningful ranking. As of now, the Buckeyes are the only Big Ten team in any Top 10 poll.

    Penn State is fighting hard to keep a football program afloat, and the Lions are still searching for a true signature win. A win over an undefeated Ohio State would certainly fit that description perfectly.

    If Ohio State is going to make a statement for the 2012 season, now would be a great time to do it.

6. Big Ten Legendary Battle

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    This game doesn't carry as much national weight as we all thought it would before the season started, but it's still a great, meaningful game for the Big Ten.

    Both the Michigan Wolverines and Nebraska Cornhuskers enter with 5-2 records, but only Michigan is unbeaten in conference play.

    If Nebraska wins, the division is tied. That would give the head-to-head edge to the 'Huskers when conference title time comes around.

    Of course, if Michigan wins, the Wolverines can prove that Alabama and Notre Dame are simply that good.

    If that's the case, Michigan can make a run for the BCS Top 10 before the end of the year. That would require it not to lose a single game for the rest of the year, but it's possible.

    Nebraska is many people's favorite to win the Big Ten. If the 'Huskers are going to do that, it starts in earnest on Saturday at home.

5. The Big East

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    Cincinnati dropped out of the rankings last week due to the heartbreaking six-point loss to the Toledo Rockets.

    While that may have made the Bearcats look bad, Munchie Legaux and Co. will have the opportunity to take the lead in the Big East title race with a big road win over Louisville in Week 9.

    Louisville will do everything in its power to prevent that from happening, and home-field advantage will certainly assist it in the process.

    The Big East is a three-way tie with Cincinnati, Rutgers and Louisville all standing unbeaten in conference play so far.

    Yes, Cincy has only played one conference game at this point, but Louisville has only played two, and Rutgers has out-of-conference Kent State slated for Week 9.

    Louisville vs. Cincinnati is one of the biggest Big East games of the season, and the winner's story will be more than worth following for the duration of the season. After all, the conference champion is going to a BCS bowl.

4. The Biggest Texas Tech Game of 2012

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    The Kansas State Wildcats currently have the BCS title game all tucked away in their pocket with wins over Oklahoma and the West Virginia Mountaineers.

    The remaining toughest games on the schedule appear to be Texas Tech and Texas, if you believe that Texas is really a threat.

    There are many other games that will be tough to win, but those two are the toughest at the moment. The big concern here is that Texas Tech just crushed mighty West Virginia by 35 points two weeks ago.

    Texas Tech is capable of beating anyone on its schedule, and Kansas State is no exception to that statement. Yes, the Wildcats have a much better defense than West Virginia did, but that's not all they need to worry about.

    The Red Raiders will be coming to town on Saturday with "upset" tattooed on the inside of their eyelids, on their forearms and anywhere else they feel would help prepare them mentally for the juggernaut that is Kansas State.

    While this may not be the biggest story of the week, it's certainly close to the top. If Texas Tech were undefeated at this point, this game would be much higher on the list.

    Do not forget that Collin Klein is the current front-runner for the Heisman Trophy while you watch this game.

    This win could mean a lot to his campaign, especially after Geno Smith's lack of production against Tommy Tuberville's defense.

3. Florida's Brutal Stretch Ends in Jacksonville

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    Florida's toughest month in 2012 is clearly October, and the Gators faced LSU and South Carolina over the past three weeks, with a Vanderbilt Commodores squad in between those two games.

    Georgia is the last ridiculously brutal game of October, and the Gators will guarantee the trip to Atlanta with a win over the Bulldogs.

    Georgia is fully aware of that fact. It is also aware that a win here would give it hope of that same trip to Atlanta.

    If the Bulldogs fall to the Gators, Florida will be nearly out of SEC games to lose with just Missouri left on the conference slate. Even if the Gators forfeited their last three games, they would go to Atlanta unbeaten in conference play.

    Florida is less concerned with the national picture right now than the conference picture, but don't forget that Florida is firmly placed one step behind No. 1 Alabama in the BCS.

    Florida can guarantee a spot in the conference championship, but a loss to Georgia here would almost guarantee that the Gators would be left out of the BCS title game.

    The "Cocktail Party" that is Florida vs. Georgia has taken on a meaning that it hasn't had in years. Enjoy it while it lasts.

2. Someone Will Lose More Than Just a Game

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    Mississippi State drew the short straw in Week 9 and will face the Tide in Tuscaloosa...not that you can really draw a "long" straw against a team that's as strong as Alabama.

    Alabama (7-0) takes on Mississippi State (7-0), and it's a homecoming game. If you want to talk about a home-field advantage, it doesn't get any bigger than homecoming at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

    Mississippi State will have no such 50/50 ticket agreement as was afforded LSU in the 2012 BCS national championship game. This stadium will be full of Alabama alumni and Alabama fans, and just about the only people cheering for the Bulldogs will be on their sideline.

    As much as we all love to root for the underdog, this one's just too lopsided. As much as we all love a Cinderella story, the clock struck midnight when the Bulldogs took down the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders last week.

    Of course, if the Bulldogs can take down the mighty Crimson Tide, they may just leap all the way to the top of the polls. With the way the season's been going, you can at least bet that they'll jump Oregon.

    After all, who hasn't done that this year, right?

    Someone's perfect season is about to come to an end, but its BCS bowl hopes will be far from dashed. With four games left after this match, there is plenty of time for another Iowa State Cyclones situation to help an SEC West runner-up get into the BCS picture. (The national title would be highly unlikely, though, especially after last year's situation.)

    Subplot: A.J. McCarron, with a solid performance against Mississippi State, could rise further up the Heisman rankings, especially if he keeps Alabama at No. 1 in passing efficiency in the process.

1. The Luck of the Irish

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    While Notre Dame has bitterly battled its way into the BCS Top Five, it has been a subplot to many college football fans throughout the year.

    There is a certain skeptical cloud around the Irish somewhat akin to the boy who cried wolf. The Irish faithful have known this, and many fans wish that the media would just stop calling them "back" prematurely so they can be left alone during the drought that all championship-quality teams endure at some point in time.

    Well, that cloud is gone.

    The Irish are back.

    Yes, the Fighting Irish have made a perfect season out of a schedule that has turned out to be easier than originally expected. However, that schedule is still one of the hardest in the country.

    Notre Dame has fought through Michigan State, Michigan, Miami (FL), Stanford and the BYU Cougars in the last six weeks (with a bye between Michigan and Miami).

    Oklahoma hosts the Irish in Week 9, and this game is huge.

    It's a battle between two BCS Top 10 teams, and it will be brutal: the Irish front seven vs. Landry Jones and the Oklahoma offense that has only lost one game so far.

    Maybe the Irish haven't won with flashy offensive style, but they have done what few other teams have been able to do: win without exception. There's little reason to believe that they can't win this one, too.

    Yes, it will be tough, but Kansas State has already shown us that Oklahoma is not invincible at home. With a win over Oklahoma, Notre Dame can become the third team in three weeks to leap over the Oregon Ducks.

    Subplot: Don't count Manti Te'o out of the Heisman race either. With a huge showing against Landry Jones that includes a couple of picks, he could at least win a trip to New York in December.

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