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Upstart Dores hope to end 13-year losing skid to Auburn

Ranked teams beware: Upset alerts could be on the rise for Saturday.

Does Auburn belong on the upset watch list? Tubs' Tigers are (did you notice?) only narrowly favored by the experts for their visit to rockin' Music City (ESPN, 6 p.m. ET).

If Vandy is ever going to get the bully from the Plains that has smacked the Dores around in 13 straight meetings (going back to 1950!), Saturday sets up as a rare chance.

The Tigers are not fresh, after MMA-style matches with LSU and Tennessee back-to-back. Four-quarter fistfights like these in the SEC have a lingering effect. Meanwhile, Vandy has enjoyed a bye week, giving QB Chris Nickson's tender shoulder a chance to heal. It is still not 100 percent, which is a big concern for the guys in gold, but QB remains one of the few positions anywhere on the field that Vandy can claim an edge on Auburn.

The DBs for Vandy coach Bobby Johnson are good, too. Punt returner D.J. Moore (also a good corner) leads the nation.

If Auburn is careless with the ball, the Commodores are very good at swiping it. They have to be, since they are ranked first in the nation in turnover margin, but 12th in the SEC in both total offense and total defense. Amazing!

I broadcast the Commodores' surprising comeback against South Carolina. They are not a bad looking team on the hoof. They are just not as pretty as the other sides in the SEC. But, remember, they found a way to rip away a win at Ole Miss, the week before the Rebels went to the Swamp and stoned the Gators.

I'd like to see Vandy's many years of futility end. Let's go get those six (or seven wins) and stop the nation's longest bowl drought. A landmark win Saturday night would all but seal it.

I am also putting Cal on upset alert (and I regret that this little phrase coined a long time ago has become so overused … what are you gonna do?). Minus Jahvid "the Jet" Best (elbow), the Bears must be wary of Arizona State (ABC, 3:30 ET).

The Sun Devils are hungry to stop a two-game skid and have used the bye week since Georgia beat them up to heal mentally and physically. Keegan Herring's hammy is supposedly finally ready. Jeff Tedford is still searching for QB consistency and opened the job up this week. Bears, beware.

In the meantime, Alabama had better be very careful with Kentucky in Tuscaloosa. I'm serious. This will be closer than the experts think, maybe much closer. The Wildcats won't make the scoreboard crash, but they can play tough defense and hang in there if Alabama falls prey to human nature and lets down. Survive this one, and in comes giant-killing Ole Miss and the Right Reverend Nutt, as Rece calls him. Tricky, this SEC.

Bama was brilliant last Saturday at Georgia. But after the Tide's sudden rise to No. 2 this week, history weighs in with a warning: Beware the fast risers. They usually (almost always) plummet back to Earth.

First, let me say that Alabama's new ranking is totally justified. I have them second on my AP ballot and thought about the top spot for awhile.

But here is the sobering truth for euphoric Tide faithful: Teams that come from nowhere (or at least from outside the preseason top 20) and quickly find themselves vaulted into the polls' upper stratosphere, have a habit of flaming back to Earth.

Only one team in the AP poll's history went from outside the top 20 to No. 2 faster than the '08 Crimson Tide: a Texas team in '77, led by a bruising runner from Tyler, Earl Campbell.

The Horns stumbled to a 5-5-1 record in Darrell Royal's final season in 1976, but Fred Akers' bunch caught the nation by surprise the next year, reaching No. 2 after just their fourth game, a tight 13-6 win over Oklahoma. The Horns went on to a perfect regular season and Campbell earned the Heisman, before a flameout against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. Texas kept its focus throughout a surprising season. Not many have done so well at that since.

Alabama reached No. 2 after five games, the same quick rise Michigan made in 1985. The Wolverines were actually 40th in preseason voting that year, much more lowly regarded than this season, but rocketed to second after a 31-0 pasting of Sparty.

The next week, they came back to Earth, beaten by the score of 12-10 on a famous 29-yard field goal by Rob Houghtlin of No. 1 Iowa. Houghtlin was a transfer from Miami (Ohio) and had not been able to practice for a couple weeks with a leg injury. But he nailed four of five field-goal attempts in the miserable, rainy weather that day.

To keep Houghtlin from getting any more nervous than he was, his friend since high school and DB Mike Bolan made him sing the school fight song as his big moment approached. When Houghtlin made the chip shot to win it, the stands at Kinnick Stadium shook so hard that the end zone camera used to show the play was vibrating like crazy. I will never forget watching this on TV. Michigan stumbled to a 3-3 tie with Illinois a few weeks later on Nov. 2.

UCLA jumped from unranked to No. 2 after six games in 1980, only to drop consecutive games to Arizona and Oregon and blow the Rose Bowl chance.

Then, of course, there is the recent example of South Florida. Wins at Auburn and over West Virginia put the Cinderella Bulls at No. 2 after six games last year. I remember spirited debates about their worthiness.
I remember calling the game when they were exposed at Rutgers, then went on lose to Uconn and Cincinnati, falling from No. 2 in the nation to No. 8 in the Big East. The Bulls admit they did not handle the hype well.

Of course, the bigger factor was that USF was never the second best team last season. Not even close. Neither was Boston College or Cal, before both surrendered that ranking and faded from the BCS bowl picture in 2007.

Alabama's foundation may be much stronger and the Tide much stouter than either team. Time will tell. They sure look great, now, though.

Anybody who thinks it's easy to keep modern players grounded and focused on the things the got them to No. 2 is out of touch. It's really difficult. Ask any coach who's tried. Maybe Nick Saban is just the man for the job. He has a genuinely narrow weekly outlook and an almost new-age philosophy that stresses the process over the result. Maybe he can reach his Bama guys and get them to avoid the familiar psychological pitfalls that have claimed so many in the same position. If he can do that, and if the Tide keep playing like they have so far, they will become one of the most surprising championship contenders in college football history.

Anybody still fired up for Miami-FSU?

Newsflash: Miami is playing Florida State this week, and America is not taking notice. At all.

"GameDay" is coming to you from Vanderbilt, of all places. Justifiably so. The Commodores and Auburn Tigers are ranked; the Hurricanes and Seminoles are not even close.

A radio host in south Florida asked me today if the nation's interest in the rivalry has waned. Uh, yes. Completely.

As recently as eight years ago, this annual collision was the most electric, most intense, most athlete-packed, most meaningful rivalry in college football. For many years, I was getting paid to watch it from an awesome ringside vantage point. It was stealing money. Are you kidding? I would have paid a steep price to be there to watch the Canes and Noles do battle.

You couldn't have bribed me with big cash to get me to give up that press pass. And in those days, in Miami, I promise you that people tried!

Miami versus Florida State was different. It was 22 men selling out each play, fighting to get the better of the guy across from him -- a guy he probably knew from way back.

It was football played at broadband speed, when most of the country was still playing at dial-up. There were future pros all over the place on both sides.

I will never forget the epic 2000 game in the late, great Orange Bowl. For me, it marked the best in the rivalry's history. Fighting the bedlam of the Canes' crazed fans, Chris Weinke rallied the Noles to a pair of fourth quarter TD drives, to take a 24-20 lead. Weinke was clutch, hitting 29 of a whopping 58 passes, for 496 yards.

But Ken Dorsey marched the Canes quickly into position, and won the game with a late 13-yard pass to Jeremy Shockey. Pandemonium in the old horseshoe in little Havana: Miami 27, Florida State 24.

The historic footnote, of course, is that even in defeat, FSU, at No. 2, somehow managed to finish ahead of Miami (No. 3) in the BCS standings in Year 3. It was the Seminoles, not the team they lost to and that finished with the same record, who were matched against Oklahoma in the title game, and scored no offensive points.

It still ranks as the worst BCS injustice ever. Although when you consider how much bad luck Bobby Bowden and crew suffered at the hands of Miami, maybe the computer mess made a tiny bit of cosmic sense. The again, maybe the FSU program has suffered a karmic curse: the Noles' 14-year streak of top-five finishes ended the following season and they have not finished in the top 10 since.

No doubt, college football suffers from this rivalry's loss of luster. No annual rivalry has really stepped in to replace it. Few are capable of filling the void. Sure, plenty of rivalries are still burning strong. But none of them carries the heft of the old Miami-FSU showdowns.

Where else can we get two natural, backyard rivals evenly matched, that both figure in the national title chase almost every year? It's not happening these days.

FSU-Florida -- which will fall on Thanksgiving weekend for the next five years at least -- and make up part of a double header with a new sunshine series (Miami vs. USF) has potential. The Noles just need to get back in the national title mix and join the Gators there.

Don't count on that happening. I don't like what I hear out of Tallahassee these days, and I sure don't enjoy the offense being played on the field. The Noles don't look that close. Many longtime observers are sad and stunned that the program is where it is, scrapping to stay relevant in the ACC.

Still, the annual "double-header" format in Florida sounds fun.

Anyway, I want to still care a whole bunch about the Garnet and Gold colliding with the Orange and Green. It's just tough. This year, I can't fake it.

South Florida coach Jim Leavitt is positively giddy about getting Miami in Tampa three times in five years. The Bulls' program will get a big boost from it. I am still shocked Miami agreed to this. USF can enjoy nine-win seasons (it has had two straight) and even win the Big East and go BCS-bowling for the first time. But Leavitt says that until his team beats one of the traditional "big three," many recruits and fans won't consider them on par.

USF can't beat its more established neighbors unless it is given a chance to face them. Florida and FSU know this. They won't give USF a chance, not without insisting on at least two home games for every visit to Tampa. Miami was more generous. The Canes are taking a risk, entering into a series in which most will say they have nothing to gain and a lot of recruiting credibility to lose. It'll be fun to see how this plays out, starting next Sept. 26 in the Bulls' (and Bucs') house.

Leavitt will be so wound up. He'll be in the locker room that night, headbutting every player in sight, his head bouncing off green helmets, whipping his guys into a pregame frenzy! This is something Leavitt does almost every game, by the way. No fooling. He is a really different cat and a very good ball coach.

OK, I never expected to get off on a tangent about the whole state of Floridian rivalries. I guess the mixture of nostalgia and powerful Australian Shiraz in the hotel room in Tampa got the best of me.

In the meantime, we will have to make do with the following rivalries, all of which will likely shape the championship chase. It's not like this sport will ever be short on compelling games.

Oklahoma-Texas: Next week's Red River shootout will get vintage buildup, worthy of any of the great chapters in this border war. One blemish on the series: a decade of predictability. The higher-ranked team has won the last nine games. What would really crank up the heat is an upset, in this case Texas' toppling No. 1 OU, setting up the Horns to assume the top spot if they follow it with a home win over Missouri.
I'm not feeling that, though. At first glance, this looks like a 10th straight for the higher-ranked program.

Alabama at LSU: Sign me up for this collision in Baton Rouge on Nov. 8. Nick's return to the Bayou, perhaps with an undefeated Tide team. Remember, LSU has won five in a row and seven of eight (including a 4-1 record when Saban was the Tigers' boss). An unforgettable day in Death Valley.

Penn State at Ohio State: Oct. 25 in Columbus will be huge if the Lions can navigate through West Lafayette and Madison and arrive in the 'Shoe unbeaten. That place is the scene of many nightmares for JoePa's guys in recent years. The Bucks would have a whole lot to play for, as well.

BYU at Utah: I have witnessed just one of these wars, when Utah clinched the BCS bid in what became Urban Meyer's finale as Utes coach. It did not disappoint. Great atmosphere. It would shut down the state of Utah for the week leading up to Nov. 22 -- if both the Cougars and Utes arrive perfect -- with the Mountain West title and the BCS at-large bid piled on top of bitter bragging rights. Could be a lot more at stake in this game than there is for Michigan-Ohio State on the same day.

Here's a trivia question. OK, it's not really trivia, just a test of your current events knowledge. After all, the upset carnage last weekend erased a few significant winning streaks.

Which team has the longest current streak? It's pretty easy, if you've been paying attention. That did not change Saturday.

But did you realize that BYU's 14 in a row is more than double the length of the second-best current streak?

Five teams are tied with modest six-game streaks. Name them. All it involves is checking out teams who are unbeaten and who won their bowl games last season.

In a further illustration of modern parity, only one I-A team (I refuse to embrace the whole FBS/FCS artifice) has a losing streak longer than six games. Hint: This program still deserves to be sincerely saluted.

First, the teams chasing BYU: Utah, Alabama, LSU, Texas Tech and Penn State have all won six in a row.

The other end of the spectrum: Army has dropped 10 in a row. But we still love the Black Knights.

And finally, consider this: Over a 16-year span, from 1991 to 2006, only three times did the No. 1 team lose to an unranked team.

It has now happened three times since last Nov. 3.

Baylor Bears, do not give up all hope against Oklahoma on Saturday.

Chris Fowler is the host of ESPN's "College GameDay." Kick off each Saturday with "College GameDay" at 10 a.m. ET to get the latest news on college football.