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The College Football Report: Piñatas & Virgins

For several seasons running, Week Three has featured a clash between two Top 10 teams.

This Saturday is no different - defending national champion Alabama (#1) faces Texas A&M (#6) in a critical, yet not historically unusual, early-season confrontation.

As if we needed any more reason to tune in, the revenge factor has heightened anticipation - Johnny "Football" Manziel's Aggies dealt Alabama their only defeat (29-24) in 2013.

The excitement surrounding the game has driven ticket prices from resellers to near-record highs.

We can't understand paying $800 for a regular-season game, but then we wouldn't consider making a piñata of Johnny Football either.

Not that we like the guy - we don't - but making a pñata sounds like too much work.

We would rather sit back and snipe at Manziel, much like Charles Barkley, a die-hard Auburn supporter, who risked blasphemy this week by nearly uttering 'Roll Tide', an unforgivable sin for Tigers fans.

"Johnny Manziel, oh my God, the only thing saving Manziel is Miley Cyrus," the Round Mound of Rebound opined.

(And not even then, if some enterprising college students replace Nic Cage with Johnny Football in this brilliant new mash-up. Signed, Johnny.)

To get a historical perspective on the momentous match-up, let's look back at the recent history of Week Three.

2008: #5 Ohio State visited #1 USC and suffered a humiliating 35-3 loss and dropped out of the Top 10 for the duration of '08. USC went on to win the Rose Bowl and the Pac-10 championship. Ohio State won a share of the Big 10 title, and finished the season at a solid, but unremarkable, 10-3 overall.

2009: Alabama traveled to Blacksburg to face #7 Virginia Tech. The Tide (#5) relied on kicker Leigh Tiffin, who knocked down three field goals (49, 34, and 32 yards) in the first quarter and added a 20-yarder in the fourth to give 'Bama a two-score lead. The Hokies lost 34-24 and went on to go 2-2 against ranked teams, though they wrapped up the season with a win in the 42nd edition of the Chick-fil-A- (nee Peach) Bowl.

Incidentally, after a 15-year hiatus the Chick-fil-A-Bowl will be known as the Peach Bowl again next year due to the naming regulations of the National Championship Playoff. We don't yet understand what those regulations are, but it's a long season. We will figure it out eventually.

You might say Alabama fared somewhat better in 2009, going undefeated and winning the BCS title over #2 Texas.

As for Virginia Tech, 2013 appears to be another "always a bridesmaid" year. When the headline in Week Three includes "Still Looking For Reliable Receiving Options," fans should have moderate expectations at best.

Yet even quality wideouts are irrelevant if you can't get them the ball - the 1:3 TD-to-INT ratio to date in '13 by QB Logan Thomas isn't exactly an aberration. The senior entered 2013 with lifetime stats of 37 TDs to 26 INTs.

2010: Only one game between ranked teams, though it resulted in a minor upset with #24 Arizona besting #9 Iowa 34-27.

The Florida-Tennessee game must have looked intriguing to the schedulers in advance, but by 2010 the Vols had started the ill-fated Derek Dooley campaign and rolled over to the Gators 31-17.

Former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin (or, as known to the Report, Kid Smirk) fled to USC after a 7-6 season, his first and only at UT, leaving behind a mess the Volunteers have yet to sort out.

The 2010 season turned out to be Dooley's best in Knoxville. That he struggled to a 6-7 record in '10 should tell you all you need to know about the remainder of his brief tenure.

New head coach Butch Jones takes the Vols (2-0) to Eugene this weekend, visiting #2 Oregon in what we expect to be a bloodbath. The Ducks are favored by a mere four touchdowns. Good luck, Butch.

2011: #1 Oklahoma faced #5 Florida State in a defensive battle that remained tied at 13 well into the fourth quarter. The Sooners pulled out the win, 23-13, but stumbled down the stretch later in the year, losing three of their last six games and ending up in the Insight (Enterprises, Inc.) Bowl, which became the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl the following year, perhaps because the highlight of the Sooners blasé bowl win came late in the fourth, as an ESPN skycam plunged onto the field, nearly braining Iowa WR Marvin McNutt. Yep, that's more of a wild wings thing than an insight thing.

After losing to Oklahoma, Florida State dropped its next two games, at #21 Clemson and at unranked Wake Forest, but rallied to win seven of its remaining eight, including a victory over Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. No equipment malfunctions were reported.

2012: The #2 Tide shelled overrated #8 Michigan 41-14. The game served as a preview for UM's 8-5 season, which included four losses against ranked opponents. The year ended with another loss to an SEC opponent for the Maize and Blue, a 33-28 defeat to #11 South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

We know how Alabama's 2012 season turned out.

What does all this mean for Saturday? First, the fact that the higher-ranked team in Top 10 match-ups has won by double-digits since 2008 bears consideration. Second, Alabama is involved. We would be hard-pressed to back the Aggies, underdogs by 7.5 points, but for 'Bama's seemingly lackluster performance against Virginia Tech two weeks ago. We would like the favorites much more without the half-point "hook," especially on the road, so maybe we will play it safe and take the Over on the "number of annoying celebratory hand gestures by Johnny Manziel" prop bet.

Virgin Flights
We will be tracking, and outright rooting for, a number of virgin head coaches this season.

Some new coaches will be fun to watch, such as new head coach Dave Doeren, who took over at NC State after guiding Northern Illinois to a BCS bowl last season.

But we reserve a special place in the cold, black hole of what would be our heart for true newbies such as Matt Rhule.

Not only is this Coach Rhule's first season at Temple, but this is his first head-coaching gig ever, anywhere. Rhule spent time in the assistant ranks at Temple from 2006-2011 before leaving for an assistant spot with the New York Giants. The Owls called him back after Steve Addazio left for Boston College. Temple (0-2) hopes to notch its first win under the new regime this weekend, having been installed as 21-point favorites against Fordham.

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Scott Shafer leads Syracuse this season, taking over a program seemingly on the upswing as the Orange recorded 8-5 seasons in 2010 and 2012. But the sledding has been rough through two weeks. The 'Cuse dropped two games to Big 10 opponents, starting with a squeaker to Penn State (23-17) and a blowout loss to Northwestern (48-27). Shafer gets a breather in Week Three, facing off against the Wagner Seahawks, which selects its team from "2,100 total students located atop Grymes Hill in the New York City borough of Staten Island."

There is no line on the game.

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We have a Kliff Kingsbury sighting! The former Red Raider QB took over the top spot with at his alma mater Texas Tech during the offseason, becoming one of the youngest coaches (age 34) in college football.

During his playing career, Kingsbury became the third player in college football history to gain 10,000 yards passing, record over 10,000 yards in total offense, and complete 1,000 career passes.

Last season, Coach Kliff spent his time coaching up Manziel; this season he's already notched a nice upset with a 20-10 win over #24 TCU.

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This has been a tough inaugural season thus far for Southern Miss's Todd Monken, with an opening week loss to lowly Texas State (22-15) followed by a shellacking (56-13) from #22 Nebraska. This weekend won't be much better, as with 23-point favorite Arkansas on tap.

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Sean Kugler leads the UTEP Miners against the New Mexico State Aggies this week. The box score for the Miners' first game (vs. New Mexico) showed the fewest combined passing yards we can recall, ever: 207. Let's just say both teams feature a run-first and throw-only-in-case-of-emergency attack.

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A number of other squads take the field under green coaches on Saturday, including Paul Haynes (Kent State), Rod Carey (Northern Illinois), P.J. Fleck (Western Michigan) and, perhaps most prominently, Mark Helfrich (Oregon).

Of all of this season's virgin head coaches, though, we like Utah State's Matt Wells best.

Wells, an assistant at Oregon for two years, stepped up after former bossman Gary Andersen departed for the big leagues - and the big bucks - at Wisconsin.

Wells is well set-up. Utah State returns its entire starting O-line along with dual-threat QB Chuckie Keeton. Despite an opening week loss to Utah (30-26), Utah State figures to have a solid shot at playing in front of Spuddy and taking home the FIPB trophy again this year.

Utah State is a 36-point favorite against Weber State this week.

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Mike Luce is our man on campus. He welcomes your comments.

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