Chris Dufresne / On College Football

Urgency replaces spectacle this weekend in college football

Important story lines will take center stage as teams face tougher tests and set out to prove they are legitimate contenders.

Last weekend was a football carnival with jugglers, clowns, cotton candy, flamethrowers and sword swallowers.

My favorite act was "The Bearded Bevo."

It was fun in a nonthreatening, do-or-die way. Who besides Nick Saban didn't like West Virginia and Baylor combining for 133 points, or the bullfight at Stillwater involving matadors Oklahoma State and Texas?

Last weekend's scoring average was the second highest since 1937 and spawned an intellectual discourse regarding no-huddle offenses and how they might be threatening the fundamental fabric of tackling.

Alabama Coach Saban worries all this fast-tempo action might lead to an increase of injuries. "Is this what we want football to be?" he said.

Some think it was just Saban's first news conference in advance of playing Oregon in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

It really is too bad more teams can't be Alabama and recruit the best offensive and defensive linemen to play football the way it was intended until the forward pass ruined everything.

The reality is there is only one Nick Saban and one Alabama and that most teams, in order to compete, have to find innovative ways to stretch the field and neutralize a powerhouse's power.

Even in Saban's own league, Georgia and Tennessee last week combined for 95 points.

This weekend feels different, though, as the sense of urgency replaces the specter of sideshow. This is knuckle-down time with important story lines taking center stage.

Last weekend was "whacked out." This is the weekend we find out:

• Is Notre Dame for real?

The Irish are in the top 10 and off to their best start since 2002, but three of their four wins have come against a Big Ten Conference that has been maligned from opening kickoff. Notre Dame's other win was against Navy.

Notre Dame's defense is ranked No. 15 nationally, but is that just a number? America's Team should get its first big test in Chicago against improving Miami (4-1). The Hurricanes average 472 yards on offense per game.

"They're a tempo team," Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly said. "They like to go fast."

Can Kelly's team keep up?

• Can anybody slow down quarterback Geno Smith and West Virginia's offense?

Texas Coach Mack Brown joked this week he had a hard time finding Manny Diaz, his defensive coordinator.

"I've been down there three times and he's got his door closed and he's under the desk," Brown said on a Monday conference call.

This clash of undefeated teams, in Austin, should give us some understanding about which team might be in this title race for the long haul.

 
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