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Is Notre Dame football back?

Jimmy ClausenA storyline is brewing in college football right now that makes some want to shout it from the rooftops. (While others want to jump off those very same rooftops at the thought of it.)

That storyline is none other than Notre Dame football.

A year ago, Charlie Weis’s program stumbled to a 3-9 record, which included six losses to unranked opponents and back-to-back defeats at the hands of Navy and Air Force. But the Irish are off to their best start in three years and are starting to get people excited about the program again.

After a sloppy win in their opener against San Diego State (a game in which one ignorant writer had the audacity to suggest Notre Dame hadn’t improved at all following last year’s debacle of a season), the Irish crushed longtime rivals Michigan, 35-17, before suffering their first defeat of the season – a 35-17 road loss to Michigan State. But ND has since won back-to-back games against Purdue and Stanford in rather convincing fashion, leading some to believe that Weis and sophomore QB Jimmy Clausen have the team back on the right track.

So are the Irish back? It’s hard to say. Clausen has developed nicely in his second season and in turn, the offense looks like a completely different unit than the one that took the field on most Saturdays last year. In his last two games, Clausen has throw for 622 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. His two main receivers, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd have also been fantastic, averaging over 15 yards a catch. The defense has improved as well, allowing just 19 points per game (17 PPG over the last six games dating back to last season), as opposed to the nearly 30 PPG they allowed a year ago.

But the Irish have benefited from playing four of their first five games at home this year and their only loss was on the road. They have also yet to play a ranked opponent, which changes this week when they travel to No. 22 North Carolina, another improving program out to prove they’re legit as well. And despite Clausen’s solid play, the Irish haven’t been able to run the ball outside of the Purdue game and prior to last week, only had one sack. (Of course, they had five sacks against Stanford last week, so getting to the quarterback might not be a problem in the long run.)

We should find out a lot about Clausen and Notre Dame this week. The Tar Heels have amassed 11 interceptions in their last four games and sophomore Shaun Draughn is emerging as a solid back to complement UNC’s already top-notch wide receiver corps. The ‘Heels also blocked three punts last week in their win over previously ranked Connecticut and if the Irish can’t run the ball to help take the pressure of Clausen, UNC’s ball hawking secondary could ruin the young quarterback’s afternoon.

Is Notre Dame football back? Stay tuned.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Oregon State upsets No. 1 USC 27-21

USC-Oregon StatePete Carroll and the USC Trojans have a bad case of déjà vu going on right now. Two years ago the Trojans traveled to Corvallis and were shocked by an unranked Oregon State team that knocked them out of the top five.

On Thursday night, the Beavers shocked the world once again, beating top ranked USC 27-21 on the strength of freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who finished with 186 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries.

At 5’6” and180 pounds, Rodgers proved to be quite a handful for USC’s defense, a unit highly recognized as one of the best in the nation. The Trojans simply couldn’t get good leverage on the smallish Rodgers, who constantly broke tackles all night long. USC defenders often came in too high while trying to bring Rodgers down and the frosh back made them pay.

Offensively for USC, quarterback Mark Sanchez finished with solid numbers (18/29, 227 yards, 3 TDs), but was highly inaccurate on a drive when the Trojans were backed up late in the fourth quarter and needed one score to tie the game at 21. Then on a 1st and 10-play from USC’s 14-yard line, Sanchez overthrew one of his receivers and was picked off by Greg Laybourn, who took the gift back to the Trojans’ 2-yard line. On the first play after the turnover, Rodgers scored his second touchdown of the game, pushing the Beavers’ lead to 27-14 with less than three minutes remaining.

After a 50-yard kickoff return by Ronald Johnson set the Trojans up with a 1st and 10 from the Oregon State 40-yard line, Sanchez drove USC the rest of the field and connected with Patrick Turner to cut the Beavers’ lead to 27-21. But the ensuing onsides kick failed and Oregon State was able to run out the clock.

USC-Oregon StateIt was an amazing upset. The Beavers were more aggressive, made bigger plays and kept the high-powered Trojans’ offense off the field. USC also shot itself in the foot with stupid penalties, including one that cost them a touchdown at the end of the first half. The Trojans’ defense just couldn’t get off the field all night and the loss will cost them big in the polls.

Given how they had a full two weeks to prepare for this game after their big win over Ohio State, a loss like this is inexcusable, really. I know that sounds harsh, but I don’t mean it to be. It’s just rather staggering when a talented team like USC has an entire off week to rest and game plan for Oregon State and they lose. But this is college football and upsets are part of the game. And part of the fun.

Week 3 College Football Primer

Time to check out the big games, top matchups and potential upsets as college football heads into Week 3.

Mark SanchezTop 25 Action:
No. 5 Ohio State (2-0) at No. 1 USC (1-0), Saturday 8:00 PM ET ABC
OSU head coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday that Heisman candidate Beanie Wells will play Saturday in Southern Cal. The Buckeyes are going to need all the offensive firepower they can get against one of the best front sevens in the nation. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez shredded Virginia for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in Week 1, but OSU’s defense is loaded with experienced talent. This is one of the most anticipated college football games of the year and should be a tight contest, although oddsmakers have made the Trojans 10.5-point favorites. (Check out our offical Ohio State-USC smack talk thread as well.)

No. 13 Kansas (2-0) at No. 19 South Florida (2-0), Friday 8:00 PM ET ESPN2
This is a tremendous matchup to kick off the Week 3 schedule as Kansas and its high-powered offense take on South Florida, which has the No. 1 ranked defense in college football. In their two wins, the Jayhawks averaged over 450 yards a game, but they go up against a Bulls’ defense Friday night that has only allowed an average of 161.5 yards per game. Oddsmakers have listed South Florida as a 3-point home favorite.

No. 10 Wisconsin (2-0) at No. 21 Fresno State (1-0), 10:30 PM ET ESPN2
Marshall rolled out to a 14-0 lead on the Badgers last week before Wisconsin eventually settled down and hammered the Thundering Heard 51-14 to improve to 2-0 on the year. Fresno State dismantled Rutgers 24-7 in New Jersey in Week 1 and should be well rested coming off a bye last week. One thing to keep an eye on is the health status of Wisconsin TE Travis Beckum, who missed the Badgers’ first two games this year with a bad hamstring. Beckum is highly regarded as one of the top tight end prospect in college football and is expected to play this weekend.

Chris SmelleyNo. 2 Georgia (2-0) at South Carolina (1-1), Saturday 3:30 PM ET CBS
Before being upset by Vanderbilt last week, the Game Cocks were supposed to be Georgia’s first real test of the 2008 season. One has to assume that South Carolina is going to come out fired up after being bounced from the top 25 following their loss to the Commodores. The Bulldogs absolutely hammered Central Michigan last week, but can’t take anything for granted this Saturday playing a pissed off Steve Spurrier squad. SC is a 7.5-point home underdog.

Upset Watch:
UCLA (1-0) at No. 18 BYU (2-0)
Washington gave BYU all it could handle in Week 2 before the Cougars eventually eked out a 28-27 win. And the last time we saw the Bruins, they were upsetting Tennessee in the first week of the season. While this wouldn’t be a huge upset, it would be the second time in two chances that UCLA knocks off a ranked opponent. And with Fresno State, Oregon, California, ASU and USC on their schedule, the Bruins will have plenty of opportunities to make some noise and possibly become one of the best surprises of the season. BYU is currently an 8-point favorite.

Other notable games:
No. 14 East Carolina at Tulane – Saturday, 3:00 PM ET
No. 3 Oklahoma at Washington – Saturday, 7:45 PM ET
Arkansas at No. 8 Texas – Saturday, 3:30 PM ET

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