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The Monday Morning Look Ahead: College Football Relevance Returns to Rocky Top

For college football fans, this truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Now two weeks into the season, we are long past the conjecture and prognostication of the summer, and now have two games of tangible evidence to tell us everything we need to know about teams, players and coaches that’ll make up the 2012 season. Simply put, college football’s cream is starting to rise to the top.

But as we head into Week 3, what do we as college football fans need to keep an eye on?

Let’s take a look…

College Football Relevance Returns to Rocky Top:

Man, doesn’t it seem like only yesterday that Phil Fulmer was pacing the sidelines in a skin-tight polo, as Tennessee competed yearly with Florida and Georgia for SEC East supremacy? It sure seems like it, but the sad reality is, it’s been a long time since the Vols have been relevant. Between Fulmer’s firing, the debacle that was the one-year Lane Kiffin era, and the clean-up that Derek Dooley has had in between, you don’t need me to tell you that Tennessee has fallen far, and fast.

Thankfully though, the mercy is over, and at least for one day the Vols will again be relevant in the college football world. That’ll come Saturday when the Florida Gators and the crew of College Gameday are coming… to your citayyyyyyyy Tennessee fans!

Can you feel the excitement?

Either way, this will be a fascinating matchup, as both teams view Saturday as a fork in the road for their seasons, and a potential jumping off point to a potential SEC East title. For Florida, they’re coming off their epic win against Texas A&M in College Station last weekend, while Tennessee has won two games and is ranked now for the first time since 2008.

Florida opened as a slight favorite in most sports book, but everyone expects a close game.

Regardless, after a few years of this game being considered an after-thought, isn’t it nice to have Florida-Tennessee back on college football’s center stage?

With A (Crimson) Tide of Problems Rolling Their Way, What Do We Make of Arkansas?

As good as it is to be a Vol or Gator right now, it’s equally bad to be an Arkansas Razorback. As you know, Arkansas is coming off one of the most embarrassing losses in program history (an overtime defeat to that college football powerhouse UL-Monroe), and now they get to rebound with… the No. 1 team in the country coming to their place. Even worse, they might have to go to battle without their quarterback, Tyler Wilson, who left Saturday’s game and is uncertain to see the field.

So seriously, I’m just gonna say it: Is it possible for Arkansas to forfeit this game and just focus on Rutgers in two weeks?

Obviously I’m joking, but Saturday could be the start of something really bad in Fayetteville.

Look, the simple truth is that no one expects them to beat Alabama on Saturday. We get that. Frankly, nobody would’ve expected them to beat Alabama even if they’d won by 50 on Saturday and had a fully healthy Wilson entering this game.

However if they get beat up and embarrassed by the Tide (which seems like an inevitability at this point), could it lead to a downward spiral from which Arkansas never recovers? It seems likely, as the Hogs still have trips to Texas A&M and Auburn within the next three weeks, and even after that have South Carolina, Misssissippi State and LSU on the schedule too.

For Arkansas, Saturday isn’t about winning. It’s about survival.

How Legit Is Notre Dame? How About Michigan State?

Two programs which are 2-0 that we simply don’t know much about, are Notre Dame and Michigan State. We will learn more about each on Saturday night, when the Irish visit East Lansing.

Like so many other games, this one could be a turning point for each.

For Michigan State, we know what they do well: Run the ball and play spectacular defense, but what we’re still unsure of is if quarterback Andrew Maxwell can do enough to help this team reach their lofty expectations. His three interceptions against Boise State left plenty for Spartans fans to be concerned about.

As for the Irish, their situation is much more tenuous. Saturday isn’t about “proving” anything per se, but more about surviving and advancing. Remember, this is a club that still has games against Michigan, Oklahoma, USC, Stanford and BYU on the schedule, five teams which all just so happen to be in the Top 25 of this week’s poll. Could a loss here be the start of another disappointing season? On the flip side, could a victory be the push the Irish need to finally reach their potential, and maybe make a push towards a BCS bowl game?

We’ll find out Saturday, in what is undoubtedly one of the most interesting games on the schedule.

Around The Nation:

– For 0-2 Auburn, a return to the Plains for the first time this season on Saturday was supposed to be an ideal opportunity to pick up a signature win.

Only don’t look now, but guess who happens to be up on the schedule? The UL-Monroe Warhawks.

Yep, that’s right. The same UL-Monroe Warhawks that just beat Arkansas last Saturday.

Nobody is saying is Gene Chizik is on the hot seat right now. But if they lost to UL-Monroe to go 0-3?

Then things might start getting serious.

– Heading out West, another key matchup will pit USC against Stanford, as the Trojans hit the road for the second time in two weeks.

But while last Saturday saw a lackluster effort from the Trojans against Syracuse, don’t expect the same when USC heads north for a night game in Palo Alto. Saturday’s game will be the Trojans Pac-12 opener, against a team in Stanford that the Trojans feel like they should’ve beaten last year.

With revenge on their minds, this one could get ugly, in a hurry.

– It might not be the most intriguing game on your docket, but there may be no game that’s more “personal” than UConn’s trip to Maryland. As you probably know by now, the Terps are coached by former Huskies head man Randy Edsall, a guy who many players remember bailing on the program just moments after he led them to the Fiesta Bowl in January 2011.

You don’t think the Huskies would like to turn up the burner on Edsall’s hot seat with a win in College Park?

– One game that’s a bit off the national radar but should provide plenty of interesting storylines is Texas’ visit to Ole Miss Saturday night.

The Longhorns are 2-0, but have played both games under the cloak of secrecy known as “The Longhorn Network,” meaning that next to no one in college football has seen them play. As for Ole Miss, well, it will be the national debut of their zany new head coach Hugh Freeze.

Nobody is picking Colonel Reb to win. But can they keep things close?

For all his insight, opinion and articles on college football, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.

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