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Sark vs. Saban, Deion’s Boulder debut and upset-minded Miami

Think this weekend’s college football slate can’t possibly top the excitement of a Week 1 that extended into Week 2 because of the holiday? How can it beat the “Florida State is back” headline? Or the Duke upset of Clemson? And finally, no way it can top the Colorado/Deion debut, right?

But Deion and his talented No. 22-ranked Buffaloes are at home this week, facing a team with which Colorado fans are familiar, Nebraska (noon ET on Fox).

Also at noon ET, No. 10 Notre Dame looks to improve to 3-0 when it plays NC State (ABC). At 3:30 p.m., No. 20 Ole Miss travels to No. 24 Tulane (ESPN2) and No. 23 Texas A&M faces Miami (Fla.) in Coral Gables (ABC). Saturday’s prime-time matchup, No. 3 Alabama-No. 11 Texas (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), features future SEC opponents.

Our reporters preview this weekend’s games with a look at familiar faces on opposing sidelines, teams primed to pull off upsets, wide receivers breaking through and some of the week’s best quotes.

Steve Sarkisian vs. Nick Saban (Texas at Alabama)

The stats aren’t pretty for former Saban assistants, and Sarkisian is well aware.

Only twice since Saban has been at Alabama (going back to 2007) has one of his former assistants beaten him — both losses coming in 2021 with Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher upsetting Alabama during the regular season in College Station and then Georgia and Kirby Smart taking down the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff National Championship game. Saban is 28-2 against his former assistants.

Sarkisian’s response, and a fair one: “What’s the record for all the guys who aren’t former assistants against Nick Saban?”

Texas’ visit to Alabama will be Sarkisian’s first return to Bryant-Denny Stadium since the 2020 season, when he won the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in college football. He has said Saban saved his career after giving him a second chance following Sarkisian’s struggles with alcohol and being fired from his head coaching job at USC. Sarkisian took advantage of that second chance and headed an explosive Alabama offense that was second nationally in scoring (48.5 points per game) as the Crimson Tide ran through an All-SEC schedule during the COVID-impacted 2020 season and won Saban’s most recent national championship.

What that record-setting season also did was open the door for Sarkisian to get the Texas job.

“I would not be the head coach at Texas if it weren’t for Nick Saban,” Sarkisian said last year. “He gave me a chance when I had a hard time getting an interview, never mind a job.”

What Saban hasn’t done is lose to one of his former assistants at home. In fact, Alabama hasn’t lost to anybody at home since 2019, a 46-41 setback to eventual national champion LSU.

Sarkisian, in his third season at Texas, is looking for his first signature win and first over a top-10 team. The Longhorns came agonizingly close a year ago against Alabama in a 20-19 loss at home when the Tide kicked the winning field goal in the final seconds. Bryce Young pulled a Houdini-like act in Alabama’s final drive, and Texas played with its backup quarterback much of the way after Quinn Ewers was knocked out with a shoulder injury at the end of the first quarter. Ewers is back and Young is now playing in the NFL.

This is Texas’ last chance to make a run at the College Football Playoff as a member of the Big 12. The No. 11 Longhorns move to the SEC next season. This looks to be their best and most talented team under Sarkisian.

“Every game takes on a life of its own,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got to play better than we did a year ago. Clearly, that wasn’t good enough.” — Chris Low

Former Big 12 foes meet (Nebraska at Colorado)

Both programs have been mostly irrelevant since their departures from the Big 12, where they also left one of the better rivalries in college football. Rest assured, the fan bases haven’t forgotten and the animosity still exists. And despite having played twice in nonconference games recently — CU wins in 2018 and 2019 — this one feels different. This one has the nation’s attention. Colorado went with Deion Sanders to resurrect its program in the offseason, while Nebraska hired Matt Rhule to engineer a turnaround similar to what he did at Temple and Baylor.

“Rivalries are rivalries — there’s some more severe than others,” Sanders said this week. “I think everywhere you go coach from high school on up or from youth league on up, you’re gonna have rivalries and just learning [what] the dynamics of the different rivalries are. I like it. It’s delightful. So I’ve learned the severity, the serious nature of this rivalry and I’m embracing it 100 percent. This is personal. That’s the message of the week. This is personal.”

For the Buffs, a loss would be deflating. They are the talk of the country after their upset of national runner-up TCU in Week 1, and head into their home opener a favorite (-2.5) to remain unbeaten. With a win, the hype train will only gain more steam

On the other hand, Nebraska’s lethargic 13-10 loss to Minnesota dampened Rhule’s Huskers’ debut. Can the offense make strides in game No. 2? — Kyle Bonagura

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