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College football notes: Is Notre Dame for real?

Every time Tiger Woods has a good Thursday round in one of the four major tournaments, the debate starts seemingly on every sports talk show in America.

"Is Tiger Woods back?"

In college football the first three games of the season are basically the equivalent to Thursday in a golf tournament, enough to draw some attention, but still far from the finish line. It's probably not quite accurate to call Notre Dame the Tiger Woods of golf, but any time the Fighting Irish get off to a good start - 3-0 so far - the discussion is about the same: "Is Notre Dame back?"

Like Woods, it's hard to imagine the Irish will ever be as good as in their heyday. But college football is more interesting when Notre Dame is winning. The sport gets more attention and certainly more TV ratings.

How good is this edition of the Irish? Their first two wins were over a forgettable Navy team and a Purdue team that little was expected of.

But Saturday's dominant 20-3 win over a very good Michigan State squad in East Lansing, Mich., raises expectations. Notre Dame's defense at least, looks potentially elite.

It should be the clear favorite against at least five of its remaining opponents - Miami, BYU, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest.

The other four games will determine whether this team can wake up the echoes and reach a BCS bowl for the first time since 2007. Notre Dame hosts No. 18 Michigan Saturday, and No. 9 Stanford on Oct. 13. It's at No. 6 Oklahoma on Oct. 27 and at Southern Cal on Nov. 24.

HEISMAN: If USC quarterback Matt Barkley had delivered a good game against Stanford, nothing West Virginia QB Geno Smith did against James Madison would have affected the early Heisman race.

But Barkley and the Trojans were ineffective in the upset loss, opening the door for new favorites and Smith walked through. Smith passed for 411 yards and five TDs against the Dukes. This season he has nine touchdown passes and nine incompletions. He is second in the nation in total offense with 408.5 yards per game.

MIDWEEK ATHLETIC CONFERENCE - The M in MAC doesn't actually stand for Midweek, but the league is in front of its most viewers during its Tuesday and Wednesday games. It's the only football on television and sports bars around the country have Mid-American Conference games on its big screen televisions due to the lack of choices.

Midweek games in the MAC start Wednesday when Kent State is at Buffalo at 7 p.m. on ESPNU. UMass does not have any midweek games.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: Saturday night features a terrific collection of games:

No. 22 Arizona at No. 3 Oregon, 10:30 p.m., ESPN - The Pac-12 race could be open after USC went down.

No. 10 Clemson at No. 4 Florida State, 8 p.m., ABC - The winner could go undefeated the rest of the way.

No. 15 Kansas State at No. 6 Oklahoma, 7:50 p.m., FOX - Both teams are lurking around the fringes of the national championship picture.

No. 18 Michigan at No. 11 Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m., NBC - Is Notre Dame back?

MAC GAME OF THE WEEK: Kansas at Northern Illinois, 3:30 p.m., Saturday - NIU is pretty good and Kansas is rebuilding. The Huskies are actually the favorite in this game, but any time a MAC school can beat Big 12 team, it would be pretty noteworthy.

SHORT-LIVED RECORD - Michigan being favored by 46 points over UMass was the largest line between FBS teams this season until this week. Alabama is a 50½-point favorite over Florida Atlantic. That also means Vegas expects FAU to be better against Alabama in Tuscaloosa than Arkansas, which lost 52-0, did at home against the Crimson Tide. The Razorbacks were ranked No. 8 in the nation two weeks ago.

UNANSWERABLE QUESTION - Just how badly would Youngstown State, which beat Pittsburgh, beat Virginia Tech, which lost to Pittsburgh?

ON THE ROAD TO - A Florida State-Alabama national championship game.

Information from personal interviews, newspaper articles and sports information releases was used in this report.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at http://www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.c

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