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Gridiron excitement returns

College football resumes Thursday night with two games with top 25 teams. In Starkville, Lou Holtz and South Carolina take on Jackie Sherrill and Mississippi State. Both teams seem certain of bowl bids this year, and both have higher aspirations.

South Carolina is 2-0 after a thrilling last-quarter victory over Georgia. That game was an early season litmus test for the Gamecocks and they passed it with flying colors. It's amazing how Holtz has rebuilt the South Carolina offense under quarterback Phil Petty. Remember, in 1999, this was the worst offensive team in Division I.

Mississippi State may be looking past South Carolina and towards Florida, as the Bulldogs travel to Gainesville on Sept. 29. Senior quarterback Wayne Madkin may not be a Heisman Trophy candidate, but is 24-10 as a starter.

The other game Thursday night is a makeup game from a week ago. Rice travels to Lincoln for a game against Nebraska. I covered Nebraska's win over Notre Dame and the Cornhuskers figure to stay in the battle for the Big 12 championship all season long because of their favorable home schedule. The Huskers play eight games in Lincoln this year. Rice figures to be their fourth victim in a row.

Don't look for much of a change among the top 5. The Miami Hurricanes are idle. A week from Thursday, they play Pittsburgh. No. 2 Florida is at undermanned Kentucky.

Third-ranked Oklahoma is idle, which gives the Sooners an extra week to prepare for their Sept. 29 visit to Norman from Kansas State. Fifth-ranked Florida State plays on ABC Saturday at noon against North Carolina.

ABC will also broadcast the Wisconsin at Penn State Big Ten opener at 12 p.m., which is where Gary Danielson and I will be. Joe Paterno, in his 36th season as head coach, is one win away from tying Bear Bryant as the all-time winningest coach in major college football. The Nittany Lions haven't played since Sept. 1 when they were routed by Miami. But Paterno came away with positive feelings about his young football team. They will need to grow up in a hurry against the Badgers, who are 1-2.

After beating Virginia in its opener, Wisconsin lost a tough game at Oregon and then collapsed in Madison in the second half against Fresno State. Barry Alvarez is hoping QB Brooks Bollinger is healthy enough to return to his starting lineup. This game figures to be close and low-scoring into the fourth quarter.

The key contest on ABC Saturday will feature No. 21 Ohio State at No. 12 UCLA. We are all accustomed to watching the Pac-10 and the Big Ten play in the Rose Bowl, but this may be the only time it happens this season. The Rose Bowl hosts the national championship game this year and right now, the Big Ten is not represented in the top 10. The Buckeyes are playing for the pride of the conference against a UCLA team that has won two games on the road, at Alabama and at Kansas.

Running back DeShaun Foster has elevated himself into the Heisman Trophy race and a couple of NFL scouts have told me that he appears to be a big-time running back.

Speaking of the most publicized trophy in the sport, here is how we would vote right now:

1. Fresno State QB David Carr:
It is stunning that he has beaten powerful teams from the Big 12, the Pac-10 and the Big Ten. This week, he is at Tulsa.

2. Miami QB Ken Dorsey:
He was spectacular the Canes' opening game victory over Penn State. He figures to stay in the chase all the way.

3. Oklahoma LB Rocky Calmus:
As you know, I'm pushing for a defensive player and Calmus has been spectacular in the early going for the Sooners. He will state his case on Sept. 29 when Oklahoma hosts Kansas State.

Coach of the year

Early in the running for Coach of the Year, this is no contest. Pat Hill from Fresno State. His three wins and a dream of a BCS berth is the No. 1 feel-good story of college football this year. Now, who is Pat Hill?

His credentials are very impressive. He was a center at the University of California at Riverside and went into coaching immediately after his college career. He wound up working for Jim Sweeney at Fresno State in 1984. He stayed there for six years.

Before he studied some other programs, he worked under Dick Tomey at Arizona and spent five years in the National Football League with the Cleveland Browns. When Sweeney retired, it was a natural choice to bring back Hill. What I am finding about Hill and several others who are succeeding in college football -- an opportunity to work with professional football staffs is extremely helpful.

The one thing that surprises me about Hill is that, for an offensive center, he has turned out to be a riverboat gambler. Last year, in the Silicon Valley Classic, he turned up an almost certain game-tying field goal with a pass on a fake field goal against the Air Force Academy.

It will be interesting to see if Fresno State can keep Hill. Believe me, we are not the only folks impressed with his run.

Brent Musburger is a play-by-play announcer for ABC's coverage of college football. He writes a column every week for ABC Sports Online.