5 Things I Think: CFB Week 2!

Week one started off with six straight nights of college football and it felt great. As can be expected, none of the so-called top teams looked terrific. It makes sense, though, as it’s the first time they’ve played against players that aren’t teammates. Adjustments will be made, new players will become acclimated, new coach’s styles will become second nature to the teams. For some teams starters still haven’t been decided, so after one week there’s no reason to get too excited or too disappointed just yet. There are several intriguing matchups this week some of which will be games that will be indicators for fans and media alike and that will likely be referred to later in the season by the selection committee.

Let’s jump in!

1. #14 USC at #13 Stanford (9/6/14 3:30pm EST ABC): Stanford wants to avenge their loss to the Trojans last year especially given that the Cardinal have won the previous four contests. In fact, of the 92 times these two teams have met, this decade (the 2010’s) is only the second one in which the Cardinal have a winning the record (the other was the 1940’s) against USC. The Trojans faced the reigning MWC champions last week, and in the midst of scandals that included a faux hero and a quitting player calling Coach Sarkisian a racist, they beat the Bulldogs of Fresno State by 39 points. The Trojans ran an unbelievable 105 plays Saturday, second only to Northern Illinois’ 109, and redshirt junior quarterback Cody Kessler looked great. Kessler, however, had surgery on his toe this week to address what some are reporting was a staph infection. Though it sounds like Kessler will still play this week, we may see the former number one QB recruit in the nation (Rivals, 2012) in redshirt freshman Max Browne. The last time we saw the Stanford Cardinal (unless you happened to watch last week’s 45-0 drubbing of an FCS team that won five games last season) they were watching as Michigan State went into the victory formation and won the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal hope to return to the Rose Bowl because if they do it means they’re in the playoffs. Playmaker Ty Montgomery will have to play very well Saturday if that’s going to happen. Montgomery is a threat in the receiving game, the return game, and even out of the backfield on occasion. Trojans All-American defensive lineman, Leonard Williams, suffered a high-ankle sprain Tuesday. Stanford’s offensive line will surely try to exploit that and perhaps Barry Sanders, Jr. will have his breakout game. We didn’t get much insight into the strength of either team in Week 1, but this game will certainly give us — and the selection committee — a clearer picture. USC was a top-ten team in time of possession last season and last week kept the ball for nearly 39 minutes. If they can keep it away from Kevin Hogan, Ty Montgomery, and company, the Trojans will win this game. I just don’t think they’ll be able to because their depth issues on defense will hinder their ability to keep Stanford from eating clock. Stanford wins a very close game.

2. #7 Michigan State at #3 Oregon (9/6/14 6:30pm EST FOX): The last we saw Spartans quarterback Connor Cook he was in the aforementioned victory formation and he had just finished his second consecutive game passing for at least 300 yards and completing 60% of his passes. His team was known all season for its suffocating defense (finished the season 2nd in the nation in total defense), but the offense showed up during its two most important games. Cook, running back Jeremy Langford, and sophomore tight end Josiah Price are now as much worthy of game planning as Pat Narduzzi’s defense is. This week they face the high-octane Oregon Ducks in what is this season’s first matchup that has realistic playoff appearance implications. The Spartans travel to Autzen Stadium where the Ducks are 21-2 in their last home 23 contests (the two losses were by a combined 6 points and both were in November). This is the Ducks’ first season without Nick Aliotti at defensive coordinator since 1999, so it will be interesting to see the difference on that side of the ball. All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is surely leaned upon as a steadying force, but he didn’t play the last three quarters in Week 1 against South Dakota with an ankle injury, so if I’m Connor Cook, I’m testing him early to see if his coverage skills are compromised. In years past, I’d have written that the Spartans aren’t built to make a comeback if they get down early, but I don’t think I can do so now because they’re a threat offensively under the much-improved Cook. Oregon only ran 70 plays last week, but they averaged 9.61 yards per play. Yes, it was against the Coyotes, but at least it showed Mariota is healthy and was efficient (70% passing). Would you believe me if I told you that the Spartans only had one more rushing attempt in 2013 than did the Ducks? It’s true. The difference is that the Ducks averaged nearly two more yards per carry! It’s a tough call. Pick the team with a fully healthy Heisman candidate at quarterback and has lost twice at home in three years or pick the team with a hot and much-improved quarterback and is finally a threat on both sides of the ball? Aflac by 10!

3. Michigan at #16 Notre Dame (9/6/14 7:30pm EST NBC): A lot of the talk surrounding this game is that this is the last meeting between these two teams in the foreseeable future because Notre Dame opted out of the matchup in 2012 when they committed to playing 5 ACC games yearly. Though this is certainly a big rivalry, it would surprise some to know that these two teams have only met 41 times. However, from 1980 to 2013 there have only been six seasons in which they didn’t square off. Given the last five games though, which were decided by an average of six points, it seems a shame that it has come to an end. In an amusing turn of events, it was announced Thursday that Notre Dame and Wolverines rival Ohio State have come to terms for a home-and-home in 2022 and 2023. Notre Dame is still dealing with what could potentially explode into a North Carolina-like academic scandal and Brian Kelly has announced that the five currently affected players are still unavailable due to suspension. Everett Golson, who missed last season due to his own academic scandal, looked like a much more polished player last week. I realize that it was just against Rice, but going into last week I felt fairly comfortable that sophomore Malik Zaire would win the job by season’s end. I’m not so sure now. Golson looked much crisper and more decisive than he did as the redshirt freshman that led the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game in 2012. The Irish’s secondary, however, did not look great at all. They allowed the Owls to complete 71% of their passes on first down and on third down and 9 passes of 15 yards or more. Part of the reason for that is they were without redshirt senior safety Austin Collinsworth who is out 2-4 weeks with an MCL strain. That means they’ll be without him this week against a Wolverines team that was 75th in the nation in passing offense last year, but is now under Devin Gardner’s second full season as starting quarterback. They’ll need to watch out for the Devin-to-Devin (Funchess) connection. Funchess, who was listed as tight end last season and was second on the team in every receiving category, is listed as a wide receiver this year and went for 95 yards and three touchdowns last week. Michigan has won four of the last six, but I think we’re going to see another crisp game by Golson this week and the Fighting Irish will win yet another close game. Notre Dame by a field goal.

4. BYU at Texas (9/6/14 7:30pm EST Fox Sports 1): It’s a battle of two “unranked” teams, yet it’s very intriguing nevertheless. It was this matchup last season that started kicking the legs out from under Mack Brown when the Cougars won by 19 and their quarterback, Taysom Hill, ran for 259 yards and 3 touchdowns. Texas gave up a total of 550 rushing yards that day. In comes Charlie Strong and the Longhorns want to avenge this loss and more importantly show the defensive toughness and discipline for which Charlie Strong-led teams are known. What will make the defense’s job a little more difficult is that they may be on the field a lot longer than they’d prefer. Quarterback David Ash is out with concussion symptoms and starting center Dominic Espinosa is reportedly out for the year with a fractured ankle. If that weren’t enough, Charlie Strong suspended both starting offensive tackles for this game due to the ever popular “violation of team rules”. Perhaps it’s a good thing that David Ash and his concussion history is out for this game because his immobility could possibly heighten his injury risk behind what will now be one of the most inexperienced offensive lines in the country. Texas has a stable of running backs and will now be starting 6’5”, 225-lbs. Tyrone Swoopes (distant cousin of Sheryl Swoopes) at quarterback. Swoopes is mobile, but how will these rushers do behind such a suspect offensive line? Longhorns fans, and defensive players, are hoping they do well enough to move the chains so that they keep Taysom Hill off the field. Hill, a sophomore, improved as the season went on last year. He started the season with three games (including the Texas game) in which he completed less that 40% of his passes but completed at least 55% in 7 of his last 10 games and 77.8% last week. If Texas’ offense weren’t so weakened, I’d take Texas because I believe in the culture change that Charlie Strong has and continues to implement in Austin. I just don’t think they’ll be able to move the chains, which will wear out their defense, and will allow Taysom Hill to play well. BYU won’t win by 19 like that did last year, even with a weakened Longhorns offense, but they will win and probably by a touchdown or less.

5. Virginia Tech at #8 Ohio State (9/6/14 8pm EST ESPN): This is the first time these two teams have ever played one another, which seems a bit unbelievable. The Buckeyes’ first game against Navy made it difficult to gauge them due to Navy’s unorthodox style of play; this week should be a better indicator. While Virginia Tech is currently “unranked” there are many who think they will be a better team than last year’s 8-5 squad. While they lost Logan Thomas (Arizona Cardinals) at quarterback, they were fortunate to avoid having to replace him with an inexperienced passer. Junior Michael Brewer transferred from Texas Tech and is a better passer than Thomas was (Brewer completed over 70% of his passes over his career); the Buckeyes were the 112th-ranked defense against the pass last year, so new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash’ impact will have to be realized this week. The Hokies defense lost cornerback Kyle Fuller in the first round of May’s NFL Draft (Chicago Bears), but many people think his younger brother Kendall is as good, if not better, than Kyle. Virginia Tech boasted the 4th best team in the country in total defense in 2013, the highlight of which was holding an Alabama offense that averaged 454 yards on offense on the year to a mere 216 offensive yards to start the season. While the Tech defensive backfield returns three starters, their front seven only returns two. Contrast that against the fact that the Buckeyes only return one starter on the offensive line and the battle in the proverbial trenches will be vital to the Buckeyes’ offensive success. While scarletshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has mobility, he doesn’t have the level of mobility that an Urban Meyer quarterback typically has, so it is imperative that the front line play well. The Buckeyes, of course, have to be ready for “Beamer Ball” as well. Defense and special teams is what have defined Frank Beamer’s Hall-of-Fame caliber career which means Meyer’s squad must avoid turning the ball over, cover kicks and punts thoroughly, and beware of fakes. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw several screens early in the game to test that inexperienced Hokies front seven and put some of the Buckeyes’ speedsters out in space. I think it is here that the Buckeyes have the advantage and Meyer and Tom Herman will exploit it. Ohio State extends its home winning streak to fifteen games with a win by about 10 points.

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