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On Sunday, the Miami Dolphins will begin their 50th NFL regular season on the road against the Washington Redskins. The Dolphins hold an 8-4 series advantage as they won their last meeting 20-9 on Nov. 13, 2011.
The Miami Dolphins once again made a big splash during free agency last March. The team signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was considered by most to be the most prized free agent on the market. The Dolphins also signed receiver Greg Jennings and tight end Jordan Cameron, and traded for receiver Kenny Stills.
Because of their moves during the offseason, Miami is the sexy pick to not only make the playoffs, but some are even picking them to win the AFC East. The Dolphins will begin their quest for their first division title since 2008 on Sunday against the Redskins, whose offseason has gone a bit differently.
In his rookie year in 2012, Robert Griffin III couldn’t have had a better rookie campaign. The former Heisman Trophy winner threw for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also rushed for 815 yards and seven scores as well.
Things have changed for Griffin ever since then as he has either been injured or played ineffectively. Griffin suffered a concussion on Aug. 20 against the Detroit Lions and has yet to be cleared to play. That’s why Kirk Cousins will get the start against the Dolphins.
Miami at Washington
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Miami -4
Three Things to Watch
1. How will Branden Albert perform?
The biggest question mark heading into Week 1 for the Miami Dolphins is the health of tackle Branden Albert.
The former Pro Bowler hasn’t played in a game since tearing his ACL and MCL last November against the Detroit Lions. Albert didn’t play the entire preseason and Albert just began to practice at full speed a couple of weeks ago. On Wednesday, Albert told the media before Wednesday practice that he will play on Sunday.
"We all know the answer," said Albert. "I don't think I've got to say nothing too much more. I've been starting with the first team all week. So there goes your answer.”
Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin says it will be great to have Albert back in the lineup.
“Yeah, he’s a veteran player. He’s a good player. He’s a guy that’s an important part of the ball club. He plays an important position on the football team, so it’s good to have him.”
2. Kirk Cousins
With Griffin not yet cleared by the Redskins medical staff, the team will look to Cousins to lead them to a win against the Dolphins. The four-year quarterback out of Michigan State will start the 10th game of his career on Sunday afternoon.
In limited action during his first four seasons, Cousins has thrown for 3,030 yards, 18 touchdowns against 19 interceptions. Despite his inconsistent play, Cousins is confident that he can get the job done on Sunday.
"You have to do your part and do well. I do feel believed in," Cousins said. "I haven't questioned that. I never questioned that. I have all the pieces around me to be successful."
3. Dolphins' defensive line
Miami already had an excellent defensive line last year, minus Suh. Now with the addition of the four-time Pro Bowler, the Dolphins should form one of the best lines in the NFL.
Washington’s offensive line has a lot of holes and is unproven, minus tackle Trent Williams. In their preseason game against the Detroit Lions, the Redskins allowed Griffin to be sacked three times in less than two quarters of play. That led to Griffin’s concussion, which is why Cousins is starting in the first place.
Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake said after practice on Wednesday that he isn't focused on the Redskins line as much he is focused on himself and the other Dolphins players.
“The unit (Redskins offensive line) works together well, said Wake. “They have a lot of new things going and there’s no real way to tell what they are going to do. I’m really concentrating more on the guys in this locker room and the guys on this side and what we are going to do.”
The Dolphins were 12th in total defense in 2014 with Wake, Olivier Vernon and Earl Mitchell and the team should be even better with the addition of Suh. How Washington blocks Miami's defensive line could be one of the significant keys to the game.
Washington has questions at quarterback, offensive line and on their defense. With all the weapons the Dolphins have on both sides of the ball, Miami should win the game pretty easily.
If Washington can get the running game going with Alford Morris and run on the outside of the defensive ends effectively, Washington has a chance to stay in the game.
In the end, the Dolphins defensive line will force Cousins to make plays and that’s when turnovers are likely to happen.
Prediction: Miami 31, Washington 20
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
For Mississippi State, the magical 2014 season really began when the unranked Bulldogs shocked the nation by beating then-No. 8 LSU 34-29 in Tiger Stadium. Led by quarterback Dak Prescott, State rolled up 570 yards of total offense against what would prove to be the SEC’s toughest defense. Though the final score was close — and LSU had the ball with a chance to win on the final play of the game — the Bulldogs controlled the tempo of the game from start to finish and it never felt like the outcome was in question.
Much has changed since last year’s game in Baton Rouge, but one thing remains the same: LSU is expected to beat Mississippi State. How can the Bulldogs score another upset? There are three things that must happen.
1. One Last Great Performance By Louisiana Native Dak Prescott
Prescott is the best quarterback in the SEC, and the Haughton, Louisiana, native always seems to save his best for his home state team.
Prescott didn’t play much against the Tigers as a freshman in 2012, but he did toss a nine-yard touchdown pass in his only passing attempt. As a sophomore, Prescott struggled throwing the football (9-for-20, 106 yards 0 TDs, 1 INT), but he was an effective runner and gained 103 yards on the ground, including a 28-yard touchdown, which helped the Bulldogs stay within one score heading into the fourth quarter of an eventual 59-26 LSU victory.
Last season, Prescott blossomed against the Tigers with 268 passing yards on 15-for-24 passing and two touchdowns, while adding 105 rushing yards and another score. But the numbers don’t even tell the whole story. Mississippi State fed off the energy and confidence Prescott showed all night. It looked like every player on the sideline didn’t just think they could beat LSU in Tiger Stadium, instead they knew they were going to march into Death Valley and come back with a victory. And that feeling started with Prescott.
For State to score another upset Saturday night, they will likely need an even better performance from Prescott, who was 22-for-38 for 237 yards and two TDs last week against Southern Miss, and added 72 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
2. Make Brandon Harris as Uncomfortable as Possible Early
Because of inclement weather in Baton Rouge last weekend, LSU starting quarterback Brandon Harris didn’t have an opportunity to warm up for this week’s trip to Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville. Therefore, the sophomore will make just his second career start in yet another hostile environment.
Last season, Harris was pegged as the starter for the Tigers against Auburn. He was dreadful and completed just three of 14 passes for 58 yards (52 coming on one play) in a 41-7 loss. Simply, Harris made Auburn’s terrible defense look great, and he promptly lost the starting job and attempted only one more pass the rest of the season.
Fast-forward to 2015, and Harris could have used the confidence boost — and the practice — that would have surely come from a 30- or 40-point victory over McNeese State. Instead, his first real action of the season comes against new Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who is sure to have a few tricks up his sleeve for Harris Saturday night.
Diaz’s Louisiana Tech defense was responsible for more turnovers than any team in the country last season, and his attacking Mississippi State unit forced two interceptions last week against Southern Miss. The Bulldogs are strong up front, and the pass rush — as well as 61,000 cowbells clanging loudly throughout Stark Vegas — will be vital in making Harris uncomfortable early.
Because there are holes in the defense (as evidenced by the 311 passing yards and 413 total yards the Golden Eagles picked up Saturday night) the Bulldogs need to rattle Harris early and get him out of the pocket in hopes off forcing mistakes or to come up with a big defensive play. If the State D succeeds like Auburn did last season, they Bulldogs have a chance to pull off another big win.
3. Feed De’Runnya Wilson
Arguably the best player on the field in terms of raw, physical talent, 6-foot-5, 225-plus-pound wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson was invisible throughout the majority of Saturday’s 34-16 victory over Southern Miss. Prescott’s favorite target in 2014, who had 680 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on 47 catches, didn’t grab his first pass of 2015 until the fourth quarter in Hattiesburg.
Wilson is a matchup nightmare for any defensive back, and because Prescott is such a dangerous threat to run, it often forces defenses to play man-to-man on the outside. Even with the LSU secondary once again stocked with NFL-caliber talent, including Tre’Davious White, Jamal Adams, and Kevin Toliver II, Mississippi State would love to see Wilson in single coverage Saturday. For the Bulldogs to outscore LSU, they must take advantage of Wilson’s abilities and feed him early and often.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work on college football can also be found on SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
LSU and Mississippi State open SEC play with one of college football’s must-see matchups on Saturday night in Starkville. The SEC West is the toughest division in the nation, as all seven teams enter Week 2 ranked in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll. While there’s still a lot to be decided in this division over the next few months, Saturday’s matchup is a good barometer test for both teams.
For LSU, it’s a chance to show improvement in the passing game. The Tigers aren’t hurting for talent, but the offense can’t be one-dimensional again. And this is also the first look at coach Les Miles’ team after the opener against McNeese State was canceled due to weather. Mississippi State lost a handful of key players from last season’s 10-win team, yet this program is positioned for a quick reload. Quarterback Dak Prescott is one of the nation’s best, and there’s promising talent in the program waiting to emerge on both sides of the ball.
LSU and Mississippi State have played 108 times, with the Tigers holding a 71-34-3 series edge. The Bulldogs ended LSU’s 14-game winning streak in this series last season, defeating the Tigers 34-29 in Baton Rouge in the SEC opener for both programs.
LSU at Mississippi State
Kickoff: 9:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: LSU -4
Three Things to Watch
1. LSU QB Brandon Harris
LSU’s passing game struggled mightily last season. The Tigers averaged only 162.9 yards per game, while Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings combined for just seven passing scores in SEC contests. Harris has the edge in talent over Jennings, and after spending most of 2014 as a backup, the sophomore earned his place at the top of the depth chart this offseason. Will this move spark the LSU passing attack? Harris has one of the SEC’s best receiving corps at his disposal and a solid offensive line leading the way. The supporting cast isn’t a concern. A road start in the SEC is no easy assignment, but coordinator Cam Cameron can ease Harris into the game with a heavy dose of running back Leonard Fournette. While all eyes will be on the stat column for Harris, it’s important to remember that he doesn’t need huge statistical totals. The sophomore just needs to make timely throws and eliminate any turnovers or mistakes. Mississippi State’s secondary features talented cornerbacks in Will Redmond and Taveze Calhoun, so this will be a good test of just how far Harris has progressed since 2014.
2. Mississippi State’s Run Defense
Despite losing tackles P.J. Jones and Kaleb Eulls and end Preston Smith, Mississippi State’s defensive line entered 2015 in good shape. Tackle Chris Jones is the headliner for this unit, as the junior is a rising star and could be one of the league’s top linemen by the end of 2015. A.J. Jefferson and Ryan Brown are experienced options off the edges and combined for three tackles for a loss in the opener against Southern Miss. The linebacking corps lost Benardrick McKinney and Matt Wells, but Beniquez Brown, Zach Jackson and Richie Brown are a solid trio for coordinator Manny Diaz to build around. Additionally, the Bulldogs held the Golden Eagles to 102 rushing yards and just 2.8 yards per carry last week. This group passed its first test last Saturday, but the going gets a little tougher in Week 2. LSU running back Leonard Fournette is one of the nation’s best and averaged 5.4 yards per carry in limited action against the Bulldogs last season. Considering the question marks for the Tigers in the passing game, Mississippi State should load the box and force Harris to win. But if Fournette has success on early downs and limits long-yardage situations for Harris, that’s a bad sign for the Bulldogs’ defense.
3. Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott
While LSU has an advantage at several positions for Saturday night’s matchup, the best player on the field is on the Mississippi State sideline: Quarterback Dak Prescott. In last year’s game, Prescott completed 15 of 24 passes for 268 yards and two scores and rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown. LSU has one of the best defensive backfields in college football, and a revamped offensive line, as well as a new cast of talented and versatile weapons at running back surround Prescott. Adding to the uncertainty of this game is LSU’s defensive scheme, which has changed under new coordinator Kevin Steele. The senior is capable of carrying Mississippi State to a win on Saturday night, and it’s clear the Bulldogs need his “A” game.
Revenge is on LSU’s mind after Mississippi State stunned the Tigers in Death Valley last season. But both teams enter this matchup with question marks. The Bulldogs had a solid opener against Southern Miss, but coach Dan Mullen’s team wasn’t overly impressive. LSU’s opener was canceled, so it’s hard to know just how far the offense has progressed under Brandon Harris. While Harris is the x-factor here, this game is still decided in the trenches, and the Tigers have an edge up front. Fournette delivers in the fourth quarter to give LSU a 1-0 start in SEC play this year.
Prediction: LSU 24, Mississippi State 20
Missouri enjoyed a dominant 34-3 win against Southeast Missouri State to kick off its 2015 season. The Tigers’ offense outgained the Bears by a 417-201 margin.
In Week 2, Missouri travels to Arkansas State and the "House that Gus Built" for the Red Wolves' home opener. Arkansas State is coming off a 55-6 loss to USC, despite its offense accounting for 401 yards.
Both teams feature dual-threat quarterbacks in Maty Mauk and Fredi Knighten. However, Missouri faces some crucial injury concerns with both star running back Russell Hansbrough and center Evan Boehm listed as Questionable to play.
Will Arkansas State be able to capitalize on home-field advantage or will Missouri prevail, despite facing depth chart concerns?
Missouri at Arkansas State
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN3
Spread: Missouri -11
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Russell Hansbrough play?
Hansbrough is one of the few returning offensive starters for Missouri. Last week he recorded just 23 yards on two carries before leaving with a right leg injury. Hansbrough is listed as Questionable for Saturday night’s game and has been seen wearing a medical boot, according to KCTV News in Kansas City. If he can't play, the Tigers will likely turn to sophomore Ish Witter, who had 33 yards on 13 attempts in Hansbrough's absence last week.
2. Missouri defense vs. Arkansas State offense
Once again, Missouri looks to replace several standouts on the defensive line including SEC Player of the Year Shane Ray, veteran Markus Golden and injured defensive tackle Harold Brantley. But the Tigers fared well in their season opener by allowing only three points, 201 yards, 3.1 yards per play and 10 first downs to Southeast Missouri State. Arkansas State has an explosive offense that includes senior wide receiver J.D. McKissic — the nation's active leader with 242 career receptions — and dual-threat quarterback Fredi Knighten. Can the Tigers slow down the Red Wolves attack with both pressure and proper coverage in the secondary?
3. Battle in the trenches
Arkansas State has two preseason first-team All-Sun Belt defensive ends in senior Chris Stone and sophomore Ja'Von Rolland-Jones. The Red Wolves may also receive a boost from sophomore defensive tackle Chuks Ota, who is expected to return from an ankle injury. Missouri could be without its senior center (Boehm) who, like Hansbrough, left the opener with a right ankle sprain and is listed as Questionable. The Tigers have two other seniors (left tackle Connor McGovern and right guard Mitch Hall) as well as two sophomores (left guard Alec Abeln and right tackle Nate Crawford) expected to start up front.
Missouri should be expected to capture its second victory of 2015 on Saturday. However, it wouldn’t completely shock anyone if Arkansas State was able to pull off the upset. We've seen stranger things happen with the Tigers, including a loss to Indiana before going on a winning streak that eventually brought them an SEC East title in 2014. But the smart money is on Missouri to earn a win in an underrated matchup.
Prediction: Missouri 28, Arkansas State 17
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.
Apparently, the Cardinal offense was still feeling the time zone difference in Evanston, Ill. The offense did a light workout to start the game, a 64-yard opening drive resulting in a 29-yard field goal. Then the offense had an extended brunch before putting together a 55-yard march for a 37-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter. In between those scores, the Cardinal offense managed to gain only 102 yards. How were the eggs Benedict and mimosas, I wonder?
UCF had its own offensive struggles in its opener. The Knights gained only 46 yards on the ground against FIU. Quarterback Justin Holman drove downfield and threw two touchdown passes in the first half. UCF's offense seemed to have been stuck in the locker-room during second half until the final minutes of the game. In an attempt to score the game-winning points, the Knights' final drive bogged down at FIU's 23-yard line. Their hopes ended with a blocked 47-yard field goal attempt. Did anyone consider any adjustments to the rushing attack during the intermission?
These two programs are complete strangers to each other. Stanford will face a major college team from the Sunshine State for the first time in football. Likewise, UCF has never played a team from California. The Cardinal have only played twice versus a member of the Knights' conference. That was former member Boston College back in 2001 and '02 when the American Athletic Conference (AAC) was known as the Big East. UCF has only faced an opponent from the Pac-12 once previously, a 46-13 loss at Arizona State in 2002.
UCF at Stanford
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. PT
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Spread: Stanford -19
Three Things to Watch
1. The resistible force versus the moveable object
The Cardinal defense permitted Northwestern to pile up 225 yards rushing on 54 carries for a 4.2 yards-per-carry average. The Knights' running game managed only 46 yards on 30 attempts for a 1.5 ypc. Which team can shore up its glaring weakness in order to exploit that of the opponent?
2. Inexperienced starters on the road
During a press conference this week, UCF's head coach George O'Leary described his team as "indecisive" and "tentative" in the loss to FIU. Of UCF's first-team offense that started against FIU, only four of them were returning starters from 2014. One of the four, Michael Campbell, had been switched from tackle to tight end. Only two of the Knights' defensive starters in the first week of this season were on the regular first-team last season. Can the plethora of neophytes handle a game so far from home? Will the crowd in a stadium not reputed as either noisy or intimidating rattle the visitors?
3. Reversal of time difference disadvantage
This week, Stanford might be the team that benefits from its opponent having to travel more than a thousand miles and across more than one time zone for a game. The game will kick off at what would feel like 10:30 p.m. for the Knights. Can the guys from the Eastern time zone adjust to playing so late? Otherwise, their bodies will be winding down by halftime for what will feel like midnight to their internal clocks. Might the coaches let the Knights sleep late or have them take a nap in the afternoon? I suggest espresso should be served on the sidelines instead of the typical sports beverages.
While both teams stumbled out of the gate, Stanford's defeat looks less awful. Losing to a Big Ten member on the road in an early kickoff is more forgivable than dropping a home game to a team from the American Athletic Conference. The Cardinal and Knights will play evenly through the first half. Stanford's more experienced players will pull away and rediscover its running game along the way.
Prediction: Stanford 23, UCF 13
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.
UCLA won't stop off in Baker for beef jerky or take in a Cirque Du Soleil performance on its weekend excursion to Las Vegas. The Bruins are in Sin City for a business trip, taking on a new-look UNLV football team.
The long-struggling Rebels tabbed Tony Sanchez to turn around the program last offseason. Sanchez, head coach of national prep powerhouse Bishop Gorman right there in Las Vegas, seems to have instilled confidence in his squad.
UNLV put up a fight in a 38-30, Week 1 loss at defending Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois. The Rebels jumped ahead 14-3, and led the Huskies at halftime.
Last week's effort signaled the alarm: UNLV is no pushover. However, another, less attractive thing stands out for the Rebels: Northern Illinois quarterback Drew Hare roasted the UNLV defense for 360 yards on 21-of-26 passing.
A UCLA passing offense that flourished in Week 1 should feast like a Vegas tourist with a comped buffet ticket.
UCLA at UNLV
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: UNLV +29
Three Things to Watch
1. Rosen's Follow-Up
Anyone can be a one-hit wonder. Ballyhooed freshman quarterback Josh Rosen is looking to establish himself as a star for the long haul.
He debuted in impressive fashion last week against Virginia, passing for 351 yards and three touchdowns in UCLA's romp over Virginia. Rosen should put up monster numbers once against, faced with a UNLV pass defense that struggled mightily at Northern Illinois.
2. Devonte Boyd
UCLA has a deep and multifaceted wide receiving corps, and with Rosen throwing to it against an overmatched secondary, should roll up impressive statistics. That said, the best single receiver Saturday just might be wearing scarlet-and-silver.
All Devonte Boyd did last week, in his first time out after an impressive 973-yard freshman campaign, was gain 107 yards on five catches with a touchdown.
Boyd poses UCLA its first threat since the loss of cornerback Ishmael Adams to suspension. The All-Pac-12 performer Adams likely would have drawn the majority of snaps opposite Boyd. Fabian Moreau and the rest of the Bruin secondary must be cognizant of where this explosive playmaker is at all times, or risk giving up big plays that could keep UNLV in striking distance.
3. Replacing Eddie Vanderdoes
The real negative to come out of UCLA's Week 1 romp was the loss of defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes for the season. With Vanderdoes alongside Kenny Clark and Takkarist McKinley on the other end, UCLA boasted one of the most formidable defensive fronts in the nation.
As it stands, Week 2 will provide some insight into how defensive coordinator Tom Bradley plans to fill that void.
Week 1 showed an immediate change in UNLV from the 2014 season, when lopsided losses were the norm. The Rebels could play spoiler in the Mountain West, but they appear to be overmatched by UCLA this coming Saturday.
UNLV was solid against the pass a season ago, ranking No. 51 in the nation, but Saturday was an inauspicious start for the Rebels. Kent Baer might opt to go nickel and dime packages extensively early, but that leaves a UNLV run defense that was awful in 2014 susceptible to the one-two punch of Paul Perkins and Soso Jamabo.
The alternative is fueling momentum for the Rosen Hype Train, which is already barreling down the tracks. Either way, the Bruins leave Las Vegas as few others do: winning.
Prediction: UCLA 49, UNLV 17
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DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket. These are the guys poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week.
Below, you will find AthlonSports.com contributor and CFG writer Todd DeVries' top picks for the early Saturday games. To see the full in-depth article, be sure to check out CollegeFootballGeek.com.
Chris Laviano, Rutgers QB ($6800) vs. Washington State:
Laviano was suspended for the first half of last week’s game, but started the second half and responded with three touchdown passes to Leonte Carroo. He has been named the starter and could have a huge game against Wazzu. The Cougars don’t play much defense and could have major problems slowing down the Laviano-Carroo connection. Expect this Scarlet Knight to go over 300 yards passing and likely throw for a few scores in a potential shootout.
Rodney Smith, Minnesota RB ($4700) vs. Colorado State:
Smith had 88 yards rushing and a score in the opening game against TCU and apparently made a strong impression on the coaching staff. They have stated that he will have a “bigger role” in the offense starting this week. He comes in at a tempting price considering his potential increase in workload. Look for Smith to post solid numbers this week and easily reach value.
Brandon Radcliff, Louisville RB ($5900) vs. Houston:
Radcliff scored twice last week against Auburn and is the bell-cow back for this Louisville squad. He has multiple-score potential every week and appears to be severely underpriced considering his production. Take advantage of the soft pricing on this Cardinal and make him part of a bunch of lineups in Week 2. He could easily hit the 100-yard mark and add a couple of scores against the Cougars.
Patrick Skov/Marcus Marshall, RB Georgia Tech ($4400/$4200) vs. Tulane:
We all know how productive the Georgia Tech rushing game is year in and year out and 2015 should be no exception. The two top rushing options from a fantasy perspective look to be Marshall and Skov. They combined for 256 yards rushing and five scores against Alcorn State last week and could easily match those numbers against Tulane in Week 2. The Green Wave defense is not good and will likely yield plenty of big runs to Skov and Marshall this week. The system and matchup are so good this week that playing both of these guys in the same lineup may not be a terrible idea. Expect both backs to find the end zone against Tulane on multiple occasions.
Dom Williams, Washington State WR ($5000) vs. Rutgers:
The prolific passing attack of Washington State really struggled last week in a shocking loss to Portland State. We don’t expect those struggles to continue in a potentially high-scoring game with Rutgers. The pricing on Williams looks like a gift that DFS players should be more than willing to accept. This has the makings of a productive fantasy stack written all over it. Take these Cougars receivers and plug them into multiple lineups.
Amar Darboh, Michigan WR ($5100) vs. Oregon State:
One thing was incredibly apparent while watching the Michigan game last week- Darboh and Jake Butt are the only guys who Jake Rudock throws the ball to. Darboh had eight receptions for 101 yards and a score against Utah. He could do the same damage this week against Oregon State. Look for this Wolverine to continue to receive plenty of attention in the Michigan passing game and easily reach value against the Beavers.
Joe Hansley, Colorado State WR ($3900) vs. Minnesota:
Hansley had 67 yards and a score last week and could match those numbers this week against Minnesota. He has the benefit of drawing single coverage with defenses focusing on Rashard Higgins. This Ram could easily reach value and looks like a decent punt play in Week 2. Expect Hansley to carry a low ownership percentage in GPPs.
— Written by Todd DeVries, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A pioneer of online college fantasy football strategy and advice, DeVries is the founder of CollegeFootballGeek.com and founder and Director of Writer Development for Football Nation. Follow him on Twitter @CFFGeek.
The second week of the season pits two teams hoping to grab an early lead in the American Athletic Conference division standings. Cincinnati, the preseason favorites in the conference, hosts Temple a week after the Owls celebrated one of the biggest wins in school history to open the 2015 season.
Temple at Cincinnati
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN News
Spread: Cincinnati -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Temple’s defense do it again?
The 2015 season could not have started in a better way for Temple’s defense. The Owls sacked Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg 10 times, forced a turnover and slammed the door shut on Penn State's offense after digging an early 10-0 hole. Temple’s defense is the strength of this Owls team, and it showed an ability to flip a switch and make some adjustments in the season-opening win last weekend in Philadelphia. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week after recording three sacks in leading his team to victory. Can Matakevich and the Owls do it again in another big game?
2. How much will Cincinnati attack on the ground?
Tommy Tuberville will try moving the ball through the air as often as possible with Gunner Kiel at quarterback, as well he should. The question is how much he chooses to try running the football against the Owls defense. Temple clamped down against the run last week, with only one long run really hurting Temple early in last week’s season opener.
Cincinnati rushed for 296 yard in its season-opening win against Alabama A&M last week, but Temple’s defense is significantly better. When Cincy does go on the ground, Tion Green and Hosey Williams should contribute.
3. How much does Temple have in the tank?
It seems rather strange to even bring up this question in the second game of the season, but considering the historical significance of last week’s win over Penn State it is a fair one to mention in Week 2. Temple laid it all out against the Nittany Lions last week and the celebration that followed was well deserved and a long time coming for the program. But the focus needs to be reset on a dangerous Cincinnati team on the road. If anything was learned last week, it is that Temple can make adjustments and overcome a sluggish start. But Cincinnati’s offense will look to attack through the air more than Penn State managed to do. Can Temple hang with the Bearcats?
This feels like a bad spot for Temple, coming off a huge win for the program at home last week and heading on the road against a potent offensive team like Cincinnati. The Bearcats have some pieces in place to make a run in the American and, if some things fall into place elsewhere, potentially for the New Years Six. Cincinnati being at home should be enough of an advantage for the Bearcats to help them pull away from a promising Owls squad.
Prediction: Cincinnati 26, Temple 17
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
Texas (0-1) is in trouble after just one game. It wasn't because the Longhorns were beaten by Notre Dame. It was the WAY they were beaten by Notre Dame. They were thoroughly dominated by the Irish in every phase of the game. There were many problems last Saturday. There were many mistakes made last Saturday. There were many missed opportunities last Saturday. There were glaring miscues and misjudgments last Saturday.
And there are too many questions why.
Head coach Charlie Strong believes that the problems may be centered around the offensive play calling, which is why he made a drastic change, demoting BOTH offensive coordinators (Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline) and elevating receivers coach Jay Norvell to the position. A sign of panic? Possibly, but this team has been offensively inept for three games, dating back to last season so clearly something is wrong. The real question is why wasn't this ineptitude discovered during the offseason and corrected then?
The Longhorns are now in a deep search for answers to a myriad of issues and they all need to be solved by this Saturday night, when a very talented and ambitious Rice team shows up in Austin looking for the upset the Owls didn't get last year. There could not be a worse time for a hungry team to play a traditional powerhouse, but here it is. Texas must deal with this and they must win... or the flood gates of controversy will open in ways Strong has never even considered.
Rice at Texas
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Longhorn Network (Check Local Listings)
Spread: Texas -15.5
Three Things To Watch For
1. The Texas Coaching Staff
Normally, once the weekend comes, the game is decided on the field by the players. However, the sudden coaching change Monday by Strong suggests that the reason for their loss was bad play calling, echoed by his own postgame statements that "they needed to coach better." So now all eyes will be on the Longhorns coaching staff and whether or not new offensive coordinator Norvell can turn around the offense with less than a week to prepare. And does this also mean that the entire offense will get an extreme makeover, starting with a QB change from Tyrone Swoopes to Jerrod Heard and more touches for running back Johnathan Gray?
2. The Texas Defense
While everyone in Austin is screaming at the Texas offense, no one is noticing that the defense gave up 313 yards passing and 214 yards rushing in the opening loss to Notre Dame. This simply means that the one thing the Longhorns thought they could hang their hats on coming into this season is ALSO not working properly. Strong stated that it was the defensive line that simply gave Fighting Irish quarterback Malik Zaire too much time to make plays. The Longhorns will have a similar problem against Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson, especially if the Owls can get their running game going. Running back Austin Walker picked up 107 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries last week against Wagner.
3. The Texas QB Situation
Either Swoopes or Heard must lead on Saturday. Its that simple. Both quarterbacks, when called upon, must come into the game and execute whatever play is called. The time for system mastery is now. There is no more time to wait on either of them. If Texas does not find consistency at quarterback, Strong won't have to worry about a long season, because he may not be around for it. Especially if the Longhorns lose to an in-state team they have traditionally owned.
Texas is reeling and must turn this around immediately. If there is a confidence-building opportunity for this team, this is the game for that. Rice is a talented team, but on paper, should not be able to compete with the Longhorns, especially in Texas Memorial Stadium. That would be true, except this has so far, not been the traditional powerhouse Texas Longhorns. This team is in search of an identity, while Rice is a team that appears to be molding its own identity. The combination speaks loudly and maybe that is the reason why the Longhorns lose this game. Rice is going to treat this game as the program's moment in time and leave nothing in the locker room. If the Owls can get their running game going, this will be an upset. And I think that is just what it will be.
Prediction: Rice 24, Texas 21
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence, Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence also has written for the Dallas Morning News, Yahoo!'s Rivals.com, and ESPN Louisville. He can be heard on the radio of "Talkin NOIZ" and "The Football Show of Collin County." Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.
Considering the amount of transfers from the previously-defunct-but-now-starting-up-again UAB football program, Nebraska’s essentially taking on the South Alabama-Birmingham Blazing Jaguars. That’s actually a pretty killer name.
Speaking of a mauling, that’s likely what the Jags are walking into considering that the current 25-point underdog will be facing a very upset group of Cornhuskers that will be returning all but one suspended player.
Yes, yes, McNeese State 2014 and that's exactly why there are some things worth keeping your eyes peeled for.
South Alabama at Nebraska
Kickoff: 8:00 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: BTN
Spread: Nebraska -25
Three Things to Watch For
1. A Reanimated Husker Running Game
South Alabama is working to replace a number of quality tacklers and essentially every playmaker the 2014 defense had to offer. This is a perfect opportunity for Huskers running backs coach Reggie Davis and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh to tweak a running game that was stonewalled against the BYU Cougars.
Look for Mikale Wilbon, Terrell Newby and Imani Cross to get snaps once more, but their roles may change a bit from the opening game of the season.
2. Tommy Armstrong’s Continued Progression
As good as Armstrong’s day against BYU was (319 yards, three touchdowns, one interception), his game can get even better and it’s going to need to against stiffer pass defenses.
His footwork is still so-so and throwing darts off of his back foot isn't a thing of the past. However, as seen against BYU, he has a wide receiver corps that can help him easily move the ball.
Don’t be shocked to see some shorter tosses get worked in. This way, Armstrong can get the opportunity to work a number of routes that may or may not be seen against Miami (FL) and every opponent down the road.
3. The Blackshirt Back Seven Getting Their Groove Back
After being shredded for 379 yards thanks in no small part to a number of Cougar wideouts whose arms extend above the clouds, it’s time for Nebraska’s linebackers and the secondary to hit the reset button.
The good news is that they’ll have help returning in the form of previously suspended linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey and cornerback Jonathan Rose, both starters. Safety Nate Gerry showed his ballhawking ability last week against BYU's Taysom Hill, one of the best quarterbacks the Huskers will face this season.
If the Blackshirt secondary finds its swagger again, Miami's Brad Kaaya may eventually be in for a long 60 minutes. That’s a topic for another day, though.
The talent gap is huge, the atmosphere is fierce and this Nebraska team wants a convincing victory after letting last week's slip through its fingers. This doesn’t bode well for South Alabama, but there’s always the postgame snack, right?
Armstrong should look better than ever, Nebraska should show some semblance of a running game and Blackshirts likely feast on the Jaguar offense. Unfortunately, tight end Cethan Carter will be sitting on the sideline for another game.
Take note, Popular Mechanics —this is a cupcake game.
Prediction: Nebraska 45, South Alabama 13
Numerous sportswriters have analyzed and praised former Ohio State starting quarterback Braxton Miller’s move to H-Back and I can’t blame them. We have never seen a three-year starting signal-caller and Heisman Trophy candidate move to another position in his senior year to make his team — the defending national champion — stronger. Most importantly, he looked pretty impressive in his first game (79 yds. receiving, 61 yds. rushing, 2 TDs) in his new role.
Although they don’t receive the exposure of Miller, players switch positions all the time in college football. On rare occasions, the changes are monumental for the team and college football. Here are five of the most significant.
Warren Sapp, Miami (1992-94)
The U excelled at taking speedy athletes and bulking them up for new positions on defense. Safeties become linebackers and linebackers became defensive lineman. Sapp may be the greatest example of this approach. A three-sport star who played tight end, linebacker and punter in high school, he was converted to defensive lineman at Miami. Described by his coaches and teammates as having the power of Cortez Kennedy and quickness of Russell Maryland, Sapp wreaked havoc in the middle for the Hurricanes and earned All-American honors and the Lombardi Award in 1994.
Marcus Allen, USC (1978-81)
Imagine if USC had taken field in the late '70s and early '80s with a secondary consisting of Ronnie Lott, Dennis Smith, Joey Browner and... Marcus Allen. That could have been the reality since Allen was recruited as a defensive back, but John Robinson quickly decided to move him to running back. After backing up Charles White his freshman year and playing fullback his sophomore year, Allen was moved to tailback. He rushed for 1,563 yards his junior year and then a whopping 2,342 his senior year, which also earned him the Heisman Trophy. In the end, Robinson probably made the right decision.
Lawrence Taylor, North Carolina (1977-80)
L.T. was originally recruited as a defensive lineman and played at nose guard and middle linebacker his sophomore year. Then head coach Dick Crum moved him to outside linebacker before his junior year and the rest is history. Taylor piled up 16 sacks in his senior year leading the Tar Heels to an 11-1 record before going on to redefine the outside linebacker position in the NFL.
Dave Casper, Notre Dame (1970-73)
Nicknamed “The Ghost” after Casper the Friendly Ghost, Casper was tried at numerous positions early in his career at Notre Dame. For example, in 1972, he played tackle one week against Michigan State and wide receiver the next week against Pittsburgh. However, Casper settled in at tackle and earned honorable mention All-American honors at the end of the 1972 season. Going into the 1973 season, head coach Ara Parseghian decided to attempt fusing the best of Casper’s skills and moved his star tackle to tight end. The gamble paid off beautifully. Notre Dame went 11-0 and Casper had 19 receptions for 317 yards (keep in mind that this was a different era for tight ends). In the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, Casper caught a 30-yard pass in double coverage to set up a field goal that secured a 24-23 win and a national championship for the Fighting Irish.
Jack Tatum, Ohio State (1967-70)
It is ironic that a player known as “The Assassin” who is synonymous with violent hits on opponents was originally recruited as a running back. Early in his freshman year, assistant coach Lou Holtz proposed moving Tatum to defensive back and head coach Woody Hayes agreed. By his sophomore year, Tatum was starting in the defensive backfield and receiving national attention. In his three years as a starter, the Buckeyes went 27-2 and won a national title. Tatum garnered unanimous All-American honors his junior and senior years and became the standard for defensive hits from the secondary.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
USC opened the 2015 season with a 55-6 rout of a Sun Belt Conference favorite, Arkansas State. In Week 2, the Trojans host a team pegged for the Sun Belt's cellar in Idaho.
Idaho has won exactly one game each of the last three seasons. The Vandals' last multiple-win campaign came in 2011, when they finished 2-10. The 2015 season isn't off to the most inspiring start, either, with Idaho coming off a 45-28 loss at home to Ohio.
The most noteworthy moment in third-year head coach Paul Petrino's 2-22 tenure is a spat with a local reporter during training camp last month, which drew national headlines.
If Idaho is destined for another one-win season, that solitary victory isn't going to come Saturday in the Coliseum. The Vandals first-string would likely be considered a multiple-touchdown underdog against the Trojans' second-and-third-string — which Idaho will see a lot of as is.
Idaho gives USC head coach Steve Sarkisian a prime opportunity to play backups and youngsters, which he did extensively against Arkansas State. In fact, only four teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision played more true freshmen Week 1 than USC's 13.
Pac-12 play begins for USC in Week 3, so the sharper the Trojans can get in all phases before then, the better for them.
Idaho at USC
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: USC -43
Three Things to Watch
The USC roster is the deepest it's been in a few years with NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions lapsed. The full extent of USC's depth should be evident early, as overmatched Idaho presents the ideal situation for playing every player on the depth chart.
The mismatch should also provide a glimpse into USC's future. Expect redshirt sophomore Max Browne to get ample snaps, should Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback Cody Kessler get the hook early, provided the Trojans jump ahead.
2. Turnover Creation
USC excelled in generating turnovers against Arkansas State, coming away with four. Conversely, Idaho was among the nation's most turnover-prone teams in 2014. The Vandals finished the season with 28 giveaways.
They're not off to the best of starts in 2015, either, losing the ball three times against Ohio. Some pressure on quarterback Matt Linehan in the early going should translate into some takeaways and quick points.
3. Special Teams
Sarkisian's evaluation of special teams play was lukewarm after Week 1, particularly kicking and punting. Both were issues for the Trojans in 2014, and 2015 began with a blocked extra point and a few missed opportunities to pin the Red Wolves deep in their own territory.
In a game designed specifically for ironing kinks, improved special teams play should be a point of emphasis Saturday.
Appalachian State-Michigan. Temple-Virginia Tech. There's a reason sizable underdogs take the field in seeming mismatches, and USC's experienced it with its 2007 loss to Stanford.
That said, Saturday's contest against Idaho has huge blowout written all over it.
The flood gates are likely to open on Idaho's turnover-prone offense and porous defense early, giving the Trojans time to fine-tune certain facets of their game in preparation for Stanford's visit to the Coliseum next week.
Prediction: USC 63, Idaho 7
Tennessee and Oklahoma meet in Knoxville on Saturday evening for an intriguing Week 2 non-conference matchup, with this game also serving as a good barometer test for two programs looking to get back on track. Oklahoma was expected to be a playoff contender in 2014, but the Sooners slipped to 8-5. Bob Stoops wasted no time addressing his team's biggest problems, revamping his coaching staff and changing the offensive scheme back to an Air Raid approach. Tennessee is trending in the right direction under coach Butch Jones, and a win against Oklahoma would be another piece the rebuilding puzzle on Rocky Top.
Both teams earned victories in Week 1, but both programs are looking for improvement. Tennessee’s defense struggled against Bowling Green, while Oklahoma’s revamped offense started slow against Akron. While this game doesn’t factor into either team’s conference championship hopes, this is an excellent opportunity for both programs to gauge where they are after two weeks.
Tennessee and Oklahoma have played three previous times, with the Sooners owning a 2-1 edge. Oklahoma won last year’s matchup 34-10 in Norman.
Oklahoma at Tennessee
Kickoff: 6 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Oklahoma -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Tennessee’s Secondary
Tennessee’s secondary was torched in last week’s win over Bowling Green, and this unit will be tested once again. The Volunteers’ defensive backs gave up 433 passing yards and two touchdowns to the Falcons, while allowing five plays of 30 yards or more. This unit has been hit with a few injuries this preseason, but Oklahoma’s passing attack has all of the necessary components to take advantage. New quarterback Baker Mayfield is a good fit in the new Air Raid attack and finished the opener with 388 passing yards and three scores. Receiver Sterling Shepard is one of the best in college football and is a tough one-on-one matchup for the Volunteers. Will cornerback Cam Sutton spend most of his snaps on Shepard? Even if Tennessee finds a way to contain Shepard, the Sooners have other options to target, including Jarvis Baxter (five catches in his first game with the Sooners), Durron Neal, Dede Westbrook and Mark Andrews as key weapons in the passing attack. Additionally, running back Joe Mixon showcased his playmaking ability out of the backfield by catching three balls for 115 yards and a touchdown. Stopping any passing attack has to start in the trenches with a good pass rush. While Tennessee’s secondary doesn’t share the entire blame for last week’s performance, this group has to play better if the Volunteers want to improve to 2-0.
2. Oklahoma’s Defense Against Tennessee’s Rising Stars
The Volunteers have arguably one of the nation’s best trio of rising stars on offense. Joshua Dobbs picked up where he left off in 2014 with a strong performance against Bowling Green, throwing for 205 yards and two scores on 15 completions and rushing for 89 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Running backs Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd each eclipsed 100 yards in last week’s win over the Falcons. This duo will test an Oklahoma front seven that allowed 138 rushing yards to Akron in Week 1. The Sooners have one of the nation’s top linebacking corps, but the line entered the season with a few question marks. Will Oklahoma’s front seven contain the one-two punch of Kamara and Hurd on the ground? And if the Sooners are able to slow the rushing attack, will this secondary limit Dobbs’ through the air? After all, Oklahoma surrendered 24 plays of 30 yards or more last season, and the defensive backs have a lot to prove this fall – especially against a solid group of Tennessee receivers.
3. Oklahoma’s Ground Attack
While most of the attention in Week 1 was devoted to the revamped scheme and quarterback Baker Mayfield, lost in the box score was just 100 yards on 33 rushing attempts against Akron. While the Zips have one of the better front sevens in the MAC, the Sooners need more production from the rushing attack to win in Knoxville. Redshirt freshman Joe Mixon showed his big-play ability with a 76-yard catch and run for a score. In addition to Mixon’s emergence, Oklahoma still has Samaje Perine (only 33 yards in the opener) and Alex Ross (20 yards in Week 1). This is one of the best backfields in the nation, but the Sooners have a young offensive line. Can this group generate a push against the Volunteers’ defensive line? Tennessee defensive tackle Danny O’Brien was suspended indefinitely, but this unit is led by standout end Derek Barnett, with talented freshmen Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie in place as rising stars in the middle.
The Sooners and Volunteers enter this matchup with question marks on both sides of the ball. However, both teams should have a better idea of where they stand after Saturday night’s meeting in Neyland Stadium. Oklahoma’s passing attack should give Tennessee’s secondary trouble, and the backfield should have a better performance than it did in last week’s win over Akron. The Volunteers should be able to move the ball on the Sooners’ defense as well, so this matchup could be a high-scoring affair. The homefield advantage certainly helps Tennessee, and the emerging one-two punch of Hurd and Kamara will be tough for Oklahoma to contain. This one is a tossup, but a slight edge goes to the Sooners.
Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Tennessee 30
If not for a 100-yard kickoff return from Western Michigan and two garbage time touchdowns from Louisville, I would have gone a nice 4-0 last week. But almost doesn't count with your bookie.
This week, the advice is to stay away from the big games. Oklahoma-Tennessee could go over, under, blowout or overtime. Michigan State is the slight favorite and the pick against Oregon, but nothing would surprise in East Lansing. And LSU is capable of doing pretty much anything in Starkville.
Stay away and dig deeper this weekend. I'm taking some road dogs, some big home favorites and an interesting coaching matchup.
Last Week: 2-2
Tulane (+27.5) at Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets are really, really good and run an offense that rarely takes a game off. The defense is improved and Tulane was awful last week at home against Duke — who covered the 7.5-point spread by more than three touchdowns (37-7). Take the Jackets to roll big. Prediction: Georgia Tech -27.5
College Football Podcast: Week 2 Preview
Bowling Green (+8) at Maryland
The Falcons are loaded with veteran players and are coming off a 557-yard, 6.6-yards per play performance against Tennessee. They can score with anyone and should be able to move the ball with the Terps. Many are calling for the outright upset, so eight points seems generous. Prediction: Bowling Green +8
Minnesota (-5) at Colorado State
Mike Bobo's debut at CSU was impressive as the Rams posted 8.7 yards per play and 598 yards in an easy win against lowly Savannah State. This is a totally different defense that the Gophers bring to town. This group is extremely talented on the back end and extremely well coached as it held TCU to just 5.2 yards per play and 23 points in the season opener. Prediction: Minnesota -5
Washington State (-3) at Rutgers
The Knights are dealing with issues off the field but that didn't effect them in the season opener. Washington State already lost to Portland State as a 31-point underdog. Rutgers went out to Seattle and beat a better Wazzu team last year on the road, a win at home could be easy. Prediction: Rutgers -3
East Carolina (-20) at Florida
The Gators topped 60 points and 600 yards in Jim McElwain's debut last weekend. Even if it was against New Mexico State, it was a great sign. This isn't a vintage Pirates team as East Carolina is replacing a ton and struggled to beat Towson 28-20 last weekend. Prediction: Florida -20
North Texas (+5) at SMU
Matt Davis and the Mustangs gave the Baylor Bears a scare in the first half last weekend. Chad Morris will turn the SMU ship around. The native Texan knows how much meetings with in-state foes matter in recruiting. This offense will be clicking against a team that has yet to play a game. Prediction: SMU -5
Kentucky (+8.5) at South Carolina
This is a critical game for Mark Stoops and Kentucky's bowl hopes this fall. The Cats beat the Gamecocks in Lexington last year and, like Bowling Green, many are calling for the upset outright. The South Carolina defense is improved enough to win but the Wildcats should be extremely motivated and capable in this SEC East bout. Prediction: Kentucky +8.5
Usually Jimmy Fallon will do the ridiculing, but it's a new NFL season and he's changing things up a bit.
The "Tonight Show" host had NFL stars read their own superlatives this time. Everyone from Drew Brees to Joe Haden got in on the fun. Most of these are funny because they're pretty true.
The Auburn Tigers earned a season-opening 31-24 win against Louisville in Week 1. The Tigers’ defense looked improved under new coordinator Will Muschamp with two turnovers in the first quarter.
Auburn's rushing attack was as strong as ever with 190 yards and two touchdowns on 41 attempts. In Week 2, the Tigers host Jacksonville State — who went 10-2 (8-0) in 2014 as Ohio Valley Conference champions — in their first game of 2015 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Jacksonville State at Auburn
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: SEC Network
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Jeremy Johnson Bounce Back?
Johnson didn't look like the Heisman candidate many expected in Week 1. Despite recording two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) his three interceptions were the biggest takeaway from his debut as Auburn's starting quarterback. But Johnson's Heisman campaign is far from finished. He has an opportunity to regain his confidence with a big game against an FCS opponent in Week 2. Johnson should find an early rhythm Saturday with one of the SEC's top wide receiver groups facing a favorable matchup.
2. Is Peyton Barber the Feature Back?
When Cameron Artis-Payne — the SEC's leading rusher — departed, the focus was on former four-star prospect Roc Thomas and top JUCO transfer Jovon Robinson to take over as the team's feature back. Instead, it was Barber who saw the majority of carries in Auburn's 2015 debut. Barber rushed for 115 yards on 24 attempts. Both Thomas and Robinson left the games with injuries, which offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee told Al.com were "nothing major." Still, it will be interesting to see if Barber remains the primary back once both players are at 100 percent based on his strong debut performance.
3. Muschamp's Defense
Much of Auburn's preseason hype was due to the hiring of Muschamp as defensive coordinator. Muschamp-coached teams ranked in the top 10 in the FBS each year since 2009. Auburn hasn't finished higher than No. 60 in the past six seasons, which includes two teams (2010, ‘13) that either made it to or won the BCS title game. Still, many expected big things with the former Florida coach inheriting a defense that includes veteran linebackers Cassanova McKinzy, Kris Frost and potential All-SEC pass rusher Carl Lawson. The defense did look impressive with two first quarter turnovers — a 35-yard interception by Tray Matthews that set up Auburn's first score and an 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Justin Garrett. Muschamp's group should continue its success against a capable, yet still overmatched FCS opponent.
Auburn enjoys a dominant win in Week 2. Saturday's matchup provides the Tigers with a tune-up game they lacked by facing a Louisville team that finished 2014 ranked 24th in country. Auburn needs this matchup to boost its confidence — specifically Johnson after a disappointing debut — before the difficult task of facing LSU in Death Valley next Saturday.
Prediction: Auburn 42, Jacksonville State 3
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.
Both teams started the season with impressive wins last week beating their opponents by a combined score of 122-24.
Baylor's defense showed some weaknesses in the first half against SMU before shutting them down in the third and fourth quarters. Any of those weaknesses will probably disappear as Baylor returns both Shawn Oakman and Orion Stewart from suspension. Lamar was able to score at will against an undermanned Bacone College.
Unfortunately recent history has not fared well for Lamar against Power 5 Conference opponents and Baylor is just about as tough of an opponent as they could schedule.
Lamar at Baylor
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Fox Sports Net
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Shawn Oakman’s return matter?
Baylor’s All-American defensive end was suspended last week for unspecified violation of team rules. The Bears gave up 369 yards to SMU last weekend including 203 on the ground. The return of Oakman will inevitably mean that total will fall drastically.
The question is, will the return of Oakman and safety Stewart really matter against a Cardinal team that is simply outmatched?
2. Lamar offense
While Bacone College wouldn’t be a match for many, Lamar still showed some impressive offensive ability. The Cardinals ran the ball by committee against Bacone to the tune of 264 yards. Lamar quarterback Joe Minden added another 170 yards passing including three touchdown passes.
Lamar has a good offense. Is it good enough to stay with the Bears? That is highly doubtful. However, Cardinal fans could see glimpses of hope.
3. Will Baylor take their foot off the pedal?
This is the million dollar question. Baylor is still facing ridicule for their weak non-conference schedule. The only way left to rectify this is to defeat these teams in a fashion to leave no doubt the Bears are a far superior team.
This is an unfortunate circumstance for Lamar who happens to be in the crosshairs of a potent offense and shutout defense. If Baylor coach Art Briles feels he needs to silence the critics and ensure these games against lesser opponents do not harm them in the future he may unleash the dogs.
While Baylor may allow Lamar to score late this game will be out of hand by the end of the first half. Don’t expect to see many starters in the second half of this game unless Baylor head coach Art Briles feels he needs to make a statement. If that happens this could be an embarrassment that could leave hard feelings for some time to come.
Prediction: Baylor 64, Lamar 7
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
Last weekend, both the East Carolina Pirates and the Florida Gators had successful debuts to their 2015 season. The Pirates edged out the Towson Tigers 28-20 behind 154 yards and four rushing touchdowns by Chris Hairston. Florida had an easier time against the New Mexico State Aggies, cruising to a 61-13 win in head coach Jim McElwain’s first game as the Gators' head coach.
This will be the third meeting between East Carolina and Florida and the second this calendar year. In January, the Gators used a late turnover by Vernon Hargreaves III to secure a 28-20 victory in the Birmingham Bowl.
East Carolina at Florida
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Florida -13
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Grier and Treon Harris
In Week 1, Harris got the start against New Mexico State. This week, McElwain announced on Thursday that redshirt freshman Grier will start against East Carolina.
Both Harris and Grier saw extensive playing time against the Aggies last week and both quarterbacks could not have played any better. Harris started the game and ended up 14-for-19 passing for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Grier also had an impressive night as he was 15-of-17 for 164 yards and accounted for three scores.
"I thought both quarterbacks had moments that were really good," McElwain said in his press conference on Monday. “I thought Treon showed some escape-ability and created big plays down the field and extended plays. I think that's a real positive. I thought what Will did was come in with that two-minute drive right there before half, which actually was really big, and what I mean by that is we gave up a score and we answered. And what that shows me is a little bit of resolve.”
Even with Grier starting the game against the Pirates, McElwain said the team will use a similar rotation as they did last week. Against the Aggies, Harris played the first three series of the game before Grier came in.
2. Blake Kemp
The plan for East Carolina heading into the season was for Kurt Benkert to be the team’s starting quarterback. But that was before he suffered a season-ending knee injury a week before the opener against Towson. Head coach Ruffin McNeill then named junior college transfer Blake Kemp as the team’s starting quarterback
Kemp had an efficient game against Towson as he completed 29 of 37 passes for 239 yards. While he didn’t throw a touchdown, he also didn’t turn the ball over. This week, the Pirates will be lining up against one of the most talented defenses in the nation.
Last season, the Gators gave up 116.2 yards rushing per game, which was the 13th best in the nation. East Carolina ran the ball to a lot to take pressure off of Kemp, but the Pirates will have put the ball in the air if they are going to pull off the upset on the road.
3. Return of Alex McCalister and Marcus Maye
In their season-opening win against New Mexico State, the Gators were without their starting safety and arguably their best pass rusher. Both safety Marcus Maye and defensive end Alex McCalister were suspended because of an undisclosed violation of team rules. Getting both players back should make things that much tougher on East Carolina's offense.
In 2014, Maye started nine games, finishing third on the team in tackles with 62. McCalister recorded six sacks in 2014, which was second on the team only to Dante Fowler Jr. who was the third overall pick in the most recent NFL Draft.
Towson put up 416 yards of total offense against East Carolina last week. The Pirates will face a much bigger challenge against the QB combination of Harris and Grier running the spread offense. Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell and the rest of the Gators' pass catchers could have big games against a questionable East Carolina secondary.
With a young quarterback and inexperienced players at the skill position, it is going to be difficult for East Carolina to go into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and come out with a victory. Hairston was a primary reason for the Pirates' eight-point victory last week, but the Gators are going to force Kemp to beat them with his arm.
Florida’s secondary with Hargreaves, Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson are as talented as defensive backfields come. That along with the Gators' deep defensive line should be one of the major differences in the game.
Prediction: Florida 48, East Carolina 21
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
When Kentucky (1-0) travels to South Carolina (1-0) the very identities of the two teams’ seasons are at stake. The winner will likely be in position for at least a minor bowl game and perhaps dark horse contender status in the SEC East. The loser is probably going to be perceived as the sixth-best team in the division, ahead of only Vanderbilt.
Traditionally this is a slot Kentucky is familiar with, but the Wildcats enjoyed a 45-38 victory against the Gamecocks last season and even defeated South Carolina during the Gamecocks’ only divisional winning season, 2010.
The Wildcats have not, however, won a conference game on the road since 2010.
Kentucky at South Carolina
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBSC, Direct TV 221
Spread: South Carolina – 7 1/2, O/U 55.5
Things to watch
1. Connor Mitch and the South Carolina quarterback situation
Mitch was just 9-of-22 for 122 yards in his first Gamecocks start last week, though he did not throw an interception. But North Carolina’s defense was porous last year and Kentucky’s doesn’t figure to be a whole lot better, having blown a 23-point lead to Louisiana-Lafayette last week.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier traditionally has yanked his quarterbacks on a frequent basis and did play Perry Orth long enough for him to throw two passes, both completions, against the Tar Heels. If Mitch doesn’t improve fast we’ll likely see the same kind of quarterback juggling from Spurrier that was a staple of his coaching before the Connor Shaw era.
One thing is for certain, Pharoh Cooper must catch more than three passes a game this season for the Gamecocks to be a factor the SEC in 2015.
2. Is Kentucky really improved?
Wildcats fans have been circling this game as a victory for some time, but the offense that was supposed to be on the field for 85 plays a game only made it to 60 and had just 22:55 of possession time against the Ragin Cajuns. Kentucky was outgained 479-435 from a team from the Sun Belt Conference.
Offenses like the one Kentucky wishes to play often have difficultly protecting leads. Running Stanley "Boom Williams" ran for 135 yards on 10 total carries, with only two of those coming after Kentucky took a 33-10 lead late in the third quarter. He didn't get another attempt even when the Wildcats were protecting their lead late in the game.
Then again, there is the school of thought Kentucky kept things under wraps against a weaker opponent in the hopes of not showcasing secrets once SEC play began. Freshman tight end C.J. Conrad didn’t catch a pass. Kentucky didn’t play their Wildcat offense (how inappropriate!). And quarterback Patrick Towles threw three touchdowns and for more than 300 yards, while showing some ability to succeed in the clutch by completing a 12-yard pass on 3rd-and-3 from his own 39 in the game-winning touchdown drive before recovering his own fumble and picking up the first down on a sneak from midfield on the following play.
Still, it took two major penalties for 25 yards on Louisiana-Lafayette for the Wildcats to score on their 58-yard victory drive with four and a half minutes remaining. Kentucky allowed 247 yards on the ground to a team without a scrambling quarterback, whereas South Carolina gained 254 yards and had a third-string back score the winning touchdown on a 48-yard run in the fourth quarter.
3. South Carolina’s secondary against Kentucky’s fine receivers
There are two ways to look at the Gamecocks' defensive effort against North Carolina.
They had a clutch performance with three interceptions and four sacks, holding a high-scoring team to just 13 points and allowed only 232 yards through the air.
They were lucky and were outgained in the game.
The thought here is the former. Mitch’s inconsistency was the reason the Gamecocks were outgained, and the defense, led by linebacker Shai Moore’s 11 tackles and two interceptions, made enough splash plays to throw UNC off balance for the majority of the game.
But Kentucky had six receivers average more than 11 yards a catch against Louisiana-Lafayette, led by Garrett Johnson, who had five catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. A strong pass rush can be overcome with quick drops and a strong running game, and if Kentucky takes a significant lead early on there is the question if Mitch is capable of leading the Gamecocks back from a two-touchdown deficit once defenses can focus on Cooper.
South Carolina had a more impressive victory against a stronger team in its opener, was projected as a better team at the start of the season, and hasn’t lost at home to the Wildcats in this century. Picking Kentucky is just a little more out-of-the-box than practical.
Prediction: South Carolina 31, Kentucky 24
— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson began contributing to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000. He has covered the Steelers, Pitt Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.
Oregon and Michigan State meet on Saturday night in one of college football’s most anticipated non-conference matchups of 2015. The Ducks and Spartans played last season in Eugene, with Oregon rallying from a 24-18 halftime deficit to win 46-27. The scene shifts to East Lansing this year, and both teams will look a little different at kickoff on Saturday night.
Oregon lost quarterback Marcus Mariota to the NFL, and the Ducks have a few new faces stepping into the lineup on the defensive side. Michigan State’s offense returned mostly intact, starting with quarterback Connor Cook and a stout offensive line. The defense suffered the biggest losses, as coordinator Pat Narduzzi left to be the head coach at Pittsburgh, and the secondary lost standout cornerback Trae Waynes and safety Kurtis Drummond.
While there’s plenty of time for playoff positioning, this game is critical in bolstering the resume for both teams. A loss certainly doesn’t end either Oregon or Michigan State’s playoff hopes, but a win could be a huge addition to the resume or serve as a potential tiebreaker for rankings in early December.
This will be the sixth all-time matchup between Michigan State and Oregon. The Ducks have a 3-2 edge in the series.
Oregon at Michigan State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan State -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Vernon Adams vs. Michigan State’s Defense
Vernon Adams inherited big shoes to fill when he transferred to Oregon from Eastern Washington to replace Marcus Mariota. And the pressure on the senior only increased after a late arrival to Eugene after finishing his last class in August. While there’s a significant difference between FCS defenses and Michigan State’s unit, Adams showcased his talent in last week’s win over the Eagles. The senior completed 19 of 25 passes for 246 yards and two scores and added 94 yards on the ground. However, the real test begins on Saturday night. Adams is taking on a Michigan State defense that surrendered 365 passing yards in the opener against Western Michigan, but this unit has ranked among the best in the nation in recent years. The Spartans have one of the best defensive lines in college football, headlined by end Shilique Calhoun and rising star tackle Malik McDowell. Oregon hopes to counter the strength in the trenches with Adams’ mobility and utilizing the playmakers in space. If Adams and a loaded Ducks’ receiving corps finds its rhythm early, that’s a bad sign for a Michigan State secondary after it allowed five passing plays of 20 yards or more against Western Michigan last Friday. Will Adams pass his first test? Or will the Spartans control the line of scrimmage and prevent the senior from making big plays downfield? Keep an eye on how much Adams uses his mobility early.
2. Connor Cook vs. Oregon’s Secondary
Oregon will land its share of big plays in the passing game, but the Ducks won’t win in East Lansing if the defense doesn’t play better than it did last week against Eastern Washington. Although the Eagles have a dynamic offense, Oregon’s pass defense was gashed for 438 yards and five scores and allowed four plays of 30 yards or more. Will the Ducks tighten their coverage this week? Michigan State senior quarterback Connor Cook is one of the nation’s best, but he misfired a few times in last Friday’s win over Western Michigan. Cook completed 15 of 31 passes for 256 yards and two scores. Contributing to Cook’s misfires in the opener is a receiving corps that had to replace two of its top targets from last season. The Spartans aren’t short on playmakers, as Aaron Burbridge, DeAnthony Arnett and Macgarrett Kings Jr. and tight end Josiah Price are talented options for Cook. Considering Oregon’s struggles against the pass last week, will the Ducks try to generate more pressure on Cook? That’s another challenging task against one of the best offensive lines in college football. Oregon may have to bend and give up its share of yards, while limiting Michigan State’s points in the redzone.
3. The Other Playmakers
Both teams are loaded with playmakers outside of the quarterback position. Who steps up on Saturday night? While Adams and Cook will carry the offenses, keep an eye on the x-factors in this game. Oregon running back Royce Freeman posted 180 yards and three scores against Eastern Washington last Saturday. However, running room could be limited against Michigan State’s rugged front seven. If Freeman has success early, that’s a good sign for Oregon’s offense. And the Ducks are loaded with options at receiver, including Bralon Addison (three catches in his return from ACL surgery), Dwayne Stanford and Byron Marshall. The Spartans had to replace running back Jeremy Langford this offseason, but the rushing attack hasn’t missed a beat. LJ Scott led the team with 77 yards in the opener, while Madre London and Gerald Holmes each recorded at least 50 yards. All of the attention will be on Cook and Adams, but the other playmakers will factor prominently into the outcome of this top 10 matchup.
Both offenses – especially the quarterbacks – will land their share of big plays in this game. Oregon’s secondary is a major concern after last week’s performance against Eastern Washington, and Michigan State features a balanced attack to keep the Ducks from focusing too much on the pass. A road start in East Lansing is a huge opportunity for Adams to showcase his talent on the national stage. The senior is a dynamic playmaker and should have his share of big plays against a revamped Michigan State secondary. However, this will be the best defense he has played in his collegiate career. The Spartans’ advantage in the trenches shows in the second half, as the Michigan State’s offense establishes the run and keeps Oregon’s offense on the sidelines. And the depth on the defensive line slows Adams just enough for the Spartans to get revenge for last year’s loss.
Prediction: Michigan State 38, Oregon 30
When Ball State takes the field against Texas A&M on Saturday, the pairing will not quite be David vs. Goliath but an upset would be hard for SEC lovers and Aggie fans to comprehend.
Texas A&M opened the season with an impressive 38-17 win over Pac-12 powerhouse Arizona State. The Sun Devils had trouble moving the ball on offense being held to 291 yards. ASU also had trouble stopping the Aggies on defense allowing 425 yards. The victory was a big win for the Aggies and the SEC against the Pac-12.
Ball State slipped past Virginia Military Institute in Week 1 winning 48-36. The Cardinals got a school-record four touchdowns out of Darian Green with three on the ground and one in the air. In total, Green had 73 yards rushing and 74 yards receiving providing the bulk of the offense.
Ball State at Texas A&M
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas A&M -30
Three Things to Watch
1. Ball State’s passing attack vs. Texas A&M’s defense
When Ball State reviewed the tape on the Aggies’ dismantling of Arizona State, one can safely assume there were very few smiling faces coming out of the film session other than a few rah-rah guys hooting and hollering. New A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis has made an instant impact, which should frighten not only the Cardinals but also the rest of the SEC. The No. 15-ranked Sun Devils were held to 291 yards of offense with just 92 on the ground and 199 in the air.
Ball State quarterback Jack Milas had a career-game in Week 1 against VMI passing for 338 yards on 34-of-52 attempts. Mike Bercovici was sacked nine times against the Aggies. Milas will have to have another career day if an upset is in the making.
2. Texas A&M’s rushing offense vs. Ball State’s rush defense
Being nitpicky, A&M had 425 yards of total offense against a Top 25 non-conference opponent in the season opener. Hard to be too critical but there is always room for improvement starting with the run game. The Aggies had 178 yards on the ground but the stat total is deceiving. Tra Carson had a nice stat line: 96 yards rushing with one touchdown. Reality is it took 29 carries to get to 96 and he still did not top 100 yards rushing. What will happen against SEC defenses?
The other problem is Kyler Murray was the second-leading rusher with 69 yards on six carries. On the surface this is fine but ideally offensive coordinator Jake Spavital would like to protect his quarterbacks from taking shots down field. James white had two carries for 12 yards in a backup tailback role. Someone has to emerge as a reliable back for 10-12 carries a game throughout the season or the Aggies offense, although dynamic, will stay one-dimensional making life slightly easier for SEC defensive coordinators in 2015 when playing A&M.
3. A&M’s offense vs. A&M’s offense
Ball security was a problem for the Aggies giving the pigskin back to ASU three times. Kyle Allen got a second half benching after losing a fumble and tossing a pick before being put back into the game late in the second half. Holding onto the ball and making smart decisions within the offense should be a fixture of head coach Kevin Sumlin’s crew on Saturday.
Let’s be honest, A&M now has two games to tinker with its lineup (Game 3 vs. Nevada), which will include alternating sophomore Allen and freshman Murray under center. The 12th Man might be excited to see what the freshman brings to the table but too much playing around with the offense could upend any balance or team support for Allen going forward or Murray going forward.
Aggie fans have to hope Sumlin picks one quarterback, letting said player gel with the first-team and then let the backup gel with whoever is left on the field in mop-up duty against the Cardinals and next week versus Nevada. The bigger emphasis should be on establishing a consistent running attack. Chavis will have the defense ready.
Prediction: Texas A&M 56, Ball State 17
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Saturday's matchup in Reno, Nevada, is the third between the two teams since December 2012. Arizona won both by a combined eight points, holding off Nevada last year in Tucson, 35-28, in a competitive, if not forgettable meeting. The 2012 encounter in the New Mexico Bowl, however, was anything but forgettable.
Just ask Nevada defensive end Lenny Jones. Jones was there for Arizona's raucous rally, which included a 21-point tear in the first half, and 14 points in the final 1:44 to complete the comeback.
Jones said Sept. 12 had the proverbial red circle on Nevada's calendar after the last couple near-misses.
Arizona endured a sluggish start to 2015, escaping 42-32 against UTSA. A similarly ploddingly effort Saturday against a motivated Nevada bunch ensures the Wildcats a loss. The Wildcats are also dealing with enough injuries to prompt head coach Rich Rodriguez to call his roster "a M*A*S*H unit."
A loss to the Wolf Pack would have the Wildcats hurting even more.
Arizona at Nevada
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Nevada +11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. No Star Scooby
Arizona lost Heisman Trophy-contending linebacker Scooby Wright very early into Thursday's win over UTSA. An Arizona defense with no star Scoob was quite a bit more vulnerable than one with @TwoStarScoob. The Wildcats surrendered more than 500 yards to the Roadrunners and allowed UTSA repeated scores to remain within striking distance.
With Wright out of the lineup for roughly a month, Arizona must find a way to compensate. Saturday, that means finding a way to slow Nevada's dangerous rushing attack. Head coach Brian Polian maintained the Pistol formation predecessor Chris Ault ran. Last year, it produced a robust 205.5 rushing yards per game, and a remarkable 6 yards per carry in the Wolf Pack's Week 1 win over UC Davis.
2. Establish The Run Early
Perhaps more shocking than Arizona's defensive struggles against UTSA was the Wildcats' inability to establish a consistent run early, which contributed to the Roadrunners' second-quarter rally.
The Wildcats finished the night with 163 yards, but were mustering just 2.7 yards per carry through the first two quarters. Sophomore Nick Wilson's first-half fumble relegated him to the sidelines for a spell, and veteran Jared Baker saw more touches.
Arizona needs Wilson to pull a loaded Nevada front back and give quarterback Anu Solomon room to operate. That means break off gains early and holding onto the ball.
3. Starting (and Staying) Fast
Arizona jumped to a 14-0 lead against UTSA, but had opportunities to slam the door on the Roadrunners. Its inability to do so kept UTSA around for the duration of Week 1.
Nevada's not a team Arizona can afford to let hang around. The Wolf Pack are talented on both sides of the ball and able to take advantage of mistakes. And Arizona definitely cannot afford to test the odds by attempting another multiple-score rally.
With its effective run game and quality defensive front, Nevada can take the air out of the ball should it build a lead. That's exactly what it did the last time a Pac-12 team visited Reno, jumping to a two-score lead on Washington State early and going on to beat the Cougars 24-13 last September.
Losing Wright dealt Arizona's defense a major blow that won't be easily remedied. Nevada has the scheme and personnel to exploit a Wildcats unit missing its leading tackler, so don't be surprised if the Wolf Pack rack up plenty of rushing yards.
Conversely, Arizona is well-equipped to attack a Nevada secondary that's still a question mark. The Wolf Pack have a solid front seven, particularly on the line with Jones, Rykeem Yates and Ian Seau. However, Nevada allowed UC Davis to complete 68 percent of its pass attempts Saturday.
Unless the front seven can generate consistent pressure on Solomon, the Arizona quarterback will rack up big yards. The Wildcat receiving corps poses several mismatches, and Solomon showed an improved ability to spread the ball around last week with completions to seven targets.
Solomon will again lead the Wildcats to a win, but like past installments in this series, it won't come without a difficult fight.
Prediction: Arizona 38, Nevada 31
While Pitt won, beating an FCS opponent, even a good one like Youngstown State, by only eight points wasn’t what the Panthers had in mind in way of style points. Worse, they lost running back James Conner, one of the best running backs in all of college football, for the season with a knee injury.
Akron, meanwhile, was routed by Oklahoma, 41-3. While few would have predicted a victory against the 19th-ranked Sooners, the Zips were just 8-of-25 through the air and probably kept the score down with 44 rushing attempts, including 11 of 14 plays in the fourth quarter when the game was decided.
Surprisingly, even though Akron is only 110 miles from Pittsburgh and both programs started playing football in the 1890s, the Panthers and Zips have only met three times prior to this game, most memorably Akron’s 21-10 victory last season at Heinz Field.
This is the first time the Zips have hosted Pitt.
Pittsburgh at Akron
Kickoff: 6 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN3
Spread: Pitt -13, O/U 49
Three Things to Watch
1. How will Pitt handle the Conner absence?
To many onlookers, the Panthers went from being a dark horse in the Atlantic Coast Conference race to a question mark to even make a bowl game with the loss of Conner, who rushed for more than 1,700 yards and set a Pitt record with 26 rushing touchdowns last season.
Still, despite the injuries to Conner and his top backup, Chris James, freshman Qadree Ollison rushed for more than 200 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown run, and carried a Panthers offense that often struggled through the air to three second half touchdowns.
James, who rushed for more than 400 yards as Conner’s backup last season, is expected to return on Saturday, though Ollison will start after his impressive debut. Former four-star running back Jameel Poteat was moved from linebacker to the backfield this week by Pitt head coach Pat Nardozzi, though bruising freshman Darrin Hall will likely get playing time ahead of Poteat.
The thing that will likely help Pitt’s running game the most, however, is the return of wide receiver Tyler Boyd after a one-game suspension for an offseason DUI. Boyd caught 78 passes last year for a team that could not find a single receiver in their 45-37 victory against Youngstown State more than twice.
2. Who will play quarterback for the Zips?
The Akron signal callers were dreadful last Saturday. Former Pitt Panther Tra’Von Chapman started against Oklahoma and rushed for a team-high 48 yards but failed to complete any of his eight passes, while Kyle Pohl was just 6 for 17 with 88 passing yards.
Zips head coach Terry Bowden even hinted if this trend continues, third-stringer Thomas Woodson could take over.
The top Akron receiver is a familiar name for Pitt fans — Jerome Lane Jr., the son of the former Panthers basketball star best known for demolishing a backboard on a dunk in the late 1980s. He switched from safety to become Akron’s leading receiver against the Sooners, catching three passes, including one for 42 yards.
3. What will the attendance be?
Last year the Zips finished dead last in Division I FBS football attendance, drawing just 9,170 fans a game. In 2012 Akron drew just 9,200 fans a season, and in 2010 the figure hovered just above 10,000.
Nobody is expecting the Zips to outdraw Ohio State, but in theory if this continues at InfoCision Stadium-Summa Field, Akron could be kicked out of the ranks of FBS if they do not draw more than 15,000 fans per game this season.
It’s unlikely the Mid-American Conference would allow that to happen, but this game presents an opportunity for Pitt fans to have an impact much the same way Steelers fans often do on the road. Panthers fans have often been criticized for showing up in less-than-impressive numbers, so this game may actually present something of a welcome switch for both teams with more than 20,000 advance tickets sold.
Last year Akron running back Conor Hundley rushed for 148 yards on just 19 carries to lead the Zips to their upset of Pitt. He was limited to less than 40 yards against Oklahoma last week.
Many fans were upset the Pitt defense allowed 30 points against YSU (the Penguins scored one touchdown on an interception return). Judge the improvement of Nardozzi’s defense by what Hundley does in this game.
Prediction: Pitt 31, Akron 17
— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.
Week 1 in college football usually doesn’t mean much when it comes to a team’s chances of ultimate success down the road (well, maybe for Stanford).
The Big Ten took some lumps, but also shined in the spotlight. It’s time to run down the this week's tilts to find out which non-conference games the league must wrap up and those it can afford to take the hit on losing.
Related: Big Ten Week 2 Predictions
Oregon State vs. Michigan — After Jim Harbaugh dropped his first game to the Utes, the conference needs the Killer Khakis to get that first win. Knocking off a 1-0 Oregon State team isn’t uber-impressive, but it’s a start.
Miami (Ohio) vs. Wisconsin — Nobody should shame the Badgers too badly for losing to Alabama. That said, they need to rebound against a RedHawks squad that shouldn’t be too much trouble to even up their overall record.
Hawaii vs. Ohio State — Because the Buckeyes are the conference’s best team. That’s really all I’ve got.
South Alabama vs. Nebraska — The Hail Mary loss to the Cougars was rough, but like Michigan and Wisconsin, the Huskers need a 1-1 record after Week 2. This game gives the Big Red a chance to work on what didn’t go right versus BYU, too.
It Would Be Nice
Oregon vs. Michigan State — Maybe the East Lansing crowd will help, but Mark Dantonio is going to have to come up with a doozy of a game plan to stop the Ducks. If MSU topples Pac-12 royalty, it’ll definitely be cause for celebration.
Iowa vs. Iowa State — A yearly treat, the CyHawk trophy is on the line in a game that could be won or lost using a 20-sided die. A victory would give the Hawkeyes badly-needed momentum heading into their game versus Pittsburgh.
Eastern Illinois vs. Northwestern — With the upset over Stanford, the Big Ten West suddenly looks like a competitive division and the Wildcats need to keep it that way. Considering the game is in Evanston and the Panthers were knocked around by Western Illinois to the tune of 33-5, the Big Ten Upset Special may very well sit at 2-0.
Minnesota vs. Colorado State — Goldy and the Gophers let an opportunity to knock off the No. 2 team in the country slip away. They travel to Fort Collins with a chance for redemption and, like the Wildcats, to show that the West division isn’t a one or two-horse race.
Buffalo vs. Penn State — Because you, Penn State, have to atone for your quarterback getting sacked on a two man rush. That’s why.
Bowling Green vs. Maryland — The Terrapins knocked out Richmond in easy fashion, but they welcome a salty South Florida squad in Week 3. Bowling Green doesn't play patty cake, so knocking off the Falcons would do the Terps well.
More or Less
Washington State vs. Rutgers — Regardless of the game’s outcome, the headline will be about Mike Leach. It may as well be in the Scarlet Knights’ favor.
FIU vs. Indiana — If the Hoosiers can knock off a squad of Golden Panthers that took down UCF, the momentum would greatly help them going into their game with Western Kentucky. However, Indiana is not UCF.
Indiana State vs. Purdue — Because the Boilermakers have to play Virginia Tech next week and can’t they have something nice just once?
Western Illinois vs. Illinois — The Illini slaughtered Kent State after the game was originally postponed and have an upcoming game against North Carolina. If you want to use this as a tune-up game that no one saw, Illini, do your thing.
Being part of the opening Thursday night game of the FBS season gives you two extra days to think about the result. For North Carolina, that was not a good thing.
The Tar Heels not only lost that game to South Carolina 17-13, they also failed to punch in a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter after a first-and-goal at the Gamecocks' 9-yard line. Questions about head coach Larry Fedora’s decision-making in that sequence ensued and Tar Heel fans were left wondering what could have been.
It is time to move on and the Heels must put things together before conference play begins. UNC comes back to Chapel Hill for a date with nearby North Carolina A&T. The Aggies started their season in a big way, smashing Division II Shaw University 61-7.
North Carolina A&T at North Carolina
Kickoff: 6 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN3
Three Things To Watch
After such a deflating loss, it will be interesting to see how motivated the Tar Heels are in week two. It would actually be surprising if, after stewing on that loss for nine days, UNC doesn’t come out of the tunnel with their hair on fire. The question is, will the same desire be there five minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes into the game? Playing an FCS team certainly won’t help.
2. How Elijah Hood is Used
After the game, one of the main criticisms of Fedora was his use of the sophomore running back. With 138 yards on just 13 carries, many (including David Pollack, the ESPN analyst covering the game) were wondering why Hood didn’t get more touches. During the entire set of downs following the first and goal at the nine, Hood was on the bench, prompting an entirely new set of questions. Will Fedora lean on Hood more? Or will he be more focused on…
3. Getting Quarterback Marquise Williams Back on Track
19 of 32 for 232 yards and a touchdown are not bad. Three picks are not good. Three picks inside the opposing 25-yard line, with two in the end zone, are downright awful. Of all the players on the North Carolina team, Williams is the main one that has to get his mojo back. He plays the most important position and is a much better player than he showed last Thursday.
North Carolina A&T was a 9-3 team last year and should be a MEAC contender. They have Tarik Cohen, one of the best running backs on the FCS level. But if they see a North Carolina team that is angry and eager to prove that last week was a mistake, it will be a long day for the Aggies. If they see a Tar Heels team that is down in the dumps and still feeling sorry after failing to complete the deal against South Carolina, A&T might be able to hang around for a while. I’m guessing a mad UNC emerges at Kenan Stadium and wins easily.
Prediction: North Carolina 41, North Carolina A&T 13
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.