By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 2
1. It’s only Week 2 of the college football season, but the South Carolina-Georgia matchup could go a long way toward deciding the SEC East title. Florida will have something to say too, but this matchup is critical for both teams. The Gamecocks have the edge in playmakers, but this game will be won or lost in the trenches. Georgia’s offensive line gave up six sacks in the opener against Boise State, while the Gamecocks have one of the best defensive lines in the nation. The Bulldogs have to protect quarterback Aaron Murray if they want to have any shot at winning this game.
2. Utah opens up Pac-12 play with a matchup at USC. The Utes beat Montana State in the opener, but it was far from an impressive performance. Quarterback Jordan Wynn is returning from offseason shoulder surgery and threw for only 101 yards and two scores. The Utes need a better performance from Wynn against USC to win their Pac-12 opener. Four new starters have stepped into the Utah secondary, which figures to be under attack from USC quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods.
3. Much of the intrigue for the season opener between Alabama and Penn State centered on the quarterback position. After one week, not much has changed. Things seem to be more clear at Alabama, where AJ McCarron outperformed Phillip Sims against Kent State last Saturday. McCarron completed 14 of 23 passes for 226 yards one touchdown and two interceptions, while Sims went 7 of 14 for 73 yards and two picks. The Nittany Lions have more uncertainty about their quarterbacks, as Rob Bolden started, but completed 6 of 12 for only 37 yards. Matt McGloin fared a little better, completing 6 of 8 passes for 77 yards. Alabama has a huge edge in the trenches, and unless Penn State can get consistent quarterback play from Bolden or McGloin, the Crimson Tide will win easily.
4. A new era began at West Virginia and Pittsburgh last week with mixed results. New Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham promised a high-octane offense, but as last week’s game against Buffalo showed, it’s going to take some time to work out the kinks. West Virginia managed 34 points, but struggled to establish a rushing attack and to protect Geno Smith in the pocket. Both teams will get better as the year goes along and should have an offensive display on Saturday, as Pittsburgh takes on Maine, while West Virginia hosts Norfolk State.
5. A team that stood out to me from Week 1 was California. New quarterback Zach Maynard threw for 266 yards and two scores, while adding 52 yards on the ground. The Buffalo transfer needs to improve his accuracy (16 of 35), but could provide coach Jeff Tedford with the missing piece on offense. California has had some solid rushing attacks over the last couple of seasons, but has struggled to get consistent play from its quarterbacks. Maynard will face Colorado this Saturday in a game that is crucial for both teams. The Buffaloes are trying to build some momentum under new coach Jon Embree, while the Golden Bears want to see Maynard continue to get better and get California off to a 2-0 start.
6. After last week’s defensive disaster, you can bet there were some long nights at the office for TCU coach Gary Patterson. The Horned Frogs allowed 564 yards and 50 points to Baylor – a far cry from finishing No. 1 in the nation in total and scoring defense last season. This Saturday presents a different challenge for Patterson and his defense, as they try to stop Air Force’s option attack. The Falcons were held in check in last season’s matchup against TCU, rushing for only 184 yards and managing seven points. Patterson will have this defense playing better, but preparing for Air Force’s option attack is a difficult task. An 0-2 start for TCU isn’t out of the question.
7. Saturday night’s matchup between Notre Dame and Michigan will be the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium. But that’s not the only interesting storyline surrounding this game. The Fighting Irish look to bounce back after a disappointing Week 1 loss, outgaining South Florida 508 to 254. So far, so good for Brady Hoke at Michigan. In Hoke's first game as Michigan's head coach, the Wolverines got off to a good start, defeating Western Michigan 34-10. The Wolverines showed improvement on defense against the Broncos, but will that continue against Notre Dame’s offense? Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson torched the Irish for 502 yards last season, but Notre Dame’s defense is a much-improved group since that game. With all of the offensive playmakers on the field, this matchup will likely come down to whichever defense makes the most plays.
8. Considering the rumors surrounding the future of the Big 12 and potential expansion, maybe BYU-Texas will be a conference game in the future. For now, it’s a non-conference matchup between two teams looking to get off to a 2-0 start. BYU knocked off Ole Miss last week, while Texas handled Rice 34-9. Could this game mean more to Texas? Sure, this isn’t a Big 12 game or a matchup against Oklahoma, but BYU will provide a better gauge for how much the Longhorns have improved since last season. Is Garrett Gilbert an improved passer? BYU’s defense held Ole Miss to 208 yards last week, so the Longhorns’ offense won’t have an easy task on Saturday night.
9. Auburn needed a last-minute rally to defeat Utah State last Saturday and the schedule won’t get any easier this week. The Tigers host Mississippi State, who beat Memphis 59-14 in Week 1 and is a team on the rise under third-year coach Dan Mullen. The Bulldogs have to be licking their chops for an opportunity to face Auburn’s rush defense, especially after allowing 227 yards to the Aggies last week. Quarterback Chris Relf continues to improve as a passer, while the one-two punch of Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins at running back is an underrated duo in the SEC. If the Tigers don’t show any improvement on defense, it could be a long day for the defending national champs.
10. The Rutgers-North Carolina matchup is off the national radar, but is one to keep an eye on. The Scarlet Knights gave up 61 sacks last year, but did not allow one in the opener against North Carolina Central. However, that group has a bigger test ahead of it on Saturday, as it takes on one of the top 10 defensive lines in college football. Ends Quinton Coples and Donte Paige-Moss and tackle Tydreke Powell will likely be in high demand from the NFL at the end of the year. If the Scarlet Knights can go on the road and beat the Tar Heels, it will be a huge win for coach Greg Schiano, while giving this team the confidence to contend for a finish in the top half of the Big East.
Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 2 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.
Arizona State 27, Missouri 24
Notre Dame 34, Michigan 27
Alabama 31, Penn State 13
Georgia 20, South Carolina 17
Iowa 27, Iowa State 17
North Carolina 27, Rutgers 13
USC 31, Utah 24
Texas 27, BYU 20
TCU 27, Air Force 24
Mississippi State 34, Auburn 27
Tennessee 31, Cincinnati 27
Virginia Tech 45, East Carolina 20
Looking for a few upsets? Keep a close watch on these games.
FIU at Louisville (Friday)
Cardinals did not impress in the opener against Murray State. The Golden Panthers are expected to be one of the top teams in the Sun Belt and held their own in four matchups against BCS foes last year.
Hawaii at Washington
The Huskies gave up 473 passing yards to Eastern Washington last week. Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz (5,040 yards last year) should give the Washington secondary problems once again.
Purdue at Rice
The Boilermakers weren’t exactly impressive in last week’s win over MTSU. The Owls have a dangerous offense and will give Purdue all they can handle.
NC State at Wake Forest
Demon Deacons looked like a much-improved team against Syracuse last week. New Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon still needs some time to get adjusted into the starting role.
Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 2
LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard violated NCAA rules and is suspended for three games. The junior will return for LSU’s road trip to West Virginia on Sept. 24.
San Diego State coach Rocky Long calls the option offense “the best offense that has ever been designed.” The Aztecs travel to West Point to play Army on Saturday.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was not pleased with the play of his offensive line in the opener against Marshall.
What was the positive impact factor of Big East quarterbacks from Week 1? -
Miami is off this week, but coach Al Golden made a big announcement regarding the team’s quarterback situation.
SMU has decided to switch quarterbacks this week, going with J.J. McDermott as the starter. Kyle Padron threw two interceptions early against Texas A&M, but is expected to play some.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is hopeful quarterback Dan Persa will return for Saturday’s game against Eastern Illinois. However, considering the opponent, Kain Colter will likely get the start.
Oregon State freshman running back Malcolm Agnew was the nation’s leading rusher last week, posting 223 yards and three scores against Sacramento State. However, the Beavers will likely be without Agnew for Saturday’s matchup against Wisconsin.
Georgia is looking for playmakers to step up for Saturday's game against South Carolina.
Ole Miss will turn to Zack Stoudt at quarterback. Barry Brunetti started the opener, but Stoudt played significant time in the second half. Randall Mackey has rejoined the team after a suspension and will play on Saturday.
USC would like to rotate two running backs for Saturday's game against Utah.
Speaking of the Utes, they are eager to show they belong in the Pac-12.