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College Football Week 2 Preview: Match-Ups, Upset Picks and Storylines to Watch

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Week 2 of the college football season doesn't feature many marquee matchups, but there's plenty of intrigue around the nation this Saturday. The SEC welcomes Texas A&M and Missouri, while a handful of non-conference games should help compensate for the lack of matchups between top 25 teams.

Top Storylines for Week 2

1. A New Era in the SEC
Saturday represents a new era in the SEC. Gone is the 12-team format and in comes Missouri and Texas A&M. The Tigers cruised in Week 1, while the Aggies had their game canceled due to Hurricane Isaac. Both teams bring new markets to the conference, which in the age of big television deals, landing teams near St. Louis/Kansas City and Houston is huge. Both Missouri and Texas A&M are expecting a sellout crowd, and momentum will be on their sideline with this being the first SEC game. The Tigers need to win on Saturday to have any shot at contending in the East. The Aggies have a tough schedule, so there’s not much room for error when it comes to getting bowl eligible. Even if both teams lose, it’s a new era in the SEC, and it will be interesting to see how Missouri and Texas A&M transition into the conference over the next couple of seasons.

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2. Jetlag in South Bend?
Notre Dame had one of the most interesting Week 1 road games, defeating Navy 50-10 in Dublin, Ireland. While the Irish have had almost a week to recover, there’s definitely an adjustment period after spending a couple of days overseas. Will it cost Notre Dame a victory on Saturday? History suggests it won’t be that big of a deal, especially since the Irish had no bye week after playing in Dublin in 1996 and defeated Boston College 48-21 the following Saturday. Purdue is a dangerous team but as long as Notre Dame doesn’t come out flat, the Irish should move to 2-0.

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3. SEC West Intrigue
Since winning the 2010 national title, Auburn is a mediocre 8-6 in its last 14 games. Outside of beating Ole Miss, Mississippi State has not won a game against a team from the SEC West since Nov. 22, 2008 against Arkansas. Although Dan Mullen has led the Bulldogs to back-to-back bowl games, he needs to produce more victories against teams from the West. Saturday’s matchup between Auburn and Mississippi State is an under-the-radar game but could be one of the most intriguing matchups of Week 2. The last two games between these two teams were decided by a combined 10 points, so another close contest can be expected this week. With both teams breaking in a new starting quarterback, whichever squad wins the turnover battle and can establish the run will come out on top. Considering Mississippi State’s lack of wins against SEC West teams, and Auburn’s recent record, this is an important game for both teams to build some momentum for the rest of 2012. 

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4. Will Nevada make it two in a row over BCS teams?
With a 31-24 win over California in Week 1, Nevada should be getting some consideration for a spot among the top 25 teams in the nation. And a matchup against South Florida could be all that stands between Nevada and an undefeated record until the season finale against Boise State. The Wolf Pack got a strong performance from quarterback Cody Fajardo and running back Stefphon Jefferson last week and both need to deliver for Nevada to win on Saturday. South Florida’s rush defense – which ranked No. 15 nationally last season – won’t be pushed around by the Wolf Pack on Saturday. Nevada recorded 450 yards on offense last week, while the defense held the Golden Bears to 24 points. Nevada knocked off the last BCS team to visit Reno (California in 2011) and with a win this week, Chris Ault’s team can realistically look at an 11-0 record before the Nov. 24 showdown against Boise State.

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5. Bragging Rights in Iowa
It’s never a good idea to take everything that happened in Week 1 at face value. Case in point: Iowa. The Hawkeyes never got their offense on track, but the defense held Northern Illinois to 201 yards. It’s a safe bet Iowa was saving some of its new offense for Iowa State and the upcoming slate of Big Ten games, and it will be needed against Iowa State this Saturday. The Cyclones knocked off Iowa last season and won 38-23 in their opener against Tulsa. Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz was solid against the Golden Hurricane, but will be tested by a Hawkeye secondary that allowed just 54 yards to Northern Illinois. Jantz struggled with turnovers last year but looked more comfortable in the pocket against Tulsa last Saturday. Iowa is a slight favorite at home and this game should go down to the wire, especially as the Hawkeyes hope to regain control of the Cy-Hawk Trophy.

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6. Should LSU be worried about Washington?
Considering Washington is a huge underdog (24 points by the good folks in Vegas), most expect LSU to win easily on Saturday. However, there may be cause for concern in Baton Rouge, especially now that offensive tackle Chris Faulk is out for the year due to a knee injury. The Huskies should test the Tigers’ secondary, which has two freshmen seeing significant snaps at one corner spot. Washington’s Keith Price is one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks but needs help from his offensive line and rushing attack to have any shot at winning this game. LSU is deep and talented on the defensive line, which includes two potential All-Americans in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. If the Huskies can give Price time to throw, he could take advantage of the Tigers’ youth in the secondary. However, even if Washington’s offense can move the ball, its defense will have trouble slowing down LSU’s rushing attack. The Huskies should keep it closer than the spread set by Vegas, but it's hard to see Washington winning in Baton Rouge.

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7. Five Quarterbacks Under Pressure

Kiehl Frazier, Auburn (at Mississippi State)
Frazier’s first start was average, as he threw for 194 yards on 11 completions. Even though the coaching staff wants to implement a pro-style attack, Frazier’s mobility should be used more in the coming weeks.

Perry Hills, Maryland (at Temple)
Hills is learning on the job after being thrown into the fire as a true freshman. He threw three picks last week and needs to give Maryland’s offense a spark this Saturday.

Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State (at Central Michigan)
Maxwell had a so-so debut, throwing for 248 yards but also tossing three picks. The junior should post better numbers against the Chippewas this Saturday.

Josh Nunes, Stanford (Duke)
Replacing Andrew Luck is no easy task, but Nunes was unimpressive in a 20-17 win over San Jose State, completing 16 passes for 125 yards and one touchdown.

Tyler Russell, Mississippi State (Auburn)
Russell passed his first test as a starter, completing 15 of 24 throws for 185 yards and two scores against Jackson State. However, it’s a tougher test on tap this Saturday, as the Bulldogs take on Auburn.

8. Five Players to Watch

Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame –Golson wasn’t spectacular against Navy, but he completed 12 of 18 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown. Look for the redshirt freshman quarterback to take another step in his development with a solid game against Purdue.

Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska – With Rex Burkhead likely out, the Cornhuskers will have to lean a little more on Martinez, who was impressive in the Week 1 victory over Southern Miss.

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama – Yeldon rushed for 111 yards and one touchdown against Michigan. Will he eventually surpass Eddie Lacy as the team’s No. 1 running back?

Brandon Mitchell, WR, Arkansas – This converted quarterback was a favorite target for quarterback Tyler Wilson against Jacksonville State, catching four passes for 122 yards. With Alabama up next, look for Wilson and Mitchell to work on their timing this Saturday against UL Monroe.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee – Da’Rick Rogers wasn’t missed by Tennessee’s offense, thanks to Patterson’s emergence against NC State. He caught six passes for 93 yards and one score, while rushing for 72 yards and one touchdown.

9. Teams Looking to Bounce Back

California – Opening a renovated stadium with a loss to Nevada certainly won’t help Jeff Tedford move off the hot seat. The Golden Bears shouldn’t have much trouble this Saturday, as FCS opponent Southern Utah visits Berkeley. It’s important for California to work out some of the kinks on both sides of the ball this Saturday, especially with road dates in the next two weeks at USC and Ohio State.

Michigan – After getting trounced by Alabama, the Wolverines have a difficult task to get ready for Air Force this Saturday. The Falcons cruised in their opener, and the triple-option offense won’t be easy to prepare for.

NC State – The Wolfpack don’t have much time to lick their wounds from the loss to Tennessee last Friday. Connecticut is a dangerous Week 2 opponent, especially now its offense seems to have found a quarterback in Chandler Whitmer. The Huskies are strong on defense, which will be a tough matchup for quarterback Mike Glennon.

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Penn State – Although the Nittany Lions were able to ride the early momentum to a lead against Ohio, it wasn’t enough to hold off the Bobcats in the second half. However, Virginia won’t be an easy opponent to rebound against, and Penn State is facing its first 0-2 start since 2001.

Washington State – The much-anticipated return of Mike Leach to the sidelines was a dud. The Cougars scored only six points and managed only 224 yards of total offense. Leach should be able to unleash his aerial attack on Eastern Washington this Saturday, a FCS team that beat Idaho last week and gave Washington all it could handle last year. With Pac-12 play approaching, Washington State needs to find the right mix on offense, especially on a line that struggled to block BYU last Thursday.

10. Upset Watch

Note: Teams must be underdogs by Vegas spreads to be considered for the upset watch.

Nebraska at UCLA (+6)
Jim Mora opened his tenure at UCLA with a successful 49-24 victory over Rice. The Cornhuskers will provide a tougher test but could also be without running back Rex Burkhead.

Florida (+1.5) at Texas A&M
Both teams are a mystery, but the Gators defense will be a tough matchup for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Iowa State (+5) at Iowa
The Cyclones looked good in their season opener against Tulsa, while the Hawkeyes struggled against Northern Illinois. This one is a tossup and there’s no question Iowa should be on upset alert.

UL Lafayette (+3) at Troy
It’s somewhat of a surprise to see the Ragin’ Cajuns listed as an underdog. Louisiana was the better team last season and should win at Troy on Saturday.

Utah at Utah State (+7)  (Friday)
The Aggies’ last victory against Utah came in 1997, so this one is a longshot on Friday night. Utah State has a solid offense but that will be tested by a Utes’ defense that allowed just 114 yards in the opener.

UTEP (+7) at Ole Miss
The Miners gave Oklahoma all it could handle last week. Can UTEP push Ole Miss this Saturday?

11. Key Injuries to Watch

Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan – Robinson was banged up in the loss to Alabama but should be in the lineup for Michigan’s game against Air Force.

Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois – Scheelhaase suffered an ankle injury in the win over Western Michigan and will probably be a gametime decision. If he cannot go, sophomore Reilly O’Toole will get the start.

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina – Shaw briefly left last Thursday’s game against Vanderbilt with a bruised shoulder. The Gamecocks still have Marcus Lattimore and a tough defense, so if Shaw is sidelined, they should be fine against East Carolina.

Bill Belton, RB, Penn State – The Nittany Lions are already shorthanded on offense and could be without Belton’s services (sprained ankle) against Virginia.

Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina – Bernard left last week’s game against Elon with a knee injury but all signs point to a full workload this Saturday.

Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska – Burkhead suffered a sprained MCL in the win over Southern Miss and is not expected to play against UCLA.

Orleans Darkwa, RB, Tulane – Darkwa is dealing with a high-ankle sprain and will likely be out of action until Sept. 22.

Nathan Jeffery, RB, UTEP – Jeffery carried the Miners’ offense against Oklahoma and needs to be healthy for UTEP to have any shot at an upset against Ole Miss.

Montel Harris, RB, Temple – Knee injuries limited Harris at Boston College since 2010, but his return to the lineup was a short one in his Temple debut. A hamstring injury has Harris questionable for Saturday’s game against Maryland.

Chris Nwoke, RB, Colorado State – Nwoke is one of the Mountain West’s top running backs, but he is sidelined this week against North Dakota State with an ankle injury.

Chris Faulk, OL, LSU – Faulk suffered a knee injury in practice and will miss the rest of the year. Considering Faulk is one of the top linemen in the nation, he will be missed in Week 2.

12. Welcome to the 2012 season

These five teams did not play in Week 1:

Army – The Black Knights open the 2012 season with a trip to San Diego State.

Louisiana Tech – The Bulldogs’ first game was rescheduled due to Hurricane Isaac and will play at Houston this Saturday.

Oregon State – After the opener with Nicholls State was canceled, the Beavers take on Wisconsin this Saturday.

Texas A&M –With the opener against Louisiana Tech postponed, the Aggies won’t have any time to prep for SEC play with Florida coming to College Station this week.

TCU – The Horned Frogs had an off date in Week 1 and host FCS opponent Grambling this Saturday.

by Steven Lassan

Follow @athlonsteven

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