By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The Most Important Things to Take Away From Week 2
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the most important things to take away from this weekend.
Notre Dame drops to 0-2 – Same story, different week. The Irish have outplayed their first two opponents, yet managed to lose both contests, largely due to turnovers. Notre Dame led Michigan 24-7 going into the fourth quarter and took a 31-28 lead with less than 40 seconds remaining. However, the Irish defense let Michigan drive for the winning score, with quarterback Denard Robinson tossing a 16-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree.
Robinson did not have the most accurate game, completing only 11 of 24 passes, but managed four passing scores and added 94 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Michigan is still trying to find the right mix between Robinson and what coordinator Al Borges wants to achieve on offense, but the Wolverines have some time to work out the kinks. With Eastern Michigan, San Diego State, Minnesota and Northwestern, Michigan should be in good shape before playing rival Michigan State on Oct. 15.
The Fighting Irish are one of college football’s most polarizing teams and there’s no doubt their 0-2 start is stirring a lot of chatter. Athlon picked Notre Dame to finish No. 6 in the final poll, which seems like a longshot considering the first two games. However, finishing 10-2 (Athlon’s projected total), isn’t out of the question. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees needs to cut down on the mistakes, but seems to be the answer for the Irish at quarterback. Brian Kelly is the right coach for Notre Dame, but it may take another year or two before the Irish are ready to get back in a BCS bowl.
Arizona State impresses on Friday night – Are the Sun Devils finally ready to breakthrough under Dennis Erickson? Sure, going 10-3 in his first season was solid, but Arizona State has struggled to be a relevant player in the conference race since then. Friday night’s win over Missouri was keyed by quarterback Brock Osweiler, throwing for 353 yards and three scores. The defense struggled to contain Missouri quarterback James Franklin, but Arizona State’s offense could win a lot of shootouts this year.
One area of concern for the Sun Devils has to be the penalties. Arizona State has been flagged 16 times this year, including 12 against Missouri. Although the mistakes didn’t cost the Sun Devils against the Tigers, this is one area that could come back to haunt them in a close game. Beating a ranked team was huge for the confidence of Arizona State, especially with a road date at Illinois and a key Pac-12 South game against USC coming up.
It's early in the year, but it looks like the hype surrounding Arizona State was deserved. The Sun Devils and USC appear to be the class of the Pac-12 South and will make for an interesting game in a couple of weeks.
South Carolina takes control of SEC East – The first SEC East game of the year was a big one. South Carolina and Georgia were popular preseason picks to win the division and the winner would take a step ahead of the competition. The Gamecocks were outplayed by the Bulldogs, but simply found a way to win. Defensive lineman Melvin Ingram scored twice for South Carolina, while running back Marcus Lattimore led the way on offense with 174 yards and a touchdown.
Although the Gamecocks could be hounded by suspect quarterback play this year, this should be Steve Spurrier’s best team at South Carolina. Lattimore should be one of the nation’s top rushers at the end of the year, while receiver Alshon Jeffery is a difficult matchup for any cornerback. The defense has given up over 30 points in both contests, but should get better as the year progresses. Beating Georgia was a huge step toward South Carolina repeating as SEC East champs.
The worst-case scenario for Georgia to start the year is unfolding. The Bulldogs didn’t need an 0-2 start, especially with the pressure on coach Mark Richt. However, all is not lost, even with a disappointing start. South Carolina and Florida could slip in the East, opening the door for the Bulldogs to get back into the picture. However, the offensive line has to play better, and Georgia needs to get running back Isaiah Crowell more involved in the gameplan. Don't count out Georgia, but the loss to South Carolina was a huge blow.
Alabama handles Penn State – As expected, the Crimson Tide handled their business in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions were simply overmatched in the trenches, while the quarterback play was less than stellar once again. To beat Alabama, Penn State needed to show marked improvement from Week 1 and it just wasn’t there. The Nittany Lions didn’t get any answers to the quarterback battle either, as both Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin struggled.
While Penn State struggles to sort out its quarterback options, Alabama seems to have found its signal-caller in AJ McCarron. The sophomore completed 19 of 31 passes for 163 yards and one touchdown on Saturday, while Phillip Sims did not play against the Nittany Lions. The Crimson Tide is one of the most dominating defensive teams in college football and should be the favorite to win the SEC.
USC beats Utah – The first Pac-12 contest was certainly an interesting one. USC was in control most of the way, but again, struggled to put away an opponent. The Utes had a chance at a game-tying field goal in the final seconds, but it was blocked by the Trojans and returned for a touchdown. Due to a penalty, the points were initially not credited to USC. However, the Trojans were eventually awarded six points a couple of hours after the game ended, making the final score 23-14 in favor of USC.
The Utes had a solid showing in their first Pac-12 game, but could not generate enough offense. Quarterback Jordan Wynn rarely tested the USC secondary downfield, while the rushing attack was held in check. The Trojans had success moving the ball, but three turnovers kept the Utes in the game. Although USC has struggled to put opponents away this year, the defense has shown improvement and the potential is there for the offense to get even better.
Quick Hits from Week 2
• T.Y. Hilton doesn’t get much national credit since he plays at FIU, but the senior is one of the nation’s top all-around performers. Hilton caught seven passes for 201 yards and two scores in the upset win over Louisville. Hilton was a preseason third-team All-American selection by Athlon Sports.
• Things could get rough for Arizona over the next couple of weeks. The Wildcats need to develop continuity on their offensive line, but face a brutal upcoming schedule – Stanford, Oregon and at USC. Don’t be surprised if Arizona is 1-4 before a trip to Oregon State on Oct. 8.
• Texas rallied to beat BYU 17-16 on Saturday, but the theme from the win could be a quarterback change. Garrett Gilbert was benched after an awful start, with Case McCoy and David Ash getting snaps. Gilbert hasn’t made much progress over the last year and it’s time Texas gives other quarterbacks a chance.
• Junior college transfers can be hit or miss, but it looks like Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads hit a home run with quarterback Steele Jantz. In two games, the junior has thrown for 466 yards and five scores, while adding 122 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Jantz’s ability to make plays with his legs has given a spark to Iowa State’s offense. And scoring a win over rival Iowa isn't a bad way to start your college career.
• North Carolina is off to a 2-0 start, led by quarterback Bryn Renner and one of the nation’s top defensive lines. Renner has incredibly accurate to start the year, completing 42 of 49 passes, while throwing three touchdowns and four picks. The Tar Heels have a favorable schedule upcoming, facing Virginia, Georgia Tech, East Carolina and Louisville over the next four weeks. Don’t be surprised if North Carolina is 6-0 before facing Miami on Oct. 15.
• Kansas isn’t getting much credit for its 2-0 record, but coach Turner Gill is doing a nice job this year. The Jayhawks beat Northern Illinois 45-42 on Saturday and beat McNeese State in the opener. Kansas looks like a much-improved team, especially on offense with quarterback Jordan Webb and running back James Sims. It may not translate to a bowl, but progress is coming along in Lawrence.
• Auburn just continues to find ways to win games. The Tigers entered the week as underdogs against Mississippi State, but held on for the victory with a goal-line stand in the final seconds. It takes a little luck to win 17 games in a row, but a young team is showing improvement, which is bad news for the rest of the SEC West.
• One of Week 2’s biggest surprises was New Mexico State’s win over Minnesota. After getting handled by Ohio 44-24 in the opener, the Aggies scored a huge win for the rebuilding efforts of coach DeWayne Walker. New Mexico State has struggled to have success, with only one season of seven wins since 1968.
• The Rice-Purdue matchup was a game for two coaches battling to get off the hot seat. Rice’s David Bailiff is 19-30 in four years, while Purdue’s Danny Hope is 9-15 in two seasons. Although it’s tough to give up on Hope with all of the injuries the Boilermakers have had, barely beating MTSU and losing to Rice does not fair well for the rest of the season.
• It’s early, but Wake Forest appears to be the most-improved team in the ACC. The Demon Deacons knocked off NC State 34-27 in Week 2, while barely losing to Syracuse in the opener. With Gardner-Webb up next, Wake Forest should be 2-1 before hitting the bulk of ACC play.
Looking Ahead to Week 3
A small sample of what’s ahead
LSU at Mississippi State (Thursday)
Tigers begin tough two-game stretch with a Thursday night trip to Starkville.
Boise State at Toledo (Friday)
Rockets should be the top team in the MAC, but stopping Boise State will be difficult.
Pittsburgh at Iowa
Iowa defense versus Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham will be fun to watch.
Oklahoma at Florida State
Must-see game of the week. Could have a significant impact on the national title race.
Auburn at Clemson
Battle of Tigers could be an entertaining offensive matchup.
West Virginia at Maryland
Good quarterback battle between Maryland’s Danny O’Brien and West Virginia’s Geno Smith.
Tennessee at Florida
Both teams have looked good against non-conference opponents.
Michigan State at Notre Dame
Irish have played better than record indicates. First test for Spartans.
Texas at UCLA
Longhorns look to avenge last season’s disappointing loss to the Bruins.
Washington at Nebraska
Third meeting between these two teams over the last year. Series is currently tied at one.
Ohio State at Miami
Hurricanes get a few reinforcements, while Buckeyes look to score a huge win for Luke Fickell.
Utah at BYU
No longer a conference matchup, but still an intense rivalry.
Injuries from Week 2
Air Force NG Ben Gardner – knee – out indefinitely
Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson – concussion – expected to play in Week 3
Arkansas DE Jake Bequette – hamstring – likely to play in Week 3
Colorado State LB Mychal Sisson – broken ankle – expected to miss rest of 2011 season
Florida RB Jeff Demps – shoulder – questionable to play in Week 3
Georgia LB Christian Robinson – foot – out indefinitely
Mississippi State OT James Carmon – leg – questionable to play in Week 3
Missouri RB De’Vion Moore – high ankle sprain – out 3-4 weeks
Northwestern RB Adonis Smith – leg – questionable to play in Week 3
Ohio State WR Corey Brown – ankle – questionable to play in Week 3
Oregon LB Michael Clay – ankle – questionable to play in Week 3
Oregon State WR Markus Wheaton – rib contusion – questionable to play in Week 4
Oregon State LG Josh Andrews – knee sprain – likely out 4 weeks
Tennessee LT Dallas Thomas – knee – expected to play in Week 3
UTEP QB Nick Lamaison – shoulder – out indefinitely
Vanderbilt TE Brandon Barden – leg – questionable for Week 3
Wisconsin CB Devin Smith – ankle – out for Week 3