NCAA Football

USC vs. Stanford: Underrated QBs Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan Fight for Spotlight

"This week's matchup, you're really looking at two of the Rodney Dangerfields of the conference...

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How Do the Oregon Ducks Prepare for Michigan State's Ferocious Defense?

Flash versus smash.

That is the only suitable way to categorize the showdown between the third-ranked Oregon Ducks and the seventh-ranked Michigan State Spartans.

The Ducks and Spartans are very different football teams—so much so that is almost seems like they’re not even playing the same sport. That’s why this matchup is so intriguing and ESPN’s College GameDay will be visiting Eugene this weekend.

We know that Oregon’s offense is revolutionary. It’s so revolutionary that the rest of college football has stolen bits and pieces of it, if not the whole playbook, and the NFL came calling for the offense's leading man: Chip Kelly.

The Ducks' zone-read-based “blur” offense operates at a speed and efficiency that would make Henry Ford cry tears of joy.

However, let’s not discount how great Michigan State’s defense is. In fact, it’s a groundbreaking defense in its own right. It seems simple, just like the Ducks offense, but can shift on a dime into a multitude of sets.

Dr. Evil once said to Austin Powers, “We’re not so different, you and I.” Well, Oregon’s offense and Michigan State’s defense aren’t all that different from one another.

In 2013, Oregon’s offense ranked second in the nation in total yards per game (565) and third in points per game (45.5). Conversely, Michigan State’s defense ranked second in yards per game allowed (252) and third in points allowed per game (13.2).

There’s no doubt that both Oregon’s offense and Michigan State’s defense are the best in the nation at what they do, and they're changing the game of football as they do it.

So, what exactly will Oregon’s offense up be against this weekend at Autzen Stadium?

Well, Michigan State is one of two teams to rank in the top five in defensive yards per play in each of the last three seasons, along with Florida State.

In 2013, while compiling a 13-1 record, claiming a Big Ten title and winning the Rose Bowl, the Spartans finished first in defensive yards per play.

The reason that head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi have built such a successful defense is because of the 4-3 scheme they run and how they coach their players to make quick, instinctive changes before the snap.

Instead of trying to guess what Oregon’s offense is going to do on Saturday and picking the wrong defensive formation, Michigan State will utilize a defense that will change into the right alignment depending on how the offense lines up.

There may be times when Michigan State is playing Cover 4 and others when it's stuffing nine players in the box.

The only thing we know for sure about the Spartans defense is that it will start in a “4-3 Over” paired with “Quarters,” which is more commonly known as the Cover 4 defense.

Now, Michigan State’s defensive schemes and its ability to maneuver the formations on the fly have worked well against opponents who operate slowly. After all, most Big Ten teams don’t operate at any speed, let alone at Mach 10 like the Ducks.

The biggest concern for the Spartans has to be whether or not they will have the time to read Oregon’s offense and adjust on the move. Oregon’s speed has left opponents in the dust before.

If Michigan State can’t adjust early to the speed, it may go home scratching its heads.

With that said, the Spartans defense is smart and talented enough to make Oregon work for every first down. There’s a reason the Spartans’ rushing defense has been in the top 10 nationally in each of the past three seasons.

Additionally, the Spartans only allowed 12 passing touchdowns in 2013, while holding opposing quarterbacks to a 47.5 percent completion percentage.

The Spartans defense will depend heavily on defensive ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush, who will be tasked with controlling Oregon’s nearly unstoppable rushing attack. Calhoun, who is perhaps the best defensive player in the Big Ten, will also be asked to put pressure on quarterback Marcus Mariota, which isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world to do.

Michigan State’s secondary lost its best player from last year's team, Darqueze Dennard, to the NFL. However, the secondary should still be solid this year, especially with the front seven putting pressure on the quarterback.

One of the biggest concerns for the Ducks has to be whether or not the young wide receivers are able to take on the aggressive Spartans secondary.

We know the Spartans are going to play a ton of man coverage. It will be on the Ducks' wide receivers to create space and make plays, especially in 3rd-and-long situations.

Oregon’s offense is in for one of its toughest tests in years. The last time Oregon saw a defensive like this, it was 2011 and LSU manhandled the team in Cowboys Stadium. Three seasons later, the Ducks get an opportunity to show the college football world that speed truly kills—and just because you’re fast doesn’t mean you’re soft.

In order for Oregon to succeed against Michigan State’s defense, and thereby grab a victory, the Ducks are going to need to play with more strength between the tackles and be more aggressive in all phases of the game.

Whether that means holding blocks a split second longer or taking a big hit trying to make a play, it’s all going to have to be done to beat Michigan State.

Oregon’s offense needs to use its speed to impact Michigan State’s ability to adapt at the line of scrimmage, which is the Spartans' best defensive asset. If Oregon can incorporate an element of nastiness to its vicious offensive attack, the Ducks should come away with a huge victory over the Spartans.

 

Follow Jason Gold on twitter @TheSportsGuy33. 

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How Do the Oregon Ducks Prepare for Michigan State's Ferocious Defense?

Flash versus smash. That is the only suitable way to categorize the showdown between the third-ranked Oregon Ducks and the seventh-ranked Michigan State Spartans...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Updated Recruiting Odds: Where Will Stud WR George Campbell Land?

George Campbell is a 4-star wide receiver out of the Sunshine State. This stud is making his college decision very soon between LSU, Florida State and Florida. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the odds of where Campbell will commit. Where do you think he will land? 

Check out the video and let us know!

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Throwback Thursday: LeGarrette Blount Punches Boise State Player After Loss

Chip Kelly had the Oregon Ducks in the national championship contention every year when he was the team's head coach, but his tenure there got off to a rough start.

On Sept. 3, 2009, Oregon lost to Boise State in Kelly's debut as Ducks coach. The 19-8 loss wasn't a great way to start his tenure in Eugene, but it's what happened after the game that overshadowed his debut—and not for a good reason.

After the game, Ducks running back LeGarrette Blount—who finished the game with negative rushing yards—punched Broncos defensive end Byron Hout in the face. Blount even got into it with the fans on his way off the field. Thankfully, this incident did get even uglier.

Kelly quickly decided to suspend Blount for the rest of the season. However, Blount ended up playing in Oregon's final two games of the season, including the 2010 Rose Bowl against Ohio State.

The punching incident certainly didn't help Blount's draft stock; the running back went undrafted. 

[YouTube]

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Are the Georgia Bulldogs National Championship Contenders?

After a strong week from Todd Gurley and the Georgia Bulldogs against Clemson, Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder discuss their National Championship potential.

Do you think they can make it all the way?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Ohio State Football: 3 Keys to Beating the Hokies in the 'Shoe Saturday Night

Ohio State’s 17-point victory over Navy last Saturday was a little too close for comfort. Buckeye fans are not accustomed to seeing just six points on the board at halftime. Neither is Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, and he told Bill Landis of the Northeast Ohio Media Group the poor play starts up front.

Very disappointed," Meyer said. "There's a standard set of offensive line play for many, many years, and it's really been enhanced by Coach Warinner the last two years. That didn't resemble an offensive line at Ohio State for the first two quarters.

Meyer, tradition and a defense filled with elite talent led to lofty expectations this season, but it is obvious there is no substitute for experience. With eight new starters on offense, no one should be surprised that it took a couple of quarters to get going against the Midshipmen. The offense won’t have the luxury of a slow start this week.

Ohio State takes on Virginia Tech at 8 p.m. ET Saturday in Ohio Stadium. This will be the Buckeyes' first difficult nonconference game under Meyer. The Hokies might be unranked, but they have been one of the most consistently good teams for the past 20 years under head coach Frank Beamer. The Buckeyes are in for a battle, as Virginia Tech wants to end Ohio State’s 25-game regular-season winning streak and get back to being among the best in the FBS.  Ohio State must play considerably better to hold off the Hokies.

Here are three keys to the winning the game:

 

J.T. Barrett Playing with Poise

After Braxton Miller was lost for the year, there was a legitimate concern that a special season was in jeopardy. After Barrett’s performance against Navy, there should be a collective sigh of relief. He finished the game 12-of-15, passing for 225 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also had 50 yards rushing. That is a great start to his career, but Virginia Tech’s defense is far superior to Navy’s defense. This week's challenge will substantially harder.

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is a fantastic coach and one of the premier defensive strategists in the game. Expect him to dial up the intensity and disguise his cover packages to confuse Barrett and force him into making costly mistakes.

The Hokies’ strength is their secondary, where Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson return. Last year, Fuller was the ACC’s Rookie of the Year, and both were named first-team freshman All-Americans by 247Sports. They’re hard-hitting cornerbacks who cover well. Fuller is ready for the challenge of playing the Buckeyes telling the Associated Press, "It's definitely going to be fun, something we're all looking forward to, playing a team like that that's been successful over the years with a great environment and great college atmosphere," he said.

With Fuller and Facyson flying all over the field, Barrett will have to be quick with his decisions and precise in his throws for the offense to be effective. Avoiding interceptions and getting the ball to his playmakers in space is critical. This is also his first home game in front of 105,000 fans at night. He definitely needs to feed off of that energy. If he plays well, the Buckeyes’ offense will be fine.

 

Attack on Defense

If the coaches and talent are as good as advertised, it is time to unleash the fury. The yearning for the return of the Silver Bullets is palpable, and Buckeye Nation has been anxiously waiting since January to see the impact that co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash and defensive line coach Larry Johnson will have on this team. Their aggressive style will be put to the test against Virginia Tech who runs an uptempo, pro-style offense.

One player who appears ready to show off the new look is sophomore Darron Lee, who will be making just his second start at strong-side linebacker. He finished with seven tackles and had a 61-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown against Navy, earning him the Big Ten Network’s Defensive Player of The Week. If his progression continues, it is safe to say the Buckeyes won’t miss Ryan Shazier.

Ash’s effect on the defense should be most visible in the secondary, which did not get many opportunities to showcase its improvement against Navy’s triple option. That won’t be the case against Virginia Tech’s balanced attack.

Quarterback Michael Brewer had a successful debut against William & Mary last week, finishing the game 23-of-30 for 251 yards and two touchdowns and one interception. The Hokies also rushed for 222 yards against the Tribe.

Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell have the perfect opportunity to put last year’s demons to rest by playing with discipline. Under Ash’s base 4-3 over Cover 4 defense, the safeties need to react quickly to the call. With the defensive line and linebackers focusing on their gap assignments and the corners locking down their section of the field, the safeties are the glue that makes the Cover 4 work well. If they play fundamentally sound and are in sync with the corners and linebackers, the defense will earn back its Silver Bullets nickname.

 

Improve Third-Down Conversion Percentage

Against Navy, the offense was just 2-of-8 on third-down conversion attempts. It needs to be closer to 50 percent to beat the Hokies. The key is getting good production on first and second down to avoid long-yardage situations. Success depends on the offensive line playing much better.  

Given his history, it is likely that Ed Warinner will correct the line’s mistakes. If he did, they should be able to stop the Hokies’ pressure giving the skill players a little time and space to work their magic and put the offense in great field position throughout the game.

 

Analysis

This game has been marked on Ohio State’s calendar for several years, and it comes at an ideal time.   Championship-caliber teams need to face some adversity to test their resolve. Beating the Hokies would give the Buckeyes a tremendous confidence boost. It won’t be easy, but they should pull out a 27-17 win.    

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Ohio State Announcement Throwing Wrench into Last Michigan vs. Notre Dame Week

This week was supposed to be a celebration of the culmination of one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football. But perhaps fittingly, the end of the Notre Dame-Michigan series will be a bitter one.

It wasn't enough for the Fighting Irish to pull the plug on the series, exercising an out in their contract with the Wolverines two years ago that would make this weekend's midwest matchup the last scheduled between the two teams.

With little more than 48 hours to go until the showdown in South Bend, Notre Dame announced an upcoming series that it surely knew would grab national headlines, with a partner that Michigan is plenty familiar with.

It could just be a coincidence that the Fighting Irish decided to use this week to reveal their upcoming home-and-home series with the Wolverines' arch rival, Ohio State, per the Buckeyes' official website, but in all likelihood, it's probably not. The Buckeyes will host Notre Dame in Columbus on Sept. 3, 2022, before traveling to South Bend on Sept. 23, 2023.

Ohio State isn't exactly replacing Michigan on the Notre Dame slate—the Wolverines and Fighting Irish have met in each season from 2002-2014—but the reaction from the media was telling, if not predictable.

Just two days before two of college football's traditional powers were scheduled to meet for the final time, all eyes were on a matchup that won't be taking place for another eight years.

While we still have a near-decade to discuss who will be coaching in the first game of the OSU-Notre Dame series (and for what team), let alone the players who will be on the field (the true freshmen who will play in that game are currently in fifth grade), Thursday's announcement served as a direct message to Michigan that the Wolverines can be easily replaced—if not upgraded from.

Perhaps the first sign Michigan should have seen came in 2010, when the Fighting Irish announced a four-game series with Texas to start in 2015. That preceded the scheduling partnership between Notre Dame and the ACC, which was ultimately cited for the Irish's canceling of the Michigan series.

But regardless of the backdoor deals and scheduling technicalities that led to this weekend being the last meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan for the foreseeable future, the fact remains that on the eve of their finale, the Wolverines find themselves as the odd man out.

Since the Fighting Irish decided to bring an end to the series two years ago, Michigan has hardly recovered from a scheduling standpoint, inking a neutral-site date with Florida in 2017 and home-and-homes with Arkansas (2018-19), Virginia Tech (2020-21), UCLA (2022-23) and Oklahoma (2025-26).

Of course, a lot can happen between now and the next two to 12 years, but it's hard to imagine any of those games garnering the same attention that the two-game series between Notre Dame and Ohio State will. When the two teams met for the first time ever in 1935, it was billed as "The Game of the Century," a nickname that carried over to their two-game series in 1995 and 1996.

Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer remembers the 1996 meeting between the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish well. Then the wide receivers coach at Notre Dame, Meyer witnessed Ohio State storm South Bend and walk away with a 29-16 victory in a game that was preceded by hype that still stands out to the now-OSU headman.

"I just remember the lead up to that game was incredible," Meyer said on his weekly call-in show on the Ohio State Radio Network on Thursday. "Two of the most tradition-rich programs in America and a rabid fanbase on both ends. I've witnessed both of them."

None of that is going to change in the next eight years, which is perhaps the biggest reason why Thursday's announcement has overshadowed Saturday's actual game. In a series where Michigan has won six of the last eight meetings, perhaps the Irish are looking for any edge that they can get, as they look to walk away from this weekend's historic finale on top.

And as the head coach of the Wolverines' chief rival, who is Meyer to disagree?

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Jesus 'Bobo' Wilson Returns: What It Means for Florida State's Offense in 2014

He may only have three career catches to his credit, but Florida State missed Jesus “Bobo” Wilson in the team’s close-call victory over Oklahoma State last weekend.

Wilson, a true sophomore who played sparingly a season ago as a backup behind FSU’s triple-headed receiver rotation of Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, was expected to push for a starter’s role entering the offseason. But that plan was at least temporarily delayed when Wilson was arrested over the summer for his role in an on-campus theft of a scooter.

In July, the athletic pass-catcher pleaded no contest to a pair of misdemeanor charges for petty theft and criminal mischief.

Wilson was still permitted to practice with the Seminoles during fall camp, but—despite making the trek to Texas with his teammates for the season opener—was benched in FSU’s 37-31 triumph at AT&T Stadium. Two days later, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher announced Wilson would be available for Saturday’s home game against The Citadel.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and been very mature in handling things,” Fisher said. “I think sometimes taking a guy to a game and making him sit there is a lot worse than leaving him at home. You know, just the joy of going out there and watching your teammates when you could be part of it, I think it’s very critical to how much people depend and count on you.”

FSU quarterback Jameis Winston is counting on having another target to rely on in the passing game.

His up-and-down performance against the Cowboys was a product of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner admittedly trying too hard to duplicate last season’s heroics, while also continuing to get comfortable with his revamped receiving corps. The byproduct was a passing game that starred Greene and his 11 grabs for 203 yards and a score, but perhaps relied too much on the sure-handed senior.

Wilson still may be inexperienced, but he has been catching passes from Winston on the practice fields for more than a year.

“It puts a smile on my face because we have all of our weapons now,” Winston told the media Wednesday. “We were missing our brother at first, but now he is back. I am really excited to throw him some touchdowns.”

Added Winston: “He is kind of like Kermit [Whitfield] in a sense, but his field awareness—the way he can get open and make plays after he catches—is amazing.”

A former 3-star recruit, according to 247Sports, the 5'9", 177-pound Wilson is shifty and explosive and can play in either the slot or outside. Last season, he showed an ability to be an effective punt returner, notching 86 total yards on eight punt returns. He could be in the mix for those duties this year, although Greene is still listed as the starter in that role.

In FSU's April spring game, Wilson caught four passes for 101 yards and one touchdown.

With Wilson in the mix and Greene expected to continue his march toward virtually all of the FSU receiving records, Winston and the offense still could feature redshirt senior Christian Green (two catches for 73 yards against Oklahoma State), Whitfield, Jarred Haggins and true freshman Travis Rudolph, who saw action in the first game and could have an expanded role this weekend. Fellow rookies Ermon Lane and Ja’Von Harrison could also play roles in the offense as they get more comfortable with Winston.

For now at least, the ‘Noles get a much-needed boost from a player many expect to make an impact.

“I’m hopeful and we’ll see,” Fisher said about Wilson’s return. “But I thought Bobo had a great camp. That’s why we’ll get him back and we’ll have plans on playing him.”

 

Brandon Mellor is a Florida State writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of Seminoles.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

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College Football Week 2: Top 25 Upset Alert

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Adam Kramer throws out some of his upset alerts for Week 2 of the 2014 college football season. Who do you think has a chance to fall this week?

Watch the video and let us know!

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Todd Gurley for Heisman, Alabama's CBs

Todd Gurley's Opening Night Statement

If a player who plays a position other than quarterback is going to win the Heisman Trophy, it helps to make a statement early.

Georgia running back Todd Gurley's statement was made on Saturday afternoon between the hedges, when he set a Bulldog single-game record with 293 all-purpose yards and four total touchdowns in Georgia's 45-21 win over ACC foe Clemson.

"Todd Gurley is obviously as good as it gets," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "He is a great, great football player. If you give him the ball in the position that we gave them he is going to do great things. Gurley, and all their backs, were special tonight."

The performance was good enough to vault Gurley into the No. 3 spot in B/R's Saturday night Heisman rankings and has him as high as first in others, including HeismanPundit.com's weekly straw poll. 

Lofty praise for Gurley for sure, but how realistic is it that he can legitimately win the Heisman Trophy?

It's going to take a lot considering there's a crowded quarterback field this year that includes Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Baylor's Bryce Petty and, as we saw during Week 1, Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill.

Only two non-quarterbacks have won the award since 2000: former Alabama running back Mark Ingram (2009) and former USC running back Reggie Bush (2005)—who returned his after NCAA sanctions hit the Trojans.

Playing special teams will help Gurley, though. That's something that he should continue to do as long as Georgia's running back depth in Athens stays intact. The emergence of true freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb combined with veteran Keith Marshall allows the Bulldogs to keep Gurley fresh in the first half, use him on special teams as needed and then bring him in as "the hammer" in the second half to take advantage of tired defenses.

He's in the mix, and if the Bulldogs follow the same blueprint that worked last week against Clemson, Gurley has a legit chance to win college football's top individual prize.

 

Fixing The Glitch

It was clear watching Alabama play West Virginia inside the Georgia Dome on Saturday afternoon that cornerback play is still an issue for the Crimson Tide.

A big one.

Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones were both picked on by quarterback Clint Trickett early and often, and had it not been for several key drops and unforced errors, West Virginia would have put itself in position to spring the upset.

Head coach Nick Saban recognized the problem and is working this week to fix it.

Sophomore Eddie Jackson—who started four games last year and tore his ACL this spring—is practicing this week and should play this weekend against Florida Atlantic.

"He has practiced, he has done well, and I feel like we'll play him some in this game in some kind of way trying to ease him back into what he has to do to become a player at his position, which he's totally capable of," Saban said on Wednesday. "A very good player who we're anxious to get back in the lineup, but certainly not at the expense of putting him at any risk."

That's big, because Alabama's secondary needs to be fixed in a hurry. 

As I mentioned in the video above, it appeared to me that both quarterback Blake Sims and Jake Coker approached the season opener as the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks, respectively—not as "1A" and "1B." Coker will likely get a shot to prove his coaches wrong these next two weeks against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss, but the coaching staff was fine with Sims managing the game well—especially when they went more no-huddle in the second quarter.

"I thought Blake did a really good job," Saban said after the game. "He had a couple of guys open who he missed, and he also had a couple of guys who dropped balls that he delivered. All and all, for him to throw for 250 yards, he did a pretty good job of executing."

Can Sims open it up if Alabama gets forced into a shootout? He didn't have to against West Virginia, and Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin would probably not go down that road if they don't have to. That's why Saban is exploring options in the defensive backfield, because offensively, this is what the Crimson Tide is at the moment.

 

Time for Ole Miss to Act Like a Contender

Ole Miss' first outing was successful—the Rebels topped Boise State 35-13 last Thursday in the first of two Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games—but that game was much closer than the score indicates, and quarterback Bo Wallace was the reason why.

Wallace tossed three picks in the first half, telegraphed his passes and allowed a clearly undermanned Bronco team to hang around far too long.

"Two of the three interceptions were a bit unbelievable to us, because they weren't even in his progression on the route," Freeze said after the game. "He'll be the first to tell you that, and he knows that. It was a bit amazing. He was a little out of sync."

A team improves the most between the first and second game of the season, and the Rebel quarterback better play smarter against a struggling Vanderbilt team in Nashville, otherwise contending for the SEC West will be more wishful thinking than anything else.

The foundation for Ole Miss is set. The defense looks nasty, Laquon Treadwell is a monster at wide receiver and tight end Evan Engram is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Wallace just needs to stay smart, and Ole Miss needs to find a running game.

If they accomplish those two things against the 'Dores at LP Field, they can become that fly in the ointment in the SEC West.

 

Is Brandon Harris the Forgotten Man?

Sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris entered last weekend's game in a battle for the top spot on the depth chart, but it didn't look like it based on how head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron used them.

Harris only got one series against the Badgers in which he didn't throw a pass late in the second quarter.

That will change this weekend against Sam Houston State.

“I think Brandon Harris is coming,” Miles said according to Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett Louisiana. “We’re not going to predetermine lack of playing time for him. We’re going to continue to bring him on. But it was obvious in that game that the opportunity for us to win was to get Anthony Jennings comfortable in there and let him play."

Jennings was just 9-of-21 against the Badgers but was 4-of-6 for 119 yards and a touchdown in the second half. Expect LSU to weave Harris more into the game plan this week to gauge what his upside is. If the Bossier City, Louisiana native "gets it" and shows more upside, more playing time may come his way early in the season.

 

Quick Outs

  • Missouri opened as a 5.5-point favorite at Toledo, and that line has actually dropped to 3.5 or 4.0 according to OddsShark.com. There's a good reason. Missouri's defense looked average at best last week to South Dakota State, and the Tigers let the Jackrabbits—with a backup quarterback—hang around way too long. If the Tigers mess around this week, the Rockets could spring the upset.
  • South Carolina better watch out for East Carolina. The Pirates can sling it around, and South Carolina's defense has major issues in the front and back ends.
  • Breakout star this week: Alabama quarterback Blake Sims. If the 250 yards last week count as his breakout performance, than go with Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel.
  • Who will disappoint? Auburn's defense. The Tigers will experiment up front a bit, which will lead to plenty of yards for the Spartans. It won't matter for Auburn's offense, which will play dial-a-score on offense.
  • UAB beat Troy by 38 points last week, but Mississippi State shouldn't worry. The Bulldog defense is tough, and barring some major unforeseen development, Dan Mullen's crew should roll.
  • Psst...Vandy...settle on a quarterback and actually let him play.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report and co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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College Football Athletes Most Likely to Explode in Week 2

Week 2 of the 2014 college football season is just around the corner with some big names ready to show what they have. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee, Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss who they think will explode in Week 2. Who do you think we should keep our eye on?

Watch the video, and let us know.

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Marcus Mariota's Rise to Stardom: From Unknown Athlete to Heisman Favorite

Marcus Mariota is one of the biggest names in college football, but his journey from Hawaii to the University of Oregon is not your typical top Heisman candidate story.

Do you think Mariota will win the Heisman Trophy?

Watch the video to check out the Oregon QB's journey. 

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Latest Week 2 Standings and Playoff Predictions

Even with the NCAA College Football Playoff's arrival, every week still bears a major impact on the championship outlook.

Take the season's opening week, where South Carolina saw its CFB chances go bye-bye after getting steamrolled by Texas A&M. Clemson and Wisconsin aren't looking good either after suffering Week 1 losses, but Clemson and LSU both climbed up the recent AP poll.

Some seismic changes already shook college football, yet the top four remained the same. With the new system, those are the spots we're watching closely.

Here are the latest predictions for which four teams will occupy playoff spots at the end of the year.

Change is almost certain atop the rankings after No. 3 Oregon and No. 7 Michigan State clash. A Spartans victory would propel them into the playoff picture while plummeting the Ducks down next week's rankings.

That makes Saturday's showdown a must-watch for all college football fans. Let's take a look at the pivotal matchup.

 

Game of the Week: No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Oregon (Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET)

Week 1 only stood to amplify this matchup's meaning. UCLA's sluggish 28-20 victory over Virginia helped solidify Oregon as Pac-12 favorites, and Braxton Miller's season-ending injury allows Michigan State to leapfrog Ohio State in the Big Ten. 

Both teams are favorites to win tough conferences, but the loser will hold no wiggle room going forward. As for CFB aspirations, a signature victory against a Top 10 opponent would go a long way.

ESPN's Ted Miller called it "a Rose Bowl matchup the first weekend of September." Only instead of wrapping a neat bow on a successful season, this bout sets the tone for the remainder of the year. As Miller explained, this also creates a scenario where each squad wants the other to stay elite after this weekend so they look better by the transitive property.

"A further twist is that both teams after the game become each other's biggest fans, with both winner and loser wanting the other to make the result a more impressive measure of itself," Miller said.

This brawl represents a tale of two widely contrasting teams. While Oregon's high-powered offense compiled 565 yards and 45.5 points per game last year, respectively ranked second and third in the FBS, Michigan State instead ranked second and third in yards and points allowed.

Opponents mustered 252 yards and 13.2 points per game against the Spartans, and they played to that average when allowing 244 total yards against Jacksonville State last week. It's a battle of offense against defense that the Ducks have lost before.

Fox analyst Charles Davis compared Michigan State to Stanford, a program that has soured Oregon's championship aspirations in each of the past two years. He told USA Today's Joe Rexrode:

Their nemesis, their kryptonite in recent years has been Stanford. What's Stanford's style of play? Heavy-duty running the ball on offense, being extremely physical, excellent tackling team on defense, which makes you run more plays. All those yards after catch, yards after contact, open-field plays that Oregon's used to getting, that hidden yardage, they weren't getting against Stanford.

On the bright side, at least the Pac-12 powerhouse knows what to expect. Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost is prepared for MSU's corners to press cover throughout the game, a physical formula that has served the Spartans well.

"Everybody that plays them knows what they're going to run," Frost told MLive.com's Mike Griffith. "They just run it really well, so we have to be prepared for it and we have to execute."

Yes, a similarly styled Stanford beat Oregon twice, but the Cardinal did so by a combined nine points, including an overtime victory two years ago over a freshman Marcus Mariota. That 2012 defeat marks Oregon's last loss at Autzen Stadium.

ESPN's Power Football Index gives the Ducks a high probability of riding their offensive juggernaut to victory.

It won't come easy, but Oregon finally conquers a hard-nosed defense due to Mariota's maturation and a crucial home-field advantage. A win also vaults Mark Helfrich's squad into No. 1 consideration.

Prediction: Oregon 31, Michigan State 27

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Notre Dame vs. Michigan: Keys to Victory for Both Teams in Week 2

The Michigan Wolverines and Notre Dame Fighting Irish are going head-to-head during Week 2 of the 2014 college football season. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer break down the hottest topics heading into this matchup. Who do you think will win?

Watch the video and let us know.

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LeBron James' Role in Ohio State Football's Biggest Recruiting Weekend of 2014

A mere three weeks after LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer issued an open invitation for the NBA megastar to attend any Buckeyes game he'd like.

It didn't take long for James to take Meyer up on the offer.

"I think he'll be in town," Meyer responded on Wednesday when asked if James would be in attendance for Ohio State's game against Virginia Tech on Saturday—the first Buckeyes home contest of the 2014 season.

Should James find himself standing on the Ohio State sideline, the four-time NBA MVP will be joined by a plethora of the nation's top high school prospects. Since arriving in Columbus in 2012, Meyer has attempted to turn night games at Ohio State into can't-miss events for recruits, and Saturday's prime-time showdown with the Hokies will be no exception.

"[It's] probably the biggest of the year," Meyer said of the Buckeyes' upcoming recruiting weekend. "I just see who's coming. A night game in The Horseshoe—last year we had Wisconsin and Penn State [at night], and those were big hits."

Given the tentative visitor list, this weekend could prove to be an even bigger hit for the Buckeyes, as several of their top targets and the nation's top high school players are slated to be in Columbus. Even with 5-star quarterback Torrance Gibson rescheduling his official visit for a later date, there won't be any shortage of stars standing underneath the bright lights of Ohio Stadium on Saturday—James included.

"He means a lot in recruiting,” Meyer said of James at Big Ten media days in Chicago in July. “You can’t measure the positive feeling of him standing on the sideline for an Ohio State game."

Who are the top prospects Meyer is hoping James will have a positive impact on this weekend? Let's take a look.

 

Josh Sweat

The top-ranked player at any position in the 2015 class, defensive end Josh Sweat will make his way to Columbus this weekend by way of Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Virginia. At 6'5" and 240 pounds, Sweat possesses 4.5 40 speed and is the type of player who's capable of making an instant impact at the college level.

Unsurprisingly, the 5-star prospect is being chased by the nation's top schools and only raised his profile after a junior season that saw him tally 94 tackles and 22 sacks. Ohio State will get the first crack at Sweat when it comes to official visits, before he heads to Virginia Tech on Sept. 20, Georgia on Oct. 4, Florida State on Oct. 18 and Oregon on Oct. 31.

At this point, many believe that the Buckeyes trail the Seminoles and Hokies in the race for Sweat's services, but this weekend will provide Meyer and his staff with an opportunity to gain ground on the front-runners. The addition of defensive line coach Larry Johnson has only added credibility to Ohio State's efforts in the the Old Dominion State, which has given the Buckeyes Curtis Grant and Jalyn Holmes in recent years.

Ohio State may have little more than a long shot at landing Sweat, but that won't stop the Buckeyes from pulling out all the stops for his arrival on campus this weekend. All it could take is one good visit to sway fortune in Ohio State's favor, as Meyer looks to make an impression on the headliner of this weekend's visitor list.

 

Damien Harris

The top running back in the 2015 class, Damien Harris is a onetime Michigan commit who decided to reconsider his options when he backed away from his verbal pledge to Brady Hoke last January. The Wolverines' loss could be the Buckeyes' gain, as Ohio State now finds itself heavily favored to land the Berea (Kentucky) Madison Southern product.

At 5'11" and 205 pounds, Harris is a 5-star prospect who fits the mold of the bigger type of running back that Meyer has preferred since Carlos Hyde found success in his spread offense. Kentucky hasn't traditionally been known as a power-rich state when it comes to producing college football talent, although the Buckeyes will have to fend off the home state Wildcats in order to secure a commitment from Harris.

Michigan also remains in the picture for Harris, as do Alabama and Florida. But as of right now, Ohio State is the only school that is scheduled to receive an official visit from the Bluegrass State product, which will come this weekend alongside some of the country's other top prospects.

 

Matthew Burrell

Sweat won't be the only prospect from Virginia in attendance in Columbus on Saturday, as Matthew Burrell will make his way to Ohio State from Woodbridge C.D. Hylton High School.

A 4-star prospect, Burrell ranks as the nation's fourth-ranked guard and No. 96 overall prospect in the 2015 class. Since arriving at Ohio State, Meyer has made it clear that he can never recruit too many talented offensive linemen, signing five players at the position in his 2014 class.

While Alabama and Florida State remain in the hunt for the 6'5", 302-pounder, 98 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions have Burrell winding up at Ohio State. This weekend's visit could go a long way toward solidifying the Buckeyes' status with the highly touted lineman who has already taken two unofficial visits to Columbus in the past year.

 

Jordan Whitehead

Another likely Ohio State commit, Whitehead will make his way to Columbus a little more than a month after attending the Buckeyes' Friday Night Lights camp. 247Sports currently favors the Monaca (Pennsylvania) Central Valley product to eventually wind up at Ohio State, although Penn State and West Virginia remain in the race for his services.

The 6'0", 180-pounder ranks as a 4-star prospect and the No. 20 cornerback in the 2015 class. He visited Pittsburgh a week ago but has no other official visits planned after his trip to Columbus.

Expected to announce his college decision on Oct. 3, this weekend's visit from Whitehead could go a long way toward sealing the deal for Ohio State in his recruitment. The Buckeyes already have four cornerbacks committed to their 2015 class, but Meyer wouldn't mind adding another—especially with the talent of Whitehead.

 

Jacques Patrick

Of the long-shot variety, 4-star running back Jacques Patrick is expected to take an official visit to Ohio State this weekend, although most expect the product of Timber Creek High School in Orlando, Florida to wind up at Florida State.

At 6'1.5" and 230 pounds, Patrick is a true power back who also possesses 4.51 40-yard speed. Patrick ranks as the nation's No. 2 running back and 44th overall player, making him a big get for whichever team lands his services.

And while that team is expected to be the Seminoles, getting him to Columbus and onto the Ohio State campus can't hurt the Buckeyes' chances, no matter how small they are. It's no secret that Meyer would like to land two running backs in his 2015 class, and finding a way to bring both Harris and Patrick to Ohio State would be quite the haul for the two-time national champion head coach.

 

Kevin Toliver II

Also a long shot, but taking a visit to Columbus this weekend nevertheless is 5-star cornerback Kevin Toliver II, who has been committed to LSU since Nov. 4, 2012. At 6'2" and 185 pounds, Toliver measures in as the nation's second-ranked cornerback and the No. 7 overall player in the 2015 class.

And although the Jacksonville Trinity Christian product has maintained what is nearly a two-year commitment to the Tigers, he has insisted on taking all five of his official visits this fall, the first of which came last weekend when he checked out Auburn. After taking in his Ohio State visit this weekend, Toliver will head to Virginia Tech on Sept. 19, LSU on Nov. 7 and UCLA on Nov. 21.

Those trips reek of a player trying to make the most out of his recruiting experience, although who's going to argue with one of the top players in the country wanting to check out your campus? As mentioned with Sweat and Patrick, it never hurts to have a player take a visit, even if—as will likely be the case with Toliver—that's all it's for.

 

2016 Prospects

In addition to some of the top high school seniors in the country, a number of highly touted 2016 prospects will make their way to Ohio Stadium for this Saturday's game. Those juniors expected to be in attendance include but aren't limited to:

Fort Lauderdale (Florida) St. Thomas Aquinas 5-star defensive end Nick Bosa

Columbus (Ohio) Gahanna Lincoln 4-star defensive end Jonathon Cooper

Saint Clairsville (Ohio) 4-star outside linebacker Brendan Ferns

Nashville (Tennessee) Father Ryan 4-star safety Joejuan Williams

Indianapolis (Indiana) Ben Davis 4-star running back Chris Evans

Detroit (Michigan) Cass Tech 4-star offensive guard Michael Onwenu

Eden Prairie (Minnesota) 3-star outside linebacker Carter Coughlin

 

Ohio State Commits

In addition to help from LeBron, the Ohio State coaching staff is hopeful that its recruiting efforts will be aided by the presence of several prospects who have already issued verbal commitments to the Buckeyes. Ohio State's next three recruiting classes will each be represented on campus on Saturday, with the following commits expected to take visits to Columbus:

2015 Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier 5-star outside linebacker Justin Hilliard

2015 Saint Paul (Minnesota) Cretin Derham Hall 4-star defensive end Jashon Cornell

2015 Dublin (Ohio) Scioto 4-star inside linebacker Nick Conner

2015 Hyattsville (Maryland) DeMatha Catholic 3-star safety Tyler Green

2015 Detroit (Michigan) Cass Tech 3-star defensive end Joshua Alabi

2015 Columbus (Ohio) Worthington Kilbourne long snapper Liam McCullough

2016 Hubbard (Ohio) 4-star running back George Hill

2016 Portsmouth (Ohio) Sciotoville 4-star offensive guard Tyler Gerald

2017 Massillon (Ohio) Washington 4-star quarterback Danny Clark 

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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San Diego State Aztecs vs. North Carolina Tar Heels: Betting Odds and Prediction

Don't tell anyone, but the North Carolina Tar Heels have been a pretty good bet at home recently, covering the spread in 13 of their last 18 games in Chapel Hill.

The Heels will try to extend that run Saturday afternoon when they welcome in the Aztecs from San Diego State to Kenan Memorial Stadium.

 

Point spread: Tar Heels opened as 15.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was hovering near 60 points. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 38.7-25.0 UNC

 

Why the San Diego State Aztecs can cover the spread

The Aztecs opened this season with a 38-7 win over FCS Northern Arizona, covering as 18-point favorites. They had the spread taken care of by halftime with a 24-0 lead, then closed things out from there.

San Diego State rushed for 194 yards and went 6 for 12 on third-down conversions, spreading the ball around as 12 different players either ran the ball or caught it. The Aztecs only returned 10 starters this year, but one is senior QB Quinn Kaehler, another is thousand-yard receiver Ezell Ruffin and three more are along the offensive line.

San Diego State has taken advantage of being a big dog over recent seasons, going 5-1 ATS the last six times it's been dogged by two touchdowns or more, per the Odds Shark database Also, the Aztecs catch a break in that this game starts at 8 p.m. local time instead of something closer to noon local, which would be breakfast time on the West Coast.

 

Why the North Carolina Tar Heels can cover the spread

The Tar Heels began 2014 with a 56-29 victory over FCS Liberty, although they couldn't quite cover the line as 30-point chalk. Carolina gave up nine points on defense and even trailed early in the third quarter, but they roared back to score 35 of the last 42 points of the game.

The Heels ran the ball for 208 yards, threw it for 235 more and forced six turnovers. But they committed four of their own to go along with 10 penalties. They're better than that, though. Carolina returned 15 this year, including their starting quarterback, four along the offensive line and seven on defense.

In two seasons under head coach Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels have been favored by two touchdowns or more seven times; they're 5-2 ATS in those spots.

 

Smart Pick

North Carolina has the edge on both sides of the line of scrimmage and should win this game. The only matter will be the margin of victory.

The Heels are 10-4 ATS at home under Fedora, and the last time a team from west of the Mississippi visited Chapel Hill, Carolina sent Idaho home with a 66-0 defeat two years ago. If the Tar Heels can eliminate the turnovers and the penalties, or at least minimize them, they should be fine.

So the pick here is with North Carolina minus the points.

 

Trends:

  • San Diego State is 4-1 SU in its last five road games
  • North Carolina is 13-5 ATS in its past 18 home games

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered first-hand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

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Missouri Tigers vs. Toledo Rockets Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Missouri Tigers are on a roll, with 13 wins and 12 covers in their last 15 games. The Toledo Rockets are on a run of their own, with seven wins in their last eight home games.

This week, Mizzou takes its act on the road for a rare visit to a MAC town when it plays at the Glass Bowl on Saturday afternoon.

 

Point spread: The Tigers opened as 5.5-point favorites, but the line was down to -3.5 by Thursday, according to most sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 60 (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 31.5-28.6 Toledo

 

Why the Missouri Tigers can cover the spread

The Tigers opened this season with a 38-18 victory over FCS South Dakota State, although they couldn't quite cover the spread as 25-point favorites. Mizzou led throughout the game, and just when things got iffy, the Tigers spurted away for the 20-point win.

Missouri outrushed the Jackrabbits 215-119, got three touchdown passes from quarterback Maty Mauk and forced three turnovers. The Tigers only return eight starters this year, but three of them are on the offensive line, and two of them are on the defensive front four.

And that doesn't include Mauk, who now owns a 14-2 career touchdown-to-interception ratio. Finally, Missouri is 3-0 ATS in its last three games chalked as favorites on the road.

 

Why the Toledo Rockets can cover the spread

The Rockets began their season with a 54-20 win over FCS New Hampshire, covering as 11-point chalk. Toledo spotted the Wildcats an early 14-3 lead and then scored 38 points in the second half to roll to the victory.

The Rockets racked up 667 yards of offense, 307 on the ground and 360 through the air. Toledo has 16 starters back this year, including seven on offense, led by four along the line, and nine on defense.

Going back to 2010, the Rockets are 5-0 ATS in their last five games against Big Five conference opponents, according to the Odds Shark college football database, including a cover as 16-point road dogs at Missouri last season.

 

Smart Pick

Missouri has a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball, while Toledo brings back almost its entire offensive line and defense. The Rockets must be licking their chops at the chance to knock off a big-time foe on their home field.

Talent-wise, the Tigers might still have an edge, but this game sets up as a possible upset. So the pick here is on the home dog.

 

Trends

  • Missouri is 13-2 SU in its last 15 games.
  • Toledo is 6-2 SU in its last 8 games.

 

All point-spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line-move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

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Michigan State Spartans vs. Oregon Ducks Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

Despite dealing with some ridiculous point spreads in recent seasons, the Oregon Ducks have been a moneymaker, going 15-7 against the spread over their last 22 games.

But that trend will get tested this week when the Ducks host the defending Rose Bowl champion Michigan State Spartans on Saturday night in Eugene. Might this be a preview of a College Football Playoff game to come?

Might this be yet another ATS win for the Spartans when they get points from the oddsmaker?

 

Spartans-Ducks Point Spread: The Ducks opened as 11-point favorites, but the number was approaching 14 points as of Thursday, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 58 earlier in the week. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 40-28 Ducks

 

Why the Michigan State Spartans can cover the spread

The Spartans are 5-3 straight-up and 7-0-1 ATS the last eight times they've been lined as dogs. Underestimating Michigan State has been very bad for a college football fan's wallet.

They opened 2014 with a 45-7 victory over FCS program Jacksonville State, covering as 34-point chalk. Michigan State led 38-0 at halftime, outgained the Gamecocks 565-244, forced three turnovers and held the ball for 38 minutes.

Sparty returns 12 starters this season, including seven on offense, most notably quarterback Connor Cook and 1,400-yard rusher Jeremy Langford. MSU is on a pretty good road run, going 11-2 SU and 11-1-1 ATS away from East Lansing since 2011.

 

Why the Oregon Ducks can cover the spread

The Ducks opened this season with a 62-13 victory over FCS program South Dakota, just missing a cover as 52-point favorites. Oregon led 35-6 shortly before halftime and scored the last 27 points of the game.

The Ducks have 13 starters back from last season, including eight on offense, led by quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota, 1,000-yard rusher Byron Marshall and four along the offensive line.

Also, over the last two seasons, Oregon has been favored by two touchdowns or less six times, and they've gone 5-1 both SU and ATS in those games.

 

Smart Pick

Oregon looks like it's up to its usual tricks, which will make for a tough matchup for the Spartans, who are not used to dealing with an offensive operation like the Ducks.

And Michigan State, while still formidable, has to replace three starters along the offensive line as well as both defensive tackles from last season. So while a double-digit spread might scare some away, the smart money for this one is on Oregon, minus the points.

 

Trends:

  • Michigan State is 8-0-1 ATS the last nine times as an underdog.
  • Michigan State is 11-2 SU and 11-1-1 ATS record away from home since 2011.
  • Oregon is 15-7 ATS in its last 22 games.

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Latest Look at Week 2 Polls and Standings

When you think of all the hype surrounding the preseason college football polls, then look at where things stand after just one week of games, it shows how ridiculous it is to have a ranking system come out before there's anything to evaluate teams by. 

In fact, I would argue that Week 2 is the first time anyone should examine the polls and see what they mean. Preseason rankings aren't going to go away because there's too much investment in them, but remember not to take them as sacrosanct. 

Now that the railing on preseason polls is over, we should focus on the positives. Let's talk about this week's polls and the Week 2 games that are going to provide the biggest shakeups when the rankings are released next week. 

 

Key Week 2 Matchups

No. 7 Michigan State at No. 3 Oregon

All eyes will be on the Pac-12 this weekend, as the two biggest games involving ranked teams take place out west. The first one is the marquee matchup of Week 2 with the defending Big Ten champion Michigan State Spartans traveling to Autzen Stadium to take on the third-ranked Oregon Ducks. 

In addition to being a battle between two Top 10 teams, the Spartans and Ducks are diametric contradictions. The Spartans want to hit you in the mouth and pummel you with defense; the Ducks want to run you off the field with their offense. 

Ted Miller of ESPN.com listed all the ways in which these two teams differed from each other using last year's stats:

Last year, Oregon ranked No. 2 in the nation in total offense (565 yards per game) and No. 4 in scoring offense (45.5 ppg). Michigan State ranked No. 2 in total defense (252.2 ypg) and No. 3 in scoring defense (13.2 ppg). The Spartans also enter the game knowing they beat the Pac-12 team that beat the Ducks, given that they dispatched Stanford 24-20 in the 2014 Rose Bowl. 

It's not an entirely apt point because college football teams change dramatically each season, but the roster construction is relevant. Mark Helfrich has kept the Chip Kelly legacy alive by recruiting speed and playing at a faster pace than should be humanly possible. 

Mark Dantonio played defensive back at South Carolina and grew up as a coach on the defensive side of the ball, most notably at Ohio State from 2001-03. 

With all that said, ironically, the difference in the game looks like it will come from Michigan State's offense against Oregon's defense. Connor Cook has been hit with the dreaded "game manager" label. 

If Oregon comes out firing on all cylinders in front of its home crowd, Cook will have to make plays down the field to keep things from getting out of hand. He's proven doubters wrong in the past, but even this might be above his head. 

Prediction: Oregon 34, Michigan State 24

 

No. 14 USC at No. 13 Stanford

While it's not getting the same attention as Michigan State vs. Oregon, USC and Stanford might be an even more important game on the schedule because the winner will get a leg up on the loser in the Pac-12 standings. 

This is also a big moment for USC, which is still trying to work its way back to elite status after probation took away scholarships. The Trojans are in good shape right now, but we don't know how good they really are or what will happen when their depth gets tested. 

When you look at the coaches in this game, at least based on their resumes, it's no-contest which side has the edge, via ESPN's College Football Twitter feed:

Steve Sarkisian could never figure out how to bring top-tier talent to Washington and was working with a blank slate, while David Shaw took over a program Jim Harbaugh built and has kept rolling. 

Neither one is an excuse or denigration of the jobs they have done, just an observation based on their career trajectories. 

The last four times these teams have met, the results have been nothing less than exciting. Each game has been decided by eight points or less, including one overtime game in 2011 and a last-second field goal in 2013. 

That certainly signals an entertaining game, though Stanford's physical style will eventually wear out USC's defense and give the Cardinal the upper hand in the Pac-12 title race. 

Prediction: Stanford 27, USC 20

 

Michigan at No. 16 Notre Dame

This game is notable not just because it's Michigan and Notre Dame, but because it will be the last time we see these two teams play each other for a long time. Since the Fighting Irish are becoming a de facto ACC school in football, there's no room for the Wolverines anymore. 

This also has the potential to be an exciting showdown, as noted by Bill Bender of SportingNews.com on Twitter:

That stat is misleading because Michigan played an FCS school (Appalachian State). Notre Dame's performance does deserve praise since it came with a quarterback in Everett Golson making his first start since the 2012 season and suspensions to wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore as the school investigates an academic fraud scandal. 

The Wolverines do have their own dynamic playmaker at quarterback in Devin Gardner and a special talent at wide receiver in Devin Funchess, who Gardner raved about after the Appalachian State game to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:

We are going to find out just how much of that raw potential Funchess has tapped into already against a solid Notre Dame secondary. The Fightin' Irish have had to supplement their depth due to the absence of Russell, so Michigan might be able to take more chances than it otherwise would have. 

If that happens, the Wolverines will end their rivalry with Notre Dame in style. 

Prediction: Michigan 20, Notre Dame 17

 

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