College Football Week Two Picks
One of the most anticipated games of the year kicks off in Eugene this Saturday, a battle that will help clear the Playoff picture a little bit. Both of these teams were extremely impressive in Week One, Oregon running all over FCS opponent South Dakota, while Michigan State also shut down an FCS school in Jacksonville State. These two teams are basically polar opposites; the Ducks rely on their speed and offensive explosiveness, while MSU relies on their power and defensive strength. Oregon will bring Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and a veteran offensive line to square off against a Pat Narduzzi-led defense that is extremely physical and disciplined. The key to stopping Oregon is to pressure Mariota; although he is a great quarterback, he will crack when defenders are constantly disrupting his rhythm. Also important is to make tackles in open space, something the Spartans excel at. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun is among the best pass rushers in the nation and he should constantly be pressuring Mariota. Combine him with linebacker Taiwan Jones and rangy safety Kurtis Drummond and the Ducks won't get any easy points. Meanwhile, Michigan State will hope their offense can get the job done. Connor Cook looked really good against Jacksonville State and he is very efficient; if he can make the tough throws, anything is possible, especially with dangerous Tony Lippett to throw to. Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will hope to shut down Lippett, who had a great opener, but the Ducks do not have a proven run stuffer who can stop running back Jeremy Langford. Oregon has struggled to handle the sheer power of Stanford the past two seasons and Michigan State plays very similar to the Cardinal. This time, things are different though. Mariota is smarter, stronger and motivated, plus the Ducks get home field advantage. As long as Oregon doesn't turn the ball over, they could manage a huge victory.
Oregon, 31 Michigan State, 21
13 Stanford vs. 14 USC
USC was absolutely superb in Steve Sarkisian's first game as head coach with the team, as the Trojans dominated Fresno State, 42-13. Now, Sarkisian and the Trojans are hoping to prove they are legit and that they can play that well against a national title contender, in Stanford. The Cardinal blew out UC Davis but questions still loom defensively and on the offensive line, the strengths of the team for years. Cody Kessler threw for nearly 400 yards against Fresno for USC and he could put up huge numbers in Sarkisian's offense. Speedy Nelson Agholor is a legitimate deep threat, while JuJu Smith broke out in his first game in collegiate football. Add to that versatile runner Javarious Allen and USC's offense will be incredibly tough to stop. Though, if there is a defense that can stop an offense like that inside the Pac-12, it is Stanford's defense. The Cardinal will bring physical defensive end Henry Anderson to the table, along with two great veterans, in A.J. Tarpley and Jordan Richards, both great tacklers. While so much personnel is gone on defense, David Shaw has built a deep, athletic defense that has the speed to hang with the Trojans. The X-factor for Stanford will be their offense, which tends to struggle in big games. Junior QB Kevin Hogan has struggled with turnovers at times but looked great in the team's opener. With deep threats such as Devon Cajuste and Ty Mongtomery, he will have the opportunity to have some big plays. The O-Line must be on its A game, USC brings a dominant pass rusher in Leonard Williams to the equation. The linemen is gifted with great versatility and strength and should put together a big day. Barry Sanders Jr. looked good in the team's opener as well, but it is not yet known whether he will be the every-down, reliable back the Cardinal need. This is a tough pick, but the Trojans made many believers with their performance (including me) and Stanford's offense probably won't be able to keep up with them.
USC, 35 Stanford, 23
16 Notre Dame vs. Michigan
This is the last meeting between these two rivals for the foreseeable future and this game is sure to be exciting. The Wolverines were great in their opener against Appalachian State, while Notre Dame had no troubles with Rice, beating them by over four scores. The Fighting Irish will lean on quarterback Everett Golson, who didn't look very rusty against the Owls. Golson will always be tough to stop because not only is he a dual threat, he just makes plays. His rushing ability will keep the Michigan defense on its toes, a defense that is susceptible to big plays. Along with Golson, Notre Dame's ground attack has backup QB Malik Zaire, explosive Greg Bryant, powerful Cam McDaniel and reliable Tarean Folston. Michigan's rush defense is not terrible but it certainly isn't great and the Wolverines will most likely be leaning heavily on the play of experienced linebacker Jake Ryan. While the offense will almost certainly put up points, the defense has some major question marks, especially in the front seven. That rush defense could be a real issue against Michigan, a team that also has a variety of weapons in their backfield. Ru1nning back Derrick Green ran all over App State to the tune of 170 yards on 15 carries, an average of over 11 yards per carry, while De'Veon Smith ran for 115 more, while adding two touchdowns. Combine that with Devin Gardner, also a dual threat, and Michigan will also run the ball, early and often. Gardner is the X-factor in this battle; the senior had a great game against Notre Dame a year ago but has been inconsistent and has struggled with turnovers since. With reliable tight end/wide receiver Devin Funchess (7 catches, 95 yards in opener) he won't have to do too much, and the Irish pass rush isn't very dominant. With questions on defense for both teams, this one could well come out too be a shootout, especially if Gardner can find his touch. While Golson has yet to lose in the regular season, he just doesn't have the weapons surrounding him that he had in 2012 and the Irish could suffer an early setback. Michigan's offense shows some explosiveness and beats Notre Dame in a nail-biter, something all too common in this rivalry.
Michigan, 40 Notre Dame, 37
BYU, 45 Texas, 27
8 Ohio State, 24 Virginia Tech, 14
11 UCLA, 41 Memphis, 17
15 Ole Miss, 35 Vanderbilt, 13
2 Alabama, 31 Florida Atlantic, 6
Previous Picks Record: 5-3