Week 2 of the college football season is famously short on quantity, but high on quality. There aren't many good games, but those that are have more juice than a Mackinaw peach.
1a) Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi vs. Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost: I had the opportunity to hear Narduzzi speak over the summer, and I was more than ready for this game back then. I fell in love with Narduzzi's scheme then, and reinforced that love when reading Smart Football's breakdown of the Michigan State scheme this week. The Ducks flew right past South Dakota in their opener, but never looked quite like the Oregon offense that ripped so many teams to shreds over the final five games of last season.
1b) Michigan State offensive coordinators Jim Bollman and Dave Warner vs. Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum: There are two templates to beating Oregon. There's the Arizona way, where you take an all-everything running back and pair him with a mobile quarterback to rush 62 times for 308 yards and four touchdowns. This model is best used when playing against an Oregon quarterback playing through a significant knee injury. Then there's the Stanford model, where you bludgeon the Oregon front with a powerful running attack and mix in an opportunistic passing game. We know which option Michigan State will use. How will Oregon handle it?
3) USC head coach Steve Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Clay Helton vs. Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson: There's a bit of a history between these two head coaches, and it was USC's Ed Orgeron-led upset of Stanford that knocked the Cardinal out of national title contention, but the most interesting aspect of this game is the here and now. USC ran 105 plays in their opener against Fresno State, second most of any team in Week 1. Stanford would very much not like to defend 105 plays, or any number approaching that. Whoever wins first down when USC's offense is on the field wins this game, and gets an early leg up on their respective Pac-12 division races.
4) Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier vs. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder: This one feels pretty simple. Each side played well in their openers, respective blowouts of Appalachian State and Rice, but this will be their first test with equal talent lining up across the ball. Notre Dame is 1-3 versus Michigan under Brian Kelly, its only win coming in 2012 when Bob Diaco's defense sacked Denard Robinson three times and forced five interceptions. A replica of that performance against Devin Gardner should lead to a Notre Dame win.
5) Texas head coach Charlie Strong anddefensive coordinator Vance Bedford vs. BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae: You should know by now what BYU and quarterback Taysom Hill did to Texas. In case you don't, reading Hill reminisce about his experience last year as "surreal" and "so much fun" pretty much summarizes everything you need to know. Without its own quarterback, an already thin margin for error becomes nearly invisible for the Texas defense. Strong and company will look to do something the Longhorns could not last year, cut out Hill's legs and make him beat them through the air. Fortunately, Texas has just the coach to do that. As ESPN's Max Olson points out, Charlie Strong defenses have allowed a total of 600 rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks in the past 10 seasons.
6) Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman vs. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster: Stastically speaking, J.T. Barrett had the best debut of any recent Ohio State quarterback. Bud Foster and company will put that to the test. It's far too early to draw any conclusions, but a 34-9 beating of William & Mary in which the Hokies limited the Tribe to 193 yards of total offense tell us this may be another season straight out of the Foster vintage.
7) South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward vs. East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley: South Carolina's Week 1 performance was the most confusing - Steve Spurrier would call it embarrassing - in all of college football. What did Kenny Hill's 511 passing yards tell us more about, South Carolina or Texas A&M? Or was it both? One thing we do know: East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden is more than capable of making the Gamecock pass defense hit the 1,000-yards allowed mark by Week 2 without a massive turnaround.
8) Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez and offensive coordinator Calvin Magee vs. UTSA defensive coordinator Neal Neathery: One unit racked up an FBS-best 787 yards of total offense (434 passing, 353 rushing) in its debut, the other allowed an FBS-fewest minus-26 rushing yards. One is quarterbacked by a redshirt freshman in his first road game, the other boasts what might be the most experienced roster in FBS history. Playing in a jacked-up Alamodome, this is the best under-the-radar game of the weekend.
Three honorable mentions:
- Colorado State at Boise State: Can Boise State man up and handle the Colorado State running game? If not, Boise State very likely loses its fourth game in five tries, and Bryan Harsin starts 0-2.
- Ole Miss at Vanderbilt: Based on their Week 1 performances, Ole Miss should control this one throughout. I don't think that happens, though. I think we'll see a stellar effort from Vanderbilt's defense, but can Karl Dorrell milk anything out of the Commodores' offense?
- Virginia Tech at Ohio State: Urban Meyer on Tuesday described Scot Loeffler as one of the most knowledgeable coaches he's been around. Can that knowledge, and transfer quarterback Michael Brewer, hit Ohio State over the top?