Game of the Week: #7 Michigan State at #3 Oregon
Oregon is a 12-point home favorite in the biggest matchup of the early portion of the season, one that puts two potential playoff teams against each other. This matchup puts speed against toughness, as the Ducks are known for their up-tempo offense and the Spartans are known for their rugged defense. Michigan State is playing their first regular season game between two top ten teams since tying Notre Dame in 1966. Last week, the Spartans actually impressed with their offense, with QB Connor Cook going 12-for-13 with 285 yards and 3 touchdowns in a half of play, a part of the Spartans’ 45-7 win over Jacksonville State. Oregon, led by QB Marcus Mariota, also was impressive in their 62-13 win over South Dakota. The Ducks are 22-7 at home against ranked opponents since 1998, and they’re just a little bit better overall than the Spartans. There is, after all, a reason they’re ranked a few spots higher.
Oregon 28, Michigan State 20.
Big Game Guarantee: #14 USC at #13 Stanford
Stanford is a three-point home favorite in this in-state rivalry game that has really picked up in relevance the last few years, dating back to Stanford’s 41-point upset over the Trojans during the Jim Harbaugh days. Now, there is a storyline regarding Stanford coach David Shaw and USC coach Steve Sarkisian, after last year’s Stanford-Washington game (Sarkisian was the Washington coach) led to a war of words after a hard-fought Cardinal victory. The Trojans are very upbeat and optimistic after hiring Sarkisian, but they do have some bad vibes after Josh Shaw was suspended for lying about how he hurt his ankles and Anthony Brown quit the team, accusing Sarkisian of being a racist. While those distractions didn’t seem to hurt the Trojans in last week’s 52-13 win over Fresno State, playing the Cardinal is a much tougher test. Stanford had won four straight in the series, which always seems to produce great games, before last year’s 20-17 loss in Los Angeles, and is defending a 17-game home winning streak, the nation’s longest. Sarkisian is looking for his first big win at USC, but I don’t think his team is quite ready.
Stanford 24, USC 20.
Another Big Game Guarantee: Michigan at #16 Notre Dame
In the final scheduled meeting between rivals Michigan and Notre Dame, the Irish are four-point home favorites. The series dates back to 1887, when Michigan students played a pickup game against Notre Dame students after driving to South Bend to teach their peers the new game, and has been played almost continuously since 1978, but Notre Dame has stopped agreeing to play the Wolverines, claiming that their contract to play five games against ACC teams each year made it necessary. Michigan, naturally, claims the Irish are “chickening out” of the series. Both sides are coming off of big wins over overwhelmed competition, with Notre Dame beating Rice 48-17, and Michigan beating Appalachian State 52-14. For the Irish, it was QB Everett Golson’s return after missing all of last season due to academic ineligibility. In terms of depth and the strength of the players on the field, this Irish team is actually closer to the 2012 team that played for a national title that last year’s team was. Michigan still has a lot of question marks, despite a very complete game last week, including the cloudy future of coach Brady Hoke. With the game in South Bend, Notre Dame should take care of business.
Notre Dame 31, Michigan 21.
Upset of the Week: Virginia Tech at #8 Ohio State
The Buckeyes are 11-point home favorites in the first big test for either team. This game seemed like a possible top-20 matchup when it was scheduled, but the Hokies have slipped from their national relevance over the last couple of years. Ohio State, on the other hand, remains in the top 10, and hasn’t lost a regular season game under Urban Meyer, now in his third year. However, it took a second half rally for the Buckeyes to defeat Navy last week, and although the Hokies played FCS opponent William & Mary, they looked strong in a 34-9 win. After being a force for so much of coach Frank Beamer’s career, the Hokies have lost six out of their last seven against ranked opponents, priming them for a potential run at the win this week. On the other side, Ohio State has won 64 consecutive non-conference home games over unranked opponents, but the preseason loss of QB Braxton Miller will eventually catch up to them. The question is how long that will take. Tech’s defense is strong enough to test freshman QB J.T. Barrett, and if the score stays low, it plays right into their hands.
Virginia Tech 17, Ohio State 16.
Another Upset of the Week: BYU at Texas
A year ago, BYU had 679 total yards, including 550 rushing yards, in a 40-21 upset win over the Longhorns in Provo. It was the final game at Texas for defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who was fired afterward, and was the beginning of the end for head coach Mack Brown, who resigned after the season. This year, with a different Texas team and coaching staff, led by Charlie Strong, and a chip on their shoulder from last year’s embarrassment, the Longhorns will come out ready to play. BYU is a one-point road favorite, as this year’s game is in Austin, and will be the first big game of the Charlie Strong era, as well as their last game before taking on top-10 opponent UCLA next week. Both teams looked good in week one, although both played weaker competition, with BYU beating Connecticut 35-10, and Texas beating North Texas 38-7. With the motivation for this game for Texas, along with a more mature defense and a more mature quarterback in David Ash, the Longhorns should make a statement.
Texas 34, BYU 23.
Closer Than The Experts Think: East Carolina at #21 South Carolina
South Carolina is a 17-point home favorite as they try to rebound from their embarrassing loss to Texas A&M to open the season. The Gamecocks weakness in the game was certainly their defense, allowing Aggies QB Kenny Hill to throw for 511 yards and giving up 52 points. Now, in what should be a slightly lighter test for the Gamecocks, they face East Carolina, whose strength is their passing offensive attack. QB Shane Carden threw for 283 yards in a 52-7 win last week over NC Central, returning from last year’s 10-win Pirates team. However, lost in the fact that Hill threw all over the Gamecock secondary is the fact that QB Dylan Thompson, while only completing 50% of his passes, threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns. While Thompson didn’t look particularly comfortable on the field last week, perhaps a week of practice will help his comfort level in this week’s game. It’s a cliché that whoever scores more points will win the game, but here it’s particularly true, as both offenses should play well, but expect the Gamecocks to end up with a few more on the scoreboard.
South Carolina 49, East Carolina 35.
NFL Game of the Week: Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
Denver is an eight-point home favorite in the primetime game on Sunday night in the NFL’s opening week. When the two teams met last year, it was about Peyton Manning’s return to Indianapolis for the first time since signing with the Broncos, and the Colts won 39-33 at an emotional Lucas Oil Stadium. This time around, as the Colts travel to Denver, it is about two of the AFC’s best teams, and whether or not the Broncos can get off on the right foot in their defense of the AFC title, despite the bad momentum from a 43-8 Super Bowl loss. The quarterback matchup in this game is outstanding, with Manning taking on the Colts’ Andrew Luck, who some consider to be the next great quarterback in the NFL. Both sides also have good units at wide receiver, giving each passer trustworthy targets to throw to. The biggest difference in the two teams is on defense. The Broncos’ defense, which at times last year was a liability while Manning and company put up record-setting numbers, has added DE DeMarcus Ware to strengthen the defensive line and CB Aqib Talib to strengthen the secondary, and returns a strong linebacking core led by Von Miller. The Colts defense doesn’t have a superstar player, and although they ranked 9th in the NFL in points allowed last year, they will be challenged to stop Manning and his targets. Last year, Manning threw for a NFL-record-tying seven touchdowns in the opener against Baltimore. While he probably won’t repeat that historic performance, he could very well take charge.
Denver 38, Indianapolis 27.