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College Football Week 2 Preview — Is Michigan St. vs. Oregon Our First Playoff Elimination Game?

Eastern Washington v Oregon
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No. 5 Michigan State hosts No. 7 Oregon in a game that could help determine a playoff spot at the end of the season. That’s just one of the big stories this week in college football.

Can Michigan State Make a Statement?

The biggest game of the week could have serious title implications. No. 5 Michigan State is looking to show that they’re not ready to concede the Big Ten to Ohio State, while No. 7 Oregon hopes to prove they will continue to be a national contender in the post–Marcus Mariota era.

Michigan State boasted the nation’s best defense last year and is looking for redemption after being torched for 491 yards and 46 points in last year’s matchup, the Spartans’ only loss of the season and a game that was much closer than the final score indicated.

“It ain’t goin’ down like that again.”

All eyes will be on Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams. Although the Eastern Washington transfer played well in his first start (340 total yards and two touchdowns), this will certainly be the toughest defense and most raucous crowd he’s ever faced. The Spartans have made no secret of the fact their goal is to take away Oregon’s running game and force Adams to beat them with his arm. Last week, the Spartans held Western Michigan to just 18 rushing yards.

This will be the first matchup between Top 10 teams in Spartan Stadium since No. 2 Michigan State hosted No. 1 Notre Dame in 1966.

Can Bob Stoops Find His Mojo? Or Is Tennessee Really Back?

There are two things you can always count on in September: Tennessee fans being overly optimistic that this is the year they get back to being an SEC power and Oklahoma fans wondering if Bob Stoops has lost his “Big Game Bob” mojo. Both theories will be put to the test this week when No. 19 Oklahoma invades Knoxville to take on No. 23 Tennessee.

After a disappointing (by Sooner standards) 8-5 season, Stoops overhauled the O.U. offense, hiring a new offensive coordinator and going back to the up-tempo passing attack he and Mike Leach made famous over a decade ago. New quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 388 yards (a school record for a season opener) and three touchdowns in Oklahoma’s win over Akron and should be able to have success against a Tennessee secondary that gave up 433 passing yards to Bowling Green.

On the other side, the Vols may have finally found a quarterback. Tennessee is now 5–1 since Joshua Dobbs took over as the starting quarterback late last year. In his six starts, he’s averaged nearly 284 total yards per game and scored 18 touchdowns. But he’ll face his toughest test to date in the form of O.U. linebacker Eric Striker, who lived in the Tennessee backfield in last year’s matchup, a 34-10 O.U. win.

So something has to give: the two teams were a combined 0–9 against ranked opponents last year and are looking for a signature win. Oklahoma is 7–0–1 all-time against the SEC in regular season games (as compared to 5–7–1 in bowl games).

Is the SEC Really That Good?

Although Ohio State is still a unanimous No. 1, the SEC is the story of the week after posting a record 10 teams in this week’s AP Top 25. Texas A&M joined the party at No. 16 after crushing Arizona State, and Mississippi State, with a 34-16 win over Southern Miss, got the nod over BYU and Northwestern (both coming off big road wins over Power 5 teams) to come in at No. 25. Is this proof of the SEC’s dominance? Or, in the absence of a larger body of work by other contenders, does the conference get by largely on reputation and ESPN’s SEC bias? Your opinion on that question probably largely depends on your zip code and proximity to an SEC tailgate.

While the Pac-12 has worked its way into the discussion in recent years, it’s clear that, until someone knocks them off, the SEC is still king of the college football mountain. Unfortunately, this week will do little to dispel that position as, with the exception of No. 14 LSU and No. 25 Mississippi State squaring off against each other and No. 23 Tennessee hosting No. 19 Oklahoma, the rest of the conference heavyweights are still in the middle of cupcake season against the likes of Ball State, Toledo, Middle Tennessee and Jacksonville State.

We’ll have to wait a few more weeks to see who remains. Of course, then the debate will become whether the SEC overrated to start with. Or are they all actually that good and do they just beat up on each other every week? That’s an argument that will go on for some time.

Will Jim Harbaugh Get His First Maize-and-Blue Win?

The Wolverines fell flat in last week’s 24-17 loss at Utah. But Michigan’s first home game against Oregon State could also prove to be a homecoming celebration for new coach Jim Harbaugh. He wants Michigan to be a pounding, physical team. The offensive line struggled in run-blocking last week, but could have more success against a smaller Oregon State defensive line.

Look for another big game from Michigan junior tight end Jake Butt (eight catches for 93 yards and a touchdown last week).

I have no idea if that will happen. My inner 12-year old just wanted to write “butt” and “tight end”. Huh huh, huh.

Will the Last Defender Left at TCU Please Turn Out the Lights?

Before the emergence of Trevone Boykin, TCU coach Gary Patterson was known as a defensive mastermind. But he may have to do his best coaching job yet for the Horned Frogs to make a title run, as the injury bug has bitten early in Fort Worth.

Already starting three new faces, TCU’s linebacker corps has been particularly hard hit. Junior Sammy Douglas is going to miss the rest of the season after suffering an undisclosed injury during the team’s second series at Minnesota last week. Freshman linebacker Mike Freeze, who also started Week 1, is taking an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons.

Up front, things aren’t much better. Defensive tackle Davion Pierson, the Frogs’ most experienced starter, missed the Minnesota game with an undisclosed injury and is not expected to be available this week against Stephen F. Austin. And defensive end James McFarland, who led the team in sacks last year, missed the season opener and then broke a bone in his foot earlier this week after stepping on a sprinkler head. He is expected to have season-ending surgery next week.

The number of returning starts has dropped from 76 to 32. And, while the Horned Frogs’ schedule shouldn’t pose much problem the next few weeks, TCU’s margin for error against the better teams they’ll face later is looking awfully thin.

Meanwhile, at the TCU practice facility…

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