By Dave Miller, National Football Post
Week 1 is in the books, and Cincinnati kicked off Week 2 in fine fashion Thursday night at home with a thorough whipping of a Pittsburgh team that now sits at 0-2.
Which other teams are set to drop their first two games of the year? Which squads are trying to get to .500? And which schools will be sitting pretty at 2-0?
Once again, dust off that grill and get it fired up because we’re starting this weekend’s tailgate.
Michigan, Penn State, N.C. State, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Syracuse are among the major programs that are trying to avoid dropping to 0-2 this weekend.
The Wolverines shouldn't have too much trouble against Air Force, although the Wolverines' front seven did not do much of anything in the loss to Alabama last week after forcing a three-and-out on the Crimson Tide's first possession. The Falcons may be able to break off some long runs off of the option, but this Michigan defense has seen the option attack at times during practice from Denard Robinson. Speaking of "Shoelace," it will be shocking if he does not have a huge game coming off of his disastrous Week 1 performance.
Syracuse, meanwhile, should get overwhelmed by a USC offense that is arguably the best in the nation. With Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Silas Redd, even strong defenses will have their problems. As we saw against Northwestern last week, the Orange defense should be overmatched. But can quarterback Ryan Nassib make plays against a USC defense that is thin along the defensive line? Finding a pass rush is still an issue for the Trojans, so if Nassib has time he can make plays through the air, specifically to star receiver Alec Lemon. The problem is that those opportunities won't be plentiful, and the Trojans' secondary is strong.
N.C. State suffered a setback in Week 1 to Tennessee at the Georgia Dome, and the most surprising aspect of that game was the poor play of All-America cornerback David Amerson and the entire Wolfpack defense. Tom O'Brien's squad relies on sacks and turnovers from its defense, and it was shredded by Tyler Bray, Cordarrelle Patterson and the Tennessee offense. Can they bounce back in a road tilt against UConn? The Huskies shut out UMass last week and received strong performances from junior-college quarterback transfer Chandler Whitmer and running back Lyle McCombs. But this UConn offense still concerns me against better competition, and I think the Wolfpack are primed for a strong defensive effort. And quarterback Mike Glennon will not throw four interceptions as he did against the Vols even with the Huskies' defense being the strength of the team.
The three games involving teams mentioned above that may be the most intriguing this weekend are Penn State at Virginia, Auburn at Mississippi State and Vanderbilt at Northwestern. Let's take a look at those a little more closely...
Penn State at Virginia
X-Factor: Nittany Lions defensive front vs. Cavaliers deep backfield...Last week against Ohio, Penn State's defense wilted in the second half. While the offense was partly to blame for the team not being able to hold an 11-point lead, Jordan Hill, Gerald Hodges and the rest of the front seven seemed to wilt in the heat and humidity in State College. The concerning aspect of that meltdown is the fact that the front seven is the strength not only of the defense but of the entire team. One factor may have been Ohio's fast-paced offense and the fact that cornerback Stephon Morris injured his ankle, but Bill O'Brien will need a better effort from his defense. It will be difficult, though, against a Virginia team that boasts a deep backfield. Sophomore Kevin Parks ran for two touchdowns in the opener while senior Perry Jones and sophomore Khalek Shepherd added scores of their own. Because the Cavs like to run the football while mixing in Michael Rocco's passing game, the Cavs are a well-balanced, ball-control team. Keeping that faster-paced Penn State offense off of the field will be the goal, and we could see the Nittany Lions defense wear down once again.
Auburn at Mississippi State
X-Factor: Tigers defensive pressure vs. Bulldogs QB Tyler Russell...Last season Mississippi State suffered a gut-wrenching 41-34 road loss to Auburn when the Tigers defense stopped Bulldogs quarterback Chris Relf at the goal line as time expired. This season, MSU has a quarterback in Tyler Russell who is a more accomplished passer than Relf, so Dan Mullen's offense is more pass-happy. Still, the Bulldogs were balanced last week in their opener, so this is an offense that will test an Auburn defense that is still growing up. Keep an eye on the Auburn front four, led by ends Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford, who combined for 13 tackles and three sacks against Clemson last week. They'll be going up against Mississippi State tackles Blane Clausell and Charles Siddoway, who have combined for six career starts. The Auburn secondary was plagued by missed tackles and missed assignments last week, so getting pressure on Russell off of the edge will at least help out a re-shuffled secondary that needs to grow up fast. Can Mississippi State finally beat an SEC West division team not named Ole Miss since Mullen took over in 2009?
Vanderbilt at Northwestern
X-Factor: Commodores QB Jordan Rodgers vs. Wildcats secondary...Starting with senior running back Zac Stacy and a few young players itching to get more carries out of the backfield, Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers has plenty of playmakers to utilize on this Commodores offense. Junior wide receiver Jordan Matthews is one of them after his 147-yard, eight-catch effort against South Carolina in the season opener. And the aerial attack has not been good to Northwestern recently, as the Wildcats were poor against the pass last year and allowed Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib to pick them apart last week. Rodgers will have plenty of opportunities to expose the Wildcats' secondary on Saturday night in Evanston, and expect those Vandy backs to slip out of the backfield and get involved in the passing game as well. The Cardiac 'Cats are always tough to play against, and Kain Colter will have plenty of receiving options of his own. A shootout under the lights at Ryan Field? Expect it. I just like Vandy's defense even on the road.
Other games of note
Central Florida at Ohio State: The Knights have some playmakers on offense and on defense, but they don't have a player as special as Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller.
Miami (FL) at Kansas State: Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein continues to go under the radar nationally, but the Miami defense will get an up-close and personal look at one of the best dual-threats in the nation.
Purdue at Notre Dame: Boilermakers quarterback Caleb TerBush will be able to make some plays down the field against a green Fighting Irish secondary, but ND's front seven will be too much for the Boilers.
Florida at Texas A&M: The Gators will stunt up front defensively and be a bit too overwhelming for Aggies freshman signal-caller Johnny Manziel in what should be a raucous environment at Kyle Field.
Iowa State at Iowa: Steele Jantz seems to create magic for the Cyclones, but will the Hawkeyes drop a second straight game to their in-state rivals? Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis doesn't have a lot of material to work with, but it's tough to imagine the Hawks dropping this game at home.
Wisconsin at Oregon State: The Beavers had their opener against Nicholls State postponed, which is unfortunate because they'll be getting a Badgers squad that wants to make up for their average performance in their opener last week.
Washington at LSU: The Huskies can score points with Keith Price at quarterback, but the Tigers will not allow the Huskies to run the ball enough to keep a balanced offense. And Justin Wilcox's Washington defense will be worn down by the LSU run game.
Nebraska at UCLA: Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley will have his moments on Saturday against a Cornhuskers defense still trying to find their identity, but Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez will lead an offense that will move the chains with or without running back Rex Burkhead.
Georgia at Missouri: This could end up being the game of the week, as the Tigers make their SEC debut. Can the Bulldogs run the football against a stout Mizzou front? With the 'Dawgs having personnel issues in the secondary, as well as missing linebacker Alec Ogletree, I think the Tigers have enough playmakers to cause problems in space.
Oklahoma State at Arizona: New Wildcats defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel did not have enough time to prepare for the Pokes' high-octane offense.
Illinois at Arizona State: The strength of the Illini is their defensive front, and that will cause enough problems for Todd Graham's spread scheme.
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