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College Football Preview, Week 2: Alabama, Penn State Highlight Action

As usual, the first weekend in college football provided some fireworks, some upsets, unveiled new stars, and exposed a few teams who were rated too highly. We're expecting much of the same in Week 2. Check out what's in store.

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As usual, the first weekend in college football provided some fireworks, some upsets, unveiled new stars, and exposed a few teams who were rated too highly.  Almost all of the fireworks took place in Waco, TX on Friday night where, behind junior quarterback Robert Griffin III (now and forever known as RG3), the Baylor Bears eviscerated the vaunted TCU defense to the tune of 50 points.  It almost wasn’t enough though as the Horned Frogs rallied back with 25 straight fourth quarter points before ultimately falling short in the closing moments.

The win for the Bears was their first over a ranked team since 1996 and provided a stage for RG3 to take the (way too) early lead in the Heisman race as he threw for nearly 400 yards and 5 touchdowns. 

Not to be outdone in the dramatics department, the Auburn Tigers opened up defense of their national championship with a wild 42-38 win over their expected sacrificial lambs, the Aggies of Utah State.  The Aggies led 38-28 with four minutes to play before quarterback Barrett Trotter and running back Michael Dyer led a wild comeback in the final minutes which included the most beautifully executed on-side kick in recent memory.

Unfortunately, the perennially overrated Notre Dame Fighting Irish were not nearly as fortunate to escape with a win and their pre-season ranking in tact as the 16th ranked Irish fell in South Bend against Big East contender, the South Florida Bulls.  After falling behind 16-0 at the half, Notre Dame was able to rally behind back-up quarterback Tommy Rees (subbing for ineffective starter Dayne Crist).  Rees and wide receiver Michael Floyd were able to get the Irish to within 3 points in the closing minute but weren’t able to recover an on-side kick and finished with a disappointing 23-20 loss.  This game, like many others in the mid-west featured multiple lightning delays (and even a few cancellations) and took over 6 hours to complete.

In the nightcaps, the two games everyone was watching were relatively uneventful but much was learned about all four teams. 

Perennial BCS party crasher, the Boise State Broncos thumped SEC opponent Georgia 35-21 in Atlanta behind Heisman candidate Kellen Moore and a disruptive defensive line.  The game solidified the 5th ranked Broncos as favorites to make the BCS from a mid-major conference.  With only a handful of games left on their schedule against teams that could potentially challenge them, the debate will begin again in earnest as to whether Boise State belongs in the conversation for a berth in the national championship game in New Orleans.  As for the Bulldogs, head coach Mark Richt’s seat has never been hotter and it’s possible that this weekend’s game against SEC East favorite South Carolina is a must win.

Meanwhile, about 500 miles west of Atlanta, Les Miles and the 4th ranked LSU Tigers demonstrated their ability to block out distractions and focus on the task at hand as they obliterated the 3rd ranked Oregon Ducks in Dallas 40-27.  The Ducks continued their struggles against teams with elite defensive lines as they were unable to get their vaunted up-tempo offense in gear thanks to a running game that was largely stagnant (less than 100 yards) and an aerial attack that averaged less than five yards per play.  LSU meanwhile was able to grind out the game on the ground and avoid putting backup quarterback Jarrett Lee in position to make game saving plays.  The nature of the loss (33-13 in the 3rd quarter) might be enough to unravel the Ducks chances of returning to the national championship game in January.  For Les Miles’ Tigers though, they added a much needed quality non conference victim that could help them stand out from their SEC brethren in the BCS computers down the road.

In Week 2 there aren’t quite as many marquee match-ups (just one game pitting ranked teams against each other), but a number of dangerous unranked teams are lined up for their opportunity to make a statement and make their case to be this year’s Auburn.

THE MAIN EVENT

No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide (1-0) @ No. 23 Penn St. Nittany Lions (1-0) – Sept. 10 @ 3:30 p.m. (ABC) The lone game on the schedule that matches up a set of ranked teams earns the main event title for this week.  The Crimson Tide were somewhat less than impressive offensively last weekend while dispatching overmatched MAC foe Kent State, committing 5 turnovers.  But the good news is it appears that a leading candidate has emerged for the starting quarterback job in AJ McCarron.  McCarron threw for just under 250 yards and a touchdown and developed a strong rapport with leading receiver Marquis Maze.  On the other side, Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions are struggling with the same dilemma as both Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin are competing for the starting role and made good accountings of themselves against FCS opponent Indiana State.  Paterno has said that both will play this weekend in Happy Valley.  This game will likely be decided in the trenches as Alabama will look to pound the ball with running back Trent Richardson.  Penn State meanwhile will be tested along the offense line as Alabama boasts one of the most impressive front seven’s in the country including Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower.

THE UNDERCARD

No. 21 Missouri Tigers (1-0) @ Arizona St. Sun Devils (1-0) – Sept. 9 @ 10:30 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN3.com) With USC ineligible for post-season play again this season, Arizona State came in as the favorites to win the Pac-12 South and reach the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game behind a powerful offense and a revamped defense.  A plethora of injuries in training camp have tempered some of those expectations, but they didn’t slow the Sun Devils in Week 1 as they humiliated FCS opponent UC-Davis in Tempe 48-14. How much those injuries will impact them will be learned Friday night when they welcome in Gary Pinkell’s Missouri Tigers.  The Tigers, behind first year starting quarterback James Franklin, got off to something of a rocky start in their season opener against Miami (OH), essentially playing the Red Hawks to a stalemate for the first three quarters before eventually putting the game away in the fourth. 

No. 16 Mississippi St. Bulldogs (1-0) @ Auburn Tigers (1-0) – Sept. 10 @ 12:20 p.m. (ESPN3.com) Auburn was involved in one of the wildest games of opening weekend, needing two touchdowns and a successful on-side kick in the final 140 seconds to survive a visit from lowly Utah State on the day that the Tigers unveiled their national championship banner.  The question of whether their struggles were a result of over confidence, distractions, or both will be answered when they face a much more fearsome opponent in Mississippi St. as SEC play begins.  The 16th ranked Bulldogs had no such trouble in their opening weekend game with Memphis, blowing away the Tigers behind 31 first half points en route to a 59-14 win.  The Bulldogs 1-2 punch of Chris Relf and Vick Ballard accounted for over 400 yards of offense and five touchdowns and is one of the most devastating in the loaded SEC.  Auburn will need to re-discover the defense that helped them win a championship if they hope to slow the Bulldogs.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (0-1) @ Michigan Wolverines (1-0) – Sept. 10 @ 8:00 p.m. (ESPN) This game makes the undercard more for its history and the added night game intrigue than its tangible football qualities.  Michigan Stadium (better known as "The Big House") has hosted Wolverine football games for nearly 80 years, but this will be the first time a game will be played under the lights.  As for the game itself, the Wolverines won a lightning shortened affair with Western Michigan in Week 1, but looked wholly unimpressive under new coach Brady Hoke.  The Irish meanwhile looked equally unimpressive in a 23-20 home loss to South Florida and made a quarterback switch to sophomore Tommy Rees at halftime.  If Michigan hopes to win this game, quarterback Denard Robinson will need to be much sharper than he was last week while trying to fit himself into Hoke’s offensive system that may not be a match for his elusive quarterback.

UPSET WATCH

BYU Cougars (1-0) @ No. 24 Texas Longhorns (1-0) – Sept. 10 @ 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2/ESPN3.com) After a stunning 5-7 season last year, the Longhorns looked much improved offensively in their first game of the year as they dispatched Rice 34-9 in Austin.  The win was enough to dubiously move the ‘Horns back into the Top 25, but a true measure of their improvement should come Saturday night when they take on unranked BYU.  The Cougars are in their first year of football independence and have already shown a willingness to travel anywhere and play anyone as evidenced by their trip to Oxford, MS last week where a late rally allowed the Cougars to surprise Ole Miss.  If Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert has improved to the degree that the team hopes, BYU will likely need to find a way to put up more than the 14 points they scored against the Rebels.

LOCAL SPOTLIGHT

Boston College Eagles (0-1) @ Central Florida Knights (1-0) – Sept. 10 @ 8:00 p.m. (CBS-CS/WEEI) The Eagles suffered a demoralizing loss at home last weekend against Northwestern.  To make matters worse, leading receiver Ifeanyi Momah tore his ACL late in the game and was lost for the season.  Things won’t get any easier when the team travels to Orlando to battle Jeffrey Godfrey and the defending Conference USA Champion Knights of Central Florida.    The Knights are coming off an impressive 62-0 thrashing of Charleston Southern and boast perhaps the best all around team in C-USA.  Offensively, Godfrey will lead the attack and is a much bigger, more athletic version of Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter who gave the Eagles fits last week.  Defensively, junior cornerback Josh Robinson is one of the best cover corners in the country and is up for just about every major pre-season defensive award.

Connecticut Huskies (1-0) @ Vanderbilt Commodores (1-0) -- Sept. 10 @ 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3.com)

New Hampshire Wildcats (0-1) @ Lehigh Mountain Hawks (1-0) – Sept. 10 @ 12:00 p.m.

Maine Black Bears (1-0) @ Pittsburgh Panthers (1-0) – Sept. 10 @ 12:00 p.m. (ESPN3.com)

Colgate Raiders (1-0) @ Holy Cross Crusaders (0-1) – Sept. 10 @ 1:00 p.m.

Rhode Island Rams (0-0) @ Syracuse Orange (1-0) – Sept. 10 @ 4:30 p.m. (ESPN3.com)