Sneaky-good games in Week 2
Week 1 couldn't get much worse in terms of drama. Not a single ranked team was knocked off by an unranked opponent, although Virginia Tech came within a whisker of falling victim to Georgia Tech.
In the two games between ranked teams, the higher-ranked team won. On the surface, this week's slate looks as plain as Ugly Betty. But there's beauty underneath. Identifying which game could be a team's makeover moment is the tricky part. The Pac-12 has the most teams with at least a puncher's chance to get the express escalator going for their season. Sure, most are underdogs and look unlikely to join the rarified air of beating contenders, but, to borrow from the immortal words of Lloyd Christmas, "So you're telling me there's a chance." More often than not, that chance lies with quarterback play. It's not the only chance teams have to raise their level, just the best way.
UCLA could have a chance against Nebraska. The Bruins gave Jim Mora a win in his debut against Rice. UCLA's young offensive line, a major question mark coming into the season, knocked the hoot out of the Owls and allowed Johnathan Franklin to rumble for 214 yards, winning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors in the process. The Bruins' new boss doesn't have to be steeped in the nuance of college football to know that Rice ain't Nebraska. Whether the Bruins can open a few holes for Franklin and keep QB Brett Hundley in one piece (a rarity for Westwood QBs this century) will determine whether UCLA can hang with Big Red.
Raise your hand if you ever thought you'd read the following: UCLA might be more overwhelmed by Taylor Martinez's arm than his feet. Martinez worked very hard with his personal quarterback coach in the offseason, and it paid dividends in the season opener. The fleet-footed Huskers QB threw for a career-high 354 yards and five TDs in a win against Southern Mississippi. With Rex Burkhead questionable with a sprained MCL, Nebraska will rely even more on Martinez. If the Huskers QB keeps spinning that magic bean the way he did this past week, Huskers fans should at least keep an eye out for rosy deals on another flight to Pasadena around New Year's Day.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12, how frustrating is life for Oregon State fans? The Beavers' bitter rival, Oregon, rolls out more costume changes than Lady Gaga, and recruits flock to it. The Ducks' new starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota, played one half of football against Arkansas State and turned the World Wide Leader in Sports upside down over which syllable gets the proper emphasis in his surname.
Meanwhile, hardly anyone has noticed Oregon State coach Mike Riley saying he's anticipating the biggest nonconference game in the history of Reser Stadium on Saturday. Beating two-time reigning Big Ten champion Wisconsin would send a little spotlight toward Riley's team. The Beavers haven't beaten a nonconference Top 25 team at home since 1977. They haven't had many such matchups, but that's precisely the point. This is a huge opportunity. The Badgers hardly look invincible. At least not after Bucky headed to the fifth quarter a little early this past week and had to hold on for a white-knuckle landing against Northern Iowa.
Oregon State's scheduled opener against Nicholls State was postponed, so this is its de facto season opener. Saying the Beavers typically start slow is like saying Howard Stern can be a little off-color. Three of the past five years, Oregon State has lost a September nonconference game by at least 31 points. One of those losses came at the hands of Wisconsin last season. The Badgers did give up passing yards in chunks last week, and Beavers QB Sean Mannion threw for more than 3,300 yards last year. He must have a big day.
There is also the issue of tackling Montee Ball. Running games vexed Oregon State last year. The Beavers' rush defense ranked in the bottom 20 in the nation.
As for Arizona, Rich Rodriguez told his team, "If you want to be more relevant, beat a ranked team." If the Wildcats can pull that off against Oklahoma State, they'll hit the express route toward relevance. Just as in the other games, the key to doing it is quarterback play.
Matt Scott should be brimming with confidence when he faces the Cowboys after throwing for 387 yards in the Wildcats' overtime win against Toledo. The Pokes have smashed Arizona in each of the last two seasons, but this time it's not Grandpa Weeden running the show. It's barely-old-enough-to-shave Wes Lunt. The Cowboys' new QB still hasn't thrown an incomplete pass in college, going 11-for-11 in the 84-0 stampeding of Savannah State.
Turning away from the Pac-12 and toward the cowbells, Auburn and Mississippi State meet in a game that feels huge in terms of what direction each team will go this season. In his fourth season in Starkville, Miss., Dan Mullen is still looking for his first victory against any SEC West team not named Ole Miss. Gene Chizik is also in his fourth year and owns a national championship, but, in our constant gratification society, it isn't just what have you done for me lately -- it's what are you doing for me now. What Chizik has done at Auburn is put together a middling 16-11 record W.C. (Without Cam). Although the past couple of games have been tight, Auburn has been able to bank on beating the Bullies. A tough season-opening loss to Clemson just magnifies the importance of making sure that beat goes on.
GameDay Twitter Kickoff
Editor's note: Rece Davis and Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller traded thoughts about Week 2 over Twitter on Wednesday. The following is their exchange:
8 p.m.: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (ESPN) Friday
8 p.m.: Utah at Utah State (ESPN2) Saturday
9 a.m.: "College GameDay" from College Station, Texas (ESPNU)
10 a.m.: "College GameDay" from College Station, Texas (ESPN)
11 a.m.: "College Football WhipAround" (ESPNU)
Noon: UCF at Ohio State (ESPN2)
Miami at Kansas State (FX)
NC State at UConn (ESPN3)
Maryland at Temple (ESPNU)
Penn State at Virginia (ABC)
Auburn at Mississippi State (ESPN)
3:30 p.m.: Western Kentucky at Alabama (ESPN3)
USC vs. Syracuse (ABC/ESPN2)
Air Force at Michigan (ABC/ESPN2)
Michigan State at Central Michigan (ESPNU)
Purdue at Notre Dame (NBC)
Florida at Texas A&M (ESPN)
4 p.m.: Wisconsin at Oregon State (FX)
6:30 p.m.: Fresno State at Oregon (Pac-12 Network)
7 p.m.: Washington at LSU (ESPN)
7:30 p.m.: Nebraska at UCLA (FOX)
7:45 p.m.: Georgia at Missouri (ESPN2)
8 p.m.: New Mexico at Texas (Longhorn Network)
Vanderbilt at Northwestern (Big Ten Network)
10:30 p.m.: Oklahoma State at Arizona (Pac-12 Network)
Duke at Stanford
Illinois at Arizona State (ESPN)
• TV coverage maps
Pac-12 vs. Big Ten debate
Blog Network: What to watch
Each week, our bloggers will take a closer look at the storylines you should be watching. What's on tap for Week 2?
Can Oklahoma work out the kinks on offense? Plus, Iowa State looks for another win over Iowa, while the league as a whole looks to remain unbeaten.
Is UConn's defense that good? Or was UMass' offense that bad? A visit from NC State will provide a better gauge as to how good the Huskies' D really is.
It's all about the nonconference, as several unranked Pac-12 teams face off against ranked BCS opponents. Can one of them score an upset?
Seeing how Missouri and Texas A&M will fare is obvious, but keep an eye on how some of Week 1's breakout stars, such as Georgia's Todd Gurley and Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson, fare in Week 2.
Will Notre Dame suffer from a Dublin hangover from Week 1?
Picking the winners
Haney: Week 2 picks