Two games into the 2012 season and a fine line seems to have emerged between what could be a dream season for the Ohio State football team and a nightmare.
After only 120 minutes of football, we have discovered pretty much what we already knew – that Braxton Miller is a tremendously gifted athlete asked to play quarterback for the Buckeyes. His transformation into a quarterback who is asked to make athletic plays remains a work in progress, but no one could argue with the results so far.
Miller has accounted for roughly 70 percent of his team’s total offense by running for 302 yards and throwing for 362 more. That puts him No. 14 nationally in total offense, and No. 4 in the nation in rushing. At his present pace, Miller would finish the season with 1,812 yards on the ground. To put that into perspective, Eddie George set the school’s single-season record of 1,927 yards in 1995.
Add to Miller’s rushing pace another 2,172 yards through the air, and he would have numbers that don’t just whisper Heisman Trophy, they would scream it.
Before we make our reservations for New York City, however, understand how ridiculously difficult it will be for Miller to maintain his current pace.
Two years ago, Denard Robinson got off to a spectacular start during his sophomore season at Michigan. After only two games, the Wolverines were 2-0 and Robinson was the nation’s leading rusher, averaging an eye-popping 227.5 yards per game.
By week nine of the season, U-M was in the middle of a three-game losing streak, Robinson’s rushing average had plummeted by more than 60 yards per game, and the vultures were hovering over Rich Rodriguez.
When that 2010 season came to a close, Robinson still managed to finish fourth in the nation with an average of 130.9 yards rushing per game, but 245 regular-season carries rendered him a shadow of his former self down the stretch. During his team’s 52-14 loss to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl – the program’s worst bowl loss ever – Robinson threw for 254 yards but ran for a season-low 59 on only 11 carries.
Despite piling up 1,702 yards and scoring 14 TDs on the ground, and adding 2,570 yards and 18 scores through the air, Robinson finished a distant sixth in the 2010 Heisman Trophy voting. Worse yet, his team wound up with a 7-6 record and his head coach got fired.
During the first two games of his sophomore season, Robinson carried the ball 57 times and threw it 62. Through the first two games of this season, Miller has carried a team-high 44 times and has attempted 49 passes. But comparing the two quarterbacks is almost a study in contrasts because their running styles are polar opposites.
Defenders rarely get clean shots on the 6-0, 197-pound Robinson, who darts and dances his way through traffic, often bouncing off defenders like a pinball. Meanwhile, Miller showcases more of a classic, upright running style, a style that is often more prone to punishment.
Robinson has proved remarkably durable since taking over the full-time starting duties at Michigan. Through Sept. 8, he had 576 career rushes with 631 pass attempts in 40 games with the Wolverines. That’s a lot of punishment over the past three-plus seasons, but Robinson appears no worse for the wear. He ran for 218 yards and two TDs and threw for 208 yards and two other scores during Michigan’s 31-25 win over Air Force in Ann Arbor on Sept. 8.
But Miller does not have Robinson’s track record for durability. The OSU sophomore missed several games during his high school career, and he was knocked out of last year’s game at Nebraska with a sprained ankle. As if any Buckeye fan has to be reminded, Ohio State held a 27-6 advantage early in the third quarter of that game, Miller went out a short time later and the Buckeyes wound up on the losing end of a 34-27 decision.
Miller returned the following week against Illinois but was severely limited. The Buckeyes somehow won that game by a 17-7 final, but Miller rushed for 34 yards, completed just 1 of 4 pass attempts for 17 yards and was sacked four times. Had the defense not forced three Fighting Illini turnovers, that game would likely have turned out differently.
The 6-2 Miller has bulked up this season to 220 pounds after being generously listed at 210 last year, but every time he runs the ball invites one more possibility that some defender will deliver a shot from which he will not instantly recover. Remember all of the various bumps and bruises that Terrelle Pryor sustained during the course of a season, and he was 6-6 and 233 pounds.
The point is this: Virtually every football team is only as good as its starting quarterback, and you only have to look at Miller’s performance during the first two games of this season to know that statement is true.
To be quite frank, with the exception of its quarterback, Ohio State cannot claim it is a very good football team right now. It has not played up to the level of nearly anyone’s expectations on the offensive or defensive lines, at linebacker or in the secondary. Miller is head and shoulders the most efficient playmaker on the team, and that is why the ball has been in his hands so often these first two games.
But the kid needs some help, and if he doesn’t start getting it and quickly, this season could devolve into what happened last year – a promising start followed by a dishearteningly dismal finish.
** Ohio State and California have met six times previously but not since a 35-18 victory by the Buckeyes in Berkeley in 1972. OSU holds a 5-1 advantage in the series with the Golden Bears’ lone victory coming in the 1921 Rose Bowl. That marked the Buckeyes’ first-ever trip to Pasadena, and they came home 28-0 losers.
** Following last week’s 31-16 win over Central Florida, Ohio State looks to go 3-0 for only the second time since 2007. The only time during the past four seasons when the Buckeyes started a season with three straight victories was 2010. They won their first six in a row that year before a 31-18 loss at Wisconsin in week seven.
** Twenty-two of the 24 head coaches in Ohio State football history have won their debut game with the Buckeyes, and Urban Meyer last week joined 13 others who have won their first two games. The number of coaches who have won their first three games at OSU dwindles, however, to only five – Perry Hale (1902), E.R. Sweetland (1904), Howard Jones (1910), Carroll Widdoes (1944) and Earle Bruce (1979).
** Cal is led by head coach Jeff Tedford, now in his 11th season in Berkeley. Tedford is the most successful coach in program history with an 80-49 record, including a conference co-championship in 2006. The Bears have gone to eight bowl games during Tedford’s tenure.
** Meyer is 1-0 lifetime against Cal and 3-0 for his career against current members of the Pac-12. His Utah team defeated Tedford’s Bears by a 31-24 final in the third game of the 2003 season. Meyer claimed his other two wins over Pac-12 schools during his tenure with the Utes – a 17-13 decision over Oregon in 2003 and a 23-6 victory at Arizona in 2004.
** Tedford is a perfect 6-0 lifetime against current members of the Big Ten. That unblemished record includes two victories each over Michigan State (2002 and 2008), Illinois (2003 and 2005) and Minnesota (2006 and 2009).
** The Buckeyes are 56-26-2 all-time against current members of the Pac-12. In addition to being 5-1 against the Bears, Ohio State is 9-13-1 vs. USC; 8-0 against Oregon and Washington State; 8-3 vs. Washington; 4-1 against Colorado; 4-4-1 against UCLA; 3-1 against Arizona; 2-0 vs. Arizona State and Oregon State; 1-0 against Utah; and 2-3 vs. Stanford.
** Ohio State has won seven of its last 10 games against Pac-12 competition. That includes a 26-17 win over Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl.
** Cal is 22-34 all-time against current members of the Big Ten. In addition to their 1-5 mark against OSU, the Bears are 5-1 against Wisconsin; 4-2 vs. Minnesota; 3-7 vs. Illinois; 2-0 against Indiana; 2-2 vs. Michigan State; 2-6 against Michigan; 1-1 vs. Purdue; 1-3 against Iowa and Penn State; 0-1 vs. Northwestern; and 0-3 against Nebraska.
** Ohio State is currently ranked 12th in the Associated Press writers’ poll. The Buckeyes have been ranked by the AP more times – 791 weeks now – than any other team in the nation. OSU has also appeared in the AP poll for 45 consecutive seasons, tying Alabama for the longest active streak.
** The Buckeyes currently have a 63-game home winning streak against unranked nonconference opponents. You have to go all the way back to a 34-17 loss to Florida State in 1982 to find the last unranked nonconference team to beat the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe.
** Cal is 13-20 against ranked opponents during the Tedford era, but that record includes six straight losses. The team’s most recent victory over a ranked team was a 34-28 decision over No. 14 Stanford in November 2009. The Bears haven’t beaten a ranked nonconference opponent since a 45-31 win over No. 15 Tennessee in the 2007 season opener.
** OSU quarterback Braxton Miller’s 141 rushing yards against Central Florida gave him five career 100-yard games. That broke a tie with Cornelius Greene (1973-76) for the most recognized 100-yard games by an Ohio State quarterback. Terrelle Pryor (2008-10) had seven 100-yard rushing games during his career, but the four he had during the vacated 2010 season have been dropped from the school’s official record book.
** Miller’s rushing total also pushed his career total to 1,017, making him the 54th player in Ohio State history to crack the 1,000-yard mark.
** In addition to his career marks, Miller became only the third Ohio State quarterback ever to register back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts. John Mummey totaled 100 yards against Indiana and 116 vs. Oregon in successive weeks in 1961, a feat equaled in 2010 by Pryor who had identical 104-yard games against Eastern Michigan and Illinois.
** Miller’s career-high 27 carries vs. UCF is also believed to have established a new single-game mark for most carries by an Ohio State quarterback. According to a university spokesman, the old record was 25 set by Greene during a 49-7 win over Illinois in 1974.
** Keeping with the Miller theme we have going, the QB’s three rushing touchdowns were the most by any Buckeye since Chris “Beanie’ Wells had three in a 38-17 win over Wisconsin in 2007. The three TDs on the ground also represented the first time an Ohio State quarterback had carried the pigskin into the end zone three times in a single game since Art Schlichter did it as a freshman during a 45-7 win over Illinois in 1978.
** OSU senior cornerback Travis Howard has three interceptions in the first two games this season, putting him on pace to break the school’s longstanding record for most picks in one year. Mike Sensibaugh set the record with nine in 1969, a mark equaled in 1974 by Craig Cassady.
** Ohio State punter Ben Buchanan has been called upon nine times so far this season, and only one of his kicks has been returned. That went for 7 yards. This week, Cal features junior speedster Keenan Allen, who currently ranks fourth in the nation in punt return average at 22.2 yards on six attempts. Allen ran a punt back 69 yards for a touchdown last week in the Bears’ 50-31 win over Southern Utah.
** Allen’s punt return wasn’t the only long scoring play for the Bears last week. Senior cornerback Marc Anthony returned an interception 61 yards for a score, and redshirt freshman running back Daniel Lasco had a 77-yard touchdown run. That was the longest run by a Cal player since Jahvid Best broke off a 93-yarder at UCLA in 2009.
** With the 12 noon Eastern kickoff, the Bears will be playing at 9 a.m. Pacific time. During Tedford’s tenure, Cal has played six road games in other time zones that have started before noon PT and has a 5-1 record in those contests. The Bears won four straight early-morning starts under Tedford with victories at Michigan State (2002), Illinois (2003), Air Force (2004) and Colorado State (2007) before losing at Maryland in 2008. The most recent early-morning game was in 2009 when Cal claimed a 35-21 win at Minnesota.
** The Golden Bears have no native-born Ohioans on their roster, but do have a couple of connections to Cleveland professional teams. Freshman QB Joey Mahalic spent five seasons as a pitcher in the Cleveland Indians organization before returning to football, and wide receivers coach Wes Chandler as an assistant on Romeo Crennel’s Cleveland Browns staff in 2007 and ’08.
** Further proof there is a new sheriff in town: The Buckeyes have averaged 80.5 offensive plays during their first two games this season. Over the previous five seasons, OSU averaged 65.1 plays per game.
** Ohio State will recognize the 70th anniversary of the school’s first-ever national championship season during tomorrow’s game. Four members of the 1942 Buckeyes are scheduled to be in attendance – ends Don Steinberg and Paul Matus, guard Carmen Naples and QB Paul “Robin” Priday.
** The 12 newest members of the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame will also be recognized at the game. Members of the class, due to be enshrined tonight at the Ohio Union, are football players Pete Cusick, Joe Gailus, Ray Griffin, Dick Schafrath and Mike Vrabel, women’s basketball player Jessica Davenport, wrestlers Rex Holman and George Downes, track star Keturah Lofton, fencer Louise Bond-Williams and women’s volleyball coach Jim Stone. Former OSU basketball player and ex-Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight will also receive a lifetime achievement award.
** ABC will telecast the game to a nationwide audience with Sean McDonough handling the play-by-play, former Ohio State All-America linebacker Chris Spielman providing color analysis and Quint Kessenich reporting from the sidelines. Kickoff is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.
** The game will also be telecast on Sirius and XM channels 91.
** Next week, Ohio State stays home to host Conference USA rival UAB, which will be making its first-ever trip to the Horseshoe. The game will be telecast on the Big Ten Network with a kickoff time of 12 noon Eastern.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL
** On Sept. 14, 1991, San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk set an NCAA single-game record for freshmen by rushing for seven touchdowns during his team’s 55-34 win over Pacific.
** Also on Sept. 14, 1991, Texas A&M freshman tailback Greg Hill ran for 212 yards and two touchdowns as the Aggies rolled to a 45-7 victory over LSU in College Station. Hill’s yardage total marked the best debut performance by a freshman in college football history.
** Also on Sept. 14, 1991, Central Michigan pulled off a 20-3 upset of 19th-ranked Michigan State in the first-ever meeting between the intrastate rivals. Tailback Billy Smith rushed 40 times for 162 yards for the Chippewas while quarterback Jeff Bender put the game away with a 57-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ken Ealy in the third quarter.
** On Sept. 15, 1973, Ohio State tailback Archie Griffin began his NCAA record streak of 31 consecutive games of rushing for 100 yards or more. Griffin had 129 yards as the Buckeyes rolled to a 56-7 victory over Minnesota in Ohio Stadium.
** Also on Sept. 15, 1973, Oklahoma gave head coach Barry Switzer a win in his first game with the Sooners, a 42-14 victory over Baylor in Waco. Switzer would go to post a 157-29-4 record with three national championships and 12 Big Eight titles in 16 seasons with OU.
** On Sept. 16, 1989, top-ranked Notre Dame squeezed out a 24-19 win over No. 2 Michigan in Ann Arbor. Fighting Irish speedster Rocket Ismail returned kickoffs 88 and 92 yards for touchdowns to lead his team to victory. Ismail remains the only player in college football history to twice in his career return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game.
** On Sept. 17, 1966, Joe Paterno made his debut as head coach at Penn State and led the Nittany Lions to a 15-7 victory over Maryland in Happy Valley. The Terrapins, coached by Lou Saban, made a last-ditch effort to ruin Paterno’s debut but backup quarterback Phil Petry threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter. That victory was the first of Paterno’s Football Bowl Subdivision record 409 (111 of which were vacated by NCAA sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal).
** On Sept. 17, 1988, No. 10 Florida State got a pair of outstanding special teams plays to score a 24-21 upset at third-ranked Clemson. FSU’s Deion Sanders returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and then cornerback LeRoy Butler took a fake punt 76 yards to set up Richie Andrews’ game-winning 19-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining.
** On Sept. 18, 1965, UTEP quarterback Billy Stevens established a new NCAA record for most total yards gained in a debut game with 483 yards in a 61-15 rout of North Texas. In that game, Chuck Hughes of UTEP also set an NCAA record when he caught 10 passes for 349 yards. His 34.9 yards-per-catch average is the best single-game average in NCAA history for players with at least 10 catches.
** On Sept. 19, 1952, Duke took a 20-7 win over South Carolina in the inaugural game of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
** On Sept. 20, 1986, unranked Miami (Ohio) stunned eighth-ranked LSU, 21-12, in Baton Rouge. The Tigers committed seven turnovers in the game and had a punt blocked as Miami pushed its all-time record against SEC teams to an impressive 8-0-1.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** It’s never too early to begin charting the remaining unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. There are only 46 of them left after just two weeks. The alphabetical list: Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, BYU, Cincinnati, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa State, Kansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech, Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Oregon, Oregon State, Rutgers, South Carolina, South Florida, Stanford, TCU, Tennessee, Texas, Texas Tech, UCLA, USC, Utah State, UTSA, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and West Virginia.
** TCU kicked off its 2012 season with a 56-0 victory over GramblingState and pushed the nation’s longest winning streak to nine games. On the flip side of the coin, Tulane extended the nation’s longest losing streak to 12 games with a 45-10 loss to Tulsa.
** It was a rough week for longtime denizens of the Associated Press writers’ poll. No. 8 Arkansas, No. 13 Wisconsin, No. 16 Nebraska and No. 18 Oklahoma State each plummeted out of the top 25 following losses. Nebraska had a streak of 37 straight appearances in the AP rankings, Wisconsin had been ranked for 36 consecutive weeks and Arkansas had been on a 34-poll streak. Oklahoma State had been in the rankings for 29 straight weeks.
** Congratulations to Jim Mora Jr. for breathing a healthy dose of new life into the UCLA program. After racking up 645 total yards during a season-opening 49-24 win over Rice, the Bruins piled up 653 against Nebraska and knocked off the 16th-ranked Cornhuskers, 36-30. Those 653 yards were the most allowed by Nebraska to a single opponent since 1956.
** When Louisiana-Monroe overcame a 28-7 third-quarter deficit to score a 34-31 upset of No. 8 Arkansas, it broke the Warhawks’ lifetime oh-fer against ranked teams. Since moving up to Division I-A in 1994, Louisiana-Monroe had lost every one of its previous 25 games against ranked competition before going to Little Rock and knocking off the Razorbacks. Leading the upset: QB Kolton Browning, who completed 42 of 67 passes for 412 yards and three TDs.
** Talk about living a nightmare. Penn State kicker Sam Ficken had a PAT blocked and missed four field goals – included the potential game-winner as time expired – during a 17-16 loss at Virginia. The Nittany Lions are now 0-2 to start a season for the first time since 2001 and only the fifth time in the last 45 years.
** Two steps forward and a giant step back. Indiana moved to 2-0 for the season with a 45-6 rout of Massachusetts, but the win was a costly one. Starting QB Tre Roberson, who scored on first-quarter runs of 50 and 39 yards during the game, was lost for the season with a broken leg.
** Purdue quarterback Robert Marve tore the ACL in his left knee during the Boilermakers’ 20-17 loss to Notre Dame last weekend. Marve, who is playing a sixth year of college football this season because of an NCAA injury waiver, has now torn the same ACL three times. Marve’s career is likely over, but Purdue head coach Danny Hope said the quarterback intends to rest for a couple of weeks and then test the knee to see if he can play later this season.
** Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema might think about installing a revolving door at the Badgers’ practice facility. After a half-dozen assistants left the program during the offseason, Bielema dismissed new offensive line coach Mike Markuson on Monday. Markuson was the fall guy for the Badgers’ sluggish start, which has produced only two rushing touchdowns in the team’s first two games. Markuson’s replacement will be Bart Miller, a graduate assistant in his second year with the Badgers.
** When SMU senior defensive end Margus Hunt blocked a field goal in his team’s 52-0 win Saturday over Stephen F. Austin, it marked the ninth time in Hunt’s career that he had blocked a field goal. That is a new Division I-A record. The 6-8, 280-pound Hunt has also batted away six PATs during his career.
** How far Miami (Fla.) fallen? Last weekend’s 52-13 loss at Kansas State marked only the fifth time in the program’s 87-year history that the Hurricanes had allowed 50 points or more. It was also Miami’s worst loss since a 48-0 loss to Virginia in 2007. Since the beginning of the 2006 season, the once-mighty Hurricanes are a decidedly average 41-39.
** Remember the old coaching adage that says, “Offense gets the headlines but defense wins championships.” Houston proved that to be true last Saturday. The Cougars racked up 40 first downs and amassed 693 total yards – 580 of it through the air from quarterback David Piland – but still managed to lose a 56-49 decision to Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs had 38 first downs and 598 total yards of their own. Piland and his Tech counterpart Colby Cameron combined to throw 129 passes in the game.
** The Houston-Louisiana Tech game set new Division I-A records for most plays from scrimmage (209), most passes thrown with an interception (129), completions (87) and first downs (78).
** Officials at the Saturday evening mismatch between Florida State and Division I-AA Savannah State had the good sense to invoke a mercy rule of sorts. The carnage was limited to 55-0 after the Seminoles pulled their starters in the first half, and officials employed a running clock after halftime. The game was called after two weather delays with 8:59 remaining in the third quarter.
** My way-too-early-in-the-season Heisman Trophy ballot features West Virginia QB Geno Smith, USC quarterback Matt Barkley and UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin. Buzzing around the top three: Louisiana Monroe QB Kolton Browning, Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas and Ohio State QB Braxton Miller.
** It’s not only Division I-A teams that beat up on lower-division opponents. I-AA Wofford swamped Division II Lincoln (Pa.) last weekend by an 82-0 final although the Terriers did about all they could do to hold down the score. Wofford emptied its bench to the point where 17 different players carried the football.
After a fairly stellar opening week, the forecast suffered a choppy second week of the 2012 season. An inexplicable loss by former No. 8 Arkansas to unranked Louisiana-Monroe, and a mini-upset engineered by Arizona over No. 18 Oklahoma State gave us the first two straight-up losses of the season. But we’re still 18-2 in that category.
Against the spread, we slipped to 5-5 and the season record ATS is only barely above water at 11-9. We’ll try to do better this week.
No. 13 Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh: What looks like a game that should be a walkover for the Hokies could be a trap game. Tech rolled over I-AA Austin Peay last week, but struggled with an average Georgia Tech team in the season opener before taking a 20-17 win in overtime. Not that the Panthers are any great shakes. First-year head coach Paul Chryst’s tenure began with a home loss to I-AA Youngstown State and didn’t get any better with last week’s 34-10 loss at Cincinnati. These teams have some history when both played in the Big East, and Pitt usually had the upper hand. That included a 31-28 upset of the fifth-ranked Hokies in 2003, the last time these teams met. That should at least provide some incentive for Tech, which has won a nation-best 13 straight road games … Virginia Tech 28, Pittsburgh 10. (12 noon ET, ESPNU, DirectTV 208)
No. 16 TCU at Kansas: The nomadic Horned Frogs take to the road for their first conference game as Big 12 members and find a Kansas team that has struggled in recent years to beat ranked opposition. TCU is on its fourth conference affiliation since 2000 – five if you count their brief courtship with the Big East – and have an impressive 77-13 record over the past seven seasons. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks are coming off a 25-24 home loss to Rice, a game in which they blew an eight-point lead with less than five minutes remaining. Charlie Weis has resurfaced as head coach at Kansas, which means the Jayhawks will have a potent passing attack sometime in the future. It’s just that the future isn’t going to help against the Frogs tomorrow. The Jayhawks have lost six in a row to ranked foes, getting outscored by an average of 31.5 points in those games … TCU 42, Kansas 14. (12 noon ET, FX, DirectTV 248)
Tennessee Tech at No. 4 Oregon: The Ducks have already scored 99 points in two games, so what can we expect from the Quack Attack against the I-AA Golden Eagles? Well, we could mention that the Ducks have a streak of 15 consecutive games in which they have scored at least 30 points. We could check the history books to see that the last time Tennessee Tech played a I-A opponent it resulted in a 62-7 loss to TCU. And we could mention that the Eagles are a lifetime 0-27 against Division I-A opponents. Suffice to say that lots of points will be scored. It just depends upon how many … Oregon 56, Tennessee Tech 14. (3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)
No. 1 Alabama at Arkansas: This was supposed to be an early-season marquee matchup of possible national championship contenders. That was until last week when the Razorbacks blew a 21-point lead to Louisiana-Monroe in an eventual 34-31 overtime loss. The defeat was even more costly for the Hogs, who lost senior QB Tyler Wilson to a head injury. Wilson, who was still suffering from concussion-like symptoms early this week, will be a game-time decision. But if he can’t go, the Razorbacks will try to get by with either freshman Brandon Allen or junior Brandon Mitchell, who also plays wide receiver. Arkansas will also be without starting cornerback Tevin Mitchel while fellow corner Kaelon Kelleybrew is less than 100 percent with an arm injury. You simply can’t play against a team the caliber of the Crimson Tide with that many injuries and expect a positive outcome … Alabama 42, Arkansas 14. (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Massachusetts at No. 17 Michigan: After getting their ears boxed by Alabama in the season opener, and barely surviving last week’s game against Air Force, the Wolverines should get a bit of a breather against the Minutemen. UMass has jumped to the I-A level this season and has an 0-2 record to show for it. But it’s actually worst than that. The Minutemen can’t score. They were shut out 37-0 in their opener by Connecticut and then got run over last week by Indiana, 41-6. The Michigan defense will give up some yardage – 431 to Bama’s power offense and 417 last week to Air Force’s triple option. But if you can’t score, you can’t beat U-M and Denard Robinson … Michigan 42, Massachusetts 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN, DirectTV 610)
UAB at No. 8 South Carolina: The storyline here is not whether the Blazers can beat the Gamecocks. (They can, but they won’t.) Steve Spurrier needs one more victory for 200 in his college career, making him only the fourth current coach in Division I-A to reach that milestone. UAB has had an extra week of preparation for this game, but the Blazers probably ought to know that not only is Spurrier going for win No. 200, he is a perfect 45-0 against non-BCS conference foes during his career. The Blazers haven’t had a winning season since 2004 and they are a lowly 21-52 since the beginning of the ’06 season … South Carolina 37, UAB 10. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan/Fox Sports South, DirectTV 790)
No. 2 USC vs. No. 21 Stanford: These two played one of the most entertaining games in 2011, with Andrew Luck getting the better of Matt Barkley in a three-overtime affair that wound up a 56-48 win for the Cardinal in the LA Coliseum. Unfortunately for football fans – and Stanford – a repeat is highly unlikely since Luck has taken his high-level game to the NFL. Barkley is back for the Trojans, but he has never beaten Stanford in three previous tries. But the USC quarterback has perhaps the most potent receiving corps of his career, and the Cardinal ranks a lowly 99th nationally in pass defense. Plus, history is on the side of Barkley and the Trojans. Stanford has never won four in a row in the 107-year series. … USC 38, Stanford 20. (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
Idaho at No. 3 LSU: Sooner or later, attrition is going to catch up with the Tigers. Before the season, they lost DB/KR Tyrann Mathieu and now starting left tackle Chris Faulk (knee) and star linebacker Tahj Boyd (academics) are out for the year. Fortunately for the Tigers, they likely could lose a half-dozen more players and still beat Idaho. The winless Vandals lost their opener to I-AA Eastern Washington before last week’s 21-13 loss at Bowling Green. About the only suspense will be whether the Tigers can cover the 42-point spread. We believe they can and they will … LSU 49, Idaho 0. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan, DirectTV 788)
No. 20 Notre Dame at No. 10 Michigan State: This should be an entertaining game although you shouldn’t expect a whole lot of points. The Spartans have yet to allow an offensive touchdown this season while the Fighting Irish put up pretty good defensive numbers against Navy’s triple option and Purdue’s pass-happy attack. Notre Dame features an above-average offense that is getting better with each passing week. Former starting QB Tommy Rees backs up sophomore Everett Golson and top running back Cierre Wood returns this week from suspension. MSU, of course, has running back Le’Veon Bell, who was a one-man army against Boise State in the opener and who scored two more touchdowns last week in a 41-7 rout of Central Michigan. But Sparty is going to need new starting QB Andrew Maxwell to play more like he did last week against CMU than he did during a three-interception performance vs. Boise. Notre Dame leads the overall series by a 46-28-1 margin, but the Spartans have won 10 of the last 15 including the last two in East Lansing … Michigan State 23, Notre Dame 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
California at No. 12 Ohio State: The Golden Bears would never be confused for one of the best teams in the Pac-12, but they are probably on par with UCF, a team the Buckeyes beat by 15 points last week despite making a ton of mistakes. Cal will enter the Horseshoe for the first time since 1971 to find an ever-evolving offense from the Buckeyes. Senior running back Jordan Hall makes his season debut while receiver Philly Brown is rumored to become more involved in the run game, trying to take some pressure off QB Braxton Miller. But let’s face facts: Miller is still going to be the focal point of the Buckeyes’ attack, and if that means running the ball 27 times and winning vs. running the ball five times and losing, look for the OSU staff to let their sophomore quarterback run. Defensively, the Buckeyes have to crank things up a notch, and the return of Nathan Williams will likely allow that to happen … Ohio State 38, Cal 13. (12 noon ET, ABC)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Virginia Tech (-9) at Pittsburgh; TCU (-20) at Kansas; Tennessee Tech at Oregon (NL); Alabama (-20½) at Arkansas; UMass (+46½) at Michigan; UAB (+33½) at South Carolina; USC (-8) at Stanford; Idaho at LSU(-42); Notre Dame at Michigan State (-6); Cal at Ohio State (-16).
Enjoy the games and we hope to see you again next week.