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College Football 2014: 5 Big Questions for Week 2

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While most of the big names have “money games” against overmatched opponents this week, we do have our first Top 10 matchup that could shake up the playoff hunt. Here are the big questions this week:

Who Will Take a Big Early Step Toward the Playoffs?

In what is otherwise a fairly bland week of college football, we have our first marquee game that could shake up the national title hunt. Defending Big Ten champions Michigan State will take their stout defense on the road against No. 3 Oregon and the high-octane Ducks offense led by Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota. Last season, the No. 7 Spartans ranked in the top three of every major defensive category and have held five of their last eight opponents to seven or fewer points.

But they’ve never faced a test like they’ll see in the Ducks, who were second in total offense and third in scoring last season. With Michigan State replacing six starters on defense, look for Oregon to try to attack them early with their speed. If the young Spartan defenders can withstand that and keep the game close, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook (285 yards and three touchdowns in just one half of play last week) could lead his team to the road upset. This is the first time the two teams have met since splitting a home-and-home in 1998-99.

How Will the Big Names Regroup?

It was a rough week for some of college football’s premier teams. While none of them actually lost, No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Alabama, No. 8 Ohio State and No. 11 UCLA all struggled in close wins in Week 1. Fortunately, many of them will have a chance to regroup against lesser competition this week (FSU vs. Citadel, Alabama vs. Florida Atlantic). But Ohio State will face an always-dangerous Virginia Tech, while UCLA hosts a Memphis squad fresh off a 63-0 win over Austin Peay in its season opener. We’ll give these teams a pass for some Week 1 sluggishness, but any problems this weekend will send up big red warning flags throughout their respective fan bases.

Can USC Make a Run in the Pac-12?

With Steve Sarkisian now running the show, No. 14 USC was many observers’ sleeper pick in the Pac-12 race. This week, the Trojans will have their first opportunity to justify that optimism as they go on the road against No. 13 Stanford. USC blew out Fresno State, 52-13, in Week 1 as Cody Kessler threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns (both career highs), plus ran for another score. This week, however, he’ll face the toughest test of his young career against a Stanford defense that pitched a shutout against UC Davis last week and has not given up more than 24 points in a game since October 12 of last season. Stanford is hoping to keep its streak of four consecutive BCS bowl games alive and a win this week would keep them in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 and playoff hunts.

Who Wins the Last Notre Dame-Michigan Matchup?

One of college football’s most heated rivalries comes to a sad end, another victim of conference realignment (sort of). While No. 16 Notre Dame didn’t officially join a conference, a scheduling agreement with the ACC means the Fighting Irish will play at least five ACC teams a year, meaning their longstanding rivalry with the Maize and Blue gets pushed aside to make room.

In his first game back in over a year, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson threw for two touchdowns and became just the third Irish quarterback to rush for three scores. On the other side, Michigan signal caller Devin Gardner threw three touchdown passes while the Wolverines pounded out 350 yards on the ground. Like many previous Irish-Wolverines games, expect this one to be close and come down to whoever makes the fewest mistakes. Notre Dame and Michigan rank first and second, respectively, in all-time win percentage.

How Does South Carolina Respond?

After a blowout upset home loss to Texas A&M, the No. 21 Gamecocks are looking for answers against East Carolina. South Carolina gave up a school-record worst 680 yards in total offense in last week’s loss and are now tasked with facing a Pirate offense that rolled up 52 points and nearly 600 yards in its season opener. The Pirates, who won 10 games a year ago, run an offense similar to A&M, giving the Gamecocks a chance to either correct their mistakes or be exposed once again.

It’s not often you call a Week 2 matchup a must-win, but the moniker may apply this time as the Gamecocks could be looking at an 0-3 start with a game against Todd Gurley and No. 6 Georgia on tap next week.

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