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September 5, 2011

Week 2 Watch: Mismatches to rematches

Mismatches to rematches -- that about sums up the difference in the schedule heading into the second week of the college football season.

After the typical season-opening slate of mismatches, the caliber of competition rises in Week 2, which is a time for redemption and revenge.

Player under the gun

Michigan QB Denard Robinson

Ever since Brady Hoke replaced Rich Rodriguez as Michigan's coach, we've wondered whether Robinson can match his 2010 success while running a different offense. The answer remains uncertain. Robinson had 98 passing yards and 46 rushing yards Saturday, but the Wolverines didn't need him to provide many fireworks in a 34-10 victory over Western Michigan. The real test comes this weekend. Robinson ran circles around Notre Dame's defense last season. Can he hurt the Irish just as much while operating Al Borges' offense?

Penn State looks to avenge last season's 24-3 loss to Alabama. Iowa State hopes for better luck against Iowa. Notre Dame seeks to even the score with Denard Robinson and Michigan. Meanwhile, Arizona and Oklahoma State square off in a rematch of last year's Alamo Bowl, which the Cowboys won handily. Georgia aims to turn the tables on South Carolina. Mississippi State hopes for the same against Auburn.

In addition, Colorado seeks redemption from last season's blowout loss to California in a clash of Pac-12 teams that isn't a conference game. (We'll have more on that in a minute.)

Besides a reduction in mismatches, Week 2 offers opportunity to atone for misdeeds and mistakes. A coaching axiom maintains that football teams make the most improvement between the first and second weeks of the season. Auburn (defense), Missouri (offense) and Notre Dame (turnovers) certainly hope that holds true.

Best game: Notre Dame at Michigan, 8 p.m., ESPN. Michigan QB Denard Robinson wreaked havoc on the Irish a year ago with 502 yards of total offense and a winning touchdown run in the final minute. Notre Dame's defense is much stronger now, and Robinson is coming off a mediocre first week in Michigan's new offensive scheme. Tommy Rees will start at quarterback for the mistake-prone Irish, who committed five turnovers and missed a short field-goal attempt in a 23-20 season-opening loss to USF.

Don't overlook this one: BYU at Texas, 7 p.m., ESPN2. After the first week of the season, BYU and Texas remain unknown quantities. BYU was sloppy in its 14-13 victory over Ole Miss, not scoring until the final 10 minutes and getting the winning TD from its defense. Meanwhile, Texas slogged past Rice 34-9. This game should provide a more accurate reading on both teams. BYU is 2-0 against Texas, defeating John Mackovic-coached teams in 1987 and '88. Back then, BYU was in the WAC and Texas was in the Southwest Conference. What leagues (if any) these teams represent by the end of the season is anyone's guess.

Under-the-radar storyline: Virginia Tech at East Carolina, 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net. The Hokies rolled to a 66-13 victory over Appalachian State in the opener, but East Carolina could be a challenge. South Carolina learned that first hand as the Pirates jumped to a 17-0 lead (the Gamecocks ended up winning 56-37). The Hokies don't have to look too far to remember how upset-hungry East Carolina can be: The Pirates beat then-ranked No. 17 Virginia Tech 27-22 in the 2008 opener.

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On the midweek marquee: Missouri at Arizona State, 10:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN. For the second week in a row, the Friday matchups appear to be more interesting than the featured game Thursday night. Missouri's offense stalled in James Franklin's first career start as the Tigers passed for a mere 129 yards in a 17-6 victory over Miami (Ohio). Franklin was the Tigers' top rusher with 72 yards. Arizona State should have a stout defense despite injuries that ended the seasons for CB Omar Bolden and LB Brandon Magee.

Coach under the gun

Boston College's Frank Spaziani

Probably no coach this week is feeling more heat than Georgia's Mark Richt, but we didn't want to spotlight him in this space for a second week in a row. We instead will focus on Spaziani, whose team could be starting slowly for a second consecutive season. After losing at home to a Northwestern team without QB Dan Persa, Boston College hits the road to face UCF, which is coming off a 62-0 rout of FCS member Charleston Southern. BC showed against Northwestern it could run effectively without TB Montel Harris, but the Eagles now must worry about stopping the run. After leading the nation in run defense last season, Boston College gave up 227 rushing yards to Northwestern. UCF has a deep group of tailbacks and a big offensive line.

Best individual matchup of the week: East Carolina WR Lance Lewis vs. Virginia Tech CB Jayron Hosley. Lewis is one of the top 15 or so wide receivers nationally, while Hosley -- who led the nation in interceptions last season -- may be the best cornerback. Lewis is a physical receiver with good hands and underrated speed; his size (6-3/212) makes him a tough matchup. Hosley (5-10/170) has good speed and instincts. ECU's defense is such that the only way the Pirates can win is if they get into a shootout.

Best unit matchup of the week: Missouri offensive line vs. Arizona State defensive front seven. The Tigers' offensive line looked to be one of the best in the nation before T Elvis Fisher, who would've been a four-year starter, was lost for the season during fall drills. It's still a good group, with T Dan Hoch the standout. It's vital that the Tigers have some semblance of a running game against Arizona State; Mizzou coaches don't want to put the game entirely in the hands of sophomore QB James Franklin, who will be making just his second career start. That means the Tigers' line has to get some push. MLB Vontaze Burfict gets all the attention -- and deservedly so -- but the Sun Devils are extremely active and athletic up front and could make things tough on Franklin.

Best coordinator chess match: Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain vs. Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. Two of the best in the business lock horns. McElwain's attack began to answer some questions in a season-opening 48-7 romp over Kent State, as A.J. McCarron looks like the answer at quarterback. The Tide rang up 482 yards and McCarron was 14-of-23 for 226 yards and a touchdown. Bradley's unit annually is one of the nation's best and looked good in a season-opening 41-7 victory against overmatched FCS foe Indiana State, limiting the Sycamores to 170 yards and forcing three turnovers. Bradley also is motivated to avenge last season's 24-3 loss at Alabama.

Spotlight conference: Pac-12. The new and improved league has an interesting set of games, headlined by Missouri's visit to Arizona State on Friday night and a huge conference contest that sees Utah visit USC in the Utes' first Pac-12 game. Arizona's visit to Oklahoma State on Thursday night should provide plenty of offensive pyrotechnics. There's also a good group of mid-level games: Oregon looks to get its first win against Nevada, which will be playing its first game; Washington, which barely beat FCS member Easter Washington, gets a visit from Hawaii, which is fresh off a thumping of Colorado; and Oregon State travels to Wisconsin coming off a stunning loss to FCS member Sacramento State. And in a scheduling quirk, Cal plays at Colorado in a non-conference game. The game was on the schedule before Colorado moved to the league, and since neither was able to adequately replace the other on the schedule, it was decided the game would be played but not count in the conference standings.

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