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September 11, 2009

Keep An Eye On: What to watch for in Week 2

Each week, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans six things to keep an eye on over the course of the weekend.

Oklahoma State's defense. Can the Cowboys turn in another strong defensive performance? After beating Georgia 24-10 in the opener, the Cowboys were lauded as legitimate national championship contenders primarily because of the perceived substantial improvement on the defense. New coordinator Bill Young has been praised for bolstering a typically soft unit. The Cowboys did look good in holding Georgia to one touchdown, which came on the first drive of the game. But in raving about the Cowboys, that Georgia has a questionable offense has been overlooked. Oklahoma State gets Houston this week. Though Georgia is more talented overall than Houston, the Cougars have a more explosive offense. QB Case Keenum passed for 5,020 yards and 44 touchdowns last season - including 387 yards four touchdowns and no interceptions against Oklahoma State. And RB Bryce Beall is a big-play threat. Houston scored 55 points in its opener, albeit against FCS Northwestern State (La.). Shutting down Houston's offense will settle any remaining doubts about the Cowboys' defense.


Ohio State's offensive line. Last season, the Buckeyes' line often was labeled "soft." The unit seemed to lack a nasty edge and toughness. The Buckeyes' blockers did little to erase that image after failing to dominate a smaller Navy defensive line last Saturday in an uninspired victory over the Midshipmen. At one point in the fourth quarter, Ohio State ran on three consecutive plays and the drive ended with a fourth-down stop. Michigan transfer Justin Boren has injected a big dose of mean from his guard spot, but his linemates still have something to prove. That must change with USC coming to the Horseshoe this weekend. It's vital that Ohio State has a strong ground game against a still-developing Trojan defensive line so that quarterback Terrelle Pryor isn't asked to do too much in the passing game.


Ohio State's run defense. The Jim Tressel era at Ohio State has been marked by standout run defenses. Only three times since 2001 has Ohio State allowed more than 100 rushing yards per game in a season. The Buckeyes gave up 186 yards on the ground last week to Navy. I understand the Midshipmen's triple-option offense is going to hurt any team's run defense, but the Buckeyes need to do better than that to be a BCS contender. This season, USC's running backs finally may reach their potential, especially Joe McKnight, who averaged 10.4 yards per carry last week against San Jose State. If Ohio State's run "D" is a weakness, expect USC to exploit it and take the pressure off freshman quarterback Matt Barkley in his first road start.


East Carolina's defensive line. East Carolina whipped West Virginia 24-3 last season - when WVU had Pat White. Can ECU whip WVU again, this time in Morgantown? East Carolina is one of two teams (UCF is the other) in Conference USA built around its defense, and the Pirates might have the best defensive line outside the Big Six conferences. End C.J. Wilson is a big-play guy, and tackle Linval Joseph has big-time NFL potential; he's 6 feet 6 and 320 pounds, and he can move. If the Pirates' defensive line controls the line of scrimmage against a rebuilt WVU offensive line, the Pirates could pull the upset for the second season in a row.


The ACC. After a horrendous season in 2008, the conference couldn't have gotten off to a worse start in 2009. Virginia lost to William & Mary and Duke was embarrassed by Richmond. California annihilated Maryland, and N.C. State "standout" quarterback Russell Wilson couldn't even get his team in the end zone in a 7-3 loss to South Carolina. And, oh yeah, Wake Forest lost to Baylor - a team it beat 41-13 last year - at home. Seriously, can things get any worse? We'll find out this weekend, when Maryland plays host to James Madison and Kent State visits Boston College. Nothing in the ACC is a sure thing.


Notre Dame or Michigan: Who's for real? Notre Dame and Michigan opened the season with impressive victories over teams that were supposed to give them trouble, but that doesn't mean either program has completely regained its footing. We'll have a better idea of where each team stands after their showdown Saturday in Ann Arbor. Michigan freshman quarterback Tate Forcier's performance in a 31-7 thrashing of Western Michigan suggested he could have the same type of impact that Chad Henne made as a true freshman. Denard Robinson showed he could be as tough to chase down as just about any quarterback in the country. But did they merely capitalize on an overly generous MAC defense? Can they avoid the turnovers that haunted Michigan against Notre Dame last season? And what about Notre Dame? Jimmy Clausen looked dominant in a 35-0 win over Nevada last week, but he threw a combined 13 interceptions and four touchdown passes in regular-season road games last season. If he can lead the Irish to a victory it the Big House, it would show he really has turned the corner. I'm also interested in seeing if Notre Dame's defense is really as good as its shutout performance against Nevada suggested.




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