Best of Week 2: Gardner's chance to shine

This isn’t a Saturday filled with scintillating matchups, but it’s saved by the marquee Notre Dame at Michigan game. One problem: There are three games vs. FCS foes: Indiana State at Purdue; Tennessee Tech at Wisconsin; Missouri State at Iowa. And Penn State plays host to Eastern Michigan, which is like a FCS school. Also, South Florida (which is at Michigan State) and San Diego State (at Ohio State) are horrible.

The Big Ten team that will have the most difficult time winning? Illinois, which plays host to Cincinnati. The Bearcats thumped Purdue last week, 42-7.

This is the second season in a row that Southern Miss will have come to Nebraska, losing 49-20 last year. This was supposed to be a home game for Southern Miss, which looked at playing the Huskers in New Orleans or Kansas City. But, it opted to just play in Lincoln. Why? Do you have to ask? Money. Southern Miss will get $2 million and Nebraska is paying its travel bill, too. Yes, it’s nice to be a school that has a rabid fan base. Imagine this happening in the NFL, with Jacksonville selling a home game to, say, Dallas.

Let’s hope this years’ Syracuse-Northwestern game is as good as last year’s. NU won a wild one at Syracuse, scoring the game-winning touchdown behind backup QB Trevor Siemian with 44 seconds left to take a 42-41 victory.

Here’s a spin around the Best of Week Two:

[ MORE: Who wins Week 2 games? Cast your votes! ]

BEST GAME: As far as name-brand appeal and college football lore, it doesn’t get much better than Notre Dame at Michigan. And this one is in prime time. Sip and savor, folks, as it will be the last time the Fighting Irish are in Ann Arbor for the foreseeable future. The teams will meet in 2014 in South Bend. After that, this storied series will be shelved next to Oklahoma-Nebraska; Kansas-Missouri; Texas-Texas A&M. By the way: The Fighting Irish won last year, 13-6, ending the Wolverines’ three-game winning streak. Denard Robinson had five turnovers (four picks and a lost fumble) in the contest. The last four meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. Expect this one to come down to the wire.

UPSET ALERT: The only Big Ten team on the road is Minnesota, which has a bizarre trip to Las Cruces, N.M., to play New Mexico State. How did the Golden Gophers get talked into making a trip to NMSU? Nonetheless, this could be a trap game for Minnesota. New Mexico State took the only other meeting with Minnesota, winning in Minneapolis, 28-21, in 2011. In that game, Jerry Kill had a seizure on the sidelines in the waning seconds of the game. I know Texas blasted the Aggies last week, 56-7. Still, be careful here, Goldy.

[ MORE: Dienhart: My Week 2 Big Ten previews ]

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Michigan QB Devin Gardner. The junior ran for 52 yards and two touchdowns and hit 10-of-15 passes for 162 yards with a touchdown, but he also tossed two picks in a 59-9 win over Central Michigan last week. Gardner must show more in the pass game. And he has yet to beat a foe this good. Last year, he led the Wolverines by Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa; he lost to Ohio State and South Carolina. Is Gardner ready for this? He must protect the ball and hit some passes for Michigan to win.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Ohio State. The Buckeyes jumped to a 23-0 first-quarter lead last week vs. Buffalo and then fell asleep the rest of the way vs. a middling MAC team. Can Ohio State play four strong quarters and dominate from start to finish vs. a bad San Diego State team? America watches and waits for an elite performance.

[ MORE: View our Week 2 Big Ten scoreboard ]

BEST COORDINATOR MATCHUP: Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges vs. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. Lots of brain power. Borges is a sage, smart offensive mind who finally is able to unleash all of his pro-style offense with the more conventional Devin Gardner under center. But, the results were mixed last week. Diaco’s defense was the backbone of the Fighting Irish’s march to the BCS title game last season and looked good vs. Temple in the opener. Diaco won the 2012 Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach, the first Irish assistant ever to capture the award. His defense last season ranked among the top 10 in 12 different categories.

BEST COACHING MATCHUP: San Diego State’s Rocky Long vs. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer is an underrated clash. But, I have to go with Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly vs. Michigan’s Brady Hoke. Each is in the process of making their school a power, with Kelly ahead of schedule after a BCS title game trip last season. These are two of the game’s best coaches who have worked their way up the backwaters of the sport to elite jobs, paying dues along the way at lesser schools. Last names didn’t get them their jobs; hard work and success did. Gotta love that.

[ MORE: Enter the Buffalo Wild Wings Trip to the Football Championship Sweepstakes ]

BEST QB MATCHUP: Who will start at quarterback for Indiana? Tre Roberson? Cam Coffman? Nathan Sudfeld? It likely won’t matter, as each is competent. What a luxury problem for Kevin Wilson. Michigan State can’t find one steady signal-caller; the Hoosiers have three! Navy has a nice signal-caller in Keenan Reynolds, who will work some from the Pistol in addition to the Midshipmen’s vaunted triple-option. He took over six games into his true freshman season and impressed. Reynolds has the requisite quickness and speed to excel in this option attack. This will be a nice contrast of styles. And this is a big game for Indiana and its quest to get to just its second bowl game since 1993. The Hoosiers lost at Navy last season, 31-30. This one should be close as well.

RANKING THE GAMES

1. Notre Dame at Michigan

2. Syracuse at Northwestern

3. USF at Michigan State

4. Cincinnati at Illinois

5. Navy at Indiana

6. San Diego State at Ohio State

7. Southern Miss at Nebraska

8. Minnesota at New Mexico State

9. Eastern Michigan at Penn State

10. Indiana State at Purdue

11. Tennessee Tech at Wisconsin

12. Missouri State at Iowa

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About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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2 Comments

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reality check on 9/6/2013 @ 9:37am EDT Said:

Thanks, Tom even MSU Doug will be riveted to his screen as Brady Hoke and his all starts preview a possible BCS Championship game. Devon Gardner firmly established that he was an NFL first round draft choice, he solidifies that position and enters the Heisman conversation tomorrow.

Andy on 9/6/2013 @ 1:21pm EDT Said:

No sure why Navy at IU is number 5 here. I think NU will handle Syracuse at home. South Florida is TERRIBLE. And I figure Cincy will probably blast Illinois. Navy at IU should be pretty competitive. And Navy has been a pretty decent program over the last 7-10 years.