Best of Week 2: Penn State-Pittsburgh will be fun

Best of Week 2: Penn State-Pittsburgh will be fun

Thirteen schools are in action. And there are some top matches on deck in the second week of play.

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The headliner is the highly anticipated renewal of the Pitt-Penn State rivalry. The Nittany Lions lead the all-time series, 50-42-4, however the two programs haven’t met since way back in 2000.

The battle for the Cy-Hawk trophy between Iowa and Iowa State always is a humdinger, too. This year, the Cyclones, led by new coach Matt Campbell, come to Iowa City. Know this: Iowa boss Kirk Ferentz is just 8-9 vs. Iowa State. And Iowa State has won the last two times it visited Kinnick Stadium.

Here is a look at the Best of Week 2.

Best game: Finally, Pitt and Penn State are playing. Too bad this isn’t an annual affair. But that’s a story for another day. Let’s enjoy the renewal of this fierce rivalry, as the Nittany Lions trek west to play the Panthers. Penn State leads the all-time series, 50-42-4. Pitt won the last meeting, taking a 12-0 decision at home. Prior to that, the Nittany Lions had won seven in a row. Penn State is coming off a 33-13 win vs. Kent State. The Panthers opened with a 28-7 triumph vs. FCS Villanova.

Player on the spot: Trace McSorley. The Penn State signal-caller needs to continue to develop if the Nittany Lions want to leave Pitt with a win. He hit just 16-of-31 passes for 209 yards with two touchdowns in his first career start last week in a 33-13 victory vs. Kent State. He needs to make the new spread attack go.

Best matchup: The Penn State linebackers vs. Pitt running back James Conner. Conner is an inspirational story, battling back from a season-ending knee injury suffered in the opener last season and then cancer (Hodgkin lymphoma) to return to the field last week and score two TDs in the Panthers’ 28-7 victory vs. Villanova. The 6-2, 235-pound junior was the ACC Player of the Year as a sophomore when he ran for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns on 298 carries.

Best QB matchup: This is a good one, as Tulsa’s Dane Evans locks up with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. Evans was No. 8 in the nation last season in passing yards with 4,332 along with 25 touchdown passes. Barrett began last year behind Cardale Jones before assuming command late in the season. In 2014, Barrett was the Big Ten’s top signal-caller and led the Buckeyes to the national title. He will be one of the best in the nation and is coming off a monster effort in the opener, accounting for a school record seven TDs (six passing; one throwing) in a 77-10 vs. Bowling Green. Evans threw for 198 yards and a TD in a 45-10 win vs. San Jose State last week.

Best coaching matchup: Let’s go with Illinois State’s Brock Spack vs. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, a clash of former All-Big Ten linebackers. Spack is a former Purdue great and one of the top coaches in the FCS ranks, compiling a 57-29 overall mark with three playoff appearances and a trip to the national title game in 2014. Spack has another good team, as the Redbirds are a top 10 FCS squad and are coming off a 50-13 win vs. Valparaiso. Fitzgerald is an all-time great player and coach at his alma mater coming off a 10-win season. Fitzgerald is the all-time winningest coach in Northwestern history with 70 wins. And his 36 Big Ten wins are the most in school history. But Fitz is looking to get NU back on track after an opening-week 22-21 loss to Western Michigan. ISU is a dangerous foe. Could the Wildcats get upset two weeks in a row?

Best coordinator matchup: North Carolina DC Gene Chizik vs. Illinois OC Garrick McGee. Chizik has an impressive resume, leading Auburn to the national title in 2011 during a run from 2009-12. Before that successful stint on the Plains, Chizik earned his chops as a boffo DC for Auburn and Texas. UNC is coming off a 33-24 loss to Georgia in Atlanta, allowing 474 yards. McGee was tabbed by new Illinois coach Lovie Smith to run his attack. McGee has been a coordinator at Louisville, Arkansas and Northwestern, showing a bright, creative mind and an ability to build offenses around the strength of his personnel. McGee also was head coach at UAB from 2012-13. His Illini offense roared out of the game, notching 52 points and 515 yards in a romp over FCS Murray State.

Best chance for an upset: The visit from Cincinnati will be tough for Purdue. UC was the first opponent for Darrell Hazell at Purdue back in 2013 … and the Bearcats throttled the Boilermakers, 42-7, in Cincinnati. The Bearcats are well coached under Tommy Tuberville, who has taken the Bearcats to bowls in each of his three seasons in the Queen City. Still, the Boilermakers may have a shot to ambush UC if both lines play well and quarterback David Blough makes some plays down field. The Boilermakers showed some promise in a season-opening 45-24 win vs. FCS Eastern Kentucky. The Bearcats won their opener, taking a 28-7 victory vs. FCS UT Martin.

More Week 2 notes:

  • North Carolina’s visit to Illinois will be a great test for the new staff in Champaign. Last year, the Illini waded into Kenan Stadium and got thumped, 48-14. That was a very good UNC squad that finished 11-3 and won the ACC Coastal Division. Can the Illini compete with an established non-league foe and avoid a blowout?
  • Michigan welcomes Central Florida and new coach Scott Frost, a former Nebraska QB who was OC at Oregon. The schools never have met.
  • Wyoming comes to Nebraska. The Huskers are 7-0 all-time vs. the Cowboys, taking a 38-14 decision at Laramie in 2011 and a 37-34 win in 2013 in Lincoln. Wyoming is led by former Husker player and assistant Craig Bohl, who has gone just 6-18 in two seasons in Laramie. The program hasn’t been to a bowl since 2011.
  • Ohio State and Tulsa never have met.
  • Purdue is 1-1 vs. Cincinnati with both games in the Queen City. The Boilers won, 19-14, in 2001 and lost, 42-7, in 2013 in what was the first game as Boilermaker coach for Darrell Hazell.
  • Maryland is 4-0 all-time vs. Florida International with all four encounters coming since 2006. This game is on Friday. The Terps last won 43-10 in 2013 in College Park. Maryland played at Miami in 2007 and won 26-10, the lone meeting at FIU. Former Illinois coach Ron Turner is in his fourth season leading FIU, sporting a 10-26 mark. FIU lost at home to Indiana last week.
  • There are three games vs. FCS foes: Illinois State at Northwestern; Howard at Rutgers; Indiana State at Minnesota. There also are two MAC foes on tap: Ball State at Indiana and Akron at Wisconsin.
  • Michigan State is off as it preps for a game at Notre Dame on Sept. 17.

WEEK 2 GAME RANKINGS

1. Penn State at Pitt
2. Iowa State at Iowa
3. North Carolina at Illinois
4. Central Florida at Michigan
5. Wyoming at Nebraska
6. Cincinnati at Purdue
7. Illinois State at Northwestern
8. Maryland at Florida International
9. Tulsa at Ohio State
10. Ball State at Indiana
11. Akron at Wisconsin
12. Indiana State at Minnesota
13. Howard at Rutgers

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

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, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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