Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, September 4, 2014
Week Two brings more juice than the opening salvo to the season, as there are three nationally relevant games: Michigan State at Oregon; Virginia Tech at Ohio State; Michigan at Notre Dame. In fact, those games will offer the Big Ten a golden chance to make a statement. In fact, a win by the Spartans on the road in raucous Autzen Stadium would stamp them legit national title contenders.
This will be the final time in the foreseeable future that Notre Dame and Michigan meet. Enjoy. The programs have played all but six years since 1978, with the Wolverines holding a 15-14-1 edge.
Virginia Tech?s visit to Ohio State also is interesting. The Hokies are famous for their strong, aggressive defense, killer special teams and physical offense under iconic head coach Frank Beamer. This will be a good test for redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. OSU and Va Tech never have played.
This also is ?MAC Week,? as Big Ten teams will play four games vs. their Midwestern little brother: Northern Illinois at Northwestern; Akron at Penn State; Ball State at Iowa; Central Michigan at Purdue. But the Big Ten needs to be careful, as the MAC is known for biting big brother. Last year, Northern Illinois beat Iowa and Purdue, the first time a MAC foe whipped two Big Ten schools in the same season. And NIU?s 55-24 victory at Purdue tied the MAC record for victory margin over a Big Ten school (Toledo beat Minnesota by 31 in 2001.). Also, Akron came THIS CLOSE to winning at Michigan last season, with the Wolverines needing to make a desperate stop on the final play to hold on, 28-24. The Northern Illinois at Northwestern matchup looks most intriguing, though the Huskies have lost star QB Jordan Lynch. Still, Pat Fitzgerald's team needs to be ready. The Wildcats are 6-0-1 all-time vs. NIU, last playing in 2005.
After seven games vs. FCS foes in Week One, there are three games this week: McNeese State at Nebraska; Western Illinois at Wisconsin; Howard at Rutgers. All together now: ugh. It would be a shock if any of those contests are close.
Every school is playing except Indiana, which is the first Big Ten team to have a bye.
See our recent Week 2 posts:
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Here?s the best of Week Two:
BEST GAME: All eyes will be on Eugene, Ore., where Michigan State will take on Oregon in one of the top non-conference games on the national calendar. The Ducks are one of the best teams in the nation, a legit national title contender. The Spartans hold the same aspirations coming off a Rose Bowl championship season and No. 3 final ranking. If Michigan State can return to East Lansing with a win, it could be in line for another special season.
BEST MATCHUP: Oregon RB running back Byron Marshall vs. the Michigan State linebackers. The Spartans have undergone a reworking of their linebackers. Taiwan Jones, Ed Davis and Darien Harris will be put to the test vs. the quick and elusive Marshall. In a 62-13 demolition of South Dakota last week, Marshall ran eight times for 90 yards (11.3 ypc) and added eight catches for 138 yards (17.3 ypc) with two TDs. Can MSU?s linebackers keep up? If Marshall runs wild, MSU may be in trouble.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian. The senior needs to pick up his game for the Wildcats to avoid an upset vs. Northern Illinois this week. He hit just 23-of-44 passes with two interceptions in an opening 31-24 loss to Cal. True, Siemian was hurt by some drops. But he needs to be more on the mark. I think it will come in time, as Siemian has been effective in the past. Still, there is a sense of urgency now.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford. He tweaked an ankle in the opener but likely needs to have a big game for Michigan State to beat Oregon. Plus, Langford will be working behind a banged up line with left guard Travis Jackson nursing a bad back. For the Spartans, it will be key to ?shorten? the game with a dominating ground attack. Bottom line: Langford needs to rush for at least 100 yards-if not more.
BEST COORDINATOR MATCHUP: Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi vs. Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost. Narduzzi has become one of the premier DCs in the nation, forging the Big Ten?s No. 1 defense each of the past three seasons. The Spartan defense finished No. 2 in the nation in 2013 and looks tough again-even with six new starters. The Ducks annually have one of the nation?s top offenses. And Frost-a former Nebraska quarterback–is an up-and-comer who has one of the nation?s top quarterbacks at his disposal in Marcus Mariota.
BEST COACHING MATCHUP: How about Ohio State?s Urban Meyer vs. Virginia Tech?s Frank Beamer? Meyer has two national titles. Beamer has made the Hokies a national program since taking over in 1987, guiding Tech to the BCS title game after the 1999 season. An Ohio State win over a quality foe like this would boost the psyche and confidence of an offense still breaking in a new quarterback and re-worked line.
BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: It won?t get too much better than the Spartans? Connor Cook vs. the Ducks Marcus Mariota. Cook emerged early last year as the panacea to Michigan State?s quarterback woes, developing into a difference maker who earned MVP honors in the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl. Mariota is a top contender for the Heisman as one of the premier dual-threat signal-callers in the nation.
BEST CHANCE FOR AN UPSET: Michigan will have a shot to win in South Bend in what should be an emotionally charged game that will be the last meeting (for the time being) in a storied rivalry that?s going the way of Texas-Texas A&M, Kansas-Missouri and Nebraska-Oklahoma. And, that?s a crying shame. The prime-time clash will be a good litmus test for a Wolverines squad that needs a big win to build confidence coming off a 7-6 season that has stirred grumbles along State Street in Ann Arbor. Michigan has won four of the last five meetings. The lone defeat: In 2012 in South Bend, when Denard Robinson endured his infamous ?turnover game.? You remember the six turnovers in a 13-6 loss, right? Right.
|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.|