Michigan State’s Connor Cook is a two-time academic all-Big Ten quarterback majoring in media and information, which is to say he’s as good with his brain and his words as he is with his golden right arm. I had a chance to ask him over the summer what it was like to watch Oregon and Ohio State — the only two teams to beat MSU last season — meet in the first-ever College Football Playoff title game.
Dripping with eloquence, isn’t it?
Concise, though, and right in line with how the Spartans go about their business. No phoniness, no fluff, no excuses.
College football’s nonconference game of the season — No. 7 Oregon at No. 5 MSU (7 p.m., Ch. 7) — offers Cook’s team a shot at revenge for the one that got away in Eugene, a 46-27 defeat in which the Spartans all-out collapsed in the second half. That was most un-MSU-like.
“We’ve lost three games out of the last 30,” said coach Mark Dantonio, “and we know the teams we’ve lost to. Our M.O. is to try to reach higher. And to do that, right now, it runs through Oregon.”
It runs through new Ducks starting quarterback Vernon Adams, a dual-threat player charged with the mighty task of replacing Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Can Adams outplay Cook, a potential first-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft? Can Oregon’s defense — which didn’t exactly shine in a
61-42 opening victory over Eastern Washington — rise up with big plays as it did a year ago?
Both teams are trying to get to 2-0, with the playoff as the bigger-picture goal, but the Ducks are biting off more than they can chew in this one. A Sparty party, 45-31.
In the JV game, it’s Oregon State at Michigan (11 a.m.,
Ch. 7). But I kid the Beavers and Wolverines! Actually, it’ll be interesting and fun to see who prevails in a coaching matchup of Gary Andersen — who left Wisconsin suddenly and awkwardly last year — and Jim Harbaugh. The latter posts his first ‘W’ as big cheese in Ann Arbor, 27-10.
Did you hear about the SEC putting a record 10 teams into the latest AP poll? Whether or not you buy that a single conference contains 40 percent of the poll-worthy teams in the country, it’s plain to see the SEC is separating itself (again) from the rest of college football.
Moreover, the SEC just plain gets it. While seemingly all other conferences are playing non-league games in Week 2, the SEC is giving us not one, not two, but three league matchups. The best of them — No. 14 LSU at No. 25 Mississippi State (8:15 p.m., ESPN) — puts the spotlight on the SEC West, where it will remain for nearly three months. It’s called marketing, and (Earth to Big Ten . . . come in, Big Ten) beating your competitors to the punch is, you know, a good thing.
But back to the Tigers and Bulldogs. LSU’s Week 1 game was canceled due to lightning, so the Tigers will be extra-hungry to hit somebody. Hail Staters are seeing a mismatch at quarterback — their Dak Prescott was a Heisman candidate in 2014, while LSU then-freshman Brandon Harris’ play was erratic at best — but I believe Harris will be full of surprises this season. Geaux Tigers, 24-20.
Week 2’s only other top 25 matchup, No. 19 Oklahoma at No. 23 Tennessee (5 p.m., ESPN), is another nonconference rematch. The Sooners prevailed 34-10 on their home field a year ago in large part because the Vols’ pass protection was a heaping, steaming pile of dysfunction. The Vols are a far better team now, with a talented, mobile quarterback, Joshua Dobbs, who didn’t play in the teams’ meeting in Norman.
Yet OU went on to become perhaps the most disappointing team of 2014, going from popular playoff pick to five-loss bust. It’s hard to tell how ready they are to bounce back. In last weekend’s 41-3 victory over Akron, they totaled three points on their first six possessions (yikes) and rushed for only 100 yards.
“I believe in what we’re doing,” OU coach Bob Stoops said this week, “and we’ll be able to run it.”
I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m going with the Vols in a pretty big way — how does 38-24 sound?
We’ll end this week with No. 20 Boise State at BYU (9:15 p.m., ESPN2), a fascinating matchup in regard to timing. Is this a good time or a bad time for Boise — which has its sights on an unbeaten regular season — to face the physical Cougars, who are riding the wave of a Week 1
Hail Mary win at Nebraska yet are dealing with the loss of star quarterback Taysom Hill to injury? Or, if you prefer, is this the right time or the wrong time for BYU to take on its stiffest home test of the season?
A week ago, in this very space, I picked BYU to upset Nebraska. I’ll roll with freshman QB Tanner Mangum and the Cougs to pull off a second straight upset, 24-20.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.
WESTERN ILLINOIS AT ILLINOIS
The facts: 11 a.m., BTN.
The records: WIU 1-0,
The line: No line.
The storyline: Western is slowly growing as a program, having raised its victory total in each of the last three seasons and now — fresh off a 33-5 hammering of Eastern Illinois — looking more promising than it has in several years. But, reality check: The Illini were more complete in a 52-3 victory over Kent State than they’d appeared in any game under Tim Beckman. With four takeways, the defense declared itself ready to be a factor as offensive-minded interim head coach Bill Cubit brainstorms things on the other side of the ball. Not much to sweat about this Saturday.
Greenberg’s pick: Illinois, 38-14.
NOTRE DAME AT VIRGINIA
The facts: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 7.
The records: Notre Dame 1-0, Virginia 1-0.
The line: Notre Dame by 12 ½.
The storyline: The Cavaliers competed hard in a 34-16 defeat at UCLA, but the talent gap was plainly apparent. How will they respond at home — in what seems like a must-win game for coach Mike London — against the Irish? It was a brilliant display by Notre Dame in last week’s 38-3 victory over Texas, with the Irish defense forcing eight three-and-outs in 11 tries and holding the Longhorns to 163 yards. “I think we can continue to grow as a defense and continue to get better and play the kind of defense necessary to compete nationally,” coach Brian Kelly said. There’s a big talent gap in this one, too, but road games can be tricky.
Greenberg’s pick: Notre Dame, 31-24.
MURRAY STATE AT NORTHERN ILLINOIS
The facts: 2:30 p.m., ESPN3.
The records: Murray State 1-0, NIU 1-0.
The line: No line.
The storyline: Just how explosive is this Drew Hare-to-Kenny Golladay aerial connection going to be for the Huskies? Golladay had 213 receiving yards in Week 1, the highest total in the country. Murray State is no pushover, having won its opener by 40 over Kentucky Wesleyan, but a locked-in NIU will win this one convincingly. And the Huskies had better be locked in after their shaky opening performance against lowly UNLV.
Greenberg’s pick: NIU, 47-21.
EASTERN ILLINOIS AT NORTHWESTERN
The facts: 3 p.m., ESPNews.
The records: EIU 0-1, Northwestern 1-0.
The line: No line.
The storyline: Do we really know this is a different Wildcats team just because of one highly impressive performance against Stanford? If more evidence is needed, it could be difficult to find against an EIU squad that’s going to be over-matched; NU’s visit to Duke next weekend will be much more illuminating. In the meantime, it’ll be a nice chance for new starting quarterback Clayton Thorson to build some momentum in the passing game — and the defense that was all the talk after the 16-6 win over Stanford should have another enjoyable outing.
Greenberg’s pick: Northwestern, 34-13.