Big Game Hunting: Hungry Spartans are all set to fillet the Ducks

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Michigan State is fired up for another shot at Oregon. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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.

His answer?

“It sucked.”

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 (Saturday, 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 top 25 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 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,” said OU coach Bob Stoops this week, “and we’ll be able to run it.”

Will 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


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