Ten key plot points for the weekend ahead:
• Everything new is old again: Old-guard fans from North to South in this great nation are clutching at their pearls and croakies this weekend, as two of college football's most storied programs enter Week 2 apparently dead set against naming starting quarterbacks before their high-profile nonconference matchup. Everything new is old again, as veteran coaches Nick Saban and Joe Paterno appear carefully untroubled at the prospect of rotating signal-callers. The four combatants are even dolled up in classic Red Team-Blue Team gear for handy discernment, with Alabama's AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims in one corner and Penn State's Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin opposite.
Who will crack first and name a permanent starter? If there's one thing JoePa's adept at, it's outlasting the competition. But Saban's mind of metal and wheels won't rust with inactivity. And before you ask, it's Sims with one M; there's no relation to the quarterbacking Simms family, so don't expect any untoward parental interference down Tuscaloosa way. All we can really expect for sure out of Saturday's outing in Happy Valley is for Bama's QBs to get picked (McCarron and Sims each tossed two picks against Kent State, of all teams; plus PSU returns four seniors to a highly experienced secondary) and Penn State's to get hit (the Nittany Lions allowed Indiana State to break through for two sacks and were generally unstable in pass protection all game). Last man standing wins? And as far as Alabama is concerned, are we just on the hunt for the best plug-and-play guy under center?
“Right now, we feel confident no matter which quarterback is in,” right guard Barrett Jones said. “It’s not really something that we have to really change anything for. We run the same system with both of them.”
This is truer than it sounds; "Hand the ball to Trent Richardson" isn't a play that comes with a terrible amount of variety (though it is terribly effective).
• Why doncha pick on a good MAC team, tough guys? What do we really know about this piecemeal Ohio State squad? Joe Bauserman looked more than solid in opening-week action, and Braxton Miller like he might be given room to grow without having to enter in a save-the-day capacity. But Akron's no yardstick for a team that's as ragtag as Ohio State ever gets (which is to say, not very). Even with myriad offseason distractions (you might have heard a little something about OSU's head coach) and an early-season slate fraught with suspended players, OSU enters Week 2 with a No. 15 ranking and an oddsmakers' edge over the occasionally surprising Rockets. There's also the small matter of Toledo never having scored a single point on Ohio State in the teams' two previous meetings. Then, however, there's this:
Since 2003, the Rockets have six victories against opponents from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences. That's the ninth-most by a non-BCS school, just two behind renowned giant-killer Boise State. And the Rockets play Boise State next after they take on Ohio State.
If the Buckeyes were to become early victims of a sleepwalking upset, it'd hardly be the most surprising win Toledo's ever pulled off. And don't forget that more than one Crystal Ball predictor has Toledo tabbed for a MAC Championship. Don't look ahead to Miami, Columbus. (The same warnings apply to the Rockets, however, who should find considerably more resistance from the Buckeyes than they did playing New Hampshire in Week 1.)
• Pistols don't have to fire to be weapons: Oregon displayed surprising weaknesses last week at the hands of an LSU offense that's seen its fair share of roster-related trauma these past few weeks, and Nevada is fielding an offense I think could still surprise a lot of viewers even in the absence of Colin Kaepernick. But what's that offense even going to look like? The Wolf Pack drew one of the dreaded Week 1 byes in 2011, giving them additional time to prep for a Ducky storm, but making their schematics even more of a wild card than usual. Can the 'Pack come out firing at Autzen? And if they can't, how brutal will the scoreboard hammering get from a Ducks squad determined to shrug off that nasty brush with BCS death in Arlington?
• Perhaps if the tacklers were provided with bags of ice to lounge on while on the sidelines: The defensive preparation Georgia displayed last Saturday in Atlanta was uncomfortably reminiscent of the ever-maligned Willie Martinez era, with players visibly gassed and seemingly unable to discern the routes the Broncos were tidily unfolding in front of them. What do they plan to do about a triumphantly returned Stephen Garcia and a seemingly unstoppable Marcus Lattimore? Could the Dawgs even make Connor Shaw look good, and in Athens of all places? I'm not one to call for Mark Richt's firing in Week 2 after a game against a consensus top-five team, but that Todd Grantham bandwagon is without riders and has no driver to speak of.
• Does your "need" for a ribcage really outweigh Bret Bielema's desire for a hat? Oregon State just lost to an FCS team and now has to travel to the raucous home of the No. 8 team in the country. There will be blood, and that blood will not be badgerly in origin.
• Taxonomy of the FBS: A big part of college football coverage this time of year involves pure conjecture over which teams are over- or underrated based on a sample size of one game. Mercifully for us, that sample size will have doubled by tomorrow night. Some of this week's highest-profile games feature well-regarded teams of virtually unknown quality, sometimes on both sides of the ball: Utah and USC both underperformed last week against what should have been vastly overmatched opponents; which will have the edge (over a division rival, no less) after a weekend in the Coliseum? Can TCU regain its defensive footing against an ever-potent Air Force offense on the road? And after shockingly disappointing seasons in Provo and Austin, can BYU and/or Texas right their foundering ships? (Of football. Ships of football! Boat metaphors!)
• Changing of the conference guard: The defending national champions, you can rest assured, will not be defending their title come January thanks to massive roster attrition. And just as Auburn is fading into the background, it's got to deal with rising menace and division rival Mississippi State. The Tigers will have home field advantage, but that's about all.
• Greenville pointsplosion injures over/under bookies nationwide: Last week's frankly unseemly-for-Beamerball rout of Appalachian State proved the Hokies are willing to put pedal to floor to prove a point. (That point being, in this case, "We swear we don't always lose to FCS teams at home.") Will they play a variation on that theme this week against a hapless ECU defense? And will the legendarily prolific Purple Pirates offense mount a gallant stand of its own?
• Their blood was for the trophy: Are details for the new CyHawk trophy being kept under close guard because once the thing's actually out on the field it'll be too late for a public outcry? That's totally what's happening, right? Unrelated: Did you know that Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice has a Facebook fan page, and that they made five more sequels after the one with "final" in the title? • No, but there are stripes and it's going to be dark out! A number of terribly concerned publicists would like you all to know that this weekend's Michigan-Notre Dame tilt will feature heretofore unseen manners of stripes on the participating players' clothing! This concludes our discussion of the Michigan-Notre Dame game.