It happens every year, an early season match-up that could possibly define the outcome of a team’s championship chances. In the 2014 campaign, there is no exception. There will be two games that will put two top 15 teams against each other in Week 2. Interestingly enough, three of the teams are in the PAC-12. For both No. 14 USC and No. 13 Stanford, not only is this an early attempt to get an advantage on the division race in the conference, but also a chance to stay undefeated and an opportunity to contend for a spot in the College Football Final Four. Same holds true for No. 7 Michigan State and No. 3 Oregon. Now, they are not in the same conference, but championship hopes are definitely on the line.
An early test for the Oregon Ducks with Michigan State coming to Eugene to slow down Marcus Mariota and the fast tempo Oregon offense. The speed and high tempo of Oregon’s offense has always given teams troubles on defense. Consistently being one of the high scoring teams in the country, Oregon usually has trouble against one team in the PAC-12, and that’s Stanford. A team who’s strong, stout and physical up front on both sides of the ball, which is the same type of style Michigan State plays. Even though Michigan State lost some key components from last year’s top defense, they will come to Oregon with all the tools necessary to give Oregon a fight.
Although there are some bumps and bruises on the offense for MSU, Coach Dantonio says OL Travis Jackson and WR Macgarrett Kings, Jr will be ready to go by Saturday. Oregon will have to put some serious pressure on Connor Cook to slow up Michigan State’s passing, which can hopefully put some containment on Michigan State’s running attack. Oregon’s defense has always been considered too “soft” to stop a strong running game, i.e. Stanford. This will be a game (if Oregon can find a way to win) that could quiet some of the rumblings that they can’t stop a strong run game.
It is games like this that can start an intense rivalry, USC versus Stanford. Two Top 15 teams fighting for the same thing, the upper hand in the South division. This makes the game that much more important, as it’s between two teams in the same division. Whoever comes out of this game with a win will have an early advantage in the division race.
While Stanford isn’t as good as they were in the run game last season, they still follow the same mantra: beat you up upfront. This is key for USC, with big play defensive tackle Leonard Williams questionable for Saturday’s game at this point. Although Stanford is not as strong, it allows balance for Kevin Hogan to spread the field with his receivers and run a lot more wide receiver screens and dump-offs, which will put Stanford’s big receivers in the open field to make big plays.
Stanford is going to wear down USC with physical play, the Trojans much match Stanford’s physicality or out-quick them with their speedy young playmakers: JuJu Smith and Adoree Jackson. Cody Kessler has experienced receivers Darreus Rogers and Nelson Agholor, between the two of them had 10 receptions last week for 117 yards. The type of possession receivers needed to keep Stanford’s defense honest. None of that matters if the Trojan offensive line can’t keep Cody Kessler upright.
Can Washington State bounce back from a disappointing open season home loss at the hands of Rutgers? I don’t see it. The Cougars were full of optimism and excitement, only to have it blow up in their faces. Confidence will play a factor heading into the game against Nevada this week, who will be looking to break the spirits and ground the Cougars spread-pass heavy offense.
Will California continue to roll with their overwhelming confidence after a big win over Northwestern? Who would have thought that California would still be undefeated after the first two weeks of the season? It is possible. With an unexpected win against Northwestern last week, California can carry that momentum into this week against Sacramento State. If Jared Goff has the same type of game this week and the defense performs the way they did against Northwestern, they can go into Tucson unscathed.
UCLA shouldn’t have any trouble this weekend at home against Memphis, but if their offense continues to sputter and they have to rely on their defense to score, voters will definitely question their poll position. It will also lead to the masses wondering if Brett Hundley is deserving of being a Heisman candidate. A strong statement needs to be made for UCLA to establish legitimacy in the rankings. I’m not one to say run the score up, but a big offensive performance should be on display Saturday night in Pasadena.