ESPN

Second And
Goals To Go

Think the playoff committee won't be watching until October? Not with a Week 2 like this. We size up the Sept. 6 showdowns that could bust your team's bracket.


WE HOLD THIS college football truth to be self-evident, that not all weeks are created equal. But don't assume the sheen of Week 1 gives way to some noncon, cupcake encore; Week 2 is when the fun really begins. An early but conference-defining contest? USC-Stanford has you covered. A potential College Football Playoff ticket puncher? Michigan State-Oregon has Arlington written all over it. The final act of a historic rivalry? Notre Dame-Michigan plays its swan song. A tone setter for two teams in search of an identity? Virginia Tech and Ohio State square off to prove that roster holes—on the Hokies' front seven and in the Bucks' backfield—won't derail their plans. So with an assist from ESPN Stats & Information and ESPN Insider Brian Fremeau, we lay out what each team needs to do to win on Sept. 6 ... and stay in pursuit of playoff happiness.

USC @ STANFORD

USC will win if ...

... QB Cody Kessler throws only one pick—or none.

MAKING THE CASE Since 2011, the Trojans are 25–3 when their QB throws one INT or fewer. The good news? Kessler's final seven games of '13 indicate further improvement (12 TDs and 2 INTs compared with 8 and 5 in the first seven).

CROSS-EXAM Stanford gave up eight rushing TDs in '13—No. 2 in the FBS—but its pass D is a shade less elite, with just 13 INTs (T53rd). At least ball-hawking DB Jordan Richards (3 INTs) is back.

Stanford will win if ...

... the O-line dominates the line of scrimmage.

MAKING THE CASE Stanford's two regular-season losses in '13 were to teams that pressured QB Kevin Hogan on at least 19 percent of dropbacks—at Utah (28.1 percent) and at USC (19.2), he posted a 45.4 and 53.8 QBR.

CROSS-EXAM USC has one of the nation's top front sevens—91 tackles for loss in '13—led by DE Leonard Williams (six sacks, four QB hurries), who should excel in new DC Justin Wilcox's 3-4.

USC
Stanford

MICHIGAN STATE @ OREGON

Michigan State will win if ...

... the defense limits long runs.

MAKING THE CASE MSU allowed an FBS-low 35 runs of 10-plus yards (tied with Alabama, Wisconsin and Memphis) and held 10 teams to two or fewer such runs last year. Senior DE Shilique Calhoun (14 TFL) leads Sparty's charge.

CROSS-EXAM Oregon had 117 carries of 10-plus yards in '13. The Ducks made long runs such a habit that they were held to fewer than five 10-plus runs in only one game (two against Stanford).

Oregon will win if ...

... it scores twice on two-minute TD drives.

MAKING THE CASE In its two losses in '13, Oregon had one two-minute TD drive. In its 11 wins, it had 48—or 4.4 per game. RB Byron Marshall is deceptively fast and productive: He had 14 TDs despite missing nearly two full games.

CROSS-EXAM The Spartans gave up just eight TDs on two-minute drives in '13. And Sparty was adept at forcing three-and-outs: 60 in '13, tied for second most in the FBS. (Remind you of Stanford?)

Michigan State
Oregon

MICHIGAN @ NOTRE DAME

Michigan will win if ...

... it rushes for at least 100 yards.

MAKING THE CASE The Wolverines fell short of the century mark four times in '13, losing each one. The two games in which they rushed for 100-plus but lost they fell by four total points. Luckily for coach Brady Hoke, soph Derrick Green shed 30 pounds and looks more like the No. 5 prep RB he courted.

CROSS-EXAM Notre Dame went 14-1 the past three seasons when it held teams under 100 rushing yards. This fall it returns just two starters from a front seven that gave up 168 rypg in '13.

Notre Dame will win if ...

... QB Everett Golson's QBR tops 70.

MAKING THE CASE Golson posted a QBR over 70 six times when he last suited up, in 2012. ND won those games by an average of 22 points. The six starts he had a sub-70 QBR? The Irish went 5-1, but the margin of victory shrunk to 12. (Exclude a 40-point romp over Navy and it drops to five.)

CROSS-EXAM Last year Michigan didn't get a shot at Golson, who was on academic suspension. It won't get many this year either. DE Frank Clark is UM's returning sack artist but had just 4 1/2 in '13.

Michigan
Notre Dame

VIRGINIA TECH @ OHIO STATE

Virginia Tech will win if...

... the leaky O-line shores up its holes.

MAKING THE CASE Three of Tech's five losses in '13 were to teams that sacked the QB at least three times. LT Laurence Gibson and the O-line must improve, but QB Michael Brewer (a Texas Tech transplant and Blacksburg newbie) is mobile and should be able to evade in the pocket.

CROSS-EXAM OSU returns three D-linemen who had seven-plus sacks in '13. But VT lucks out: DE Noah Spence (eight sacks, 14 1/2 TFL) is suspended for two games after a positive drug test.

Ohio State will win if...

... it averages four yards a carry.

MAKING THE CASE Ohio State led the FBS with 6.8 yards per rush in '13 and never dipped below 4 ypc in a game. But RB Carlos Hyde (6.1 career ypc) is now a 49er and QB Braxton Miller is out with a bum shoulder, leaving RB Ezekiel Elliott (30 career carries) to find holes and stay on his feet.

CROSS-EXAM Tech allowed 3.2 ypc, less than half the Bucks' rate, but returns only one of its front seven. The Hokies held nine teams below 4 ypc in '13 but went 1-3 when allowing more.

Virginia Tech
Ohio State
*The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a rating system that predicts a team's success by analyzing the nearly 20,000 drives in college football every season.

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