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September 9, 2009

Week 2 college football viewers' guide

A busy first week of college football is in the books, leaving us with new contenders, exposed pretenders and several lingering questions.

Several teams and conferences could find more answers this week. Though there is only one game between ranked teams (USC at Ohio State), seven top-25 teams will go on the road against non-conference foes, including four against teams outside of the six major conferences. And three ranked teams will play conference games.

Rivals.com will help you sort out another week of the season, narrowing the slate of Saturday games to the five best of the day.

Here is a breakdown of the "Five to Watch" for Saturday, plus a look at Thursday's prime-time game.

All times Eastern


When: 3:30 p.m., ABC
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst
Line: Notre Dame by 4.5
Why you should watch: What will the embattled coaches say during the pregame handshake? Charlie Weis is two seasons removed from 3-9, Rich Rodriguez is only a year removed from the same record. Both teams had convincing wins in their openers to ease some tension. The winner of this game gets another week of peace, and the loser may go back to square one. In his past two starts, against Nevada and Hawaii, Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen is 37-of-44 for 716 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. Michigan's quarterbacks, dismal last season, have benefited from a youth movement. Starter Tate Forcier threw three touchdown passes against Western Michigan, while fleet-footed Denard Robinson rushed for a 43-yard score.

When: 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Broadcasters: Bill Land play-by-play, Gary Reasons analyst.
Line: Oklahoma State by 14.5
Why you should watch: Oklahoma State validated the offseason hype by beating Georgia 24-10 in the opener. But don't be fooled by Houston's Conference USA status: This is another test for the Big 12 and national championship hopefuls. Under second-year coach Kevin Sumlin (a former Oklahoma and Texas A&M assistant), Houston has more potential to light up the scoreboard than Georgia did. Cougars quarterback Case Keenum passed for 5,020 yards and 44 touchdowns last season. Oklahoma State's defensive performance against Georgia was encouraging, but the Cougars will pose more problems. Then again, facing Houston's defense could be the pick-me-up the Oklahoma State offense needs. Zac Robinson (135 passing yards), Kendall Hunter (75 rushing yards) and Dez Bryant (three catches) were pedestrian against Georgia. The same trio led a 699-yard effort against Houston a year ago, when the Cowboys won 56-37.

When: 4 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst
Line: Tennessee by 9
Why you should watch: The programs could've compared notes on offensive futility after last season, but the openers showed some progress for both. Tennessee walloped Western Kentucky for 657 yards while oft-criticized quarterback Jonathan Crompton threw five touchdown passes. UCLA put up a much more modest 359 yards against San Diego State but still won by 19. The game will be a good barometer for proud programs trying to return to respectability. One juicy subplot will be the matchup between Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin and UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who have some bad blood from their USC days. The last time Chow and Kiffin (plus Tennessee defensive line coach Ed Orgeron) were on a college football field at the same time was USC's 2005 Orange Bowl rout of Oklahoma, coincidently the last time the Trojans won a national championship. On the field, Chow's matchup with Lane's dad, Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, will be an intriguing game-within-a-game. With strong safety Eric Berry on board, Kiffin has more talent on his side.

When: 7 p.m., ESPN2
Broadcasters: Mike Patrick play-by-play, Craig James analyst
Line: Georgia by 7.5
Why you should watch: A defensive struggle is the norm in this series. Neither team has cracked 20 points in this game since 2004 and only once since 1997 has a team topped 30. Don't expect anything different this season. The teams scored one touchdown apiece in their openers last week, but at least South Carolina won. Both have been deflated by injury news this week. Gamecocks starting middle linebacker Rodney Paulk and Bulldogs starting offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant are done for the season with anterior cruciate ligament injuries. The Sturdivant injury is particularly vexing for the Bulldogs, whose national championship aspirations were derailed last season by injuries on the offensive and defensive lines. Georgia has won six of the past seven in the series.

When: 8 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Brent Musberger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
Line: USC by 6
Why you should watch: No one will accuse Ohio State or USC of assembling risk-averse non-conference schedules. The programs have played at least one team from another major conference each year under Jim Tressel and Pete Carroll, often with thrilling results. Tressel is 9-2 in these games, Carroll 10-2 (not including games against independent Notre Dame). Ohio State hopes USC true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley will have a Colt McCoy moment against the Buckeyes' defense; in his second career start as a redshirt freshman, the Texas quarterback struggled in a 24-7 loss to Ohio State in 2006. USC coaches, though, have raved about Barkley's poise, which will be tested against a hostile crowd in Columbus. The Buckeyes' defense needs to find a way to slow the Trojans' deep group of running backs. Navy rushed for 186 yards against Ohio State last week, and USC rushed for 342 against San Jose State.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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