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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Ten Themes for Saturday: Week 2

Ten teams, themes, games and players to watch on Saturday. Pretty straightforward. And off we go:

“I’m not going to let Richmond beat us twice.” So says Duke’s David Cutcliffe, whose Blue Devils lost to the Spiders, 23-21, last weekend. One note: Richmond has beaten Duke three times since 2006. You can understand Cutcliffe’s logic, however, what with No. 6 Stanford next up on the schedule. The Cardinal are fresh off a 57-7 win over lowly San Jose State – sweat broken: none. The tale of the tape paints an ugly picture for the Blue Devils. Three touchdown underdogs, Duke lacks the offensive firepower to hang with the high-scoring Cardinal, let alone the defense to keep the Andrew Luck-led Cardinal within striking distance. What’s the bottom line? While a loss to an F.C.S. foe stings worse than any other, it’s quite possible that Duke will look even worse come the final whistle against Stanford. Projected final score: Stanford 52, Duke 17.

One game, two teams, four quarterbacks Alabama-Penn State. Alabama and Penn State. A.J. McCarron, Phillip Sims, Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin. All four quarterbacks should play, though signs point towards McCarron and Bolden receiving the majority of snaps for Alabama and Penn State, respectively. After nine months of deliberation, two sets of camps, dozens of practices and countless reps, the Tide and Nittany Lions still haven’t come to a concrete conclusion on which quarterback gives each team the best shot at victory. Here’s guessing any lingering questions will be address after Saturday – in either direction. For Alabama, a strong performance in victory from McCarron would end any debate. But let’s say McCarron stumbles while Sims comes in and leads Alabama to a road win. What then? Penn State’s situation seems even less settled, if that’s possible.

Hawaii carries the flag It’s due to be a sour weekend for the WAC – another sour weekend, rather, as the Boise State-free conference lacks the horses to notch a marquee win in September. This Saturday, the WAC will see New Mexico State run over by Minnesota; will find Oregon taking out its frustrations on Nevada; will watch Nebraska’s defense shut down young Derek Carr and Fresno State; and cringe as San Jose State loses by dozens of points to U.C.L.A., one week after doing the same to Stanford. Then there’s Hawaii, which looks to make it two wins over Pac-12 opponents in as many weeks when it heads to Washington. This is a big game for the WAC and a big game for the Warriors, who should develop a hefty amount of national hype should they knock off the Huskies in Seattle. For now, Hawaii is the WAC’s gold standard.

Question and answer A Twitter follower asked the following question:

@PreSnapRead question: RU vs UNC, any national significance? or just morbid curiosity regarding which is the worst conference?Fri Sep 09 18:59:12 via web

National significance? None. Worst conference, B.C.S. edition? That question’s already been answered: it’s the Big East. The A.C.C. has a pair of national title contenders in Florida State and Virginia Tech. The Big East has one team deserving of a national ranking, West Virginia, and that’s it. Not to say there isn’t any significance. For U.N.C., another win continues the process of putting the summer’s messy end in the rearview mirror. The Tar Heels looked sharp against James Madison, which means nothing, but a convincing win over a B.C.S. conference opponent would give the team some momentum heading into A.C.C. play. Rutgers could use a nice win or two to justify the Scarlet Knights’ belief that they are in fact capable of winning the Big East. So there’s significance, but no, there’s no national significance.

Houston dials it back One hurdle passed, Houston can take it a little easier against inferior competition. A win over U.C.L.A. didn’t just the Cougars’ season off to a fine start: it also opened up the idea, now that U.H. has topped its lone B.C.S. conference foe, that the Cougars can finish 12-0. There’s North Texas on Saturday, followed by Louisiana Tech, Georgia State, UTEP, E.C.U., Marshall… you get the idea. And you see why Houston might have one of the easiest paths to the B.C.S. of any potential buster. But to get there, the Cougars will need to avoid the sort of losses that stymied similar runs in 2008 and 2009 – UTEP comes to mind.

That good, or Kentucky that bad? Maybe Western Kentucky’s defense is that good. More likely, however, Kentucky’s offense is that bad. When the two met last Thursday, the Hilltoppers held U.K. to a rather embarrassing final line: 190 yards of total offense, 7 of 18 passing for 97 yards, 93 yards rushing on 33 carries, three turnovers, seven punts, one long, ugly evening. Maybe W.K.U. does have the sort of defense capable of holding down a team from the SEC; we’ll know for sure once the Hilltoppers attempt to slow down Navy and Kriss Proctor, who rushed for 391 yards in last weekend’s win over Delaware. Proctor, by the way, had 176 yards and 3 scores. Over his last two starts, which includes last year against Central Michigan, Proctor’s totaled 377 yards on the ground with 4 touchdowns.

Check back next week There’s only one game, Penn State-Alabama, that pits a pair of ranked teams. The No. 1, No. 4, No. 7 and No. 9 teams aren’t playing at all. It’s a week for the nation’s best to take a break, it seems, though the break won’t last long. If the rankings hold, we’re due to see a bunch of high-profile games next week: No. 2 L.S.U. heads to No. 16 Mississippi State; No. 1 Oklahoma to No. 5 Florida State; No. 10 Nebraska meets Washington, again; No. 13 South Carolina hosts Navy; No. 15 Ohio State travels to Miami, No. 17 Michigan State to Notre Dame and No. 19 West Virginia to Maryland; and No. 18 Florida hosts Tennessee.

Trying to remain perfect, or close to perfect Four teams are vying to become the first team since Colgate in 1932 to not only a single point all season: Florida State, Rutgers, U.C.F. and Ohio State. All pitched shutouts last weekend; of the four, it’s Florida State, which hosts Charleston Southern, which seems the most likely to keep it going. Until next week, at least, when the Seminoles take on the Sooners. Nine teams will break Oklahoma’s record for points in a season, set in 2008, should all things hold: Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, Washington State, Georgia Tech, U.C.F., Mississippi State, Toledo, Stanford and South Carolina.

Five picks to use as you will Some teams are getting overlooked because of a poor debut performance to open 2011. Others are major underdogs, and I can’t figure out why. Five lines I’d consider if this was my sort of thing:

Central Michigan at Kentucky (-10.5)
San Diego State (-10.5) at Army
California (-7) at Colorado
Fresno State (+28) at Nebraska
B.Y.U. (+7) at Texas

P.S.R. top five, before and after The top five entering the weekend and the top five on Monday, to my best guess:

1. Alabama
2. Boise State
3. L.S.U.
4. Oklahoma
5. Florida State

1. Alabama
2. Boise State
3. L.S.U.
4. Oklahoma
5. Florida State

Yeah, it’s that sort of weekend. Unless Penn State upsets the Crimson Tide… then things get a little more interesting.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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  1. michael says:

    home cookin’. wow. what the hell is going on with the calls going against FIU? They got the play off before the review – of the beautiful, perfectly good play- and then turn around and call a silly pass interference penalty on FIU on impressively athletic pass coverage.

  2. Adam Nettina says:

    Houston is going to lose a game in CUSA play that we won’t see coming. Outgained by a UCLA team playing with the backup quarterback? History shows you have to play SOME defense to win CUSA, and if they don’t lose in season, I don’t see them winning in the title game.

  3. Jay says:

    No way is Boise State going to jump LSU.

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