Early season nonconference games to watch, Part II

This past Thursday, we took a look at Part I of the early season nonconference games to watch in the 2011 college football season. Today, let’s take a look at Part II.


Saturday, Sept. 10

Alabama at Penn State: No matter who wins the starting quarterback battle between Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden, the Nittany Lions won’t score many points in this one. Nick Saban is very excited about his defense, and the Crimson Tide head coach isn’t exactly known for praising his time. But the Tide could struggle to score against Tom Bradley’s defense, as well. Still, coordinator Jim McElwain can lean on Heisman Trophy contender Trent Richardson while his quarterback duo of Phillip Sims and AJ McCarron — and it looks like it could be a combo until someone distances himself — manages the game.

James RodgersICONOregon State needs a healthy James Rodgers if the Beavers want to go bowling.

Oregon State at Wisconsin: Can the Beavers contain Wisconsin’s prolific ground attack without stud tackle Stephen Paea, who has moved onto the NFL? Even with Paea, Mike Riley’s squad struggled to stop the run in 2010. And, well, the Badgers can run with the best of them. Add in NC State transfer Russell Wilson, and Paul Chryst’s offense will cause problems for opposing defenses all season long. But the Beavers have a solid quarterback of their own in Ryan Katz, who seemed to develop more confidence as the 2010 season progressed. However, star receiver James Rodgers is still a question mark, and the Beavers will start a true freshman at running back.

BYU at Texas: If BYU wants to establish itself nationally as a strong independent, the Cougars will need to be able to compete with major BCS-conference opponents. A week after visiting Ole Miss, Bronco Mendenhall’s squad will travel to Austin to take on a Texas squad looking to bounce back from a 5-7 campaign in 2010. It will be interesting to see how emerging star quarterback Jake Heaps fares against Manny Diaz’s Longhorn defense. Even before the arrival of the former Mississippi State coordinator, Texas has great material on defense. Now with Diaz, Heaps could be in for a rude awakening. Offensively, the Longhorns would love to get off to a fast start. Garrett Gilbert, the likely starter under center, could find some passing lanes against a secondary that is replacing three starters.

Notre Dame at Michigan: The Fighting Irish and Wolverines will meet in a night game at Michigan Stadium and both teams will don retro jerseys. After a warmup against Western Michigan, first-year Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke gets a tough test in Week 2. The last time we saw quarterback Denard Robinson against the Irish, he torched the defense. Bob Diaco’s unit is much better a year later, and “Shoelace” will be working in Al Borges’ new pro-style scheme. Still, Robinson will have a full game under his belt in the new offense. The big question for the Wolverines is whether Greg Mattison’s defense can grow up in a hurry.

Saturday, Sept. 17

Ohio State at Miami: Many college football writers have dubbed the LSU-Oregon game the Willie Lyles Bowl. What shall we call this one? After a trying offseason for both programs, the Buckeyes and Hurricanes lock horns in Miami in the second of a home-and-home series. Ohio State claimed victory this season, but they’ll be without receiver DeVier Posey, running back Noah Herron and two other suspended Buckeyes. Meanwhile, will Al Golden be playing with a depleted roster? As of now, quarterback Jacory Harris is suspended. But will the NCAA possibly grant immunity and/or declare some of the ‘Canes eligible after all? Stay tuned.

Oklahoma at Florida State: The Sooners have slipped up at times on the road under Bob Stoops, and this is a revenge game for the Seminoles after last season’s debacle in Norman. OU linebacker Travis Lewis will miss this contest, so all eyes will be on sophomore Corey Nelson. The Sooners also could be without end Ronnell Lewis, as well. The big question is whether FSU’s offensive line can contain the OU pass rush — and whether FSU’s young running backs can pick up the blitz well enough with Chris Thompson dealing with a back issue.

Auburn at Clemson: The battle of the Tigers was one of the more exciting games in the early part of the 2010 season, and this rematch should be intriguing once again just because of the new characters taking center stage. It will be interesting to see how Barrett Trotter adjusts to life as the new starting quarterback under Gus Malzahn, while new Clemson signal-caller Tajh Boyd hopes to have enough weapons at receiver to run his team’s new offense.

Geno SmithICONGeno Smith should have some fun in Dana Holgorsen's offense.

West Virginia at Maryland: Before the Mountaineers host LSU the next week, Dana Holgorsen’s squad must navigate a tough road test against Randy Edsall’s Maryland Terrapins. Geno Smith and Danny O’Brien will be leading two prolific offenses, so could first-year coordinator Todd Bradford’s defense be the difference for the Terps? And will West Virginia be looking past this contest?

Michigan State at Notre Dame: The Spartans and Fighting Irish staged a classic last season when Mark Dantonio’s bunch won on a fake field goal. A week after traveling to Ann Arbor, things don’t get any easier for Brian Kelly’s squad. Notre Dame has had its problems against MSU in recent seasons, and Bob Diaco’s defense will have a tough time against a veteran Spartans offense led by senior quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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