College Football Coverage: ESPN Tripleheader Highlights Week 2

The college football Week 2 schedule is highlighted by an ESPN tripleheader that includes all three contenders in the SEC East. The action starts with Florida-Miami, rolls on with South Carolina-Georgia and concludes with Notre Dame-Michigan. TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage looks at all three games…

Florida-Miami (Noon ET): ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit made waves last week when he picked Toledo to upset Florida. The Gators won the game, but the closer-than-it-sounds 24-6 final vindicated Herbie’s general assessment. So what does that mean now that Florida steps up in class against Miami?

Before overreacting to Florida’s sluggish play of Week 1, we need to take note of how well they controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. They ran for 262 yards, with Mack Brown showing he can be an adequate replacement for Mike Gillislee in the backfield. Florida also shut down Toledo running back David Fluellen, the best back in the MAC.  The Gators look as fundamentally sound as they did in 2012.

But I’m not impressed with Florida’s passing game. Jeff Driskell was very efficient, completing 17/22 passes and no interceptions. But he only got 153 yards out of those completions. Toledo can’t challenge receivers the way other teams, including Miami, can, and if Driskell can’t make big plays against a MAC defense, I’m not sure where it gets better.

Miami’s defense matches up well with Florida. The Hurricanes should be strong in the front seven, and they can hope Driskell won’t exploit a young secondary. I think the issue is going to be when Miami has the ball. Hurricane quarterback Stephen Morris has made some great progress over the last two years, but he’s not high-percentage and against a fast and talented defense can be forced into mistakes. If he doesn’t get a running game to support him, it could be a long afternoon.

Florida is a 3 ½ point favorite on the road. Similar to last week’s Georgia-Clemson game, this is an interesting case study of SEC power against what’s expected to be a good ACC team. Miami isn’t as good as Clemson, but it’s also possible Florida isn’t as good as Georgia. If that pattern holds, we’ll get a good football game.

In this case though, I don’t have confidence in the ACC team at home. Miami’s been too enigmatic in big games in recent years, and Florida’s defense is too good. The Gators get the road win.

South Carolina-Georgia (4:30 PM ET): This is the biggest game of the young season, given it’s an SEC East game and the winner has the early upper hand in the division. I liked everything I saw about the Gamecocks in their opening night win over North Carolina, and even though they’re on the road, a lot about this matchup works well for them.

South Carolina showed it could run the ball, while Georgia’s run defense looked suspect at Clemson. I think Mike Davis can have another 100-yard plus game, and if Connor Shaw plays another mistake-free game behind center, then Georgia is going to be in trouble.

The Bulldogs can put up points, with Aaron Murray at quarterback and Todd Gurley at running back. But the big plays aren’t going to be as easy as they came at Clemson. For example, Gurley took off on a 75-yard touchdown run on Saturday night where he got to the second level, and wasn’t touched the rest of the way. If he makes big plays against South Carolina, it will be against more duress. And if the Clemson defensive line could have some stretches disrupting Murray, what can the Gamecocks do?

What Georgia has going for them is their big-play capability. If they can create a fast tempo, the advantage is theirs. Think of it like a basketball game. South Carolina wants to run the half-court, go to the post and play physical defense. Georgia wants to play in transition, and shoot threes off the break.

Whoever wins tempo wins the game, and that will be South Carolina. And if you want to bet the game, you can even get (+3) with the Gamecocks.

Michigan-Notre Dame (8 PM ET): Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit will be on the call for this game (there’s no game on ABC, which has NASCAR Sprint Cup Series action).

Both teams won easily in opening games that we can’t take all that much from. Notre Dame beat Temple 28-6, while Michigan hammered Central Michigan 59-9. The Chippewas made a bowl game last year, so if you insist on taking something away from Week 1, Michigan had the more impressive victory margin.

But what it really underscores is a differing style of play that will define Saturday night in Ann Arbor. Notre Dame, even with Manti Te’o gone, is still built on rugged defense. The Irish have eight starters back from a defense that handled everyone except Alabama in 2012, and it starts up front with a dominant nose tackle in Louis Nix III.

Michigan is rebuilding its offense, and most of its team, but Devin Gardner got a lot of playing time at quarterback a year ago and looked pretty good in the process. He’s a good runner and passer, in the mold of predecessor Denard Robinson, but Gardner also seems to have more potential as a pure pocket passer. That will serve him well against an ND defense disciplined enough to keep containment on the perimeter.

The Notre Dame offense is a big question mark, and the ultimate answer to the question will shape the races for BCS bowl bids and the national championship game itself. Tommie Rees has had his share of big moments in his up-and-down career as ND quarterback and if he has more ups than downs on Saturday night, the Irish are going to be awfully tough to beat.

I’m intrigued by Michigan, with their young talent thanks to the recruiting of Brady Hoke. But intrigue isn’t a substitute for sturdy and steady defense. Notre Dame is (+4.5), which strikes me as a lot of points for a team that accomplished more last season and has more back this year. Homefield counts for something, and after Brian Kelly’s remarks this week denigrating the rivalry, I’m sure they’ll have some extra motivational juice. But not enough to make me pick against the Irish, and certainly not enough to lay 4 ½.

Speaking of Kelly’s comments, this has to be one of the more absurd things I’ve heard a coach say. If you didn’t hear, the Notre Dame boss said Michigan was a nice regional rivalry, but wasn’t a big deal on the national stage. I’m sorry, but Washington-Washington State is a nice regional rivalry. So is Indiana-Purdue.

The Notre Dame-Michigan game isn’t always huge—even Saturday, it’s not bigger than South Carolina-Georgia—but the Irish and Wolverines is most certainly a big national rivalry. That’s why I’ll be happy to tune in to wrap up Saturday night.