Welcome to the Week 2 edition of The Professor, a weekly wrap-up of everything you need to know about the weekend in the college football.
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The Flawed Beauty of Michigan-Notre Dame
I don't want it to end, and neither should you. For as much as its relatively short history has been glossed over, Michigan-Notre Dame is a rivalry that has woven itself into the fabric of the college football landscape, whether it was the brilliant series of high-stakes games 20-25 years ago, or the last three years' matchups of reestablished programs behind Brady Hoke and Brian Kelly.
The rivalry is at times baffling, at times maddening, at times painful, at times brilliant, and at times among the most entertaining football in America. It is unpredictable, and in Week 2, it is never easy to determine what can be gleaned from it. But one thing is perfectly clear after a wild night: Devin Gardner was worth every bit of the offseason hype.
Let's put aside the one glaring mistake, the kind of mistake no quarterback at any level should make, when Gardner allowed Notre Dame back into the game by running backwards into the end zone, then inexplicably tossing the ball a few feet forward to a diving 322-pound Notre Dame lineman Stephon Tuitt in the end zone. It was a bad play, one of the worst we'll see all season. Try to put that aside.
Nearly everything else about Gardner's performance against Notre Dame's vaunted defense was brilliant, as he finished the night completing 21 of 33 passes for 294 yards with 4 touchdowns, as well as 13 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Offensive coordinator Al Borges has put his full trust in Gardner, and it paid off. Especially considering this is Gardner's first full season as a starter, his timing and chemistry with receiver Jeremy Gallon was impeccable. Anything the Notre Dame defense tried to do failed, because Gardner and Gallon were a step ahead, with Gallon finishing with eight catches for 184 yards and three touchdowns on 11 pass targets.
The talk all offseason in Ann Arbor was about how Michigan's offense finally can be molded into the pro-style attack Borges wants, with Gardner lining up under center much of the time and staying in the pocket -- the kind of offense that just wasn't possible with Robinson, who was one of the most explosive players in America but was the type of quarterback drafted into the NFL to play receiver. Gardner can run, too - one of his best attributes is his ability to improvise with his legs after a play breaks down -- but he put his strong arm, his accuracy and his chemistry with Gallon on full display in front of a record crowd at the Big House in a 41-30 win.
So yes, he threw that bad interception. But on an otherwise near-flawless night, it was almost as if he had to do something bizarre to add to the Eminem interview, and the Chicken Dance celebration, and Blake Countess' kicked game-sealing interception -- and whatever else can happen before this rivalry meets its unfortunate end.
For now, we're out of the madness, and perhaps only a tricky road trip to Penn State on Oct. 12 stands between the Wolverines and an undefeated record, heading into the Nov. 2 trip to East Lansing to face Michigan State's half a team. Michigan beat Notre Dame, in the last meeting in Ann Arbor for a while, and behind Gardner, it can be a player in the Big Ten race and a contender for a BCS bowl bid. In one year, the Wolverines will make a last trip to South Bend, and we can only hope the insanity rises to an even higher level to send it off right, hopefully temporarily. Rivalries come and go, and new ones always seem to develop, but Michigan-Notre Dame is worth the effort to keep around.
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The SEC East's Wild Ride
It's too early to call, of course, but it is really hard to imagine the SEC East overtaking the West for the league's claim to the national championship, after its back-to-back losses to ACC teams. Still, the SEC East has something for everyone, whether you prefer the painfully bad offense and frequent miscues of Florida losing at Miami, or the somewhat surprising 41-30 shootout type game that saw Georgia rebound from a loss to Clemson to beat South Carolina.
All three teams were considered national contenders in the preseason, and all three lost a game before fellow contender Stanford even kicked off its first game against San Jose State late Saturday night (a 34-13 win). So let's pause to attempt to rank the top of the SEC East moving forward (while acknowledging that Vanderbilt, Tennessee and maybe even Missouri are all capable of upsetting someone, and that Georgia won the East last year anyway despite getting blown out by South Carolina):
1. Georgia: Obviously, with one key win out of the way, the Bulldogs are in the driver's seat. Their young defense is shaky, but it certainly will get better. Even if it doesn't, the offense has enough talent to keep pace with just about anyone. Remember, the Bulldogs led the nation last year in yards per play. Unfortunately, they lost wideout Malcolm Mitchell to a torn ACL, and the offensive line is a work in progress despite a solid game against Jadeveon Clowney -- but otherwise, this is a loaded group. Aaron Murray played a brilliant game at QB against South Carolina, and he's surrounded by arguably the nation's best running back in Todd Gurley, a great No. 2 in Keith Marshall and one of the nation's most complete tight ends in Arthur Lynch. This is still a team capable of running the table to the SEC title game, and it's still alive for Pasadena, but circle Sept. 28 on your calendar for when LSU visits Athens.
2. South Carolina: As long as Connor Shaw stays healthy, the offense will be fine. Running back Mike Davis has looked like a star so far. The offensive line is South Carolina's best under Steve Spurrier, and receiver Shaq Roland is a good big-play threat for Shaw. It's the defense that may be more worrisome, especially after both Steve Spurrier and Jadeveon Clowney questioned the philosophy of coordinator Lorenzo Ward's scheme, and after assistant coaches got into a scuffle during the game. Clowney continues to draw endless scrutiny from observers who expect him to dominate every play of every game, but he is still affecting opposing game plans as part of a very good defensive line. Whether or not altering game plans is enough is the larger question, especially with shaky play behind him at linebacker.
3. Florida: Same team as last year, only maybe not as lucky. With no outside playmakers and an inconsistent passer at QB in Jeff Driskel, Will Muschamp wants to (and may have to) win by playing the field-position and turnover game with his great defense and great punter. So how does Florida's great defense lose? By watching the offense turn the ball over five times, including three times in the red zone. Last year, Florida finished eighth nationally in turnover margin. If that falls, an 11-win team can easily turn into a nine-win team.
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Two of the best jobs in America may be open by December
Saturday night was a masterwork in college football schadenfreude. For those who were tired of seeing Texas get its own television network and dictate the realignment discussion, the Longhorns' ugly loss at BYU was for you. For those who are not fans of Lane Kiffin, USC's anemic offensive performance against Washington State was for you, too.
Regardless of what their athletic departments may say, it's been the overwhelming perception that Mack Brown and Lane Kiffin were the two biggest names on the hot seat entering this season. It's only getting worse.
Brown's Texas team was the favorite of many to win the Big 12, which it should, given its advantages in resources, stellar recruiting and talented and experienced roster. But the Longhorns went to Provo and looked nothing like a contender, getting steamrolled defensively by a BYU team that had just lost to a Virginia team that had punted 13 times. The Longhorns, who underperformed on defense last year under Manny Diaz*, gave up 550 (five-hundred fifty!) rushing yards to the Cougars, including 259 to QB Taysom Hill. They averaged 7.6 yards per carry on 72 attempts. It was an absurd performance on both sides, and BYU cruised to a 40-21 win, as its talented defensive front limited Texas to 3.4 yards per carry as a team.
But at least Texas scored three touchdowns; Lane Kiffin's Trojans managed just one touchdown against a Mike Leach-coached Washington State in a 10-7 loss. Credit the Cougars for getting better, but they ranked 98th against the pass last season. USC's Cody Kessler and Max Wittek combined to complete 11 of 21 passes for 54 yards and 2 interceptions, with no pass going longer than eight yards. Former Heisman candidate Marqise Lee touched the ball 10 times, gaining 24 yards. USC's only offense came from running back Tre Madden, who finished with 32 carries for 151 yards. The QB position is a total mess for USC right now, but neither Kiffin's indecisiveness nor his play-calling is putting them in a position to succeed.
At a certain point, assistants can no longer be blamed; fathers can no longer be sent off. There is time for both USC and Texas to regroup this season, given the amount of talent each has compiled. If they don't, both programs are going to have to think long and hard about their futures.
*In a move both surprising and unsurprising, somehow, Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz on Sunday ... replacing him with Greg Robinson. Robinson returned to Texas this summer as part of the player personnel department, nearly a decade after spending one year as defensive coordinator in Austin in 2004. He went on to disastrous stints as head coach of Syracuse (10-37 in four years) and defensive coordinator under Rich Rodriguez at Michigan. Needless to say, this is not going to suddenly fix Texas' problems. At some point, the blame cannot keep falling on assistants ... and they can't keep replacing them with familiar assistants. If it wasn't clear already, Texas needs fresh ideas.
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Grading the Weekend
A+: Illinois. Why, among thousands of other reasons, you can never judge a season by Week 1: Cincinnati 42, Purdue 7; and Illinois 42, Southern Illinois 34. While the Bearcats wiped the floor with Purdue at home, the Fighting Illini were getting all they could handle from an inferior in-state FCS team. A week later, Cincinnati went to Champaign and got taken to the woodshed by Nathan Scheelhaase and new coordinator Bill Cubit's offense. Illinois won 45-17, with six plays of 50-plus yards all ending in points (five of them touchdowns) and 11 players catching passes from Scheelhaase. You also can never judge a season by Week 2, but head coach Tim Beckman finally has earned some breathing room after a disastrous first season.
A: Northwestern. Perhaps it was a banner day in the state of Illinois. The No. 20 Wildcats thoroughly embarrassed Syracuse 48-27, building a 34-7 lead at halftime behind the quarterback duo of Kain Colter, who played despite being questionable all week, and Trevor Siemian. Even without star running back Venric Mark, they combined to complete 30 of 37 passes for 374 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Colter ran 11 times for 87 yards and a TD. Cal and Syracuse aren't exactly powerhouses this season, but Northwestern is now 2-0 with 88 points scored against fellow BCS conference teams.
A-: Ohio State. OK, so it was a banner day for almost all of the Big Ten, which nearly went undefeated on Saturday. San Diego State's horrible loss to Eastern Illinois stripped some of the luster off this one before it could even kick off, but the Buckeyes still managed an impressive 42-7 blowout without the services of star QB Braxton Miller, who left early with an MCL injury. The good news is that Miller is expected to be fine, and the Buckeyes simply didn't need to put him at risk against a bad Aztecs team. Backup Kenny Guiton threw two touchdown passes and led the team in rushing, with 83 yards and a TD.
B+: LSU. UAB is lousy, but that doesn't mean it isn't impressive when LSU's often inept offense scores 56 points. QB Zach Mettenberger has been sharp in two games, following last week's win over TCU by completing 16 of 19 passes for 282 yards, and 5 touchdowns with no picks, under the guidance of new coordinator Cam Cameron. LSU won 56-17, and troubled running back Jeremy Hill scored on his first carry of the season.
B: Nebraska. Nothing says "get well" like Southern Miss. The Eagles still haven't won since they went 12-2 in 2011, but the Cornhuskers can be happy that they allowed less than half the yards they did against Wyoming in Week 1's close call. Cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste both returned interceptions for touchdowns in Nebraska's 56-13 win.
B-: Tennessee. After Bobby Petrino's Western Kentucky Hilltoppers took care of Kentucky, many pegged this as an upset spot, with the Vols, under first-year coach Butch Jones, about to embark on college football's most brutal schedule stretch (Oregon, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama in the next six games). The upset thought was gone after a few minutes. This is the type of game that's hard to judge, as while Tennessee won 52-20, it got a lot of help from WKU coughing up seven turnovers, five of them in an absurd six-play stretch in the 1st quarter. Tennessee returned two of those for touchdowns and subsequently was out-gained 393 to 382, something that partially can be chalked up to the Vols' enormous field-position advantage.
C+: Oklahoma. I wrote in Friday's Pick 'Em column that this year's Oklahoma-West Virginia game wouldn't come close to resembling last year's 50-49 offensive circus, in which Landry Jones threw for 554 yards and 6 touchdowns, and West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin ran for 344 yards. I was right, but even I didn't expect anything like this. After falling behind 7-0 early, on a 75-yard TD run by all-name team nominee Dreamius Smith, Oklahoma shut out the Mountaineers the rest of the game and inched to a 16-7 win. The Sooners did roll up 316 rushing yards, behind 170 from Brennan Clay and 95 from Damien Williams, but redshirt freshman QB Trevor Knight struggled again as a passer, completing 10 of 20 attempts for 119, yards with 1 TD and 2 picks. That makes him 21 of 48 in two games, and he was replaced late by Blake Bell (who attempted only one pass), once again creating a controversy heading into next week's Tulsa game. The good news? Oklahoma's once-shaky defense has given up seven points in two games.
C: Michigan State. The Spartans have played two games, both against teams that have been embarrassed by FCS teams. They've scored exactly one offensive touchdown in each, while defensive end Shilique Calhoun now has three. As expected, Michigan State's defense has been outstanding. Against a bad USF team coming off a blowout loss to McNeese State, the Spartans allowed 155 total yards, holding Bobby Eveld to 6-of-25 passing for 66 yards. However, they rotated three quarterbacks -- Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook and Tyler O'Connor - who totaled 94 passing yards between them. Michigan State didn't score on offense until the 4th quarter and didn't have a drive longer than 46 yards. Keep in mind that the Bulls lost 53-21 to McNeese State the previous Saturday. But balance an A defense with an F offense and you get a C, I suppose.
C-: California. The good news is that freshman QB Jared Goff has thrown for 930 yards in two games, in Sonny Dykes' system, and he didn't throw a pick Saturday after throwing three in the opener against Northwestern. The bad news is that Cal trailed by three in 3rd quarter, before pulling off a 37-30 home win over FCS Portland State. The Vikings averaged a ridiculous 10.6 yards per pass, thanks to an 81-yarder on their first drive, and finished with 553 total yards. As expected, it's going to be an unpredictable, but at times entertaining, season in year one under Dykes. They draw Ohio State at home next.
D+: Indiana and Purdue. Good day for the state of Illinois, lousy day for the state of Indiana. A week after putting up 73 against FCS Indiana State, the Hoosiers were steamrolled at home by Navy's triple option, losing 41-35. The Midshipmen ran for 444 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per run, and Navy held the ball for 37:07 without punting or turning the ball over. Meanwhile, Purdue won 20-14, but it was against that same Indiana State team that Indiana scored 73 on. The Boilermakers scored only one offensive touchdown, the difference being Akeem Hunt's 99-yard kick return to open the game.
D: Arkansas and N.C. State. They squeaked out wins, but Bret Bielema and Dave Doeren faced FCS disasters in their second games in their respective new jobs. Arkansas trailed Samford by four, heading into the 4th quarter, before scoring two touchdowns to win 31-21, while N.C. State needed to pitch a second-half shutout and kick a 48-yard field goal with 33 seconds left to beat Richmond 23-21. N.C. State survived four turnovers, while Arkansas did nothing but run the ball 21 times in the 4th quarter to come from behind late.
D-: Georgia State and Massachusetts. In other words, the "Why are you FBS?" division. Georgia State, which has existed as a football team only since 2010, is now a member of the Sun Belt, playing its first full FBS schedule, albeit one that features three FCS opponents. The Panthers are already 0-2, following a 31-21 loss to Samford with a 42-14 dismantling at the hands of Chattanooga … and they play Alabama in a month. Up north, UMass moved to FBS and the MAC and decided to play its home games across the state, in Foxborough. In front of an announced 15,624 fans at a 68,000-seat pro stadium, the Minutemen lost 24-14 to Maine, an FCS team that actually was favored by three points. Perhaps the FBS level is growing too large.
F: Western Michigan. Week 2 and we've done it! Nobody will suffer a worse loss this season than the Broncos, who have the honor of being the first non-NAIA team to lose to Nicholls State since 2010. A week after standing still and watching Oregon sleepwalk to 66 points, the Colonels beat Western Michigan 27-23. This is the same team that went winless in the FCS Southland Conference, the same Western Michigan team that allowed only one offensive touchdown to Michigan State last week. P.J. Fleck's going to need a bigger boat.
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More Lessons Learned
Miami can win the ACC Coastal, but we already knew that. I don't know that much changed in terms of Miami's status on Saturday. Yes, the Hurricanes came up with an apparent landmark in its 21-16 win over Florida, but it wasn't that unexpected. Florida's offense remains unable to get out of its own way, turning the ball over three times in the red zone, while talented Miami QB Stephen Morris was his usual self, alternating from brilliant to maddening from drive to drive, sometimes from play to play. The Hurricanes were also out-gained by 200 yards and averaged only 1.8 yards per rush -- star Duke Johnson was stymied after a solid start -- against a great Florida defense. They played a solid game in which they made fewer mistakes, and that's how you beat Florida. We know they can beat Virginia Tech and North Carolina this year, too. Miami's defense remains mediocre, despite doing a nice job against Florida's run game, and the offense is up-and-down -- meaning that Miami, for now, remains what we thought it was: the third-best team in the ACC.
Oregon and Baylor need to get on the same field. My preseason pick was for Oregon to reach the national championship game and meet Alabama, a game that I would love to see for the clash of cultures and styles. But if that does not happen -- if, say, Stanford beats Oregon -- then I hope the Ducks end up in the Fiesta Bowl or the Alamo Bowl against Baylor. I picked Baylor to score 56 against Buffalo; the Bears did that in the first half (ultimately finishing with 781 total yards, including 338 passing yards for Bryce Petty on 16 attempts). Oregon, meanwhile, shook off any possible jet lag and did what Oregon does in front of a shocked crowd at Virginia. Get them on a field together. See how many plays they can run. Better yet, unplug the clock and let them play until someone scores 100.
Not all was happy on Saturday. Two quarterbacks suffered devastating injuries, in different ways. Cincinnati QB Munchie Legaux was taken to the hospital after a gruesome leg injury, and at TCU, Casey Pachall saw his comeback story derailed by a fractured arm that required surgery, leaving his long-term status* uncertain as the starting job falls back to the more mobile Trevone Boykin.
When you're the away team, wear contrasting uniforms. This is basic knowledge, really. One of the first things you might notice about sports as a kid is that one team usually wears white. But to contrast with Auburn's home navy blues, Arkansas State brilliantly decided to wear some bad shade of gray -- one so terrible that it caused the Red Wolves to get penalized 15 yards at the start of each half for not contrasting with the home team enough. There have been a lot of bad uniform choices over the last few years, but nothing can top actually getting penalized for terrible uniform decision-making -- and head coach Bryan Harsin saying he knew he'd get penalized and wouldn't change his decision. Ultimately, the penalties didn't matter, as former Arkansas State boss Gus Malzahn led Auburn to a 38-9 win. And at least Harsin isn't still at Texas.
Always get your gambling advice from Eminem and Brent Musburger. A thing that really happened on Saturday -- and no, it wasn't a dream.
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Honor Roll: Week 2's Best Players
Reserved for performances against FBS teams, except in the case of offensive linemen scoring touchdowns.
1. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia. Last week at Clemson, Murray's numbers (20 of 29 for 323 yards with a pick) didn't look terrible on the surface, but it was clear that something was off. Clemson's pressure threw him off his game, and he struggled with his decision-making, among other things. Week 2 Murray was a totally different quarterback, one who showed why he's considered one of the best in the country. Murray dissected the Gamecocks' defense with ease, completing 17 of 23 passes for 309 yards, with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions, despite losing receiver Malcolm Mitchell to a torn ACL. RB Todd Gurley was a workhorse, running 30 times for 134 yards and a touchdown, but Murray was the star.
2. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU. Meet Taysom Hill, this season's first domino in Mack Brown's eventual demise as head football coach of the Texas Longhorns. After a lousy game against Virginia, Hill struggled again as a passer against Texas (9 of 26 for 129 yards with an INT), but he unleashed hell on the Longhorns' defensive front as a runner, rushing 17 times for 259 yards and 3 touchdowns, including a 68-yarder. Backfield-mate Jamaal Williams chipped in another 30 carries for 182 yards, part of a 550-yard rushing night for the Cougars. BYU is better than it showed against Virginia, but it's not this good. Still, Hill did a phenomenal job punishing Texas for its ineptitude.
3. Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan. Gallon gets Michigan's nod here, if only because he did not throw an interception for a touchdown while backpedaling into his own end zone. Gallon and Gardner have been on a different level than where Gallon was with Denard Robinson, and on Saturday, they were everything Michigan fans could have hoped for and more.
4. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State. If any team is going to start quick-kicking on 3rd down, it's Michigan State. The defense continues to out-score the offense, and in this case, the 250-pound defensive end Calhoun did it all by himself, in an ugly win over USF. After returning a fumble 16 yards for a TD in the opener against Western Michigan, he had a four-yard fumble return for the game's first points, then a 56-yard interception return in the 3rd quarter.
5. Kasey Carrier, RB, New Mexico. Beating UTEP isn't exactly noteworthy, but as a workhorse in Bob Davie's all-run-all-the-time offense, Carrier ran 41 times for 291 yards and 4 touchdowns, including a 21-yard overtime score to win 42-35 at the Sun Bowl. The Lobos finished with 395 yards rushing, while QB Clayton Mitchem completed just 4 of 7 passes for 88 yards.
6. Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois. It feels like Scheelhaase has been in Champaign forever, but things finally are clicking again under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. In an ugly win in the opener against Southern Illinois, he threw for 416 yards, but on Saturday, he more impressively completed 26 of 37 passes for 312 yards with 4 touchdowns, in the Fighting Illini's shocking blowout of Cincinnati.
7. Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State. We might as well stake out a regular spot for Keeton on this list. Derek Carr may be the better pro prospect, but Keeton appears to be the most dangerous player in the Mountain West. In his conference debut, a 52-20 win at Air Force, Keeton completed 32 of 40 passes for 360 yards, with 5 touchdowns and 1 pick, and he ran eight times for 77 yards.
8. Austin Wentworth, OT, Fresno State. It isn't enough that Wentworth is a first-team All-Mountain West offensive tackle. Now he's a 300-yard, multi-dimensional, offensive threat, and, yes, any FAT GUY TOUCHDOWN on a hook and ladder is going to earn a place on this list, even if it's against Cal Poly. Well done, sir. Well done.
9. J.W. Walsh, QB, Oklahoma State. The QB competition will never truly be over in Stillwater, but even with an 11-of-16, 192-yard, 2-touchdown, mop-up effort at UTSA from Clint Chelf, Walsh once again asserted himself as the Cowboys' best option. The more mobile of the two, he was incredibly efficient as a passer, hitting 24 of 27 attempts for 326 yards, with 4 passing touchdowns and a four-yard rushing TD. A positive note for Oklahoma State on a day filled with ominous news.
10. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina. They lost, and Georgia's defense is rather pedestrian, but Davis has been phenomenal in two games as starter. The sophomore followed up his 12-carry, 115-yard opener against North Carolina with 16 carries for 149 yards and a touchdown against the Bulldogs. He's powerful, capable of running over and through tacklers, but he also has unexpected breakaway speed. He has a 75-yard run in both games.
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Week 3 Syllabus
1. Alabama at Texas A&M. Yes, you may remember this. And this. And also Alabama's blowout national title win, and also Johnny Manziel's circus-like nine months since winning the Heisman. It's not quite a national championship elimination game, but it feels like one. It's about the 400th game of the century, and it's going to be fun.
2. Wisconsin at Arizona State. The Badgers and Sun Devils have won three games against UMass, Tennessee Tech and Sacramento State, by the combined score of 148-0. Thankfully, they'll stop that nonsense and play each other next week, in a game featuring two of the most underrated running backs in college football, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Arizona State's Marion Grice.
3. UCLA at Nebraska. Southern Miss was one thing. How will Nebraska's defense hold up against Brett Hundley? The Bruins beat the Cornhuskers 36-30 in Pasadena last September.
4. Ole Miss at Texas. Somewhere, the Longhorn Network does exist, and you can find this there. Texas' BYU debacle ruined any prestige this game had, but every Longhorns game is going to be interesting this season.
5. Tennessee at Oregon. The Vols' underdog tour begins in Eugene, against an Oregon team that has scored 125 points in only 40 minutes of possession time. Safe to say the Ducks will not commit five turnovers in one quarter.
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