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September 7, 2011

Viewer's guide: Tradition changes

Not long ago, the Pac-10 was, let's be honest, a little stuck in its ways.

Even as the Big Ten began to innovate with the launch of the Big Ten Network, its Rose Bowl partner seemed to follow the same approach it did a decade earlier. The Pac-10 avoided Thursday night football even as the Big East and ACC learned it was a great way to spotlight the league.

That changes with the Pac-12. Newly expanded and with a championship game, the Pac-12 has opened up its schedule. Arizona faces Oklahoma State on Thursday night, and Arizona State plays host to Missouri on Friday night in a sort of Pac-12/Big 12 challenge. That in itself is something of an irony, with the possibility of the Pac-12 expanding at the Big 12's expense.

The Pac-12 will continue its newfound affinity for Thursday night football in October, when ESPN's Thursday telecast will feature three consecutive Pac-12 games.

Continuing the week's breaking-with-tradition theme, Michigan will play its first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium when it kicks off against Notre Dame at 8 p.m. Eastern. And if that's not enough, Michigan will wear throwback-themed uniforms featuring a "melding of styles," athletic director Dave Brandon said.

Here's a look at those games and the other top matchups of the second week of the season.

All times Eastern.


When: 8 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Rece Davis play-by-play, Craig James and Jesse Palmer analysts
The line: Oklahoma State by 14
Why you should watch: Oklahoma State will look to duplicate its 36-10 Alamo Bowl rout of Arizona from Dec. 29, this time in front of the home crowd. The bowl win was one of Oklahoma State's best defensive efforts of the season, especially considering the opponent. In the bowl, the Cowboys' defense held Arizona's prolific passing attack in check. Arizona QB Nick Foles passed for more yards than anyone in the country (412) last week, but that came against FCS member Northern Arizona. This is the beginning of a brutal stretch for Arizona, which gets Stanford, Oregon and USC in Games 3, 4 and 5.


When: 10:30 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Joe Tessitore play-by-play, Rod Gilmore analyst
The line: Arizona State by 7.5
Why you should watch: On paper, this looks like the more intriguing of the Pac-12/Big 12 matchups this week. The teams' strengths (Missouri's offense, Arizona State's defense) have been hurt by injuries. Arizona State lost CB Omar Bolden and LB Brandon Magee before the season. Missouri lost OT Elvis Fisher before the season and starting RB Kendial Lawrence for four weeks with a broken fibula. Missouri QB James Franklin had an uneven debut against Miami (Ohio), going 17-of-26 for 129 yards with a touchdown and an interception; he also rushed for 72 yards and a score. Even without two of its starters, Arizona State expects to have a physical defense. Arizona State is ranked 23rd in the coaches' poll and is expected to contend for the Pac-12 South title. A home game against a solid Big 12 program will be a good test to see if those projections are accurate.


When: 12:20 p.m., SEC syndication/Altitude/MSG network/Comcast Sports Net California/ESPN GamePlan
Broadcasters: Dave Neal play-by-play, Andre Ware analyst
The line: Mississippi State by 6.5
Why you should watch: A step down from last season seemed inevitable for Auburn, but Gene Chizik probably didn't envision needing two touchdowns in the final 2:12 to beat Utah State at home in the opener. Tigers QB Barrett Trotter certainly isn't Cam Newton, but he threw for 261 yards and three touchdown passes, and didn't commit a turnover. Auburn's defense was a disaster as Utah State rushed for 227 yards and five touchdowns. Now Auburn must prepare for Mississippi State, which has a sneaky-good backfield. In 14 career games, Bulldogs RB Vick Ballard has 23 career touchdowns. Once a liability as a passer, Chris Relf has completed 68.1 percent of his passes and averaged 248.4 yards per game in his past four. This is Mississippi State's opportunity to leap ahead of the Tigers in the SEC pecking order this season.

When: 3:30 p.m., ABC
Broadcasters: Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst
The line: Alabama by 10
Why you should watch: Alabama beat the Nittany Lions 24-3 last season in Tuscaloosa. Penn State hopes home-field advantage counts for something in this meeting. Neither team has settled on a quarterback - or, more accurately, neither team has announced it has settled on a starting quarterback. Matt McGloin was the more productive quarterback for Penn State in the opener, though Rob Bolden was the victim of a couple of dropped passes. For the Crimson Tide, sophomore A.J. McCarron and freshman Phillip Sims threw two interceptions apiece, though McCarron had the better overall day against Kent State with 226 yards and a touchdown. If there was a bigger concern for the Tide, it was a stalled run game. Trent Richardson finished with 37 yards and 2.8 yards per carry (but also three touchdowns). Alabama tinkered with its offensive line through the game, lining up All-America candidate Barrett Jones at left tackle, left guard (his best position) and center. Our guess is the tinkering for both teams takes a step back now that the level of competition has ramped up.

When: 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst
The line: South Carolina by 3
Why you should watch: The Mark Richt hot-seat watch continues. After the loss to Boise State last week, Georgia is 14-13 since 2009; the Bulldogs went 82-21 in his Richt's first eight seasons. A 0-2 start to the season would ramp up the pressure even more. Georgia's second opponent trades Kellen Moore's clinical precision for the big-play potential of the Stephen Garcia-to-Alshon Jeffery connection. Then again, South Carolina's passing game may be a secondary concern for Georgia. Gamecocks TB Marcus Lattimore rushed for 182 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs last season in his breakout game. South Carolina isn't without its flaws, though. The Gamecocks fell behind 17-0 to East Carolina before rallying to score 56 points in the last three quarters. Georgia has to hope QB Aaron Murray has enough time to find the vulnerable spots in the Gamecocks' defense.

When: 7:30 p.m., Versus
Broadcasters: Ted Robinson play-by-play, Glenn Parker analyst
The line: USC by 9
Why you should watch: New conference member Utah gets an early start on Pac-12 play. Utah's first Pac-12 game is a tough one with a road trip to USC, which is ineligible for the South Division title. The Trojans squeaked past Minnesota 19-17 at home last week, and coach Lane Kiffin was critical of his offense, which was shut out in the second half, by saying he had only two good players on that side of the ball. It's tough to argue: Matt Barkley completed 17 passes for 177 yards for three touchdowns to Robert Woods and 17 passes for 127 yards to everyone else. The Trojans' running game stalled, with just 67 yards. Utah had its own struggles in its opener, and against a lesser opponent. The Utes managed only a field goal in the second half against FCS member Montana State, and QB Jordan Wynn had a pedestrian day.

When: 8 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: Notre Dame by 3.5
Why you should watch: These programs have been united in strife for four seasons. Notre Dame flopped in its opener against USF. The Irish statistically dominated the game, outgaining USF 508 yards to 254. But five turnovers, including three inside USF's 10, doomed the Irish in a 23-20 loss. It also led to a change in starting quarterbacks. Tommy Rees, who led Notre Dame to its last four wins last season and all three scoring drives against USF, will start in place of Dayne Crist, who was named the starter out of fall camp. Notre Dame's defense will be looking for redemption against Michigan QB Denard Robinson, who had a career day in South Bend last season. Robinson accounted for a school-record 502 yards against the Irish last season and scored on an 87-yard run, the longest scoring jaunt in the history of Notre Dame Stadium. But Robinson's comfort with coordinator Al Borges' new offense bears watching. Last week, in a weather-shortened victory over Western Michigan, Robinson passed for 98 yards and rushed for 46.

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David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.

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