A lot of NFL eyes on Saturday will be on the Notre Dame-Michigan game in Ann Arbor, and a sharp focus of scouts will be on the matchup between Wolverines OT Taylor Lewan and Irish DE Stephon Tuitt.
It's a matchup of projected future first-round draft picks that's worthy of attention. But there's another player in that game I'll be focusing on as well, and that's Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner.
I'm not exactly revealing one of college football's under-the-radar players, but Gardner is special, and I think he'll soon make a lot of people forget about Denard Robinson.
Really, he's ideal for Brady Hoke's offense. He can drop back when asked and is athletic enough to run the spread and pistol offenses. He also has a much stronger arm than Robinson ever had.
A lot of people don't realize it, but he was statistically superior to Robinson last year -- more accurate, more yards per attempt, more touchdowns, fewer interceptions and better QB rating. Robinson, of course, excelled in the running game, breaking off a number of big runs.
But Gardner gives Hoke much more flexibility in the type of offense he likes to run. Gardner should only get better and better each week, and next season he'll have better players around him, if the recruiting experts are correct.
Three more games that interest me
South Carolina at Georgia: The overall record in this series is very heavy in Georgia's favor: 46-17-2, but South Carolina has won the last three. Two years ago, in the teams' last meeting, South Carolina won, 45-42, coming from behind with three touchowns scored on special teams and defense. If Georgia has any hopes of a national championship, it has to find a way to win this game. It's a must-win, as is every game from hear on out after opening the season with a loss at Clemson. It's the premier game of the week because of the stakes and because of the proximity of these two schools, which recruit the same areas.
Texas at BYU: This week in practice, Texas coach Mack Brown had his players wear dust masks to simulate playing in altitude. Under coach Bronco Mendenhall, BYU is 41-8 in the last 49 games, but the Cougars are coming off a loss to Virginia in which QB Taysom Hill completeted just 35 percent of his passes. This is an extremely big game for Texas. We're going going to see if the Longhorns are as good as I think they are or as the ones prognosticators picked for fourth in the conference.
Florida at Miami: This is the first game between these two teams since 2008. It will be a sellout, but more than 50 percent of the crowd will be backing Florida. Hurricanes QB Stephen Morris was a standout at Peyton Manning's passing camp over the summer, but he didn't play well last week. Expectations for him are sky high. This game is a scout's delight because they'll be able to see Morris play against a very good and well-coached defensive team.
Coaches will tell you that the biggest improvement teams make is between Games 1 and 2 of each season. With that said, there are six games on Saturday that involve teams making their 2013 debuts. I've been tracking these types of situations for a while now, and history says that of the six teams playing their first game in Week 2, four will lose.
Teams playing their first game: Stanford (vs. San Jose State), Arizona State (vs. Sacramento State), Kansas vs. (South Dakota), Memphis (vs. Duke), Navy (vs. Indiana) and UTEP (vs. New Mexico). Arizona State hammered Sacramento State 55-0 on Thursday night.
Notre Dame over Michigan: The underdog in this series seems to always win. I think Notre Dame has a chance to do even bigger things than last year. The Irish are that good.
Illinois over Cincinnati: Historically when teams come off big wins like Cincy did last week, they fall flat the following week.
Air Force over Utah State: Air Force is difficult to beat at home because it controls the ball with the run game and the crowd gets into it. Keep an eye on Utah State QB Chuckie Keetonis, a pro prospect.