Football is back, and you’ve got a busy Saturday evening. This raft of previews features the most important, the most interesting, and the most downright fun games of Week 2, plus props on what each one will witness. How’d our Week 1 takes go? You tell me.
Pittsburgh at Penn State: Saturday, 3:30 ET
Pitt won this game last year, because Pitt was the true champion of 2016. Pitt also squeaked by Youngstown State in Week 1, a result you can either chalk up to Week 1 jitters (somewhat likely), the loss of their offensive coordinator to LSU (quite likely) or just youthful inconsistency (very likely). Penn State trounced Akron last weekend, hanging 52 points and a shutout on the Zips, and looking every bit an elite team. Barkley ran for 226 yards and two touchdowns before spending a latter portion of the game on the sideline.
Historically, this is a wild game. Last year, there were calls to fire the Penn State coaching staff after the game, the same Penn State coaching staff that beat Ohio State, won the Big Ten, and went to the Rose Bowl. It’ll be something of a revenge game, then. Saquon Barkley is going to run into a stingy defense, and Pitt’s occasionally weirdo and always physical offense is going to do some fun things. Two fun teams, one with playoff ambitions, playing a rivalry game? Sign me up.
O/U Saquon Barkley rushing touchdowns: 1.5
Odds we get calls for James Franklin to be fired this year: 35/1
Auburn at Clemson: Saturday, 7:00 ET
We’re going to learn a lot about the Tigers this week, both of them.
Auburn has all the trappings of a truly elite team. Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham seems like the real deal at QB, there’s talent and experience all over the field, and if you want to call this a top-five team, nobody’s going to think you’re being too crazy. That’s why it’ll be interesting to see them go up against a team that’s something of a known quantity: we know how good Clemson is on defense and, despite some of their offensive spark now living in Houston, we have a pretty good idea what kind of team this is.
Auburn is another story. They could either be a top-five team or an SEC also-ran. The defense that let Georgia Southern get absolutely nowhere on the ground could make the difference for Auburn or could get picked apart by a still-great Clemson offense. Watch this game and find out.
O/U Kelly Bryant sacks: 1.5
Odds one of these teams goes to the Playoff: 6/1
Oklahoma at Ohio State: Saturday, 7:30 ET
Last week, Alabama/FSU was your Very Important Game of the week. This week, there are at least three. Ohio State and Oklahoma are both recent playoff teams with reasonable ambitions of returning this year, and both hope to make this Week 2 matchup a key part of their playoff resume.
Ohio State struggled a little last week, especially on offense, and it doesn’t seem like they have really elite corners. Losing Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley seems to have hurt the secondary in ways that will take a while to recover from. Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense are thus a really good test for the Buckeyes: an accurate, aggressive quarterback with talented receivers will stress both the Ohio State defense and put the Buckeyes in a position where struggling too much on offense won’t be recoverable.
Oklahoma’s defense might have what it takes to seal up the middle, and deny Ohio State the combination of mesh-concept passing and athletic mismatches that bailed them out of a tight spot against Indiana. Of some relief to the Buckeyes: their defensive front might be the best in football, and pressuring Baker Mayfield will make life easier for the secondary.
The winner of this game will become a playoff favorite, and I can think of no better test for either team.
O/U Baker Mayfield passing TD’s: 2.5
Stanford at USC: Saturday, 8:30 ET
USC really stumbled against Western Michigan, perhaps the result of a hangover from their dominant preseason national championship. Stanford showed consistency and reliability in disposing of Rice 62-7.
USC’s big challenge heading into 2017 was replacing Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner on the offensive line. Against WMU, it was clear that the project is still very much a work in progress. Against Stanford, there will be very little margin for error: the Stanford defense returns half of its line and maybe the best linebackers in the country. Darnold has to step up his game as well; he was better than the numbers suggest, but two interceptions, a fumble, and no passing TD’s against a MAC team isn’t exactly an electric start to your Heisman campaign. There’s a not-insignificant chance that Darnold gets a rude awakening against Stanford.
O/U Stanford sacks: 1.5
O/U Sam Darnold touchdowns: 1.5
Boise State at Washington State: Saturday, 10:30 ET
Washington State put on a show last week, pitching a shutout against Montana State while displaying uncharacteristically good special-teams play. We knew that Wazzu was going to have an efficient, effective offense, but a strong defense and reliable special teams is something we haven’t seen before from a Mike Leach team. This week, they play the Boise State Broncos, a tricky G5 team that could very well be a worthy opponent for the Cougars. Quarterback Brett Rypien is among the best passers in the country, although he looked anything but in the Broncos’ opener against Troy, completing only 13 of 23 passes for no touchdowns and a pick-six. Boise has been a little thin on defense for a while now, and is now replacing most of its linebackers and almost all of its defensive backs. That’s not exactly a recipe for success against a pass-happy team like Washington State.
All the other games we’ve listed here have playoff implications, but it’s important to get your fill of G5 teams holding the power conference’s feet to the fire.
O/U Luke Falk touchdowns: 2.5