The first full week of the college football season lived up to its billing, producing its share of surprises and close finishes.
The Week 2 slate isn’t quite as jam-packed with top-25 tilts and high-profile clashes of power conference contenders, but there is still a solid list of contests worthy of attention Saturday.
Sharp-eyed readers will note that ABC’s prime-time selection of Washington at Michigan is absent from this list. It might indeed prove to be a competitive affair, but the Huskies’ shocking home loss to Montana, a strong FCS program but FCS nonetheless, robbed this date in Ann Arbor of much of its value. We therefore think this handful of games will be more compelling.
No. 11 Oregon at No. 3 Ohio State
Noon ET, Fox
Why watch: This Pac-12 vs. Big Ten clash, on the other hand, still has plenty of long-term implications. The Pac-12 picked up one marquee win last week when UCLA took down LSU. The Ducks will try to provide another one for the league, but they’ll have to do it on the road. The Buckeyes got off to a solid start in Big Ten play last Thursday at Minnesota, making QB C.J. Stroud’s debut a success. He had a few freshman moments, but having standout WR Chris Olave in his arsenal certainly helped. Oregon, also breaking in a new signal caller in Anthony Brown, was also in a dogfight with Fresno State in its season opener. But the combined performance on the ground from RBs C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye, along with Brown, was an encouraging sign for the Ducks, as the Buckeyes’ defense wasn’t exactly airtight against the run.
Why it could disappoint: Oregon standout DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, who left the Fresno State game in the first half with an ankle injury, is still day-to-day according to Ducks’ coach Mario Cristobal. His impact on the game will be severely missed if he can’t play. Though often overblown, the early kickoff time will be mentioned if the Buckeyes get off to a quick start against the visitors from the west coast.
No. 12 Iowa at No. 10 Iowa State
4:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Why watch: We were tempted to put this one in the No. 1 position, the most important game in the history of the CyHawk Trophy series. The contest was a casualty of the 2020 pandemic schedule, and the participants will be all too eager to renew acquaintances. It’s a non-conference contest, of course, so it isn’t a needed win for either team, but both teams will want it for in-state bragging rights and to pick up a quality résumé result. At first glance, the Cyclones’ close call against Northern Iowa last week might be viewed as cause for concern. But UNI is a perennially strong FCS program that often gives one of its in-state rivals from the upper division a run for its money. The biggest concern for Iowa State fans might be the ease with which the Hawkeyes disposed of a then-top-20 ranked Indiana squad in its Big Ten debut.
Why it could disappoint: There will be no shortage of intensity, and things should be close throughout. But if you like a lot of aerial fireworks, this might not be the game for you. Both teams rely on their lead running back, Iowa State’s Breece Hall and the Hawkeyes’ Tyler Goodson, to do the heavy lifting. Both teams also feature sound defenses. Neither Cyclones’ QB Brock Purdy nor Iowa’s Spencer Petras are error prone, but they might have to take some chances to open things up.
No. 18 Utah at BYU
10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Why watch: We’re not supposed to call it the Holy War anymore, but good luck enforcing that. This was another intense rivalry game that was missed by fans last season, so its return will be met with great enthusiasm. Utah enters on a nine-game winning streak in this series, though seven of those were decided by eight points or fewer. The Cougars, still independent for now but Big 12 bound in the future, look to start 2021 2-0 against the Pac-12. The Utes, expected to contend in what suddenly looks to be a crowded South Division, should provide a stiff test. BYU QB Jaren Hall overcame a sluggish start to turn in a solid outing against Arizona, with a lot of help from WR Neil Pau’u. Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer also got in some good work in his Utes’ debut against Weber State, though he can expect a bit more resistance from the Cougars’ multiple blitz packages that led to four sacks in the opener.
Why it could disappoint: The Cougars held the Wildcats to just 88 rushing yards with the help of those sacks, but the Utes might be better equipped to establish their ground game. If Utah is able to control the clock and finish drives, the game could get away from BYU.
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No. 15 Texas at Arkansas
7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Why watch: These once and future conference rivals renew acquaintances, with both programs in differing stages of reinvention. First-year Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian had more in his inherited cupboard, and QB Hudson Card and RB Bijan Robinson both impressed in a solid opening performance against a ranked UL-Lafayette squad. Razorbacks’ coach Sam Pittman had a lot more rebuilding to do, though the three SEC wins the team managed in 2020 showed significant progress. QB K.J. Jefferson’s debut against Rice last week was shaky at times, and he’ll need to be sharper as the competition level ramps up.
Why it could disappoint: Arkansas is moving in the right direction, and the home crowd figures to provide an early boost. But a fast start by the Longhorns, who still possess an overall talent advantage, could remove the suspense.
North Carolina State at Mississippi State
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Why watch: This might be the sneaky-fun game of the entire weekend. Teams coached by Mike Leach rarely play boring contests – the Bulldogs needed everything they could muster to stave off Conference USA contender Louisiana Tech – so figure on things getting wild again in Starkville with the cowbells clanging. It was a difficult week for the ACC’s ranked teams, but N.C. State took care of its business with a dominant win against South Florida. The Wolfpack, a potential challenger to Clemson in the Atlantic Division, now venture into SEC territory in search of a quality non-conference victory. N.C. State QB Devin Leary was picked off once but otherwise had a clean outing against the Bulls, with plenty of ground support from RBs Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person. Mississippi State’s air-raid offense is now under the direction of Will Rogers, who had a solid 83.3% completion rate against the other Bulldogs but was sacked three times.
Why it could disappoint: While usually no lead is safe against the Bulldogs, they could start giving the ball away if pressed into comeback mode too quickly. The Wolfpack’s superior offensive balance could translate into fewer empty possessions against Mississippi State’s shaky defense.
Follow colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus