Welcome to a weekly in-season series looking at the coming weekend slate of college football games with observations and prognostications of varying degrees. This week, what we learned from Week One and might make this an all-time great Week Two.
5 Things We (Maybe) Learned in Week One
Alabama, Clemson and…Oklahoma? The Tide and Tigers are head and shoulders above everybody else, particularly illustrated by looking lethargic for long stretches and still nonetheless blasting past ACC Coastal opponents. But while the biggest story from Norman was Jalen Hurts dazzling in his Sunday-night debut, the long-term watch will be the fast start the Sooner defense got off to under new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Houston is a legit top-10 offense in the country, so the first-half performance from the OU defense was really encouraging. If that sort of play shows up all year long, the Sooners will finally have a complement to Lincoln Riley’s high-powered offense, and the last 2 teams to win the national championship might finally have some company at the top.
The SEC East is GARBAGE Georgia did the dang thing, but outside of that the most impressive team in the division was either Florida or Kentucky. For all the talk in this sport about struggling with an inferior opponent, most Week One games end with the better team still winning. That’s the problem with the East, though: Missouri, Tennessee and South Carolina all actually lost to kick off 2019 while playing teams that combined to manage just 10 wins last year. Outside of the Gators getting it together a little bit, this is the ‘Dawgs’ division to lose.
The Big 12’s going to be fine The conference went unbeaten in Week One, and while there was surviving that had be done for Iowa State and West Virginia, that came against top-10 FCS teams. Even Kansas avoided its perennial opening loss to a bad team by rallying late against Indiana State. Oklahoma looked like it will steamroll everyone, and Texas is firmly ahead of the rest as well in second place, but don’t be stunned if we get a much-more competitive title race in the Big 12 than 2018.
The SEC West is LOADED Texas A&M, LSU and Alabama all handled their opening wins with ease, and that’s before you get to AUBURN JESUS, Y’ALL. Ole Miss was the only team in the division to lose, and we knew the Rebels were going to struggle this year. Middling performances from Mississippi State and Arkansas also confirmed their place in the pecking order, but the top four in the division are so good that there might be some crazy cannibalism when it’s all said and done.
The Pac-12 is also going to be fine It’s not quite the dumpster fire we’ve seen in the past, and that’s something to be proud of. Oregon showed a lot even in defeat, and Stanford, Utah, Washington, Cal, Wazzu, Colorado, USC and Arizona State all showed varying degrees of “not a dumpster fire.” Yes, the South is still not a good division. Yes, this league as a whole is behind everybody else and will likely need an unbeaten champion to get the playoff. But it’s not horrible. Baby steps.
5 Freshman Looking for a Second Straight Big Game
Zach Charbonnet, Michigan The Wolverines need a new number-one running back to emerge this season. Charbonnet piled up 90 yards on just 8 carries and had a pair of receptions, so perhaps he’s the guy that will emerge from behind Tru Wilson and Christian Turner.
Jerome Ford, Alabama He bounced back from an early fumble against Duke to tally 64 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts. Someone is going to emerge as the top back (or one of a pair like last year’s duo of Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs). Maybe it’s the guy Saban went to with Najee Harris and Brian Robinson suspended for the first quarter versus the Blue Devils.
Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M Jashaun Corbin is supposed to be the number-one back and got 22 carries against Texas State. But a guy named Spiller wearing #28 tends to work out in college, and so far it’s produced 106 yards on just 7 carries. Clemson better be ready for the Aggies’ ground attack.
Tyrion Davis-Price, LSU Another running back. Noticing a trend? He only totaled 35 yards from scrimmage, and the Tigers need a top-flight running back to emerge at some point this season to have a shot in the SEC West. Having the highly-touted recruit emerge at Texas would be a huge boost.
Bo Nix, Auburn PLOT TWIST. The one QB we’re putting on here saved his spectacular for when the Tigers desperately needed it against Oregon. But he can also save War Eagle from getting desperate by avoiding his early mistakes and making more downfield plays early with receivers Seth Williams and Eli Stove. And even if he doesn’t start fast, AUBURN JESUS, Y’ALL.
5 (or More) Teams that Have to Win this Week
Purdue AND Vanderbilt There’s a lot of fun offensive talent on both teams, and the game becomes even more fun with both teams trying to avoid 0-2 and a massive blow to their bowl chances.
Tennessee BYU’s coming in pissed off after losing to their bitter rivals in the Holy War. You saw what happened Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium. This one’s pretty self-explanatory.
Missouri West Virginia could start 2-0 with the cupboard left really bare for new head coach Neal Brown. This could happen because, again, you saw what happened in Laramie. And, again, this is thus pretty self-explanatory.
Oregon Nevada’s riding high after the comeback win over Purdue. The last thing the Ducks can do is give the Pack any glimmer of hope. Step on their throats early and finish where you didn’t against Auburn.
Ole Miss AND Miami While one was better than the other, both lost in Week One and now face a conference opponent coming off an opening win that should be inferior. All bets are off, though.
5 Must-See Matchups
West Virginia receivers vs. Mizzou corners One reason things might not go too terrible in Neal Brown’s first season coaching the Mountaineers is the depth at wideout. Tevin Bush, T.J. Simmons and Sean Ryan will make things a little easier on Oklahoma transfer QB Austin Kendall. But this week could be different facing off against the Tigers’ potential All-American duo of DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes. Missouri’s problem against Wyoming was stopping the run, but WVU didn’t run the ball to any effect against James Madison. Probably means we’ll see a lot of this showdown.
Justin McMillan vs. the Auburn pass rush The LSU transfer has acquitted himself quite well for Tulane, particularly in last week’s thrashing of trendy Conference USA title pick Florida International. While he doesn’t need to lead the Green Wave to an upset win, avoiding getting destroyed by the Tigers’ fearsome foursome up front could be a sign of big things to come for the Wave. At the very least, it’s a good sign for the Tigers if Auburn continues its domination of the line of scrimmage from the second half versus Oregon, but this time it’d be encouraging to mix in more QB pressure from Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown and Nick Coe.
Adrian Martinez vs. the Colorado defense. New head coach Mel Tucker teamed with Kirby Smart to produce some nasty defenses at Georgia. The Buffs responded to this hire by allowing over 500 yards in his debut against Colorado State. They’re not escaping with a win this week if that happens again. Oh, also they’re talking smack about the Nebraska quarterback so yikes.
Army offensive line vs. Michigan defensive line & linebackers The Black Knights wouldn’t be so good at the triple option if head coach Jeff Monken wasn’t seriously coaching up his larger cadets. They already pretty well ran over Oklahoma last year. Is a young Wolverine front seven the next to get hammered away at bit by bit by THE TROOPS?
Kellen Mond vs. the Clemson defense The strength in returners for the Tigers is in the back end, and Xavier Thomas looks like he’s getting help from Tyler Davis and K.J. Henry along with getting better himself. They will need to be sharp to slow down the Aggie QB after he showed some serious progression as a thrower in the Week One win.
5 (or More) Stone-Cold Locks for Week Two
Last week’s record – Straight up: 23-2; ATS: 17-8
Marshall (+12) at Boise State On one hand, the Thundering Herd did win last week and this is a classic letdown game after a big season-opening win for the Broncos. On the other, freshman QB Hank Bachmeier threw for over 400 yards while completing less than 60% of his passes and only tossing one TD. So, if those numbers go up and the Boise defense builds on a strong second half against Florida State? Yeah, they’ll cover. Boise St 38, Marshall 17
Cincinnati (+16) at Ohio State Really intriguing matchup due to the sorta slow finish for the Buckeyes against FAU. They’ll have to be clicking on all cylinders for all 4 quarters to win, let alone cover, against a Bearcat squad that’s in a great place under Luke Fickell. Difference in the game will be the lack of star running back Michael Warren II for Cincy. Ohio St 41, Cincinnati 24
Army (+22) at Michigan It’s like Vegas has not watched any game the Black Knights have played under Jeff Monken. Sure, they struggled to beat a horrific Rice team. They also pushed last year’s Big 12 champion and playoff participant to the brink! This is just who they are. The Wolverines get the job done, but, per the norm with Army, it’s not going to be easy. Michigan 34, Army 24
Rutgers (+19.5) at Iowa IT IS A CONFERENCE MATCHUP WITH A RANKED TEAM AND AN IMPROVED PASSING ATTACK FOR THE ROAD TEAM AND YOU WILL RESPECT IT AS SUCH. STOP LAUGHING AT IT RIGHT THIS MINTUE, YOUNG MAN. AT LEAST GIVE BUTTGERS CREDIT IF THEY COVER, PLEASE I’M BEGGING YOU, THIS FAMILY IS FALLING APART. Iowa 31, Rutgers 21
Syracuse (+2) at Maryland The Terps scored 79 points last week. That’s damn impressive, and the Orange are by no means world-beaters despite their AP ranking. this should be fun, but the better team is the current ACC member. Syracuse 38, Maryland 34
West Virginia (+13.5) at Missouri Neal Brown got the Mountaineers to get a much better win in Week One than some casual viewer would be aware of. Barry Odom lost a game no Power 5 coach should ever lose, maybe more so than facing off against an FCS opponent like WVU did. The better team will win on Saturday, but if Odom can’t get an admittedly talented roster to do things as simple as tackle, the Tigers are not walking away from this without any stumbles. Mizzou 35, West Virginia 21
Vanderbilt (+7) at Purdue This is a matchup with a ton of fun talent on the field like Rondale Moore and KeShawn Vaughn, and we’ve already mentioned the stakes of avoiding the dreaded 0-2 start. Boilermakers have the better QB and, if Elijah Sindelar avoids the crippling mistakes he made against Nevada, that should be enough. Purdue 38, Vanderbilt 28
South Florida (+6) at Georgia Tech AGAIN, STOP THAT LAUGHING, RESPECT YOUR ELDERS. Georgia Tech 31, USF 27
Southern Mississippi (+16.5) at Mississippi State Tommy Stevens looked solid running Joe Moorhead’s offense, and Kylin Hill still seems hard to tackle. A down team in year’s past for the Bulldogs doesn’t cover here and maybe even gets upset. Clanga isn’t as good as the last 2 years, but they’ve got enough on offense to at least avoid the loss. Mississippi St 38, Southern Miss 28
Nebraska (-4) at Colorado After a lot of stumbles against South Alabama, Scott Frost could really use a big day in the Boulder. Not sure the Huskers roll, but Adrian Martinez does enough to keep winning. Nebraska 35, Colorado 28
Illinois (-22) at Connecticut The Illini looked great last week under Michigan transfer QB Brandon Peters, and the Huskies’ defense has gone from “historically awful” to “just plain awful.” Not great. Illinois 38, UConn 14
San Diego State (+7.5) at UCLA How bad were the Bruins in Week One? The popular media narrative of “I have no idea what they’ll be” went to “this team stinks” in a half of play. Only one meaningful game getting played in the Rose Bowl this season. San Diego St 31, UCLA 24
Texas A&M (+16.5) at Clemson It says a lot about the Tigers this is one of the signature non-conference games of the regular season and it’s still a 3-score spread. Not sure they cover, but we’re going to have to get to know some Aggie defenders in a hurry if they’re going to slow down Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne enough to pull the upset. Clemson 38, Texas A&M 28
Central Florida (-10.5) at Florida Atlantic QB Brandon Wimbush has to be better to hang on to the Knights’ starting job going forward. Regardless of who takes the snaps, Lane Kiffin’s guys are going to slow them down enough. UCF 45, FAU 21
Brigham Young (+4) at Tennessee Honestly, it wouldn’t hurt the Volunteers if everything fell apart in the first month, as it would hasten the departure of a current coaching staff that clearly doesn’t really know what it’s doing. But not even nice thing disguised as bad things happen to the Vols. Tennessee 31, BYU 28
Arkansas (+6) at Mississippi It is a conference game and that is the only nice thing I can say about it. Also, yeah, it’s that bad in Oxford. Arkansas 28, Ole Miss 21
Eastern Michigan (+15.5) at Kentucky This is here because the Wildcats only beat a MAC team at home by 14 last week and struggled to get solid control of the game until the fourth quarter. This is going to happen a lot to Big Blue this year. Don’t expect a cover on a spread that large. Kentucky 31, Eastern Michigan 17
Western Michigan (+15.5) at Michigan State Along the same lines, Sparty is going to be one of the hardest teams in the nation to bet. The defense is elite but the offense often will sag. It’s not an easy call to say they do enough to cover any time they’re a double-digit favorite. Let’s say it’s a closer call this week, as the Broncos are a better side than Tulsa. Michigan St 24, Western Michigan 7
Nevada (+24.5) at Oregon Ducks are going to come out mad as hell. Hard for the Pack to stop even with the momentum of last week’s thrilling win. Oregon 52, Nevada 21
Miami (-5.5) at North Carolina There were too many positives in WEEK ZEROOOOOOO and too many mistakes as a product of youth for things to not get better and end in Manny Diaz’s first win as ‘Canes head coach…right? Miami 31, UNC 28
LSU (-6.5) at Texas This really should be an absurdly fun game. So many great players on both sides. The difference will be a few more playmakers on defense for the Tigers like Grant Delpit. The Longhorns don’t have those guys that can turn a game on defense. Also, LSU’s record in non-conference play under Les Miles was near-impeccable, and Ed Orgeron’s tenure as head coach is playing out in pretty similar fashion. LSU 38, Texas 35
California (+13.5) at Washington I refer you to my statement on Arkansas-Ole Miss. Washington 31, Cal 14
Stanford (+3) at Southern Cal It would be fair to call this an outrageous line if it wasn’t for the injury that will keep K.J. Costello out for the Cardinal. Still, of the 2 young QBs that have been thrust into duty for this game, Davis Mills is a former number-one recruit (from the same class as Tua and Jake Fromm!) and Kedon Slovis is…a freshman not even recruiting experts have heard of. Not great. Stanford 31, USC 27
Minnesota (-3) at Fresno State You’d think this would be tailor-made for a revenge game as the Bulldogs look to avenge a heartbreaking loss in Minneapolis last year against a Gopher team that escaped against an FCS foe in Week One. The problem? Fresno got worse from last year, South Dakota State is no FCS pushover, and the Gophers have some dudes at receiver in Tyler Johnston and Rashod Bateman. Minnesota 35, Fresno State 24
Oregon State (+6.5) at Hawai’i YOU WILL STAY UP REAL LATE AND WATCH COLE MCDONALD THROW 8 TOUCHDOWNS AND 9 PICKS WITH THE REST OF US (also the Beavers are baaaaad so it won’t matter). Hawai’i 49, Oregon State 35