Let's be honest. Week 2 of the college football season looks a lot worse on paper than Week 1 did. Especially after Week 1 lived up to the billing, going down as one of the wildest weeks in history, it's fair to expect a letdown from its encore.
But that doesn't mean there's nothing to look forward to. Even with no ranked-versus-ranked matchups on the schedule, last week taught us to expect the unexpected. You never know where chaos might be hiding, as Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer summed up nicely.
"There was a feeling of vulnerability throughout Week 1," he wrote once the dust had settled, "which will be a fascinating theme to follow."
So what are we waiting for? Let's follow it.
Welcome to Week 2 of college football.
Games of the Week
Penn State at Pittsburgh | Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
Penn State meets Pittsburgh for the first time since 2000, and the rivalry renews at an interesting time.
Both teams have high hopes for the 2016 season, but both looked a little sluggish in Week 1—Penn State beat Kent State 33-13, and Pittsburgh defeated Villanova 28-7. The winner of this game will be off and running toward a promising season, while the loser will have to lick its wounds and rebound.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi has already placed special emphasis on this weekend, closing players off from the media and setting the game apart from others, per Craig Meyer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Craig Meyer @CraigMeyerPG
Pat Narduzzi on why he's closing players to media in the lead-up to the Penn State game: "This one's a little bit different."2016-9-5 16:12:29
Narduzzi learned that tactic from Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, who from the moment he arrived in East Lansing stressed the importance of beating in-state rival Michigan and never pretended the Wolverines were just another game.
Things have gone well for the Spartans, who have beaten their big brother in seven of the past eight seasons, including six with Narduzzi at defensive coordinator. We'll see if Narduzzi can parlay that success to his new team.
This game won't be pretty, but if you like smashmouth football and hitting, it's definitely worth tuning into. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Pittsburgh running backs James Conner and Qadree Ollison also make for appointment viewing.
Arkansas at No. 15 TCU | Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Arkansas and TCU both struggled in Week 1, but they escaped disaster and set the stage for a meaningful matchup.
The Razorbacks beat Louisiana Tech 21-20 on a clutch 4th-and-goal touchdown pass with less than seven minutes to play. The Horned Frogs beat South Dakota State 59-41 but trailed for much of the first half and only pulled away in the final 10 minutes.
TCU quarterback Kenny Hill enjoyed a strong Horned Frogs debut, posting 484 yards of offense and five touchdowns. That's a good sign for the TCU offense and a bad sign for Arkansas, which knows from experience how explosive Hill can be.
In 2014, when Hill was still at Texas A&M, he led the Aggies to an overtime win over the Razorbacks, adding to his packed "September Heisman" resume by throwing for 386 yards and four touchdowns.
Arkansas, meanwhile, needs this win—if only to prove it can start as well as it finishes. In each of the last two seasons, it has dug itself an early hole, peaked in November (#NovemBERT) and spent all summer wondering what could have been. Last year's September loss to Texas Tech stands out as classic Razorbacks.
This week, they have a chance to redeem themselves.
BYU at Utah | Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox
The game formerly known as the Holy War, one of college football's top rivalries, gets an even more personal twist in 2016.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake spent 10 years on the sideline at Utah, rising as high as defensive coordinator under Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham. He left for Oregon State before last season, then bounced back to the Beehive State to replace Bronco Mendenhall at BYU, his alma mater. So if anyone understands what this game means, it's him.
"I don't see it as a big-time rivalry hatred as a lot of others see it," Sitake told reporters. "It's a lot of fun. It's exciting, and there are a lot of good people involved on [both] fanbases, so it's going to be another great weekend."
More than just crossed wires, though, this game features two even teams. The Utes have owned the series, winning five straight and 10 of the last 13, but it typically comes down to the wire. In fact, five of the last six meetings have been decided by one score.
Here's to that becoming six of seven.
Virginia Tech vs. No. 17 Tennessee | Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
The inevitable union of NASCAR and college football comes to life this week at Bristol Motor Speedway, where Tennessee and Virginia Tech will square off in a game with national implications.
No team disappointed more last week than the Volunteerss—and that includes the three Top 10 teams that suffered losses. If not for a botched extra point in the second quarter, horrendous late-game clock management and an unlucky bounce on a Tennessee fumble in overtime, Appalachian State could have—and probably should have—pulled the upset.
How will Butch Jones' team respond? If it doesn't play demonstrably better than it did last week, things could get sticky.
The Hokies have been down for years on offense, but now they're led by offense-first head coach Justin Fuente, who inherited an underrated group of playmakers. Receiver Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges are All-America candidates, and JUCO transfer quarterback Jerod Evans, a highly touted dual-threat prospect, appears to be a major upgrade under center.
A defense led by renowned coordinator Bud Foster will scrap and fight and challenge Tennessee in the trenches, especially if the Vols line looks as disorganized as it did in Week 1.
The more you break this game down, the more it feels like a close one.
Washington State at Boise State | Saturday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Even after losing to Eastern Washington, Washington State still registers as a big-name opponent and a prime chance for Boise State to boost its resume. Last year, the Cougars opened with a loss to Portland State, then rebounded and had their best season since 2003.
That makes this a big spot for both programs. Coming off a 9-4 campaign, Washington State cannot afford to start 0-2. It needs to build momentum—even more so now that rival Washington is budding. It can't go back to being that other school in the Evergreen State.
For the Broncos, it's a chance to beat a bowl team from the Pac-12 on national TV. After Houston rolled through Oklahoma, you can bet Boise State wants to make a statement. It is supposed to be the annual "Group of Five" playoff contender. The Cougars are drinking the Broncos' milkshake.
Now is when they start to fight back.
With quarterback Brett Rypien, running back Jeremy McNichols and wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck, Boise State has the offensive horses to do so. This game will be a shootout that bleeds into Sunday morning and rewards those who stay awake for it.
No. 13 Louisville at Syracuse | Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2
You like points? Good. This game will have them.
Louisville scored 56 in the first half against Charlotte, led by quarterback Lamar Jackson, who accounted for eight first-half touchdowns (not a typo). Syracuse, meanwhile, looked rejuvenated in its first game under head coach Dino Babers, who already has a receiver—Maryland graduate transfer Amba Etta-Tawo—atop the FBS yardage list.
We can't promise beautiful football, but with Babers on one sideline and Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino on the other, we can expect fireworks. Not a bad way to start the weekend.
North Carolina at Illinois | Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, BTN
After losing its season opener to an SEC opponent in 2015, North Carolina ripped off 11 straight wins.
It lost its season opener to an SEC opponent again last weekend, only this time, instead of facing North Carolina A&T, it will follow with a team from a power conference.
Granted, Illinois has been down for a while, but this team has shown glimmers of hope. Head coach Lovie Smith brings NFL credentials to the sideline, and senior quarterback Wes Lunt (6'5", 225 lbs) brings NFL tools to the pocket. The defense has a star in senior edge-rusher Dawuane Smoot, while transfers Hardy Nickerson (Cal) and Gimel President (Auburn) looked good in their debuts against Murray State.
The Tar Heels should not take this game for granted.
Texas Tech at Arizona State | Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, FS1
A rematch of the 2013 Holiday Bowl, this game will feature points, points, occasional sloppy turnovers and points.
Texas Tech in particular has a top-10-caliber offense. Quarterback Pat Mahomes is a walking SportsCenter highlight, and last week—even with the caveat that it played Stephen F. Austin—17 Red Raiders caught at least one pass.
The question in Lubbock has always been defense. This contest will provide the first chance to see how it looks. If it rises to merely bad instead of horrible, which is possible in Year 2 under aggressive defensive coordinator David Gibbs, Texas Tech can hang with any Big 12 opponent.
Also keep an eye on sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins of Arizona State. We'll learn a lot about him as he tries to keep pace with Mahomes.
Central Michigan at No. 22 Oklahoma State | Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, FS1
Last year, Central Michigan hung close with Oklahoma State, leading 13-10 in the third quarter before losing 24-13. The Chippewas return a lot from that roster, including All-MAC second-team quarterback Cooper Rush, while the Cowboys remain a wild card with a high ceiling but low floor. Stranger games stayed competitive in Week 1.
Wyoming at Nebraska | Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2
In Week 1, Wyoming upset Northern Illinois as a double-digit dog, per Odds Shark, besting the MAC favorite in Laramie, 40-34. Cowboys head coach Craig Bohl entered his third year with what should be his best team, and he's heading home to Lincoln, where he played in the late 1970s and later coached under Tom Osborne. Nebraska looked sharp in a 43-10 win over Fresno State last week but can't afford to look ahead to its Week 3 tilt against Oregon.
Western Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama | Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Alabama should rout Western Kentucky, but consider the scenario: It's a letdown spot after the Crimson Tide opened against USC and a lookahead spot with a road trip to Ole Miss looming. The Hilltoppers can score on anyone and will likely throw some haymakers to catch Alabama off guard. Don't be surprised if this stays within two or three scores.
Names to Watch
QB: Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech
Evans was the No. 7 overall JUCO recruit and No. 1 JUCO quarterback in the country, per 247Sports' composite ratings. By that metric, he's the best JUCO quarterback prospect since Zach Mettenberger in 2011. He did nothing to refute that last weekend, completing 20 of 32 passes for 221 yards and four touchdowns and leading Virginia Tech with 46 rushing yards. But that was against Liberty. Now he gets Tennessee. Time to see what Evans is made of.
RB: Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel, Ohio State
Ezekiel who? Ohio State's new backfield looked downright scary in Week 1. The thunder, Mike Weber, trucked a defender on his first career carry and finished with 136 rushing yards on 19 carries. The lightning, Curtis Samuel, rushed 13 times and caught nine passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. Tulsa's offense will put up some points, forcing the Buckeyes to keep their starters in longer than they did last week. How will the backfield look in its encore performance?
WR: Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky
Last week, Alabama held JuJu Smith-Schuster—the presumed best receiver in college football—to one catch for nine yards. That's what Taywan Taylor and Western Kentucky are going up against. Taylor recorded 1,467 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, and he also has a case for being college football's top receiver. Let's see how he stacks up with Alabama corner Marlon Humphrey.
OT: Chad Wheeler, USC
Tapped to miss Week 1 with a foot injury, Chad Wheeler subbed in when his replacement, Chuma Edoga, limped to the locker room. He looked a little ginger, but according to Keely Eure of USCFootball.com, Wheeler said his foot felt fine during the game. The Trojans offensive line—a supposed strength—looked lost against Alabama, but Wheeler is a force of stability. If he plays, he can ease a lot of tension by playing well.
DE: Ejuan Price, Pittsburgh
The way to beat Penn State is to beat it up front. The Nittany Lions finished No. 111 in adjusted sack rate last season, per Bill Connelly of SB Nation, and finished last in the Big Ten with 39 sacks allowed. Pittsburgh's best defender, Ejuan Price, is the perfect player to take advantage of that. If he can pressure Trace McSorley and throw the Penn State offense off schedule, it will limit Barkley's impact on the ground and set the Panthers up for a program-building win.
LB: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tennessee
The nucleus of Tennessee's defense, Jalen Reeves-Maybin missed most of Week 1 after being called for targeting. The Vols held up (on that side of the ball) without him, but still—it was way too close of a call. Now he returns and will have to anchor the defense. He can't afford to stop playing emotional football, but he also can't let his emotions get the best of him. He's too important, and his team's goals are too big.
CB: Desmond King, Iowa
Reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King gets his first big test of the season: a matchup with Iowa State's Allen Lazard. After Greg Mabin's poor performance in Week 1, King might have to shadow Lazard all game. In last year's meeting, Lazard caught seven passes for 71 yards and no touchdowns. King will surely want to hold him to less production than that.
HC: Clay Helton, USC
USC got out-everythinged by Alabama, but no aspect of the game exhibited a more dramatic contrast than the coaching mismatch. Already under a microscope at a job most coaches would kill for, head coach Clay Helton needs to rebound against Utah State. The Aggies are good enough to give the Trojans a game but bad enough that if they do, Helton won't hear the end of it.
Three of the biggest programs in college football—Alabama, Georgia and Texas—have cast their lot with true freshman quarterbacks.
Think about that.
Prevailing wisdom says young kids aren't ready and players need time—especially quarterbacks. The speed of the game and the heat of the moment are too much. That's why all three teams platooned their freshmen with older players—hedging their bets in case the stage was too big. But in all three cases, the young guns were up to the task.
Now here comes the hard part: keeping it up. The Crimson Tide's Jalen Hurts, the Bulldogs' Jacob Eason and the Longhorns' Shane Buechele will spend this week reading headlines, watching highlights and hearing how great they are. No matter how hard they try, they won't block it out. The message will seep through, the stakes will be raised and the pressure will mount.
How can they avoid the Game 2 wall?
Eason has the easiest matchup, as Georgia hosts FCS opponent Nicholls State. The Bulldogs have options with how they use him. After backing up Greyson Lambert against North Carolina, Eason shined in relief, leading Georgia to a comeback win. Will head coach Kirby Smart make him the starter?
Buechele has the clearest path to playing time, with Tyrone Swoopes locked in as a running specialist. On most downs, this will be Buechele's offense. His debut went as well as it possibly could have, but he'll have to avoid the hangover of such an emotional climax. UTEP is a weaker opponent than Notre Dame, but getting up for the Miners is harder than getting up for the Fighting Irish.
Hurts has the trickiest situation, with head coach Nick Saban going out of his way to keep Alabama's quarterback competition open. Saban said he plans to play two quarterbacks against Western Kentucky, via Charlie Potter of 247Sports, and it's not as if Blake Barnett fell on his face against USC. In fact, Pro Football Focus gave him a higher grade than Hurts.
But despite that, the results were undeniable. Barnett failed to move the offense on his first two possessions, then Hurts came in and—poof! It was 52-6. That is the type of production Saban cares about.
It seems like the kids are all right.