Each and every week of the college football season is tantalizing because it conquers the all-too-familiar alternative of having no college football at all. That seems like an ideal place to begin a Week 2 preview—the “taco night” of the 2015 regular season.
If we’re being honest, the actual tacos aren’t all that delightful. No offense to your skillet and spice management—I’m sure it’s quite lovely. But the night itself—the tradition of a familiar meal and everything it represents—is comforting. Appointment, familiar customs surpass taste buds, in this instance.
Look down at this week’s lineup and you can breeze past the majority of the games before reaching a handful of truly exceptional pairings. There will be better slates of matchups, but don’t let that seize all enthusiasm. This is “taco night” in schedule form, and we’re going to consume every single well-spiced morsel.
Oh, and there just so happens to be a game on tap that will cause the first College Football Playoff contender to tumble. And there’s another featuring power brands hoping to regain superhero strength. Plus, through it all, there will be unexpected oddities.
It’s the unassuming weeks that often blow up the script, and this is what we’ll be watching.
The Buffet: Previewing the Top 5 Games of the Week
5. Oregon State at Michigan (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ABC)
The khaki-toned Jim Harbaugh era makes its highly anticipated Ann Arbor debut. The Wolverines, fresh off a season-opening defeat at Utah, draw another Pac-12 opponent. Oregon State, however, doesn’t offer up the kind of challenge Michigan dealt with in Week 1. That is a very polite way of saying the Beavers' 26-7 sloshfest victory over Weber State left something to be desired.
Oregon State threw for only 110 yards in Week 1—instead doing most of its damage on the ground. A Michigan defense that looks the part will make that style slightly more difficult in Week 2. The offense certainly has its issues, but that was a work in progress all along.
Those who enjoy points in copious amounts best head elsewhere. Stick around long enough, however, and you might just see Harbaugh talk about talented tight end Jake Butt.
What a wonderful, strange man.
4. Boise State at BYU (Saturday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
I suppose we could talk about all the weirdness last week’s BYU-Nebraska game included, but let’s just skip all that and get to the good stuff. Here’s how the 33-28 BYU win ended, as you are probably well aware.
What a lovely sport we obsess over.
That was the good news for BYU in Week 1. The bad news was that quarterback Taysom Hill was lost for the season once again to a foot injury, which is an absolute downer for those at BYU and beyond. The Cougars will now turn to Tanner Mangum, who may not be a dramatic step down. Highly recruited and regarded, Magnum is a wonderful backup plan.
Boise State is taking its show on the road after winning a 16-13 nail-biter over Washington in its opener. Defensively, the Broncos looked dominant, allowing just 179 yards overall (albeit to a team with clear offensive concerns). Offensively, quarterback Ryan Finley will have to be better if Boise wants to inch itself into familiar, big-bowl territory.
Defense should again be a theme. May the most productive quarterback win.
3. LSU at Mississippi State (Saturday, 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Mother Nature decided to delay LSU’s debut, which isn’t the best news for a team that could have used the reps. Brandon Harris will get the starting nod under center, and while there are questions over what this means, he is not without weapons. Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre make up one of the more intriguing wideout combos in the conference. Running back Leonard Fournette is a designer tank with an engine that is by no means street legal.
This group hopes it will put pressure on a Mississippi State defense that allowed Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens to crack the 300-yard threshold in Week 1.
Quarterback Dak Prescott wasn’t perfect, and the game was competitive for much longer than the Bulldogs hoped. Yet, Prescott still accounted for three touchdowns and showcased his duality as a thrower and runner. LSU knows all about it from a season ago.
It’s not the sexiest game the conference will roll out this season, but this is a critical moment for two programs that are trying to remind us they belong.
2. Oklahoma at Tennessee (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Let’s start with the quarterbacks, the conductors of offenses that looked awfully potent last Saturday. Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs threw for 205 yards, ran for 89 yards and accounted for three touchdowns (two passing, one running) against a Bowling Green team that refused to submit. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield threw for 388 yards and had a hand in four touchdowns against Akron (three passing, one running).
And then, of course, there are the running backs. Samaje Perine was quiet for the Sooners in Week 1 (33 yards on 11 attempts), while Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara—who combined to rush for 267 yards and score five touchdowns—were anything but. In a game stockpiled with future stars, these three gentlemen might have the largest influence on the outcome.
In the most meaningful game Neyland Stadium has witnessed in some time, Tennessee could announce its arrival. Oklahoma could announce its return. Points may be plentiful, and the importance for both programs cannot be overstated.
Drop everything and watch this.
1. Oregon at Michigan State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)
Last year’s installment, despite what the final score said, was nothing short of football euphoria. This year’s version, as bold as this may seem, could be even better.
Playing against his former squad last week, Vernon Adams Jr. was brilliant after arriving late in Eugene. He threw the ball extremely well against Eastern Washington, including two touchdown passes, and he rushed for 94 yards. Adams was also on the wrong end of this questionable hit from his former teammate—a moment that had us hoping it wasn’t as bad as it looked:
That appears to be the case, and Adams will likely get the nod this week. He will be opposed by the great Connor Cook of Michigan State, a man on the verge of superstardom. Perhaps he’s already there.
Although Cook completed less than 50 percent of his passes against Western Michigan in his team's 37-24 win, he will be up for this. And because Eastern Washington tallied 549 yards of offense against the Ducks, he should have plenty of opportunities to move the ball downfield.
Defense will ultimately win this game—be it through stops or turnovers. Both offenses will likely spend much of the evening doing what they please, which means a moment or two might be enough.
Cancel all plans; stock the fridge; buy an amount of meat to grill that most normal humans would be offended by. You know what to do.
The Quiet Killer, aka The Game You Haven’t Made Plans to Watch but Should: Houston at Louisville (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
Head coach Tom Herman’s Houston debut included 52 points and 621 yards against Tennessee Tech. The Cougars will get a significant upgrade in competition in Week 2 as they head to Louisville for a matchup you should make time for.
The Cardinals hung tough with Auburn as freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson dazzled, especially on the ground. So much so that Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn, the great ambassador of offense, made his praise known after the game while speaking with Tim Sullivan of the Courier-Journal:
Auburn's Gus Malzahn on #Louisville QB Lamar Jackson: "That freshman quarterback, he's electric now. . .going to be tough to deal with."— Tim Sullivan (@TimSullivan714) September 6, 2015
It will be a tall order for Houston to pull off the upset, although it would not be at all surprising for one of the sport’s brightest young coaches to make this far tighter than anticipated. Add in a true freshman quarterback who looks mighty fun to watch, and you have yourselves a ballgame.
The NSFW Game of the Week: Lamar at Baylor (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, FSN)
Please keep your children away from FSN around dinnertime Saturday. I say this as a friend.
Playing in a game that really does no one any good except the Lamar athletic department, Baylor will take on a program that just throttled Bacone College. (You can look it up. I had to.)
Last season, Texas A&M decimated Lamar 73-3. I don’t foresee this score being worse than that, which is about the only endorsement I can possibly provide. Thankfully there will be no shortage of options at this time slot.
The Game That Could Somehow Stay Inexplicably Close: Notre Dame at Virginia (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
I was intrigued by Notre Dame’s talent before the great annihilation of Texas. After Malik Zaire ran circles around the Longhorns, however, the excitement and buzz reached an appropriate new threshold. And yet, heading into Week 2, it feels like Virginia could provide a scare for the Irish as they take their show on the road. The key word here is indeed "could."
Now, I’m not saying the Cavaliers will win this game—not after UCLA made it look easy at times in Week 1. However, Virginia was a different team at home in 2014, taking down Pitt and Louisville and hanging tough with many others.
The defense should still play well. The offense, well, that’s a different story. Ultimately, Notre Dame will stay unbeaten. But it would not shock me if Virginia hovered around much longer than anticipated.
In Search of X-Factors: Fresh Faces to Keep Tabs On
LJ Scott, Michigan State, RB
Sparty’s bruising 233-pound true freshman tailback delivered a solid 77-yard performance in his debut. Matched up against fellow battering ram Royce Freeman, LJ Scott, one of the Big Ten’s next great running backs, could have himself a coming-out party against Oregon.
Qadree Ollison, Pittsburgh, RB
With James Conner likely done for the year after undergoing knee surgery to repair a torn MCL, Pittsburgh will ask running back Qadree Ollison—a redshirt freshman—to do its heavy lifting. After Conner went down, Wilson ran for 207 yards on just 16 carries in Week 1. Against Akron in Week 2, the 230-pounder could beef up those totals rather quickly.
Nick Stevens, Colorado State, QB
Garrett Grayson's departure to the NFL left a void for new Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo. Sophomore quarterback Nick Stevens threw five touchdowns in his first game as a starter, although that came against Savannah State in a 65-13 win. Playing a Minnesota defense that looked solid in Week 1 against potent TCU in a 23-17 loss, Stevens’ follow-up should be fascinating.
Coaches Seated on Warm Chairs: Week 2 Installment
Mike Leach, Washington State
When you lose to Portland State at home—a game the Cougars paid its opponent $525,000 to make happen—everything changes. Although there is still plenty of season left to right what’s wrong, Leach has never really settled into Pullman. A loss to reeling Rutgers this week could propel Leach into a hole that's impossible to dig out of.
Mike London, Virginia
After UCLA freshman Josh Rosen dissected his team, Mike London did little to change his current status as a head coach. Making matters even more difficult is that Notre Dame is coming to town this week. With Boise State a few weeks away and ACC play to start shortly after, the Cavaliers need to win games no one expects them to for London to save his job.
Al Golden, Miami
There were no issues in Week 1 for Al Golden against Bethune-Cookman. There likely won’t be any issues against Florida Atlantic in Week 2, either. After that, Miami will play Nebraska, at Cincinnati, at Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson in a stretch that will ultimately decide his fate. The Hurricanes have the talent (and the quarterback) capable of throwing a bucket of ice water on this thing. Stay tuned.
Parting Shot: As the World Turns, Saying Farewell to a Few Good Men
For many extremely gifted footballers, Week 1 marked the end of the road. There will be no Week 2 for Pittsburgh running back James Conner, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, Notre Dame running back Tarean Folston, Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt and UCLA defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes. Each one suffered injuries that will likely keep him out for the season.
Clemson wideout Mike Williams, Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright and Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer were also injured and will miss extended time. Quite simply, I can’t recall a weekend in which so many significant players went down in unison.
Perhaps one or more of these injuries will have an impact on games to be played in the coming days. Others will undoubtedly affect matchups and aspirations down the line.
This is the part that never gets any easier to stomach—the ugly side of such a beautiful game.