B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 2
Week 1 of the 2021 college football season was a thrill-a-minute, upset-heavy, six-day extravaganza.
The Week 2 slate isn't anywhere near that loaded—thanks in large part to Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson and Cincinnati each facing FCS opponents—but there are two huge games with College Football Playoff implications and there are, per usual, a bunch of spots where ranked teams will be in danger of taking an L.
It's still going to be a ton of fun. It is a college football Saturday, after all. But the channel flipping figures to be a little less frantic this weekend.
In preparation for Week 2 action, Bleacher Report's college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—joined forces to offer up predictions on the hottest burning questions, such as:
- Will No. 3 Ohio State or No. 12 Oregon win the potential Rose Bowl preview?
- Which top-10 team from Iowa wins the biggest game in Cy-Hawk history?
- Where are unranked-over-ranked upsets most likely to happen?
- What sort of yardage totals will the week's top passer and rusher reach?
- And will the Pac-12 North remain a laughingstock?
Our experts are on the case.
No. 12 Oregon Ducks at No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes: Who You Got?
Ohio State. I don’t think I have to get cute with this prediction. Simply put, it just feels like a game where both talent and home field will combine to overwhelm an Oregon team that has a lot going for it. But just not enough right now.
C.J. Stroud looked mighty comfortable in the second half on the road at Minnesota. And while this is a step up in class, playing at home will certainly help. Being accompanied by Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, who played like the stars they are in Week 1, doesn’t hurt either.
We still don’t know about Kayvon Thibodeaux, although his availability won’t skew this decision. As good as the Oregon defensive end is, I simply don’t believe the Ducks will be able to overcome the Buckeyes' talent advantage in the many other areas.
Ohio State 41, Oregon 21.
There are two massive questions here that need to be answered.
First, how healthy is Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon? There's no good reason for Mario Cristobal and Co. to let this cat out of the bag until pregame warmups, so I suspect Oregon's star defensive lineman—the possible No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft—will be listed as "day-to-day" until Saturday morning. The fact that he was in a walking boot on the sideline in the second half against Fresno State doesn't bode well, but this game will be much better if he's good to go.
Second, which C.J. Stroud shows up for Ohio State? If it's the quarterback who played poorly in the first half against Minnesota, welcome to Upset City. But if it's the quarterback who averaged 47.2 yards per completion in the second half, the Buckeyes are going to win so convincingly that they just might leapfrog Georgia and Alabama for the top spot in next week's AP poll.
The answer to the first question could have a major impact on the answer to the second question. Making his first career start, Stroud understandably looked a little jittery against the Golden Gophers. However, they applied virtually no pressure—zero sacks, one tackle for loss and two QB hurries, per ESPN's box score. A full-strength Thibodeaux could get Stroud looking uncomfortable once again.
Give me the Buckeyes 42-24 in the Horseshoe, though. Even if Stroud isn't crisp, the talent around him is more than good enough to overcome it.
Will No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes or No. 9 Iowa State Cyclones Win the Cy-Hawk Trophy?
Oh man, this game is going to be a fun one. These two teams have met 67 times in their series history, which dates all the way back to 1894. Interestingly enough, Saturday's game will mark the first time both of these teams have been ranked—let alone both ranked in the AP top 10—heading into the matchup.
Both of these teams have a strong air attack, so this contesst might come down to who can find more balance on the ground. Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy completed 21-of-26 passes last week for 199 yards against Northern Iowa in a close 16-10 victory. Iowa's Spencer Petras threw for 145 yards in the Hawkeyes' win over Indiana last week.
Cyclones running back Breece Hall, who rushed for 1,572 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, had 69 yards and a touchdown last week. But the Hawkeyes rush defense is impressive, giving up just 2.8 yards per carry since last season.
Although Iowa State has drastically improved under head coach Matt Campbell, getting to nine wins last year for the first time since 2000, Iowa has won the past five in this series. I would love to see Campbell and the Cyclones pull this one out, but I think Iowa wins a close one in Ames.
Allow me to first point out the unusual start time for this game—4:30 p.m. ET. Make sure you don't get so sucked into the 3:30 slate of games that you forget about the beginning of El Assico, because it's going to be the best game of the weekend.
"Best" doesn't necessarily mean "prettiest," and it definitely doesn't mean "highest-scoring." This is going to be a defensive war, per usual. These nonconference rivals didn't play in 2020, but the 2019 game was 18-17. The year before that it was 13-3. In 11 of the past 16 meetings, neither side reached 28 points. And you'd be hard-pressed and/or slightly delusional to come up with 10 better defenses in the current season.
But I think the Cyclones will snap their five-game losing streak in this series because I have substantially more faith in their offense.
Yes, I'm well aware I'm talking about an offense that only scored 16 points against Northern Iowa in Week 1. But Breece Hall is way better than the 23 carries for 69 yards he had in that game, and (presumably) having All-American tight end Charlie Kolar back on the field after missing the opener with a lower-body injury is going to make a huge difference. (Kolar also missed the 2020 opener, which ended up being—by no small margin—Iowa State's worst offensive performance of that season.)
That duo plus the usually unflappable Brock Purdy will be enough for the Cyclones to narrowly win a race to 17 points. Give me Iowa State 17-13.
Which AP Top 25 Teams (if Any) Will Lose to Unranked Opponents?
It's a little bizarre that No. 17 Coastal Carolina is a lock to beat a Power Five team (Kansas), but the Chanticleers are going to cruise to victory Friday, which will start a week where the majority of ranked teams feast on cupcakes.
But it's no fun to say all the Top 25 teams will win, right?
Texas A&M may have a tough one against Colorado, and it might take Texas a while to put Arkansas away. But they will both take care of business.
The one to watch, though, is No. 22 Miami losing to Appalachian State.
The Hurricanes are expected to win, but how much of a letdown will they be experiencing this week after getting drilled by Alabama? At no point did they pose any type of resistance. That has got to be demoralizing, and it's going to be interesting to see how Manny Diaz deals with adversity this early in the year.
Appalachian State beat a better-than-you-think East Carolina team by two touchdowns in its season-opener, and the Mountaineers are led by quarterback Chase Brice, who has some familiarity with the 'Canes from his days with Clemson and Duke.
The Mountaineers also have a quality running back tandem in Camerun Peoples and Nate Noel, the latter of whom will be making a homecoming to Miami. This has the trappings for an upset, and since it's probably going to be the closest battle between a ranked and unranked opponent, I'm going with Appalachian State, 28-27.
Well, I was ready to put Michigan in this spot, assuming the Wolverines would jump into the rankings after their Week 1 beatdown of Western Michigan. However, the Wolverines are still unranked, so my official answer is nobody.
That's boring, though, so let me give you three spots where I could definitely see an upset happening, even though I'm too cowardly to pick them.
At the top of the list is No. 21 Utah at BYU. It's a rivalry game, the ranked team is playing on the road and the Utes are still breaking in a bunch of new transfers. I expect Utah to win with defense, but BYU running back Tyson Allgeier (7.5 yards per carry last season) could be a problem.
The next-most likely upset is probably No. 15 Texas at Arkansas, but I really liked what I saw from the Longhorns in Week 1, namely 24 touches for Bijan Robinson. Tom Herman seemed almost reluctant to feed the star running back last season, but Steve Sarkisian is ready and willing to ride his Heisman candidate. Against an Arkansas defense which allowed at least 180 rushing yards in seven of its final eight games last season, Robinson should have a big day.
And the third game I could maybe see going sideways for the ranked team is No. 19 Virginia Tech vs. Middle Tennessee, solely because it's Virginia Tech and because I've seen the "Team vaults into the AP Top 25 after an impressive Week 1 victory and immediately lays an egg in Week 2" story a few times. The Hokies certainly should be able to handle Middle Tennessee, but you just never know.
Which Game Not Involving a Ranked Team Will Be Most Entertaining?
Pitt-Tennessee should be pretty entertaining Saturday, as both of these offenses put up big numbers last week in their season openers.
Vols quarterback Joe Milton III, who transferred from Michigan in the offseason, had 139 yards in the air with a touchdown, plus 44 yards and two more scores on the ground. Running backs Jabari Small and Tiyon Evans combined for 232 yards and two touchdowns, as well. Yes, the Vols did play Bowling Green, but Tennessee's offense hadn't looked that good in years.
Pitt senior quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns in the Panthers' opener against UMass last week. Rodney Hammond Jr. led a diversified rushing attack with 44 yards on eight carries.
It looks like the Vols will have the edge on the ground on Saturday. Pitt's defense returned just one starter on the defensive line from last season, so this will be a big test for Pat Narduzzi's rebuilding unit. This also will be Tennessee's toughest nonconference game, and if Josh Heupel can defeat the Panthers in Knoxville, Vol fans might start believing he's the head coach to bring Tennessee back to prominence.
One thing that's also cool about this matchup is that both teams will be honoring legendary college football coach Johnny Majors during this game. Majors, who coached at both schools, led the Panthers to a national title in 1976 before heading to Tennessee. He helped the Vols win three SEC championships during his stint from 1977-90. From there, he went back to Pitt, coaching the Panthers from 1993-96.
There are several intriguing games on tap this weekend, including an early SEC East battle between Missouri and Kentucky that I almost picked here.
But I think the choice has to be Washington at Michigan. In fact, it's looking like the game to watch during the evening slate on Saturday, with the possible exception of Texas-Arkansas.
Even if the game ends up not being all that fun to watch, the aftermath of Washington-Michigan is going to be quite entertaining.
If the Huskies lose, they fall to 0-2 (already lost to Montana last weekend) and it will add more fuel to the already raging "THE PAC-12 SUCKS AGAIN!" fire, particularly if Oregon also gets blown out by Ohio State.
But if Jim Harbaugh loses at home to a team that just got embarrassed by an FCS team, buddy, the takes will not be lukewarm.
Which Week 2 Game Will Produce the Most Total Points?
Many of you will probably not even realize that this game exists. To be honest, I can’t blame you. However, SMU and North Texas have the highest total on the board in Week 2—by a significant margin, I might add—and the total score could break 80.
Now, SMU should do much of this damage. The Mustangs dropped a casual 59 in their opener, and there’s a decent possibility they do it again in this sequel. They are more than a three-touchdown favorite here for those keeping score at home, which isn’t good news for the opponent.
Still, North Texas can score. In 2020, the Mean Green averaged more than 40 points per game and finished in the top 25 in scoring offense nationally.
While the score might still be somewhat lopsided, this game could take five hours and keep the scoreboard operators busy.
Could I have picked a more exciting matchup? Of course. But I refuse to lie to you. You deserve the truth, and this game will deliver plenty of scoring.
At this early stage in the season, there are two routes to go with this one: Find the game where both teams might score 40 points or find the game where one team might score 80.
If we're going the former route, I could see both Memphis-Arkansas State and North Texas-SMU exhausting the scorekeeper. North Texas had one of the worst defenses in the nation last season, it had a dude (Deandre Torrey) rush for 244 yards last weekend and SMU's Tanner Mordecai had seven passing touchdowns in Week 1. Arkansas State also had a woeful defense last season, and even in the post-Mike Norvell Era, Memphis remains a threat to drop a 50-burger on any given night.
However, I'm going the latter route with both Clemson (vs. South Carolina State) and Oklahoma (vs. Western Carolina) in need of a feel-better game after a disappointing Week 1 performance. And of the two, I've got to go with the Sooners, as their defense is more likely to actually allow a scoring drive or two against an FCS opponent.
My "official" projection for that one is Oklahoma winning 63-9, but that might just be the halftime score if Lincoln Riley opts to let Spencer Rattler pad his stats for Heisman purposes.
Will the Pac-12 North Improve Upon Its 1-5 Week 1 Disaster?
Yes! Yes it will. But only barely.
There are some terrible teams in that division this year, and while the Pac-12 South looks like it has several teams that can hang with Oregon, the Ducks should run away with that side of the conference.
Even so, it would be a stunner if Oregon went across the country and stole a win from Ohio State at The Shoe. That's one of the two biggest games of the weekend, and while the 12th-ranked Ducks have a chance to win, they will keep it close for three quarters before the Buckeyes distance themselves in the fourth.
After California's offense went cold against Nevada following a 14-0 cushion, there is no real reason to believe the Golden Bears can go to defensive-minded TCU and pull out a win, so that feels like 0-2. Stanford mustered just one score against Kansas State, and now it's going to get beat by USC at the L.A. Coliseum.
Then, you've got the biggest disappointment in Washington, which lost 13-7 to FCS Montana last weekend and now must travel to the Big House. The Wolverines already look better than they have in a few years, and while Washington will rebound and play better, it won't be enough to win.
That leaves Oregon State vs. Hawai'i and Washington State vs. Portland State as the only potential wins, and even those are dicey. We'll give the Pac-12 the benefit of the doubt in those two, but a 2-4 weekend won't inspire a whole lot of confidence.
It can't get much worse than going 1-5 with two losses to Group of Five opponents and one loss to an FCS foe.
But I also don't expect things to get much better.
I've already said I expect Ohio State to beat Oregon. I'm also fairly confident USC will beat Stanford and TCU will beat Cal, given how poorly both the Cardinal and the Golden Bears fared on offense in Week 1. So, there's three losses.
Oregon State should win its home game against Hawai'i. The Beavers lost at Purdue last weekend, but they at least put up a good fight. And Hawai'i already got smoked by one Pac-12 team (UCLA) this season and just gave up 400 passing yards to Portland State.
Speaking of Portland State, the Vikings play at Washington State and I have to pick the Cougars in that one. They blew a late lead in their loss to Utah State, but they should score at will against Portland State.
The wild card is Washington at Michigan, and in spite of those teams' respective Week 1 performances, I'm picking the Huskies to pull off the road upset. Their defense will cause just enough problem for the Wolverines as they adjust to life without star receiver Ronnie Bell.
All told, that's a 3-3 record, but a 1-3 record against Power Five opponents isn't exactly a big step in the right direction here.
Over/Under: 419.5 Passing Yards for Week 2's Top Performer?
Last weekend, Houston Baptist transfer Bailey Zappe racked up 424 yards in his Western Kentucky debut. He was the only player above 419.5, and the Hilltoppers travel to Army this weekend. Not since 2014 has the Army defense allowed a 400-yard game. So, if someone is going to hit 420, it very likely won't be him.
I'm still saying over 419.5, and my eyes are on three players in particular: SMU's Tanner Mordecai, Boston College's Phil Jurkovec and Fresno State's Jake Haener.
Mordecai threw seven touchdowns in the opener, and SMU takes on a North Texas defense that allowed 8.1 yards per pass attempt last year. Jurkovec went for 303 yards in Week 1, and UMass just allowed 375 yards to Pitt—which is not exactly known for its aerial attack. And, lastly, I'll always be monitoring Haener. He topped 420 twice in six games last season, and he's put up 331 on UConn and 298 on Oregon thus far this year.
Definitely over. 420 yards isn't asking much in college football. Heck, in three of the past seven seasons there was a quarterback who averaged better than 420 yards per game.
It's really just a matter of where that big performance comes from in this particular weekend.
It's a weird week for this question, though, with Heisman hopefuls Spencer Rattler, Bryce Young, DJ Uiagalelei and Matt Corral each facing lackluster FCS opponents—translation: unlikely to even play in the fourth quarter. Also, the top passer from Week 1 (Western Kentucky's Bailey Zappe) is facing Army, which—thanks in large part to a rushing attack that constantly bleeds clock—hasn't allowed an opposing quarterback to throw for 410 or more yards even once in the past two decades.
Someone will get there, though.
If it's a well-known name who eclipses 420, the smart money is on UNC's Sam Howell against Georgia State. After that Week 1 offensive dud against Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels are hungry for points. Howell had a pair of games last year with more than 440 yards, and they might keep him out there for most of this one in hopes of developing more in-game rapport with his new targets.
Going severely below the radar, though, give me Colorado State's Todd Centeio. He put up more than 300 yards against South Dakota State last week, and now he gets to face a Vanderbilt secondary which allowed 24 touchdowns against just two interceptions last season.
Over/Under 239.5 Rushing Yards for Week 2's Top Performer?
How about running backs in Week 1? After a 240-yard rushing game only happened nine times in 2020, three players achieved that last weekend.
But, man, expecting a performance that massive is extremely bold. It's never the fun answer, but give me the under.
Yes, early September matchups tend to come against easier opponents. In theory, a standout running back should have the best opportunity for a career-high output.
On the other hand, the matchups tend to be blowouts—and coaches are (generally) not interested in chasing a record so soon. Players are still adjusting to the beginning of a new season, so rotating the running back position is very common. We'll see a few guys break 200 yards, but they'll fall short of 240.
240 rushing yards is a slightly tougher plateau to hit than 420 passing yards, but this, too, feels like more of a "where does it happen?" than a "will it happen?" proposition.
Arizona State's Rachaad White looks like as good a starting point as any. He averaged 10.0 yards per carry last fall for the Sun Devils and had a light warmup of seven carries for 58 yards in an easy win over Southern Utah on Friday. This week, he'll face a UNLV defense that has been pretty darn awful in recent years.
Similar story for Purdue's Alexander Horvath against the no good, very bad defense of Connecticut. Horvath has never had a 200-yard game, but he did eclipse the 100-yard mark in four of his past eight games.
And among the Group of Five candidates, I like Georgia Southern's Logan Wright to have a mammoth day. He rushed 26 times for 178 yards in Week 1, and now he draws a Florida Atlantic defense that just allowed 400 rushing yards against Florida.