The first weekend of the college football season sure lived up to its billing. We had a double OT thriller on Labor Day, an epic comeback by the Chosen Josh Rosen, and marquee performances from some of the nation's best. Going into Week 2, many wonder the legitimacy of certain teams like Michigan, Penn State, USC, and Oklahoma. Their matchups in Week 2 will define how they are perceived going forward in the College Football Playoff race. Here are the five matchups to watch for in a season-defining second week.
Pittsburgh Panthers (1-0) @ #4 Penn State Nittany Lions (1-0)
Saturday, September 9th- 3:30 PM ET on ABC
Beaver Stadium, University Park, PA
The Teams: The Nittany Lions started out the 2017 season in emphatic fashion with a resounding win over Temple. Saquan Barkley, in particular, showed exactly why he has been touted as one of the best players in the entire country. QB Trace McSorley threw for 280 passing yards and two scores while the PSU offense finished with 569 total yards of offense. The defense did exactly what had been expected of them against a non-Power Five opponent and they will look to shut down a far better offensive attack from Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh comes into the Penn State matchup with the same undertones as last year. The Nittany Lions are trending in the right direction back to state dominance and the Panthers are sitting back and hearing all of the disrespect thrown their way. Pitt fans and their players see this game as a true rivalry match up but PSU has never treated it that way. The upset victory last year by the Panthers that ruined PSU's College Football Playoff aspirations may add fuel to the fire on both sides. Pat Narduzzi's familiarity with the school from Happy Valley will help to stave off arguably the best backfield in the country.
The Matchup: The big matchup will be the Pittsburgh offense paired against Penn State's defense. Just like last year, Penn State figures to not have much trouble with scoring the ball, the question will be whether they can hold Narduzzi's squad to under 30 points. Last year's matchup was a shootout that the Nittany Lions lost and to make things comfortable, they will need to have their defense show some championship caliber against a side that has been an irritant for a few years now. Motivation will be a huge factor on both sides and familiarity will breed a lot of contempt. Look for this game to be one of the more hotly contested matchups on Saturday even if the score doesn't reflect that.
Prediction: Penn State 34- 20
Nebraska Cornhuskers (1-0) @ Oregon Ducks (1-0)
Saturday, September 9th- 4:30 PM ET on FOX
Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR
The Teams: A major matchup that has gone under the radar so far this year. Willie Taggert's Oregon Ducks are facing off against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a matchup of “has-been” programs. Oregon and Nebraska alike are looking to light a fire under their programs back to championship caliber football and a matchup on national television should really help that effort out. Nebraska comes into Autzen Stadium having just experienced a close brawl with Arkansas State. The Cornhuskers running game seems to have found its permanent fix in Tre Bryant. The sophomore running back ran for 192 yards on 31 carries in a close game where he went on to lead the Huskers to victory. Nebraska's defense did not prove to so prolific; giving up 415 passing yards, 82 rushing yards, and 36 points to a non-Power Five opponent at home. Facing the Ducks, Nebraska's defense will want to avoid forcing a shootout against a superior offensive program.
Oregon had the inverse of Nebraska in their opening game. The Ducks offense flexed their muscle again, scoring 77 points and notching 702 total yards on offense. This appears to be a welcome return to form for the Ducks who had floundered since the departure of star QB Marcus Marriota. QB Justin Herbert looks primed to take advantage of a Nebraska secondary that was burned for over 400 yards against Arkansas State.
The Matchup: The secondary of Nebraska must perform better than they did in Week 1. Taggert is an offensive stalwart and will look to expose Nebraska any chance he has. The effort of the Cornhuskers will be in combining the power running game they flexed with Bryant and a better defensive effort in the passing game. Hopefully, for Huskers fans, the ability of Bryant will keep Oregon off the field long enough for the defense to make proper adjustments and rotate in fresh players to keep Oregon under 40 points.
Prediction: Nebraska 36- 31
#13 Auburn Tigers (1-0) @ #3 Clemson Tigers (1-0)
Saturday, September 9th- 7:00 PM ET on ESPN
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
The Teams: A pair of Tigers will be fighting in the pits of Death Valley on Saturday night. One program comes in with a lot to prove and the potential to elevate their CFP chances. Auburn looks to be the heavy favorite to contend with Alabama for the SEC crown and their first major step will be to have a major non-conference win over the reigning National Champions. Auburn's main man, Jarrett Stidham, will be in full focus for the Clemson defense. The entirety of Auburn's effort will revolve around Stidham's play. Not much can be pulled from the (AUB) Tigers performance against Georgia Southern. This game will be the first major step to see the legitimacy of Auburn's claim to challenging their dreaded Iron Bowl rivals.
Clemson seems to be in the Alabama school of rinse and repeat. We at DSN have discussed how transformative the National Championship victory was for Clemson as a program and turning them into a truly Blue Blood school. Early looks at Dabo Swinney's new squad seem to reaffirm that fact with the debut of Kelly Bryant at QB. Bryant was sensational against Kent State with 72.7% passing accuracy, 236 passing yards, and one passing touchdown. His command of the offense and the comfort ability for which he played had some national media touting him as the second Deshaun Watson.
The Matchup: Clemson's defense seems ready for another CFP run. The edge speed and solid defensive back play have continued into the 2017 year but they will be challenged greatly by Stidham. Clemson arguably hasn't seen a QB of Stidham's caliber since their matchup against Louisville in mid-season 2016. Will Stidham keep his poise? Or will the terrifying prowess of Clemson's pass rush force him into mistakes? The crowd will be charged and ready to defend Death Valley and how Stidham handles a dangerous Clemson front will determine the outcome of the game.
Prediction: Auburn 31- 30
#5 Oklahoma Sooners (1-0) @ #2 Ohio State Buckeyes (1-0) *STAR GAME
Saturday, September 9th- 7:30 PM ET on ABC
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
The Teams: Is there much to say about these two teams that hasn't been said already? Ohio State had its expected scare with Indiana before blowing the Hoosiers out in the second half. OSU looked suspect for a half in the passing game again, and the defense had at least shown some vulnerability in the passing game. After halftime, however, the offense racked up the pressure and sprinted through the finish line to the tune of over 40 points. JT Barrett picked up where he left off in 2016 but in the second half looked far more comfortable and in command of the offense that new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson implemented.
Oklahoma doesn't seem to have lost a step without longtime head coach Bob Stoops. Lincoln Riley has proven in the past to be a prolific offensive mind and in his first game in Norman, had star QB Baker Mayfield and the offense firing on all cylinders again. The performance from Mayfield was obscenely impressive; having only one incompletion on 20 passing attempts, 329 passing yards, and 3 touchdowns to boot. Mayfield's offseason issues seem to be behind him and the Sooners look primed for their matchup Saturday night.
The Matchup: Much has been said (or shamelessly slathered) about the Ohio State defensive front. The front four, in particular, caused havoc for Indiana in the second half and it was clear that talent took over in that half. Will Baker Mayfield succumb to that pressure? It is inevitable he will be put into broken play situations, but Mayfield has proven in the past that he is more than capable of dealing with that type of pressure. His offensive efficiency in the first game and the stride that the Sooners are in will clash in direct contrast with the defensive talent and offensive speed of Ohio State. This will be a high scoring game and will come down to which Heisman hopeful will have the ball last.
The Outcome: Oklahoma 42- 35
#14 Stanford Cardinal (1-0) @ #6 USC Trojans (1-0)
Saturday, September 9th- 8:30 PM ET on FOX
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
The Teams: The Stanford Cardinal again bring a vaunted side to LA Memorial Coliseum. Head coach David Shaw has the Cardinal machine churning again with an emphatic victory over Rice in their season opener. Stanford has traditionally done well in their matchups against quality USC sides and Saturday night looks to be no different. Despite their #14 ranking, many have had Stanford as a dark horse to make the college playoff and this matchup was seen as the turning point for that potential.
USC meanwhile almost slipped into old habits by dropping an early season game. With all the hype and praise that USC has received since their Rose Bowl victory, it seemed like Sam Darnold and the Trojans were going to get off to a roaring start. What happened instead, was an upstart Western Michigan team challenged the Men of Troy to the very last minute and gave the Trojan offense and defense fits. The pressure mounted and at times Sam Darnold looked far less than the player who has NFL aspirations. Western gave them their best and the Trojans were lucky they didn't repeat old habits and drop another September game.
The Matchup: The mental side of this game will determine the winner. Stanford will be poised, collected, and ready to put the hurt on good ole' Troy. USC will either fold under this pressure or they will finally take a step to restoring the glory of the Trojan program. Whoever is able to get the mental edge on the other will win this matchup.
Prediction: USC 28- 24
- Biggest Winner- Baylor (-17.0) vs. UT San Antonio
- Upset Special- Boise State Broncos (+10.0) @ #20 Washington State Cougars
- Team to watch- #15 Georgia Bulldogs (@ #24 Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
- Player to watch- Tarik Black, WR Michigan (vs. Cincinnati)