The “greatest opening weekend ever” will be followed by a sophomore slump. Yes, after the binge comes the hangover. It’s the first time since 2012 that no ranked teams are meeting on the same weekend, and outside of a few in-state rivalries, there aren’t many games that generate much excitement. Iowa plays Iowa State in the first game since Kirk Ferentz received another contract extension, Pitt and Penn State renew their rivalry, but you’d barely know what Panthers players and staff think about it since Pat Narduzzi essentially shut out the media from all team activities. We’ve got some low-key fun ones for college football devotees, but the slate is decidedly less exciting than last week’s. Let’s dive in.
No. 13 Louisville at Syracuse (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN): Your Friday night is probably better spent out and about the town then ingesting a mid-tier ACC matchup, but this will be the first national exposure for Dino Babers’ offense. Babers is one of few coaches who has command of the system Art Briles mastered at Baylor, and while it got off to a bit of a rocky start in the Orange’s 33–7 win over Colgate, the attack still has Louisville coach Bobby Petrino a bit worried.
Petrino called the ACC to argue that the chains must be set before the ball is snapped, a clear sign that he’s concerned about keeping Syracuse’s pace under control. The conference contradicted Petrino’s statement, but it’ll surely be a strategy that Petrino employs to keep the Orange from developing a rhythm. It’s also a chance to see Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson, who accounted for eight touchdowns in one half of Louisville’s opening-night rout of Charlotte, against a better defense.
UCF at No. 5 Michigan (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ABC): The intrigue surrounding UCF is similar to that surrounding Syracuse. Knights coach Scott Frost started his tenure with a 38–0 win over South Carolina State, a strong indication he’s making progress planting the seeds of the offense he captained as Oregon’s offensive coordinator. He’ll get his staunchest test of the season against Michigan, who smothered an exhausted Hawaii team in a 63–3 blowout last Saturday. While preseason Heisman candidate Jabrill Peppers showcased his innumerable talents, Michigan’s standout defender of the game was linebacker Mike McCray, who posted nine tackles (3.5 for loss) and earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. New defensive coordinator Don Brown unleashed the Wolverines against the Rainbow Warriors, and it’ll be fascinating to see if he uses a similar approach against Frost’s up-tempo scheme.
SMU at No. 23 Baylor (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, FS1): Whether or not this game is competitive, it’ll be a showcase for Mustangs head coach Chad Morris, who is viewed as a potential candidate for the Baylor job in the off-season. Wide receiver Courtland Sutton snagged three touchdown passes and racked up 162 yards for SMU in its opener and might be the deep threat needed to stretch out Baylor’s defense. This should also be the first real test to see whether the Bears can overcome its off-season departures after they demolished an overmatched Northwestern State squad last Friday.
Utah State at USC (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks): This game shouldn’t appear anywhere near this list, but it does since USC looks like it might be unraveling in the first year of Clay Helton’s tenure. First came the horrific rape allegations surrounding linebackers Osa Masina and Don Hill (the two won’t play on Saturday, but had been practicing with the team after the allegations surfaced). Then it was JuJu Smith-Schuster, probably the best wideout in college football, fighting teammates and removing himself from practice. After the Trojans’ 46-point humiliation at the hands of Alabama in Dallas, it’s hard to envision a worse start to the season for one of college football’s blueblood programs. And donors and fans alike must be questioning the decision to remove the interim tag from Helton’s title last November.
Now they get Utah State, a team that shouldn’t be able to keep up, but just might. The Aggies feature one of college football’s brightest young head coaches in Matt Wells and a sturdy running back in Devante Mays, who rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns in their 45–6 rout of Weber State last week. An upset seems unlikely, but keep an eye on this one.
Iowa State at Iowa (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network): Talk about old guard vs. new … If Ferentz completes the contract he signed this week, he will have coached Iowa football for 28 seasons (!!!). Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, conversely, is in the first year of his stint in Ames. The Cyclones were upset by a solid Northern Iowa program last weekend, so few are expecting the Hawkeyes, a team that won 12 games and reached the Rose Bowl last season, to struggle. But the Cy-Hawk rivalry has produced craziness in the past, and the atmosphere itself is always interesting.
Cal at San Diego State (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN): Aztecs coach Rocky Long is known for trotting out tough defenses and Bears head coach Sonny Dykes is a spread-offense mastermind. Cal will put up points; the question is whether it can prevent San Diego State from doing the same. The Bears were burned for a host of long plays in their opener against Hawaii and put virtually no pressure on Hawaii quarterback Ikaika Woolsey. Aztecs star running back Donnel Pumphrey, who rushed for 1678 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, should give Cal’s defense a ton of trouble, but San Diego State will need to limit Bears quarterback Davis Webb, who coasted to an easy 441 passing yards and four touchdowns in Cal’s opener.
Penn State at Pitt (Saturday, Noon ET, ESPN): An old rivalry renewed! For their first meeting in 16 years, the Panthers and Nittany Lions will take to Heinz Field. Pitt will be motivated by James Conner, who’s set to play in his second game since his cancer went into remission, while Penn State boasts an arguably better running back in Saquon Barkley.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi will dial up an aggressive defensive strategy to try and exploit a shaky Penn State offensive line and an untested quarterback in Trace McSorley. It’s meeting No. 96 between the two sides, and the historically successful programs are looking for 21st-century revitalizations.
Arkansas at TCU (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN): This matchup presents a compelling stylistic contrast: Bret Bielema revels in his pro-style, smashmouth attack, while TCU offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham are two of the finest spread offense architects in the nation. If the Razorbacks can limit the Horned Frogs’ high-flying offense, expect a memorable Bielema postgame remark echoing his description of Arkansas’s 2014 bowl victory over Texas as “borderline erotic”.
BYU at Utah (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX): The Holy War always promises to be one of the most physical and passionate games of the year, and the 2016 rendition features a tantalizing matchup between BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and Utah’s staunch defense. After logging an impressive Week 1 win over Arizona, new Cougars coach Kalani Sitake can make himself the most popular man in Provo if he knocks off the favored Utes.
Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC): Rev up those engines: It’s football at Bristol Motor Speedway! The football game is almost secondary to whatever debauchery will take place beforehand. Tennessee’s offense flopped in its opener against Appalachian State, while Virginia Tech is still adjusting to Justin Fuente’s high-octane scheme. With well over 100,000 fans ready to join the party, the scene will be more than enough to make for the best viewing of the weekend.
Texas Tech at Arizona State (Saturday at 10:00 p.m. ET, FS1): Arizona State finished dead last in passing defense last season. It surrendered 24 pass plays of at least 40 yards. Texas Tech finished second in the nation in total passing last season and is led by a quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who could be a first-round draft pick. Expect a lot of points in this one.
Washington State at Boise State (Saturday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2): Boise State is a popular choice to be this year’s Group of Five darling if Houston ever loses a game. Washington State was one of this season’s Cinderellas until it lost its opener to Eastern Washington. It’s rare that Week 2 is a focal point for any team’s season, but both of these teams’ fortunes will change considerably based on what happens this week.