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  • Clemson and Georgia both face their first road tests of the season in Week 2. Will either slip up? Our experts weigh in on the weekend's most important games.
By The SI Staff
September 06, 2018

The first full weekend of college football was heavy on action but light on upsets: The only member of the AP’s preseason Top 25 to lose to an unranked opponent in Week 1 was Texas, and the extent to which the Longhorns’ August optimism came from a place of logic remains up for debate. With one game in the books, the groundwork has been laid for some heavyweight bouts in late September and October—as long as the top teams can make it through the rest of their non-conference tests unscathed. Meanwhile in the SEC and Pac-12, Week 2 brings the year’s first marquee conference game that should help set the pecking order before league play begins in earnest.

Our eight college football writers and editors make their picks for Week 2’s 12 most interesting games below, taking turns defendng their answers.

Season-long standings

Scooby Axson: 10–2 (83.3%)
Andy Staples: 9–3 (75%)
Ross Dellenger: 7–5 (58.3%)
Molly Geary: 7–5 (58.3%)
Laken Litman: 6–6 (50%)
Joan Niesen: 6–6 (50%)
Eric Single: 5–7 (41.7%)
Max Meyer: 5–7 (41.7%)

Mississippi State at Kansas State (Noon ET, ESPN)

Andy Staples picks Mississippi State: Kansas State’s narrow win against South Dakota was sloppier than usual, but look for the Wildcats to be back to their usual disciplined selves. Still, that probably won’t be enough to stop a Mississippi State team that has quarterback Nick Fitzgerald on the field for the first time since an injury in last year’s Egg Bowl. Fitzgerald, who was suspended for the season opener against Stephen F. Austin, has good reason to be sharp. Backup Keytaon Thompson has been outstanding in relief, so Fitzgerald can’t afford to slip.

Arizona at Houston (Noon ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Ross Dellenger picks Arizona: This one is dripping with storylines. Kevin Sumlin, the former Houston coach, makes his first return to the place he left in 2011, where he won 35 games in four years. Two Heisman hopefuls, Arizona QB Khalil Tate and Houston DT Ed Oliver, meet. Each of those players started their campaigns in diametrically different ways. Oliver had 13 tackles, 3.5 for loss, in a win over Rice, while Tate managed just 14 rushing yards in a loss to BYU.

Duke at Northwestern (Noon ET, ESPNU)

Joan Niesen picks Northwestern: Clayton Thorson looked good in Week 1 if not entirely healthy, and he and his receivers face a tough pass defense in the Blue Devils. Still, the Wildcats’ defense should be stout enough to get to Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, whose welcoming of contact fits well with his weak offensive line. Duke shocked Northwestern with a blowout victory in Durham a year ago, but it's hard to imagine a repeat.

UCLA at Oklahoma (1 p.m. ET, FOX)

Molly Geary picks Oklahoma: Chip Kelly's second game at UCLA seems bound to go much worse—even if more expected—than the opening loss to Cincinnati. The Sooners pummeled a good FAU team in Week 1 on the strength of the talented QB-RB duo of Kyler Murray and Rodney Anderson, the latter of whom the Bruins will likely struggle to contain after giving up 194 yards on the ground to the Bearcats. This one could get ugly early.

Georgia at South Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Eric Single picks Georgia: This game sets the course for the rest of the SEC East. Is it a race for second behind Georgia, or are the Bulldogs vulnerable? The Gamecocks have weapons in the passing game other than receiver Deebo Samuel, who will be the best player on either side of the line of scrimmage when they have the ball. Rico Dowdle looks cut out to lead a serviceable South Carolina rushing attack. Williams-Brice Stadium treats Georgia with a hostility typically reserved only for Clemson. But the Bulldogs have a game-breaking receiver of their own in Cal transfer Demetris Robertson, who ripped off a 72-yard touchdown run against Austin Peay. Georgia will find the one extra explosive play needed to get out of Columbia alive.

Colorado at Nebraska (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Scooby Axson picks Nebraska: The old Big 12 rivals are back at it, playing for the first time in eight years due to conference realignment. Scott Frost and true freshman QB Adrian Martinez will finally make their debuts after the Huskers’ opener against Akron was cancelled because of weather. The excitement for Frost and a new offense should be enough for a win.

Iowa State at Iowa (5 p.m. ET, FOX)

Laken Litman picks Iowa: Don’t ask Kirk Ferentz if he cares about Iowa’s rich rivalry with Iowa State, because to believe otherwise is “insulting” to him. Plus, his Hawkeyes have a chance to do something that they’ve never done during his tenure: go on four-game winning streak against the Cyclones. The Hawkeyes have a bit of an advantage after getting Week 1 one off to a solid start with a 33–7 win over Northern Illinois, while Iowa State will be playing its first game after its matchup with South Dakota State last Saturday was cancelled due to weather.

Clemson at Texas A&M (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Ross Dellenger picks Clemson: Is this the game that “Sunshine” takes over as the Tigers’ starting quarterback? True freshman Trevor Lawrence dazzled in his debut as Kelly Bryant’s backup. Expect both of the QBs to play once again in College Station, but maybe this is where the rookie takes over. Jimbo Fisher began his 10-year tenure in Aggie Land with 758 yards and a school-record 40 first downs against Northwestern State. Something tells me that won’t happen against the Tigers and their defensive front.

Kentucky at Florida (7:30 p.m. ET, SECN)

Laken Litman picks Florida: Is this the year Kentucky ends a 31-game losing streak to Florida? The season is young and so is the Dan Mullen era. Plus, Kentucky’s five losses under Mark Stoops have come by an average of fewer than two touchdowns, which suggests the gap between these teams is closing. Not to mention these Gators allowed Charleston Southern to rush for 222 yards on 5.2 yards per carry in the opener and the Wildcats ran for nearly 300 yards in theirs, with two backs going for more than 100 yards. Still ... not this year.

Penn State at Pitt (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Scooby Axson picks Penn State: The Nittany Lions are on high alert squeaking out an overtime win against Appalachian State. It is the 99th meeting between the in-state rivals, and Pittsburgh will be playing the first of three non-conference games with teams that won 10 or more games in 2017. Expect Penn State to be better than it was in Week 1, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

USC at Stanford (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

Max Meyer picks Stanford: USC's 22-point win over UNLV to start the season was a lot closer than the score indicated. The Trojans gave up 308 rushing yards on 7.2 yards per carry to the Runnin’ Rebels, so Bryce Love will be licking his chops going up against that defensive front. Stanford doesn't have a one-dimensional offense anymore, thanks to the budding aerial duo of K.J. Costello and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Oh yeah, and the Cardinal are in a double-revenge spot after the Trojans swept both games last season, including the Pac-12 championship game.

Michigan State at Arizona State (10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Eric Single picks Michigan State: The Spartans have everyone right where they want them. Herm Edwards gained some believers in a comfortable season-opening blowout of UTSA, 24 hours after Michigan State escaped a spirited upset bid from Utah State. Every year, Mark Dantonio's teams play their best from the moment everyone writes them off as frauds. The Spartans didn't seem to have properly prepared for their Mountain West foes' tempo on offense; that should be fixed moving forward.

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