Week 2 is almost loaded with enough great games for neutral fans to forgive the major networks for cramming every marquee matchup into the same window. Almost.
Four games with national implications (Clemson-Auburn, Georgia–Notre Dame, Ohio State–Oklahoma and Stanford-USC) are scheduled to kick off within a span of 90 minutes on Saturday night from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET, setting up an evening that could pose the most frustrating channel-flipping quandary of the season. Based on the results of those eight teams' season openers, all four could come down to the wire—and as they scramble to keep up, viewers could still be missing out on the end of the first SEC game of the season, or the opening minutes of a pair of late-night measuring-stick games out west.
That’s not to say you’re free to unplug from the college football world until supper time. Multiple ranked teams find themselves playing earlier in the day (if they’re still playing this weekend at all) as schools in the southeast scramble to adjust their schedules for the arrival of Hurricane Irma, and a pair of in-state rivalries were already expected to spice up the afternoon action.
Below, our writers and editors make their picks for Week 2, then take turns defending them. The list of pickers: Andy Staples, Bruce Feldman, Joan Niesen, Chris Johnson, Eric Single, Molly Geary and Scooby Axson.
Northwestern at Duke (12 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Molly Geary picks Northwestern: The Wildcats needed far longer than they should have to put away Nevada, trailing midway through the fourth quarter before quarterback Clayton Thorson willed them to victory. He and standout back Justin Jackson should be too much for a young Blue Devils defense to contain.
Iowa at Iowa State (12 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Chris Johnson picks Iowa:The great EDSBS has dubbed this game “El Assico,” but it actually might be a pretty good watch this year. Iowa’s blowout win over Wyoming last week served notice that it’s a dark horse to beat out Wisconsin in the Big Ten West.
Pittsburgh at Penn State (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Bruce Feldman picks Penn State: The Nittany Lions will get their revenge after last season’s loss in this game cost them a playoff spot. This is a much improved Penn State team on both sides of the ball since that meeting, and their confidence is on a completely different level. I don’t think the Panthers have enough on defense to slow down Saquon Barkley and that big athletic group of receivers.
TCU at Arkansas (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Eric Single picks TCU: Last year’s meeting in Fort Worth was a doozy, so I don’t expect much separation, but I’m not giving up on Kenny Hill’s college career just yet. He outduels Razorbacks quarterback Austin Allen once both offenses find their footing and pulls out a big non-conference win that give the Horned Frogs invaluable momentum entering a brutal four-game stretch ahead.
Nebraska at Oregon (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox)
Andy Staples picks Oregon: Take the over in this one, because neither defense seems equipped to stop either offense. But the Ducks likely will score faster.
South Carolina at Missouri (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Joan Niesen picks South Carolina: Last week, Will Muschamp’s team beat a good NC State squad in Charlotte; meanwhile, Missouri beat FCS foe Missouri State at home by 29 points—while allowing the Bears to score 35 in the first half. The Tigers will need to show some signs of life on defense before I predict an SEC win for them.
Auburn at Clemson (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Andy Staples picks Clemson: Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham gets tailback Kamryn Pettway and receiver Kyle Davis back, but they still must deal with Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence along the defensive line. Meanwhile, the Clemson offense seems to be plenty loaded without Deshaun Watson.
Oklahoma at Ohio State (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Bruce Feldman picks Ohio State: I was tempted to pick the Sooners because I expect Baker Mayfield to play much better than he did in last year’s meeting, and Oklahoma’s O-line matches up pretty well against the deep and talented Buckeyes front. The difference will be the Buckeyes’ ability to run the ball. If this game was in Norman again, I’d pick OU, but it’s not.
Georgia at Notre Dame (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Chris Johnson picks Notre Dame: Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm looked good against Appalachian State last week, but Notre Dame counterpart Brandon Wimbush will outplay the true freshman in his first college start. Junior tailback Josh Adams gives the Fighting Irish a dangerous rushing threat to match Georgia’s tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
Stanford at USC (8:30 p.m. ET, Fox)
Joan Niesen picks USC: The Trojans took three quarters to hit their stride against a good Western Michigan team in Week 1, but now that they've found their scoring pace, I expect that to keep up at home against Stanford, which hasn’t played in two weeks since it cruised past Rice in Australia.
Utah at BYU (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Eric Single picks Utah: BYU has faced two opponents at opposite ends of the talent spectrum in Portland State and LSU, and the Cougars have looked hopeless on offense in both situations. New Utes starting QB Tyler Huntley showed enough last week for me to believe he can handle the partisan crowd in Provo.
Boise State at Washington State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Molly Geary picks Washington State: Yes, it was against Montana State, but Luke Falk opened the year with a sharp performance that included a perfect 20-for-20 first half. Meanwhile, Broncos starting QB Brett Rypien struggled against Troy, and things will only get tougher against WSU on the road. Boise likely needs another big game from its defense to keep it close.