A wild Week 2 of college football may have lacked the number of marquee matchups of Week 1, but still delivered plenty of drama as some top contenders showed warts, the Pac-12’s playoff hopes rose from the ashes, and a new team staked a claim for Big Ten supremacy.
OREGON AT OHIO STATE
In the game of the weekend, Oregon knocked off Ohio State 35-28 in Columbus, upending the College Football Playoff race in the process and handing Ohio State coach Ryan Day his first career regular season loss. Despite being outgained by more than 100 yards while giving up 612 (!) total yards, the Ducks defense stepped up when it mattered, as the Buckeyes were 6-15 on third down and 2-5 on fourth down, including a crucial turnover on downs inside their own 10-yard line and a late interception to seal the win. On offense, the Ducks flipped the script, as the team from the “finesse” Pac-12 ran for 269 yards on 7.1 YPC against the team from the “physical” Big Ten. Ohio State DC Kerry Coombs and the Buckeye defense had no answer for Oregon’s combination of RB CJ Verdell and QB Anthony Brown.
Having lived in Columbus for most of my childhood, I know that this loss will not sit well in Buckeye Nation, and despite the fact that he threw for 484 yards, the pressure will ratchet up on freshman QB CJ Stroud, especially with talented and more-heralded backups waiting in the wings. Of bigger concern should be the banged-up Ohio State offensive line, as the Buckeyes were only able to run for 128 yards even though Oregon was without two top defensive starters, All-American DE Kayvon Thibodeaux and LB Justin Flowe.
IOWA AT IOWA STATE
In the first-ever battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy with both teams ranked in the top-10, the Iowa defense squeezed the life out of the Iowa State offense and potentially ignited a quarterback controversy in Ames. Cyclone QB Brock Purdy – considered a strong pre-season Heisman contender – was benched in the 4th quarter by head coach Matt Campbell. Though Campbell gave Purdy a vote of confidence after the game, Iowa State has been one of the most disappointing teams of 2021.
On the flip side, the Iowa defense staked its claim as the best in the nation, extending the nation’s longest streak of holding opponents under 25 points to 24 games. Iowa’s defense held the Cyclones to only 5.9 yards per pass attempt and 3-12 third down conversions, forced 4 turnovers, scored its third defensive touchdown of the season. That defense will ensure the Hawkeyes are in every game, but to win the Big Ten the offense must improve. Though the Iowa offense did not commit a turnover and won the time of possession battle, the Hawkeyes had only 173 total yards, including just 67 rushing yards on 1.7 YPC. For a program that hangs its hat on having a physical offensive line, that is unacceptable. Iowa QB Spencer Petras will have to start making some big plays downfield to force defenses to respect the pass.
- One of the major themes of the weekend was top contenders living on the edge but managing to survive. Though two top-10 teams lost (Ohio State and Iowa State), both of those losses were to ranked opponents. However, #5 Texas A&M and #8 Notre Dame needed late touchdowns to avoid upsets against Colorado and Toledo, respectively. Additionally, #7 Cincinnati was tied 7-7 at halftime with FCS Murray State before pulling away in the second half.
- Speaking of Notre Dame, the Irish’s win against Toledo unfortunately played out exactly how I thought it would when I predicted a close 37-30 win in the Irish Breakdown Friday predictions. The Irish played flat, lethargic football against a capable, well-coached, motivated opponent, lost the turnover battle, and failed to physically dominate at the line of scrimmage. But – they still found a way to win. I think this close win was what this team needed. I’m not ready to give up on this team yet, and I just have a feeling that an angry Notre Dame team comes out next week and dominates Purdue.
- I am extremely interested to see the Peacock ratings for the Notre Dame game this weekend. Last weekend, the ND-FSU game maxed out at 8.8 million viewers, making it the most watched Sunday night college football game in history. Even if only a fifth of that audience paid to tune into the Toledo game on Peacock and paid $4.99, that would be over $8.5 million. Streaming services are the future, and without conference ties and a partnership with a network that owns a streaming service, the Irish can be poised to cash in. Whether this is good for the fan is up for debate, but there’s no doubt that it is exciting for the athletic department and offers Notre Dame a competitive advantage.
- Georgia found its offense behind backup QB Stetson Bennett, who threw for 288 yards and 5 TDs on just 12 passing attempts against a solid UAB team. If the Bulldogs can maintain that offensive success to go along with a stifling defense, they will give Alabama all they can handle in a presumptive SEC Championship game matchup.
- I wasn’t surprised to see Michigan sneak into the latest batch of top-25 rankings, but I’m not sold on the Wolverines even after they beat Washington 31-10. It’s great that the Wolverines ran for 343 yards and 6.1 YPC against Washington (who lost to an FCS school last week), but until they demonstrate the ability to throw the football, their ceiling is limited. They didn’t need to throw it much, but passing for only 44 yards on 2.9 yards per attempt is pathetic, and with WR Ronnie Bell out for the season, they lack a proven downfield threat. Reality will return to Ann Arbor after an October 2nd visit to Wisconsin.
- Texas is not back, and any Longhorn fan who thought Texas could just waltz into the upper echelon of the SEC got a major wake-up call. Arkansas – though improving – was thought by most prognosticators to be clearly behind Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss, and Auburn in the SEC West pecking order. However, the Hogs dominated the Longhorns in Fayetteville, racing out to a 33-7 lead en route to a 40-21 win. Though that SEC TV money may be green – the grass on the other side may not be. Head coach Steve Sarkisian has his work to do. Job #1 is re-establishing a physical culture at Texas, as the program has become soft and entitled. Texas gave up 333 yards rushing on 7.1 YPC to Arkansas, and on the flip side, ran for only 138 yards on 3.4 YPC despite having All-American RB Bijan Robinson.
- So many College Football Playoff narratives changed in just a few short hours in Columbus. The Pac-12, which had been left for dead after a rough Week 1, suddenly has the inside track to its first CFP berth since 2016, with Oregon owning the best victory of the season after taking down the Buckeyes in Columbus. The Pac-12’s ascent came at the expense of fellow “Alliance” member, the Big Ten. Ohio State had been presumed a lock for the playoff along with Alabama and Oklahoma but looks extremely vulnerable on defense. Iowa is playing the best football in the Big Ten but has a very suspect offense. Right now, the SEC has a real shot to get two teams in the playoff if Alabama and Georgia are both undefeated going into the conference championship game, but every other contender – including Oregon – has shown major flaws. This should make for a very entertaining regular season as after the Crimson Tide, there is much more parity among the top 10-15 teams than in past seasons.
- Speaking of parity, the FCS struck again! After 6 FCS schools scored victories over FBS brethren in Week 1, Duquense knocked off Ohio and Jacksonville State shocked Florida State on a last second Hail Mary where the Seminoles inexplicably failed to play prevent defense. The 8 victories by FCS teams over FCS opponents is already the most since 2017 (when there were 9) through only two weeks. Keep in mind that the FCS played a spring season, which I believe gives them an advantage, since so many of these teams are not dealing with the same opening week sloppiness as FBS schools – they’re essentially in midseason form.
BIGGEST WINNERS OF THE WEEKEND
- Oregon: The Ducks had the biggest win of the weekend knocking off then-#3 Ohio State in Columbus despite missing All-American DE Kayvon Thibodeaux. If they win out, Oregon will give the Pac-12 its first CFP berth since Washington in 2016.
- Iowa: In addition to beating archrival Iowa State for the 6th consecutive time, no other team in the country owns two victories over ranked opponents. Iowa’s defense will always give it a chance. If the offense can catch up, this team could make some CFP noise.
- BYU: The Cougars were a touchdown underdog at home but during a downpour shut down the Utah Utes offense and won the Holy War for the first time in a decade.
- Notre Dame and Texas A&M: Yes, both teams were sloppy and needed late touchdowns to pull out victories against opponents that on paper they should have blown out. Yes, both teams dropped in the polls this week. But, both teams are still undefeated, and the CFP race has increasingly become like March Madness – above all else, just survive and advance. At the end of the day, there won’t be 4 other undefeated teams, and its better to win ugly in September and win pretty in November than vice versa. Each team will have plenty of opportunities to right the ship and both still control their own destinies.
BIGGEST LOSERS OF THE WEEKEND
- USC: Head coach Clay Helton may have sealed his pink slip with the uninspired effort his Trojan team put up (at home no less) against a Stanford team that was listless in a 24-7 Week 1 loss to Kansas State. The Trojans were hurt by a lack of discipline, committing 9 penalties for 111 yards. Not a good look.
- Florida State: The Notre Dame game feels like a year ago, rather than a week ago. The resilient Seminole team, led by QB McKenzie Milton, that pushed the Irish to the edge surrendered a Hail Mary pass as time expired to lose to Jacksonville State. The culture problems that plagued the Seminoles the last five years resurfaced, as FSU had 114 penalty yards and only converted 5-14 third downs (and 0-2 fourth downs).
- Iowa State: There needs to be soul-searching in Ames this week, as the Cyclones were physically dominated by rival Iowa after squeaking by FCS Northern Iowa in Week 1. For all the preseason hype, QB Brock Purdy has thrown 0 TDs against 3 interceptions and RB Breece Hall has run for only 138 yards while averaging 3.5 YPC.
- Washington: In losses to Montana and Michigan, the Washington offense when 20 straight drives without scoring a point after they took the opening drive of the season down the field for a touchdown. The schedule softens a bit over the next couple weeks before a visit from UCLA on October 16th.
- Texas: The Texas decision to bolt the Big 12 and its historic rivals for the SEC was motivated by one thing – greed. No one is going to shed a tear, then, when the Longhorns were dominated by an Arkansas team that has won only 7 SEC games since 2016.
BIGGEST GAMES OF WEEK 3
- Purdue at #12 Notre Dame, 2:30 PM ET – NBC
- #1 Alabama at #11 Florida, 3:30 PM ET – CBS
- #22 Auburn at #10 Penn State, 7:30 PM ET – ESPN
- Virginia at #21 North Carolina, 7:30 PM ET – ACCN
- #19 Arizona State at #23 BYU – 10:15 PM ET - ESPN
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