by Ian Boyd
The first week of the college football season didn't hold too many surprises ... until the Sunday and Monday games. LSU completely obliterated a Miami team that was expected to be an ACC contender and perhaps a playoff participant, 33-17. Then on Monday night the new-look Florida State Seminoles took it on the chin 24-3 against Virginia Tech. It's always dangerous to overreact to Week 1 in college football. These kids often buckle down and figure things out, but they can also crater and fall apart. Such are the joys of riding the roller coaster with a non-professional team that competes in front of millions of viewers.
Week 2 is fascinating. Of the six games we're focusing on, the road team is favored in five. That makes for a potentially tumultuous Week 2 where more dominoes drop. We have the "quarterback run" bowl between Mississippi State and Kansas State; Georgia's first test of the year against South Carolina; Jimbo Fisher's first big game at Texas A&M as the Aggies host Clemson; the Penn State-Pittsburgh rivalry; USC vs. Stanford; and finally, Michigan State taking on another western team late at night after barely surviving 39-33 against Utah State in Week 1.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Mississippi State (-9.5) at Kansas State -- 12 noon (ESPN)
|Overall||Mississippi State||Kansas State||Projected F/+||14||46||When Mississippi State has the ball||Offense||Defense||Projected S&P+||33||78||2017 FEI||39||50||2017 S&P+||63||78||2017 IsoPPP+||61||54||2017 Rushing S&P+||18||38||2017 Passing S&P+||37||85||When Kansas State has the ball||Defense||Offense||Projected S&P+||78||37||2017 FEI||8||64||2017 S&P+||19||52||2017 IsoPPP+||26||74||2017 Rushing S&P+||16||56||2017 Passing S&P+||4||93|
The "quarterback run" bowl! Joe Moorhead was a well-regarded FCS head coach and offensive mind before taking the offensive coordinator job at Penn State, and he helped to jump-start the James Franklin era in State College. He brought run/pass options to the Penn State offensive arsenal as well as a variety of spread run game tactics like "BASH" (back away) runs that made good use of quarterback Trace McSorley's running ability and running back Saquon Barkley's explosiveness on the edge. Now he's coaching quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who ran for 1,025 yards in 2017, and running back Aeris Williams, who went for 1,107 yards.
Meanwhile, Kansas State has been punching above its weight for decades now, combining JUCO transfers and walk-ons with local kids and the occasional national recruit and then whipping more athletic teams with hard-nosed play and an offense built around the quarterback run game. The trouble in Manhattan is that neither of Kansas State's two quarterbacks clearly won the job in an unimpressive 27-24 win over FCS South Dakota. Redshirt junior Alex Delton was electric as always running the ball, but only completed five of 14 passes, with one intercepted (and returned for a touchdown) and a few other passes that could have been. Redshirt sophomore Skylar Thompson isn't the runner Delton is and isn't particularly timely or sharp passing yet either, although he's much better than Delton. It's hard to imagine Kansas State winning this game without getting good quarterback play, but it wouldn't be the first time Bill Snyder's Wildcats have stumbled out of the gate against an FCS team only to eventually win 10 games.
Both defenses look sharp early, perhaps underrated. While a selling point to this game is to watch the unique offenses at work, it's not implausible that this might be a low-scoring affair with each team struggling to manufacture yardage. Mississippi State played good defense a year ago for Todd Grantham and are now coached by the imminently capable Bob Shoop, while Kansas State is updating their own defense a little under hotshot Snyder protege Blake Seiler. The Bulldogs are the more talented unit, but the Wildcats will benefit from playing at home against a quarterback who had to sit out Week 1 serving time for a suspension over "violating team rules."
- Both of these teams have quarterbacks who can and will run the football on old school option and single-wing plays.
- Will Nick Fitzgerald be sharp in his first outing in the new offense? Can he be a Heisman contender under Joe Moorhead?
- Is this a defensive struggle?
- Kansas State needs a lot more on offense for this game than they showed in Week 1.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Mississippi State
Georgia (-10) at South Carolina -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
|Overall||Georgia||South Carolina||Projected F/+||4||33||When Georgia has the ball||Offense||Defense||Projected S&P+||7||28||2017 FEI||7||33||2017 S&P+||14||36||2017 IsoPPP+||5||18||2017 Rushing S&P+||6||17||2017 Passing S&P+||6||56||When South Carolina has the ball||Defense||Offense||Projected S&P+||13||46||2017 FEI||5||74||2017 S&P+||11||88||2017 IsoPPP+||4||67||2017 Rushing S&P+||9||70||2017 Passing S&P+||6||32|
This will be the first real test for Georgia this season after they blew away Austin Peay in their home opener. South Carolina was solid a year ago, but could have been much better had star wide receiver Deebo Samuel not been lost for the year. Samuel is back now -- he had seven catches and a touchdown in South Carolina's opening contest with Coastal Carolina.
Georgia figures to be strong in the secondary this year despite losing Swiss army knife Dom Davis, but South Carolina has a lot of experience across their offense, particularly at quarterback and running back, where Jake Bentley and Rico Dowdle are now third-year starters and upperclassmen at last. The Gamecocks are probably in as good a shape as they've ever been to break out and contend for the SEC East division, but this Georgia team has emerged at just the right time to make that a tricky proposition.
The Bulldogs have weapons back from a year ago on offense along with most of a young offensive line that dominated in 2017. Quarterback Jake Fromm is also back and presumably ready to shoulder a bigger load in the offense now that running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are in the NFL. Younger running backs D'Andre Swift and James Cook are next in line. The name of the game for Georgia is a multiple offense that will alternate between spread and multi-tight end formations in order to best account for an opponent's better defenders up front and then run the ball. South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp has often made a living from figuring out how to best set up his defensive line to find favorable matchups and control the game for the rest of his defense. How the Gamecocks hold up against this Georgia offensive line should determine whether they can hang in this game.
- Can the South Carolina defense stop the run?
- How much will Georgia lean on quarterback Jake Fromm now that he's an experienced sophomore?
- Is this a breakout year for the South Carolina offense that now has star wideout Deebo Samuel back?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Georgia
Clemson (-12) at Texas A&M -- 7 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Clemson||Texas A&M||Projected F/+||2||25||When Clemson has the ball||Offense||Defense||Projected S&P+||26||31||2017 FEI||21||47||2017 S&P+||45||71||2017 IsoPPP+||47||52||2017 Rushing S&P+||8||41||2017 Passing S&P+||25||35||When Texas A&M has the ball||Defense||Offense||Projected S&P+||1||31||2017 FEI||1||59||2017 S&P+||2||48||2017 IsoPPP+||1||60||2017 Rushing S&P+||7||109||2017 Passing S&P+||2||41|
This is Texas A&M's first big game of the Jimbo Fisher era. They had a long week to prepare for it after opening the season against a lower level opponent, while Clemson played Furman last Saturday and also rolled to an easy victory. This Clemson team is loaded and appears to be a frontrunner for the playoff, especially considering the apparent state of Miami and Florida State football after Week 1. The first-team preseason All-ACC defensive line was simply the Clemson defensive line, while the defensive backfield will be held down by third-year starting linebacker Kendall Joseph.
Clemson has ranked in S&P+'s top 10 defenses for four years in a row and were ranked 12th and 34th the two years prior, all under defensive coordinator Brent Venables. They have tended to be a team that jumps on opposing weaknesses, bringing relentless pressure against teams that don't protect well or sitting on the run game against teams that haven't proven they can do anything else. The Aggies appear to have a few different facets to their offense, particularly running the ball with star running back Trayveon Williams and then a play-action passing game that can involve JUCO tight end transfer Jake Sternberger or junior wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon. However, protection from a young line in a new offensive system is certainly a concern and something to watch in this game.
On the other side of the ball, the Aggies were solid on defense a year ago and return many of their best players now under Mike Elko, who restored the Notre Dame defense a year ago before coming to College Station. They'll go up against a Clemson offense that many are waiting to be passed down to freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence. In the meantime, returning starter Kelly Bryant is an experienced veteran now and highly dangerous in the spread-option game along with running backs Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster. They'll look to confuse the Aggies' understanding of their own defensive schemes and then break long runs if and when the Aggies lose leverage.
On the bright side for A&M, Fisher has coached against Clemson for the last several years and will know what his Aggies need to do in order to make a competitive game against the Tigers.
- Can the Aggies handle either Clemson's pass rush or their option offensive schemes?
- Will we see freshman phenomenon quarterback Trevor Lawrence for Clemson?
- Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams is an exciting playmaker.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Clemson
Penn State (-8.5) at Pittsburgh -- 8 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Penn State||Pittsburgh||Projected F/+||10||48||When Penn State has the ball||Offense||Defense||Projected S&P+||8||41||2017 FEI||4||81||2017 S&P+||10||75||2017 IsoPPP+||2||66||2017 Rushing S&P+||4||73||2017 Passing S&P+||5||37||When Pittsburgh has the ball||Defense||Offense||Projected S&P+||16||75||2017 FEI||12||72||2017 S&P+||12||72||2017 IsoPPP+||21||83||2017 Rushing S&P+||18||19||2017 Passing S&P+||13||42|
This is a sort of rivalry game within the state of Pennsylvania, and didn't become less so after Penn State's 33-14 victory in 2017, when Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin said, "Last year for their win it was like the Super Bowl, but for us this was just like beating Akron." Ouch. Pitt has had mixed results under head coach Pat Narduzzi, going 22-17 since he came aboard but struggling on defense where he had built his reputation as a defensive coordinator at Michigan State.
The Panthers are hopeful that young quarterback Kenny Pickett, who impressed a year ago as a freshman, will continue to grow under offensive coordinator and pro-style guru Shawn Watson. The Pitt run game has been solid over recent years and still features Qadree Ollison, who ran for over 1,000 yards as a freshman before serving as a back-up in years since, along with impressive sophomore A.J. Davis. Pitt has a methodical approach to offense under Watson and will be aiming to control the ball against a very talented but also very young Penn State defense.
The Nittany Lions offense is still led by Trace McSorley, who as a three-year starter figures to leave Penn State with every major passing record. He was able to lead them past Appalachian State 45-38 in overtime in Week 1. The Nittany Lions accomplished that in part with the running game, as McSorley had 12 carries for 53 yards and two scores while running back Miles Sanders added 91 yards and a score on 19 carries. The Nittany Lions offensive line has a lot of experience back after having a much improved 2017 season, and this team has a lot of explosive potential when they are playing in rhythm.
This is expected to be Pitt's first really strong defense under Narduzzi now that it's manned by players he has been recruiting and developing for four years and after the flashes they showed in 2017. They'll need to show the depth, tinkering, and overall quality that has buzzed from the program in order to give their young offense a chance against Penn State.
- Young quarterback Kenny Pickett of Pitt is considered to be an emerging, pro-style passing prospect.
- Will Narduzzi's defense finally look like what he was hired to bring, and can it handle the Penn State spread?
- Penn State has loads of talented young athletes at linebacker, wide receiver, and running back waiting to replace Saquon Barkley and company.
- Condescending comments or fiery rebuttals from the head coaches of this rivalry.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Penn State
USC at Stanford (-5) -- 8:30 p.m. (FOX)
|Overall||USC||Stanford||Projected F/+||15||17||When USC has the ball||Offense||Defense||Projected S&P+||20||53||2017 FEI||18||62||2017 S&P+||16||59||2017 IsoPPP+||14||51||2017 Rushing S&P+||41||58||2017 Passing S&P+||10||69||When Stanford has the ball||Defense||Offense||Projected S&P+||37||12||2017 FEI||48||14||2017 S&P+||55||29||2017 IsoPPP+||27||19||2017 Rushing S&P+||47||46||2017 Passing S&P+||9||34|
USC can't be terribly pleased about how their schedule has played out the last few years. In both instances they've had to play a conference game against Stanford, a team noted for their physicality and the wear and tear they can inflict upon you, the week before their premier non-conference contest in Austin with the Texas Longhorns. In their Week 1 win against San Diego State, the Stanford defense looked like something much closer to the physical units they had a few years back while absorbing the heavy hands of the Aztecs. Perhaps more importantly, they revealed that their downhill run game is now accompanied by a good passing attack. San Diego State was wrecking their run game with an aggressive middle safety playing downhill in the box, and junior quarterback K.J. Costello responded by throwing for 332 yards and four touchdowns (with a single interception). Wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside tortured the aggressive Aztecs coverage with six catches for 226 yards and three touchdowns, leading the way to a 31-10 win.
USC had a slower start in Week 1 but ended up pounding UNLV 43-21. As expected, freshman phenom quarterback J.T. Daniels took the reigns for the Trojans and threw for 282 yards at 8.1 yards per attempt with no interceptions while helping to free up the USC run game. Trojans backs Aca'Cedric Ware, Stephen Carr, and Vavae Malepeai combined for 27 carries for 211 yards and three touchdowns. The Trojans defense shut down UNLV's passing game but was gashed by running back Lexington Thomas, who went for 136 yards on just 14 carries.
Between the iffy run defense of the Trojans and the surprising potency of the Stanford passing game, this looks like a tough one for USC. However, they likely have a lot more in store for this game with their young quarterback, whom they protected in Week 1 and it's not clear yet if the Stanford defense is in any better shape against the USC run game. This may be a higher scoring game in which USC's team speed is able to serve them well.
- Freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels of USC against the Stanford defense.
- Which defensive front will be ready to stop the run in this game?
- Stanford throwing jump balls to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in big moments.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Stanford
Michigan State (-6) at Arizona State -- 10:45 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Michigan State||Arizona State||Projected F/+||9||44||When Michigan State has the ball||Offense||Defense||Projected S&P+||40||106||2017 FEI||49||64||2017 S&P+||92||105||2017 IsoPPP+||56||73||2017 Rushing S&P+||66||70||2017 Passing S&P+||17||34||When Arizona State has the ball||Defense||Offense||Projected S&P+||3||21||2017 FEI||25||40||2017 S&P+||4||35||2017 IsoPPP+||8||55||2017 Rushing S&P+||4||69||2017 Passing S&P+||28||49|
Michigan State really struggled in Week 1 against Utah State as their "bend don't break" coverage" and aggressive run defense didn't stop the Aggies from marching down the field with quick passes from spread sets. It took a lot of passing-down and late-game heroics from Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke to allow Michigan State to escape with the win.
Of course, that's pretty much the name of the game for the Spartans under Mark Dantonio. For a few years now they've been a fantastic spread offense trapped in a power run concept. They'll line up under center and try to run the ball between the tackles on first and second down before giving up and using spread sets and Lewerke's legs to pick up third down after third down. It's truly a bizarrely effective system to watch, and by normal percentages it should never work, but it regularly does. Their defense is still stout and puts a major emphasis on stopping the run with aggressive play up front while occasionally yielding quick passes they use to combat with press coverage.
The Arizona State Sun Devils are just the kind of team to give that defense trouble. Quarterback Manny Wilkins is a senior and three-year starter in their spread offense, and he has been throwing to junior receiver K'Neal Harry for the entire time. The two connected six times for 140 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1 against Texas-San Antonio. Meanwhile, running back Eno Benjamin found lots of running room as a result and turned 16 carries into 131 yards and another touchdown. It'll be interesting to see how their explosive offense handles the Spartans' insistence on making a team earn their way down the field.
Former defensive backs coach and then-NFL head coach Herm Edwards is running the show in Arizona State now, and after an amusing and concerning offseason, it seems that he has them in pretty good shape for the season. He hired a defensive assistant from San Diego State to bring their unique 3-3-5 defense to replace the blitz-heavy and typically ineffective unit that Arizona State had for years under Todd Graham. It's hard to know much to make of the way they shut down Texas-San Antonio, but it certainly wasn't a bad defensive performance. If they can solve Michigan State's passing-down magic, this game could be very interesting.
- Michigan State's defense has often struggled against spread offenses that don't allow them to gang up on plays.
- Can Arizona State's new-look defense stop Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke on third-and-long?
- Herm Edwards' quips to sideline reporters before, during, and after the game.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Michigan State
S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 2
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||S&P+ Pick||S&P+ pick against the spread||Ian's pick against the spread|
|Mississippi State||9.5||Kansas State||Mississippi State||Mississippi State||Kansas State|
|Clemson||12||Texas A&M||Clemson||Texas A&M||Clemson|
|Penn State||8.5||Pittsburgh||Penn State||Penn State||Penn State|
|Michigan State||6||Arizona State||Michigan State||Michigan State||Arizona State|
S&P+ Picks against the spread last week: 4-2
Ian's Picks against the spread last week: 3-3