After five days of amazing action to open the season, it’s nice to take a brief siesta until college football Week 2 gets kicked off on Friday night. But in between naps and snacks, we’ve taken time to look into the biggest stories for the upcoming slate of games.
There were some brutal Week 1 upsets, but things get much easier for the top teams in the nation. In fact, there is not a single contest in Week 2 that pits a ranked team against another ranked team.
With that in mind, any major upset would be a huge shock.
Four teams that were ranked heading into the opening week of action are still among the top 25 after taking a loss. But another one loss will surely change that.
Taking these things into account the following are the top storylines to track in college football Week 2.
1. Will Lamar Jackson have another monster game?
Louisville’s sophomore quarterback had himself quite a ridiculous game against Charlotte, combining for 405 yards and eight touchdowns.
In one half.
Now, it’s important to mention Jackson’s success came against a football program that is just entering its second season, and the 49ers went 2-10 last year. So by no means are we ready to thrust this young man into the upper echelon of Heisman Favorites. But he’s not far from becoming a top dog.
Notable updated Heisman odds @LVSuperBook:
D. Watson 5/1
J.T. Barrett 6/1
D. Cook 10/1
Lamar Jackson 40/1
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) September 5, 2016
With that out of the way, it’s also worth pointing out that Jackson has now tallied 15 touchdowns his past three games and 14 in his last eight quarters of play. The previous two schools he dominated were Kentucky and Texas A&M — worthy opponents.
Up next for Jackson and the Cardinals is Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. The Orange are also not known as a football powerhouse but should put up more resistance than Charlotte did last week.
It’s going to be fun to see if the talented dual-threat passer can have another monster game on Friday night.
2. Can Central Michigan pull off upset over Oklahoma State?
The Chippewas did a really solid job competing with the Cowboys last year in their first and only meeting to this point.
Cooper Rush and Mason Rudolph will get the chance to duel it out again. Both quarterbacks played well last year against one another, but Rush turned the ball over, while Rudolph did not.
Despite its small-school status, Central Michigan features a top-rate defense that returns eight starters from last year’s 16th-ranked unit. The Chippewas held the high-powered Oklahoma State offense to just 24 points last year, which was well below the team’s 39.5 points-per-game average.
Being that this upcoming contest is being held at Boone-Pickens Stadium, Oklahoma State (No. 22) is rightly touted as a huge favorite. But it wouldn’t be right to dismiss Central Michigan out of hand.
If Rush, who is a quarterback NFL scouts have their eyes on, can shut out the noise and play his A-game, then the Chippewas have a shot at upsetting the Cowboys.
3. Time for Max Browne, USC to rebound
Last weekend’s trip to AT&T Stadium was about as pleasant as getting five root canals at once for Max Browne and the Trojans. It was a humiliating experience, as Alabama rolled over USC 52-6. And the score could have been even more lopsided than that.
It would be wrong to pin all the blame on Browne, who was under constant pressure. His offensive line was over-matched, surrendering three sacks and nine tackles for a loss. In truth, Browne did well to turn the ball over just once, though ‘Bama’s defense did get its hand on seven other balls.
It was as humbling a first start for Browne as anyone could imagine. But he has no time to pout. The USC program has no time to lick its wounds. And there cannot be any outbursts like the ridiculous groin stomp by Jabari Ruffin that marked the turning point of last weekend’s disaster (watch here).
Utah State is going to be coming Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum sniffing to see if there is still any blood in the water.
USC’s defense needs to fix what was broken last week when it allowed 242 rushing yards. Running the ball is the way the Aggies move the ball on offense. They’ll try to eat up the clock and keep the chains moving Saturday to upset the Trojans.
Playing at home should be a comfort to USC. The fact that the Trojans never lost to Utah State should give fans confidence. But by no means is a win guaranteed. Utah State pushed the Trojans to the limit back in 2013, losing by just three points.
It’s now or never for this program to rebound. Lose another game, especially to an un-ranked team at home, and you can pretty much kiss the playoffs goodbye.
4. Blowout central (probably) for teams at the top of the rankings
It’s cupcake time for the top teams!
You know what we mean. Every year, there are matchups set up by the elite programs that are nothing more than a walk in the park. The kind of games in which these teams can rest all their starters and still win with backups.
That’s what is on tap this weekend for the likes of Alabama (playing Western Kentucky), Clemson (playing Troy), Florida State (playing Charleston Southern), Ohio State (playing Tulsa), Michigan (playing UCF, which lost all its games last year) and Houston (playing Lamar).
All these games are against cupcake opponents, and all are home games for these top schools.
It’s not likely any of the top starters will play more than a half. These are more like glorified practices that are used to get younger players some in-game experience.
Maybe the football gods will have some fun and engineer an upset. One can hope.
5. How will Josh Rosen respond to dismal outing against Texas A&M?
Well, here’s the good news for Rosen and Co. this Saturday when they host UNLV: Myles Garrett will be halfway around the country harassing another quarterback.
Rosen was awful for most of last week’s game. Given his status as a potential top NFL Draft pick in the future, it wasn’t ideal. He finished the game with 343 yards on 26-of-46 passing with one touchdown and three interceptions.
But protection was a huge issue.
Texas A&M pressured UCLA QB Josh Rosen on 49.1% of dropbacks, 2nd-highest in FBS this week
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 6, 2016
Thankfully, the Rebels shouldn’t offer quite as much resistance as the pee-in-your-pants-inducing Alabama front seven. If the offensive line struggles to contain UNLV’s defensive line, then it will be a long season for the offense.
We expect Rosen and Co. to bounce back with some fire this week against a vastly inferior opponent.
6. Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Ole Miss looking for some revenge
After losing some tough games in Week 1, these playoff contenders will be out for some revenge against inferior opponents on Saturday.
Oklahoma (No. 14) dropped 11 spots in the rankings after losing to Houston and will now host Louisiana Monroe. This one shouldn’t be close, and it’s likely a multiple-touchdown lead will be had by the end of the first quarter.
Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield is especially motivated to right his wrongs against Houston.
“That’s all on me,” Mayfield said of the offense’s second-half problems (h/t ESPN’s Jake Trotter). “[The receivers] got open. That’s all on me as the leader of the team and the captain. It’s my job to deliver the ball. They got open for me. They did their part.”
Getting manhandled by the Cougars wasn’t something head coach Bob Stoops will tolerate. He’ll have his guys ready to take their vengeance against the Warhawks.
The Fighting Irish (No. 18) dropped eight spots in the rankings after their loss to Texas Sunday night. It was a stunning result, but it was more about the Longhorns showing themselves to be a top program more than Notre Dame dropping the ball (which it did defensively).
Up next for Notre Dame is Nevada, which did nothing to impress in its three-point win over FCS Cal Poly. We should expect a massive blowout in this one.
Ole Miss (No. 19) also fell eight spots after losing to Florida State.
The Rebels gave the Seminoles a heck of a battle on Monday night. Kudos to Chad Kelly and Co. But the honest truth is Kelly needs to be more consistent this year or there is no chance the Rebels will have a shot at working their way back into playoff contention.
Wofford, an FCS school, should give him a chance to get back on track.
7. Will top-25 pressure get to Wisconsin and Texas?
It’s quite incredible that Wisconsin (No. 10) and Texas (No. 11) jumped so high in just one week. Neither team was ranked at the start of the season. Yet both took down behemoths to open the season.
Wisconsin’s swarming defense shut down Leonard Fournette and the LSU offense for the most part, re-injuring the dynamic back in the process (more on Fournette in a minute). The result was a stunning 16-14 win that was sadly capped off by a ridiculous, brutal late hit by LSU’s Josh Boutte (watch here).
Texas’ performance against Notre Dame was a bit more of an offensive showcase than a defensive showdown. The Longhorns, led by freshman quarterback phenom Shane Beuchele, put up 517 yards, 26 first downs and 50 points against the Fighting Irish.
Both victories were worthy of praise. But how will these programs respond this weekend and in the weeks to come? There was no pressure externally for either team to win last weekend. Suddenly, they’re thrust into the national spotlight as potential playoff contenders.
We’ll see what kind of edge they play with this weekend. Like most of the top programs around the nation, Week 2 is not exactly a monumental test — on paper, at least.
Texas will be hosting Conference USA’s UTEP, which won last weekend but has never beaten Texas in four previous contests.
Wisconsin will be hosting Mid-American school Akron. The Zips shouldn’t be much of an obstacle for the run-heavy offense of the Badgers. On the other side, Wisconsin’s defense should corral quarterback Tommy Woodson, who threw six touchdowns last week.
8. Les Miles should sit Leonard Fournette this week, but he won’t
LSU (No. 21) has no business risking Fournette to injury in a game such as the one it is playing on Saturday. The Tigers are hosting FCS school Jacksonville State. This will be a walk in the park, with or without the team’s star running back.
Normally, this would be a game in which Fournette could pad his seasonal stats with the Heisman Trophy in mind. But at this point, being that he re-injured his ankle against Wisconsin, the smart move would be to rest him for the team’s upcoming four-game SEC gauntlet against Mississippi State, Auburn, Missouri and Florida.
Instead of resting him, head coach Les Miles intends to play the running back Saturday against the Gamecocks.
“Leonard is fine,” Miles said, per Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com. “(He’s) not terribly swollen. “Contusion, nice bruise. I expect him to play.”
This is a mistake.
When healthy, Fournette is among the most dangerous offensive weapons in the nation. He has superstar NFL potential as well. His health should be the biggest priority right now, rather than stats.
9. After scare, can Tennessee take care of Virginia Tech?
Tennessee (No. 17) dropped eight spots in the rankings, despite winning its game against Appalachian State. The reason for this is that the Volunteers barely escaped with the win, needing overtime to secure the 20-13 victory.
That’s not top-10 behavior.
This upcoming weekend, the spotlight will be shining all the brighter on Tennessee, which is hosting Virginia Tech at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. They are expecting upwards of 150,000 fans on Saturday night under the bright lights, which would easily smash attendance records.
— MLBcathedrals (@MLBcathedrals) September 6, 2016
Virginia Tech isn’t a cupcake, but this is a game the Vols should win.
Quarterback Joshua Dobbs needs to be sharp. He struggled against the Mountaineers, passing for just 192 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a fumble that fortunately ended up in the arms of running back Jalen Hurd in the end zone to win the game in overtime.
Another hapless showing this week should send the Volunteers tumbling out of the standings altogether. This team must improve in all three phases of the game and win big to prove its preseason hype was real.
10. First national look at Oregon RB Royce Freeman
The late game on ESPN (10:30 p.m. ET) is one die-hard football fans won’t want to miss.
Oregon (No. 24) will be hosting Virginia at rocking Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. While both schools feature excellent players, the one you’ll want to keep your eye on is Oregon running back Royce Freeman.
This young man is a darkhorse Heisman candidate who has done nothing but rack up yards and touchdowns the past two years-plus. Heading into 2016, he had tallied 3,201 yards and 35 touchdowns combined during his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
During his first game against UC Davis, the junior back was used sparingly. Still, he managed 94 yards on 13 touches and scored twice on the ground.
Here you can see his remarkable vision and ability to cut through traffic on his way to the end zone.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 3, 2016
That’s just spectacular, especially considering this is a 230-pound back we’re taking about.
Somehow, Freeman has escaped the national spotlight for the most part through his first two seasons. That’s about to change.
If you can, stay up late and watch this kid work his magic Saturday night.