We are one week into the college football season and it feels great. Between UCLA pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the sport, Virginia Tech and Tennessee putting up defensive stands at the last second, and all of the glorious fun that occurred on Saturday, we had a pretty awesome Week 1.
The best part? Week 2 is going to be even better. We have four games with potential playoff consequences, a couple rivalry matchups, and a whole lot of teams getting their first real tests of the season. The first week of the season is for sitting on the couch in a daze and smiling all weekend because football is finally back. The second week is for hunkering down and realizing that this is going to be a long, hard season.
Here are college football’s studs and duds to watch out for on Saturday.
Stud: Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Louisville
Let’s talk about Louisville Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson for a second. Last year’s Heisman winner is an absolute freak of nature and we got him on full display Saturday night against Purdue. With the Cardinals facing a potential disaster in a game they were expected to win easily, Jackson threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns — one of them being the go-ahead score. He also rushed for an additional 107 yards, meaning that he accounted for an absurd 485 yards out of Louisville’s 524 in the entire game. This week, Jackson goes on the road against a North Carolina team which gave up 35 in a loss to California on Saturday. That UNC-Cal game started at 9:00 am PT and the Golden Bears moved the ball at will. It seems fair to say Jackson will be fine.
Dud: South Florida
South Florida came into the year hoping to be the Group of Five’s representative in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Although the Bulls are 2-0, neither win looked good. They struggled through the first half on the road at San Jose State two weeks ago, then came home and let FCS Stony Brook hang with them. Despite this, USF was able to stay in the top 25. That may not be for long. They have their first AAC game this week, traveling to UConn. On paper, this is a game they should win fairly easily, but so were the last two. Consider Charlie Strong’s Bulls to be on upset watch.
Stud: Penn State
The Nittany Lions have yet to beat the Pittsburgh Panthers in the 21st century, mostly because the rivalry was on hiatus from 2001-2015. However, Penn State dropped a close one in the renewal last year and now the game returns to State College. Expect the nation’s most-dynamic offensive team to have a chip on its shoulder. Pitt struggled to handle FCS Youngstown State last week and transfer quarterback Max Browne didn’t look to be cut from the same cloth as Nathan Peterman. We could see a blowout here as Penn State tries to further assert itself in the national championship conversation.
Dud: Michigan State
Here’s something we learned last week: Western Michigan doesn’t seem to be much worse after the departures of head coach P.J. Fleck and wide receiver Corey Davis. The Broncos gave playoff hopeful USC a game at the L.A. Coliseum and now travel to East Lansing looking for a statement win. Michigan State handled Bowling Green easily in Week 1, but the Spartans still have a long way to go before they hit relevancy again. This is a beatable team, even at home. This could be a close one. Don’t be surprised if Western Michigan replaces USF in the top-25 by the week’s end, with a win.
Stud: Butch Jones, head coach, Tennessee
On Monday night against Georgia Tech, Jones did what he had to do. Only barely — Tennessee needed a stop on a two-point conversion in double overtime — but a win is a win. The embattled head coach will be back on the hot seat at some point this year, but he can rest easy this week. The Vols welcome the Sycamores of Indiana State to Neyland Stadium in a game that should be over in the first half. Perhaps Jones can even address the quarterback dilemma by getting redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano some reps without worrying about the game itself. That could buy him goodwill going into a high-stress matchup in the Swamp against the Florida Gators. However, a rivalry loss will likely restart the rumor mill all over again.
Dud: Kevin Sumlin, head coach, Texas A&M
After Texas A&M’s stunning collapse, Sumlin is on football’s version of death row. With the Aggies facing Nicholls State at Kyle Field, the ax may not come for him yet (barring an equally stunning loss), but Sumlin is on borrowed time. At this point, one senses it would take a monumental performance for him to retain the head job throughout the season and A&M isn’t the team to play like that. With quarterback Nick Starkell facing a broken ankle and potentially out for the season, Sumlin would have to pull a rabbit out of a hat to keep his job. Even that may not be enough.
Stud: The Nick Stevens-Michael Gallup, Colorado State
Colorado State’s favored quarterback-wide receiver hookup has quietly had a great start to the season. In two games, Gallup has caught 16 passes for 201 yards from Stevens while facing two Pac-12 defenses. The Rams’ early-season schedule is pretty brutal — after playing Oregon State and rival Colorado, they face Alabama on the road in Week 3 — but this week is a walkover, as they face Abilene Christian at home. There’s not much reason to tune in live unless you enjoy seeing an FCS team get roasted, but the highlights should be a lot of fun. Stevens and Gallup will finally get to face a secondary worth picking on and should absolutely dominate.
Let’s be clear: the defending national champions are really, really good. But it’s worth worrying about quarterback Kelly Bryant facing one of the best defenses in the country in only his second game as Clemson’s full-time starter. Bryant looked fine against Kent State on Saturday, but the game against Auburn is in prime-time, under the lights. And it will be close. Even with Jarrett Stidham under center, this could be a defensive slugfest. That bodes well for the inexperienced quarterback, but at some point, Bryant is going to have to make a play. Whether or not he can is another question altogether.
Stud: Florida State
The Alabama Crimson Tide beat the Seminoles convincingly thanks to a superior special teams unit, giving Florida State a hill to climb even before star quarterback Deondre Francois was lost for the year with a knee injury. With their quarterback gone, the Associated press poll dropped FSU to 10th overall, which the ‘Noles will undoubtedly take as a display of faithlessness in their championship ability post-Francois. The team should be playing with a chip on its shoulder this week against UL-Monroe, and for good reason. Every player on the roster should feel disrespected right now. Florida State should lay the boom early in this one.
After giving up 43 points to Missouri State last week, it feels fair to call Mizzou one of the worst defensive teams in the Power Five. They were able to escape against the Bears, but only by putting up a 70-burger on offense. That won’t happen against this week’s opponent, the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Gamecocks returned a lot of starters on defense this year, particularly in the secondary, and started the year off with an impressive win over North Carolina State. If Missouri’s defense proves porous yet again, it won’t be quite as easy to bail them out this time.
Stud: Bryce Love, running back, Stanford
The Stanford running back’s numbers in the season opener two weeks ago almost seem fake: 180 yards on 13 carries. Sure, it was against Rice, but Love had as good a performance as we’ve ever seen from a Cardinal running back. That’s no small feat at a school which has featured Heisman contenders Christian McCaffrey and Toby Gerhart at the position in the last decade. After a bye week, Stanford gets its first (and biggest) test of the season on the road against USC, and it’s hard not to believe in Love. The Trojans let Western Michigan run for over 250 yards against them last week and now have to face a well-rested Bryce Love. That’s a tough ask and Love is ready to take advantage.
Dud: J.T. Barrett, quarterback, Ohio State
Barrett’s problem is the same as ever: for all his talent, Ohio State’s quarterback simply struggles to throw the ball. That’s not to forecast a Buckeye loss against Oklahoma this weekend. The No. 2 team in the nation can manufacture points in other ways, especially after running back J.K. Dobbins went for 181 rushing yards against Indiana in Week 1. Ohio State also has a marked defensive advantage over the Sooners, not to mention Urban Meyer’s experience against Lincoln Reily’s lack thereof on the sideline. However, if Oklahoma manages to keep this game close, don’t expect Barrett to be the reason Ohio State wins. In a two-minute drill, it’s still tough to trust the senior signal-caller.
Stud: Derrius Guice, running back, LSU
Guice had a fairly quiet Week 1, rushing for a ho-hum 122 yards in a game utterly dominated by the LSU Tigers. When it comes to running backs competing for the Heisman Trophy, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley stole the show in Week 1. However, Guice could join the competition full-throttle this weekend. LSU faces UT-Chattanooga, an FCS school which lost to Jacksonville State last weekend. Needless to say, this game will be a bloodbath. The Tigers should have no reason to throw the ball much either, which means Guice will get a large diet of carries. He should be all over the highlight reels and squarely in the Heisman conversation after facing such a weak opponent.
Dud: Brian Kelly, head coach, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish coasted to a Week 1 win over Temple, but buzz over Kelly’s job security may pick up again after this week. Notre Dame hosts No. 15 Georgia, whose quarterback, Jacob Eason, suffered an ankle injury last week. With freshman Jake Fromm under center and the game being played in South Bend, Notre Dame will be expected to win this game. However, the defense will have its hands full with Georgia running back Nick Chubb. We also have yet to see Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush against the sort of competition posed by the Bulldogs’ defense. If Georgia can pull off a win on the road, it could spell trouble for Kelly.
Stud: Western Kentucky
The Illinois Fighting Illini held off Ball State last week, but their non-conference schedule only gets tougher. Western Kentucky is one of the better squads in the Group of Five. They went 11-3 last year, including a Boca Raton Bowl victory, and return fifth-year senior Mike White at quarterback. The Hilltoppers had one of the most potent offenses in the FBS in 2016, leading the country in points per game, and started off 2017 with a win against Eastern Kentucky. This game could the first of many uphill battles for Illinois this season.
Dud: Malik Zaire, quarterback, Florida
There aren’t many quarterbacks less secure with the football than Zaire, who played the second half of Florida’s loss on Saturday. Every time Zaire dropped back against the Michigan Wolverines, a fumble felt imminent. The fact that Zaire committed just one turnover felt more like luck than anything else. Florida doesn’t have much to worry about against Northern Colorado this weekend, but Zaire’s ball security is something to keep an eye on as the year moves forward.
Stud: Washington State
Mike Leach’s Cougars avoided starting a third straight year with a loss to an FCS school on Saturday, soundly beating Montana State 31-0. The Boise State Broncos, however, could play spoiler to Washington State this week. They’re coming off a win against Troy despite junior quarterback Brett Rypien struggling. Once Rypien gets his legs under him, however, there’s a lot to like about Boise State. Pullman is a short trip from Boise and the circumstances are ripe for an upset. The Broncos should be able to move the ball against a Cougs defense which finished 63rd in S&P+ last season and projects similarly in 2017. Unless Rypien struggles again, we could get our first #Pac12AfterDark of the season in this game.
After a disconcertingly close opener against Nevada, the Wildcats travel to Durham to face Duke this week. Even after a blowout win over NC Central in Week 1, it’s hard to know what to expect from the Blue Devils this year after a disappointing 4-8 record in 2016. However, this game will not be a walkover for Northwestern. They’re on the road and Duke returns most of its offensive starters. Quarterback Daniel Jones may not struggle quite as much in his second year and has a ton of upperclassmen to throw to. If Northwestern drops this game, they could start out the year 2-3, as they open up conference play with games against Wisconsin and Penn State. As far as non-conference games go, this one is of the utmost importance and Northwestern may not escape Durham with a victory.
Stud: Josh Allen, quarterback, Wyoming
After flopping against Iowa last week, Allen returns to some lighter competition this week as Wyoming faces Gardner-Webb in Laramie. Projected to be a top pick in next year’s draft, the quarterback has some alarming splits when it comes to level of competition.
Saturday’s game may have been a disaster, but expect Allen to look the part, and then some, this week. That’s not saying much against an FCS team, but it should placate any alarm stemming from his performance against Iowa, at least temporarily. His next big test comes in Week 3 against Oregon. If Allen fails to live up to the hype in that one, it’s time to start worrying.
Dud: The Holy War, without much hype
Given that BYU-Utah is one of college football’s biggest rivalries, it feels a little strange that the game is taking a backseat this week. With a 10:15 EST start and games like Ohio State-Oklahoma and USC-Stanford on the slate, that’s certainly understandable, but it’s harder than usual to get excited about this game. BYU has been fairly atrocious in two games, struggling to put away FCS Portland State, then getting shutout by LSU last week. As for Utah, there isn’t much attention being given to a program that projects to finish in the middle of the pack yet again. No doubt the atmosphere at LaVell Edwards Stadium will be incredible, but that may be this game’s only attraction.