Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:02 AM

College Essentials - Week 2

Editor's Note: Antony Dinero was VI's leader on guaranteed plays (+1510) in 2017 and has started off 4-2 this season. His college football selections can be purchased daily on VegasInsider.com. Click to win!

We’re off and running in September, nearly getting a monumental upset with Appalachian State taking Penn State to overtime in Happy Valley, leading in the final minute of regulation. Utah State harrassed Michigan State and BYU took down Arizona in Tucson, so the upset bug is flourishing early, feasting on a few slumping FBS programs courtesy of FCS schools.




Florida State, Miami, Texas and UCLA had rough debuts, Auburn held off Washington in the game with the most national impact and Notre Dame squashed Michigan as Jim Harbaugh’s tenure at his alma mater grew more disappointing.

Alabama, despite losing standouts like Minkah Fitzgerald and Daron Payne, showed off a fierce defense against Louisville and remain college football’s most impressive force. Almost everyone has dipped a toe into the water. Here’s what we’re looking at for this week for a card that will unfold almost entirely on Saturday outside of TCU sidling up to SMU in Dallas on Friday night:


Saturday
Arizona at Houston, 12 p.m. ET, ABC: Kevin Sumlin lost his debut with the Wildcats in Tucson, falling to BYU. Heisman candidate Khalil Tate was limited him to just 14 rushing yards on eight attempts. The quarterback I expected to most perform like former Louisville Heisman winner Lamar Jackson was turned into a pocket passer, something that can’t continue if Arizona is going to have a successful season. Sumlin will return to his old stomping grounds in Houston, running into the potential No. 1 overall pick in DT Ed Oliver. He took blame for schematically not getting Tate’s legs more involved into his game plan, so we’ll see what wrinkles emerge this week from he and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Oliver’s presence will be a headache in its own right given the rough showing from the offensive line against the first set of Cougars on the slate.

The U of H Cougs defense had a rough start against crosstown rival Rice but got it together to allow just three second-half points in a commanding first victory. They’ve got big play potential Arizona must be wary of with D’Eriq King also capable of beating you with his arm and his legs. He averaged 19 yards per completion against the Owls and didn’t even have Utah transfer Raelon Singleton out there due to a hamstring issue. Marquez Stevenson, Keith Corbin, Courtney Lark and Bryson Smith each had receptions of at least 20 yards, while running backs Terence Williams, Patrick Carr and Mulbah Car are still competing to become the full-time starter. This early start has a chance to be sabotaged by thunderstorms, but may otherwise turn into a shootout.

Mississippi State at Kansas State, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: Nick Fitzgerald is back after sitting out the first game of Joe Moorhead’s head coaching tenure in Starkville due to suspension for getting in trouble back in March. The Tim Tebow-like senior accounted for 29 touchdowns last season after waiting out the Dak Prescott era and remains the unquestioned starter despite the fact backup Keyaton Thompson threw for 364 yards and five scores in a 63-6 rout of Stephen F. Austin. Fitzgerald will be taking his first live snaps since dislocating his ankle in last November’s Egg Bowl. The offense returns almost everyone but has new leadership with Luke Getsy, an NFL assistant the last few years, coming into help Moorhead run the attack. Having Fitzgerald’s experience for a tough challenge in Manhattan should aid the cause. .

K-State’s encounter with an FCS foe went far less smoothly than the Bulldogs’ experience with the Lumberjacks. South Dakota led 24-12 entering the fourth quarter, taking advantage of turnovers and miscues. If the Coyotes hadn’t been saddled with a first-time starter who threw 32 incompletions, the Wildcats would’ve been too far behind to snatch away a victory like they managed to. Isaiah Zuber returned a punt 85 yards for a crucial fourth-quarter score and then hauled in the game-winning reception. Starting RB Alex Barnes fumbled three times and both quarterbacks threw interceptions, but it was the lack of push from an offensive line that K-State had high hopes for that looms as the largest concern with an SEC foe in town. These schools haven't played in 41 years. Mississippi State has won both career meetings.

UCLA at Oklahoma, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Chip Kelly era began with a resounding thud as Cincinnati came up with an impressive upset as a nearly two-touchdown underdog. Wilton Speight may be somewhat limited, but the Michigan transfer gave the Bruins their best chance to win immediately, so watching him exit and likely not participate this week definitely makes this game nearly impossible to win. True freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson came in and finished 15-for-25 and led only one scoring drive, so don’t expect much from an attack that is also starting a freshman center in Christaphany Murray, who will be making his first snaps in an opposing stadium to someone taking them for the first time. Kelly couldn’t remember ever being a 31-point underdog, so that will be new for him too. Tailback Soso Jamabo remains suspended, so expect more looks for another freshman, Kazmeir Allen, who was the lone highlight offensively against Cincy, amassing 103 yards on five carries.

Oklahoma toyed with Florida Atlantic and will take aim at a UCLA defense that returned a number of regulars from last year’s group. We’ll see if the Sooners need Kyler Murray to play longer than the single half he participated in last Saturday, but odds are that covering this one may hinge on the work of sophomore backup Austin Kendall, who completed eight of 10 passes for 88 yards and a score against the Owls and has been efficient in limited action. Thunderstorms may be a factor in this contest, which is the fifth meeting all-time between the schools. OU is 3-1.

Georgia at South Carolina, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: Both teams annihilated overwhelmed their first opponents last week. The Gamecocks showed off new coordinator Bryan McClendon’s faster-paced offense and QB Jake Bentley decisively got everybody lined up and went to work, spreading it around and pushing it downfield. The Dawgs aren’t Coastal Carolina, but South Carolina can’t cower at home if it is going to pull off an upset of the defending national runner-up here. Georgia’s D’Andre Swift isn’t getting much play yet, but considering he’s attempting to replace current pros Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, this is an opportunity for the sophomore running back to begin his Heisman campaign. Freshman James Cook, who racked up 66 yards on six carries, will miss the first half of this one after being ejected for targeting.

Elijah Holyfield, Evander’s son, will be the primary backup to Swift, who was one of six players to score touchdowns against Austin Peay but was clearly the most impressive offensive player. It’s going to be on him and Jake Fromm to move the offense in Columbia against a Gamecocks defense that was middle-of-the-road in the SEC last season and lost top tackler Skai Moore, who made the Colts as an undrafted free agent, to graduation. It will be interesting to see what Will Muschamp does with his new group. Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker’s group finished second in the league in points and yards allowed last season but lost first-rounder Roquan Smith, among others. The secondary, led by Deandre Baker and J.R. Reed, is now UGA’s strength, which lines up nicely against South Carolina’s highly regarded receiving duo, Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards. Although some on the West Coast may object, this is Saturday’s most compelling matchup.

Colorado at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC: The Buffs looked fantastic in the Rocky Mountain Showdown, crushing rival Colorado State. Junior QB Steven Montez was sharper than that knife you have to make sure the kids can’t get to. Although the Rams defense has opened the season in a cooperative mood, it’s impossible to ignore that Virginia Tech transfer Travon McMillan gives Colorado a powerful backfield option or that sophomore WR Laviska Shenault might emerge as a force in the Pac-12 due to his size and strength. CSU could do nothing with Colorado, so the ‘Huskers will be more effective from a talent standpoint alone. It remains to be seen, however, what talented coordinator Eric Chinander can accomplish since he’ll be working with a new group for the first time after joining Scott Frost in coming over from UCF. Tre Neal joining him and and being listed at first-team safety is a plus, but the group of returnees he inherited got lit up often last season.

Nebraska got to run through the tunnel as Scott Frost led the ‘Huskers out for the first time but lightning and torrential rain forced a postponement of its game against Akron. True freshman QB Adrian Martinez now has to debut against a defense that is going to get after him as they look to spoil the party in Lincoln. The 18-year-old beat out another redshirt freshman, Tristan Gebbia, who transferred to Oregon State. If Martinez struggles or gets banged up, the ‘Huskers would have to turn to sophomore Andrew Bunch, who hasn’t played either. These former Big 12 rivals haven’t played since 2010. Nebraska is 49-18-2, while Colorado has dropped 14 of its last 15 road openers.

Iowa State at Iowa, 5 p.m. ET, FOX: The Cyclones saw inclement weather cancel their first test against South Dakota State, which has its positives and negatives. Although Iowa State was eager to open a season where there are more expectations than there have been in years, nobody got nicked up and it didn’t have to put anything on tape for the Hawkeyes to study. Iowa got disappointingly inconsistent play from QB Nate Stanley but still managed to stifle Northern Illinois and is favored at home in Iowa City, having won the CyHawk Trophy seven times over the last decade, including the last three.

Iowa won in Ames 44-41 in OT last September, but has dropped this rivalry game twice over the last three meetings at home in Kinnick Stadium. We’ll see if the defense holds up against top rusher David Montgomery, who can really open things up for Iowa State if he gets it going. In 6-foot-6 WR Hakeem Butler, ISU has a tremendous red-zone threat who may emerge as a national breakout candidate since career receptions leader Allen Lazard has moved on, landing on the Jags’ practice squad. Both teams are at full strength with starting linemen Tristan Wirfs (Iowa) and Julian Good-Jones (ISU) having served suspensions. Thunderstorms are in Iowa’s forecasts all week and may play a role on Saturday, so keep an eye out.

Clemson at Texas A&M, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Jimbo Fisher’s debut in College Station saw his QB choice, sophomore Kellen Mond, excel against FCS foe Northwestern State. The competition will be a lot stiffer with the Tigers in town, so we’ll truly see if he’s taken a step forward when he gets his first taste of adversity from one of the nation’s top defensive fronts. Dabo Swinney may be forced to get serious earlier than he probably wants to in playing true freshman Trevor Lawrence over senior Kelly Bryant since the kid appears to be the better option. He threw for three scores and engineered more scoring drives than Clemson’s starter, opening things up thanks to a better, more consistent arm. Bryant will play here, too, probably as the starter, but the Aggies will see both and are preparing accordingly.

If the Aggies are able to move the ball, I think we’ll see more of Lawrence despite the atmosphere potentially being a daunting one for his first college road game. Beyond Mond’s ability to demonstrate consistency, A&M will utilize RB Trayveon Williams to try and test Brett Venables’ defense, which led the ACC in virtually everything last season and allowed just 13.6 points, the second-lowest total in the nation. Williams is leading the country in rushing yards per game (240.0) after torching Northwestern State, but will now be tested by arguably college football’s top defensive line. Clemson was 0-3 against the Aggies before breaking through in their last meeting back in 2005, winning 25-24 in Death Valley. Fisher is 4-4 against the Tigers but lost with FSU each of the last three years.

Kentucky at Florida, 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC: The SEC East looks to be Georgia and everybody else, but South Carolina will be attempting to alter that narrative in Columbia and the winner of this one would be poised to rise up and make their own run. The Gators will be getting a number of players back from suspensions after a host of guys served punishments for offseason transgressions, while the ‘Cats will take their shot at an upset with a QB controversy brewing. Gunnar Hoak, who lost the QB competition to former Oregon recruit Terry Wilson in camp, may have passed him after settling everyone down following Wilson’s three first-half turnovers in rallying Kentucky over Central Michigan. In roommates Benny Snell and AJ Rose, UK has a lethal combo to anchor the ground game that could make the offense formidable if it gets consistent production via the pass. USC transfer E.J. Price lived up to his reputation in his debut and has overcome a hand injury in order to factor in here.

This will be the first true test for the Florida defense under esteemed new coordinator Todd Grantham, who inherits a defense that finished seventh in the 14-team SEC in run defense and scoring a year ago. The Gators offense wasn’t tested at all by Charleston Southern but Feleipe Franks threw for five TDs in a 53-6 win and has secured Dan Mullen’s confidence. Mullen took his foot off the gas late in the third quarter or the team could’ve topped 70, but there are still a lot of guys on both sides of the ball who may not be up to speed for one reason or another. It could be the perfect time for Kentucky to snap a 31-game losing streak at the hands of Florida. Kentucky is 2-10 in SEC road openers and fell behind 45-0 in its last trip to Gainesville. If a quarterback emerges and plays well, they should have a shot. Rain is in the forecast, so the "Swamp" could live up to its billing.

Penn State at Pittsburgh, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN: After allowing 28 points and 266 yards in the fourth quarter and OT against Appalachian State, the Nittany Lions should be locked in defensively as they take the field for their first road game. While an upset loss wouldn’t have end their season, Penn State flirted with disaster given its preseason expectations, so watching Trace McSorley come through in the clutch once again has to be reassuring given the loss of Saquon Barkley. New center Michael Menet had some growing pains, according to head coach James Franklin, but he felt the sophomore held up well in his first start against an odd front. This will be his first time snapping in an opposing stadium, although PSU backers should help fill out Heinz Field.

Missed tackles were an issue for Penn State, which committed just two penalties, didn’t turn it over, ran for 204 yards and threw for 230 but still nearly lost to a 24.5-point underdog with a first-time starter at QB. Was that a warning sign that the days of Franklin’s team being vulnerable week in and week out have returned? Pitt outgained PSU last season but fell 33-14 in Happy Valley but it won this matchup in ’16, prevailing in a 42-39 shootout. Pat Narduzzi’s team got up 33-7 on FCS opponent Albany and coasted in the second half. The Panthers’ secondary may be back at full strength after missing a trio from their projected two-deep against the Great Danes. Pitt has a veteran team in place and a chip on its collective shoulder from the knowledge that Penn State neither considers its in-state foe a rival nor seems terribly interested in the series continuing beyond next season. Expect the home team to leave no stone unturned.

USC at Stanford, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX: The Trojans were in a battle with UNLV for a half before the kids warmed up, but they’ve got to prove they can execute on the road against a veteran Cardinal team. Freshman QB JT Daniels and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown have bright futures and sophomore RBs Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepai are talented, but this immense Pac-12 clash may be too early on the schedule for USC to survive. Bryce Love got bottled up by San Diego State but the attention he commanded allowed QB K.J. Costello to shine. Stanford needs that to be a weekly occurrence to maximize its potential and must protect the Farm since it closes out the month with challenging road trips to Oregon and Notre Dame.

Costello hooked up with JJ Arcega-Whiteside six times for 226 yards, scoring three touchdowns and now faces a Trojans secondary that saw safety Ykill Ross leave the team after losing his starting gig due to a hamstring issue and the other projected starter, Bubba Bolden, sidelined with a disciplinary issue. Starting corner Greg Johnson should play but missed practice Monday, so talented Iman Marshall will have added pressure on him to try and bottle up Arcega-Whiteside. Up front, defensive linemen Brandon Pili and Liam Jimmons are dealing with nagging ailments. USC beat Stanford twice last year, ending a run that had seen it drop eight of 10, but has won in Palo Alto only once since ’09. It’s set to be a perfect night for football, a few slight wind gusts aside.

Michigan State at Arizona State, 10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Spartans didn’t play to their potential and QB Brian Lewerke looked shaky as Utah State stormed into East Lansing and fared extremely well, hanging around for four quarters as a 24-point underdog. There’s no way Michigan State expected to be punched in the mouth the way it was. Left tackle Cole Chewins, who missed the Friday night victory, has a chance to return and would upgrade the offensive line. The Spartans were also without their most talented corner, sophomore Josiah Scott, who will likely be out a few months. Given how well the Aggies passed it, his absence is going to be a major obstacle for the MSU secondary.

Sparty wouldn’t cop to underestimating Utah State will have no one but itself to blame if Mark Dantonio doesn’t have everyone ready to play in Temple given what the Sun Devils put on display in Herm Edwards’ debut. QB Manny Wilkins put the ball where it had to be all night against Texas-San Antonio, allowing playmakers N’Keal Harry and Eno Benjamin to shine. The senior threw four touchdown passes and made some plays with his feet, while suspended backup RB Trelon Smith’s void was filled nicely by fellow sophomore Isaiah Floyd. Edwards will have linebacker Jaya Jay Wilson back from suspension but may be down a starting offensive lineman if guard Steven Miller can’t get healthy. This is the first meeting between these schools since 1986. The high in Tempe on Saturday is set to be 107, so Michigan State is fortunate that this one won't get underway until after sunset.

Other games to watch: California at BYU, Memphis at Navy, Duke at Northwestern, Georgia Tech at South Florida, Nevada at Vanderbilt, Virginia at Indiana, Fresno State at Minnesota, Rutgers at Ohio State

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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