2018 NCAAF Week 2 Weekend Preview

September 7, 2018

It’s too early to come to real conclusions about this college football season, which is still truly in its infancy, but it’s just so hard not to when everyone else is doing it.

As a result, we’re going to try something new this year at the beginning of the weekend previews. It’s called “Three Thoughts” and it’ll serve as a look back/look forward hybrid as we move through the regular season.

I’ve often thought of starting a recurring “Weekend in Review” type post at the end of the weekly college football slate, but am normally a bit too hungover on Sunday mornings to deliver on my weekday aspirations regarding the blog.

For now, this will have to do.

After just one week, here are a few of Around The Corn’s early thoughts:

1. The Pac-12 is going to have an uphill battle getting into the CFP. Washington looked far and away the better team in Atlanta last Saturday, but the Huskies were horrific in the redzone. Don’t expect Auburn to hold up as a strong loss, either – the Tigers have a very tough road ahead and will be out of the CFP conversation itself in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately for the Pac-12, Washington still looks to be the conference’s best team and won’t receive a huge boost from running the table in league play.

2. Michigan is dead to me. As a Columbus boy this isn’t all that surprising, but I was dumb enough to buy into the 2018 version of Jim Harbaugh hype and thought the Wolverines would truly contend for a Big Ten and perhaps national title. What I saw from Michigan last weekend was an offense that is still incapable of matching up with the best that the Big Ten has to offer. As of Week 1, there’s no way the Wolverines will be playing in Indy in December.

3. Turnover paraphernalia is annoying. I get it – every group of 18 to 22 year-olds wants something to raise when they make a good play on defense. But once half the FBS division has something on the sideline that the TV broadcast team will ultimately treat like it’s the best thing since sliced bread, it’s time to retire them.

In the head-t0-head prediction game, it was a rough start for Around The Corn. Thanks in large part to the ACC, Versatile Willy got the guests off to a good start. The overall records are as follows:

K. Becks: 1-4

Guests: 3-2

This week my buddy Keegan, affectionately known as the “Northwestern Nerd” in our GroupMe, will join the blog to prognosticate.

Let’s take a look at the games that Keegan will be sending unreturned texts about this weekend.

5 Games to Watch This Weekend

#3 Georgia at #24 South Carolina (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

Neither one of these teams faced a marquee opponent in its opener, so it’s difficult to tell what each will bring to the table in this very important SEC East battle. The Gamecocks were known for their defensive prowess last season under Will Muschamp but in order to take the next step in conference play will need to see marked improvement on the other side of the ball. The test will come early against Kirby Smart’s Georgia squad, which has yet to allow a single point this season. However, the Bulldogs have a major target on their back after last season’s run to the national title game and are young on defense.

South Carolina’s hopes of knocking off the Bulldogs rests squarely on the shoulders of junior quarterback Jake Bentley, who could end up making Coach Muschamp look like a genius this season. Bentley looked good in the season opener, connecting on greater than 75 percent of his passes and throwing for four touchdowns against Coastal Carolina. The smart signal caller also has his best option back in Deebo Samuel, who missed most of last season. If Bentley can soften up the middle of the Georgia defense, junior Rico Dowdle will take advantage. Without Nick Chubb or Sony Michel on the Georgia sideline this season, Dowdle is the best back one will see in this game.

Georgia’s offense is no slouch either, but the biggest difference between this game and the one played between these two teams in 2017 is that South Carolina may have finally turned the corner on the offensive side of the ball. With Bentley, Dowdle and Samuel, there is plenty of talent to give Coach Smart fits. Add in the fact that it is a home game for the Gamecocks and the crowd will be excited, and you’ve got a tough atmosphere for the defending SEC champions. In what would be the first major upset of the year, I like South Carolina taking it to Georgia and opening up the East division race just as it begins.

My Pick: 27-24 South Carolina

Northwestern Nerd’s Take: Georgia wins a close one, 27-24.

#2 Clemson at Texas A&M (Saturday, 7 PM ET)

If Jimbo Fisher bolted Tallahassee to get away from Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers, the joke is on him, at least for the next two years. However, it would be somewhat foolish to trade one tough game a year for the rigors that await one in the SEC West division. All of that aside, another round of Fisher vs. Swinney will ensue in College Station on Saturday evening. The country is about to find out whether Texas A&M’s 758 yards of offense in Week 1, which led FBS, really has ability to pick apart Clemson’s daunting defense.

In Texas A&M’s opener, Coach Fisher decided to opt with sophomore quarterback Kellen Mond for the majority of meaningful snaps, sticking with the plan that former head coach Kevin Sumlin initiated last season. The good news is that Mond is better at making things happen with his legs than backup Nick Starkel. The bad news is that even against Northwestern State, the Aggies showed why the offensive line may be the reason for any woes experienced this season. Mond could be on his back a lot this Saturday, but at the very least he’ll be on the run quite a bit. Clemson’s defensive front is almost unarguably the best in the country, with future pros Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell anchoring the line. It’s pretty safe to assume that the trio of Tigers will make it their personal mission not to allow the Aggies nearly as many yards as they racked up last weekend.

The quarterback battle in Clemson doesn’t appear to be settled completely just yet, with Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence splitting time behind center in the blowout victory over Furman. However, it may not matter much who is leading the offense for the Tigers in this one, because the defense should bring Texas A&M back down to earth and prevent a huge offensive performance from the Aggies. As long as Bryant and Lawrence don’t try to do too much with their time on the field, Clemson will be too much for Texas A&M to handle.

My Pick: 35-17 Clemson

Northwestern Nerd’s Take: Clemson rolls A&M 38-10.

#13 Penn State at Pittsburgh (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

This rivalry is actually being played at Heinz Field, which despite being very near the University of Pittsburgh campus will allow the interested Nittany Lions fans to make this one resemble a neutral site game in terms of crowd support. Penn State could use a lot of that, as it took all the crowd noise as well as overtime for James Franklin’s team to dispatch of Appalachian State at home last weekend. Perhaps there was some truth involved in the recent offseason poll that suggested that Franklin was one of college football’s most overrated coaches.

As close a call as it was against the Mountaineers last weekend, there are still some positives about Penn State’s performance. The offense looked solid even as Trace McSorley worked to establish new favorite targets downfield, and Miles Sanders showed promise as the heir apparent to the starter at tailback following the departure of Saquon Barkley. Defensively, the Nittany Lions could be in trouble in the secondary, but against Pittsburgh this may not be as much of an issue as it was against Appalachian State or will ultimately become during the Big Ten schedule. The Panthers are more methodical offensively under Pat Narduzzi and would prefer not to engage in an offensive shootout (forget about that 2016 battle between these two teams, of course).

As long as Pittsburgh isn’t allowed to totally dominate the pace of this game, the Nittany Lions should win, as the surprise upset at the hands of their in-state rival just two seasons ago still haunts many players and staff in Happy Valley. That won’t be forgotten, the same as the scare last Saturday. While the defensive struggles are a definite cause for concern, Penn State will bounce back this week and take care of business in the Steel City.

My Pick: 34-24 Penn State

Northwestern Nerd’s Take: Penn State almost pulled a Michigan last week and that may be a wake up call, however, Pat Narduzzi and Pitt pull of the upset! Pitt 24-20.

#17 Southern Cal at #10 Stanford (Saturday, 8:30 PM ET)

This is just the first of a string of difficult September matchups for both Southern Cal and Stanford, so don’t be surprised if neither one of these teams remains undefeated before the month is over. However, for the time being both are ranked inside the top 20 and provide us with the best matchup of Week 2. The winner is sure to get the attention of the national media, at least for a short time.

While Stanford isn’t known for its offensive prowess and last week’s performance against San Diego State did nothing to change that, the Cardinal may actually have the more talented offense in this game. With K.J. Costello behind center, Bryce Love behind Costello and a big, experienced offensive line, David Shaw’s team should have no problem moving the football at whatever pace it pleases. However, in Week 1 it was the young Trojans that looked more offensively inclined. Freshman quarterback JT Daniels looked comfortable behind center and senior back Aca’Cedric Ware and sophomore Stephen Carr appear to be a strong tandem at tailback. Granted, Southern Cal was doing work against UNLV, but Stanford’s defense may not be as rock solid as it has been in prior seasons. Don’t be surprised at all if the Trojans are able to move the ball at will on the ground against the Cardinal on Saturday night, giving time for Daniels to get comfortable playing in a big game at the college level.

Southern Cal got the best of Stanford twice last season, ending a run of three straight victories by the Cardinal. However, the Pac-12 title game was a close game and a testament to just how much Stanford had improved, particularly with Costello running the show. If he plays well and utilizes his tight ends, who will be trying to find space among an unproven Trojans linebacker corps, Stanford has the opportunity to put a lot of pressure on Daniels to perform spectacularly in his first big game at the college level. Even if Stanford’s defense isn’t as strong as it has been in the past, Coach Shaw will prepare his players to contain an inexperienced quarterback well enough.

My Pick: 41-33 Stanford

Northwestern Nerd’s Take: Stanford wins a battle 24-17.

#15 Michigan State at Arizona State (Saturday, 10:45 PM ET)

The most intriguing, and potentially most risky, coaching hire this past offseason will take center stage late Saturday night when Michigan State travels out to the desert to face Herm Edwards and the Arizona State Sun Devils. An unexpectedly difficult game against Utah State last week likely has fans in East Lansing worried about this one, especially considering the way Arizona State dispatched of UTSA in its opener.

Coach Edwards was blessed with a relatively experienced offense and perhaps the best quarterback in the Pac-12 in senior Manny Wilkins, and that was obvious in Arizona State’s 49-7 victory last weekend. Before the season began, one would have believed that Michigan State’s pass defense would be a tough test for Wilkins. However, after allowing over 300 yards through the air to Utah State, it’s not to early to start wondering. Wilkins had four touchdown passes in the season opener and could quickly add to that total against the Spartans unless Mark Dantonio’s defense makes some adjustments. Michigan State has proven it can score a lot of points as well with Brian Lewerke behind center, but Arizona State runs a 3-3-5 defensive scheme that isn’t seen all that often. How Lewerke handles the different looks will be key to Michigan State’s success in this game.

By Sunday morning, the Big Ten could be looking pretty shaky with the exception of Ohio State and Wisconsin. No one is quite sure how the Herm Edwards experiment will turn out, but after one week it looked pretty good, especially on the offensive end. With as much as the Spartans unexpectedly struggled against Utah State’s offense this week, it seems like a safe bet that a talented quarterback such as Wilkins should be able to have similar success. I predict some eyebrow raising across the country at the final outcome of this game.

My Pick: 41-37 Arizona State

Northwestern Nerd’s Take: Michigan State takes care of business in typical Dantonio fashion, 21-13.

5 To Flip To

Duke at Northwestern (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

Pat Fitzgerald’s squad won a tough game on the road at Purdue last week and will look to make its case for being a Top 25 team heading into Week 3.

#18 Mississippi State at Kansas State (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

An unproven head coach has the Bulldogs inside of the top 20 right now, but Kansas State is tough to beat in Manhattan. Expect the Wildcats to give the SEC visitors everything they can handle on Saturday afternoon.

UCLA at #6 Oklahoma (Saturday, 1 PM ET)

This one looks good on paper and so it’s fair to assume that a lot of people will keep tabs on it, but the Bruins lost to a Cincinnati team last weekend that went 4-8 in 2017. Oklahoma could make UCLA look like Florida Atlantic this week.

Colorado at Nebraska (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

The highly anticipated debut of Scott Frost at Nebraska was delayed by a week thanks to inclement weather, but chances are the fans in Lincoln will get a better idea of what Frost really has to work with when the Buffaloes come to town than they would have against Akron.

Kentucky at #25 Florida (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

This battle has quietly become one of the more interesting SEC East showdowns in recent years, with Kentucky coming painstakingly close to beating the Gators in three out of the last four meetings. The streak is at 31 games for Florida currently, so the Wildcats will definitely be bringing a lot of emotion to the game Saturday evening following last season’s 28-27 defeat.

In the past, I’ve asked readers to let me know if they’d like to be guests on Around The Corn to make weekly college football picks. And while that invite still stands (email kbecks@aroundthecorn.com or message me on Facebook or Twitter if interested), the truth is that I’m basically asking friends and family on a weekly basis. Writing is a passion of mine, as is commenting on sports. But sharing those two passions with others are what has always made this worthwhile. So tell me what you think of the site and let me know what could be done better, or what would make you come back without prompting. I’d really appreciate it.

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