College Football: The 3 Biggest Games of Week 2
Saturday morning's college football slate isn't particularly sexy, but come prime time, look out.
Your remote control will get a workout Saturday night, as a trio of Top 15 matchups will be going on almost simultaneously, when Ohio State squares off with Oklahoma, Auburn takes on Clemson, and USC hosts Stanford.
The showdown in Columbus between the second-ranked Buckeyes and fifth-ranked Sooners is the most enticing of the three, but the other two matchups have plenty to offer. The Trojans and the Cardinal will both be looking to pick up a big conference win, the reigning national champs have a huge test, and Auburn’s transfer quarterback will take on one of the nation’s top pass defenses.
No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 2 Ohio State
Time: 7:30 E.S.T.
Spread: Ohio State -7.5
Ohio State obliterated Oklahoma on the road last season and now the Sooners will be looking to return the favor. This will be easier said than done.
Urban Meyer's team topped the Sooners 42-24 in Norman last season en route to the College Football Playoff, and its loaded roster is looking to make a return.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett and crew were tested early against Indiana last week before pulling away in the second half for a 49-21 win.
The Buckeyes passing game is considerably more efficient than explosive, as it ranked 24th in completion rate last season (62.3%) but just 115th in yards per completion (10.9). Ohio State should have more success on the ground, thanks to a rushing attack that averaged 5.5 yards per carry in 2016.
Freshman J.K. Dobbins went off in his collegiate debut last week, rushing for 181 yards on 29 carries. Sophomore Mike Weber, who rushed for 1,096 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry last year, missed the opener with an injury but will reportedly play on Saturday.
This is bad news for a Sooners defense that was 73rd in yards per carry last season and 68th in rushing success rate, per Football Study Hall.
The matchup at the other end of the field looks to be more balanced, as Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield takes on a Buckeyes pass defense that tied for the national lead in yards per pass last year (5.6).
Mayfield led the nation in yards per pass himself (11.1), as well as completion percentage (70.9%), and though he lost his top two receivers and three of the four most targeted players from last year’s team, the Sooners passing game should be just fine.
Tight end Mark Andrews looks to be Mayfield’s number one target and caught 7 passes for 134 yards and a score in Oklahoma’s 56-7 win over UTEP last week. He is joined by receiver and Kentucky transfer Jeff Badet, who averaged 21.6 yards per reception last season.
No. 13 Auburn at No. 3 Clemson
Time: 7:00 p.m. EST
Spread: Clemson -5.5
You may recall that Clemson fared pretty well the last time it faced an SEC West school, but the Tigers have since lost their leading passer, rusher, and receiver to the NFL. The tall task of replacing Deshaun Watson has fallen to junior Kelly Bryant, who will have solid receivers Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow at his disposal.
This new-look passing game aced its first test by beating down Kent State by a score of 56-3, as Kelly threw for 236 yards on just 22 attempts, good for an average of 10.7 yards. This came against a pass defense that actually ranked in the top 40 in opponent-adjusted per-play effectiveness last year, per Football Study Hall.
Auburn ranked 32nd in this measure, on the strength of its ability to clamp down on big plays. Its secondary bent (it ranked just 58th in completion percentage) but rarely broke, allowing the 12th fewest yards per completion.
They are also considerably stingier on the ground than Kent State and ranked 25th in yards per carry and 24th in success rate against.
For as good as Bryant looked Sunday, Clemson’s title defense will presumably hinge on its defense, which was fifth in yards allowed per play last year (4.6), and tied for first in yards allowed per pass (5.6).
Auburn’s offense is led by Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham, who excelled in limited time playing with the Bears in 2015. Its strength is on the ground, though, as Auburn features a running back duo that combined to rush for over 2,100 yards last season.
The ultra-explosive Kamryn Pettway led the way, running for 1,224 yards at a 5.9 yard-per-carry clip. He's backed up by fellow junior Kerryon Johnson, who racked up 895 yards on 4.9 yards per carry.
Clemson should be able to hold Stidham in check, while the battle on the ground looks evenly matched -- the defending champs ranked 25th in rush defense success rate and 24th in yards allowed per rush.
No. 14 Stanford at No. 6 USC
Time: 8:30 p.m. EST
Spread: USC -6.0
The Trojans were dealt a scare last week in their opener, needing a second-half comeback to beat Western Michigan, 49-31. Quarterback Sam Darnold’s Heisman campaign got off to an uneven start -- he threw for 289 yards and averaged 8.8 yards per pass, but he also tossed a pair of interceptions and didn't toss any touchdowns.
Given how efficient this offense was last season (28th in yards per play, ninth in success rate), it is hard to worry much about that first game.
Stanford’s secondary should put up more resistance than Western Michigan's, as the Cardinal defense ranked 30th in yards per pass (6.7), 27th in completion percentage (54.7%), and 17th in adjusted sack rate, per Football Study Hall.
Some big plays were available for the taking through the air against Stanford, but like Ohio State, USC may not be equipped to take full advantage. The Cardinal was 52nd in yards allowed per completion (12.2), but the Trojans offense was actually just 85th itself (11.8).
Western Michigan dropped 31 points on the Trojans, but the USC special teams and offense did its defense few favors. The unit itself actually allowed just 5.0 yards per play against an offense that ranked 16th nationally in average gain last year.
Stanford’s offense was just 65th in this regard and was 92nd in yards per pass. Its strength was its running game, but Christian McCaffrey is now on the Carolina Panthers. The Cardinal’s lead back is now home run-hitter Bryce Love, who ran for 783 yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry last season.
He will presumably have to carry the load Saturday night, as USC’s defense was 30th in yards allowed per pass and 42nd in yards allowed per rush. The Trojans' rush defense was consistent (19th in success rate) but susceptible to the big plays Love specializes in, as it was 104th in IsoPPP.