The five big games of the College Football season in week #2 are on Saturday night. Oklahoma travels to Ohio State looking for revenge, Auburn travels to Clemson hoping to insert themselves into the national conversation. Notre Dame is looking for relevance with a win against Georgia at home, Washington State hopes to add to their resume with a win against Boise State, and USC and Stanford will clash for California supremacy in a pivotal PAC-12 battle. Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, Brett Margolies, John Bava, and Mike Loveall offer their predictions.
#13 Auburn at #3 Clemson (Saturday 7:00 P.M. in Clemson, SC)
Line: Clemson by 5.5
Steen: Auburn needs to win against at least one of Clemson and Alabama to figure in the College Football playoff, Clemson can already make a strong case, even as a one loss team, to make the playoff if they win against one of the SEC’s best teams. Jarrett Stidham and Kamryn Pettway are a great combo on Auburn’s offense, while the experienced Tiger defense faces off with new Clemson QB Kelly Bryant. I believe in Auburn as a contender this year in the SEC, but I believe in Clemson more, the Tigers should show why they are defending national champions. Clemson 30, Auburn 24
Mike: Clemson got an early bump in the standings after FSU’s thumping and the one-half struggles of a few Top 5 teams. Auburn is a team that looks great on paper, but people don’t really know what to expect on the field. Most people are focused on Jarrett Stidham, but the real story for Auburn this year is a dominant defense and a great offensive line. With as much turnover as Clemson faced this offseason, I’m not sure how this team will stand up to the test that Auburn will present them. Auburn makes its case on Saturday. Auburn 31, Clemson 26
Yesh: Clemson’s offense looked like it reloaded instead of rebuilding last week, which should mean trouble for all of its opponents. Of course, the quality of opponent (Kent State) has to be factored in, but I like Clemson at home, especially as I’m not yet sold on Auburn. Clemson 31, Auburn 14
Brett: Clemson looked impressive in their first game against a lesser opponent obviously. Auburn will have to be ready when they step in death valley at night. Look for the moment to be a little too big for Jarrett Stidham as Clemson gets a big home win. Clemson 27. Auburn 17
John: It’s a battle of Tigers in Death Valley as Auburn faces defending national champion Clemson on the road a year after they opened the 2016 season against one another in Alabama. Auburn enjoys a fairly sizable lead in the all-time series, but Clemson have won the last three.
Expect both teams to try and establish the run on offense. In their season openers, they both gained over 350 yards on the ground in dominant wins (Auburn over Georgia Southern, Clemson over Kent State) by a combined score of 97-10. But Auburn’s two-headed monster Kam Martin and Kerryon Johnson may be short-handed with the latter questionable due to a hamstring injury.
This will be the first challenge of the season for both quarterbacks, Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham and Clemson’s Kelly Bryant. Stidham transferred from Baylor while Bryant is taking over from one of the program’s all-time great signal callers in Deshaun Watson. Both will have their hands full with two of the nation’s most experienced defenses. Clemson 34, Auburn 24
#5 Oklahoma at #2 Ohio State (Saturday 7:30 P.M. in Columbus, OH)
Line: Ohio State by 7.5
Steen: Ohio State won big last year, Oklahoma has experienced players that are hungry for revenge, but they have to win on the road to do it, and under a new coach. If Ohio State is forced to throw too much, the Sooners will have an edge, but Urban Meyer will probably figure out his run game and allow the Buckeyes to control the pace of this top 5 clash. Oklahoma will need to be at their best to win, and I see them coming up just short. Ohio State 35, Oklahoma 32
Mike: Baker Mayfield + Ohio State’s secondary = Buckeyes -7.5? Interesting, to say the least. Indiana was game for a testing Ohio State last weekend. Until the emotion and lack of depth showed through. Oklahoma has both a running game and talent two-deep at each position. And Baker Mayfield started off right where he left off last season with a 19-for-20 performance last week. The only question is can J.T. Barrett and the Ohio State rushing defense keep up with the Sooners? Whatever the over is, take it. Oklahoma 49, Ohio State 42
Yesh: Ohio State won this game by 21 on the road last year. The Buckeyes have improved everywhere except the secondary, which means that there’s no reason to pick against them winning here. Ohio State 49, Oklahoma 31
Brett: After Baker Mayfield’s near perfect opener, Ohio State knows they have their hands full. Even though the buckeyes struggled early they managed to win comfortably. Mayfield has the reputation of not playing well in big games so it’ll be interesting to see if that changes this year. Ohio State wins a close one, but Oklahoma keeps it close all game. Ohio State 37, Oklahoma 30
John: This is the fourth all-time meeting between the Sooners and Buckeyes. Believe it or not, the road team has won all three previous games. And Oklahoma has the personnel on paper to pull off an upset at the Horseshoe, with 16 returning starters on both sides of the ball. They’re also undefeated since OSU’s 45-24 win in Norman last year.
The Sooner program received a bit of a jolt when Bob Stoops abruptly retired and 34-year-old Lincoln Riley took over as head coach. He inherits quite a weapon at quarterback in Baker Mayfield who had a 95 percent completion percentage in last week’s opener against UTEP.
Ohio State started slow last week against Indiana, but the offense exploded in the second half. The Buckeyes will need a much more consistent start in this weekend’s home opener. They appear to have a dangerous new weapon in the run game with freshman J.K. Dobbins. Combined with J.T. Barrett’s multi-faceted impact on offense, OSU prevails. Ohio State 41, Oklahoma 31
#15 Georgia at #24 Notre Dame (Saturday 7:30 P.M. in South Bend, IN)
Line: Notre Dame by 6.5
Steen: Georgia is heading north for once, giving Notre Dame a chance to regain credibility and relevance in College Football after an awful 2016. Notre Dame’s QB has one career start, Georgia’s QB is making his first career start. The run games will be key, and the Georgia defense will stiffen when it matters. Georgia 24, Notre Dame 17
Mike: I’m seeing a trend here. For the third straight game, I’m taking the road dog for an outright win. Georgia’s defense might be the best defense in the country this season. On top of that, they return Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Jacob Eason’s injury won’t be as impactful as most think. There’s a ton of pressure on Brian Kelly at Notre Dame. And the first test comes in week two. There’s talent in South Bend, but they haven’t been able to put together in a few seasons. Oh, and Notre Dame’s policy of no live mascots on the field? Karma visits the Irish. Georgia 35, Notre Dame 17
Yesh: Notre Dame as this much of a favorite is mind-boggling to me. The Irish looked good against Temple, but they still went 4-8 last year and don’t have that much of a better roster. There is talent, but not as much as Georgia has. I think that Georgia is overrated too, but not nearly as much as the Irish are. Georgia 27, Notre Dame 21
Brett: Freshman Jake Fromm stepped in and looked good week 1 against App State. A night game in South Bend will be a little different, but I expect Fromm to have a coming out party and help the dawgs get a big road win. Georgia 24, Notre Dame 16
John: One of the more intriguing facts surrounding the first-ever regular season meeting between these schools is that Georgia’s last game north of the Mason-Dixon line came way back in 1965. Back then, they faced Michigan in Ann Arbor and prevailed 15-7. Their ability to do get a W in South Bend received a bit of a blow when quarterback Jacob Eason suffered a knee injury in the season opener.
Starting in his place against the Irish is true freshman Jake Fromm. Making your first start at famed Notre Dame Stadium is certainly a baptism by fire. It will require a standout effort from Nick Chubb and Sony Michel who make up one of the top one-two punches among the nation’s run games.
Notre Dame football appears ripe for a turnaround in 2017. It’s hard not to improve on last year’s disastrous 4-8 campaign, but optimism is high that the Irish can contend for a New Year’s Six berth. Saturday’s game against Georgia is a good measuring stick to find out if that sentiment is legit. Notre Dame 30, Georgia 27
#14 Stanford at #6 USC (Saturday 8:30 P.M. in Los Angeles, CA)
Line: USC by 7
Steen: Stanford used a punishing run game to get off to a great start in week 0 against Rice in Australia. USC muddled through against Western Michigan, but gets their second home game in as many weeks, and this is a massive one in terms of conference supremacy. Ronald Jones is an elite runner for the Trojans, and they have all the pieces to win this game, but their defense was shaky last week, and I see Stanford running wild in a surprisingly high scoring affair. Stanford 45, USC 35
Mike: Let’s make it four in a row. Stanford looks …. Well, like Stanford. Tough, balanced, and disciplined on offense and suffocating on defense. Sure, it was Rice in Australia, but Stanford’s demolition of the Owls was just about a perfectly played game. USC comes in with a mountain of expectations after reeling off nine straight wins, including a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State, to finish 2016. They were tied with a Fleck-less Western Michigan in the fourth quarter last week. Stanford will be much better than that. Will USC? Stanford 34, USC 31
Brett: Freshman Jake Fromm stepped in and looked good week 1 against App State. A night game in South Bend will be a little different, but I expect Fromm to have a coming out party and help the dawgs get a big road win. Georgia 24 Notre Dame 16 Stanford-USC After a slow start on Saturday, USC was eventually able to look how many thought they would heading in to the season. Sam Darnold will once again be in the spotlight as many mock drafts have him as the #1 overall pick. I think USC struggles early again, but eventually comes through and wins comfortably. USC 41, Stanford 24
John: Over the past decade or so, this has turned into one of the Pac-12’s more intriguing matchups. Stanford’s ascendance as one of the nation’s top programs is certainly responsible. The Cardinal have won eight of the last 11 meetings, but the Trojans feel this is their year to reverse the trend.
It comes in the form of their Heisman hopeful quarterback Sam Darnold. The redshirt sophomore is among college football’s top pro prospects heading into next year’s draft. But USC also boasts a pretty ferocious run game led by Ronald Jones who ran for 159 yards and three touchdowns last week against Western Michigan.
Stanford’s ground game doesn’t seem that it will lose a step with the departure of Christian McCaffery. They scored five rushing touchdowns in their 62-7 demolition of Rice in Australia. Bryce Love appears to be the primary bell cow to replace McCaffery. He’ll need to show up against a USC rush defense that was suspect last year. In the end, Southern Cal prevails in a close one. USC 38, Stanford 34
Boise State at #20 Washington State (Saturday 10:30 P.M. in Pullman, WA)
Line: Washington State by 10
Steen: Washington State has a great shot to win the PAC-12 North, a high scoring offense led by Luke Falk is the main reason why. At home in Pullman they face Boise State, a G5 darling that is consistently competitive but hasn’t been elite recently. Boise State’s defense could stifle the Cougs, but more likely Washington State will outscore Boise with a superior offense. Washington State 49, Boise State 28
Mike: Arrgghh, matey. The Cougars are my one home favorite pick this week. Neither Brett Rypien or Montell Cozart looked very against a very average Sun Belt defense in Troy. Not that Washington State has a good defense, but when you have Luke Falk tossing the ball and the Pirate calling the plays, you only need to get a few stops. Washington State starts fast and finishes faster. Washington State 51, Boise State 34
Yesh: Washington State is talented. Washington State is good. Washington State has a potent offense. But Boise State historically does very well preparing for potent offenses. The Cougars might win this game at home, but they’re not beating Boise by double digits. Not a chance. Boise State 31, Washington State 30
Brett: This is an opportunity for WSU to show the nation that they’re the real deal. With Mike Leach having the perfect guy for his offense in Luke Falk. Boise State struggled with Troy this past weekend which doesn’t bode well for their chances come Saturday. WSU wins big. Washington State 49, Boise State 24
John: Boise State’s all-time record against current Pac-12 teams is quite impressive. They boast a 15-11 mark and have losing records against just two schools. But one of them is Washington State. Their only win against the Cougars came last season in a narrow 31-28 win.
The Broncos return the Mountain West’s leading passer from last year in Brett Rypien. But beyond that, they’re massively inexperienced with just eight players on both sides of the ball back in 2017. In contrast, the Cougars have nine returning starters on defense. Add in Luke Falk who finished with the nation’s second highest completion percentage last season and conditions are ripe for Wazzu prevailing.
Ultimately the mystique of Boise State as purveyor of upsets over Power Five programs doesn’t come to the forefront in Pullman. Washington State 27, Boise State 20