OREGON at OHIO STATE
All things considered, Ohio State opened the season in a positive way by beating a quality Big Ten opponent on the road by two touchdowns. In his starting debut, quarterback C.J. Stroud passed for 294 yards and four touchdowns. He completed only 13 passes yet hit for several big plays, including scoring throws of 38, 56, 61 and 70 yards. The Buckeyes’ receivers, led by Chris Olave, are as good as it gets in college football. The defense needs improvement. The Buckeyes allowed 408 total yards and were gashed for 203 on the ground. But few elite teams open with true road games, and Ohio State was up to the challenge in the 45-31 win at Minnesota. Ryan Day improved to 24-2 overall and 16-0 in league games in his third year as coach. The Buckeyes are 14-point favorites for the second week in a row, this time at home against an Oregon team that many projected to be the Pac-12 favorite. The Ducks’ debut was far from impressive, however, and they probably rank behind USC, Utah and UCLA in the conference pecking order. Most prognosticators overrated Oregon, which was a 20-point favorite in a 31-24 victory over Fresno State. Anthony Brown is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback who passed for 172 yards, rushed for 56 yards and accounted for two TDs. CJ Verdell is an explosive running back. But the Ducks do not have an abundance of offensive playmakers, unlike the Buckeyes. Oregon’s top NFL prospect, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, left at halftime with a left ankle injury, and his status is questionable for this week. Thibodeaux demands extra attention and is a matchup problem. If he’s good to go, look to take 14 points or more with the underdog. The line seems slightly inflated after last week’s results.
— Matt Youmans
TOLEDO at NOTRE DAME
It was no surprise that Notre Dame had to sweat out its opener at Florida State. The Seminoles were certain to be hyped as 7-point home dogs. The way the game ended was rather stunning, with the Irish blowing an 18-point fourth-quarter lead. Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton entered late and engineered a comeback that fell short in overtime when the Seminoles missed a short field-goal attempt and the Irish survived 41-38. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had to be pleased with several aspects of the offense. Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan passed for 366 yards and four touchdowns, and tight end Michael Mayer, wideout Kevin Austin and running back Kyren Williams each had a touchdown reception. Mayer had two costly drops, however, and Williams carried 18 times with a long run of just 7 yards. Notre Dame was limited to 65 rushing yards on 35 attempts. The Irish defense allowed 442 total yards, including 264 on the ground, as new coordinator Marcus Freeman made repeated mistakes by using three-man fronts in failed run-stopping schemes. Toledo returned 21 starters this season and will be one of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference. The Rockets, led by quarterback Carter Bradley and running back Bryant Koback, blew out Norfolk State 49-10. The Irish had to replace a lot of front-line talent and will improve as the season progresses. It will be no surprise if Toledo hangs tough, but Notre Dame can flash the offensive firepower to pull away, and the 17.5-point line looks like a solid number.
— Matt Youmans
TEXAS at ARKANSAS
In Steve Sarkisian’s coaching debut at Texas, his team was on upset alert against Louisiana. There was no chance the Longhorns would look past the ranked Ragin’ Cajuns, who returned 20 starters and were getting betting support as single-digit underdogs. Sarkisian’s decision to start Hudson Card at quarterback was the right move. Card completed 14 of 21 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in a 38-18 win. Running back Bijan Robinson was another star, compiling 103 yards on 20 carries and 73 yards on four receptions. The Longhorns played a turnover-free game, controlled the clock for 33 minutes and totaled 435 yards. This is no time for Sarkisian to feel satisfied, though, because a trip to Arkansas is no cakewalk. The Razorbacks pulled off an unlikely cover of a 20.5-point spread by outscoring Rice 21-0 in the fourth quarter of a 38-17 win. Redshirt freshman KJ Jefferson passed for 128 yards, rushed for 89 yards and totaled three touchdowns in a solid second career start. The Razorbacks rushed for 245 yards, with Trelon Smith going for 102, and the running attack will continue to be the emphasis of coach Sam Pittman’s offense. In Pittman’s first year, Arkansas upset Mississippi and Mississippi State and played Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M to the wire. Card is an inexperienced quarterback, so Texas, a 6-point road favorite, remains on upset alert.
— Matt Youmans
UTAH at BYU
After each team faced relatively weak competition last week, BYU and Utah will meet for a true test of strength. The Utes have won nine straight (6-3 ATS) in the rivalry, but they were fortunate to avoid the Cougars last season when quarterback Zach Wilson led BYU to an 11-1 record. Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick by the New York Jets, was on the sideline Saturday in Las Vegas to watch the Cougars hold off Arizona 24-16. Jaren Hall, a redshirt sophomore from Spanish Fork, Utah, passed for 198 yards and two touchdowns in his third career start. Hall also ran five times for 36 yards. Tyler Allgeier led the ground attack with 17 carries for 94 yards. While the offensive performance was positive, it was not overwhelming, and BYU’s defense was lit up by the Wildcats’ Gunner Cruz, who passed for 336 yards. Utah whipped Weber State 40-17 as Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer threw for 233 yards and two scores. Tavion Thomas had 12 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns. The Utes should contend for the Pac-12 title. The Arizona team that BYU just struggled to get by is one of the Pac-12’s worst. When these teams met in Provo in 2019, Utah was a 6-point favorite in a dominant 30-12 win. It’s probably better to bet on Utah coach Kyle Whittingham or pass. Whittingham has arguably the top offensive and defensive lines in the conference. The early money in this matchup showed on the Utes, who opened -6 and moved to -7.
— Matt Youmans
UNLV at ARIZONA STATE
Jayden Daniels completed 10 passes for 132 yards and made an early exit as Arizona State coasted past Southern Utah 41-14 last week. The Sun Devils have few reasons to fear this week’s opponent either. UNLV is off a 35-33 double-overtime loss to Eastern Washington, which closed as a 2-point road favorite after one Las Vegas book opened the Rebels -11. Second-year coach Marcus Arroyo is showing he lacks game-management and talent-evaluation skills. UNLV is 0-7 under Arroyo, with all six losses last season by double digits. Arroyo started the wrong quarterback last week and had to bench Justin Rogers after he passed for only 23 yards on 11 attempts. Doug Brumfield relieved and threw for 117 yards while rushing for 27 yards and a touchdown to spark a late rally. The Rebels’ workhorse was Charles Williams, who carried the ball 27 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns. The defense allowed 471 total yards. Aside from Williams, UNLV has something good to talk about this week. When these teams last met in 2008, the Rebels pulled off a stunning 23-20 upset as 24-point underdogs in Tempe. Don’t expect a repeat performance from a poorly coached Rebels team. Arizona State is a 33-point favorite and will probably cover unless coach Herm Edwards calls off the Sun Devils and again sends Daniels to the bench early. It remains to be seen if Arizona State is on a level with USC, Utah, UCLA and Oregon as the top teams in the Pac-12.
— Matt Youmans
ILLINOIS at VIRGINIA
The Bret Bielema era got off to a great start two weeks ago with Illinois’ 30-22 home win as nearly a touchdown underdog in the Big Ten opener against Nebraska. But Illinois lost to visiting UTSA 37-30 last weekend in a buy game that cost the Illini $1.1 million. The betting money came for UTSA and was rightly placed as the Roadrunners never allowed the Illini to lead and cashed as 4.5-point underdogs after opening at + 7.5. Illinois was outgained 496-395 and allowed 216 yards on the ground a week after holding Nebraska to 160. Backup quarterback Artur Sitkowski, a Rutgers transfer, threw three touchdown passes with no turnovers but struggled a bit with accuracy, going 22-for-43. Fifth-year QB Brandon Peters missed Saturday’s game with a left shoulder injury and is listed as questionable at Virginia. Illinois was also short-handed in the backfield as neither Chase Brown nor Chase Hayden played. Virginia began its 2021 campaign with a 43-0 victory over William & Mary, covering as a 30.5-point favorite. After scoring only three points on their first four drives, the Cavaliers piled up 545 yards of total offense. Coach Bronco Mendenhall has covered six of his last seven as a home favorite and will be in that role this weekend. The Cavaliers opened as 13-point favorites at Circa Sports, but money showed for the Illini, with early bettors buying on the weakness of losing to a Group of 5 program at home, and the line has settled at 10.
— Wes Reynolds
BALL STATE at PENN STATE
Ball State did not have the prettiest opener against Western Illinois, as the Cardinals were tied 7-7 at halftime as 31.5-point favorites. Ball State scored 17 consecutive points en route to a 31-21 victory, but the Cardinals were outgained 437-404 by a team that has a 2-16 combined record over the last two seasons. BSU senior quarterback Drew Plitt, beginning his third season as the starter, threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Despite the sluggish effort, Ball State returns 16 “super seniors” and 20 starters from a team that finished No. 23 in the AP and coaches’ polls after defeating Mountain West champion San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl for the school’s first bowl victory. Somehow Penn State won on the road as a 5.5-point underdog at No. 12 Wisconsin despite having just 43 yards and one first down in the first half and allowing the Badgers to possess the ball for nearly 43 minutes and run 95 plays to the Nittany Lions’ 51. The Penn State defense won the day by holding Wisconsin scoreless on four trips inside the 25-yard line, intercepting Graham Mertz twice in the final three minutes. Penn State struggled in its first game under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. The Lions were unable to run the ball between the tackles, with just 18 carries for 50 yards. Quarterback Sean Clifford stayed mistake-free and made enough plays in the passing game, with 206 of his 247 yards in the second half. Beginning a four-game homestand, the Nittany Lions opened as 22-point favorites. The spread has not moved, but the total has dropped from 58 to 53.5. This game is a sandwich spot, with Penn State coming off a victory in its Big Ten road opener and Auburn visiting State College next week.
— Wes Reynolds
UTEP at BOISE STATE
The El Paso team most likely to start a season 2-0 in recent years has been the Pacific Coast League Chihuahuas. Until this year, it hadn’t happened with UTEP football since starting 1988 by beating Mankato State and Weber State. So maybe the Miners and their fans can be excused for celebrating after beating New Mexico State and Bethune-Cookman. Boise State is a much tougher test for Dana Dimel’s troops, but UTEP did hint at an improved attack a year ago before injuries and COVID-19 robbed the momentum. QB Gavin Hardison has thrown four touchdown passes and slashing RB Ronald Awatt has rushed for 200 yards and a 6.7-ypc average as they have provided a big-play dimension in the early going. The Broncos are surely kicking themselves after blowing a 21-point lead in the opener at UCF, but expect new coach Andy Avalos to demand a bit more balance in the offense after gaining less than a yard per carry against the Knights. That might slow the pace just enough to keep the score respectable, especially as UTEP seems to have enough competence to hang inside these sorts of inflated imposts in 2021.
— Bruce Marshall
AIR FORCE at NAVY
Navy was taken to the woodshed by Marshall in the opener 49-7, an output that marks the fourth straight game that Ken Niumatalolo’s once-feared option has been held to single digits. It’s not business as usual at Navy, where the Midshipmen finished 52nd in the national rushing stats they sometimes led before last year, and Niumatalolo might be tempted to see if Roger Staubach has any eligibility left after cycling through four QBs to no avail last week. Meanwhile, Air Force still looks and acts the same as Troy Calhoun’s many bowl qualifiers the last 14 seasons and indeed led the nation in rushing a year ago, suggesting the Falcons’ version of the option is still very operational. Calhoun kept it very vanilla against FCS Lafayette last week, showing none of the tricks normally deployed by QB Haaziq Daniels as Calhoun saves some gadgets for this week as the Falcons aim for their first win at Annapolis since 2011.
— Bruce Marshall
UAB at GEORGIA
Though UAB has more than held its own since returning to the gridiron under Bill Clark in 2017, the Blazers have not stepped up especially well, posting 0-4 straight-up and spread marks against Power 5 opposition. UAB has been careful not to overschedule, including just one nice payday game per season against a Power 5 foe. This might be the toughest challenge yet facing a Georgia bunch still overflowing with confidence after Saturday’s 10-3 grinder over Clemson set the Dawgs in position for a straight run at the College Football Playoff. A Georgia defense that sacked D.J. Uiagalelei seven times and effectively rendered Dabo Swinney’s offense helpless should be able to put the clamps on UAB. Clark, however, does have QB Tyler Johnston III back and healthy after injuries limited him a year ago, and he completed 17 of 21 in a dart-throwing exhibition last week against nearby Jacksonville State. The question is whether the Bulldogs’ offense, which didn’t do much behind JT Daniels against Clemson, will find the Blazers an easy enough test to clear the considerable line hovering near 4 TDs.
— Bruce Marshall
IOWA at IOWA STATE
The Cy-Hawk Trophy is being contested for some higher stakes this year as even “ESPN GameDay” is showing up for the festivities. The hype was almost squelched last week when Iowa State struggled past FCS Northern Iowa, but that has happened before previous games against Iowa as the Cyclones invariably look ahead and the Panthers treat the clash like the storming of the Bastille. (Hint to ISU: Maybe find a different FCS rep from another state to face the week before the Hawkeyes.) Matt Campbell is still looking for his first win in what will be his fifth try against Kirk Ferentz, but we doubt the Cyclones will self-destruct against Iowa the way Indiana did last week, when QB Michael Penix got careless and was burned for a couple of pick-sixes by CB Riley Moss that distorted the score. With a career 62-25 TD-INT ratio, veteran Cyclones QB Brock Purdy is unlikely to immolate in the same manner and seems more likely to fire the winning shots than Iowa counterpart Spencer Petras, only 13 of 27 against the Hoosiers after posting modest stats a year ago. This looks like Campbell’s best chance to break the Hawkeyes’ recent hex in Ames.
— Bruce Marshall
TEXAS A&M at COLORADO
These sides are a long way, literally and figuratively, from where they were the last time they met in 2008 as part of an early iteration of the Big 12. Now it’s Jimbo Fisher and his impersonation of an auctioneer trying to mount A&M’s challenge to Alabama in the SEC West. And while the Aggies eventually did pull away from Kent State in their opener, touted freshman QB Haynes King was all over the place, tossing three picks and overthrowing many receivers. Regional sources suggest King will prove an able successor to Kellen Mond, but in early September, the jury is still out. King and A&M survived those miscues against the Golden Flashes, but mistakes like that on the road might be a problem this week. Colorado’s Karl Dorrell has been adamant about slowing the pace and developing a proper running diversion, with the offense pivoting around sophomore RB Jarek Broussard, who ran for 895 yards and averaged 7.2 ypc in 2020. That means not asking freshman QB Brendon Lewis, who passed only 15 times in the opening romp past Northern Colorado, to take many risks. The question is whether that approach might boomerang on Dorrell if Colorado is forced to play catch-up, which the Buffaloes didn’t handle well in losses to Utah and Texas last season.
— Bruce Marshall
APPALACHIAN STATE at MIAMI
After getting liquefied against top-ranked Alabama, this should be at least a more palatable challenge for the Hurricanes. Not easy, mind you, as the visiting Mountaineers have established their chops as legit Group of 5 contenders. Miami defenders might be disappointed if they’re giving their turnover chain an extra polishing this week at the prospect of facing Mounties QB Chase Brice, who was a turnover machine last year at Duke. That’s because the new and improved version of Brice looked more poised when completing 20 of 27 throws without getting too reckless in App State’s opening win over East Carolina. We never really got a chance to see D’Eriq King in a normal game setting last week as he was immediately forced to play from behind against Alabama, but the Miami quarterback didn’t seem to suffer any lingering effects from offseason knee surgery. This home chalk role has not been profitable lately for the Canes, just 7-13 laying points at Hard Rock since early 2017.
— Bruce Marshall
WASHINGTON at MICHIGAN
Washington has been getting all sorts of hype on the Pacific Coast despite playing only four games last season and skipping the Pac-12 title game due to COVID-19 issues. But after the shocking loss to Montana in last week’s opener, the jury remains out on hyper second-year coach Jimmy Lake, who was envisioned as a seamless transition from former mentor Chris Petersen. But Lake needs to bring his offense into the Husky Stadium garage for a tune-up. It did little after scoring an early TD against the Grizzlies, with QB Dylan Morris tossing three picks and the rushing attack held to 53 yards. Jim Harbaugh is still kicking at Ann Arbor, and a revived Michigan ground game pounded out 335 yards in a romp past Western Michigan in the opener. But we’ve seen the Wolverines start fast in recent years against foes they can push around only to fall flat against top-level opposition. But the question for this one at the Big House is: Can the Huskies be considered top-level opposition?
— Bruce Marshall
STANFORD at USC
It’s an indifferent crowd at Stanford, where the fan base looks forward to shareholder meetings and wine-and-cheese gatherings more than Cardinal football. But even the guys at the Hoover Institution are wondering what has happened to the old Stanford power game that David Shaw had been able to lean on for most of the last decade. It hasn’t been there in recent years — certainly not in 2020, when Stanford ranked 93rd in rushing — and it was absent in last week’s opener, when the Cardinal couldn’t even punch out 2 yards per carry against Kansas State. Without the old playmakers — think Andrew Luck, Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love — and Shaw unable to make up his mind at QB between sophomore Tanner McKee and senior Jack West, a recipe for stagnation is present. That hardly seems the case at USC, where QB Kedon Slovis is generating peripheral Heisman buzz and WR Drake London looks like the next on a long assembly line of featured wideouts after catching 13 passes in the opener against San Jose State. Todd Orlando’s attacking defense continues to make plays and sewed up the San Jose win with a pick-six by senior safety Greg Johnson. Will the Trojans even be challenged as much as they were last week by the Spartans, who still had a look at the game into the fourth quarter? The home team has won and covered the last four regular-season meetings.
— Bruce Marshall