Week 2 will be the best college football Saturday of the month of September — and possibly the entire season, at least until we get to late November. With so much up for grabs, keep an eye on these coaches as they play for more than what’s on the scoreboard.
Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma: We all remember what happened last season, when Ohio State waltzed into Norman and gobsmacked the Sooners. No one expects a whipping like that this time around, but Ohio State is still a heavy favorite. And yet these Buckeyes are far from invincible. The offense looked out of sync for much of Ohio State’s opening win over Indiana, and the defense surrendered 410 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air. With a fifth-year senior quarterback with a DNA perfectly suited for situations such as these — remember how Baker Mayfield came alive when OU was down 17 at Tennessee two years ago? — this is the perfect situation for Riley to let it all hang out and play like he has nothing to lose. Who knows, this could be the night he inherits the Big Game Lincoln moniker once held by his predecessor.
Seth Littrell, North Texas: Seth Littrell asked for a lot when arriving at North Texas. He has since been given a lot, in exchange for the expectation that he turns the corner for the Mean Green football program. Jumping from one to five wins in his debut season was a great start, but that corner has still yet to be turned.
North Texas visits SMU on Saturday night. The feeling isn’t mutual, but North Texas would rather beat SMU more than anyone else in college football — in large part because the feeling isn’t mutual. And yet UNT has only beaten the Mustangs five times in 36 meetings and not in Dallas since 1933. SMU is a 2-touchdown favorite over the Mean Green, but there is a real belief in Denton that North Texas can win.
The corner is here. Can Littrell turn it?
Matt Campbell, Iowa State: Iowa has won two in a row in this heated series…. and six of nine… and, uh, 24 of 34. Point is, Iowa State fans have lived under the specter of a Hawkeye State far too often for their liking.
Iowa State opened with an 18-point win over Northern Iowa, a tougher-than-expected task despite UNI’s FCS status. Iowa’s defense harassed Wyoming’s Josh Allen into a horrendous outing in the Hawkeyes’ 24-3 opening win, but the Iowa State defense has the ability to turn this into a low-scoring slugfest.
With the Hawkeyes coming to Ames, this is the picture-perfect opportunity for Campbell and the Cyclones to claim the state of Iowa as their own.
Most at risk
Clay Helton, USC: It’s been 10 years since Stanford turned the Pac-12 on its head. If you’ll remember, Jim Harbaugh, largely an unknown in coaching at the time, took Stanford to LA Coliseum and beat No. 1 USC in what stood as the largest point-spread upset in college football history until Howard broke that record last week. USC beat Stanford the following year, but Stanford has owned the Cardinal ever since. Stanford has won three in a row — by an average of 15 points per game — and seven of the last nine.
Stanford was off last week while USC didn’t put Western Michigan away until the 57th minute on Saturday.
After the way USC closed last season, 2017 was supposed to be the year USC ended the Reign of the Tree and returned rightful control of the Pac-12 to Los Angeles. But that won’t happen if USC can’t first beat Stanford in Los Angeles.
Kalani Sitake, BYU: BYU hasn’t beaten Utah since 2009, though the Cougars came thisclose last season, when their 2-point-conerversion-for-the-win with 18 seconds to play was stuffed, dooming BYU to a 20-19 loss.
That was the first of four losses for BYU that season; those setbacks came by a total of eight points. The Cougars entered 2017 with optimism that this season could be special — and why not? After all this team won five in a row and eight of nine to close last year, and, again, even in their losses BYU was right there.
BYU wasn’t right there last Saturday. BYU was shutout in a 27-0 loss to LSU, but the result was actually worse than that; the Cougars ran only 38 plays, and each of those 38 began and ended in BYU territory. They just flat out weren’t competitive against the Tigers.
If BYU falls to Utah, not only would it extend their Holy War losing streak to seven, it end any belief that 2017 could be special, dooming the rest of the campaign to just another season.
Mike Riley, Nebraska: The natives are restless in Lincoln? How else do you explain new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco having to defend himself following a 43-36 win over Arkansas State? We know nothing about Oregon’s offense yet, but if Willie Taggart and company get into the 40’s and beat Nebraska, in Year 1, coming off a 4-8 season?