10 things to know for Week 2 of college football
Week 1 of the college football season is in the books, and it did not disappoint. Upsets were had, overtimes were played and new stars emerged. Week 2 may feel like a bit of a drop-off after such an exciting start to the year, but there are still plenty of great matchups and games to be played this weekend.
Here are 10 things to keep an eye on surrounding Saturday’s slate of games:
- The Alabama defense is scary good
As always, the Alabama defense was expected to be one of the best units in the nation coming into this season. If week one’s performance against USC is any indication though, they may end up going down as one of the most-feared defenses in recent memory. What made the Crimson Tide’s performance so impressive was the way they showed dominance at every single level of their defense. Through Week 1, Alabama has positive grades from three linebackers, three defensive backs, two defensive linemen and four edge defenders. That is what we call depth. Their opponent this week doesn’t have quite the pedigree of a USC, but the Western Kentucky offense is not one to take lightly. The Hilltoppers were PFF’s fifth-ranked offense in 2015 and look just as potent this year behind new QB Mike White and PFF’s fourth-highest graded returning receiver, Taywan Taylor.
- Lamar Jackson is a legitimate Heisman contender
Lamar Jackson finished last season with a coming out party in the Music City Bowl, passing for 227 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 226 yards and another two scores in Louisville’s win over Texas A&M. While that was certainly an impressive day at the office, those numbers pale in comparison to what Jackson did last Thursday night against Charlotte. In the first half alone Jackson accounted for eight touchdowns – six through the air and two on the ground – giving the Cardinals a 56-0 halftime lead and allowing the sophomore quarterback to watch the rest of the game from the sideline. Jackson’s PFF QB Rating of 130.00 was the fourth-highest in the nation this week and he showed a nice ability to throw the ball downfield, completing 50 percent of his deep pass attempts (20+ yds) and connecting on all of his intermediate throws (10-19 yds). This week’s opponent, the Syracuse Orange, have an impressive QB of their own in Eric Dungey (+7.5 passing grade) and a pair of safeties in Kielan Whitner (+3.0) and Antwan Cordy (+2.7) who will look to slow Jackson down. Last week’s performance rightfully vaulted Lamar Jackson into the Heisman conversation and he’ll have a chance to display his talents to a national audience this Friday night against Syracuse.
- Two of the top QBs in the nation square off in Stillwater
Oklahoma State vs. Central Michigan is probably not a must-watch game for most around the country this weekend, but if you’re a fan of great quarterback play you should make a point to tune in. This matchup features two of PFF’s top 15 quarterbacks in the nation heading into 2016 in Mason Rudolph and Cooper Rush. Rudolph was outstanding last season for Oklahoma State, ranking second in the nation among all returning quarterbacks in both deep ball accuracy and overall passing grade (+43.5) and continued his impressive play with a good showing this past weekend, earning an adjusted completion percentage of 87 which ranked sixth nationally. Rush was impressive as well last year, posting the 14th-highest grade among all quarterbacks and excelling on passes in the intermediate to deep range. Both quarterbacks will be looking to solidify their place among the nation’s top passers in this week two matchup.
- Carl Lawson is playing up to his potential
Carl Lawson’s name is often thrown around when discussing the nation’s top pass-rushers, but to this point it’s been more his potential, not production that has him included in the conversation. He’s flashed plenty of ability over the years but has struggled to perform on a consistent basis and has fought off injuries throughout his career. Is 2016 the year Lawson finally puts it all together? Only one game has been played, but so far things look promising. In Week 1’s matchup against a talented Clemson team, Lawson posted a +7.3 overall grade and was the nation’s second-best edge defender when rushing the passer. Lawson collected four total pressures on the day and had a solid 10.7 run stop percentage, an area in which he’s struggled in the past. Lawson is off to a great start in 2016 and will look to keep the momentum going this weekend against Arkansas State, a team against which he should have no problem putting up a similar performance.
- Can Patrick Mahomes replicate last week’s performance?
Patrick Mahomes had an impressive opening weekend, showcasing his skills as both a passer and runner and posting the nation’s highest overall grade at quarterback in Week 1. Mahomes threw for 475 yards and four touchdowns in Texas Tech’s victory over Stephen F. Austin, adding in another 47 yards and two scores on the ground. His +5.5 passing grade on plays where he faced pressure was good to see considering he’s had issues there previously. While his numbers were certainly impressive, Mahomes will have a tougher test this weekend as Texas Tech travels to Arizona State to face the Sun Devils. A Saturday night road game against a Power-5 opponent will be a good measuring stick for Mahomes and a talented Red Raider offense.
- The SEC needs to rebound after Week 1
If Week 1’s results are any indication, it appears 2016 may be a down year for many of the usually strong SEC teams. Typically one of, if not the most dominant conference in college football, the SEC largely took a beating this past weekend, going 6-6 in out-of-conference play with a few of those losses coming against much lesser opponents. Alabama did their part opening weekend soundly beating then 20th-ranked USC to a tune of 52-6, but the majority of the remaining SEC teams did not perform up to expectations. Week 2’s slate of games offers an opportunity for most of the conference’s teams to regroup against some lighter competition, but Arkansas’ road trip to TCU and Tennessee’s game against Virginia Tech will be two matchups to keep an eye on. Arkansas barely escaped with a one-point victory over Louisiana Tech last week and Tennessee dodged a bullet in an overtime win against Appalachian State. Both teams badly need a solid win under their belt before conference play gets underway in a few short weeks.
- James Conner is back
James Conner’s story is an inspiring one. After being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in December, Conner vowed to conquer the disease and be back on the field with his Pitt teammates come Week 1. Mission accomplished. While simply making it back onto the field in such a short time would have been impressive enough, Conner actually performed at a high level in his return, grading positively across the board. He scored both a rushing and receiving touchdown on the day, averaged 3.1 yards per attempt after contact, and forced three missed tackles on just 17 carries. In 2014, Conner was PFF’s third-highest-graded runner in the nation and it appears he’s on his way to regaining that form. Pitt takes on Penn State this weekend and will face a solid defense led by linemen Garrett Sickels (+3.8), Antoine White (+3.1) and Kevin Givens (+2.5). This in-state rivalry should be a good test for both Conner and a Pitt offensive line that has looked impressive through one game of action.
- Tennessee has to regroup against Virginia Tech
Count Tennessee among the top teams that underwhelmed in Week 1. They managed to snag a win, but with the talent on that team there’s no reason the Volunteers should have needed overtime to secure a victory over Appalachian State. The Tennessee offense in particular struggled, with just three players earning positive grades in Week 1. Quarterback Josh Dobbs posted the worst grade of his career and looked nowhere near the threat we know him to be. Looking ahead to this weekend, the Vols take on a Virginia Tech team that, while not a power house, will by no means be a pushover. The Hokies currently have two of the four highest-graded cornerbacks in the nation in Greg Stroman and Mook Reynolds, as well as a host of other solid defenders that will look to shut down Dobbs and the rest of the Tennessee offense. It’s only Week 2, but Tennessee will have to regroup and play up to their level of talent if they expect to contend in the SEC this season.
- Curtis Samuel is one of the best offensive weapons in the country
It’s never an easy task to replace a player of Ezekiel Elliott’s caliber, but it appears that junior running back Curtis Samuel is off to a nice start, grading as the top running back in the nation in Week 1. While Samuel is not quite the pure runner that Elliott was, he offers a little more versatility and is able to make plays and put up production from any spot on the field. The Buckeyes use him in a variety of roles and this was very much on display in week one as Samuel lined up in the backfield on just 54 percent of his snaps. His remaining snaps came as either a slot receiver or wildcat quarterback. Samuel’s talent shines wherever he lines up, as evidenced by his week one stat line of 261 total yards and three touchdowns on just 22 touches. As a receiver, Samuel averaged a ridiculous 8.85 yards per route run, a number that easily led the nation last week. Look for Samuel to put on another show this weekend as the Buckeyes play host to Tulsa.
- Arkansas at TCU will be worth watching
TCU plays host to Arkansas in what may be one of the most enticing out-of-conference matchups of Week 2. Neither team performed up to standards last weekend, with TCU allowing South Dakota State to hang around for far too long and Arkansas narrowly pulling out a one-point victory over Louisiana Tech. Their Week 1 performances aside, these are still two very talented teams with a lot at stake this weekend. Arkansas has one of the best edge rushers in the nation in Deatrich Wise Jr. who totaled two QB pressures and four defensive stops in Week 1, as well as a skilled QB in Austin Allen who is off to a good start in replacing his older brother Brandon, Arkansas’ starter last season. TCU has an impressive group of receivers in Taj Williams and KaVontae Turpin and continues to break in transfer QB Kenny Hill who had a good but not great debut, throwing two picks and struggling some with his deep ball accuracy. The Horned Frogs have the edge in this matchup, but if Arkansas can clean up their mistakes from a week ago they have the talent to pull off the upset.