Like we’ve done in years past, every Friday throughout the season we’ll highlight the five best games of the coming weekend. This year, we’ll pick those games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
With four ranked matchups on the slate, Week 1 of the college football season delivered. We saw a few upsets, like LSU demolishing Miami, and a few near-upsets with Michigan State and Penn State both escaping Group of Five opponents by the slimmest of margins.
While Week 2 doesn’t look as enticing on paper — there’s only two games between ranked opponents — that doesn’t mean it will be any less exciting. If you’ve watched college football long enough, you know to expect the unexpected.
Let’s see what we’ve got on tap.
(Games on Saturday unless otherwise noted, all times ET)
5. No. 15 Michigan State at Arizona State
Time: 10:45 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Michigan State -6
Michigan State’s opener was a struggle. The Spartans blew a 27-14 lead and needed a late fourth quarter comeback to avoid a big upset at the hands of Utah State. MSU prevailed 38-31, but dropped from No. 11 to No. 15 in the AP Poll.
MSU had its issues containing Utah State’s passing attack, and will have a bigger test in Week 2 with a cross-country trip to face Arizona State. In Herm Edwards’ ASU debut, the Sun Devils trounced UTSA 49-7. ASU’s three offensive standouts — QB Manny Wilkins, WR N’Keal Harry and RB Eno Benjamin — all had strong performances. MSU will especially have its hands full with Harry. He’s one of the best receivers in the country. Edwards will have a chance to silence some of his skeptics against a ranked opponent.
Picks: Sam Cooper: ASU +6, Nick Bromberg: MSU -6
4. No. 13 Penn State at Pitt
Time: 8 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Penn State -9
Like Michigan State, Penn State also was given a scare in its home opener. After blowing a 31-17 lead to Appalachian State, PSU needed a clutch Trace McSorley touchdown pass in the final minute to force overtime and an Amani Oruwariye interception in the end zone to avoid the upset. While new stars like Miles Sanders and KJ Hamler emerged on offense, the Nittany Lions’ young defense, especially the defensive line, had a rough day.
This weekend, a trip to rival Pittsburgh awaits. Pitt opened its season with an easy 33-7 win over FCS Albany. Penn State will obviously present a much bigger challenge. The rivalry was quickly reignited when it renewed in 2016 with Pitt pulling out a dramatic 42-39 win at home. Penn State returned the favor last fall in a dominant 33-14 effort. But that game was before the Pitt coaches gave Kenny Pickett the reins at quarterback. Pickett, plus a deep stable of running backs, will be another challenge for the PSU defense.
Picks: Sam: PSU -9, Nick: PSU -9
3. No. 2 Clemson at Texas A&M
Time: 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Clemson -12
Clemson’s quarterback battle is going to spill over into Week 2, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how it plays out. It was easy for Dabo Swinney to juggle starter Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence against Furman, but it will be a little tougher to split their snaps on the road against Texas A&M. Both played well Saturday, but Lawrence, the five-star freshman, tossed three touchdowns. As our Pat Forde put it: “Lawrence’s relief performance was enough to accelerate the hype train. Swinney’s quarterback rotation will be of immense interest Saturday at Texas A&M.”
On the other side, the A&M dominated an FCS opponent of its own, Northwestern State, in Jimbo Fisher’s coaching debut. Kellen Mond got the start at QB over Nick Starkel, but Trayveon Williams was the star of the day for the Aggies. The junior running back rushed for 240 yards and three TDs on 20 carries. One of those scores went for 73 yards. It’s a safe bet to say the Clemson defense will provide more resistance than the Demons.
Picks: Sam: Clemson -12, Nick: Clemson -12
2. No. 3 Georgia at No. 24 South Carolina
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: Georgia -10
Georgia’s SEC title defense gets an early test with a trip to Columbia to face South Carolina, a team that is arguably Georgia’s top competition in the SEC East.
The Gamecocks handled Coastal Carolina without trouble in Week 1. Jake Bentley, now in his third year as the starter, tossed four touchdowns to four different receivers, including Deebo Samuel. Samuel, one of the most dangerous big-play threats in the SEC, made his return from a broken leg. He’ll need to have a big game for the Gamecocks to pull off the upset.
Georgia made quick work of FCS darlings Austin Peay, shutting out the Governors 45-0 while putting up 508 yards of offense. Jake Fromm led the way at quarterback and had all of his weapons — D’Andre Swift, Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley and Cal transfer Demetris Robertson, among others — on display. We’ll get a better chance to see what the new faces on defense are made of against the Gamecocks.
Picks: Sam: Georgia -10, Nick: Georgia -10
1. No. 15 USC at No. 13 Stanford
Time: 8:30 p.m. | TV: FOX | Line: Stanford -5.5
J.T. Daniels, USC’s 18-year-old true freshman QB, shook off some early nerves to turn in a solid debut in the Trojans’ 43-21 win over UNLV. Daniels completed 22-of-35 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown to fellow freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown (7 catches, 98 yards) while the Trojans compiled 219 rushing yards.
Daniels has a big test traveling to Pac-12 rival Stanford in Week 2, but USC fans should be more concerned about a defense that gave up 308 rushing yards to the Rebels. There’s no way Stanford’s Bryce Love, the 2017 Heisman runner-up, will turn in another 29-yard performance like he did in the Cardinal’s win over San Diego State. And if Love does get bottled up again, Stanford has a big threat in the passing game, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, to rely upon. He caught six passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns against SDSU, including an 80-yarder late in the third to put the game out of reach.
With Washington dropping its opener to Auburn, the winner of this one will likely move to the top of the rankings among Pac-12 teams for the early part of the season.
Picks: Sam: USC +5.5, Nick: USC +5.5
Week 2’s best bets
Nick Bromberg (Last week: 2-1)
Mississippi State (-8) at Kansas State: This is potentially the best Noon kickoff of the day. The Bulldogs did just fine without QB Nick Fitzgerald in Week 1 as Keytaon Thompson had seven total touchdowns. Now that Fitzgerald is back from his one-game suspension, he’ll start and get the majority of the snaps. Kansas State will finish at or above .500 again this year but struggled against South Dakota in Week 1. Bill Snyder’s squad will keep it close but Mississippi State wins by two scores. Pick: Mississippi State -8
Colorado at Nebraska (-3.5): The Scott Frost era finally begins with a rivalry that he’s incredibly familiar with. The Buffaloes looked good against Colorado State, but almost anyone could look good against Colorado State. An energized home crowd and a good performance from new starting QB Adrian Martinez propels Nebraska to the win. Pick: Nebraska -3.5
Cal at BYU (-3.5): The Cougars scored one of the surprise wins of Week 1 with a victory at Arizona to spoil Kevin Sumlin’s Arizona debut. Can BYU go 2-2 over Pac-12 teams? Cal looked strong against North Carolina before the Tar Heels made it a close game on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter. Justin Wilcox’s team could pull the upset. Pick: Cal +3.5
Sam Cooper (Last week: 2-1)
Fresno State at Minnesota (-2.5): Fresno State was one biggest surprise teams in the country last year. As a result, the Bulldogs were tremendous at covering the spread. Jeff Tedford’s bunch put up 79 points on Idaho last week while Minnesota beat up on a New Mexico State traveling across the country on a short week. I’m not convinced Minnesota has enough to beat the Bulldogs. Pick: Fresno State +2.5
UTEP at UNLV (-23.5): I had UNLV covering against USC last week and the Rebels delivered. UNLV has a really good offense, led by QB Armani Rodgers. On the other side, UTEP lost by 20 at home to Northern Arizona, an FCS team that went 7-5 last year. This should be a pretty comfortable cover for UNLV against the worst team in the country. Pick: UNLV -23.5
San Jose State at Washington State (-34): Here’s another big number, but I’m going to try to capitalize on another bad team. San Jose State gave up 44 points in a Week 1 home loss to UC Davis, an FCS team. Washington State went on the road and put up 41 on a pretty stingy Wyoming defense. East Carolina transfer Gardner Minshew looked pretty good at QB, too. Give me the Cougs. Pick: Washington State -34
For Pat Forde and Pete Thamel’s Week 2 picks, check out Race for the Case: