By Aaron Hyden
PSDC College Football Contributor
After a very eventful first week of the college football season, with title contenders showing that they have some more work to do, we’re already at the eve of the second week. Opening jitters should be moving out of the way by now, and the truth (positive or negative) should start to shine through starting here. We have some big games to look forward to, but there are three that stand out above the rest, and those are the games I’ll be breaking down here. When the weekend is over, I’ll be back to break everything down yet again, hopefully improving on my 2-1 prediction record from last week.
No. 19 Oklahoma at No. 23 Tennessee: With both teams on the rise and coming off of impressive performances last week, eyes are set on this game, with people looking to the future. The winner shows that they might be a legitimate contender on the season, while the loser goes back to the drawing board.
Tennessee rushed for 399 yards last week, nearly having three players top the 100-yard mark, with Alvin Kamara going for 144, Jalen Hurd getting 123 and QB Joshua Dobbs getting 89 yards of his own. It was the school’s best single-game rushing performance in over 20 years, but now, that running game goes up against an Oklahoma run defense that ranked 11th in the country last season in yards allowed and 10th in yards per game allowed. The Volunteers won’t reach 400 rushing yards again this week, but if they can get some sort of consistency with their three-headed monster, you have to like their chances.
Early word is that Neyland Stadium will be sold out and rocking with over 102,000 fans. It’s the type of advantage that only a select few teams in the country can enjoy. If that running game of Tennessee keeps the chains moving, the stadium will get louder and louder. Prediction: Tennessee, 27-24
No. 7 Oregon at No. 5 Michigan State: One team’s title hopes suffer a major, major setback with a loss here. Last week saw both teams win, but with question marks in their defensive performances. Both teams struggled against the pass, which indicates, at face value, that we could be in for a bit of a shootout here.
When you look at the offensive rosters on both sides, Oregon has a major edge in raw speed, athletic ability, explosiveness and playmakers. Does that give them the edge in a shootout? It does, but how much of that edge is nullified by a game being on the road, as well as the game being in the hands of new QB Vernon Adams? Like most teams, Oregon plays better at home, and their young squad will be facing a rowdy Spartan Stadium crowd this weekend.
With both defensive backfields facing questions, Michigan State QB Connor Cook has to step up and show the country why he is viewed as, arguably, the top QB in college football and a possible top overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He certainly isn’t as athletic or as explosive as Adams is, but he has the poise, pocket presence, and big arm to make big plays happen. That’s dangerous for an Oregon defense that gave up 438 yards passing and five touchdowns on a 67% completion clip last week to Eastern Washington.
If Oregon’s playmakers in the running game can step up against a MSU defense loaded with NFL talent in the front seven, that will make things so much easier for Adams, who won’t be asked to do as much as Marcus Mariota was asked to do in recent years for the Ducks. This probably will end up being a high-scoring affair, but overall, the home field advantage is too much to overlook, in my opinion. Prediction: Michigan State, 41-33
No. 14 LSU at No. 25 Mississippi State: State QB Dak Prescott is viewed as the best running QB in the country, and for good reason. The entire MSU offense goes through him, but it is that one-sided nature, especially without 1,200-yard rusher Josh Robinson on the team anymore, that has some worried about the team’s chances this season. Outside of one big run for each of them, neither Brandon Holloway nor Ashton Shumpert looked like someone that could fill Robinson’s shoes. If the team is going to beat LSU for the second year in a row, it needs one, if not both, of them to step up. In last season’s game, Robinson ran for 197 yards, while Prescott ran for 105 and threw for another 268.
This will be LSU’s season opener after their game against McNeese State was called due to weather after only a few minutes. Some will say that makes them more rested than State is, while others will say that makes them the rustier team. Star RB Leonard Fournette will carry a running game and will try to wear the Mississippi State defense down. Fournette is a strong, physical runner capable of doing just that, and it should be the ultimate difference here. Prediction: LSU, 21-14
Like last week, I’ll make my return once the games are all said and done so that I can review everything that went down. Who will lose their title hopes in mid-September? Who will make a play for the Heisman? We shall soon see.