Best of Week 2: Marquee matchups highlight deep second week of 2017 season
There is no shortage of marquee matchups in Week Two, with Oklahoma’s trip to Ohio State the No. 1 attraction. And Nebraska’s junket to Oregon drips with intrigue.
The Huskers beat the Ducks last year in Lincoln, 35-32, but that was an Oregon squad that went on to finish 4-8 and missed a bowl for the first time since 2004. UO coach Mark Helfrich was fired and the school tabbed Willie Taggart from South Florida to assume command. NU coach Mike Riley knows Oregon well from his days as head coach at Oregon State.
Keep an eye on Northwestern’s visit to Duke. David Cutcliffe is entering his 10th season in Durham and has built a fine program, going to four bowls in a row before a 4-8 mark in 2016. This is the third meeting in a row between these two prestigious institutions, as NU has won both in 2015 and 2016. In fact, the Wildcats have won three in a row vs. the Blue Devils.
IU’s game at Virginia will be a good test. Yes, the Cavaliers have been to just one bowl (2011) since 2007 and are coming off a 2-10 season. Still, this is an ACC program. So, there is talent. And Bronco Mendenhall is a good coach beginning his second season. He built a strong program at BYU before coming to UVa. Complicating matters for Indiana is the fact the trip to Charlottesville comes on the heels of a season-opening visit from Ohio State. Indiana and Virginia have played just two times. The Cavaliers won both encounters, 47-7 in Charlottesville in 2009 and 34-31 in Bloomington in 2011.
Week Two is spiced up by two rivalry games. Iowa goes to Iowa State in the battle for Cy-Hawk, as fans from Council Bluffs to Keokuk get jacked up. Iowa has won the last two meetings and three of the last four in Ames. And Pitt plays at Penn State. These foes renewed their rivalry last year after it was dormant since 2000. Thank goodness. College football is better when these schools clash. The Panthers toppled the Nittany Lions last season, 42-39. You know Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi will have his team ready to invade Beaver Stadium. Pitt has not been to State College since 1999, the last time Penn State beat the Panthers. And Pitt hasn’t won there since 1988, losing the last four visits.
A trip to Oregon State will be a nice test for Minnesota and new coach P.J. Fleck. The Gophers beat the Beavers last year. Expect Oregon State to be improved under Gary Andersen, the former Wisconsin coach who won two games his first year in Corvallis and four last season. This will be Minnesota’s first trip to Oregon State, as the four previous meetings all were in Minneapolis. The Gophers are 3-1.
Illinois needs to be careful when Western Kentucky comes to Memorial Stadium. The Hilltoppers lost coach Jeff Brohm, who took the Purdue job. But he had Western Kentucky rolling, going 31-10 the last three seasons with three bowl games and two league titles. The Hilltoppers won C-USA in 2016, going 11-3.
Purdue welcomes Ohio for a Friday night game. Be careful, Boilers. The Bobcats are a top MAC program under 72-year-old Frank Solich, who is in his 13th season in Athens owning an 88-67 mark, eight bowls and four division titles. One of those championships came in 2016, when Ohio went 8-6. It would be far from a shock to see the Bobcats leave Ross-Ade Stadium with a victory. The schools last met in 1988, with Purdue prevailing in West Lafayette.
Wisconsin welcomes Florida Atlantic and new coach Lane Kiffin. Once the fastest-rising coaching star in America, Kiffin finds his career in reverse at age 42. The man who once coached the Raiders, Tennessee and USC and most recently was offensive coordinator at Alabama is now running a C-USA program. Kiffin takes over for former Wisconsin assistant Charlie Partridge, who was ousted after posting three consecutive 3-9 seasons. The Owl program was berthed in 2001 with Howard Schnellenberger as the first coach and has just two bowl appearances, the last being in 2008.
Here is the Best of Week Two.
Best game: The visit from Oklahoma for the second game of the season should be a doozy. The Buckeyes won last season in Norman, 45-24, so you know OU will be stoked for payback. Adding intrigue is the fact former Sooner offensive coordinator and Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is in his first season as Ohio State’s OC. So, a week after he faces the Hoosiers (on a Thursday) in the season opener, he takes on Oklahoma and former boss Bob Stoops.
Best coaching matchup: This has to be Ohio State’s Urban Meyer vs. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. Meyer has won three national titles, while Stoops has won one. Both of these outstanding coaches trace their roots to Ohio.
Best coordinator clash: It will be fun to watch Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead take on Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin. And know this: Panther coach Pat Narduzzi has a defensive background, so his fingerprints are all over the unit. Moorhead turned the PSU attack into one of the most deadly in the nation in 2016, when Penn State set the school record for total offense (6,056), passing yards (3,650) and tied the school record for points scored (526). Under Conklin’s watch, Pitt ranked sixth nationally in sacks last season, averaging 3.31 per contest. Pitt compiled 80 sacks the past two seasons, its highest two-year total since 2009-10 (81). And Conklin’s 2016 unit also boasted lofty national rankings in rush defense (16th, 119.6 yards per game) and defensive touchdowns (eighth, four TDs).
Best QB matchup: It won’t get much better than OU’s Baker Mayfield vs. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, both legit Heisman contenders. After sharing the job with Cardale Jones in 2015, Barrett assumed command last year and excelled. It will be fun to see what impact new OSU OC Kevin Wilson has on Barrett. Mayfield set a new FBS single-season pass efficiency rating (196.4) in 2016 and threw for 3,965 yards and 40 touchdowns.
Player on the spot: If Nebraska wants to leave Eugene, Ore., with a victory, new QB Tanner Lee must excel. The Tulane transfer won the job in the spring and has fans excited about the direction of the NU offense. Lee has some weapons to work with but needs the line to develop.
Best matchup: Check out Oregon RB Royce Freeman working against Nebraska and its new 3-4 scheme, especially the linebackers. Freeman is coming off an injury-marred season and wants to excel. He is a speedy back who will be a big challenge. Can Husker LB Dedrick Young lead the charge in trying to contain Freeman?
Ranking the games of Week Two
1. Oklahoma at Ohio State
2. Nebraska at Oregon
3. Pitt at Penn State
4. Iowa at Iowa State
5. Northwestern at Duke
6. Minnesota at Oregon State
7. Indiana at Virginia
8. Cincinnati at Michigan
9. Western Michigan at Michigan State
10. Ohio at Purdue (Friday)
11. Western Kentucky at Illinois
12. Florida Atlantic at Wisconsin
13. Eastern Michigan at Rutgers
14. Towson at Maryland