The first week of college football offered five straight days of entertainment. This week will not disappoint, with three top 15 matchups and another top 25 matchup. As we start the long stretch toward the College Football Playoff, expect these games to carry merit in the conversation on who the best four teams are at season’s end. Staff writers Alex Learned and Josh Gollihar give their picks on these big games.
No. 2 Ohio State versus No. 5 Oklahoma
Alex: Two playoff-hopeful teams, each with its own preseason Heisman favorites, face off in the horseshoe. Ohio State routed the Sooners in their matchup in Norman a year ago and will look to start its season on another high note over a top five team. If the Buckeyes want to win this game, quarterback J.T. Barrett cannot get off to another slow start like he did against Indiana. Baker Mayfield and company will come out ready to play, but home-field advantage coupled with the Ezekiel Elliot-like emergence of J.K. Dobbins will give Urban Meyer’s squad the edge over the Sooners in a close one.
Josh: This matchup features two quarterbacks who know how to get into the end zone. Both Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett are responsible for more than 100 touchdowns. They are the active leaders in that category. Both teams are much different than they were during the matchup that happened in Norman a year ago. Oklahoma is having to replace its top running backs and best receiver. Ohio State saw its whole secondary and many other key pieces leave for the NFL. Mayfield will scramble around and make plays. But in a high-scoring affair, Ohio State gets the edge because of freshman running back J.K. Dobbins, who had a breakout performance in primetime last week. Buckeyes win in a shootout.
No. 3 Clemson versus No. 13 Auburn
Alex: Another rematch from the 2016 season, both teams are hungry for a landmark win before heading into their conference schedule. Both quarterbacks, Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham for Auburn and freshman Kelly Bryant for Clemson, did not play in last year’s contest and will look to leave their mark on the game. Auburn gets back leading rusher Kamryn Pettway, who will lead the way on the ground against a stout Clemson defense. With both teams wanting to pound the rock, the game should be decided by who can be more effective on the ground and who can execute better on defense in stopping the run. A night game in Death Valley is an uphill battle, and with 13 returning starters from last year’s championship team, I like Clemson to come out on top.
Josh: Many people see Auburn as one of the few challengers to Alabama’s reign of terror in the SEC. A lot of that hype rests on the shoulders of transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Kamryn Pettway is back to bring the power run game back. Gus Malzahn finally has a serviceable option at signal caller. Clemson will be relying heavily on its stellar defense to keep this a low-scoring affair with freshman quarterback Kelly Bryant playing in his first big game. Defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are as good as you will find in the country. The Tigers of Clemson win a defense-dominated game in Death Valley.
No. 6 USC versus No. 14 Stanford
Alex: Stanford has had the Trojans’ number lately, winning their last three matchups. It will look to make it a fourth against Sam Darnold and a potent USC offense in the Coliseum. Going back to 2007, the Cardinal has won four of five games on the Trojans’ home turf. While all eyes are sure to be on Darnold, Trojan running back Ronald Jones II may steal the show. He went for 159 yards on only 18 carries last week against Western Michigan and will work in tandem with freshman Stephen Carr, who also scored a pair of TDs in week one. An overpowering offense paired with a more-than-adequate front seven on defense should allow USC to edge Stanford and reestablish its home dominance.
Josh: Stanford is one of the most balanced offensive attacks in college football. With Christian McCaffrey being a headache for NFL defenses, the Cardinals now have another star in the making. Junior running back Bryce Love has 13 rushes on the season for 180 yards and a score. His ability to draw the focus of defenses allows senior quarterback Keller Chryst to be a game manager. The Trojans are looking to have a bounce back win. No, they did not lose in week one, but the game was too close in a matchup with Western Michigan. Sam Darnold needs a marquis performance to get his name back into the Heisman race. Pairing an inspired Darnold with stud running back Ronald Jones II will have the Trojans clicking on offense at home. USC wins by at least 10.
No. 15 Georgia versus No. 24 Notre Dame
Alex: Once highly recruited quarterback Jacob Eason is out for the game in South Bend. Tap in true freshman Jake Fromm. He certainly established himself as a capable signal caller after Eason’s injury last week, but he may have a little too much working against him. The fighting Irish rushed for more than 400 yards in week one against Temple and will surely emphasize the run once again against the Bulldogs. The kicker? Notre Dame starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush ran for 106 yards and a touchdown while also throwing for 186 yards and two more touchdowns. A dual-threat option like Wimbush and a productive running game could mean Georgia will have to put up some big points in order to stay in the game. Fromm gives a valiant effort, but it’s not enough to overcome the Irish.
Josh: Both Georgia and Notre Dame are primed for bounce-back seasons. Inexperienced quarterbacks Jake Fromm and Brandon Wimbush will have all eyes on them in South Bend. The key for both teams to get an early-season win is the run game. The freshman Fromm has two great running backs, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, in his backfield. These two will take the pressure off of the young Fromm and allow him to ease into the game. The duo of Wimbush and running back Josh Adams combined with the left side of a powerful offensive line allows Notre Dame to stay perfectly balanced. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey can clear out holes better than any other linemen in the country. Notre Dame has the edge in the passing game with having a star wide receiver in Equanimeous St. Brown. The dynamic Notre Dame offense propels it to a win.