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Big Game Hunting: Texas A&M-Clemson, LSU-Texas top the marquee in Week 2

Is Jimbo Fisher going to create the kind of buzz at A&M that surrounded him as he replaced Bobby Bowden at Florida State? Will he lift the Aggies to where the Seminoles were when they won 39 games from 2012 to 2014? And can a coach who leaned on — and enabled — controversial quarterback Jameis Winston do it all without again calling his own methods into question?

Clemson v Texas A&M
Aggies QB Kellen Mond had a huge game in last year’s tight loss to the champs.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The last active college football coach other than Clemson’s Dabo Swinney or Alabama’s Nick Saban to win the national championship?

Before those two split the last four titles — and before Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, currently (but probably not for long) a Fox Sports studio analyst, won the first College Football Playoff in January of 2015 — Jimbo Fisher and Florida State claimed all the marbles to cap the 2013 season.

Of course, much has changed since then. The Bowl Championship Series is a thing of the ever-more-distant past. The mightiness of FSU’s program is, too. And some would say the same about Fisher, a branch on the Saban coaching tree whose own strength — nearly two years since he departed FSU for Texas A&M as things in Tallahassee began to rot — is in doubt.

But Fisher has, in Year 2 of his follow-up act, a dangerously talented team on his hands. No. 12 Texas A&M (+18) at No. 1 Clemson (2:30 p.m., Ch. 7) is must-see TV on the second full Saturday of the season.

Is Fisher, 53, going to recreate the kind of buzz in rich-in-resources College Station that surrounded him as he replaced Bobby Bowden at FSU prior to the 2010 season? Will he lift the Aggies to where the Seminoles were when they won 39 games from 2012 to 2014? And can a coach who leaned on — and enabled — controversial quarterback Jameis Winston do it all without again calling his own methods into question?

But first: a massive test at the home of the defending champs. The teams played last year on the Aggies’ turf, with the Tigers stopping a last-minute two-point conversion to hang on for a 28-26 victory.

Oh, and another thing: Clemson had Kelly Bryant running the offense that night. Brilliant young quarterback Trevor Lawrence had yet to swipe Bryant’s job.

“Any time you win a national championship and are ranked No. 1, you’re good in all three phases,” said Fisher, a guy who would know.

Lawrence will be the best player on the field. Unless it’s superstar wide receiver Justyn Ross. Or superstar running back Travis Etienne. Have we mentioned the Tigers’ hellacious defense?

But the Aggies have players to be reckoned with, too. Quarterback Kellen Mond threw for 430 yards against the Tigers last year. His receiving corps is bountiful. A&M’s defense? More of a question mark. Clemson, 31-24.

In other Week 2 action:

Cincinnati (+16) at No. 5 Ohio State (11 a.m., Ch. 7): The Bearcats impressed, especially on defense, in last week’s 24-14 victory over UCLA. Now comes a huge moment for their coach, Luke Fickell, who played at OSU and was on the staff there for 15 years before taking his first head job. Sorry, boss: Buckeyes by 20-plus.

No. 6 LSU (-6½) at No. 9 Texas (6:30 p.m., Ch. 7): No quarterback in the country will give up his body more willingly than the Tigers’ Joe Burrow — unless it’s the Longhorns’ Sam Ehlinger. Watch the pads explode in this one. Hook ’Em in an upset.

Army (+22½) at No. 7 Michigan (11 a.m., Fox-32): How about a little respect for the fact that the Black Knights are 24-5 over their last 29 games? The discipline of Jeff Monken’s offense is something to behold. Finishing drives with touchdowns, though, is always an extra-tall task against a top-tier opponent. Call it 35-14 for the Maize and Blue.

No. 23 Stanford (+1) at USC (9:30 p.m., ESPN): Who are you, Kedon Slovis? America will have to find out when the little-known QB starts for the Trojans in place of JT Daniels, who is lost for the season after an ACL tear suffered in the opener. Stanford’s QB picture is muddled, too, but Davis Mills has an upside that makes the shaky status of banged-up KJ Costello less of a big deal. Take the Cardinal.

No. 25 Nebraska (-4) at Colorado (2:30 p.m., Fox-32): Buffs QB Steven Montez has NFL in his arm. His Huskers counterpart, Adrian Martinez, is an explosive playmaker. All the questions here are about the rest of the teams’ rosters. Is Nebraska, a hot pick to win the Big Ten West, rebuilt enough on the lines of scrimmage to go on the road and push a Power Five opponent around? A tight one: Huskers by 1.

My favorite favorite: No. 20 Iowa (-20) vs. Rutgers (11 a.m., FS1): Run the ball. Rush the passer. Rinse. Repeat. Hawkeyes in a rout.

My favorite underdog: Fresno State (+3½) vs. Minnesota (9:30 p.m., CBSSN): Jeff Tedford’s teams are 11-1 at home in his two-plus seasons as Bulldogs coach. A long, strange trip for the Gophers ends in defeat.

Last week: 9-1 straight-up, 7-3 vs. the spread.

Season to date: 9-1 straight-up, 7-3 vs. the spread.

THE LOCALS

NORTHERN ILLINOIS AT NO. 13 UTAH

The facts: noon, Pac-12 Network, 560-AM.

The records: NIU 1-0, Utah 1-0.

The storyline: Last year in DeKalb, the Huskies were driving for a potential winning touchdown before a Utes pick-six ended things at 17-6. That was an outstanding Utes defense, but this season’s unit is generating best-in-the-country talk. Huskies quarterback Ross Bowers didn’t transfer from Cal just to have to go back into the belly of the Pac-12 beast like this, did he? Defensively, the Huskies will face a giant dose of bruising running back Zack Moss. Utes QB Tyler Huntley has the running ability to play off Moss with backbreaking consequences.

The line: Utes by 21½.

Greenberg’s pick: Utah, 34-6.

ILLINOIS AT CONNECTICUT

The facts: 2:30 p.m., CBSSN, 890-AM.

The records: Illinois 1-0, UConn 1-0.

The storyline: Lovie Smith’s defenses have been hapless against the run before, so containing the Kevin Mensah-led UConn running game is Job 1. Do Job 1, and the rest should be a walk in the park. There is no earthly reason the Huskies’ molasses-slow defense should be able to stop the Illini from gaining yards in huge chunks. Then again, Illinois somehow hasn’t won a non-conference road game since 2007 — an embarrassing little factoid whose expiration date has arrived.

The line: Illini by 21.

Greenberg’s pick: Illinois, 45-17.