CFB Week 2 picks: Can Vols hold off revved-up Hokies at Bristol?
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The extra-long opening weekend of the college football season was marked by spectacular flameouts, utter cluelessness, abject failure and cold, hard humiliation.
But enough about my Week 1 predictions.
It’s time to summon every ounce of alertness and focus and pour it into sizing up the top matchups of Week 2. Speaking of which, please excuse me while I take a long nap.
Let’s just say the Week 2 slate of games could be better.
It’s not all bad, though, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t mind rolling up the sleeves and digging deeper than routine breathless hype will take you. If you also happen to dig auto racing, that won’t hurt, either.
Bristol Motor Speedway is the scene for Saturday’s No. 17 Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech contest (6 p.m., ESPN). The Tennessee track is well-known among treadheads for its steep banking and all-concrete surface, but what’s really cool is the expected attendance — try 150,000 on for size. Of course, the 11½-point-favorite Vols and Hokies, both 1-0, will have to keep their cool in such an environment.
“Obviously, everybody’s talking about the stage that we’re going to play on,” said Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster, in his 30th season at the school, “but it’s not about that. It’s about the game.”
This is the first big game at the Power 5 level for new Hokies coach Justin Fuente, an offensive whiz who made his bones with a difficult building job at Memphis. If there’s pressure on Fuente this week, it’s nothing compared to what fourth-year Vols coach Butch Jones is facing after his then-ninth-ranked team was taken to overtime by Appalachian State in the opener.
“Everyone in our program has to have a tremendous sense of urgency to make the progress that’s necessary from Game 1 to Game 2,” Jones said.
On the recruiting trail, give me Jones over Fuente. But give me the Fuente-Foster game-planning combo every day of the week. Tennessee has an undeniable talent edge — and will have the Bristol crowd on its side — but this should be a close one. Vols eke out a second victory, 24-20.
No. 13 Louisville at Syracuse (Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN2) is the trappiest of trap games for the Cardinals, who host mighty Florida State next week. How great must the Cards be feeling about themselves after a 70-14 opening blowout of Charlotte in which an unheard-of 16 players caught passes and quarterback Lamar Jackson went wild with eight total first-half touchdowns? Just great enough to pull away late and cover the two-touchdown spread.
Back to Saturday’s action. Bret Bielema still is trying to turn Arkansas into the Wisconsin of the SEC, but so far he’s just 19-20 at the school. Arkansas does have four victories over ranked opponents under Bielema, and Hogs at No. 15 TCU (6 p.m., ESPN) is a decent shot at a fifth despite the 7½-point spread. Both teams failed to impress in opening victories; the Hogs were bad on offense and the Horned Frogs were terrible on defense. Overtime sound good? Arkie in an upset.
Overdue rivalry alert: Penn State at Pittsburgh (11 a.m., ESPN) will be full of feelings on both sides even though the schools haven’t met on the field since 2000. Want someone to root for? Pitt running back James Conner — a big-time NFL prospect — spent his offseason battling and beating Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma. Favored Panthers cover the 6, 24-17.
The Holy War — that’s what BYU at Utah (6:30 p.m., Fox-32) is known as. If that moniker sounds a bit overdone, trust this: There isn’t a more intense rivalry game in America. It’s hard to imagine how emotional Saturday will be for first-year Cougars coach Kalani Sitake, who played at BYU but later spent a full decade on Kyle Whittingham’s staff at Utah. Whittingham’s Utes have their usual salty defense, which makes them the play at -3.
And let’s look briefly at Western Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama (2:30 p.m., ESPN2). The Hilltoppers finished last season 12-2 and ranked 24th in the land. Quarterback Mike White threw for over 500 yards in last week’s 46-14 demolition of Rice. Can this team cover the 28 in Tuscaloosa? Nah. Tide by more than that.
My favorite favorite: No. 16 Iowa (-15) vs. Iowa State (6:30 p.m., BTN). The road team has won four straight in this series, and the Cyclones — who were beaten at home last weekend by Northern Iowa — have won three of the last five meetings. But this year is different. The talent gap is enormous.
My favorite underdog: Purdue (+6½) vs. Cincinnati (11 a.m., BTN). The Boilermakers can’t go forever without a “big” win. If anything good has happened in West Lafayette of late, it has been the toughening up of program’s linemen. That shows at Ross-Ade on Saturday.
Last week: 5-4 straight-up, 3-6 vs. the spread. So sue me.
NORTH CAROLINA AT ILLINOIS
The facts: 6:30 p.m., BTN; 670-AM.
The records: North Carolina 0-1, Illinois 1-0.
The line: Tar Heels by 9.
The story line: Can Lovie Smith and his staff dial up a winning defensive game plan against Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky, wideout Ryan Switzer and running backs Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan? It’s a tall order — those guys are explosive, and who can forget UNC’s 48-14 cakewalk a year ago in Chapel Hill? The Illini will have to win this game up front, which might be doable. Immobile quarterback Wes Lunt will have to be protected — another tall order — and backs Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Kendrick Foster will have to run like there’s no tomorrow. It’ll be tight into the fourth quarter.
Greenberg’s pick: North Carolina, 30-24.
ILLINOIS STATE AT NORTHWESTERN
The facts: 2:30 p.m., BTN; 720-AM.
The records: Illinois State 1-0, Northwestern 0-1.
The line: N/A.
The story line: The Wildcats have to be asking all sorts of questions about themselves after an opening loss to Western Michigan. The Redbirds, meanwhile — high again in the FCS rankings — have to be thinking program-defining upset. It’s probably not going to happen. The Wildcats should have a good day in the running game, and let’s see if quarterback Clayton Thorson and his band of unproven receivers hit on a few big plays. Defensively, NU will be salty and stingy.
Greenberg’s pick: Northwestern, 34-14.
NEVADA AT NO. 18 NOTRE DAME
The facts: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 5; 890-AM.
The records: Nevada 1-0, Notre Dame 0-1.
The line: Irish by 28.
The story line: Let’s be real about this Wolfpack team — its 30-27 victory over Cal Poly in the opener failed to impress. It’s the right kind of opponent for the Irish to be playing following a dispiriting double-overtime defeat at Texas. DeShone Kizer has established himself as the Irish’s No. 1 quarterback and one of the most dynamic players in the country at his position. Kizer should roll with some easy chunk gains in the passing game, and the running game is sure to be productive. There’s no excuse not to win big here.
Greenberg’s pick: Notre Dame, 45-14.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS AT SOUTH FLORIDA
The facts: 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network; 560-AM.
The records: Northern Illinois 0-1, South Florida 1-0.
The line: Bulls by 14½.
The story line: We’ll have to see whether or not running back Marlon Mack is good to go for the Bulls; he took a shot to the head in an easy Week 1 victory over Towson. Regardless, this is a difficult offense for NIU to face after its upset defeat at Wyoming last weekend. And how will quarterback Drew Hare and receiver Kenny Golladay fare in Game 2 against a better defense than Wyoming’s? This is tough duty for Rod Carey’s team. Probably too tough.
Greenberg’s pick: South Florida, 28-17.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.