Think this weekend’s college football slate can’t possibly top the excitement of a Week 1 that extended into Week 2 because of the holiday? How can it beat the “Florida State is back” headline? Or the Duke upset of Clemson? And finally, no way it can top the Colorado/Deion debut, right?
But Deion and his talented No. 22-ranked Buffaloes are at home this week, facing a team with which Colorado fans are familiar, Nebraska (noon ET on Fox).
Also at noon ET, No. 10 Notre Dame looks to improve to 3-0 when it plays NC State (ABC). At 3:30 p.m., No. 20 Ole Miss travels to No. 24 Tulane (ESPN2) and No. 23 Texas A&M faces Miami (Fla.) in Coral Gables (ABC). Saturday’s prime-time matchup, No. 3 Alabama-No. 11 Texas (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), features future SEC opponents.
Our reporters preview this weekend’s games with a look at familiar faces on opposing sidelines, teams primed to pull off upsets, wide receivers breaking through and some of the week’s best quotes.
Familiar foes in Week 2
Steve Sarkisian vs. Nick Saban (Texas at Alabama)
The stats aren’t pretty for former Saban assistants, and Sarkisian is well aware.
Only twice since Saban has been at Alabama (going back to 2007) has one of his former assistants beaten him — both losses coming in 2021 with Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher upsetting Alabama during the regular season in College Station and then Georgia and Kirby Smart taking down the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff National Championship game. Saban is 28-2 against his former assistants.
Sarkisian’s response, and a fair one: “What’s the record for all the guys who aren’t former assistants against Nick Saban?”
Texas’ visit to Alabama will be Sarkisian’s first return to Bryant-Denny Stadium since the 2020 season, when he won the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in college football. He has said Saban saved his career after giving him a second chance following Sarkisian’s struggles with alcohol and being fired from his head coaching job at USC. Sarkisian took advantage of that second chance and headed an explosive Alabama offense that was second nationally in scoring (48.5 points per game) as the Crimson Tide ran through an All-SEC schedule during the COVID-impacted 2020 season and won Saban’s most recent national championship.
What that record-setting season also did was open the door for Sarkisian to get the Texas job.
“I would not be the head coach at Texas if it weren’t for Nick Saban,” Sarkisian said last year. “He gave me a chance when I had a hard time getting an interview, never mind a job.”
What Saban hasn’t done is lose to one of his former assistants at home. In fact, Alabama hasn’t lost to anybody at home since 2019, a 46-41 setback to eventual national champion LSU.
Sarkisian, in his third season at Texas, is looking for his first signature win and first over a top-10 team. The Longhorns came agonizingly close a year ago against Alabama in a 20-19 loss at home when the Tide kicked the winning field goal in the final seconds. Bryce Young pulled a Houdini-like act in Alabama’s final drive, and Texas played with its backup quarterback much of the way after Quinn Ewers was knocked out with a shoulder injury at the end of the first quarter. Ewers is back and Young is now playing in the NFL.
This is Texas’ last chance to make a run at the College Football Playoff as a member of the Big 12. The No. 11 Longhorns move to the SEC next season. This looks to be their best and most talented team under Sarkisian.
“Every game takes on a life of its own,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got to play better than we did a year ago. Clearly, that wasn’t good enough.” — Chris Low
Former Big 12 foes meet (Nebraska at Colorado)
Both programs have been mostly irrelevant since their departures from the Big 12, where they also left one of the better rivalries in college football. Rest assured, the fan bases haven’t forgotten and the animosity still exists. And despite having played twice in nonconference games recently — CU wins in 2018 and 2019 — this one feels different. This one has the nation’s attention. Colorado went with Deion Sanders to resurrect its program in the offseason, while Nebraska hired Matt Rhule to engineer a turnaround similar to what he did at Temple and Baylor.
“Rivalries are rivalries — there’s some more severe than others,” Sanders said this week. “I think everywhere you go coach from high school on up or from youth league on up, you’re gonna have rivalries and just learning [what] the dynamics of the different rivalries are. I like it. It’s delightful. So I’ve learned the severity, the serious nature of this rivalry and I’m embracing it 100 percent. This is personal. That’s the message of the week. This is personal.”
For the Buffs, a loss would be deflating. They are the talk of the country after their upset of national runner-up TCU in Week 1, and head into their home opener a favorite (-2.5) to remain unbeaten. With a win, the hype train will only gain more steam
On the other hand, Nebraska’s lethargic 13-10 loss to Minnesota dampened Rhule’s Huskers’ debut. Can the offense make strides in game No. 2? — Kyle Bonagura
High school teammates square off (Auburn at Cal)
Payton Thorne and Sam Jackson V last shared a field together on Nov. 3, 2018, when Naperville Central High School (Illinois) lost in the second round of the Class 8A postseason.
Jackson, a quarterback, played wide receiver as a sophomore during Thorne’s senior year — catching 50 passes for 847 yards and 14 touchdowns. With help from Jackson, Thorne established a school record with 40 touchdown passes.
Saturday night in Berkeley, California, Thorne and Jackson will reunite, though this time as opposing QBs.
Thorne was 10-of-17 passing for 141 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers’ 59-14 victory over UMass last week, while Jackson (3-of-4 passing, 33 yards and a TD) left the first half of Cal’s 58-21 victory over North Texas with what coach Justin Wilcox called an upper-body injury. Jackson, who was replaced by Ben Finley, is considered day-to-day.
Thorne, a two-year starter at Michigan State, transferred to Auburn in May. Jackson transferred from TCU to Cal in January. — Blake Baumgartner
Reuniting with former player … as opposing coach (UTSA vs. Texas State)
When UTSA and Texas State meet Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+), there won’t be much need for introduction. Not just because they’re separated by about 50 miles on I-35, either.
UTSA will be a double-digit favorite, but Roadrunners coach Jeff Traylor knows not to overlook Bobcats coach G.J. Kinne. He’s lost to him before, in 2005 when Traylor was the coach at Gilmer High School, which he had built into an East Texas powerhouse, and Kinne was down the road at Canton, playing for his dad, Gary Joe Kinne.
“He beat me his junior year 61-58,” Traylor said this summer. “We had the better team, and he’s the reason we lost.”
Just months earlier, in April 2005, the unthinkable had happened: A disgruntled parent of a freshman player went to the high school and shot Gary Joe. The coach survived and led Canton to a 12-2 record, including the playoff win over Gilmer, then left Canton for a job at Baylor.
G.J. Kinne opted to move to Gilmer to finish his high school career — he wanted to play for Traylor. They met at a Dairy Queen to talk it over, and Kinne took over as his quarterback, throwing 47 TDs to just one interception. They lost in an upset in the state playoffs, but Kinne and Traylor are bonded for life. Kinne was in the wedding party of Traylor’s son, Jordan, this summer.
“Whatever he asked me to do, I did it,” Traylor said. “You can’t help but love the kid. He’s got the whole package. I know you’re not supposed to say that because I’m competing against him. But I’m just telling you, I think the world of him.” — Dave Wilson
Receivers to watch in Week 2
Travis Hunter, Colorado: Hunters’ FBS debut was one of the most impressive in college football history. Full stop. He caught 11 passes for 119 yards as a receiver, while also standing out as the best defensive player on the field. This is not normal. It’s fair to question how long he can maintain going nearly full-time on both sides, but there’s every indication that that’s the plan. — Bonagura
Tre Harris, Ole Miss: Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin, aka the Portal King, knew what they were getting when they landed Harris. He was an all-conference performer at Louisiana Tech and had nine catches of 30-plus yards last season. But nobody could have predicted the show the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Harris put on in his Ole Miss debut. His first three catches went for touchdowns in the Rebels’ season-opening 73-7 rout of Mercer, and he set an Ole Miss single-game record with four touchdown catches. What does he do for an encore? It should be entertaining because the Lafayette, Louisiana, product goes back home this Saturday when Ole Miss travels to nationally ranked Tulane. — Low
Keon Coleman, Florida State: It is hard to pick anyone other than Coleman after his performance against LSU in Week 1. Coleman had nine catches for 122 yards and three touchdowns, giving the Seminoles an extra dimension to an already talented receiver group. He was the best player on offense against the Tigers and how he continues to mesh and develop as the season progresses will provide Florida State even more options on the outside. Florida State plays Southern Miss this week, and while the game will not have the same high profile as last week, it is important to keep an eye on how this team responds. — Andrea Adelson
Xavier Worthy, Texas: Last year against Alabama, Worthy caught five passes for 97 yards as Quinn Ewers came out hot against the Tide, going 9-of-12 for 132 yards (including a drop of a TD pass by Worthy) before leaving with an injury. Steve Sarkisian revealed this spring that Worthy played most of last season with an injured hand, which led to a slight drop-off in production. In the Longhorns’ opener last week against Rice, Worthy was again Ewers’ top target (10 attempts), catching 7 passes for 90 yards. The Longhorns will need his speed to open the passing game, and while Ewers has been struggling on deep balls, Worthy has the attention of Alabama’s banged-up secondary. — Wilson
KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Penn State: The chemistry between Drew Allar and Lambert-Smith for Penn State was undeniable in last week’s win over West Virginia. Lambert-Smith caught four passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the 38-15 victory. Lambert-Smith is already halfway to his touchdown total (four) and 266 yards away from his receiving total (389) last year. As Allar continues to get his feet wet for the Nittany Lions in the post-Sean Clifford era, will that connection maintain against Delaware? — Baumgartner
Coming off Colorado’s Deion debut and Duke’s stunner against Clemson, which team is primed to pull off an upset in Week 2?
Miami: There are a few possibilities this week in the ACC, but we will go with Miami, which hosts No. 23 Texas A&M at home. The game between these two teams last year was not exactly an offensive showcase — the Aggies won 17-9 — but Miami was just three games into the Mario Cristobal era and has made significant changes to both its roster and coaching staff since then. Miami showed encouraging signs in the opener against Miami (Ohio) with its run game — a major emphasis heading into the season. Miami rushed for 250 yards behind an improved offensive line. If Miami can establish the run early in this game and play physically up front, the Hurricanes will give themselves a chance to win. Keep an eye on Virginia as well against James Madison. — Adelson
Purdue: Ryan Walters and Purdue have to be champing at the bit after losing at home to Fresno State last week. Texas transfer Hudson Card was 17-of-30 passing for 254 yards and two TDs in his Boilermakers debut, but the defense surrendered 487 total yards. The defending Big Ten West champs travel to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech, which went 3-8 in 2022. The Boilermakers can’t afford a 0-2 start, with Syracuse, Wisconsin and Illinois up next. — Baumgartner
Cal: As Auburn coach Hugh Freeze himself said, it’s never ideal to have to travel across the country to play a football game that kicks off about the time most people are starting to go to bed. That’s the challenge that awaits Auburn when it visits Cal in Berkeley this week. The Tigers looked solid in Freeze’s debut last week, a 59-14 pummeling of UMass. Cal also scored a ton of points in its opener in a 58-21 road win at North Texas. Auburn has a chance to make major strides in this first season under Freeze. But going so far away to play a road game in Week 2 may be too much for the Tigers, who will be playing only their third regular-season contest on the West Coast. — Low
Washington State: WSU scored 50 points in its opener against Colorado State and is a 6.5-point underdog at home against a team (Wisconsin) it beat on the road last year. ESPN analytics give the Cougars a 36.5% chance of winning outright, which feels a bit low considering how good QB Cameron Ward looked last week and how underwhelming QB Tanner Mordecai was for the Badgers.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders came into the season with high hopes as one of this year’s sleeper teams, but were upset by Wyoming in Laramie last week in overtime, while No. 15 Oregon scored 81 points in a win against Portland State. But the Red Raiders, under first-year coach Joey McGuire, were tough in Lubbock last season, where they were 6-1, including overtime wins against both Texas and Oklahoma (first time in school history they’ve beaten both in the same season). Texas Tech has a 23-game winning streak in home openers, the Red Raiders have made several stadium improvements in recent years and with a sellout crowd on hand, the atmosphere will be rockin’ in West Texas. — Wilson
Quotes of the week
Johnny Hodges: TCU’s linebacker didn’t hold back in the postgame interview after the national runner-up Horned Frogs were stunned by a Colorado team that went 1-11 a year ago.
“I guess you can say it’s a wake-up call. I don’t know how losing in the national championship by 60 isn’t a wake-up call. Right now we’re definitely the laughingstock of college football.”
Brian Kelly: LSU’s coach was as stunned as anyone about the Tigers’ second-half meltdown in a 45-24 loss to Florida State.
“For some reason, we thought we were somebody else. We thought we were the two-time national champion Georgia Bulldogs or something. I don’t know what we thought, but we were mistaken.”
Jaheim Bell: The Florida State tight end lined up as a running back and tossed aside LSU defensive back Zy Alexander as he crossed the goal line on his 4-yard touchdown run.
“A lot of people are asking me why I did that … that’s just how I play. I play very physical, and I just had to make sure they felt it.”