The Week 2 lineup in college football features a pair of high-profile contests that most observers have had circled all summer.
They aren’t the only games in town, however, as a couple of other clashes might actually have greater long-term College Football Playoff implications as the season wears on.
As for the two marquee clashes, even they aren’t necessarily make-or-break affairs for the losing teams. But regardless of their ultimate worth, these games should be appointment viewing on Saturday.
Here are the top five impact games in the race for the teams to make the field of four in December:
No. 11 Texas A&M at No. 1 Clemson
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
The first of two top-11 clashes might or might not have long-lasting implications in the playoff picture. The Aggies hope to grab a premier non-league victory that would put them squarely in the mix, though their upcoming trek through the SEC West will be difficult. The Tigers, on paper at least, have a less daunting journey ahead in their own conference. They’d nonetheless rather not test the theory that a once-beaten ACC champ without a marquee victory could still earn a place in the top four.
Thanks to opening on Thursday night in Week 1, both teams have had a couple of extra days to prepare. Much has been made of the Aggies coming within two points of the Tigers a year ago in College Station. On one hand, that game was contested before Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence had taken firm control of the starting job. He wasn’t his sharpest in the Tigers’ opener against Georgia Tech, but game-breaking RB Travis Etienne stole the show and could prove to be an even bigger concern for LB Buddy Johnson and the front of the Aggies. A&M signal caller Kellen Mond has also shown steady improvement over the last year. His primary targets are WRs Quartney Davis and Jhamon Ausbon, who will test the Tigers’ speedy back seven led by LB Isaiah Simmons.
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No. 6 LSU at No. 9 Texas
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Week 2’s second marquee showdown will likewise carry plenty of weight in the Playoff discussion, though again both teams will have plenty of work ahead of them. The Longhorns would probably have to beat Oklahoma twice if they come up short in this contest, while the Tigers, like Texas A&M, can’t afford a non-conference setback to anybody with their entire SEC slate ahead of them.
Despite QB Joe Burrow’s insistence to the contrary following the game, he and the LSU offense almost certainly didn’t need to use their entire playbook in the easy 55-3 romp past Georgia Southern to open the campaign. Even so, things couldn’t have gone much better as he had more scoring passes (five) than incompletions (four). He must continue to spread the ball around to keep the Longhorns’ pursuers, featuring LB Jeffrey McCulloch and S Caden Sterns, occupied. Texas QB Sam Ehlinger was nearly as efficient with four TD tosses against Louisiana Tech. But the likes of LB Jacob Phillips and S Grant Delpit will make his job much more difficult this time.
Cincinnati at No. 5 Ohio State
Saturday, noon ET, ABC
After a solid opening performance against Florida Atlantic, the Buckeyes face what figures to be their most challenging non-conference opponent. A positive result for the Buckeyes could have added value should UC go on to win the American Athletic. The Bearcats aren’t concerned about that yet. They’d be much more interested in throwing a monkey wrench into the plans of the state’s big-name program.
The Ohio State debut of former Georgia QB Justin Fields was quite impressive. He threw for four scores and ran for another, though the Buckeyes offense slowed a bit after a huge first quarter. The more accomplished Cincinnati defense, anchored by LB Bryant Wright and S Darrick Forrest, will require better consistency throughout. Bearcats QB Desmond Ridder wasn’t nearly as prolific, but he did a good job controlling the clock while tossing a pair of scoring passes against UCLA. He’ll have to be decisive, especially if his friends have trouble keeping Buckeyes DE Chase Young out of the backfield.
Army at No. 7 Michigan
Saturday, noon ET, Fox
Meanwhile, the Big Ten’s other perceived favorite takes on a different challenge as the Wolverines host the Black Knights, who can be a dangerous underdog. How dangerous? Just ask Oklahoma, which Army battled to overtime last season.
The Wolverines got enough from veteran QB Shea Patterson to subdue a spirited Middle Tennessee squad in Week 1. Michigan figures to utilize RB Zach Charbonnet more this week to exploit its physical superiority along the front line, but experienced hands like Army LB Cole Christiansen and CB Cam Jones are good closers. The Black Knights option attack, directed by QB Kelvin Hopkins Jr., can be an equalizer if they can keep the chains moving on long marches. Preparing to defend it is always a challenge, so Wolverines LB Khaleke Hudson and Co. will probably have to adjust on the fly.
MAKING HISTORY: Army expecting to continue success it visits No. 7 Michigan
No. 23 Stanford at Southern California
Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
These Pac-12 hopefuls earned quality wins last week, though the victories were pyrrhic in nature in both cases. That makes for a lot of uncertainty heading into this key cross-divisional tilt.
The Trojans got the bad news that QB J.T. Daniels (knee) is done for the season. True freshman Kedon Slovis was able to close things out against Fresno State in the second half, but making the first start of his collegiate career against CB Paulson Adebo and the Cardinal defense will be a tough assignment. He’d do well to get the ball in the hands of RB Vavae Malepeai and WR Tyler Vaughns as much as possible.
Stanford QB K.J. Costello, who left the Northwestern game after sustaining a blow to the head just before halftime, was ruled out of this week’s game. That means backup Davis Mills will be pressed into service once again after an uneven performance Saturday. He’ll need another big contribution from RB Cameron Scarlett to keep hard-hitting Trojans S Isaiah Pola-Mao at bay.