College News & Analysis

College Football Week 2 Preview: Storylines, matchups and predictions for the biggest games

Austin, Texas, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers (3) throws a pass against the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks in the second half at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Previewing the biggest Week 2 games in college football: AlabamaTexas, TennesseePittsburgh, KentuckyFlorida and BaylorBYU.

• No. 1-ranked Alabama faces its first test against Texas’ high-profile offense.

Two potential first-round quarterbacks square off in Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 mins

Four top-25 teams fell during the first weekend of college football, including two in the top 10. 

This week, there are three games between ranked teams and one massive showdown in Austin. Here are the biggest storylines, matchups and predictions for the four biggest games in Week 2. 

#1 Alabama Crimson Tide @ Texas Longhorns

Storyline to know: Can Quinn Ewers live up to the hype against arguably college football's best defense?

Entering college, Quinn Ewers was tied with Vince Young for the highest-rated quarterback recruit this century. Those behind him include Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Bryce Young.

Highest-rated QB recruits in the PFF College Era (Since 2014)
Name 247Sports Composite Rating Class Schools Career College Grade Draft Pick
Quinn Ewers 1.0000 2021 Ohio State/ Texas 55.2* ?
Trevor Lawrence 0.9999 2018 Clemson 93.3 1st in 2021
Justin Fields 0.9998 2018 Georgia/ Ohio State 94.1 11th in 2021
Bryce Young 0.9996 2020 Alabama 91.7* 1st in 2023**

*Still in college; **Ranking on PFF’s 2023 Draft Board

Ewers made his first start last week against Louisiana-Monroe, and there are certainly things to clean up. He earned a 55.1 grade, which ranked eighth-lowest in Week 1 among 71 Power Five quarterbacks. He made one big-time throw compared to two turnover-worthy plays and struggled with accuracy and timing.

Without improvements, those issues will only be magnified against Alabama, who fields PFF’s top defensive line and secondary in the country entering the season

Matchup to watch: Texas’ skill-position players vs. Alabama’s defense

Fortunately for Ewers, he has PFF’s No. 2 running back in Bijan Robinson and the fourth-best receiving corps in the country to aid him. The issue is that Alabama has stars all along its defense to match them.

Xavier Worthy was PFF’s fourth-best receiver entering this season after catching 12 touchdowns as a true freshman, tied for fifth among Power Five receivers last year. Eli Ricks is PFF’s top cornerback and boasts an 83.0 grade in man coverage since 2020, which is fourth-highest among Power Five cornerbacks.

Bijan Robinson has forced 0.40 missed tackles per attempt for his career, the most by an FBS running back since PFF began charting college football in 2014. On the other side, Alabama recorded a 92.0 team run-defense grade in 2021, the second-best mark in the country — behind only Georgia.

Ja’Tavion Sanders was the highest-graded Power Five tight end in Week 1, with an 85.6 mark, but Alabama has a trio of defensive backs capable of covering him. Jordan Battle, Malachi Moore and Brian Branch were all ranked among PFF’s top 10 safeties entering this season.

There will be a newcomer for Texas who should be familiar to Alabama fans. Sophomore receiver Agiye Hall is expected to make his Longhorn debut after transferring in from Tuscaloosa. He was a top-five receiver recruit in 2021 and returns from an indefinite suspension.

Prediction: Alabama 40, Texas 21

Texas has the firepower on offense to give Alabama some issues, but they won't have enough on defense to keep up. Expect the Longhorns to keep it interesting early before the Crimson Tide pull away in the second half.

#24 Tennessee Volunteers @ #17 Pittsburgh Panthers

Storyline to know: Can Pittsburgh move on from the euphoria of the Backyard Brawl?

The Week 1 contest between Pittsburgh and West Virginia reignited a rivalry that had been dormant for 11 years. A total of 70,622 fans attended the Backyard Brawl, the largest crowd in Pittsburgh sports history. That combined with a game-winning pick-six made for one of the most electric atmospheres you’ll find all year.

Pittsburgh must move on quickly to prepare for No. 24 Tennessee’s high-powered offense. The Volunteers put up 569 yards in a 59-10 victory over Ball State last week. Hendon Hooker picked up right where he left off last season with an 83.0 passing grade in Week 1, a top-20 mark for Power Five quarterbacks.

Matchup to watch: Tennessee’s offensive line vs. Pittsburgh’s defensive line

If there’s one weakness on Tennessee’s offense, it’s the line. In 2021, the unit posted the sixth-lowest pass-blocking grade in the Power Five and the 11th lowest overall grade.

Conversely, Pittsburgh’s defensive strength is its line, which was PFF’s sixth-best entering the season. Calijah Kancey is the team's best defensive lineman since Aaron Donald. Since 2020, he owns the best overall grade, second-best pass-rush grade and fourth-best run-defense grade among Power Five interior defensive linemen. Alongside him are two of the ACC’s 15 highest-graded edge defenders from last season in Habakkuk Baldonado and Deslin Alexandre. That’s not even counting edge defender John Morgan III, who shined last week against the Mountaineers with a sack and six pressures. 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 34, Tennessee 31

Pittsburgh’s defense will create enough pressure on Tennessee to slow down its high-powered attack, while the Panthers' offense will be able to exploit the vulnerable Volunteer defense. Pitt will pull off its second massive home victory in as many weeks. 

#20 Kentucky Wildcats @ #12 Florida Gators

Storyline to know: Two quarterbacks with insane potential face off

If you’re a fan of the NFL draft, you’ll want to tune in to this contest Saturday. Both Kentucky quarterback Will Levis and Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson have first-round potential in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Richardson was the more impressive of the two last week, leading then-unranked Florida to a 29-26 upset over then-No. 7 Utah. He had 104 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on just 12 attempts against a very good Utes defense. Richardson’s dual-threat ability at 240 pounds combined with his rocket arm will remind some of a young Cam Newton.

Levis didn’t look as good in Week 1, finishing with a 64.3 grade, one big-time throw and two turnover-worthy plays against Miami (OH). That likely won’t be the norm, though. His 90.6 grade in 2021 was a top-10 mark among Power Five quarterbacks. Like Richardson, Levis is a big quarterback at 6-foot-3, 232 pounds who can move, as well. His 86.3 rushing grade ranked fourth-highest among Power Five quarterbacks last season. Levis’ release and arm strength allow him to make highlight throws, too.

Matchup to watch: Kentucky’s offensive line vs. Florida’s defensive line

Kentucky’s 2021 offensive line recorded the sixth-best run-blocking grade and the eighth-highest overall grade among Power Five teams. One of the returners to that unit is Kenneth Horsey, who earned a 74.1 grade in 2021 — fourth-highest among SEC guards. He’ll be playing left tackle Saturday.

Going up against Horsey will be Florida’s Brenton Cox Jr., the only SEC edge defender to earn 85.0-plus grades as both a pass-rusher and run-defender since 2020. Florida’s interior is anchored by Gervon Dexter, who excels when lined up over the center. His 84.6 pass-rush grade when playing zero- or one-technique placed third among Power Five interior defensive linemen last season.

Helping to block Dexter will be Auburn transfer Tashawn Manning. He earned a 71.1 overall grade last year, which ranked sixth-highest among SEC guards. 

Prediction: Florida 28, Kentucky 24

Anthony Richardson will continue his Heisman campaign by leading the Gators to their second-straight victory against a ranked team.

#9 Baylor Bears @ #21 BYU Cougars

Storyline to know: Can BYU hang with the Big 12’s elite?

The Cougars are joining the Big 12 next season, their first conference affiliation since going independent in 2011. BYU could put the whole league on notice by beating Baylor, the Big 12’s second-highest-ranked team.

Last season, the Bears defeated the Cougars 38-24, thanks to 534 yards of total offense. Baylor also tallied 303 rushing yards in that game, averaging 6.5 yards per attempt. While leading rusher Abram Smith is now in the NFL, the Bears still had PFF’s fourth-best offensive line in the country entering the 2022 season. Khalil Keith earned a 91.2 run-blocking grade last season, highest among returning Power Five tackles. Meanwhile, Connor Galvin received a 91.2 pass-blocking grade in 2021, also the best among returning Power Five tackles. In between them is Jacob Gall, whose 83.3 grade last year is fourth among returning Power Five centers.

The Cougars’ defense comes in at just 72nd in PFF’s power rankings, so the offense will have to keep up if Baylor wants to have a chance.

Matchup to watch: BYU’s offensive line vs. Baylor’s defensive line

Fortunately for BYU, it has the pieces on offense to keep up with Baylor. It all starts up front, with PFF’s sixth-best offensive line entering the season.

Three starters return to a unit that was the only in the country to grade above 90.0 in both pass blocking and run blocking last season. Blake Freeland earned a 91.6 pass-blocking grade in 2021, the highest in the country among returning FBS tackles. Clark Barrington posted 80.0-plus grades as both a pass-blocker and run-blocker last year, one of only 10 FBS guards to accomplish the feat. Connor Pay had an 85.4 pass-blocking grade last season, first among returning FBS centers.

Both Pay and Barrington will have their work cut out for them, as Baylor has the best interior defensive line in the country. Jaxon Player and Siaki Ika rank among our top 15 interior defensive linemen entering this season. Player transfers in from Tulsa, where he posted 85.0-plus grades as both a pass-rusher and run-defender last season, the only interior defensive lineman in the country to do so. Ika, meanwhile, is a top-20 prospect on PFF’s 2023 NFL Draft board after having the third-best pass-rushing grade among Power Five interior defensive linemen last year.

Prediction: Baylor 28, BYU 27

It’ll be extremely close, but the Bears will win what should be an absolute war in the trenches. 

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