Incredibly, we’re only one week into the college football season and there already are a handful of teams whose seasons are on the brink of disaster. Yes, we’re looking at you, LSU. You too, Oklahoma. Don’t hide back there, Kentucky. We see you.
The funny thing is, we told you all three of those teams could be in big trouble last week in the article “7 teams facing disaster.” Well, since everyone loves disaster and since I’m so good predicting it, we’ve decided to analyze 7 teams facing disaster in Week 2 of the college football season.
Here’s a reminder how this works: In the grand scheme of college football, I understand that no one team with one loss is in any “real” trouble. If you’re at a Power 5 school, it’s not too late to dig yourself out of a hole. Instead, when we say “disaster” what we’re talking about is what a loss would mean to each individual team’s season as a whole and the expectations that come with it. It might cost some a shot at a national championship, maybe bowl eligibility or respectability for others.
Again, it’s all about expectations. No one expects Kentucky to beat Florida; therefore, the Wildcats' season can’t be ruined with a loss. We’ll also avoid the obvious; you don’t need me to tell you how crippling a loss to Prairie View would be for Texas A&M. So who are the teams that are truly facing disaster this week? Let’s take a look.
No. 13 Louisville at Syracuse (Friday, 8 p.m. ET)
While no one expects Louisville to win a national championship, many have touted the Cardinals as a dark horse ACC title contender and playoff long shot. We’ll find out if those projections are true a week from now when the Cardinals host No. 3 Florida State. But first they have to go to the Carrier Dome and take care of Syracuse.
Do I sound a little crazy predicting that this game may be close? Maybe, but remember, these aren’t your older brother’s Syracuse Orange. Gone are the woebegone days of Greg Robinson and Scot Schafer, and in steps the high-octane offensive attack of Dino Babers, who recently arrived from Bowling Green. Yes, the Orange have only played one game under Babers, but they looked like a completely different team in the process, tallying over 550 yards in a win over Colgate last week.
We’re not saying the Orange will win or should even be favored (they’re not). But with the Cardinals playing in a tough road venue and facing a new coach, Syracuse could pose problems. Especially when the Cardinals have one of the biggest games of their season in a week.
Hopefully, those problems aren’t enough to cost Bobby Petrino’s club a game, or potentially its shot at an ACC title.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY SportsJamie Rhodes
Vanderbilt vs. Middle Tennessee State (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET)
For Vandy, there’s no other way to put it: Last Thursday’s opening-night loss to South Carolina was crippling. To have a 10-0 lead at the half, against a conference foe with a first-year head coach, that’s a game you simply have to win. Unfortunately for the Commodores, they found a way to lose it.
And now they really have their backs up against the wall with Middle Tennessee State.
Again, it’s about expectations. No one thinks the Commodores are going to win 10 games this season, but in year three of the Derek Mason era -- with a ton of returnees and one of the SEC’s best defenses -- this is a team that has enough talent to get bowl eligible. The problem is, it was hard to find six wins on the schedule, even if they had beaten South Carolina last week. It gets even tougher for the Commodores with that loss to Will Muschamp’s club.
It’s also why a win is so important this week. Get a victory over Middle Tennessee State, and it is feasible to find six wins on the schedule. Especially with the way that Missouri, Auburn and Kentucky all looked last week. But lose this one, and there won’t be much optimism for the rest of the season.
It’s hard to call a Week 2 game “must win.” But for Vandy to meet its season-long expectations, it kind of is.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAChristopher Hanewinckel
Mississippi State vs. South Carolina (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)
If Vandy-Middle Tennessee is a borderline must-win game for the Commodores, there’s no doubt here: Mississippi State-South Carolina is an absolute must-win for Dan Mullen’s club.
Like the Commodores, the goal for Mississippi State in year one of the post-Dak Prescott era has to be getting to a bowl game. Those bowl chances took a big hit last week with a stunning loss against South Alabama that no one saw coming, and would be all but eliminated with a loss to South Carolina. That’s especially true when you realize that four of the Bulldogs’ next five games are on the road (including at LSU and at BYU). And that doesn’t include matchups later in the year against Alabama, Texas A&M or Ole Miss.
Nobody expected big things from Mullen’s squad in 2016, but no one expected losses in the first two games of the season either. The Bulldogs have to win this game.
Matt Bush-USA TODAY SportsMatt Bush
North Carolina at Illinois (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET)
The Tar Heels proved last year that you can lose in Week 1 and still play your way back into the playoff race, after ripping off 11 straight wins following an opening-night loss to South Carolina. And they very well could do it again this year, against a manageable schedule that doesn't include Clemson or Louisville in the regular season.
But to do that, the Tar Heels absolutely cannot trip up Saturday against a team that looked much improved in the first game of the Lovie Smith era. Yes, the Illini played “only” Murray State. But winning 52-3 proved that maybe times are changing in Champaign.
It is also makes this Week 2 matchup that much tougher for the Tar Heels. Like Louisville, North Carolina is a long shot to be a playoff contender, but it isn’t inconceivable.
It will be inconceivable with a loss Saturday.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY SportsBrett Davis
No. 17 Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (at Bristol Motor Speedway) (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET)
It’s the Battle at Bristol, and lost in the pomp and circumstance of a college football game being played at a NASCAR track is this: This game is huge for Tennessee.
We all know what the expectations were for the Vols coming into this season; they were a team that was favored to win the SEC East, with some slotting them in as a College Football Playoff contender. But after an abysmal showing against a good Appalachian State team, all the same issues have popped up for the Vols. Their offensive line couldn’t block in the run game, Joshua Dobbs struggled under center, and the team generally looked poorly coached. For a team that has historically started slow under Jones (the Vols started 2-3 last year, 3-5 the year before), it was business as usual for Tennessee. In the worst possible way.
That’s why there is no margin for error for the Vols this week. With SEC play opening up in two weeks -- and four straight games against Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama from late September to mid-October -- it’s impossible to think that Tennessee will get through that gauntlet unblemished.
If the Vols want any chance of reaching their preseason goals, they absolutely have to win this game.
Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
Washington State at Boise State (Saturday, 10:15 p.m. ET)
Last year, Mike Leach’s club was able to bounce back from an opening weekend loss to an FCS club with a surprising nine-win season. We’ll see if lightning strikes twice, after the Cougars were stunned by Eastern Washington -- another FCS team -- in Week 1 this year.
For Wazzu, this game is huge. It’s not so much about what the Cougars' preseason expectations were; instead, it's about trying to build off last year’s nine wins. It was a major step forward for the program and a sign that Mike Leach might be building something long-term in Pullman that could work.
But after another loss, it’s back to the same old questions. Is this a program actually making progress, or simply one that struck gold with a surprise run a season ago?
I think the Cougars are pretty darn good. But they’ve got to prove it Saturday.
Getty ImagesSteve Dykes
Virginia at No. 24 Oregon (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET)
They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. If that’s the case, the first impression Bronco Mendenhall left on Virginia fans is this: “We’re lousy, with no hope going forward.”
Like Washington State, Virginia lost to an FCS foe in Week 1. But unlike the Cougars, the Cavaliers weren’t even competitive. Virginia lost 37-20 to Richmond, and that score really was a little deceptive. The Cavaliers fell behind 30-7 and used a couple late scores to make things look more respectable than they were. In the process, they also allowed Richmond to tally over 500 yards of total offense.
Yikes! That’s also what makes Saturday’s game so important.
Because Virginia is flying cross country to face a high-octane Oregon club, no one expects it to win. At the same time, a good showing against the Ducks would be a nice sign that maybe this season -- and possibly the entire Mendenhall tenure -- won’t be a total grease fire. If the Cavaliers get blown off the field, it might be further proof that this hire was a mistake.
No one expects the Hoos to win. But for Mendenhall’s sake, his team had better at least be competitive at Autzen Stadium.
Aaron Torres covers college football for Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or ATorres00@gmail.com.