Week 2 college football picks: Iowa at Iowa State, Stanford at USC and more

Texas running back Bijan Robinson runs against Louisiana.
Texas running back Bijan Robinson should play a key role Saturday against Arkansas.
(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)

Each week, the Los Angeles Times’ national college sports reporter, J. Brady McCollough, will pick the week’s eight best games — that have a combination of big-brand intrigue and a spread within a touchdown — plus the USC and UCLA games (the Bruins have a bye this week).


Pittsburgh at Tennessee

These programs feel oddly like kindred souls in that both were coached by Johnny Majors and both play their games in hulking stadiums nestled by a river (three, of course, in Pittsburgh). Neyland will be rocking for the second game of the Josh Heupel era, but the Panthers are further along with their identity as a program under Pat Narduzzi. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett will be a calming influence on the road, helping the Panthers stay the course. Pitt 27, Tennessee 23


Rutgers at Syracuse

Who is New York’s college football team? The Big Ten made a bet years ago that someday that would actually be Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. Greg Schiano has made quick work getting the Scarlet Knights back to respectability in his second stint in Piscataway, and that trend should continue against a Syracuse team that has begun to stall under Dino Babers. Rutgers 35, Syracuse 24


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No. 10 Iowa at No. 9 Iowa State

The stakes have never been higher in the Hawkeyes-Cyclones early season battle. The winner can at least fashion itself as a playoff contender entering its conference slate. Iowa State returns nearly all of its starters from last year’s Fiesta Bowl champion, and it’s another statement about how far Matt Campbell has brought this program that the Cyclones are the team with loftier expectations. Iowa will slow All-America tailback Breece Hall, but Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy will make enough plays late. Iowa State 20, Iowa 17


North Carolina State at Mississippi State

North Carolina State running back Zonovan Knight runs for a touchdown against South Florida.
North Carolina State running back Zonovan Knight runs for a touchdown against South Florida on Sept. 2 in Raleigh, N.C.
(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)

These two teams couldn’t have had more different openers. N.C. State embarrassed South Florida, while Mississippi State needed a furious fourth-quarter comeback to beat Louisiana Tech. Mike Leach’s Bulldogs appear to be a work in progress, while Dave Doeren’s Wolfpack have a seasoned feel to them. The game is in Starkville, Miss., but N.C. State running backs Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr. pounding the ball should drown out the cowbells. N.C. State 38, Mississippi State 28


No. 15 Texas at Arkansas

Steve Sarkisian may be “all gas, no brakes” at Texas, but he got no breaks with the schedule. A week after handling a tough Louisiana team, the Longhorns visit old Southwest Conference rival Arkansas. The Razorbacks are capable under second-year coach Sam Pittman, too, but Texas has the best player on the field in running back Bijan Robinson, and Sark will figure out how to highlight him just enough. Texas 34, Arkansas 26

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Missouri at Kentucky

In the first Southeastern Conference game of the year, two mid-tier SEC East teams try to get a leg up. Kentucky has been consistently solid on defense under Mark Stoops, but now it appears the Wildcats may have an offense with the addition of Penn State transfer quarterback Will Levis and Nebraska transfer wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson. The Wildcats could play spoiler all season in the SEC. Kentucky 31, Missouri 24


Washington at Michigan

The Huskies’ shocking loss at home to Montana last week took much of the luster off this anticipated matchup between two programs that have plenty of Rose Bowl history with each other. The pressure is on Michigan to notch a good nonconference win with Jim Harbaugh needing to prove the program is back on solid ground after a tough 2020. Washington can play the underdog card now and has the defense to keep it tight late. Unfortunately for the Huskies, Michigan’s defense should be able to smother Washington’s offense all night. Michigan 27, Washington 16


San Diego State at Arizona

San Diego State running back Greg Bell, left, sprints for a touchdown against Hawaii on Nov. 14.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

The Wildcats put up a good fight against Brigham Young in Jedd Fisch’s opener as head coach. San Diego State should be a more winnable contest, but Arizona’s roster doesn’t have much experience with winning. San Diego State can ride running back Greg Bell on the road and trust its defensive culture to hold strong. San Diego State 20, Arizona 17


No. 21 Utah at Brigham Young

The “Holy War” is back after a year off, and the Utes certainly benefited from avoiding BYU during quarterback Zach Wilson’s breakout year that led him to being the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft. Now the Cougars are in rebuild mode while the Utes are looking like a contender in the Pac-12 South, as always. BYU has a shot at home, but it’s hard to doubt Kyle Whittingham. Utah 28, BYU 21


Stanford at No. 14 USC

Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee is pressured by Kansas State defensive end Aaron Armitage (97) and others on Saturday.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)


Stanford was embarrassed last week by Kansas State, which outclassed David Shaw’s team in alarming fashion. Do the Cardinal have a quick answer one week later in the Coliseum in front of a national TV audience? USC’s offense was sluggish out of the gate, but what the Trojans showed on defense against San Jose State should be more than enough to hold down a Stanford offense starting a new quarterback in Tanner McKee. USC 31, Stanford 17