You didn’t see Navy beating Houston coming last week, did you? Now you get an opportunity to read through this entire story to see where the upsets may be this week! So come on down and let’s review the Week 7 matchups.
NC State at No. 3 Clemson (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC): The Tigers’ path to the playoff is quite simple at this point. With a thrilling 42–36 win over Louisville in one of the season’s best games (and obliteration of Boston College the week after that), Clemson needs to beat Florida State on Oct. 29 and avoid any upsets before or after. Despite a win over Notre Dame in a Hurricane slushfest last weekend, NC State doesn’t feel like the team to dispatch quarterback Deshaun Watson and his cadre of offensive weapons. It was difficult to get a feel for the Wolfpack during their win over the Irish, but head coach Dave Doeren did draw up a better gameplan than Brian Kelly, who tried to throw the ball through sideways rain.
Stanford at Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 p.m ET, NBC): At the beginning of the year, this was a game people thought would fundamentally shape the College Football Playoff race. Now? It’s a battle between a 3–2 and 2–4 team. The most exciting narrative of this game might be guessing which player Brian Kelly will excoriate if the Irish lose again.
UCLA at Washington State (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): The Cougs are again pursuing their strange habit of losing to an FCS team to begin the season before knocking off major conference foes. Washington State physically mauled Stanford last week in a 42–16 win on both sides of the ball. Look out for Washington State sophomore defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa, who has sacks in back-to-back weeks, and looks like a budding star for a once-maligned defense. If hobbled UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen misses this game to a lower-body injury, then the Cougs could log another major win under Mike Leach.
Kansas State at No. 19 Oklahoma (Saturday, Noon ET, ESPN): Every SI writer picked Oklahoma to win this one, and I’m already having reservations about not going for the upset. The Wildcats have the third-ranked rushing defense in the nation and would likely be top 10 in total defense if they didn’t surrender 592 total yards to Texas Tech last weekend. Considering that the Red Raiders average 650 yards per game and 544 through the air, the result isn’t as gruesome as it looks (plus, Kansas State won the game 44–38).
Oklahoma has markedly improved since its 1–2 start, knocking off TCU and Texas and repositioning itself for a shot at the Big 12 title. The problem for the Sooners is that the Wildcats have shown they’ll be in the game whether its sped up (Texas Tech) or slowed down (see a 17–16 loss to undefeated West Virginia).
No. 20 West Virginia at Texas Tech (Saturday, Noon ET, Fox Sports 1): In past years, the average college football viewer would circle this one and set the over/under at about 115 points. Not this season! While Texas Tech continues to play a glorified version of 7-on-7, West Virginia has cultivated a moderately effective, if inconsistent defense. The unit has held Missouri and Kansas State to under 17 points, yet Dana Holgorsen’s typically prolific offense hasn’t put up more than 38 points this season (and that came against Youngstown State). Holgorsen entered the season on the hot seat, but has the Mountaineers off to a strong start and has given them a different look than his first few seasons in charge.
The major test will be for West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard, who has been inconsistent during his time in Morgantown, to keep up with Texas Tech’s prolific Patrick Mahomes. The junior has already thrown for a mind-boggling 2,274 yards this season and 22 touchdowns (to eight different receivers). Seven of those eight receivers have over 100 yards receiving this year, and six of them have caught touchdowns for 59 yards or more. Howard won’t match Mahomes, but if he can remotely keep up and the West Virginia defense can force a few turnovers, then the Mountaineers may be able to remain undefeated.
No. 10 Nebraska at Indiana (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2): Nebraska is back in the top 10! Unfortunately, they have to travel to perhaps the unlikeliest football hotbed … Bloomington! That’s right, one of the nation’s most historically futile program has already upset Michigan State and delivered a reasonably strong pushback to Ohio State. The focus will ultimately be on Tommy Armstrong, oncee previously derided for his turnovers who has only thrown two interceptions in his first five games to nine touchdowns. This one screams upset, but the Huskers may be in the midst of a special season.
No. 12 Ole Miss at No. 22 Arkansas (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Remember what happened in this game last year? This.
North Carolina at No. 16 Miami (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2): The Tar Heels were slowed down last week in the rain against Virginia Tech while Miami had an extra point blocked to lose to Florida State. They might be the two most difficult programs to read in the ACC, which is what makes Saturday’s matchup enticing. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was looked like one of the nation’s finest quarterback until the disaster against the Hokies last weekend, and he’ll face an improved Miami defense that limited the Seminoles and Deondre Francois. It’s a tough one to read, but the ramifications are clear in the ACC Coastal division.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 9 Tennessee (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): I’ll leave this one to my colleague Kelsey Hendrix, who gives a pretty comprehensive look at what the world was like the last time Tennessee beat Alabama. All I can muster for now is that if the Volunteers turn the ball over seven times, there is no chance they’ll beat the Tide.
Arizona State at Colorado (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): Even after its narrow loss to USC last weekend, Colorado remains one of the more refreshing teams of the season. Not only has the campus bought in after a decade of futility, the Buffs are an exciting team to watch. Quarterback Steven Montez has established himself as a viable dual threat, and he’s got a talented group of receivers led by Shay Fields and Devin Ross. Another receiver, Bryce Bobo, even threw a touchdown pass last weekend to running back Phillip Lindsay.
Arizona State is maybe the most underwhelming 5–1 team in the country, but right now the Sun Devils are right in the thick of the Pac-12 South race. Todd Graham’s unit is outstanding at home (logging impressive wins against both Texas Tech, Cal and UCLA in Tempe), but struggles on the road. They had a tough time putting away Texas San-Antonio in its first road game of the season in September and were subsequently throttled on the road by USC two weeks later. Now that Colorado isn’t the cellar-dweller it was when it arrived in the Pac-12, the Sun Devils may struggle with the altitude more since the opposing side is much better.
No. 2 Ohio State at No. 8 Wisconsin (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC): Wisconsin has a weird defense with players who have weird haircuts but remain one of the most formidable units in the nation. The Badgers have already stifled LSU, Michigan State and Michigan (despite losing that game 14–7). Now, they need to slow down an Ohio State offense that humiliated Oklahoma in one of the year’s biggest non-conference games and scored a season-low point total of 38 points (last week against Indiana.)