- NC State joins Oklahoma, Iowa State, Jim Harbaugh and others as the people and teams facing the most pressure in their Week 7 performances.
After opening the season with a loss to a mediocre South Carolina team, NC State has been on the rebound, beating Marshall, Furman, Florida State, Syracuse and Louisville by an average of 15.6 points. Coach Dave Doeren, following consecutive 7-6 seasons, needs to post an improved record in 2017 to keep the Wolfpack’s upward trajectory going, and with one of the country’s most talented defensive lines, he has the personnel to do so. In fact, NC State’s front seven looked so dominant going into the season that the Wolfpack were considered a fringe playoff contender.
Those expectations made that Week 1 loss even harder to stomach, but a month later, it’s possible to consider that falling to South Carolina didn’t exactly portend doom and gloom for the rest of the season. Sure, it may have hurt the Wolfpack’s always-slim playoff dream, but the team is 3-0 in ACC play for the first time in 15 seasons, and on Saturday it faces a mediocre Pitt team. After that, it heads into a bye before the toughest stretch of its season, back-to-back games against Notre Dame and Clemson. And though the pressure will mount then, there’s plenty resting on the Pitt game. A loss to the Panthers would suck the meaning from the Wolfpack’s upcoming games, but if NC State stays its course and beats Notre Dame, it’s matchup against Clemson will have far-reaching ACC implications. As it stands, Doeren’s team is the the only one besides Clemson in the ACC’s Atlantic Division that is undefeated in conference thus far.
NC State, especially since that Week 1 stumble, has been just as good as expected up front on defense; it’s allowing opponents just 90.7 yards per game on the ground, good for the No. 8 rushing defense in FBS ball. Its passing defense, though, has been only mediocre, and that’ll have to improve if the Wolfpack hope to maintain their winning ways. In their favor they also have quarterback Ryan Finley, who’s completed a whopping 70.9% of his passes in 2017, and the nation’s No. 21 passing offense.
Oklahoma: Coming off a surprising loss to Iowa State, Oklahoma dropped from No. 3 to No. 12 in the AP Poll and hurt the Big 12’s hopes at producing a playoff team come December. The Sooners won’t have a second to wallow, though; they’re coming off the defeat and right into the annual Red River Rivalry game against a resurgent Texas team. (On that note, the pressure goes both ways here; there’d be no better way for Tom Herman to prove his team is on the right track than by beating Oklahoma.) But as far as Baker Mayfield and company go, this game is a must-win; being favored by 31 points against a team that’s missing its starting quarterback and then losing is not a great look for a team making a bid as one of the four best teams in the country, and the Sooners had better follow up that embarrassment with the strongest of statements against the Longhorns.
Iowa State: On the other side of the aforementioned upset, Iowa State finally managed to break through in a close game under second-year coach Matt Campbell. Prior to Saturday, the Cyclones had lost five games since the beginning of 2016 by a touchdown or less, and to break that streak against the Sooners was the biggest statement Iowa State could have made.
This week, the Cyclones get perennial Big 12 basement-dweller Kansas, which should be a somewhat easy follow-up to last week’s game—but on the flip side, it’d be a massive buzz kill to lose to the Jayhawks after causing such disruption in the conference and playoff standings. And added wrinkle: Iowa State is now listing both original starter Jacob Park and his one-time backup, Kyle Kempt, who beat Oklahoma, as No. 1 on its depth chart. Word out of Ames is the job is Kempt’s for now, and there will be added pressure in the coming weeks on Campbell to figure out which signal caller is his man.
Jim Harbaugh: To me, Harbaugh’s Michigan team was ranked a bit higher than it should have been all season—until this week, when it fell from No. 7 to No. 17 after losing to then-unranked Michigan State. Sure, the game was one of those rivalry matchups that can always go wonky, but the Spartans exposed Michigan’s offense and its struggles at quarterback, which have simmered all season. Harbaugh’s offense looked too complicated for the players executing it, and even though the Wolverines are still 4-1 on the season, fans in Ann Arbor—many of whom sat through a deluge Saturday night—are fed up. Michigan’s coaches are always on a short rope, and Harbaugh has managed to hold much of that scrutiny at bay over the past two years. It’s here now, right or wrong, and the Wolverines need a convincing win over Indiana on Saturday.
Jonathan Banks: He’s Tulane’s quarterback; I know you didn’t have a clue, and I also will bet you didn’t watch the Green Wave’s 10 a.m. CT kickoff on Saturday. (I did; most of my family attended Tulane and my brother should win some sort of award for his devotion to this team. This, I guess, is my gentle way of suggesting you check out coach Willie Fritz’s offense.)
On Saturday, Hurricane Nate was brewing—hence the start so early it’s fair to bet at least one fan stumbled straight from a bar to breakfast to the stadium—but first Tulane put up its best win in years, 62-28 over Tulsa. Fritz looks well on his way to revamping a struggling program, and though whooping up on Tulsa wouldn’t be momentous news for many programs, it was for the Green Wave. Tulane has proven willing to invest in its athletics program in recent years, but in order to take it to the next stage, its football team needs to be competent. Now, finally, it is. Banks, a Kansas State transfer, rushed for a touchdown and passed for another on Saturday as Fritz’s offense looked to be in peak form. Still, Saturday was one win, and the 3-2 Green Wave need to keep it rolling this weekend against FIU if they want to become bowl eligible after being picked unanimously in a preseason poll to come in last in their division.