Athlon previews college football's Week 7 action.
Week 7 of the college football season doesn't feature a ton of prominent match-ups, but there are a lot of games that will set the table for the rest of the year. West Virginia scored a huge victory over Texas last week but has a potential trap game at Texas Tech this Saturday. In addition to the West Virginia-Texas Tech pairing, the Big 12 also features Texas-Oklahoma and Baylor-TCU. As usual, the SEC isn't short on intrigue, as South Carolina-LSU is one of the must-watch games for Week 7.
Top Storylines to Watch in Week 7
Elimination Game in the Big 12?
With West Virginia and Kansas State off to 2-0 starts in Big 12 play, Texas and Oklahoma cannot afford to fall two games behind in the standings. The stakes in the Red River Rivalry are always high, but with this year’s meeting essentially an elimination game for the conference title, there’s even more pressure on both teams to win on Saturday. One of the season’s biggest surprises has been the struggles of Texas’ defense, which ranks 74th nationally in yards allowed and 83rd against the run. Although the Longhorns are allowing over 400 yards per game, this defense will cause problems for Oklahoma’s offense, especially in the trenches with Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor – two of the nation’s best defensive ends – lining up on the outside. Texas could also get a boost with the return of linebacker Jordan Hicks, who has missed the last two games due to an injury. Although quarterback Landry Jones has played well in the last two meetings against the Longhorns, the Sooners have to establish balance if they want to win. Considering how well quarterback David Ash has played this season, the Sooners will have their hands full trying to slow down a much-improved Texas offense. Texas-Oklahoma is usually the Big 12’s most-important game of the season. However, West Virginia and Kansas State appear to be the frontrunners for the Big 12 title, which makes this year’s game in Dallas a must-win if either team wants to be a conference champion.
Showdown in Baton Rouge
With LSU’s loss to Florida, Saturday’s match-up between the Tigers and South Carolina lost a bit of its appeal. However, this is still a huge game on the national scene and will have an impact on who wins the SEC East. LSU desperately needs to win, as a loss to the Gamecocks would put the Tigers two games behind Alabama in the SEC West standings. With a win over LSU, South Carolina would set up a huge showdown on Oct. 20 against Florida, which will likely decide the winner of the East Division. Although quarterback play is always important, it’s even more crucial for Saturday’s game. The Tigers struggled to establish their passing attack in last week’s loss to Florida and need to find a spark against the Gamecocks. Considering both defenses rank in the top 10 in scoring defense, whichever team finds a spark on offense first should emerge from this SEC clash with a victory.
BCS defining game for Notre Dame?
There’s a lot of football left and anything could happen in the second half of the season, but Saturday’s game could be a defining contest for Notre Dame’s BCS bowl hopes. With a schedule that features winnable games against BYU, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest, a victory over Stanford would likely lock Notre Dame into 10 wins and a BCS bowl. The Cardinal are anything but a guaranteed victory for the Irish, especially after Stanford’s offense got on track in last week’s win over Arizona. Although the Wildcats aren’t one of the Pac-12’s best defenses, it was a critical performance for quarterback Josh Nunes to build some confidence for the second half of the year. Notre Dame’s secondary has played well despite the new faces, but the key to this match-up will be the battle in the trenches. Stanford wants to pound the ball at opposing defenses, but Notre Dame ranks 17th nationally against the run and is the only team not to allow a rushing touchdown through the first six weeks of action. If Notre Dame controls the line of scrimmage, Nunes will have to show he can play well on the road, something he did not do in the loss to Washington. Notre Dame probably isn’t thinking about the BCS implications of this game, but a win against Stanford will go a long ways towards the Irish earning their first BCS bowl berth since 2007.
Wisconsin vs. Purdue…A Big Game?
Don’t laugh, this is an important game in the Big Ten standings. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible to win the Leaders Division, Wisconsin and Purdue are the two favorites to play the Legends Division winner in Indianapolis. After a slow start, the Badgers seem to be on the right track. Joel Stave has stabilized the quarterback position, while running back Montee Ball has five touchdowns in his last two games. The Boilermakers are reeling after a 44-13 loss to Michigan and have yet to beat an opponent from a BCS conference this season. Purdue quarterback Robert Marve is dealing with a torn ACL, but played in last week’s game against the Wolverines, completing 5 of 8 passes for 43 yards. Wisconsin has won the last six meetings in this series, including a 62-17 beatdown in Madison last year. The Boilermakers are capable of playing better than they did last week, but the Badgers seem to have found the right answers on offense and still hold the edge in this game.
Under the Radar Games
Louisiana Tech vs. Texas A&M (Shreveport)
This game was originally scheduled for the first week of the season, but Hurricane Isaac forced it to be postponed. The Bulldogs are ranked in the Associated Press and USA Today polls and need to keep winning to have a shot at a BCS game. This match-up shouldn’t be hurting for points, as both teams are averaging over 40 points a contest.
North Carolina at Miami
It’s unfortunate that the Tar Heels are ineligible to play for the ACC Championship, as this team might be the best in the Coastal Division. North Carolina beat Virginia Tech 48-34 last week and its offense should have no trouble moving the ball against a Miami defense allowing 510 yards a game.
Auburn at Ole Miss
What a difference a year makes. Last season, the Rebels were the worst team in the SEC West and lost to Auburn 41-23. Could we see that score reversed on Saturday? Ole Miss is a much-improved team under new coach Hugh Freeze, while the Tigers continue to search for answers on both sides of the ball. If Auburn struggles to generate its offense once again, the Rebels should be able to add to the Tigers’ misery this season.
Duke at Virginia Tech
In a bit of a surprise, Duke enters this game with a better ACC record than Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils also need just one more victory to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. The Hokies have lost three out of their last four games and a defense that was expected to be among the nation’s best is allowing nearly 400 yards per game.
TCU at Baylor
These two teams met for a 50-48 shootout game last season and there should be plenty of fireworks once again this Saturday. TCU will be without quarterback Casey Pachall for the rest of the season, but Baylor’s defense ranks dead last (120th out of 120 FBS schools) nationally in yards allowed. The Horned Frogs rank 19th nationally in pass defense but have yet to be tested by a passing attack as potent and produtive as Baylor's.
Utah State at San Jose State
Both teams are looking up at Louisiana Tech in the WAC pecking order, but this is still a huge game. Utah State has a win over Utah this year, along with a two-point loss to Wisconsin and a three-point defeat to BYU. The Spartans are off to a 4-1 start and nearly beat Stanford in the opener. This game also features two of the nation’s rising stars in the coaching ranks – Gary Andersen (Utah State) and Mike MacIntyre (San Jose State).
Oregon State at BYU
The Beavers will be without quarterback Sean Mannion, but don’t write off the Beavers in Provo. The Cougars expect to have quarterback Riley Nelson back under center, but BYU’s offense struggled mightily against Boise State and Utah State. Expect a low-scoring game, with a play or two on defense likely deciding the outcome.
USC at Washington
Although USC has a clear edge in talent, this game may be closer than some expect. The Huskies won the last meeting played in Seattle, and two out of the last three games in this series have been decided by three points or less. The two coaches in this game (Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin) are certainly familiar with each other, which will help keep this one close into the fourth quarter.
Tennessee at Mississippi State
Could this game decide Derek Dooley’s future at Tennessee? It’s unlikely, but this still is a must-win game for the Volunteers. With match-ups against Alabama and South Carolina coming up the next two weeks, a loss to Mississippi State would more than likely leave the Volunteers with a 3-5 mark heading into the final month of the season. The Bulldogs are 5-0 but have played a soft schedule.
Fresno State (+7) at Boise State
The Broncos have lost only three games at home since 2000, and the Bulldogs have not fared well on the blue turf in recent years. However, Boise State is still trying to find the right answers after losing a handful of key contributors from last season’s team, while Fresno State boasts two of the nation’s most underrated players in quarterback Derek Carr and running back Robbie Rouse.
Prediction: Fresno State 31, Boise State 27
Kansas State at Iowa State (+6.5)
The Cyclones are always good for an upset or two, and the last four meetings in this series have been decided by eight points or less. Kansas State is the better team, but Iowa State’s run defense will be a tough test for Wildcats’ quarterback Collin Klein.
Prediction: Kansas State 31, Iowa State 24
Louisville at Pittsburgh (+3)
The Big East is unpredictable, so nothing in this game would be a surprise. Pittsburgh has won the last four games in this series, including a 21-14 win in Louisville last year. The Cardinals are clearly the better team, but the Panthers are capable of getting hot at the right time.
Prediction: Louisville 27, Pittsburgh 20
West Virginia at Texas Tech
After a big win at Texas last Saturday, the Mountaineers should be wary of this week’s trip to Lubbock. Texas Tech is coming off a loss to Oklahoma, but the Red Raiders’ offense will test a shaky West Virginia defense. Back-to-back road games are never easy, especially for a team that has never played in Lubbock.
California at Washington State
The Golden Bears desperately needed a win last week, and they responded with a surprising 43-17 blowout victory over UCLA. The second half schedule features a handful of tough games, including road trips to Oregon State and Utah, along with home contests against Stanford, Washington and Oregon. If California wants to go to a bowl game, it can’t afford a letdown on the road at Washington State.
Florida at Vanderbilt
Coming off a big win against LSU and with a key SEC East showdown against South Carolina next Saturday, the Gators have to be careful not to overlook the Commodores. Even though Vanderbilt is 2-3, the Commodores nearly beat Florida last season (26-21) and have some momentum after beating Missouri 19-15 last week. It’s a longshot, but a road game in the SEC is never easy.
Injuries to Watch
James Franklin, QB, Missouri – Franklin suffered a knee injury in last week’s loss to Vanderbilt and is out indefinitely.
MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota – Gray has not played since suffering a high ankle sprain against Western Michigan on Sept. 15. However, the senior quarterback is close to 100 percent and is expected to play against Northwestern this Saturday.
Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas - Hicks has missed the last two games with a hip injury but is expected to return for Saturday's game against Oklahoma. The junior's return should help the Longhorns' defense, which struggled against Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
Alex Hurst, OT, LSU – The Tigers’ offensive line has not played up to preseason expectations and could have even bigger issues on Saturday, as Hurst is dealing with personal issues and may not play against South Carolina.
Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State – Lunt is still recovering from a knee injury suffered against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 15. J.W. Walsh filled in admirably for Lunt against Texas and appears to be in line to get the start once again this week.
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State – Mannion suffered a knee injury in last week’s win over Washington State and is out indefinitely after surgery. Cody Vaz will get the start under center for Oregon State.
Sean Renfree, QB, Duke - Renfree missed last week's game against Virginia due to an elbow injury but all signs point to the senior returning this Saturday against Virginia Tech.
Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State – Sims suffered an ankle injury against Indiana last week and is out for this Saturday’s game against Iowa.
Patrick Towles, QB, Kentucky – A bad season only got worse for Kentucky last Saturday. Towles, who led the Wildcats on a scoring drive in his first collegiate action, suffered an ankle injury against Mississippi State is out indefinitely.
Josh Williford, OL, LSU – Williford was banged up in last week’s loss to Florida and is questionable to play this week due to a head injury.
Games to Avoid
Alabama at Missouri
With quarterback James Franklin sidelined, Missouri will have a tough time moving the ball against Alabama’s defense. With the Crimson Tide having two weeks to prepare and a well-rested team after an off date, this one should get ugly early.
Boston College at Florida State
Both teams are coming off of disappointing losses, but the situation is more dire for Boston College, especially after slumping to a 1-4 start, including last Saturday's loss to a struggling Army team. Expect an angry Florida State team to handle its business and keep its ACC title hopes alive with an easy win over the Eagles.
Oklahoma State at Kansas
Thanks to two off dates, this will be Oklahoma State’s second game in four weeks. The Jayhawks hung tough for a half against Kansas State but dropped their fourth consecutive game of the year. The Cowboys might be a rusty early on, but it’s hard to see this one being close in the fourth quarter.
Illinois at Michigan
The Tim Beckman era is off to a horrendous start at Illinois. The Fighting Illini are 2-4, with their only wins coming over Western Michigan and Charleston Southern. Illinois has been blown out in all four losses, and Michigan seems to be finding its stride after beating Purdue 44-13 last week.
Fordham vs. Cincinnati
The Bearcats are quietly flying under the radar with a 4-0 start and should remain unbeaten with an easy victory over Fordham.
by Steven Lassan
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