Week 7 Viewing Guide: Two Games Between Top-10 Teams, Six Total Top-25 Pairings and a Crucial Meeting in the Big Ten West

With Ohio State on a bye week, let’s take a look at a host of college football matchups from around the country we’ll have our eyes on this Saturday.

Nooners

Photo: Matthew O’Haren – USA TODAY Sports

#10 Penn State vs. #5 Michigan, 12 pm on FOX

The good news for Buckeye fans is that the most significant Big Ten game of the year so far steers completely clear of any Ohio State-related viewing conflicts. The bad news for Buckeye fans is that the game features Ohio State’s two biggest rivals in the division.

Penn State got its season off to a shaky start on the road against Purdue, but Sean Clifford rallied the Nittany Lions to a win with a go-ahead touchdown drive in the final two-and-a-half minutes. PSU has not played an opponent with a winning record since then, reflected in the fact that Clifford has not had to throw for more than 217 passing yards in any of the team’s last four wins.

Meanwhile, Michigan has had some surprise bumps in the road since the beginning of conference play, but last week’s win over Indiana marked the first time JJ McCarthy has thrown for 300 yards in a Wolverines uniform.

Penn State and Michigan have thus far performed solidly overall on defense, but the key differentiator between these teams figures to be the lack of efficiency in the Nittany Lions’ rushing attack to this point. Even if PSU takes an early lead in this game, their 35.8% success rate on offensive rushing plays (20th-worst out of 131 teams) figures to make it difficult for the Nittany Lions to maintain separation from the Wolverines.

If McCarthy avoids mistakes, he figures to have considerable success against a Nittany Lions team that has gone largely untested by up-to-par competition since the opening week of the season.

Minnesota vs. #24 Illinois, 12 pm on Big Ten Network

While one critical matchup takes place in the Big Ten East, another will transpire on the other side of the conference that could go a long way toward determining which team eventually represents the West in Indianapolis when December finally arrives.

After winning two Big Ten Championship games at Wisconsin, Bret Bielema has his eyes set on a third with Illinois following divisional victories over his former Badgers and last week against the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Fighting Illini continue to enjoy success behind Chase Brown, who has rushed for over 100 yards in every game so far this season and made several key chunk gains in Illinois’ war of attrition with Iowa that ended only in field goals.

But for all the success Brown and the Illini have had on the ground so far, Minnesota’s efforts this season in that area appear even more impressive. The Golden Gophers have missed star running back Mohamed Ibrahim the last couple of weeks, but backups Trey Potts and Bryce Williams have performed admirably throughout the season with nearly 500 combined rushing yards and five touchdowns of their own.

The uniform success of Minnesota’s running back room has led to the Golden Gophers averaging the 13th-best estimated points added per game via rushing plays and the fourth-highest success rate on the ground so far this season. Both Illinois and Minnesota’s defenses boast top-10 success rates against the run (Illinois actually owns the best at the FBS level at just 26%), so this game figures to offer a highly-competitive back-and-forth of smash-mouth football .

Afternoons

Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide

Photo: Marvin Gentry USA TODAY Sports

Three Ranked Rendezvous and a G5 Wildcard

Once the pair of Big Ten offerings at noon are out of the way, the day’s slate of college football really starts to pick up. The SEC, Big 12, and ACC all offer ranked matchups for viewer consideration, but those looking for a more niche way to spend the afternoon could have a pleasant surprise waiting for them in Conference USA.

  • #3 Alabama vs. #6 Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. on CBS
    Bryce Young’s shoulder injury and the Crimson Tide’s handful of disappointing offensive performances this season caught up with Alabama last week, nearly costing the team a revenge win at home over Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M. As Young approaches game-time decision status for the second straight week, Nick Saban’s crew prepares to take on Tennessee in what profiles as the highest-stakes Third Saturday in October rivalry game since at least 2016.

    The Volunteers have not defeated their cross-divisional counterparts over the last 15 meetings, with their last win coming in 2006 under head coach Phillip Fulmer during one of his final seasons in Knoxville. Hendon Hooker could add a signature performance to his Heisman résumé with a strong showing, but assuming Young plays, the reigning recipient could do the same against a Tennessee pass defense that allows the 24th-worst success rate at the FBS level to opponents throwing the football .

  • #8 Oklahoma State vs. #13 TCU, 3:30 p.m. on ABC
    While Kansas may have started the season as the surprise darling of college football, TCU’s win over the Jayhawks cemented the status of the Horned Frogs as legitimate contenders in the Big 12. Although quarterback Max Duggan has drawn much of the praise for the overall success of the offense, last week’s victory in Lawrence largely transpired on the back of leading receiver Quentin Johnston, who had 14 catches for 206 yards and the game-winning touchdown.

    Although Johnston’s lofty reception total would seemingly paint him as a target hog, Duggan has actually done a terrific job distributing the football this season, as TCU rosters six receivers with at least 100 receiving yards through six weeks. Oklahoma State and Spencer Sanders will have their work cut out for them if the Cowboys wish to triumph over a team from Texas in a third straight game.

  • #15 NC State vs. #18 Syracuse, 3:30 p.m. on ACC Network
    NC State narrowly avoided back-to-back losses last week after entering halftime against Florida State down 17-3. Despite losing quarterback Devin Leary to injury in the middle of their comeback attempt, the Wolfpack shut out the Seminoles in the second half to secure their first win in the ACC this season.

    Now as backup graduate senior Jack Chambers looks to pick up the slack, NC State will get another stiff challenge this week in the form of a Syracuse team that started the season undefeated and has had a bye week to prepare for the Wolfpack. While the Orange arguably have yet to face a team better than Purdue, ‘Cuse also owns a top-10 success rate for overall offense at 49.6%, which lends itself to another nice test for the impressive NC State defense.

  • Western Kentucky vs. Middle Tennessee State, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN+
    W I L D C A R D of the W E E K
    Not too keen on the SEC showdown in Knoxville? Those still open to the idea of ​​watching football in the Volunteer State today may have some interest in the game set to go down in Murfreesboro.

    Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State both enter with .500 records, but each side has already made some noise in the grand scheme of college football this season. The Hilltoppers operate one of the most prolific passing offenses in the nation behind quarterback Austin Reed, executing the ninth-most throwing attempts per game on their way to top-five averages in both yards through the air and passing touchdowns.

    Although the Blue Raiders lack the eye-popping stats of WKU, they do own one of the most stunning upsets of the season so far after taking down Miami 45-31 at the end of September to knock the Hurricanes out of the top 25. Middle Tennessee State finds limited success running the football, so the path to keeping this game competitive goes entirely through the air in what could be a fun shootout.

Primetime

Head coach Mike Leach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas USA TODAY Sports

Two More Top-25 Showdowns and the Bowden Bowl

Still famished for ranked football? Luckily, the evening offers a few more interesting games for folks to consider featuring five additional ranked teams from the 19 active today.

  • #16 Mississippi State vs. #22 Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. on SEC Network
    In the wake of Arkansas’ three-game losing streak, a new surprise contender has emerged in the SEC West. Mike Leach has Mississippi State’s offense humming through six games as quarterback Will Rodgers has thrown for over 300 yards in all of the Bulldogs’ wins while helping nine different wideouts achieve at least 100 yards receiving.

    Kentucky had a wealth of positive momentum heading into October, but a two-game skid on the heels of a loss to Ole Miss and an upset at home versus South Carolina has the Wildcats searching to regain their footing. The UK defense owns a top-10 success rate against passing plays so far at 33.3%, which could make for an interesting ball game opposite Mississippi State’s electric aerial attack.

  • #4 Clemson vs. Florida State, 7:30 p.m. on ABC
    ☣ DANGER ☣ WARNING ☣
    Florida State likely would have entered this matchup ranked had the Seminoles completed their upset over NC State last week. However, a choke in the second half now leaves the Seminoles staring at the prospect of a three-game losing streak after starting the season undefeated and briefly breaking into the polls.

    Clemson stunningly enters this game as only a four-point favorite, but given the strides the Tigers have made on offense relative to last season, they should have little issue handling FSU. Dabo Swinney’s offense has achieved a top-25 success rate on its rushes so far, while Florida State’s defense conversely posts the 37th-worst when defending such plays. A clear path to victory on the ground for Clemson figures to lead this game into boring territory relative to the other options available.

  • #7 USC vs. #20 Utah, 8 p.m. on FOX
    The Trojans have experienced brief flirtations with disaster of late, but Lincoln Riley and USC keep pulling away in convenient fashion to stay undefeated and remain the favorites to win the Pac-12. While the Caleb Williams/Jordan Addison connection has not quite yet manifested into the lucrative results some expected early on, the former Oklahoma quarterback nevertheless continues to have an impressive season despite throwing for less than 200 yards in two of Southern Cal’s last three wins.

    Unfortunately for the Trojans, their first game against a ranked opponent this year could present a significant challenge for Alex Grinch’s defense. USC continues to have issues against opposing rushing attacks, and while Utah has recently shown greater propensity and efficiency in throwing the football relative to a year ago, the Utes still prefer a run-oriented approach. If the reigning Pac-12 champs can have consistent success on the ground, Utah could very well pull off an upset that would place the Utes firmly back in position to defend the conference title.

On the Radar for Next Week

  • Buckeyes: Iowa vs. #2 Ohio State, 12 pm on FOX
  • Afternoon: #22 Texas vs. #8 Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m. on ABC
  • primetime: #16 Mississippi State vs. #3 Alabama, 7 p.m. on ESPN

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