Everything you need to know in college football following Week 7
It wasn’t the best week of football on paper, but with playoff hopes always on the line in college football, there was plenty of drama in Week 7. Two of the nation’s top three teams escaped in overtime to keep their standing among the nation’s top four teams while a number of other teams made statements across the country. There are no shortage of stories that come out of any week in college football, so here are the biggest ones that caught the eye in Week 7.
- Alabama continues to separate from the pack
Another week, another dominant performance from Alabama. We are running out of ways to quantify their defensive dominance, but we can start with one number from yesterday. A week after Texas A&M missed 31 tackles against Tennessee (and we pointed out that Alabama had only 24 missed tackles on the season), they continued their strong tackling effort by missing only three against the Vols in their 49-10 rout. We knew going into the game that Alabama had the decided advantage up front and their stars came to play as DE Jonathan Allen notched nine pressures (sack, QB hit, seven hurries) on only 29 rushes, OLB Ryan Anderson picked up four pressures (two QB hits, and two hurries) on 19 rushes and OLB Tim Williams managed two sacks and a hurry on his 17 rushes. The defensive front set the tone for the game once again while the back-7 played well across the board including a 58-yard interception return from safety Ronnie Harrison. There is simply too much talent on Alabama’s defense, while it’s the same cast that plays well week in, week out, there seems to be a new star capable of taking over any given game.
On the other side of the ball, it’s scary to think that true freshman QB Jalen Hurts had an off day throwing the ball, yet the offense still moved the ball and scored points. Hurts missed a number of throws, particularly at the intermediate level where he completed two of his eight attempts for 35 yards, but it’s his running ability that more than makes up for any inaccuracy as he ran 10 times for 145 yards and three scores in the designed run game. Hurts brings an added dimension to the Alabama offense that has never been seen in the Saban era and as we’ve been saying on a weekly basis, his continued development is a scary proposition for the entire nation.
- Close calls at the top
While Alabama was confirming their status as the nation’s top teams, fellow undefeateds Clemson and Ohio State were instilling doubt in what looks like a clear delineation between the top teams in the country and the rest of the field. Both Clemson and Ohio State needed overtime to win yesterday with Clemson lucking out on a missed NC State field goal at the end of regulation. Clemson was once again playing with fire on the turnover front, just as they did against Louisville back in Week 5. A Deshaun Watson pick-six to open the second half, combined with three lost fumbles made things interesting for Clemson and it’s something they need to rectify if they’re going to remain undefeated. As for Ohio State, road night games at Wisconsin are never easy, but their inability to connect in the passing game was a concern, though QB J.T. Barrett bailed them out with his best game of the season as he overcame five drops on just 29 pass attempts.
Championship teams generally need some luck along the way and few championships have been won without at least some kind of late-game drama along the way. Clemson and Ohio State will remain in the top four, but Saturday highlighted warts for both teams.
- Florida controls their own destiny in the SEC East, but it’s a tough road
With Florida’s win over Missouri and Tennessee’ loss to Alabama, Florida now controls its own destiny in the SEC East. They have one conference loss while Tennessee now has two, so despite losing the head-to-head matchup, the Gators have taken control back in the East. However, the road is not as smooth as Tennessee’s down the stretch, as they still have games looming with Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and LSU. Getting through those games unscathed will be no easy task for Florida while Tennessee has a manageable slate of SEC games remaining that includes South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt.
If both teams win out, Florida goes to Atlanta, however, one slip-up and Tennessee assumes control of the East. While Florida’s defense put together a dominant game that featured two pick-sixes and it was a rough return to the lineup for quarterback Luke Del Rio (48.9 overall) and the offense remains a question mark against top competition. Tennessee’s losses to Texas A&M and Alabama the last two weeks were not surprises, and now that they’ve gone through the SEC West gauntlet, they remain in good position to live up to their preseason hype with a trip to Atlanta. They just need Florida to falter at least once along the way.
- West Virginia makes a statement, can they make a playoff run?
I’ve been hard on the defense-averse Big 12 the last few years, but West Virginia is playing well on that side of the ball and it has them sitting at 5-0 after they shut down Texas Tech’s high-octane offense. West Virginia and Baylor are the two remaining hopes for the Big 12 when it comes to the College Football Playoff so it’s time to map out just how realistic that is. As impressive as West Virginia has been to this point, they still have trips to Oklahoma State and Texas along with home dates against Oklahoma and Baylor, so making it through undefeated is going to be a challenge. The best-case scenario for the Big 12 is a battle of undefeated West Virginia and Baylor on December 3rd, but even that feels like a pipe dream as they both have difficult games along the way. Still, West Virginia deserves credit for getting to this point behind a sure-tackling defense (only 32 misses in five games) and an offense led by QB Skyler Howard (80.4 season grade).
- USC looks like a new team
First impressions are difficult to overcome and it’s hard to forget USC’s opening night thrashing at the hands of Alabama or the dud they played two week later in a 27-10 loss to Stanford. However, they’ve rounded back to form the last three weeks with decisive wins over both Arizona schools and a win over Pac-12 South co-leading Colorado last week. It may not seem like much, but a switch to QB Sam Darnold has worked wonders for the offense and the defense has made strides in all facets of the game. Making a run at the Pac-12 South championship is a long shot given their status one game behind Utah who beat them earlier in the season, but a strong finish bodes well for the future at USC after head coach Clay Helton got off to a rocky start.
- LSU looks like a new team
No, a dominant win over Southern Miss is not a program-changer for LSU, but they needed to take steps in the right direction after the firing of head coach Les Miles and that’s just what they’ve done in their last two games. Interim head coach Ed Orgeron is sprinkling his mid-season magic on a program that is as talented as any team they’ll play outside of Alabama, and they’re finally playing up to that potential with decided wins over Missouri and Southern Miss. Edge rusher Arden Key is doing his best to get his names mentioned among the plethora of top rushers in the SEC, and he now has the third-best pass-rushing grade in the conference at 87.4 after a six-pressure outing against Southern Miss. Just as USC’s first impressions are difficult to overcome, it’s easy to get caught up in LSU’s early-season offensive struggles and losses to Wisconsin and Auburn, but they’ll be a dangerous team down the stretch as they’ve started to play up to their immense potential.
- The ACC Coastal is about to get weird
Last week, we highlighted a three-way battle between North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Miami for the ACC Coastal crown and after last week’s decisive win by Virginia Tech over North Carolina, the Hokies were in position to run away with the division. Instead, they lost to Syracuse Saturday and the division is now completely wide open again after North Carolina bounced back to beat Miami. Throw Pittsburgh in the mix as the third team in the division with only one loss and we have chaos brewing in the Coastal. Virginia Tech will play Miami Thursday night in what should go a long way toward determining the division as Miami may have two conference losses, but they’re still a dangerous team. Overall, Saturday was a disappointing effort for Virginia Tech who boasts our No. 2-graded defense in the ACC, but they remain in control of their march to the ACC Championship game.
- It’s time to start talking about Arkansas QB Austin Allen
Arkansas flies under the radar when discussing the powerhouses of the SEC West, but they’re a weekly thorn in the side of the conference’s best teams and they moved to 5-2 on the season with their win over Ole Miss. Much of the credit for their success belongs to first-year starting quarterback Austin Allen who put together another strong game and now boasts the No. 3 passing grade among Power-5 quarterbacks at 78.0. Allen has been under heavy pressure all season, facing heat on 46.7 percent of his dropbacks to lead all quarterbacks, but he’s remained productive in the face of adversity. His seven touchdowns when pressured now rank second in the FBS and his adjusted completion percentage of 51.4 percent on deep (20-plus yard) passes ranks third. Even though it’s too late for Arkansas to make a run in the SEC West, Allen has proven to be one of the nation’s top signal callers and he’ll make for an interesting stretch run in Fayetteville with pending games against Auburn, Florida, and LSU among others.
- Western Michigan makes a statement
Yes, we’re allowed to discuss the MAC on the weekend and Western Michigan made yet another statement with a 41-0 win over Akron. We highlighted this matchup on the weekly PFF College podcast (available on ITunes, Stitcher, Google Play and more) as it is a potential MAC Championship preview, but Western Michigan took care of the drama as they got out to an early 27-0 lead and never looked back. The Broncos have a number of stars who deserve national mention, including WR Corey Davis (80.1 season grade) who may be the best wide receiver in the country though he’s lacked the high-volume targets to put up big stats this season. With wins over Northwestern and Illinois as well as dominant outings against lesser opponents, Western Michigan is establishing itself as one of the top Group of Five teams in the country.
10. Top performances that caught the eye in Week 7
- Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham increased his national lead in stops to 48 as he tacked on seven more against Georgia, including the game-saving tackle in fourth down
- Nebraska CB Chris Jones was targeted six times, allowing only one catch for four yards and getting his hands on three (interception, two passes defensed)
- Oklahoma WR Dede Westbrook put together his second-straight three-touchdown game, finishing with 184 yards on his nine catches.
- Northwestern edge rusher Ifeadi Odenigbo had two sacks and six hurries on only 34 rushes
- Ohio State true freshman edge rusher Nick Bosa played a career-high in snaps for the second straight week (36) and rewarded the Buckeyes with a sack, QB hit, and five hurries.