Picks for college football's biggest Week 7 games
Week 7 features the top two teams in the country on the road against major conference foes ranked in the top ten. While one looks to have a significant mismatch, the other appears to be a much more significant challenge. Only five top-25 teams this week are favored by less than 10 points in their matchup, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have another competitive week of college action.
No. 2 Ohio State at No. 8 Wisconsin
Line: Ohio State, -10
I broke down this matchup extensively yesterday, so here is the “Cliff Notes” version: Ohio State has retooled quickly on defense, and QB Alex Hornibrook’s 37.8 completion percentage on intermediate and long passes makes the Badgers far too one-dimensional. This being said, Wisconsin has the front seven to keep the Buckeye run game in check more so than any Ohio State opponent has thus far in 2016. Pay attention to the weather in this one; the potential for rain and heavy pressure from playmakers like T.J. Watt and Jack Cichy suggest Wisconsin can at least cover the spread in front of what should be a raucous crown in Madison on Saturday night.
Prediction: Ohio State 21, Wisconsin 17
No. 1 Alabama at No. 9 Tennessee
Line: Alabama, -13
Last week I thought Arkansas could hang with Alabama because of QB Austin Allen’s steady play under pressure against Texas A&M. I was not banking on Alabama pressuring him on 42 of 61 drop-backs! Bad offensive line play (and passing outside the hashes) has been the Achilles’ heel of the Volunteers, as they have just one starting offensive lineman with an overall grade above 50.0 this season, and the unit has already yielded 36 pressures this year. This line is manageable due to the fact the game is in Knoxville, but make no mistake about it; this is a terrible matchup for the Volunteers, and the Crimson Tide will roll on.
Prediction: Alabama 43, Tennessee 20
No. 12 Mississippi at No. 22 Arkansas
Line: Mississippi, -7.5
Look for Mississippi QB Chad Kelly to go after Arkansas CB Henre’ Toliver, who has given up catches on 29 of 38 targets this year for 307 yards, including three for 80 yards against Alabama last week. Trying to defend an explosive passing game like that of the Rebels’ will be a tall order for a Razorbacks’ squad coming off last week’s physical beat down, and a rested Mississippi squad will be ready for a fight coming off its bye.
Prediction: Ole Miss 38, Arkansas 28
Duke at No. 7 Louisville
Line: Louisville, -35
One-loss teams will need to take advantage of every opportunity they have to impress voters, thus having a Friday primetime game is critical for the Cardinals. The Louisville running game has forced 55 missed tackles this season, while Duke’s defense has missed 49. Both trends will continue on Friday, as the Cardinals will have no problems (and no qualms about) putting up scores in bunches against the Blue Devils.
Prediction: Louisville 49, Duke 10
Kansas State at No. 19 Oklahoma
Line: Oklahoma, -10.5
In the two games since losing to Ohio State, QB Baker Mayfield has been on fire. On throws downfield at least 20 yards through the air from the line of scrimmage he completed seven of nine throws for 318 yards and four touchdowns. Kansas State struggled defensively last week with downfield coverage, as Texas Tech completed four of seven throws at least 20 yards through the air for 117 yards and a touchdown. Look for Mayfield to connect for at least two more deep shot touchdowns this week, as the Sooners will remain undefeated in conference play.
Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Kansas State 20
Wake Forest at No. 14 Florida State
Line: Florida State, -21
After a rough start to the season by his standards, RB Dalvin Cook is back playing at the elite level he maintained throughout 2015. Over the last three games he has averaged 6.6 yards per carry and 7.3 forced missed tackles per game. He’ll maintain those numbers at home against the Demon Deacons.
Prediction: Florida State38, Wake Forest 13
No. 20 West Virginia at Texas Tech
Line: West Virginia, -1
West Virginia doesn’t have a player with more than five combined sacks and hits this season, and Texas Tech QB Pat Mahomes has completed almost 80 percent of his passes for 1626 yards, 17 touchdowns and has a QB rating of 133.7 when faced with a clean pocket. I’m not certain the Mountaineers have the fire power to keep pace with the Red Raiders, who should be able to pull off the minor upset at home.
Prediction: Texas Tech 45, West Virginia 38
No. 10 Nebraska at Indiana
Line: Nebraska, -3.5
Indiana LT Coy Cronk had a mess of a game in Columbus last week (34.1 overall grade), as he struggled to sustain blocks on the edge on run plays and gave up five pressures in pass protection. Expect more of the same this week against the likes of Nebraska DEs Ross Dzuris and Freedom Akinmoladun who have combined for six sacks and 37 total pressures this season. This spread is an over-reaction to Indiana beating a bad Michigan State team in overtime followed by last week’s competitive loss in bad weather to the Buckeyes; fire at will.
Prediction: Nebraska 31, Indiana 14
North Carolina at No. 16 Miami
Line: Miami, -8
Against the Seminoles last week, the Miami defense missed 12 tackles, nine of them coming against Florida State star RB Dalvin Cook. Tarheels’ RB Elijah Hood has forced 20 missed tackles of his own this season while averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and should be able to find some success against the Hurricanes’ front. As long as North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky’s battle is with the opponent across from him and not Mother Nature like last week, he should be able to bounce back. Last week’s water-logged contest is not indicative of the type of team North Carolina is, thus this large spread is worth moving against.
Prediction: North Carolina 27, Miami 24
No. 24 Western Michigan at Akron
Line: Western Michigan, -10.5
This will be one of the more exciting games of the week, as it features two high-powered offenses that have outside weapons and QBs able to distribute the ball downfield. The pass rushes for both teams will be critical, and this appears to be a big advantage going the way of the Broncos. Akron has just one defender with at least three combined sacks and hits, while the Western Michigan offensive line has given up just two sacks and four hits on the year. Conversely, the Bronco LB corps has racked up 14 sacks already this year, while Akron’s offensive line has yielded 10. Western Michigan’s undefeated season should continue beyond this week.
Prediction: Western Michigan 42, Akron 28
Kansas at No. 11 Baylor
Line: Baylor, -34.5
Last week’s 24-23 loss to TCU was the first time this season Kansas has given up less than 35 points, while Baylor has scored at least that many in every game this year. Bears RBs Terence Williams and Shock Linwood have combined to force 35 missed tackles on the ground this season, and their elusiveness should be on full display against a Jayhawk defense that has whiffed 49 times this year.
Prediction: Baylor 49, Kansas 13
No. 17 Virginia Tech at Syracuse
Line: Virginia Tech, -19.5
Syracuse’s defense currently grades out 58th among 65 Power-5 schools, and Virginia Tech is on a tear, outscoring its last three opponents 137 to 20. Virginia Tech QB Jerod Evans was accurate on just seven of 14 aimed throws in last week’s deluge, but should have no issues getting back on track against the obviously vulnerable Orangeman defense.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 44, Syracuse 23
North Carolina State at No. 3 Clemson
Line: Clemson, -17.5
While North Carolina State has graded out extremely well thus far, in particular on defense, they have yet to face a high-caliber opponent. Hurricane Matthew made for a wet, low-scoring affair against Notre Dame last week, but the Wolfpack will get anything but that this week. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson has the offense clicking on all cylinders, as he is coming off a game against a strong Boston College defense in which he was accurate on 21 of 25 aimed passes and threw for four touchdowns while posting a lofty QB rating of 136.7.
Prediction: Clemson 34, North Carolina State 14
No. 21 Utah at Oregon State
Line: Utah, -9.5
Oregon State LT Blake Brandel has a run-blocking grade of just 39.2, which means Utah DE Hunter Dimick could be in for another huge day (84.7 run defense grade). This game won’t be aesthetically pleasing, but Utah should be able to get the job done and reestablish itself as a major player in the Pac-12 South.
Prediction: Utah 23, Oregon State 14
Missouri at No. 18 Florida
Line: Florida, -13.5
While he wasn’t good his last time on the field in Week 5 against LSU when he had a clean pocket (71.4 QB rating), Missouri QB Drew Lock completed just two of nine throws under pressure for a grand total of one yard, an interception and a QB rating of 0.0. Expect a similar performance against a Florida defense averaging 22.8 pressures per game this season.
Prediction: Florida 24, Missouri 3
Tulsa at No. 13 Houston
Line: Houston, -21.5
After last week’s loss in Annapolis to Navy, Houston is now playing for the Group of Five’s New Year’s Day Bowl bid as opposed to a possible spot in the national playoff. Style points they’ll need, and that exactly what they should get against a Tulsa team that has given up 40 and 41 points in consecutive weeks to the likes of Fresno State and SMU.
Prediction: Houston 52, Tulsa 20
Colorado State at No. 15 Boise State
Line: Boise State, -31
Colorado State nose tackle Johnny Schupp is the Ram’s highest-graded defensive lineman against the run (with at least 100 snaps played) with a grade of 49.0. Expect a huge day on the ground from Boise State RB Jeremy McNichols, who currently stands fifth in our elusive rating due to his forcing 32 missed tackles and 125 total touches.
Prediction: Boise State 48, Colorado State 16