When college football’s schedule looks underwhelming, it often gives us maximum crazy. This could end up being that week. There are no top-10 teams facing off. The only major rivalry game is Texas-Oklahoma. ABC’s primetime game is Utah-USC. On paper, that schedule is sub-optimal unless you’re a big fan of Texas or Oklahoma. But when has college football ever followed logic? Here are your studs and duds for Week 7.
Stud: Washington State
The rankings have consistently underrated the Cougars and this week was no exception. Washington State really has a chance to run the table and make the playoff. Yet, they’re ranked below every other Power Five undefeated team except Miami, which has played only four games. Wazzu is on the road at California on Friday night in a game they could easily dominate. Don’t let Cal’s 3-3 record fool you, this is one of the weakest teams in the Power Five. Their offense is outside the top-100 and their defense outside the top-80 in S&P+. Maybe this is the week the Cougars get some respect from the voters.
Dud: Florida State
When was the last time we had a team as disappointing as the ‘Noles? 2012 USC? After falling to rival Miami in dramatic fashion last week, FSU is 1-3 with a trip to Durham in the cards. This game feels like it could be the nail in their coffin. Duke’s defense quietly leads the country in overall havoc rate at 25.6 percent, per Football Study Hall. That bodes well against a Florida State line which has consistently struggled to protect James Blackmon. Look for the upset.
Stud: Will Grier, quarterback, West Virginia
West Virginia gets Texas Tech in Morgantown this week, which is quietly one of Saturday’s better games. The Red Raiders have started the season winning four of five and jumped into the top-25 after blowing out Kansas last week. However, that start has been built almost entirely on offense. Texas Tech has no chance of stopping Grier at home. The transfer quarterback is averaging 9.9 adjusted yards per attempt and has thrown for 1,740 yards already. If the Red Raiders compete with the Mountaineers, it won’t be because they slow down Grier.
Dud: Derrius Guice, running back, LSU
Most of the negative focus on LSU has surrounded quarterback Danny Etling and head coach Ed Orgeron, and rightly so. But it’s worth noting just how sharp Guice has declined. The junior running back averaged 7.6 yards per attempt last season, a number that’s declined to 4.4 this year. His only two 100-yard games of the year were in the first two weeks against BYU – a team we now know is terrible – and Chattanooga, which is in the FCS. And we were talking about him as a Heisman candidate before the year. Don’t expect Guice to get better against an Auburn squad whose defense is top 10 in the nation.
It’s hard to judge a Miami team that missed two weeks because of Hurricane Irma, but it looks good. They just won on the road against Florida State for the first time since 2009. That could be a watershed moment in Mark Richt’s tenure. Another win against the ever-tricky Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets this week could set up the Hurricanes as chief contenders to Clemson in the ACC. Ironically, Paul Johnson’s squad has struggled to defend the run. In a cruel twist, it could be Miami – which leads the country in rushing success rate, per Football Study Hall – that runs all over Georgia Tech in this one.
Dud: Iowa State
If there has ever been a trap game for Iowa State, this is it. They get Kansas at home the week after upsetting Oklahoma in Norman and the week before facing Texas Tech in Lubbock. Think the Cyclones are focusing much on the Jayhawks? There’s no way Iowa State should lose to Kansas on paper just like there’s no way any Power Five team should lose to Kansas on paper. But the Jayhawks won’t lose every game for the rest of the year. The best – maybe only – way for them to win is by catching an opponent at the right time. And this may be the greatest possible time.
Don’t look now, but the Badgers have a very conceivable path to the playoff. They benefit greatly from playing a Big Ten West schedule – where their toughest opponent may be Purdue this week. The only ranked team left on their slate is Michigan at home and the Wolverines may not even be ranked by the time that game happens. If Wisconsin coasts through the schedule and wins the division, they’ll be underdogs in the Big Ten championship game, but Ohio State and Penn State – likely opponents – are certainly beatable. Of course, the Badgers have to beat Purdue this week to start thinking through those scenarios. But as good a job as Jeff Brohm has done with the Boilermakers, they don’t have much of a chance at Camp Randall.
The Terrapins have gone a very encouraging 3-2 so far, but things don’t look so peachy this week. Given their quarterback struggles, scoring will be an issue against a solid Wildcats defense. Even though they’re at home, this is the sort of game the Terps lose. Northwestern does a good job preventing big plays on the ground – the sort of plays on which Maryland running back Ty Johnson has thrived. The Terps should get to six wins and a bowl game this year, but this won’t be one of them.
Stud: The Red River Showdown
It’s been a few years since the Red River Showdown was this exciting from a national perspective. Texas is far from a national title contender. But after a double-overtime win against Kansas State last week, the Longhorns look like a solid football team. Head coach Tom Herman clearly has them on the right track. On the other side of things, Oklahoma is coming off a stunning loss at home against Iowa State. If they drop another one here, it will completely derail both their playoff hopes and quarterback Baker Mayfield’s Heisman campaign. This is the best game of the day and it isn’t even close.
Dud: The primetime slate
USC-Utah isn’t a bad game, but it shouldn’t be the marquee, primetime game on ABC either. Did nobody at Fox try to talk Texas and Oklahoma into playing under the lights? Unless Nebraska or Arkansas is about to pull one of the biggest upsets of the year, this will be a good Saturday night to go out and do something other than watch football. Weeks like this are why we need some sort of centralized governing body for college football. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t at least have Georgia Tech-Miami or Texas Tech-West Virginia at night.
On paper, this is not a game the Commodores should win. Ole Miss is a better team on paper, the game is in Oxford, and Vandy has been blown out three weeks in a row. But motivation is everything and the Runnin’ Rebels have nothing to play for. They’re also coming off three bad losses. And, unlike Vanderbilt, there’s no bowl game in sight if they get to six wins. A victory this week more or less locks down a bowl game for Vandy if they can go chalk the rest of the way. They will get that win.
Memphis already knocked off the first top-25 team that came to the Liberty Bowl. Now it’s Navy’s turn to try. The Midshipmen really struggle to contain explosive plays in the air on defense. That doesn’t bode well against quarterback Riley Ferguson. The Tigers also have a huge advantage on special teams. They will dominate field position and force Navy into third downs. If the Midshipmen are forced to throw the ball in order to move the ball, they don’t have much of a chance. Memphis can do just that.
The Bulldogs probably won’t end the year in the top-four, but this isn’t the week they lose. In fact, a home game against Missouri may be the easiest game left on Georgia’s schedule. They have a bye next week before facing Florida. There’s some argument that this could be a trap game, but the bye week mitigates it. Missouri has no shot at stopping Georgia’s offense and moving the ball won’t be easy either. In a best-case scenario, the Tigers get a few big plays early to stay in it. But even if that happens, they don’t have the defensive prowess to hold a lead on the road in Athens.
Florida plays a Texas A&M team that has a lot in common with the Gators. Namely, both teams are worse than their records indicate. The difference, however, is that the Aggies have some momentum. Even coming off a loss, Texas A&M can take some solace from staying within a score of Alabama whereas Florida just had a demoralizing loss at home to LSU. The Gators got extremely lucky to win close ones against Tennessee and Kentucky. Their offense is just terrible. Their defense won’t be able to contain Christian Kirk, as Florida has struggled to stop big plays in the passing game. A&M has gotten through the worst part of their season, now it’s time to put early struggles behind them and focus on winning as many games as possible.
Let’s not overreact to one loss. The Trojans may not be a playoff lock, but they aren’t about to lose to Utah at home. The Utes are a well-rounded, efficient team, but they haven’t played a team of USC’s caliber. Stanford running back Bryce Love’s performance against them last week — 152 yards on 20 carries — could be a good indicator of what we can expect from USC’s Ron Jones this week. Sam Darnold should put together a nice performance in primetime as well. This is a good chance for Darnold to turn around the narrative that’s built around his draft stock and he’ll take it.
P.J. Fleck has not had the most impressive debut as Minnesota’s head coach. And it’s about to get worse. Michigan State visits the Golden Gophers this week. The Spartans quietly own the 10th-ranked defense by S&P+ and this game will no doubt be a typical, low-scoring Big Ten affair. That’s exactly the type of game Michigan State is built to win. They’ll put Minnesota in a meat grinder this weekend and leave with a win.
Stud: San Diego State
Boise State is the biggest test left on the Aztecs’ regular season schedule. Luckily, SDSU is catching the Broncos at the right time. Even though they throttled BYU last week, quarterback Brett Rypien looks like a player who can’t push the ball downfield with consistency. Boise State’s defense may be good enough to keep it close, but San Diego State should win this game and get on the fast track to a Mountain West title.
The Wildcats are at home against a UCLA team that isn’t much better than them on paper. This is a good measuring-stick game for Arizona, but it’s not one they’ll win. The Wildcats allow a 41.7 percent passing success rate on defense, per Football Study Hall. If Josh Rosen can’t move the ball against this team, even on the road, it’s a problem.
As much disrespect as Washington State has gotten, it doesn’t even compare to their in-state rival. The Huskies undefeated through six weeks and Kirk Herbstreit wants wants them to thank ESPN for airing their games. Um, guys, this was a playoff team last season. Why is ESPN acting like Washington is some mid-major lucky to be on TV? The Apple Cup may be a de-facto playoff game! The Huskies should easily handle Arizona State on Saturday night. There’s nothing the Sun Devils have that should give them trouble and — apparently unbeknownst to ESPN — the Huskies have won their last three games by a 117-24 margin.
The Cardinal are a team that plays badly when they’re supposed to play well and vice versa. A home game against an Oregon team that’s missing its quarterback is a game Stanford should win. However, their run defense is just bad enough for Ducks running back Royce Freeman to have a big game. On the other side, Oregon can slow down Bryce Love. The Ducks rank tenth in havoc rate and 17th in rushing success rate on defense, per Football Study Hall. Stanford will get bounced from the top-25 in short order.