Top storylines for college football Week 7

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Can you believe it? The 2018 season is already halfway over, and fans have been treated to quite the array of interesting developments, both positive and negative. Looking ahead to college football Week 7, the second half of the season figures to provide just as much intrigue and entertainment.

There are only three ranked-versus-ranked matchups on the schedule this weekend, but many of the top teams in the nation are facing stiff tests. From defensive slug fests to offensive showdowns, college football Week 7 has it all.

Here are the top storylines we’ll be paying attention to on Saturday when the bulk of the action commences.

Another big opportunity for Haskins and Co. to rack up the stats

Early in the season, Minnesota was shutting down their opponents, allowing just nine points per game in their three wins to open the campaign. The past two games, however, have told a different story. The Golden Gophers have given up 90 points in those two losses against Maryland and Iowa.

Dwayne Haskins and his offensive playmakers must be licking their chops.

Last weekend, Haskins and Co. took a while to get revved up against Indiana. But in the end, the gunslinger had 455 yards and six touchdowns passing as the Buckeyes romped. We’re looking for another monster game from this offense on Saturday as Ohio State looks to stay perfect on the season.

Gators look to keep winning streak going on the road

When Florida was stunned by Kentucky in Week 2 — the team’s first loss in this series in 31 years — many thought the Gators were in for a long season. Since then, however, Dan Mullen’s squad has bounced back in a huge way, winning four games in a row including two straight against ranked SEC opponents.

Last Saturday’s 29-17 victory over LSU was the program’s crowning achievement thus far in 2018, and it set the Gators up for a potential playoff run if they can continue winning.

Vanderbilt stands in Florida’s way to a 6-1 record this Saturday. The Commodores last got dismantled by Georgia and recently got smoked by South Carolina, too. Florida should have no trouble winning, provided Feleipe Franks takes care of the football.

Auburn desperate for a bounce-back performance

It’s no secret that Auburn’s offense is a broken thing right now. Without a strong running game, quarterback Jarrett Stidham is floundering badly, and last Saturday’s huge loss to Mississippi State was a stark reminder of his limitations.

Thankfully, the Tigers have a perfect opportunity to get well at home on Saturday, hosting Tennessee. The Volunteers not only feature a terrible defense, but this team has a penchant for shooting itself in the foot.

If Auburn cannot cobble together a capable offensive attack against this team, then we can write the Tigers off for the rest of the season.

No time to let up for Fighting Irish

This weekend’s home game against Pitt should be a great opportunity for Ian Book to sharpen up his passing game after throwing his first interception of the season last Saturday. The Panthers are highly exploitable through the air, and the Irish should have little trouble moving the ball at will.

For all intents and purposes, Notre Dame has already gotten through the toughest part of its 2018 schedule without a blemish. There are some tough teams left, but nothing like the gauntlet that the Fighting Irish have already conquered.

That being said, this is not the time for the Irish to let up in any way. If anything, it’s time for Brian Kelly’s team to step on the accelerator and prove without a shadow of doubt that it is a playoff team.

Juggernaut Bulldogs visit limping Tigers

Georgia hasn’t really been challenged once this year. The Bulldogs aren’t on Alabama’s level when it comes to blowing everyone out of the water before halftime, but they have won their six games by an average score of 43-13.

Meanwhile, LSU comes into Week 7 limping a bit after getting bitten hard by the Gators in The Swamp last Saturday.

One wonders if Joe Burrow, who finally got roughed up last weekend for the first time all year, will be able to bounce back enough to keep the Tigers competitive against the potent Georgia offense.

The LSU defense will have something to say about all this too, but the Bulldogs are so darn balanced and talented across the board it seems highly unlikely the Tigers will shut them down.

Can Justin Herbert carve up Washington’s vaunted defense?

The Pac-12 will be featured early in the day on national television for once, as Oregon hosts Washington in what should be a very entertaining battle.

The big question is whether Justin Herbert, who’s been one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the nation this year, will find success against Washington’s defense.

The Huskies allow just 175 passing yards per game and have given up three total passing touchdowns this year. They also rank third nationally in scoring defense, allowing under 13 points per game. This strength-versus-strength battle will be incredible to watch.

Nittany Lions looking to roar back 

Penn State’s last game was two weeks ago. As you might remember, James Franklin absolutely choked with the game on the line, calling two ridiculous plays in a row that doomed his team to its first loss of the season.

Following a bye, the Nittany Lions are heading into a game that lends itself to a big bounce-back win. Michigan State has been a huge disappointment this year, as both Brian Lewerke and the team’s secondary have failed to live up to expectations.

It would be stunning if Penn State didn’t win by 20 points at home this Saturday.

Longhorns look to sharpen their horns against in-state rival

It’s been established in the past few weeks that Texas is officially back. Last Saturday’s thrilling, stunning win over Oklahoma was the cherry on top of that narrative. Now it’s time for the Longhorns to handle their business like a top team should at home against Baylor.

The Longhorns have a plus-five turnover margin this season as their defense has racked up 10 total turnovers. This opportunistic group will have more chances to add to this total on Saturday, but really the big story here is whether Sam Ehlinger can build off his career game against Oklahoma.

Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer has been outstanding this year and figures to keep the Bears in this game with his arm. Ehlinger will need to stay sharp to keep his team from falling on its face after such an emotionally draining win a week ago.

Exciting AAC showdown in Memphis

There will be some intense defensive showdowns this weekend around the nation. The coming AAC battle between UCF and Memphis won’t be among them. Instead, fans should prepare themselves a big old bag of popcorn, because explosive plays will be a regular occurrence.

McKenzie Milton isn’t being talked about much in terms of the Heisman race, and that’s a shame. In just five games, he’s racked up over 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns. And, of course, his Knights continue to be undefeated.

On the Memphis side, the Tigers feature one of the nation’s best running backs in Darrell Henderson, who continues to do amazing things from week to week.

Of course, the added allure to this game is that we’ll either get to see UCF extend its 18-game winning streak, or we’ll see Memphis deal a death blow to the Knights’ championship aspirations.

Surging Aggies starting stiffest test of the season

Jimbo Fisher has certainly turned things around in a hurry at Texas A&M. His Aggies have lost two games, sure, but those came against Clemson and Alabama. Last weekend’s impressive win over Kentucky was a great sign that this team is going to be a force to be reckoned with all year.

That being said, Saturday’s game against South Carolina is the first of three straight SEC road tests.

South Carolina is no powerhouse. But Jake Bentley is expected to play Saturday after missing the Missouri game with a knee injury, and he’ll keep the Gamecocks in the game. It’s going to take a very strong game by the Aggies on both sides of the ball to avoid falling to 3-3 on the season.

The road to relevance is getting harder, not easier, for this program.

Drew Lock vs. Tua Tagovailoa should be fun

Given what we’ve seen from Alabama this year, it’s hard to imagine anyone expects Missouri to come close to beating the Crimson Tide on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

That being said, the shootout between Drew Lock and Heisman favorite Tua Tagovailoa makes this must-watch television.¬†Between the two of them, they’re averaging 542 yards and over five passing touchdowns per game. These two offenses average 95 points per game between them.

While it’s likely that Alabama’s defense will keep Missouri in check somewhat, it’s worth noting that starting cornerback Trevon Diggs is out indefinitely with a broken foot. Lock might just pick apart the depleted Crimson Tide secondary and make a game out of it.

Cyclones hunting for another big upset

Iowa State has been somewhat of a giant slayer the past couple of seasons. Last year, the Cyclones knocked off ranked opponents Oklahoma, TCU and Memphis. This year, they’ve already taken out Oklahoma State and gave both Oklahoma and TCU a scare once again.

Now it’s time for a date with another top team in No. 6 West Virginia. The Mountaineers bring one of the nation’s most potent passing attacks, led by Will Grier. He’s been a bit careless with his decisions a couple of times this year but has managed to bounce back both times.

The Cyclones will need to not only force some turnovers on Saturday but also turn them into points in order to pull off the huge upset. Additionally, either Brock Purdy or Kyle Kempt will need to put plenty of points on the board, which has been an iffy proposition at times this year.

First big road test for N’Kosi Perry

Miami’s offense has experienced an awakening ever since head coach Mark Richt made the decision to bench Malik Rosier in favor of freshman phenom N’Kosi Perry. The young man grew up in a big way last weekend, leading the ‘Canes to a legendary comeback win over Florida State with three touchdown passes in the game’s final 20 minutes.

Here’s the thing, though. Perry’s success has all come at home. He’s never thrown a pass in a Miami uniform that didn’t occur at Hard Rock Stadium. Now he and the Hurricanes are traveling to Charlottesville for a road game against Virginia.

The Cavaliers feature a decent defense that has allowed just over 20 points per game and has forced eight turnovers. It’s going to be interesting to see how Perry responds to his first road test, and whether Richt will have him on a short leash if he struggles.

B1G slugfest in Ann Arbor

Slobber-knocker. That’s what fans should expect when Michigan hosts Wisconsin on Saturday in Ann Arbor. Big plays in the passing game will likely be purchased at premium prices as these two run-heavy, defensive-minded teams clash.

The strength-versus-strength battle between Wisconsin’s running offense and Michigan’s run defense will be something to behold. The Wolverines allow the sixth-least rushing yards per game in the nation, while the Badgers, led by Jonathan Taylor, sport the nation’s fourth-best rushing offense.

The outcome might just end up boiling down to who out of Shea Patterson and Alex Hornibrook can play keep-away from the opposing defense the best. Based on what’s gone down early this season, Hornibrook has the edge there.

Can USC wreck Colorado’s run at perfection?

Colorado has opened the 2018 season with five straight wins, but all five wins have come against teams the Buffaloes should beat. There hasn’t been a single game so far that favored the opposition on paper.

Saturday’s road game in Southern California is a different matter altogether. The Trojans are actually favored to win by a touchdown in front of their home crowd.

That being said, it’s hard to buy USC as a winner here. Especially considering how much the Trojans have struggled on the defensive side of the ball.

This matchup lends itself to another monster game from sophomore receiver Lavisaka Shenault Jr., who has worked himself into Heisman consideration in recent weeks.