Week Seven was one of the best college football weeks in recent memory. Three top ten teams lost in dramatic fashion, which has opened the door for several new teams to arrive on the Playoff scene. Alabama’s loss muddies up the SEC picture a bit, while USC’s loss to Utah now makes the race for the Pac-12 championship more exciting than it has been in years. Plus, there were a handful of dominant performances from ranked teams, including Michigan’s big win over Penn State and Syracuse’s no-doubt victory over NC State.
Buckle up, fans, it only gets better from here!
📈 Trending Up:
- Syracuse (6-0): I owe the Orange an apology; I wasn’t really familiar with their game. Syracuse is undefeated, including a very convincing win over #15 NC State last week in upstate New York. They’ve played too many close games for my liking, but they’ve won all of them, so I guess I can’t complain too much yet. Syracuse gets its biggest test of the season this week, visiting #5 Clemson. An Orange win would certainly create some intrigue in the race for the ACC Championship; that intrigue has been sorely lacking this season, as Clemson has rolled through its slate of ranked ACC opponents.
- TCU (6-0): A 43-40 win over #8 Oklahoma State marks the Horned Frogs’ 3rd straight win over a ranked opponent. However, note that two of those opponents (Kansas and Oklahoma) are no longer ranked, presumably and only because TCU won so convincingly over each of them. TCU has one more ranked opponent in this tough stretch, hosting Kansas State this week in primetime.
- Georgia Tech (3-3): The Yellow Jackets are suddenly winning games! Tech has won back-to-back weeks against Pittsburgh and Duke, two teams that I would not have expected them to beat at this point because they fired their head coach after a 1-3 start. Unfortunately, Tech faces a tough second-half schedule, which includes away games at #22 North Carolina and #1 Georgia. Can they continue to surprise?
- Tennessee (6-0): A win over Alabama, no matter when or how you accumulate it, gets you in the “Trending Up” column.
- Troy (5-2): The Trojans’ 2 losses came early in the season, against Ole Miss and Appalachian State. Since those losses, the Trojans have ripped off 4 straight wins, including one over a strong Western Kentucky squad. Their defense has been excellent since allowing 32 to App. State, clamping down on Southern Miss. (10 points allowed), Marshall (7 points), and Texas State (14 points). If the offense really gets going, the Trojans are going to be scary good.
- Buffalo (4-3): The Bulls kicked off the season on a note so low that it could’ve been confused for the Brown Note. Since then, Buffalo has won 4 straight games and have looked good doing it. They beat projected MAC contender Miami (OH) and crushed Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green, and UMass, like any good team is supposed to do. The Bulls host another MAC contender, Toledo, this weekend.
- Illinois (6-1): 5 straight wins, with dominant performances over Big Ten West rivals Wisconsin and Minnesota. They get the dregs of the conference next in Nebraska and Michigan State. Watch out for the Fighting Illini, who have a great shot at hosting Purdue with an 8-1 record
Also considered: UCF, UCLA, UTSA, Toledo
📉 Trending Down:
- Notre Dame (3-3): Just when things were starting to look up for the Fighting Irish, they go and lose to Stanford at home. Now 3-3, Notre Dame has to play 3 ranked opponents (Syracuse, Clemson, USC) in their final 6 games. They still have a path to bowl eligibility, but the Irish have little margin for error on that path.
- UNLV (4-3): The Rebels kicked off the season with 4 wins in their first 5 games and looked well on their way to a bowl berth for the first time in ages. Now, after consecutive beatdowns by the top teams of the Mountain West, things are looking a lot worse for UNLV. They have a date with Notre Dame next, so at least one of these teams is going to leave this section after the coming weekend!
- California (3-3): Conveniently, Cal has played both UNLV (20-14 win) and Notre Dame (24-17 loss) this season. Also conveniently (for me), the Bears have cratered in recent weeks, losing in a non-competitive game to Washington State in Pullman, and losing to the formerly winless Colorado in Boulder. Let that sink in! Colorado, the team that was 0-5 going into the weekend, defeated Cal in overtime! Now, the Bears have to host Washington and Oregon in consecutive weeks and then travel to South Central to take on USC. Once a promising group with an exciting rushing attack, we could be looking at a 3-6 Cal team in a few weeks.
- Rutgers (3-3): Things have turned around quickly in Piscataway. Just a few weeks ago, the Scarlet Knights were 3-0 heading into Big Ten play and were halfway to bowl eligibility with 9 games to go! Then, they dropped 3 consecutive games, punctuating that streak with an ugly performance against Nebraska, losing 14-13. The second half of Rutgers’ schedule features matchups against Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State, and Maryland, and I’m not certain the Knights will be favored to win any of their remaining games.
- Baylor (3-3): After 4 weeks, the Bears seemed to be doing alright at 3-1. Now, they have dropped consecutive games, including a shocking loss to West Virginia in Morgantown last week. I didn’t expect a Big 12 title this season, but I’m not sure I expected this kind of record from the Bears after 6 games. Luckily, they have the chance to turn it around against a stretch that features Kansas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma, but Baylor doesn’t have much margin for error in their chase for bowl eligibility because they still have to play some very tough teams in Kansas State, TCU, and Texas.
Also considered: Virginia Tech, South Florida, New Mexico, Marshall
Ranking the Top 25 and Bottom 10 Teams
- The SEC and Big Ten dominate the top of these rankings because of their strength of records. Tennessee has the best resume in the country after beating Alabama at home last week in an instant classic. They also have quality wins over Florida, LSU, and Pittsburgh to this point, which explains why they rank 1st in Strength of Record. Georgia’s dominant win over Oregon in Week 1 — and their strong wins in intra-conference play — are good, but they’re not Tennessee-level good. Lucky for us, the Vols and Bulldogs get to sort out their differences on the field on November 5th.
- Michigan shredded formerly-10th-ranked Penn State in Ann Arbor last week, showing that they are once again Playoff contenders after last year’s big run. The big win pushed their Strength of Record all the way up to third, which I feel places them above Ohio State and Georgia in this week’s Top 25 because the Buckeyes have yet to play a good Big Ten team and their 11-point win against Notre Dame is looking worse by the week, as the Irish continue to slip up. Since the Buckeyes have beaten the brakes off of everyone they’ve played, they still deserve to be in the Top 4, but Michigan has also beaten the brakes off of teams — and better ones at that.
- There’s been no love for UCF in the real AP Top 25, and perhaps that’s because of their Strength of Record (35th). UCF’s only loss was a heartbreaker to Louisville, but in their 5 wins, the Knights have crushed their opponents in a way that not many other Top 25 teams have. Their 70-13 win over Temple pushed the Knights to the best point differential in the American by a long shot, but even outside of the big win over Temple, the Knights haven’t played a close game since that loss to Louisville. Their dominance should have pushed them into the Top 25, but they’ll be in there soon enough, as the Knights are in the AP Poll’s “Also Receiving Votes” section this week.
- NC State – Not enough quality wins for my taste, especially now that the very narrow win over Florida State at home is their best win. They haven’t looked competitive in either of their losses to Top 25 teams.
- Mississippi State – They have the losses to Kentucky and LSU, so I ranked those two higher out of principle. Not much wrong with the Bulldogs, I just haven’t seen enough to push them into the Top 25. State needs a quality performance against Alabama to show they’re legit.
- South Alabama – They have that great game against UCLA (a 32-31 loss in Pasadena) on their resume but their recent wins haven’t been dominant enough to warrant including them in the Top 25.
- James Madison – The Dukes looked outright dominant for their first 5 games and then flopped against Georgia Southern, hardly a quality team.
- Washington – Since their win over Stanford, the Huskies’ defense has collapsed. They allowed 40 to UCLA, 38 to Arizona State, and 39 to Arizona, and two of those performances were losses. Win against a quality team — or beat a bad team badly — and then we’ll talk.
- Purdue – The Boilermakers have plenty of close wins and losses. The problem is that they play every team close, including the bad ones (Nebraska, FAU). It doesn’t bode well for their performance against good teams.
- Toledo – Since their losses to Ohio State, the Rockets have been dominant against the MAC. But, they’re not a Top 25 team unless they can keep dominating the MAC in future weeks; their resume suffers from a weak strength of schedule and they need those dominant wins to show that they are worthy of a top spot.
Playoff and Bowl Projections
With Alabama projected to miss the Playoff after its loss to Tennessee, the Big 12 gets an opportunity to slot in a team besides Oklahoma. Even if the Frogs lose to one of their Big 12 opponents, provided the loss isn’t too bad, I think TCU gets into the Top 4 with a Big 12 championship win.
Games to Watch This Week
Games with Significant Playoff Implications:
- #9 UCLA at #10 Oregon: UCLA will travel to Eugene with a perfect 6-0 record and will look to not only establish their candidacy for the best team in the Pac-12, but also put themselves in pole position for a Pac-12 Championship Game appearance. After this game, UCLA likely won’t face another ranked team until the second-to-last week of the season, when they host USC. Meanwhile, Oregon can re-establish itself as a Playoff threat by beating UCLA here. The Ducks lost a lot of their legitimacy after the embarrassing blowout loss to Georgia in Week 1, but have crept back into the Top 10 after winning 5 straight, and can gain significant credibility with a win at home here.
- #14 Syracuse at #5 Clemson: Clemson has dispatched of every challenge the ACC has put in front of them this season, including ranked teams like NC State and Wake Forest. The Tigers remain the class of the ACC until proven otherwise, and perhaps the upstart Orange can be the ones to do it. A Syracuse win would automatically qualify them for Top-10 status, while a Clemson win would add more credibility to an already strong Playoff candidacy.
- #17 Kansas State at #8 TCU: At this point in the season, there’s no doubt that TCU deserves to be in the Top 25, but if they want to contend for a Playoff spot, they’ll need to keep winning against the top-ranked teams in the Big 12 — and win big(ger). Like Clemson, TCU has survived every test by a ranked opponent thus far, but a win against Kansas State would add another bullet point to their burgeoning Playoff resume. Kansas State technically still has a shot at the Playoff, considering they only have one loss thus far and it was a loss to currently ranked Tulane, but the Wildcats probably don’t have the firepower to beat the top quarter of the Big 12.
- #20 Texas at #11 Oklahoma State: Technically, the Cowboys are still in the race for the Playoff, although they will need plenty of help from the teams in front of them to qualify for a Top 4 slot, plus some wins over quality opponents like Texas. A Texas win would put them on track for a Big 12 Championship game appearance, but the Longhorns are probably already out of consideration for the Playoff because they have racked up 2 losses on the season.
- #24 Mississippi State at #6 Alabama: Alabama played an incredible game in Knoxville this weekend and still walked away with a loss. Now, they have to rebound from that loss by facing a Mike Leach-coached team in a ranked matchup. With the loss to Tennessee, ‘Bama has lost its margin for error in the Playoff chase and will need to win its remaining games to have a shot at the top 4, so they will be playing the Bulldogs well.
Games with Good Vibes:
- Kansas at Baylor: The ultimate good vibe team, Kansas, takes on a team that is struggling to find its way in the Big 12 this season. If Kansas wins, the Jayhawks become bowl eligible for the first time in a decade, but they’ll have to do so without their starting QB, Jalon Daniels, who has been out with an injury since the second half of the TCU game a few weeks ago. Baylor needs this win to stay on track for bowl eligibility. Both teams are going to play their butts off for this one.
- Memphis at #25 Tulane: The Green Wave have an excellent defense and Memphis has a strong offense. When teams with opposite strengths collide, it’s always fun to see them try to impose their wills upon one another and force the game to be played the way each team wants it to be played. Tulane has been good at that so far, winning 6 of its first 7 games this season en route to a AP Top 25 Poll appearance. Memphis is hoping to stay on track for a bowl berth, and with 5 games left to go, they’ll need every win they can get.
- BYU at Liberty: I don’t know what to think of Liberty at this point. The Flames are 6-1, but those 6 wins have come against some of the worst teams in FBS. Last week, Liberty eked out a win, 21-20, against FCS Gardner-Webb. A month ago, Liberty played a surprisingly close game against Akron, who I just ranked in the bottom 10 of all FBS schools. But, the Flames also have a 1-point loss to Wake Forest in Winston-Salem in Week 3, probably their best game of the season. I am very interested to see what Liberty looks like against a decent FBS program in BYU, and I hope it gives us some clarity on how good the Flames can be.
Games with Terrible Vibes:
- Florida International at Charlotte: 2-4 FIU traveling to 1-6 Charlotte has the potential to be an ugly one; this one has real potential to be a Sickos favorite. Surprisingly, Vegas has the 49ers favored over FIU by two touchdowns, so I’m intrigued by what Vegas knows or thinks about this matchup because it seems to me that FIU is the better team overall. Also, FIU has lost 14 straight Conference-USA matchups!
- Vanderbilt at Missouri: The two worst teams in the SEC go head to head this week! Vanderbilt has lost 23 straight SEC matchups but looks to have their best team of the last few years — it’s a very low bar, though — and could finally snap that streak in Columbia.
- Hawaii at Colorado State: For those of you wanting to watch two of the worst teams — they hold a combined record of 3-10 this season — in FBS go head-t0-head, you’ll have to watch this one on Spectrum.
- San Diego State at Nevada: I’m sorry to pick on the Mountain West again, but these two teams play about as boring a football style as you can get. They can’t even lose in a fun way! Vegas has the over/under for this game set at a puny 36.5 points, which is easily the lowest on the slate, and it feels like that could still be an error, as neither of these teams has scored more than 20 points this season. 12-9 final, take it or leave it.
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)