by Ian Boyd
The sixth week of college football produced one thrilling game early in the Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma before sizzling some afterwards with decisive victories in many of the other big-time matchups. The "Texas is back!" meme seems to be dead now that the Longhorns are 5-1. They're in the driver's seat in the Big 12 with top contenders TCU and Oklahoma already vanquished in the rearview mirror while West Virginia travels to Austin on November 3.
Florida made another statement win, beating LSU at home and also jumping to 5-1 on the season with the cocktail party in Jacksonville against Georgia looking more and more important with each passing week. Alabama continued to Bammer, scoring 65 points on hapless Arkansas. Notre Dame easily covered against Virginia Tech, and Ohio State continues to be undefeated but with cracks in the armor that are concerning Buckeyes faithful.
Week 7 holds a deeper slate of both important and competitive games. Georgia has their first real test traveling to play LSU; Washington and Oregon meet for the fate of the Pac-12 North; Colorado and USC battle for the Pac-12 South; and Wisconsin's night game in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines looms large for the Big 10.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Georgia (-7.5) at LSU -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
|Overall||Georgia||LSU||F/+||2||13||S&P+ rating||25.2||13.6||When Georgia has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||5||15||2017 S&P+||14||18||2017 IsoPPP+||5||20||2017 Rushing S&P+||6||24||2017 Passing S&P+||6||20||When LSU has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||19||49||2017 S&P+||11||42||2017 IsoPPP+||4||18||2017 Rushing S&P+||9||7||2017 Passing S&P+||6||16|
The Bulldogs have just been rolling along so far this season, dodging the tripwires on their schedule or from the potential quarterback controversy some predicted when they added five-star freshman recruit Justin Fields to the mix. Sophomore Jake Fromm has built off his freshman campaign, having thrown for 1,200 passing yards at 10.5 yards per pass with 12 touchdown passes and two interceptions.
Receivers Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley have emerged as the top targets and junior running back Elijah Holyfield has surprised by edging out D'Andre Swift as the top back with 432 rushing yards at 7.4 yards per carry. They've been blowing opponents away with scoring while playing still very solid defense with a new cast of linebackers. Safety Richarde LeCounte III has been an important new piece to the puzzle, leading the team in tackles, while mainstay cornerback Deandre Baker has been the star of the show with two interceptions and six pass break-ups on the year to date.
This is their first chance to show that they can be as dominant a unit as they were a year ago, facing an LSU offense that has been solid if unspectacular. The Tigers finally got their run game going against Florida with lead running back Nick Brosette rushing for 95 yards and a pair of scores while his backup added 55 more. Quarterback Joe Burrow struggled on the road in the Swamp, though, and threw two picks while averaging just 5.6 yards per pass. Florida was able to keep lead Tigers receiver Justin Jefferson under wraps (three catches for 58 yards) which made for a quiet day offensively for LSU. There's a good chance they'll have another lackluster day facing the Bulldogs defense.
On the other side of the ball is always LSU's best hope and their defense will need to match up to Ridley and Hardman outside with their starting cornerbacks Greedy Williams and Kary Vincent Jr. holding up so that safety Grant Delpit can be freed up to rove around and attack the Georgia offense. On the positive side, Georgia's offensive line has been beat up and they'll be relying on freshmen against LSU's multiple and effective pass rush.
- How will Jake Fromm and the Georgia offense look in their first big test of the season?
- Can LSU run the ball on Georgia's rebuilt defensive front?
- Future NFL players at safety in LSU's Grant Delpit and Georgia's Richard LeCounte III and J.R. Reed.
- Can Georgia's young offensive line withstand Devin White and the LSU pressure package?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Georgia
Washington (-3) at Oregon -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2)
|Overall||Washington||Oregon||F/+||7||54||S&P+ rating||17.8||8.9||When Washington has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||29||80||2017 S&P+||18||61||2017 IsoPPP+||17||47||2017 Rushing S&P+||45||23||2017 Passing S&P+||9||32||When Oregon has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||7||16||2017 S&P+||6||32||2017 IsoPPP+||7||34||2017 Rushing S&P+||11||33||2017 Passing S&P+||26||51|
The Pac-12 is in a tough place this year. They've had only two teams in the college football playoff since it began in 2014 and were left out last season when USC underperformed and Washington struggled to replace an exodus of skill talent from their team. Heading into this season, Washington was the best and brightest hope for the Pac-12 in getting a team into the playoff with Stanford as a runner-up, but the Cardinal nearly lost to Oregon and then took consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Utah and their resume was dashed.
Neither Oregon nor USC have much of a shot at the playoff. It all depends on Washington running the table from here on out and coming out favorably in a comparison with another one-loss team. This road trip to Eugene, Oregon, is one of the big remaining hurdles to that goal in addition to being a game of great significance in sorting out the Pac-12 North standings and league title picture in the event that a conference championship is the highest prize on the table for a Pac-12 team.
The heavyweight bout here is between Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert and the Washington defense. Herbert has been fire for the Ducks this year, throwing for 1,411 yards at 10.4 yards per pass with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. Oregon has transitioned into being more of a downhill team, with three different running backs currently sitting at more than 40 rushing attempts and 200 or more rushing yards. Dillon Mitchell has been the star receiver, but Herbert has found seven different targets in the end zone and six different receivers have had catches of 40 yards or more.
Washington prefers to challenge routes in man coverage with a single deep safety over the top and then change up how many linebackers come on the blitz and how many drop into underneath zones to help the receivers on in-breaking routes. All of their linebackers are rangy in coverage but particularly middle linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, who's also the team's leading tackler by a wide margin. Herbert will need to continue to find the downfield passing lanes against this excellent pass defense in order for Oregon to have a good chance in this game.
There's not a ton of hope for Oregon if they don't score some points because their own defense has not played great football this year. Washington took a hit early against Auburn and senior quarterback Jake Browning has thrown nine touchdowns to five interceptions this year, a lower mark than expected, while senior running back Myles Gaskin is averaging "only" 4.5 yards per carry, which is lower than expected for this season.
When they lost left tackle Trey Adams for the year in fall camp, it really dented the Huskies offense for this season, but they've generally scored enough points for their own excellent defense to take care of business. For all their warts, the Oregon defense does have some pass-rushers on their unit, like outside linebacker Justin Hollins who has four sacks on the year. If Hollins can find some angles on Washington's offensive line or soak up enough attention to free up Jalen Jelks on the other edge, then Oregon will have their chance.
- Can Justin Herbert beat the Washington secondary throwing down the field?
- Will Oregon's pass-rush cause problems for Washington's struggling offensive line?
- How will this game impact national perception of the Pac-12?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Washington
Central Florida (-4.5) at Memphis -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2)
|Overall||Central Florida||Memphis||F/+||17||57||S&P+ rating||18.5||9.7||When Central Florida has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||12||83||2017 S&P+||2||102||2017 IsoPPP+||6||55||2017 Rushing S&P+||36||65||2017 Passing S&P+||8||50||When Memphis has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||32||11||2017 S&P+||74||4||2017 IsoPPP+||42||23||2017 Rushing S&P+||55||88||2017 Passing S&P+||27||43|
If the fate of the Pac-12 this season is of little interest and/or the Georgia and LSU contest proves uneventful, at least Central Florida vs. Memphis is likely to be a highly enjoyable game. The Knights have taken very well to the new "veer and shoot" offense that head coach Josh Heupel brought from Missouri. Quarterback McKenzie Milton currently has 1,501 passing yards and 215 rushing yards (before removing sack yardage) at the helm of their altered spread offense.
Memphis has been explosive on offense since Justin Fuente brought the spread to the school back in 2012. Current head coach Mike Norvell has overseen continued development of that trend. This season they're utilizing Arizona State transfer quarterback Brady White at the helm of their offense. He has thrown for 1,549 yards with a 15-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Perhaps even more stunningly, Memphis lead running back Darrell Henderson has run for 934 yards at 11.8 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns. Memphis is averaging more yards when Henderson runs the ball than when White throws the ball, or when any other team in the country does much of anything.
So this promises to be a very compelling shootout. The Memphis defense has made some resistance to opponents this season, with a 40-24 loss against Tulane the only real black mark on their resume. Linebacker Bryce Huff has 11 tackles for loss and five sacks on the year so far, while senior inside linebacker Curtis Akins is leading the team in tackles.
Central Florida's defense had to replace a pair of NFL draft picks on defense this year in cornerback Mike Hughes and star linebacker Shaquem Griffin, but they've been playing very sound team defense so far this season and picked off eight passes while recovering three fumbles. Getting stops against Memphis will be difficult, but if they can get turnovers that should allow them to win a shootout.
- Point scoring. Both of these teams move the ball exceptionally well. These American shootouts are often played in the 40s.
- How does Central Florida's more vertically oriented passing attack look against the Memphis pass rush?
- Will Central Florida's defense hold up without the star power of their departed NFL draft picks against a top-shelf offense?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Central Florida
West Virginia (-6.5) at Iowa State -- 7 p.m. (FS1)
|Overall||West Virginia||Iowa State||F/+||12||43||S&P+ rating||17.5||6.1||When West Virginia has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||7||33||2017 S&P+||26||32||2017 IsoPPP+||44||19||2017 Rushing S&P+||37||22||2017 Passing S&P+||39||65||When Iowa State has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||47||70||2017 S&P+||96||71||2017 IsoPPP+||60||93||2017 Rushing S&P+||68||101||2017 Passing S&P+||33||53|
After losing to Iowa 13-3, Oklahoma 37-27, and then to TCU 17-14, Iowa State finally broke through last week against Oklahoma State in a 48-42 victory. With senior quarterback Kyle Kempt injured and backup Zeb Noland struggling, the Cyclones turned to freshman Brock Purdy, who turned in 318 passing yards, four passing touchdowns to one interception, and then 19 rushes for 84 yards and another score over a bewildered Cowboys defense. With a more mobile quarterback on the field, the Cyclones finally got their run game going with some option plays which made the difference against an Oklahoma State team that threw the ball well but couldn't find room on the ground for their own rushing attack.
Iowa State will face a tough challenge this week against a West Virginia defense that has been on a roll since turning to a dime package that utilizes speedy and aggressive Jovanni Stewart (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) as their strongside linebacker in the 3-3-5 defense. The Mountaineers are small and fast at all three linebacker positions and will be on the lookout for Iowa State's quarterback run game and option plays after seeing them gash the Cowboys on those schemes.
West Virginia's own offense has been on cruise control this season, regularly taking their foot off the gas in the second half as they've blown through most of their early Big 12 competition, with only Texas Tech providing a challenge into the fourth quarter. They've shown some vulnerability, though, in finishing drives in the red zone if quarterback Will Grier can't find favorite red zone target David Sills V. Iowa State joined West Virginia in helping to push the league towards 3-3-5 alignments with dime personnel a year ago, and will likely drop eight defenders regularly and bracket West Virginia's receivers while daring the Mountaineers to beat them by picking up tough yardage on the ground. West Virginia has started to lean on 211-pound freshman running back Leddie Brown from Philadelphia recently to pound the ball in those situations. They'll need to make headway against a very tough Iowa State defensive line and inside linebacker rotation in order to punish the Cyclones' "bend don't break" schemes with conversions on third-and-short or second-and-goal.
- What will an encore look like for Iowa State freshman quarterback Brock Purdy?
- Can West Virginia run the ball and score in the red zone on the road against a tough defense?
- Quarterback Will Grier for West Virginia is building a Heisman candidacy.
S&P+ Outright Pick: West Virginia
Wisconsin at Michigan (-8) -- 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Wisconsin||Michigan||F/+||10||9||S&P+ rating||15.3||22.7||When Wisconsin has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||8||2||2017 S&P+||41||10||2017 IsoPPP+||16||24||2017 Rushing S&P+||24||8||2017 Passing S&P+||7||3||When Michigan has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||55||25||2017 S&P+||3||85||2017 IsoPPP+||10||49||2017 Rushing S&P+||12||14||2017 Passing S&P+||8||86|
This game is huge for the Big 10. Wisconsin still has a road trip to Penn State this season, but if they were to win out from here then they could not only get back to the B1G title game but have a chance at the playoff should they win that contest. Meanwhile, Michigan has been quietly chugging along, narrowly avoiding disaster against Northwestern and positioning themselves to have a chance at the B1G title or playoff as well. The struggle for Michigan is this upcoming slate of games that sees them hosting Wisconsin, traveling to Michigan State, then taking a bye week before hosting Penn State and ultimately ending the year in Columbus against the Buckeyes.
The Badgers have been a tough team this year, although the nature of their season has been surprising in a few places. The main name of the game is what everyone thought it would be: pounding the ball to star running back Jonathan Taylor behind a massive and experienced collection of home-grown beef along the offensive line. The center Tyler Biadasz is by far the smallest member of the line, and even he checks in at 6-foot-3 and 307 pounds. Wisconsin is up to their normal tricks, lining up with extra blockers at tight end or fullback and bulldozing opponents with a diverse run game.
They also continue to have strong solutions in the passing game as well. They've replaced tight end Troy Fumagalli, who was drafted, with Jake Ferguson, and they'll also add talented pass-catching running back Garrett Groshek on passing downs. From there it's a simple matter of aligning in a 3x1 set with Ferguson flexed out into the slot and then Groshek running routes into the boundary, each isolated on a linebacker. Defenses have to adjust and send help and then quarterback Alex Hornibrook distributes the ball from there.
Michigan's defense will have their hands full both in getting to Taylor before he has built up steam or squared his pads up to the line on standard downs and also in matching up against this passing game, which is designed to exploit Big 10 defensive personnel for loading up with the very types of players you need to handle Wisconsin's run game.
On the other side of the ball, Wisconsin has had some real troubles, mostly related to their inability to generate pressure on the passer like they've done in years past. The team only has five sacks through five games, and Andrew Van Ginkel, who was expected to be a featured pass-rusher, has been injured and played sparingly in recent weeks. The Badgers will also miss starting safety Scott Nelson for the first half in this game due to a targeting penalty he drew in the last game against Nebraska.
The lack of pass rush and a standout outside linebacker is crucial against a Michigan team whose Achilles heel has been offensive tackle. While the Wolverines have improved over the course of the season and been able to get by thanks to quarterback Shea Patterson's mobility, their tackles struggle to make their preferred spread formations work when teams send good edge players on the field.
The Wolverines have been able to remain a big and bruising team even while spreading opponents out more with lead running back Karan Higdon going for 601 rushing yards and five touchdowns so far this year. Their top receiver has been the 6-foot-8, 262-pound tight end Zach Gentry, with 20 catches for 306 yards. At that size he's an obvious problem for everyone, and the Badgers will have their hands full trying to keep him covered up on third downs without gifting Patterson easy scrambling lanes. If this is a competitive game, it may go against form by being a higher scoring contest.
- NFL tight ends in Wisconsin's Jake Ferguson and Michigan's Zach Gentry who lead their teams' respective passing attacks.
- Can the beat up Badgers defense pressure and contain Michigan's scrambling quarterback Shea Patterson?
- How will Michigan's defensive front hold up against the hammering run game of Wisconsin?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Michigan
Colorado at USC (-7) -- 10:30 p.m. (FS1)
|Overall||Colorado||USC||F/+||44||35||S&P+ rating||6.5||8.4||When Colorado has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||35||30||2017 S&P+||70||55||2017 IsoPPP+||98||27||2017 Rushing S&P+||93||47||2017 Passing S&P+||64||9||When USC has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||58||60||2017 S&P+||98||16||2017 IsoPPP+||86||14||2017 Rushing S&P+||105||41||2017 Passing S&P+||42||10|
Colorado has emerged early as the biggest challenger to USC in the Pac-12 South, ripping off five consecutive wins to open the year, albeit many of them pretty uninspiring, such as the narrow 33-28 victory over Nebraska. Big quarterback Steven Montez is now a 6-foot-5, 235-pound junior in his third year in this offensive system. This year they've paired him with grad transfer running back Travon McMillian from Virginia Tech and emergent sophomore wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., a Texan recruit who has put up 708 receiving yards and six touchdowns on the year.
Montez has a big arm and Shenault is a big target at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, who has provided a good matchup weapon for the Buffaloes, even serving as a Wildcat trigger-man with four rushing touchdowns. Trying to keep tabs on Shenault without giving up the ghost in the run game has been the challenge for Colorado's opponents. USC's defense will likely aim to do so with aggressive play from their safeties in the middle of the field. The Trojans tend to leave their cornerbacks on islands so the Buffaloes will either have to line up Shenault out wide and have him beat good man coverage or else try to deal in constricted space in the middle of the field. USC's defense has been solid this year with Porter Gustin healthier and able to pace the pass rush with 5.5 sacks from his "predator" outside linebacker position. Running the ball on USC is also tough. Senior linebacker Cameron Smith leads the team in tackles and regularly beats blocks and owns the space between the hash marks.
The USC offense had a rough start against Stanford and Texas when they were unable to run the football and instead asked freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels to try and win both games with a combined 82 pass attempts that yielded zero touchdowns and three interceptions. Since then, USC has started to get their RPO game going more, giving Daniels pass options on some of USC's running plays, which has opened up the ground game and also allowed the talented passer to make the most of his accuracy and range.
USC's receiving corps is led by freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown, younger brother to Equanimeous, the star receiver from Notre Dame who just went pro. St. Brown was Daniels' teammate at high school, so their connection is very strong. Talented sophomore Tyler Vaughns is another favorite target and when USC runs the ball effectively their passing game quickly becomes very deadly. The Trojans got lead running back Aca'Cedric Ware back last week against Arizona and he ran the ball 21 times for 173 yards and two scores.
Colorado has really struggled on defense since coordinator Jim Leavitt left for Oregon, but they've improved since last year. As long as former NFL defensive backs coach Mike MacIntyre is the head coach, they always seem to have talented and skilled defensive backs on campus. If they can match the Trojans receivers in man coverage and free up the Colorado safeties to help stop the run, they'll have a chance to eke out a sixth consecutive victory.
- Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. does it all for them and combines lethal power and speed at 220 pounds.
- Will USC be able to run the football well enough to keep pressure off their freshman quarterback?
- USC's talented young wide receivers against Colorado's always skilled secondary.
S&P+ Outright Pick: USC
S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 7
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||S&P+ Pick|| S&P+ pick
against the spread
| Ian's pick
against the spread
|Central Florida||4.5||Memphis||Central Florida||Central Florida||Memphis|
|West Virginia||6.5||Iowa State||West Virginia||West Virginia||Iowa State|
S&P+ Picks against the spread last week: 3-3
S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 22-14
Ian's Picks against the spread last week: 2-4
Ian's Picks against the spread this year: 21-15