Week 7 college football predictions for the 10 biggest games. The Third Saturday in October and a top-10 contest up in Madison highlight the weekend.
Relatively speaking, the upcoming slate of games is light on must-see matchups. Still, there are plenty of pivotal pairings that’ll go on to impact conference races, principally in the Pac-12 South, ACC Coastal, Big Ten and SEC. Plus, each of the nation’s top three programs faces a one-loss opponent, increasing the likelihood that one of the game’s luminaries might fall on Saturday.
Below are the breakdowns and predictions for the 10 most consequential and entertaining games of Week 7.
10. Stanford (3-2) at Notre Dame (2-4)
Two of college football’s biggest underachievers of the first half of 2016 meet in South Bend to determine who’s fallen further from preseason expectations.
When the year started, Stanford was the favorite to repeat as Pac-12 kingpin. And Notre Dame had visions of a playoff run. Uh-uh. Washington and Washington State recently routed the Cardinal, which fell out of North Division contention. And the Irish sit at 2-4, raising fears that beleaguered head coach Brian Kelly has lost the reins of this team. Now what?
Neither defense is playing well, a particular surprise at Stanford. So, the offensive stars, namely DeShone Kizer and Christian McCaffrey, will be in a position to shine. Unfortunately, McCaffrey may not be 100%. Ditto the Cardinal secondary, which has been dissected this month. Kizer to wideout Equanimeous Brown will spearhead a much-needed Irish win, the team’s first at home since Week 2.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Stanford 26
Line: Notre Dame -2.5
9. West Virginia (4-0) at Texas Tech (3-2)
Dana Holgorsen and Kliff Kingsbury in the same building? Sounds like a recipe for an entertaining shootout.
The Mountaineers are unbeaten and ranked, but they’ve yet to play a true road game. Their mission this week? Protect that perfect record by outgunning Red Raider quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who leads the country in passing. West Virginia has been a curious squad so far, underwhelming on offense and unexpectedly tough on defense. While the Mountaineers aren’t getting to the quarterback, and won’t against the quick-triggered Mahomes, the secondary is holding up just fine.
West Virginia is ripe to go down this week. But it won’t. Holgorsen has access to the more complete team, on both sides of the ball. And while Mahomes will continue piling up numbers, his defense will continue wilting at the feet of opposing offenses. The one-note Red Raiders will fall short against the diversity of Justin Crawford and Rushel Shell on the ground, as well as Skyler Howard to Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts over the top.
Prediction: West Virginia 42, Texas Tech 38
Line: West Virginia -1
8. UCLA (3-3) at Washington State (3-2)
It’s the dawn of a new era in the Pac-12. An era in which Wazzu’s games really matter in the big picture.
There’ll be plenty at stake when UCLA travels to the Palouse this Saturday. The Bruins have been one of many Pac-12 disappointments in the first half, sliding back to .500 with last week’s loss at Arizona State. On the contrary, Washington State has emerged as the team with the best shot of preventing rival U-Dub from steamrolling to a wire-to-wire North Division title. Lost in the Huskies’ conquests of Stanford and Oregon the past two weekends is the fact that the Cougs snot-knocked the Cardinal and Ducks as well.
While a battered Josh Rosen and the Bruin offense are stuck in neutral, his counterpart behind center, Luke Falk, has Wazzu soaring. Plus, the Cougar D is a well-kept secret that just got done shutting down Christian McCaffrey. Two teams heading in opposite directions will remain on disparate paths, as Washington State pulls away for a fourth straight win.
Prediction: Washington State 33, UCLA 24
Line: Washington State -4.5
7. Kansas State (3-2) at Oklahoma (3-2)
The top Big 12 defense pitted against one of the league’s premier offenses highlights the game of the week in a league with a lot to prove over the next eight Saturdays.
It’ll be the rare Big 12 study of contrasts this week in Norman, as Kansas State’s league-best defense tries to slow down an Oklahoma attack that just used 97 combined points to outgun TCU and Texas in consecutive weeks. And while the Sooners aren’t the conference’s highest ranked team, that distinction belonging to Baylor, it might have the best shot of wearing another crown in December.
While the Sooners won’t be as potent in the face of the Wildcat defense, they’ll have too much firepower around Baker Mayfield, such as backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon and coming-of-age wideout Dede Westbrook. True, Oklahoma’s defense is disjointed, but K-State lacks the execution and the quarterback play from Jesse Ertz to fully capitalize on Mike Stoops’ unpolished unit.
Prediction: Oklahoma 36, Kansas State 24
Line: Oklahoma -10.5
6. NC State (4-1) at Clemson (6-0)
Time to pull back the curtain on the Wolfpack to better understand this team’s potential to be an ACC disruptor in 2016.
NC State has captured important wins in back-to-back weeks, handing Wake Forest its first loss and proving to be better mudders than Notre Dame last Saturday. Quarterback Ryan Finley and running back Matt Dayes provide a solid one-two punch on offense, while linebacker Airius Moore and ends Bradley Chubb and Kentavius Street are the cornerstones of a D playing well. But the Pack has had warning track power in big spots under Dave Doeren. And No. 3 Clemson is beginning to hit its stride after beating Louisville and drubbing BC.
The airtight Tiger pass defense will render the Pack one-dimensional, heaping too much pressure on Dayes to carry the bulk of the offense. Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson will expose an average NC State secondary, particularly now that Deon Cain and Jordan Leggett are carving out more prominent roles in the passing game.
Prediction: Clemson 34, NC State 19
Line: Clemson -17.5
5. Arizona State (5-1) at Colorado (4-2)
Three teams are tied atop the wide-open Pac-12 South. The Sun Devils and the Buffaloes are two of them.
Strange race, this lower half of the Pac-12. USC and UCLA are playing from behind, while ASU and Colorado have an opportunity to build a little daylight this Saturday night. Oddly, both teams have lost to the Trojans the past two weeks, so margin for error will be thin if Troy continues to play well with Sam Darnold behind center.
While there are similarities between these two teams, the Buffs are distinctly better on defense … and a tad healthier under center, since Sun Devil starter Manny Wilkins is hobbled with a bad ankle and backup Brady White is done for the year. Colorado quarterback Steven Montez will target the defective ASU secondary, with help from receivers Shay Fields, Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo, keeping his team atop the division with a comfortable victory over a poor road team.
Prediction: Colorado 38, Arizona State 26
Line: Colorado -13.5
4. North Carolina (4-2) at Miami (4-1)
Better be ready to bounce back, Heels and Canes, because Virginia Tech might be for real this season.
North Carolina and Miami are both looking to rebound from demoralizing losses, the latter by a point to rival Florida State and the former in a blowout to the Hokies. Another defeat this weekend will put Coastal Division hopes in serious jeopardy. But the winner can showcase its resiliency and divisional viability, especially the Hurricanes, which get their crack at Va Tech next Thursday in Blacksburg.
Both teams can score, despite last week’s low-wattage output. And the quarterback battle between Mitch Trubisky and Brad Kaaya will be terrific, provided Kaaya isn’t hampered by a shoulder injury. Carolina’s issue continues to be defense. And if the Miami quarterback situation is tenuous, Mark Richt will be content to simply hammer the Heels’ league-worst run defense with a steady barrage of backs Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby between the tackles.
Prediction: Miami 30, North Carolina 28
Line: Miami -7
3. Ole Miss (3-2) at Arkansas (4-2)
It’s the SEC undercard.
Ole Miss and Arkansas have already lost to top-ranked Alabama, so climbing into West Division contention is unlikely to happen. However, at a minimum, these Rebels have the makeup to be a nuisance of a spoiler over the next two months. They’ve won two straight, gone toe-to-toe in losses to Florida State and Bama and still have games with LSU, Auburn and unbeaten Texas A&M.
The defenses and running games were inconsistent, at best, in the first half of the year. Saturday’s game in Fayetteville boils down to the quarterbacks, Rebel Chad Kelly vs. Hog Austin Allen, with a high probability of a shootout that might require extra sessions. Both teams are flush in quality receivers and tight ends. Kelly will do a better job of employing them, sparking Ole Miss to a third win in a row in what could wind up being Week 7’s most compelling game from wire-to-wire.
Prediction: Ole Miss 45, Arkansas 40
Line: Ole Miss -7.5
2. Ohio State (5-0) at Wisconsin (4-1)
East meets West in a matchup that could shake up the race in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes are No. 2 in the country, headed toward a possible showdown of unbeaten teams with Michigan at the end of the regular season. But Wisconsin is not to be taken lightly. The Camp Randall crowd will be bonkers, and a blue-collar, fundamentally sound Badger D has already engineered wins over LSU and Michigan State and a close call with the Wolverines on Oct. 1. Offense, though, is a concern in Madison, particularly as redshirt freshman QB Alex Hornibrook prepares to take on one of the nation’s elite defensive backfields.
Wisconsin must unleash Corey Clement, but the ground game is norming an uncharacteristic 3.8 yards a carry, a situation unlikely to change versus the Ohio State front wall. And while the Buckeye offense could misfire, like it occasionally did last week against Indiana, J.T. Barrett and running back Curtis Samuel will eventually break through to give their team some much-needed breathing room in a tight and physical alley brawl.
Prediction: Ohio State 26, Wisconsin 17
Line: Ohio State -10
1. Alabama (6-0) at Tennessee (5-1)
Third Saturday in October. Plenty at stake. Potential prequel of the Dec. 3 SEC Championship Game.
Bama is the nation’s top-ranked team. Tennessee is the East Division frontrunner, even after falling to Texas A&M in overtime last week. But the Vols will be fighting more than just that nasty Tide defense this weekend. They’ll also be grappling with history, the byproduct of losing nine consecutive games in the series. Butch Jones’ squad had a magical quality about it throughout the first half of the season, but it’ll take more than sleight of hand and prestidigitation to win this game for the first time since 2006.
The banged-up Vols have been the kings of intangibles. However, great motors and no-quit attitudes won’t be enough to upend a Tide team improving on offense and boasting a rock-solid D. Tennessee’s inability to stop the Aggie running game will be a harbinger of things to come, as Bama uses superior line play on both sides of the ball to run its series winning streak to an even decade.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Tennessee 24
Line: Alabama -13