College Football Week 7 Preview — Will Key Big Ten, SEC Matchups Shake Up the Title Hunt?
Top 10 showdowns in the Big Ten and SEC highlight a big weekend of college football. Here are some of the key questions going into Week 7.
Is This a Big Ten Title Preview?
Camp Randall will be a madhouse Saturday night when No. 8 Wisconsin hosts No. 2 Ohio State. Both teams bring in two of the nation’s best defenses, with the Buckeyes and Badgers ranking second and fourth, respectively, in scoring defense. However, it will be a contrast in styles between the two offenses.
With freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook making just his third career start, the Badgers will rely on a traditional Big Ten ground-and-pound running game to run the clock and keep the Buckeye offense on the bench. However, they’ll have to improve as they have averaged less than three yards per carry in their last two games. Ohio State, meanwhile, boasts one of the nation’s top offenses, ranking fifth or better nationally in scoring, rushing and total offense. Three Buckeyes are currently averaging 68 or more rushing yards per game.
Wisconsin can’t go toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes in an offensive shootout, so look for the Badgers to rely on a ball-control running game to keep it close late.
While Wisconsin has a rough stretch coming up (No. 2 Ohio State, at Iowa, No. 10 Nebraska) coming up, this could well end up being an appetizer for a rematch in the Big Ten Championship game.
Can Tennessee Rebound Against the Crimson Tide?
No. 9 Tennessee’s SEC title hopes hit a speed bump last week in a 2OT loss to Texas A&M. Unfortunately for the Vols, things don’t get any easier this week with No. 1 Alabama coming to town.
But don’t expect Tennessee to be intimidated, as this is their fourth straight game against a ranked opponent. Star running back Jalen Hurd is expected to return after an injury kept him sidelined last week. In his absence, backup Alvin Kamara—a transfer from Alabama—became the first Power 5 conference back in two decades to rush for 125+ yards and have at least 150 receiving in the same game. While running on the Crimson Tide is no easy task, that 1-2 punch should have enough success to at least keep the Alabama offense off the field for a while.
Tennessee has had some slow starts this year and turned the ball over a school-record seven times in last week’s loss. They likely won’t have the luxury of such mistakes against the Crimson Tide. But if Tennessee can hang with Alabama into the second half, they have shown the ability for some late-game fireworks with upset potential. However, the Vols will be without all-conference cornerback Cameron Sutton (ankle), so look for Alabama to have success throwing deep to star receiver Calvin Ridley.
Can Nebraska Handle the Spotlight?
It’s been a while (2011, to be exact) since Nebraska found itself in the Top Ten. So it will be interesting to see how the young Cornhuskers handle the pressure of a road trip (for the opponent’s Homecoming, no less) with a target on their back.
The No. 10 Cornhuskers are already coming into this game shorthanded. Their leading rusher (Devine Ozigbo) and receiver (Jordan Westerkamp) are both likely out, as is starting tight end Cethan Carter. Additionally, quarterback Tommy Armstrong (the Big Ten leader in total offense) spent much of the last two weeks in a walking boot after suffering an ankle injury in Nebraska’s win over Illinois.
Nebraska still has enough offensive talent to move the ball against an Indiana defense that, contrary to what Urban Meyer might argue, ranks 73rd nationally against the run. However, this has all the makings of a classic trap game and, if the Hoosiers can get some turnovers and steal the early momentum, watch out.
Is Virginia Tech for Real?
The No. 17 Hokies are coming off their biggest win of the year, a 34-3 blowout of then-No. 17 North Carolina. Yes, the weather (remnants of Hurricane Matthew) played a factor. But anytime you can hold the nation’s sixth leading passer who hadn’t thrown an interception all season to 13-of-33 for just 58 yards, no touchdowns and two picks, you’re doing something right. Couple that with an offense that is third in the conference in scoring and Virginia Tech, which travels to 2-4 Syracuse this week, is suddenly a very real contender in the ACC.
Can Lamar Jackson Move Back Into the Heisman Frontrunner Spot?
Just a few short weeks ago, it looked like Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson was going to run away with the Heisman Trophy. And while he certainly didn’t hurt his stats in the loss to Clemson (457 total yards and three touchdowns), that loss combined with rising performances from Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Jake Browning of Washington have made it much more of a race.
Jackson’s sprint to the finish begins this week against a Duke defense that has held three opponents this year to less than 2.25 yards per carry. Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe said this week, “I've coached against at least 10 national champions, and I have never seen anyone with the weapons and completeness of this Louisville team." While there’s certainly a little bit of hyperbole and coachspeak in there, there’s no doubt that Duke has never faced a player of Jackson’s caliber. Look for Jackson to rebound with a big game that reminds everyone why he is still the Heisman favorite.