It’s the best weekend of the college football season so far, with four contests pitting ranked opponents and plenty of other interesting games involving ranked teams. Two championship-caliber squads – Alabama and Oklahoma – may get their first real tests of the year. And we all get treated to a prime-time showdown in a boozy and beautiful Death Valley.
The games are getting bigger and better, there’s a little bit more of a chill in the air, and we’re beginning the stretch run toward the College Football Playoff. It’s a beautiful time of year to have some action on college football, so here are your five best bets for Week 7.
Irresistible object, meet unstoppable force: It’s the SEC’s best defense against its most dynamic offense. Pass-happy LSU is averaging 54.6 points per game and has covered in every contest this season but one – with a shanked PAT preventing a push against a 52-point line. Stingy Florida is allowing just 9.5 points per game and has won three straight against the spread, the most recent a stonewalling of an Auburn squad with a very strong run game.
That LSU spread offense is beguilingly effective and easy to become enamored with. But the Tigers haven’t seen anything this year like Florida’s secondary, which leads the SEC with 12 interceptions. If the Gators can frustrate quarterback Joe Burrow, LSU doesn’t have much else to fall back on. Tiger Stadium will be frenzied and more than a little drunk, but defenses travel well, and the Gators are used to such craziness. If Florida can disrupt that LSU passing game early, they’ll be in it until the end – and perhaps right into the College Football Playoff conversation.
Hard to believe we’re nearly halfway through the season and Oklahoma still hasn’t played anyone worth the price of a corn dog at the Texas State Fair, but it’s the truth. The Sooners’ toughest game was an 18-point win over Houston in the opener, the 22-point line for that contest was their smallest before this week, and quarterback Jalen Hurts has been rolling up Heisman numbers against second- and third-rate opponents.
That all changes this week against Texas, when we finally get to see how the Sooners match up against someone worth a darn. That Oklahoma defense remains the biggest question mark in college football, and the Longhorns torched it last season in Dallas. That Texas defense isn’t exactly a juggernaut, either – it’s last in the Big 12 against the pass – but Tom Herman’s team has an offense to make up for it. Expect the Longhorns to keep it relatively close, and the game to go over the total of 75 as a bonus.
Speaking of teams that haven’t played anyone … the Crimson Tide at last take on a ranked opponent (barely) after padding Tua Tagovialoa’s stats against lesser lights for almost the entire first half of the season. The Aggies will take on a No. 1-ranked team for the second time this season after playing at Clemson in September, where they scored in the final seconds to cover a 16-point spread.
Yet it’s hard to figure an A&M team that looks good on paper but just doesn’t seem to click, and seems to be regressing to the point where it looked terrible even in beating horrid Arkansas last week. Meanwhile, even the ESPN guys are questioning whether Kyle Field is overrated. The Aggies’ struggles running the ball means more time on the field for Tua and the Tide, which should light up the first decent opponent they’ve played and send the College Station Cadets to their third straight loss against the spread.
So much to love about Iowa – the classic helmets, the timeless stadium, the amazing moment when the fans wave at the adjacent children’s hospital. If only the Hawkeyes showed up against good teams. That frustrating loss last week at very beatable Michigan looked a lot like their contest at Iowa State (minus the lightning delays) in that they were forced into playing an ugly, low-scoring scoring game. In each case, the result was a loss against the spread.
Despite the presence of a senior quarterback and good skill players, the Hawkeyes struggle to maintain tempo and time of possession. And now here comes Penn State, with one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, which has the best athletes Iowa has seen this season and the capacity to capitalize on every Hawkeyes mistake. The Nittany Lions have allowed 37 points all season, and even in Iowa City should prove to be the superior team.
Who set the line for this game, Jimmy Johnson? Vinny Testaverde? Edgerrin James? Amazing the Hurricanes would be favored against anyone right now, given the near-disaster that is Manny Diaz’s first season as head coach. Miami’s lone two wins have come against opponents outside the Power 5, it has failed to cover in three of its last four, and its inability to run the ball means it can’t keep opposing offenses off the field.
Granted, Virginia’s offense has looked really shaky at times this season as well (not sure why so many expected them to cover 10.5 at Notre Dame), especially in close shaves against Furman and Old Dominion. But that defense is solid, especially against the pass. Expect the Cavaliers to make life tough on whatever quarterback Diaz trots out there, and the under (total 45) is worth considering Friday night as well.