Shocking disappointments and better-than-expected performances are anticipated each weekend in the wild world of college football. Even if everyone knows they are coming, guessing when and where they will happen is difficult.
The USA TODAY Sports college football staff — Jace Evans, Paul Myerberg, George Schroeder, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus and Dan Wolken — weigh in with some bold predictions for Week 7 of the college football season:
Oklahoma is going to blow out Texas in the Red River Rivalry. Neither team has won by more than 16 points in this game since OU hammered the Longhorns in both 2011 (55-17 win) and 2012 (63-21 win). But that could change Saturday as a Texas defense that sits 126th in FBS in passing yards allowed per game goes up against the high-flying Sooners, piloted this year by top Heisman Trophy contender Jalen Hurts. Add in that this is the most competent Oklahoma has looked on defense in years – against admittedly not the strongest competition out there – it could be a long day for the Longhorns if Sam Ehlinger is not able to go score-for-score with Hurts and Co.
Oklahoma running back Trey Sermon avoids a tackle against Texas during their 2018 game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. (Photo: Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports)
In the other matchup of Top 25 teams (the game that doesn’t feature Alabama, Oklahoma or LSU), Penn State goes into Iowa on Saturday night and makes a statement. And what is that statement? That the Nittany Lions are ready for a tough rest of October – Michigan and Michigan State come next – and ready to give Ohio State a challenge in Columbus in November. Through five games, Penn State has scored 235 points and allowed just 37 and has outscored its two Big Ten opponents 94-7.
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Jalen Hurts took some flak this week for seemingly downplaying the magnitude of the Red River rivalry. In reality, he was simply noting that he is familiar with pressure-packed moments (see the Iron Bowl, as he noted, or SEC and national championship games, too).
The atmosphere in the Cotton Bowl for Oklahoma-Texas is unique and unmatched. The intensity is jacked regardless of external stakes – and this time around, those are huge. But Hurts’ premise was correct: Pressure? The senior graduate transfer has been there, done that. On Saturday, he’ll deliver another superlative performance for his new team, propelling the Sooners to victory.
Wisconsin has easily dispatched one talented team from the state of Michigan. Now comes a different test into Madison. Michigan State won’t be confused with an offensive powerhouse, but the Spartans can do the one thing that will frustrate the Badgers: Stop the run.
Expect a traditional Big Ten slugfest with lots of punts and the quarterbacks pressed into making plays. Jack Coan hasn’t had to carry the Wisconsin offense this season, but he’ll need to deliver in tight windows. Brian Lewerke of the Spartans has the edge in experience. He needs to be more consistent.
This one goes four quarters before the Badgers survive. Don’t be surprised if Michigan State can pull the upset, though.
Clemson will look like Clemson again.
The Tigers’ most recent outing, a one-point escape from North Carolina two weeks ago, convinced a lot of poll voters that they shouldn’t be the No. 1 team. It might have also prompted some to wonder if Florida State, which was showing signs of improvement after struggling early, might actually be able to challenge Clemson this week.
In a word, no.
The Tigers have heard all the speculation and criticism for the last two weeks. Trevor Lawrence hasn’t been sharp, the offense isn’t putting up big points like those other top-five teams, etc. Well, this time they will. There will be at least one long scoring pass and one big run broken off by Travis Etienne before the first quarter is over.
Meanwhile, the Clemson defense is still nasty. The Seminoles have issues along the offensive line, which has given up 19 sacks and 48 tackles for loss through five games. James Blackman will be back at quarterback, but it won’t matter since his friends can’t protect him. Clemson wins this one, and wins it big.
This game is way off the radar but I think Arkansas will get Chad Morris’ first SEC win at Kentucky’s expense on Saturday. The Wildcats haven’t been good at all on offense since their meltdown against Florida, which of course encompasses quarterback Terry Wilson getting hurt. With Sawyer Smith starting, Kentucky scored just 13 against Mississippi State and 7 against South Carolina, neither of which are very impressive defensively. Smith completed just 26-of-73 passes in those two games, which just isn’t good at all. Arkansas showed some signs of life in a close loss to Texas A&M and may be smelling opportunity coming off a bye week.