SEC, Big Ten showdowns lead college football games to watch in Week 7

After a month and a half of tempting appetizers, the college football season has reached its main course. The items on the Week 7 menu are quite tasty indeed, with six matchups of Top 25 teams featured.

Entering the weekend, 15 Bowl Subdivision teams still have a ‘0’ in the loss column. A couple of those will be enjoying an open date, but the ranks of the undefeated will be reduced by at least three thanks to a trio of major top-15 clashes in power conferences. A few others will be put to the test as well, so as always, keep one eye on the scoreboard and be prepared to look in on other games as events warrant.

With all that out of the way, here are the six significant showdowns to watch headlining your Week 7 viewers’ guide.

No. 1 Alabama at No. 8 Tennessee

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Follow every game: Live NCAA College Football Scores

Why watch:  This long-standing SEC rivalry has been one-sided of late with Alabama taking the last 15 meetings. But the top-ranked Crimson Tide head to Knoxville with plenty of concerns, while the Volunteers’ high-octane offense has fans believing this might be the year the streak ends. The looming question all week, of course, has been the availability of Crimson Tide QB Bryce Young. He has practiced but might not be at full strength thanks to the shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for the Texas A&M game. Jalen Milroe is a superb athlete who made enough throws when needed against the Aggies, but his inexperience led to ball security issues. Whoever takes the snaps for the Tide will rely heavily on RB Jahmyr Gibbs, who has a total of 752 yards from scrimmage and five TDs. Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker enters the game with 10 scoring passes on the season without a pick, and the RB duo of Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small have a combined 626 yards on the ground with 10 more TDs.

Why it could disappoint: It shouldn’t. The Vols aren’t likely to build an insurmountable cushion since the defense hasn’t’ exactly been airtight, but Alabama isn’t likely to pull away either given Tennessee’s fire power. Given all that, and an atmosphere at Neyland Stadium that should be absolutely electric, sit back and enjoy.

BOLID PREDICTIONS:Upsets for Alabama, Clemson lead this week’s forecast

EXPERT PICKS:Tennessee-Alabama crash highlights best Week 7 games

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BOWL PROJECTIONS:Alabama barely hangs on to playoff spot

No. 10 Penn State at No. 4 Michigan

Saturday, noon ET, Fox

Why watch: This is the first of the three-game round robin among the Big Ten East power players. Michigan, of course, was expected to be in this position coming off its conference title and playoff appearance. The Nittany Lions entered the season with uncertainty but have moved from unranked to the top 10. Of course their fans saw this movie a year ago as well, and some of Penn State’s wins have been more convincing than others, but a victory in Ann Arbor would alter the complexion of the league and CFP picture. The Wolverines haven’t exactly dominated wire-to-wire in their last few outings, but their punishing ground attack spearheaded by RB Blake Corum has allowed them to assert control late. The Nittany Lions have followed a similar formula behind promising young RBs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy has been slightly more productive than Penn State through the air, but Nittany Lions QB Sean Clifford is a veteran who usually – usually – makes correct decisions.

Why it could disappoint: Yes, Clifford’s terrible pick-6 back in Week 1 at Purdue was an exception. He rallied to lead the game-winning drive, but he may not have that luxury if he makes a similar mistake in the Big House. Conversely, McCarthy hasn’t yet been asked to rally the Wolverines from a significant deficit. Can Penn State put him in that position?

No. 7 Oklahoma State at No. 15 TCU

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Why watch: The game of the day in the Big 12 is not just a battle of unbeatens but also matches two of the last three teams still without a conference loss. The Cowboys were expected to be in this position after narrowly missing out on the league title last season. The Horned Frogs have been something of a pleasant surprise under first-year coach Sonny Dykes and now have an opportunity to claim the mantle of championship favorite if they can protect their home turf. TCU QB Max Duggan has thrived in the revamped system since reclaiming the starting job with 17 total TDs, three by land, and 1,509 yards of total offense. WR Quentin Johnston and RB Kendre Miller are his main weapons. Oklahoma State veteran QB Spencer Sanders will take off himself on occasion but would prefer to get the ball into the hands of WRs Brennan Presley and Braydon Johnson.

Why it could disappoint: Both teams pulled out close, high-scoring affairs last week. This one should follow a similar script, though it’s conceivable one or both could run out of steam by game’s end. That’s unlikely if it’s close at all, however, and we think it will be.

No. 6 Southern California at No. 19 Utah

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Fox

Why watch: The Utes’ bid to repeat as Pac-12 champions isn’t over, but their hopes took a major hit last week at UCLA. They now find themselves in a virtual must-win situation against the unbeaten Trojans, who have league title and playoff aspirations themselves in the first year of the Lincoln Riley era. The Utah defense, unaccustomed to getting pushed around as the Bruins did to it last week, doesn’t get any respite with Trojans QB Caleb Williams and RB Travis Dye coming to Salt Lake City. USC standout WR Jordan Addison left last week’s game against Washington State early with an apparent leg injury and might not be at top speed, but Mario Williams is just as dangerous. The Utah backfield tandem of QB Cameron Rising and Tavion Thomas are capable of matching scores but must not provide any gifts to the USC defense that thrives on takeaways.

Why it could disappoint: Again, it probably won’t, but there are blowout scenarios both ways. The Utah defense has performed better at home, and if CB Clark Phillips III and the rest of the Utes’ secondary can keep the Trojans’ big plays to a minimum, the offense might be able to control the clock. USC, on the other hand, will want to get on the board quickly and make it a track meet in which the Utes might be less equipped to keep pace.

No. 17 Mississippi State at No. 22 Kentucky

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC

Why watch: The Wildcats got a harsh reminder of just how unforgiving life in the SEC can be as they now look to snap a two-game slide that knocked them out of the top 10. They host a red-hot Bulldogs squad that has shaken off an early setback against LSU and could still be a factor in the hypercompetitive West Division. The absence of QB Will Levis due to a foot injury was too much for Kentucky to overcome in the loss to South Carolina. He should be back in action, but nevertheless a lot will be asked of the Wildcats’ defense tasked with keeping QB Will Rogers and the Mississippi State ‘air raid’ under wraps. That’s a tall order, as the Bulldogs’ top five pass catchers all have at least 20 receptions, including do-everything RB Dillon Johnson.

Why it could disappoint: Kentucky’s best chance to prevail might involve taking the flash out of the game, leaning heavily on reinstated RB Chris Rodriguez to keep the potent Bulldogs’ offense off the field. A big Miss State lead early on could remove the suspense.

No. 13 North Carolina State at No. 18 Syracuse

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ACC

Why watch: The chair occupied by Orange coach Dino Babers has cooled considerably thanks to the team’s 5-0 start. But Syracuse  now embarks on a difficult six-game stretch that begins with this home date against the Wolfpack, who somehow escaped last week against Florida State to keep their slim ACC championship hopes alive. N.C. State QB Devin Leary avoided a major shoulder injury in that contest but remains day-to-day. Regardless, the Wolfpack offense has not performed as expected, and LB Mikel Jones and the Orange defense will try to keep them stuck in neutral. Syracuse RB Sean Tucker has been as good as advertised, and he’s been getting help from QB Garrett Shrader. But he’ll have to watch out for the Wolfpack secondary that leads the league with nine INts.

Why it could disappoint: Both teams have faced their share of high fourth-quarter drama, though their games haven’t always displayed fundamentally sound football. One could see the Orange putting it out of reach if Leary is out or limited, but the Wolfpack defense is the best Syracuse will have seen to date.

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