College football games, Week 7: It's prove-it time for Oklahoma, Texas, Florida and LSU
The Red River Showdown and Saturday night's battle in Death Valley will determine who really belongs
Jalen Hurts wouldn't crack. Oklahoma's quarterback started his media availability this week with a statement instead of taking questions.
"Look, I just want to say the culture here at Oklahoma is centered on us playing to our standard and us playing our football," he said.
Nothing earth-shaking except his is body language said more than anything he actually said. Short answers. He looked to be bouncing on the balls of his feet standing behind the podium. In other words, the player some folks think is the best in the country is ready to prove himself again.
That's the theme of perhaps the best weekend of college football this season. Four games involving ranked teams. One of the biggest in Dallas at the Red River Showdown.
At stake is more than the Big 12 lead. No. 11 Texas is No. 6 Oklahoma's biggest hurdle before a possible third straight College Football Playoff appearance. The Longhorns have to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. They actually look at this latest Cotton Bowl meeting as revenge. Texas broke through last year in what was then Sam Ehlinger's best game. It then dropped the rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game.
"It took a lot of convincing, psychologically, to convince them that your best is good enough," Texas coach Tom Herman said. "When we play our best, we can go toe to toe with anybody in the country. There's a lot more confidence in that statement than there was a year ago."
Meanwhile, Hurts has been in a season-long mode of proving he is something more than the guy who lost the starting job to Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts has emerged as a weapon just as impactful as Kyler Murray, if not more. Heading to the halfway point of the season, he is also the Sooners leading rusher (on pace for 1,000 yards) and leading the nation in yards per play (12.2).
Any doubt whether he can handle the cauldron that is the Cotton Bowl against Texas should be dismissed. Hurts has played in the Iron Bowl and won a national championship -- as well as a couple of SEC titles.
"I've experienced some things," Hurts said. "I've experienced some things. I've seen a lot. I don't take it for granted."
Pro Football Focus rated Hurts No. 2 nationally, calling him "the nation's most feared deep passer." That is a label he never had at Alabama. One more mind blower: Hurts has yet to have a pass dropped on him this season.
2. Texas clickbait: It wouldn't be Oklahoma-Texas week without the requisite smack talk. Texas safety B.J. Foster went out of his way to warn Hurts "to slide … or it's not going to be good for him." Foster better make sure he can cover his man. The Horns are fifth-worst nationally against the pass despite four interceptions last week against West Virginia. "In general, in life, when you make emotional decisions it hurts you," Hurts himself warned.
3. Let's get it on in Death Valley: I got this text from an LSU fan this week: Saturday in BR is shaping up to be an all-time day … We are doing a bigger than normal spread and pulling out all the stops. Sounds like bring-your-own-security-guard territory at the always-wild LSU tailgate scene.
That's because No. 7 Florida is being asked to beat two top-10 teams in a row. The Gators will have to hold off the Tigers defensive line, which they certainly didn't do against Auburn. It's just assumed that Florida's offensive line this year has to be coached around. Quarterback Kyle Trask was lucky to survive Auburn last week with only a mild MCL strain.
"I honestly didn't know what I was about to hear. I was ready to hear the worst, I guess," Trask said. "All the outsiders can say what they want. That's the way it is. On that topic, I think this win will wake everybody up that this is a real team."
Night game. Death Valley. The Tigers will roll and continue a journey that could end with a division title.
4. Bad matchup for the Aggies: It's hard to pick the wide receiver for No. 1 Alabama at the midway point. Jerry Jeudy's yardage numbers are down (career low 12.84 yards per catch) only because he is being targeted by opposing defenses. Let's go with Devonta Smith for the All-America team (as of now). Remember Smith? He's the guy who caught the championship-winning pass against Georgia as a freshman. No. 24 Texas A&M is having a hard time running the ball after the injury to Jashaun Corbin. Kellen Mond has fallen off from his 2018 numbers. The Aggies secondary won't be able to cover those receivers because no one has yet.
5. Not a good combination for the Hawkeyes: No. 17 Iowa has to get its manhood back after allowing eight sacks at Michigan. However, No. 10 Penn State leads the country in tackles for loss (10.4). In the last decade, two teams have averaged double-digit TFLs over a full season -- Miami in 2018 and Clemson in 2014. Watch out Nate Stanley. Again.
6. USC's last stand? The Trojans are going to No. 9 Notre Dame with gums flapping. USC WR Michael Pittman Jr. said this week, "… it'll be fun when we're running up the score." The Irish have won five of the last seven in the series. Backup quarterback Kedon Slovis returns for USC.
7. Football in bulk: Colorado coach Mel Tucker said he'd take Oregon's Mario Cristobal as a tag-team partner. Both coaches are ripped. It's the Buffaloes who can expect a pounding at Autzen. The No. 13 Ducks (4-1) are the Pac-12's best CFP hope and is a 10-point favorite Friday night.
8. Bucky rising: No. 8 Wisconsin should arrive at midseason undefeated and bowl eligible. Fresh from a beating at the hands of Ohio State, Michigan State won't be able to stand up to this. Wisconsin has yet to trail in a game at any point this season. The Badgers defense has allowed four touchdowns. The defense has scored three. That unit is No. 1 in stop rate (92.3 percent). That's the ratio of drives that end in a punt, a turnover or turnover on downs. Jonathan Taylor's 16 total touchdowns through five games are the most by an FBS player since Ricky Williams' Heisman Trophy-winning season at Texas in 1998. Those defensive numbers will sit well with the CFP Selection Committee if the Badgers make it to consideration stage.
9. Wildcats wilding: Arizona's Khalil Tate hasn't won a Pac-12 offensive player of the week award since grabbing the honor four consecutive times in a row in 2017. We mention this heading into the Washington game because Tate is coming off 487 yards of total offense and five touchdowns (three passing) against Colorado. Is the old Tate back? The Wildcats, Kevin Sumlin and maybe Pac-12 football have all been rejuvenated by Arizona's 4-1 start. The 'Cats can stay in first place in the South with a win.
10. Sneaky good game of the week: No. 15 Utah at Oregon State. Beavers WR Isaiah Hodgins is having an All-America-type season. Oregon State is coming off one of its biggest Pac-12 wins in years (at UCLA). Quarterback Jake Luton was the Pac-12 offensive player of the week. The Beavs aren't pushovers anymore. A win keeps them in second place in the Pac-12 North.
11. Quick hits: It's been over a year since Florida State (at No. 2 Clemson) has entered a game with a two-game winning streak … Texas Tech (at No. 22 Baylor) is coming off its first home win against a ranked opponent (Oklahoma State) since 2013. That includes all three seasons of Patrick Mahomes (2014-16) … Putting the Big 12's round-robin schedule in perspective. It will take South Carolina 10 years to cycle through the SEC West. Auburn and Florida hadn't met in eight years. Oklahoma and Texas play each October because they have to … No. 19 Wake Forest (home vs. Louisville) enters a game ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2008 … Wideout Devin Duvernay is the highest rated Texas player on the entire roster, per PFF. Duvernay hasn't dropped a pass since 2017.
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