College football games, Week 7: Michigan, TCU, Oklahoma on upset alert again
Sometimes, the blandest weeks on paper produce the greatest chaos
One thing stands out about Week 7 of the college football season: not one matchup of top-25 teams. Not a one.
However, it is my firm belief that when things seem their most bland, this college football produces its greatest chaos. If that theory holds true, Week 7 could be a doozy for upsets. This week, a pair of teams upset in Week 6 are once again on alert while a Big 12 favorite goes on the road in a potential letdown game.
Each week, we give you the top five upset alert games based on matchups, injuries/suspensions and other factors. As an extra challenge, we try to avoid games whose lines are well within a touchdown with exceptions being made for cases that warrant them.
When: Saturday, Noon ET | Where: Bloomington, Indiana | Open: Michigan -6.5
Why it's listed: I'll reference what Ohio State on upset alert against the Hoosiers. Indiana has a veteran defense with a secondary capable of locking down Michigan's passing offense. The Buckeyes were able to pull away in the second half of their Week 1 game against the Hoosiers because Parris Campbell on a mesh route is a certifiable cause of death. Michigan doesn't have that same type of game-changer. In fact, the Wolverines are a mess overall on offense. Noon road games with low-score potential would make me nervous if I was a favorite.when I put
Indiana wins if: It follows the Michigan State formula to a degree. Not saying the Spartans won on a fluke, but the Wolverines lost five turnovers last week while playing the latter part of the game in a monsoon. That just doesn't happen every day. But getting some takeaways, flipping field position and keeping Michigan on their side of the 50 is how you make going up against the Wolverines defense more manageable. Also: receiver Simmie Cobbs needs to have a monster game like he did against Ohio State.
Michigan wins if: It runs the ball like it did in September. I'll throw out the MIchigan State game because, again, it's tough to move the ball in terrible weather when Michigan State knows it can load the box. The Wolverines' play-action down the field depends on this ground attack, and it plays into what they do best: wear down opponents until they have nothing left. Michigan is an inexperienced team, but it's still more talented than Indiana. Against top-flight competition this year (Ohio State, Penn State), the Hoosiers are 0-2 with an average margin of loss by about 30 points.
No. 6 TCU at Kansas State
When: Saturday, Noon ET | Where: Manhattan, Kansas | Open: TCU -4.5
Why it's listed: The line is up to -6 for the Horned Frogs, giving a potential upset a touch more intrigue. TCU has gone from a team on the hunt to a team protecting its lead atop the Big 12 standings, and it happened quickly. There's a case to be made that no team has had a better two-game stretch with wins at Oklahoma State and over West Virginia. However, the Mountaineers gave the Frogs all kinds of fits in moving the ball, and TCU was on the right side of some fourth quarter calls. Kansas State is the least-fun team to play in the Big 12 and coach Bill Snyder is a tremendous coach during game-week prep.
Kansas State wins if: It does what it does best, which is bring its opponent down to its level. Slow the game down, grind it out on the ground and beat the almighty hell out of TCU. Quarterback Alex Delton is reportedly expected to start with Jesse Ertz injured. Ertz was the better passer, but Delton is more explosive. In that roundabout way, he might offer the better chance at having a passing attack. K-State won't throw the ball a lot and with good reason, but get the run game going and play-action pop pass off of that for 30 yards about three times and it might be enough.
TCU wins if: Its defensive line is the MVP. Personally, it doesn't feel like this group gets enough credit for all it does. Coach Gary Patterson trusts this experienced group because nine of the team's Big 12-best 13 sacks have come from the front four. That allows the other seven defenders to do their job better. K-State might have some success over the middle of the field with TCU's two high safety look, but its secondary is good at finishing plays down the field. If TCU controls the line of scrimmage up front, it will have a lot of success defensively.
When: Saturday, Noon ET | Where: Durham, North Carolina | Open: Florida State -8
Why it's listed: I know, I know, Florida State is 1-3. How can anything be an upset for the Seminoles at this point, right? But -- and apologies to #FSUTwitter in advance (don't @ me) -- there's almost a morbid curiosity to see how bad this could really get. The Noles are certainly better on paper than 1-3. Not only is there talent, but the results have been close. A six-point loss to NC State and a miracle of all miracles by Miami is what's keeping this team from being 3-1. However, Duke thrives on a couple of things that Florida State does poorly, which leads to some back-break potential for the season.
Duke wins if: It plays smart. Florida State is dead last in the ACC in turnover margin and not much better in penalties per game (7.5 for 64.5 yards). Duke, on the other hand, prides itself on playing a cleaner style of football. Otherwise, the results have been poor (see: Miami and Virginia). There are plenty of areas in which Florida State needs to improve, but the myriad mistakes have been costly, and that's a reflection on coaching. Jimbo Fisher is a great one, but he and his staff have a lot of work to do on this team.
Florida State wins if: It can shake off slow starts. FSU has zero first-quarter touchdowns this year and has been outscored 16-6 in the first quarter. Bud Elliott of SB Nation also had an interesting read this week parsing through Fisher's shockingly conservative game-plan approaches. The Noles have been able to cut it loose in the fourth quarter; quarterback James Blackman has the most attempts, yards and touchdowns in the country during that span. But it's basically been out of necessity. Still, the big-play ability is there. A little more trust and aggressiveness early on could go a long way.
When: Saturday, 3:30 ET | Where: Dallas, Texas | Open: Oklahoma -7.5
Why it's listed: This has become the trendy upset pick of the week. It's not because Oklahoma was exposed against Iowa State and is now suddenly a bad team. It's a matchup issue that Texas might be able to exploit. For one, the Longhorns are playing better defensively than they were in Week 1, especially up front. Also, Texas has receiver Collin Johnson. If Johnson is on his game, he's a top-five receiver in the conference because of his physicality on 50-50 balls. However, keep in mind, too that the Sooners haven't lost back-to-back regular season games since Bob Stoops' first year in 1999. Oklahoma lost to Notre Dame on Oct. 2 and ... to Texas on Oct. 9.
Texas wins if: Johnson goes off. Colleague Barton Simmons Allen Lazard (23 yards per reception) and Johnson is that same type of player. Outside of quarterback, he presents himself as the biggest difference maker., but the long and short of it is Johnson is a big-play threat every time he runs downfield. Oklahoma was hurt by Iowa State's
Oklahoma wins if: Trey Sermon rushes for 150 yards. He's been dynamic as a runner and a fun young player to watch. Texas' run defense has improved, but Sermon would take a lot of pressure off of Baker Mayfield. One thing that stood out against Iowa State was how uncomfortable Mayfield looked scrambling. He still made plays because that's what he does, and he held on to the ball too long because that's what he does, but it also looked as though he wasn't completely confident throwing the ball. Forcing Texas to respect the run will open that up.
When: Saturday, 3:30 ET | Where: Madison, Wisconsin | Open: Wisconsin -17
Why it's listed: The Badgers are an unassuming 5-0. They're ranking is a combination of that record and a top-10 listing to start the year. In all, there hasn't been a lot of movement or chatter about this team. As a result, the following has gone largely untalked about: Wisconsin is a second-half team. This has been true all year, but it's been especially prevalent in Big Ten play. Wins over Northwestern (33-24) and Nebraska (38-17) look fine at face value, but those were 10-7 and 17-10 at the half, respectively. In fact, the Badgers were knotted at 17 in the third quarter against the Cornhuskers before going on a 21-point run. Part of that is good adjustments by the coaching staff, but it's also a potential red flag if a game is tight deep into the fourth quarter.
Purdue wins if: It gets tricky on offense. Good thing Jeff Brohm is the coach. The Boilermakers have been brutally bad at quarterback protection and Wisconsin tends to assert itself in the trenches as the game progresses. The Boilermakers aren't going to line up hat on hat and get a ton of victories. They need creative calls and routes, and quick tempo.
Wisconsin wins if: Running back Jonathan Taylor can keep grinding away in the second half. He doesn't have a ton of fourth quarter carries because of how lopsided wins have ended up being, but he's been at his best in the third quarter with 264 yards, three touchdowns and 15 first-down runs. The Badgers are a tough offense to corral for 60 minutes, and he's a big reason why.
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