As we enter the halfway point of the college football season, Week 7 has a "Separation Saturday" vibe to it. That can mean one thing: upsets should be abound across the landscape.
Each week, I'll give you the top five upset alert games based on matchups, injuries/suspensions and other factors. Disclaimer: "upset" is defined first and foremost by the point spread, not perception or rankings, though they are both taken into consideration. I generally avoid games whose lines are within a touchdown with exceptions being made for cases that warrant them. I'm also going on the record with the picks and keeping tabs. The scoring system is exactly the same as it is for our weekly expert picks with season-long tallies against the spread (ATS) and straight-up (SU).
Week 6 results
Upset alert picks: 5-0
Picks to date: 17-13
ATS to date: 14-16
SU to date: 12-18
On to this week's picks ...
No. 23 South Florida at Tulsa
When: Friday, 7 p.m. ET | Where: Tulsa, Oklahoma | Line: South Florida -7.5
Why it's listed: This is a potential scheduling loss. The Bulls have been good on the road over the past couple of years, but this is a long-distance conference road game on a short week right after another long-distance road game.
Tulsa's key to the game: The Golden Hurricane have actually been a good red zone defensive team. They're tied for 10th nationally with a 45.45 touchdown percentage. Keeping it bend-don't-break against a Bulls offense averaging 37 points per game will be key.
South Florida's key to the game: Can the Bulls put this game away efficiently? They've been favorites in four of their five games but failed to cover double-digit spreads against two FBS opponents. There's no doubt who the better team is, but USF has a tendency to give opposing teams hope.
Pick: Per Football Outsiders, Tulsa rates a little better than you'd think a one-win team would. They can keep it close, but zero wins vs. FBS opponents isn't a strong indicator they'll be able to close the deal. ATS: Tulsa, SU: South Florida
UCLA at Cal
When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET | Where: Berkeley, California | Line: Cal -7
Why it's listed: The Bruins have played a stupid-hard schedule, but they looked their best in a 31-24 loss to Washington in Week 6. The slate starts to ease up this month, however. There's talent on the roster, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is fun and it feels like something's going to fall into place eventually.
UCLA's key to the game: Coach Chip Kelly thrives on explosive plays. However ... UCLA ranks last in the Pac-12 in that category, primarily because its offensive line play is so poor. But Cal isn't much better, so any little trend in the right direction should help the Bruins.
Cal's key to the game: One sign of a struggling team is that it can't get out of its own way. Cal has nine turnovers in the past two games and committed 13 penalties for 115 yards in a loss to Arizona. That'll lose you a game to just about anyone.
Pick: Cal's sliding in the wrong direction with two straight losses. UCLA should be gaining some confidence after playing a little better in each of the past two games. Conference road games can be unforgiving if you're down, but the Bruins should be all business in Berkeley. ATS: UCLA, SU: UCLA
No. 6 West Virginia at Iowa State
When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET | Where: Ames, Iowa | Line: West Virginia -6.5
Why it's listed: West Virginia has not played well over the last game and a half, and certainly doesn't look like a top-10 team. (Then again, how many teams do at the moment?) Ames is a tough place to win and the well-coached Cyclones always seem to play up to their competition.
Iowa State's key to the game: Can freshman quarterback Brock Purdy pick up where he left off against Oklahoma State? In what was basically his college debut, Purdy accounted for 402 yards and five touchdowns. He provides a spark for what was the Big 12's worst offense. But doing it again once a defense has film is a different task, and the Mountaineers run an odd base formation that brings pressure from everywhere.
West Virginia's key to the game: You don't want to put all the blame on the quarterback, but Will Grier had three end zone picks and a fumble against Kansas. His protection wasn't great, but neither was his decision-making. That's three touchdowns off the board all the same. Chalk it up to a bad game because that simply cannot happen again.
Pick: Iowa State has replaced Kansas State as the Big 12's official pain in the rear. The Cyclones have proven they can win without start running back David Montgomery, and while Purdy has only played one game, it was a heck of a debut. Iowa State catches West Virginia at a good time, too. ATS: Iowa State, SU: Iowa State
No. 16 Miami at Virginia
When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET | Where: Charlottesville, Virginia | Line: Miami -6.5
Why it's listed: The line's already shrunk by almost a field goal and the Hurricanes needed, literally, a historic comeback to beat Florida State. The Hoos are coming off an open week as well.
Virginia's key to the game: The Canes, of course, live off of turnovers and the disruption they're able to create with their defensive front is the spark for that. Defensive linemen Gerald Willis III and Jonathan Garvin are two of the best in the country at getting into the backfield. Expect some quick passes out of the box early to keep Miami on its toes.
Miami's key to the game: Containing Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins in the ground game. Perkins already has a pair of 100-yard rushing efforts and North Carolina quarterback Chazz Surratt had success running against the Hurricanes late last month. Perkins, like many dual-threats, is a central figure in UVA's offense.
Pick: Miami didn't play well in Week 6 and Virginia's had time to rest up, get healthy and prepare. That should make this one close, but the Hurricanes' defense is just too dominant up front, and the offensive line can't play much worse than it did against FSU. This should be a get-right game in the trenches. ATS: Virginia, SU: Miami
No. 19 Colorado at USC
When: Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET | Where: Los Angeles, California | Line: USC -7.5
Why it's listed: Remember, the line -- not the ranking -- is what we are first and foremost beholden to when it comes to upset alerts. Vegas loves the Trojans as much any team in the country, and yet they're 1-4 against the spread (Colorado, meanwhile is 4-0 via SportsLine).
Colorado's key to the game: Can the Buffs take away USC's best weapon in receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown? He's guaranteed to make some huge, timely catches each game. He's the go-to guy in the passing game when the Trojans need a big play.
USC's key to the game: Did the Trojans use their bye week to fine-tune the offense? Because that side of the ball was all over the place through five games. Yes, midseason growth from frosh quarterback JT Daniels will be a talking point, but USC needs the ground game to improve as well.
Pick: A win in L.A. would give Colorado a serious leg up in the Pac-12 South race. Of course, nothing in the Pac-12 is ever that easy, it seems. The extra time off helps USC regroup to make things interesting. ATS: Colorado, SU: USC
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