25 Key Storylines to Watch Heading into CFB Week 7

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIOctober 8, 2012

25 Key Storylines to Watch Heading into CFB Week 7

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    The sixth week of college football provided more entertainment than we have seen in a long time. Back in 2010, three No. 1 teams went down in three straight weeks, beginning with Alabama's fall to South Carolina. That still wasn't as exciting as three of the Top Five falling this past week.

    As the "Year of the Upset" continues, the BCS picture gets fuzzier and fuzzier. There are no sure signs of clarity until early November. Unless, of course, teams that are expected to win start losing in October.

    Out of all the games happening in Week 7, which ones are really worth watching and why? Here are the 25 juiciest storylines, from bottom-dwellers to marquee matches.

    *Statistics from ESPN.com

25. Are They Bears or Cats?

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    Munchie Legaux has led the Cincinnati Bearcats to a 4-0 start, and the 'Cats host FCS foe Fordham this Saturday.

    The Bearcats should roll all over the Rams in Week 7, but the 'Cats will need to put up some style points against the Rams to move anywhere in the rankings.

    If Cincinnati doesn't put a major score gap up on the scoreboard, it will need Louisville or Rutgers to take a loss.

    There will be more on the Big East later in the show.

24. Battle for the Bowl of Oranges

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    After Florida State blew a 16-0 lead over NC State to skydive out of the Top Three, the ACC is officially a wide-open race.

    By wide open, I mean that Maryland, Miami (FL) and Duke are the only ACC teams that have yet to lose a conference match.

    When Duke is in the mix in Week 7, it's officially a free-for-all. The Orange Bowl is on the line, as is the ACC's reputation. Florida State still needs to put together a great season. It's far better to be a top-heavy conference than simply a weak one.

    In other news: If Boston College can deliver the death blow to Florida State, Notre Dame's strength of schedule will look even better. In that case, the ACC may not be as happy about Notre Dame's presence in the conference.

23. Michigan Wolverine Cubs

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    Michigan hosts the Illinois Fighting Illini this week, and it could be a football game. OK, so probably not, but Michigan is in the throes of the "Season-Opening Curse of the Tide" at the moment. No game is a guaranteed win.

    Most recently, Virginia Tech opened with a loss to Alabama in 2009. On Tech's way to defeating Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Hokies lost two more games. One loss was to a ranked Georgia Tech team, and the other was to a UNC Tar Heels unit that ended the season at 8-5 after a loss to Pittsburgh in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

    No, Michigan should not lose to Illinois. That is precisely why this game should intrigue you. Michigan has yet to take the "What the heck just happened?" loss in 2012. According to the curse, it's still looming somewhere between Week 7 and December.

    In case you're still skeptical, Clemson lost to Maryland in 2008 after leading the season off with a loss to the Tide. Maryland lost 24-14 to Middle Tennessee that year.

22. Is Arkansas on a Comeback Streak?

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    Arkansas defied all reason last week and beat Auburn. Either that, or Auburn defied all reason and lost to Arkansas.

    If Arkansas finally overcame the losing momentum against Auburn, the question is whether the 'Backs can win out and finish 8-4 for a bowl bid. After all, they can still lose to LSU and South Carolina and finish 6-6.

    With South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU on the schedule, it doesn't look good for the Hogs. However, if Arkansas has figured out how to win with John L. Smith at the helm, it's probably due to the fact that it has learned to ignore his presence entirely.

    If that is the case, Arkansas should trounce Kentucky and return quickly to the successful form that earned it the No. 3 ranking at one point last year. If that happens, a lackluster LSU is unlikely to defeat Tyler Wilson.

21. Casey Pachall

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    Update Oct. 9: Casey Pachall is done for the 2012 season, via USAToday.com

    Trevone Boykin, who threw three interceptions in TCU's tough loss to Iowa State, could be the Frogs' starting quarterback this weekend. Casey Pachall was suspended indefinitely following his arrest for suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

    According to that linked article, Pachall's status is uncertain at this time. If he has an associated court date, it would not be unreasonable to see him reinstated pending the results of any proceedings. Of course, it would not be unreasonable to see him suspended pending the outcome either.

    Pachall is TCU's offense, but Boykin isn't too far off from being a successful signal-caller himself. If Boykin continues to get starting experience against Baylor, he could still win two more games before the end of the season to get TCU into a bowl game.

20. Hurricane Makes Matchup Much More Interesting

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    Texas A&M treks over to Louisiana Tech to take on the Bulldogs in the hurricane-postponed season opener.

    Neither team was ranked in the preseason polls, but an undefeated streak for the Bulldogs and a one-loss season so far for the Aggies have made this a clash of two ranked teams.

    Ironically, the postponement led Texas A&M to open its season against then-No. 23 Florida. Louisiana Tech is currently ranked No. 23.

    If Texas A&M can come away with the win, it will be one win (*cough-cough...Auburn *cough) away from bowl eligibility.

    If the Bulldogs can pull off the upset, they will be staring down the barrel of a potential perfect season.

19. Who Is Mississippi State, Really?

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    Mississippi State needs every advantage it can get against a Volunteer offense that's led by Tyler Bray. The one sure thing the Bulldogs will bring to the game is home-field advantage.

    With the legendary cowbells in the background and Mississippi State's always stellar defense on the field, it will be left to the offense to come away with a hard-fought win over Tennessee.

    Right here in Week 7, we all get to find out who Mississippi State is. Have the Bulldogs finally found the offense that will stand proudly by its defense with wins piling up all season, or has the offense simply gotten lucky five games in a row?

    Auburn and Kentucky aren't exactly signature wins for these guys, but Auburn was a loss in 2011. Louisiana Tech took Mississippi State to overtime last year, so expect to see a good football game.

    With a kickoff time of 9 p.m. (Eastern Time), it's at least worth checking on periodically during the South Carolina-LSU game.

18. Nevada's Quest for the Mountain West

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    Nevada's tailback Stefphon Jefferson is already sitting on a mind-numbing 955 rushing yards through Week 6, and he's averaging over five yards per carry. If you add his 139 receiving yards, he's at a jaw-dropping 1,094 offensive yards halfway through the season.

    Well, not even halfway through. There's a bowl game coming for sure.

    While this has been going on, Nevada has lost one game, and that was only by one point to South Florida.

    Nevada continues to make its presence known in its new conference, and Boise State hasn't been performing consistently enough to prove that Nevada shouldn't be the favorite to win the conference.

    There are some tough games on the schedule, but 1-5 UNLV isn't one of them. It's a trap game and a rivalry, sure, but it shouldn't be a tough game for the Wolf Pack.

17. Jekyll and Hyde

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    Boise State rumbled to a 39-12 win over Miami (OH) in its home opener, but five days later it struggled to a 7-6 home victory over BYU where its only points came on a pick-six.

    With that in mind, Fresno State may enjoy a road-game advantage against Boise State in Week 7. Boise enters the game 4-1, while Fresno enters at 4-2. Aside from falling to Oregon, Fresno's only loss came at the hands of Tulsa by one point, but that's not too much to fret about, as Tulsa in turn has only lost to the Iowa State Cyclones.

    None of these pieces of information are meant to predict a winner; it's just to point out that Fresno State vs. Boise State is one of the best under-the-radar games of the week.

    Boise State has played the role of both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this season. If the Boise that played BYU shows up, the Bulldogs will embarrass the Broncos. If the Boise that stomped Miami (OH) shows up, it should be a nail-biter that gets decided in the fourth quarter.

16. Gene Chizik

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    Hugh Freeze enjoys two major bulletproof vests that keep his job safe:

    1) It's his first year at Ole Miss.

    2) He's already won 50 percent more games than Ole Miss did last year.

    Gene Chizik has already taken four shots this year:

    1) Clemson

    2) Mississippi State

    3) LSU

    4) Arkansas

    While the LSU loss doesn't look too bad yet, the season has only just begun to fall apart for the LSU Tigers. At the end of the season, that loss to LSU is going to look pretty rough.

    The question everyone will be asking is, "Will Gene Chizik's job be decided by Punxsutawney Phil or Hugh Freeze?"

    Not every bad thing that happens to a team is the fault of the head coach. Player development is determined by strength and conditioning coaches, offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators and position coaches as well.

    However, winning a national championship in your second season only buys you so much time. Gene Chizik is a great man and can do great things. It's just unclear at this point whether that's going to happen at Auburn or somewhere else.

    Either Chizik's staff is holding him back, or he's the problem. That's the problem with being a head coach. Even if the problem is below you, it's harder to prove that without leaving the program. If the program still sucks after you leave, you weren't the problem, but good luck getting your job back.

    When Auburn fans booed him when he stepped off the plane, this season is exactly what they were afraid of. The fact that he won a national championship with Nick Fairley and Cam Newton just makes it feel that much worse. It's like eating the carrot that you were dangling in front of the fans. Now everyone knows the carrot is gone.

    If he can at least take down Ole Miss, the carrot is still there. Chizik needs the carrot; his job depends on it.

15. Will Ohio Get into the Top 25?

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    Folks, it may interest you to know that Ohio is the only bowl-eligible team that is not in the Top 25. While it is usually easy to imagine Ohio losing a game, the biggest test of the year was the season opener against Penn State.

    In case you missed it, Ohio won that game 24-14. Ohio can lose every single game on its schedule for the rest of the season and still go to a bowl game. Plus, it's no longer easy to imagine the Bobcats losing in 2012.

    However, the Bobcats are still not in the Top 25. Some will argue that they haven't beaten anybody. Well, neither has Boise State.

    Here's the deal, Bobcats fans: Boise plays Fresno State this weekend, and Ohio plays Akron. Root for Fresno State with all your might. A world where a 7-0 Ohio team doesn't take the place of a 4-2 Boise State in the rankings does not exist.

14. Will USC Continue Rising or Cement Itself in the Middle of the Pac?

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    There are a lot of factors involved in getting the USC Trojans to the national title game:

    1) USC has to win out, including the Pac-12 title game.

    2) The Big 12 champion has to have a loss. (A one-loss SEC champion might still get the berth.)

    However, if USC makes it through the Washington Huskies this Saturday, the path to the Rose Bowl looks good. Either one win over the Oregon Ducks or zero wins over the Ducks would get USC to the Rose Bowl, assuming Stanford loses to the Ducks.

    The Huskies have home-field advantage over the Trojans in Week 7, but the Trojans will use every weapon they have to ensure the Huskies don't get the win.

    Subplot: Matt Barkley needs to make a statement if he wants to get into the Heisman conversation seriously again. Geno Smith has taken a huge lead in that race.

13. Will the Most Meaningless Run of the Decade Continue?

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    Braxton Miller accounted for over 300 yards of total offense against Nebraska during the 63-38 rout of the 'Huskers.

    While the Buckeyes steamroll their way through the Big Ten conference schedule, there are three things on everyone's mind:

    1) Will Ohio State actually put together an undefeated season for the first time since 2006?

    2) Can Braxton Miller come from behind and win the Heisman over Geno Smith?

    3) Why couldn't the Buckeyes do this when they were actually eligible for the postseason?

    Ohio State fans will not be sad over an undefeated regular season. In fact, it may be fuel for taunting the fans of other Big Ten teams. I mean, when you have literally no hardware to play for and you can still beat everyone else in the conference, that's a gigantic set of bragging rights.

    Ohio State's winning streak should continue this weekend against Indiana, but after the 2009 Purdue debacle, no game is safe.

12. The Most Shocking Team in the Top 10 Hits the Road

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    Oregon State goes on the road to face the unranked BYU Cougars in an attempt to prove that it deserves to be in the Top 10.

    Part of the skepticism is due to the fact that the Beavers just jumped eight spots in two weeks. They did this by winning their games but were greatly assisted by Top 10 teams losing.

    There is no question that they belong in the Top 25. They can further legitimize their presence in the Top 10 with a win over the Cougars.

    The good news for Oregon State fans is that, based on the season so far, the Beavers look really good for a 10-win season or better.

    Oregon State's starting quarterback, Sean Mannion, is out for at least this weekend, which will make the BYU match even more watchable.

11. Missouri's Quarterback

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    James Franklin is reportedly out for two weeks with a strained MCL. While this is clearly a blow to the Tigers, the question isn't about James Franklin as much as it is about Corbin Berkstresser.

    Berkstresser performed well against Arizona State, completing 21 of 41 passes for 198 yards and one interception. While that wasn't great, it was passable. However, he played against Vanderbilt after James Franklin left the game and completed a scant nine of 30 attempts for 189 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

    The story here is his development. Can he develop fast enough to help the Tigers beat Alabama or Kentucky in the two weeks that Franklin will be out?

10. Alabama

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    It may seem odd to have the top team in the nation this low on the list. The fact of the matter is that Missouri will be missing its starting quarterback.

    Alabama's second major test of the season comes on the road at Faurot Field in Columbia. While the Tigers will not likely win this game, there is still a story here.

    With so many teams having been exposed in Week 6, is Alabama really this good, or is it simply untested?

    Alabama needs to absolutely dominate the Tigers, especially with the injury bug having bitten them. If Alabama fails to do so, Oregon is more than willing to take over the Tide's spot at the top.

9. Vanderbilt Attempts to Show the Voters the Error of Their Ways

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    LSU was overrated at No. 2, but very few people saw it until Florida exposed the Tigers' weaknesses and new-found lack of depth.

    Instead of moving Florida up a couple of spots and putting LSU out of the Top 10, the AP poll decided that Florida should jump over Notre Dame, Kansas State and West Virginia and into the Top Five.

    This is a classic case of the AP attempting to cover its butt for being wrong, instead of simply saying, "Whoops! We overestimated LSU's talent after losing five players off the depth chart."

    This wouldn't upset me as much if Florida had to wait a while to prove itself. However, Vanderbilt is followed immediately by South Carolina and Georgia on Florida's schedule.

    Now Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Georgia all have the opportunity to make the voters look silly yet again. As a Bleacher Report writer, that makes me happy. As a college football enthusiast, not so much.

    You can bet that Vanderbilt is happy, though. After watching the Florida vs. LSU game, Vanderbilt has plenty of examples of how to beat the Gators.

    Subplot: Is the Florida run defense as good as it seemed against LSU? Probably so, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

8. Will Kansas State Remain Unbeaten?

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    Kansas State has a road game against Iowa State in Week 7, and a win would keep the Kansas State Wildcats undefeated on the way to a potential Big 12 title.

    Everybody knows what happened last year when the high-octane offense of Oklahoma State met the Cyclones without having taken a loss at the time.

    Iowa State is not to be overlooked, but there's definitely a tale to be told if the Wildcats don't remember that tiny little piece of information.

7. Can Pittsburgh Shake Things Up for the Big East?

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    Pitt hosts Louisville this weekend after a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Syracuse Orange in Week 6. Pittsburgh has the opportunity to end the Cardinals' unbeaten streak.

    Don't forget that Louisville has yet to play a conference game. The Cardinals have done nothing official to establish themselves atop the Big East.

    Pittsburgh can begin to turn its season around by knocking down the AP's favorite to win the Big East.

6. Syracuse Reminding Everyone That It Hasn't Really Lost Anything Yet

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    Syracuse rolls on over to Rutgers with a 1-0 conference record. The Orange have only lost games to Big Ten and Pac-12 opponents, so the Big East title is still attainable.

    Rutgers will gladly put a nail in that coffin, though, so 'Cuse had better be ready to fight for its life. Look for an entertaining football game with plenty of lead changes early on.

    Watch out for Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova. He's passed for 1,119 yards already this year and has seven games left. Syracuse's quarterback, Ryan Nassib, has already thrown for 1,552 yards himself, so look for a shootout here with lots of highlights.

5. Texas Tech Tries to Topple the Mountaineers

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    Texas Tech had allowed no more than 14 points in any game prior to the Oklahoma debacle last week. For those of you who were waiting for the Mountaineers to face a viable defense before putting any faith in them, here is a viable defense.

    If Texas Tech can fix the issues it had against Oklahoma, this will be an exciting game. However, West Virginia is simply looking to win this game so that the biggest game of the year is the Mountaineers vs. the Kansas State Wildcats next week.

    Yes, Texas Tech's only conference opponent before Oklahoma was Iowa State. This isn't the best defense WVU will face, but it would appear to be a little better than the Longhorns'.

4. Red River Rivalry

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    The Texas-Oklahoma game is one of the biggest rivalries in college football. Sure, as teams gain power, there are rivalries that come and go. Those rivalries are temporary and fade almost as quickly as they begin.

    The foundational rivalries of college football are the heart and soul of the sport, and the Red River Rivalry qualifies with flying colors. Texas and Oklahoma will meet again in the Cotton Bowl in 2012 and are both ranked just inside the Top 15 (Texas is at 15 and Oklahoma at 13).

    This will be one of the fiercest battles of the day, eclipsed by only one longstanding rivalry that takes place up north, where it's cold and the only sweet tea tastes like raspberries.

    Red River Rivalry for the win!

3. How Many Points Is Home Field Worth Again?

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    LSU hosts South Carolina in Death Valley at night. It has not escaped me that LSU's night-game atmosphere is one of the roughest ones in college football, but according to SportsBook.ag, LSU is a three-point favorite. According to VegasInsider.com, the Tigers are a 2.5-point favorite.

    That's right—after South Carolina demolished a much better offense than LSU's, LSU is the favorite. After Florida dominated LSU's vaunted defense for half a game and dominated the offense for the entire game, LSU is the favorite.

    The storyline here is whether anyone in the nation is looking at LSU objectively. LSU lost a ton of talent to the NFL and then lost Tyrann Mathieu and lost four more players to academic ineligibility. Last week, Kwon Alexander was injured against Florida and is expected to miss the rest of the regular season (h/t ESPN).

    At what point do we admit that LSU minus 14 or so players is not the LSU that won the SEC last year? No disrespect to Florida for what it did to the Tigers; the Gators played a monster game.

    However, LSU is a shell of its former self, and it feels like there is a black hole of knowledge about that all over the nation. It's either that or LSU's home-field advantage magically hit 14 points because that's what you get when you multiply the "two" and the "seven" from 2007, when the Tigers last won a national championship.

2. UTSA Continues Its Fight for a Conference Title

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    Originally, the NCAA released an amended bowl criteria program that allowed UTSA to potentially reach a bowl game this year, assuming fewer than 70 teams were qualified under the normal standards. Since then, the NCAA has changed its stance on the issue and has disallowed first-year reclassifying teams (h/t San Antonio Express-News).

    Teams that are in their second year are eligible for the amended program, which still leaves Texas State with a pinky toe in the door of the bowl season.

    The good news? Even in its first FBS year, UTSA is eligible to officially win the Western Athletic Conference (including the trophy).

    UTSA is currently 5-0 (1-0) and was on its way to qualifying as a bowl alternate. As of right now, the Roadrunners join Louisiana Tech as the only undefeated WAC teams.

    UTSA is looking to continue that trend with a win over non-conference foe Rice in Week 7. This is a special situation in which a newly-inducted FBS team can win a conference championship.

    It's a storyline worth following to its end, regardless of how it ends.

1. Notre Dame

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    A game involving two ranked teams: check.

    A 5-0 Notre Dame with victories over two ranked opponents: check.

    ESPN's College GameDay on campus: check.

    A BCS bowl contender from the previous season: check.

    If this game doesn't excite you as a college football fan, you have a hatred for either Stanford or Notre Dame that I can't begin to understand.

    Notre Dame has earned its way up the 2012 rankings by winning. Yes, sometimes the wins were ugly, but they still were prettier than the Top Five's losses, right?

    In Week 7, No. 7 Notre Dame hosts No. 17 Stanford in what could be a season-defining victory for either team. With a win, the Irish can almost guarantee a spot in a BCS bowl. Notre Dame would still have to beat either Oklahoma or USC, but even a two-loss Notre Dame could end up 14th or better at the end of the year, which would make it eligible for selection to a BCS bowl.

    This is a must-win for both teams, and watching it will be thrilling. If Notre Dame emerges victorious, don't be surprised by tears of joy in the crowd. The Irish faithful have been patiently waiting for some time, and a 6-0 start to one of their most difficult seasons would be something truly sweet for them.