College Football Rankings: B/R's Top 25 After Week 7

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVOctober 16, 2022

College Football Rankings: B/R's Top 25 After Week 7

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    KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE - OCTOBER 15: Head coach Josh Heupel of the Tennessee Volunteers celebrates a win over the Alabama Crimson Tide with a cigar at Neyland Stadium on October 15, 2022 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee won the game 52-49. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images)
    Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel (Donald Page/Getty Images)

    Week 7 of the 2022 college football season was a brutal one to be a ranked team playing on the road.

    AP Top 25 teams playing at home went a combined 10-0, starting up top with No. 1 Georgia blanking Vanderbilt 55-0.

    But AP Top 25 teams playing on the road went a combined 1-8, with No. 4 Clemson winning at Florida State as the lone exception to the rule. And even that one got a little dicey with the Tigers almost blowing a 20-point fourth-quarter lead.

    Of course, we knew to expect at least six ranked losses, considering that's how many clashes there were between ranked teams. We just didn't realize home-field advantage would be that critical.

    Three of those ranked-against-ranked games were downright sensational, provided you enjoy points.

    No. 6 Tennessee clipped No. 3 Alabama 52-49. No. 13 TCU knocked off No. 8 Oklahoma State 43-40 in double overtime. And No. 20 Utah ended No. 7 USC's dreams of perfection by a 43-42 final score with Cameron Rising rushing in the game-deciding touchdown and two-point conversion with less than a minute to go.

    After all of the carnage, what do the rankings look like?

    Bleacher Report's college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—each submitted a Top 25 ballot. Here are the consensus results.

    Bleacher Report's Post-Week 7 Top 25:

    1. Ohio State (Previous Week: 1)
    2. Tennessee (6)
    3. Georgia (2)
    4. Michigan (5)
    5. Clemson (4)
    6. Alabama (3)
    7. TCU (12t)
    8. Ole Miss (9)
    9. UCLA (11)
    10. Oklahoma State (7)
    11. USC (8)
    12. Oregon (12t)
    13 (tie). Syracuse (18)
    13 (tie). Wake Forest (14)
    15. Utah (20)
    16. Penn State (10)
    17. Kansas State (16)
    18. Illinois (24)
    19. Cincinnati (22t)
    20. Texas (25)
    21. Kentucky (22t)
    22. North Carolina (NR)
    23 (tie). Mississippi State (17)
    23 (tie). UCF (NR)
    25. Tulane (NR)

    Others Receiving Votes: NC State, Arkansas, Coastal Carolina, Purdue, LSU, Kansas

Who's Hot: Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt and the 6-0 Tennessee Volunteers

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    Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) throws to a receiver during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
    Tennessee's Hendon Hooker (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

    The drought is over.

    Since becoming the head coach at Alabama, Nick Saban had owned Tennessee like few coaches have ever owned a rivalry. Not only was he a perfect 15-0 against the Volunteers, but the Crimson Tide's average margin in those 15 wins was 25.9 points, outscoring them 589-201.

    But at long last, Tennessee got itself an offense that could topple its overlord.

    We got a glimpse of that offense one year ago. Hendon Hooker threw two first-quarter touchdowns in pacing Tennessee to an early 14-7 lead, and he later had a 70-yard touchdown pass to cut Alabama's lead to 31-24 early in the fourth quarter.

    They ultimately lost by 28, but it was the Volunteers' first time scoring more than 21 points against Alabama since 2003.

    This time around, Hooker had a secret weapon: Jalin Hyatt.

    Hyatt made six catches for 207 yards and five touchdowns, repeatedly leaving Alabama safety DeMarcco Hellams either chasing a ghost or too late to make a difference.

    Hyatt scored from 60 yards out in the third quarter and on a 78-yard strike in the fourth, twice giving Tennessee a lead it would lose, even as Alabama racked up 569 yards of total offense and benefited from one of the easiest scoop and scores you'll ever see in football.

    In the end, it was kicking that doomed Alabama.

    Crimson Tide kicker Will Reichard missed a 50-yard attempt that would have put them ahead 52-49 with 15 seconds to play. But instead of OT in Knoxville, Hooker found Bru McCoy down the middle of the field with two seconds remaining, setting up Chase McGrath's 40-yard, game-ending, national-landscape-altering, knuckleball of a field goal.

    The Volunteers are now 6-0 with four wins over ranked teams. Last week's road domination of No. 25 LSU was the eye-opener, but this was the CFP legitimizer.

    They should make light work of UT-Martin next week before the back-to-back showdowns with Kentucky and Georgia. If they beat the Wildcats but lose a competitive road game against the Bulldogs and finish the regular season at 11-1, they're going to have a very strong case for the playoff, even without playing in the SEC championship.

    After what they showed against Alabama, though, you may want to break out the eraser if you had already penciled in a loss in Athens. This offense is very clearly the real deal.

Who's Not: Penn State Nittany Lions

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    ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN - OCTOBER 15: Sean Clifford #14 of the Penn State Nittany Lions attempts a pass during the first half of a college football game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on October 15, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images)
    Penn State's Sean Clifford (Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images)

    To be sure, Michigan looked very, very good and was a strong candidate for this week's Who's Hot designation. The Wolverines had not yet faced a sure-fire bowl team and had a close call at home against Maryland, leaving some to wonder whether they're a legitimate College Football Playoff candidate.

    Those fears should have been assuaged by a 41-17 victory over a Top 10 foe.

    All the same, Penn State did not look good.

    Like, at all.

    On the scoreboard, it was a close game into the third quarter, with the Nittany Lions even taking a 17-16 lead shortly after the intermission.

    But with the exception of two plays—an option on which Sean Clifford ran untouched for 62 yards and a wild double-doink pick-six— Penn State looked over-matched on both offense and defense all afternoon long.

    Even after Clifford's big run—Penn State's only first down of the entire first half—it took the Nittany Lions four plays to punch it in from the Michigan 4.

    And were it not for that pick-six, Penn State would not have gotten a single stop against the Wolverines offense. The only other possession in which Michigan didn't score was when it was just bleeding clock at the end of the game.

    In particular, Penn State got annihilated in the run game, which had been a strong suit up until this point.

    Aside from Clifford's run, PSU had 21 carries for 49 yards. Conversely, Michigan at one point scored on runs of at least 60 yards on back-to-back snaps and finished the afternoon with 12 runs of 10 or more yards.

    Penn State's first five opponents combined for 398 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

    Michigan racked up 418 and four, respectively.

    Penn State's style points (or severe lack thereof) in this game may well have New Year's Six bowl ramifications. If the Nittany Lions look equally hapless two weeks from now against Ohio State, even finishing 10-2 might not be enough to get into the Orange Bowl or the Cotton Bowl.

    Still a little early to pull at that December thread, but the Nittany Lions will plummet in the rankings for this dud.

Fun Fact: Syracuse Is 6-0 for the First Time Since 1987

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    SYRACUSE, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 01: Sean Tucker #34 of the Syracuse Orange scores a touchdown during the first quarter against the Wagner Seahawks at JMA Wireless Dome on October 01, 2022 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images)
    Syracuse's Sean Tucker (Bryan Bennett/Getty Images)

    Prior to this week, AP No. 18 Syracuse was actually already out to its best start in 35 years. But between not facing a single ranked team, barely surviving two of the first five games (vs. Purdue; vs. Virginia), and Kansas' 5-0 record hogging all of the "Can you freaking believe it?" spotlight, the Orange's impressive start flew a bit below the national radar.

    Now, they've taken it one step further, defeating No. 15 North Carolina State 24-9 to improve to 6-0 for the first time since carrying an 11-0 record into the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 1987 campaign.

    Not to take anything away from Syracuse's achievement, but it does need to be noted that the Wolfpack were playing without veteran quarterback Devin Leary. Reports came out just before kickoff that he would have surgery on a torn pectoral muscle and miss the remainder of the season.

    NC State's leading rusher Demie Sumo-Karngbaye also missed this one after taking several big hits in last week's game against Florida State. As a result, the offense was playing with less than a full deck and failed to score a single touchdown.

    Nevertheless, the Orange looked good.

    Maybe not quite "Going to win at Clemson next week" good or "Time to start thinking about the College Football Playoff" good but definitely "Hey, maybe that 5-0 start wasn't a strength of schedule-fueled fluke" good, similar to UCLA's win over then-No. 15 Washington a few weeks ago.

    The Orange marched right down the field for a touchdown on the game's opening drive and proceeded to find the end zone on their only two possessions after halftime.

    Garrett Shrader connected with Oronde Gadsden II eight times for 141 yards and two scores. And despite suffering what appeared to be a lower-leg injury in the first half, Sean Tucker stayed in the game and finished with 18 touches for 112 yards and the other touchdown.

    From here on out, four of Syracuse's final six games are on the road, and even the home games are against Notre Dame and Florida State. 6-0 could easily turn into 6-6 in a hurry.

    But for their best start, since Ronald Reagan was in office, the Orange deserve to be praised, and they deserve to be ranked in the Top 15.

Looking Ahead: Five Ranked vs. Ranked Showdowns as CFP Picture Slowly Takes Shape

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    FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 15: Spencer Sanders #3 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys leaps across the the goal line to score a touchdown against the TCU Horned Frogs during the first half at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 15, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
    Oklahoma State's Spencer Sanders (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

    Similar to Week 7, the overall volume of games in Week 8 is a tad low, with about two dozen FBS teams idle.

    In fact, current AP No. 1 Georgia, No. 5 Michigan, No. 7 USC, No. 15 NC State, No. 20 Utah, No. 22 Kentucky and No. 24 Illinois all have next weekend off to prepare for the latter stages of the regular season.

    Yet, somehow, there is still a colossal AP Top 25 clash in four of the Power Five conferences, including a double dip in the Big 12.

    The biggest one is probably No. 11 UCLA at No. 12 Oregon (3:30 p.m. ET), as the winner effectively takes a 1.5-game lead over the loser in the race for the Pac-12 title game.

    If UCLA pulls off the road upset, going undefeated becomes a legitimate possibility, as the Bruins should be heavily favored in four of their final five games, with a home game against no-longer-undefeated USC as the exception.

    Speaking of undefeated, who could have possibly guessed No. 18 Syracuse would be sitting at 6-0 in advance of this showdown with No. 4 Clemson (Noon ET)? The Tigers will be favored at home, probably by two touchdowns. But this one should dictate who wins the ACC's Atlantic Division.

    No. 22 Texas at No. 8 Oklahoma State (3:30 p.m. ET) is also massive, though Oklahoma State blowing a three-score lead at TCU on Saturday put a bit of a damper on this one.

    There was a whole bunch of "Texas is back" content after the Longhorns destroyed Oklahoma 49-0 in the Red River Rivalry. But they barely survived at home this week against an Iowa State team that is now 0-4 in Big 12 play.

    Was it just a trap game in between the much bigger matchups with the Oklahoma schools, or was it a precursor to a blowout loss at the hands of the Cowboys?

    In the SEC, it'll be No. 16 Mississippi State at No. 3 Alabama (7 p.m. ET), as each team tries to avoid losing to a ranked foe for the second consecutive week.

    Since Mike Leach took the Mississippi State job, Nick Saban's defense has made mincemeat of that air raid offense, outscoring the Bulldogs 90-9 with more defensive touchdowns (two) than touchdowns allowed (zero). Would be a pretty boring primetime game if that trend continues, but we'll see what transpires.

    Last but certainly not least, No. 17 Kansas State at No. 13 TCU (8 p.m. ET) will put a nice bow on a big week. It should be an awesome one between two of the best dual-threat QBs in the country (KSU's Adrian Martinez and TCU's Max Duggan), with the Horned Frogs looking to improve to 7-0 overall and 4-0 against ranked teams in October alone.

    TCU will surely climb into the Top 10 of the next AP poll, and it might even vault into the subsequent Top 5 with a victory over the Wildcats.