B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 7
Five ranked teams (Florida, Miami, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Texas) suffered road losses during Week 6 of the 2020 college football season, and two others (Auburn and BYU) nearly lost at home to unranked foes.
Already this week, No. 21 Louisiana lost to (still undefeated and needs to be ranked next week) Coastal Carolina.
What else does Week 7 have in store?
Does Alabama or Georgia get the early leg up in the race for a spot in the College Football Playoff?
Can Texas A&M build on its win over Florida with a road win over Mississippi State?
Will the Friday night boogeyman come for SMU and/or BYU?
Is Trevor Lawrence going to throw a pick for the first time in nearly a year?
Bleacher Report's college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Joel Reuter and Brad Shepard—have predictions for each of those questions and more in advance of what should be another stellar weekend of collegiate pigskin.
The one thing we cannot predict? Which games will actually get played. Already this week, three games involving AP Top 10 teams (No. 7 Oklahoma State at Baylor, No. 8 Cincinnati at Tulsa and LSU at No. 10 Florida) have been postponed because of COVID-19 outbreaks, and the even bigger virus news was that Alabama head coach Nick Saban tested positive Wednesday. Stay safe and stay smart, folks.
No. 3 Georgia at No. 2 Alabama: Who You Got?
This is the latest in the long line of matchups dubbed "The Game of the Century." Yes, that's a lazy, overused moniker, but this SEC slugfest should be one of the best games of college football's regular season.
And I've gone back and forth on the winner.
It's a classic showdown between strengths—Alabama's elite offensive playmakers against the nation's best defense. While the Crimson Tide would love to erase the defensive game film from last weekend's 63-48 survival against Ole Miss, they won't face anywhere near that level of weapons, dynamic scheme or frenetic tempo against Georgia.
Plus, it isn't like 'Bama lacks talent on defense, and it now feels like defensive coordinator Pete Golding is coaching for his job. There's going to be a sense of urgency on that side, and it's doubtful Nick Saban's team—even if the man himself is unable to be on the sideline—gets embarrassed on defense two weeks in a row.
In the end, I don't believe either team is going to shred the other with the running game, and that means Mac Jones vs. Stetson Bennett. It's about time for the former walk-on to turn into a pumpkin. The clock will strike midnight on Bennett and Georgia with a 30-24 'Bama win.
Everyone wants to paint this game as a battle between the nation's best offense (Alabama) and its best defense (Georgia), which it is. But the deciding factor is going to be how terrible Alabama's defense truly is.
Aside from Patrick Surtain II, Alabama had to replace its entire starting secondary from last season, and it has shown. This program averaged at least 4.7 passes defended per game in every season from 2009 to 2019. Thus far this year? 3.0. You can blame last week's defensive disaster on Lane Kiffin's ingenuity and style if you want, but that doesn't explain tight end Kenny Yeboah running wide-open down the middle of the field on several occasions, nor does it explain the litany of missed tackles on both Ole Miss running backs.
Maybe it will improve. Maybe it happens in this game. Right now, though, that Alabama defense is bad. And while Georgia's offense is hardly a juggernaut, the Bulldogs are good enough to capitalize on arm tackles and open receivers.
I think Georgia wins 42-37. But, really, I just hope we get a marquee game that actually lives up to the hype for a change. Even after Texas A&M-Alabama, Auburn-Georgia, Miami-Clemson and Tennessee-Georgia in the past two weeks, we're still waiting for our first top-15 showdown decided by fewer than 21 points.
Do No. 15 Auburn and No. 11 Texas A&M Both Survive Their Road Tests?
I believe Auburn will win at South Carolina and cover the small spread. The Tigers have been extremely inconsistent, for sure, but they can control the game if they minimize South Carolina's success on the ground. (In fairness, you could suggest the same for the Gamecocks if you don't trust Auburn's passing game.) I think Auburn's defense wins out in a relatively low-scoring matchup.
Wouldn't it be so perfectly on-brand for Mike Leach and Mississippi State to beat Texas A&M? Knock off LSU, lose to Arkansas—which hadn't won an SEC game in three years—look terrible at Kentucky, beat another ranked team. That's the full Leach Experience. The Aggies just lost receiver Caleb Chapman to a season-ending injury, so that adjustment is worth watching. I'll stick with the Aggies, though, simply because I cannot trust Mississippi State's offense right now. Could be great, might be awful again.
I don't think they'll both survive. In fact, I'd say it's more likely that both Auburn and Texas A&M lose.
The Aggies took a big step forward with their win over Florida last week. However, their defense was still quite bad and their breakout star from that game (Chapman) suffered a season-ending knee injury. The former of those two concerns is most troubling in advance of this road trip to Starkville. Back-to-back opponents have completed better than 70 percent of pass attempts for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns against this secondary. No time like the present for Mississippi State's Air Raid offense to snap out of its funk. And for all the Bulldogs' offensive woes the past two weeks, their defense has been pretty good.
At least A&M has positive momentum, though. Auburn's last two games were a there-was-never-a-doubt loss to Georgia and a controversial, last-second, home win over Arkansas. Every year, we're all obligated by some unwritten rule to believe that Auburn is a top-10 team until it definitively proves that it is not, and I think a loss to South Carolina will be that turning point this year. Bo Nix is struggling, and so is this defense. The combination of Kevin Harris and Shi Smith will lead the Gamecocks to an upset.
Over/Under 45.5 Points Between Unranked Kentucky and No. 18 Tennessee?
I actually like the over quite a bit. No, this is not the sexiest total on the board. No, I don't see these two teams scoring 70 points like I think we'll see in other games around the country. But both offenses are functional. Both defenses are good but not great. This has the makings of a solid 28-24 football game.
Tennessee ran into a brick wall last week. That happens when you play Georgia sometimes—especially a Dawgs team with this kind of defense. Kentucky was solid in posting 24 points against Mississippi State, and I could see that output improve as time progresses.
Overall, these two teams feel evenly matched. The six-point spread in Tennessee's favor is about right. My only concern in betting the over is with the quarterbacks. Jarrett Guarantano can be good in stretches and let's say not so good in others. Terry Wilson can be explosive, although consistency here is also a concern.
If one or both of these QBs thrives, I feel like we'll see more points than the oddsmakers expect. Also, if you're going to pick the over, you have to do a weather check. The weather folks, who are never wrong, have this looking like a perfectly sunny, 65-degree day. Translation: An ideal day for touchdowns.
For what it's worth, this was originally going to be a question about the seemingly limitless potential for points in the LSU-Florida game. But with that one postponed, we're shifting focus to an SEC game that...might actually have some good defense?
Kentucky and Tennessee are two of the four teams in this conference holding opponents below both 400 yards of total offense per game and 5.5 yards per play. The Wildcats and Volunteers also both rank in the bottom five in the SEC in total yards on offense, so a rock fight is at least within the realm of possibility, if not the most likely result here.
I have been particularly unimpressed with Kentucky's offense, which has produced just 463 total passing yards through three games. The run game hasn't been anything special, either, outside of the game against the Ole Miss defense. And "Ole Miss defense" is probably the biggest oxymoron in college football these days.
I've got Tennessee winning 27-14, which means I'm taking the under here.
Will a Ranked Team Suffer a Loss Friday Night?
With Shane Buechele (1,326 passing yards, 10 TD) and Ulysses Bentley IV (412 rushing yards, 7 TD) leading the way on offense, I expect No. 17 SMU to win comfortably over Tulane in what will be the Mustangs' third road game of the year.
The No. 14 BYU at Houston game is a much more compelling matchup.
BYU has been a juggernaut to this point, outscoring opponents 175-44 during a 4-0 start. But the Cougars didn't exactly steamroll a middling UTSA squad last week in a 27-20 victory during which they allowed a season-high 359 total yards.
Meanwhile, after a sluggish start in the first quarter of their opener against Tulane last week, Houston looked very much like the team many were expecting to make some noise in the AAC this year. After falling behind 24-7, they finished the game on a 42-7 roll, including 21 unanswered points to close things out.
Assuming those early issues last week were simply first-game jitters and rust, Houston is more than capable of pulling off the upset. Houston 34, BYU 28.
I don't know why, but weird things tend to happen when ranked teams play Friday night games on the road. For the elite squads, it's usually fine. But for teams ranked in this range, wins are anything but guaranteed. Just last season, we saw No. 10 Utah lose at unranked USC in Week 4, No. 18 UCF lost at unranked Cincinnati two weeks later, and No. 20 Virginia lost to unranked Miami the following Friday.
But I'm going to ignore that nugget of information and say that both SMU and BYU survive.
In the first game, Tulane can't pass the ball to save its life thus far, nor does it have a good enough secondary to contain Shane Buechele. The Green Wave could make things interesting with their potent rushing attack, but I will always trust an experienced gunslinger to beat a strong backfield in a shootout.
In the late game, I can't envision Houston getting stops against BYU's potent offense. The Texas-based Cougars have only played one game, and the defensive stats looked great against Tulane, but they had one of the worst defenses in the country over the previous two seasons. Against the Utah-based Cougars who are much more dangerous on passing plays, I suspect we'll see that old Houston defense resurface in a comfortable BYU victory.
Which Game Between Unranked Teams Will Be Most Entertaining?
This is one of the toughest questions of the year so far because there are two absolute beauties on the docket.
Arkansas should be 2-1 after getting robbed against Auburn a week ago, and now the Razorbacks have to play Lane Kiffin's Ole Miss Rebels in a game that will match elite offensive acumen against Barry Odom, arguably one of the top three defensive coordinators in the SEC.
But I can't quit thinking about UCF-Memphis, so that wins by a narrow margin. With College Football Playoff aspirations out of the way for these two explosive teams after the Knights' loss to Tulsa and the Tigers' setback against SMU, this is going to be a gloves-off offensive free-for-all.
There could be 100 points scored between these two prolific offenses, led by quarterbacks Dillon Gabriel and Brady White. With SMU losing star receiver Reggie Roberson Jr. and running back TJ McDaniel for the year, this game still has tons of AAC ramifications, too. Either of these teams could wind up challenging Cincinnati in the end. UCF ultimately is going to win this one, something like 48-45.
For most weeks thus far, this "unranked teams" question has been like trying to decide which vegetable you hate the least. But this week, it's more like choosing a favorite ice cream flavor.
By a slim margin over Ole Miss at Arkansas and Army at UTSA, I think the pick here is UCF at Memphis.
Both AAC squads have gotten off to a disappointing start with one loss, and the loser of this game is going to be doing some soul searching for the next week. This matchup has been awesome in recent years, though. The 2017 AAC championship went to two overtimes. In the regular-season matchup the following year, UCF erased a 16-point deficit to win by one point. And in the 2018 conference title game, Darriel Mack Jr. had four rushing touchdowns in the second half to lead the Knights to a come-from-behind victory.
"Entertaining" doesn't always have to mean "points," but it will in this case. I expect both teams to put up 30-plus points for the fourth consecutive meeting.
More Rushing Yards: Notre Dame vs. Louisville or North Carolina at Florida St.?
The Louisville run defense has been passable this season, allowing 156.8 yards per game. The Cardinals are not going to shut down a Notre Dame running game that is averaging 270.7 yards per contest, but they're good enough to avoid getting completely embarrassed.
Florida State, on the other hand, is ripe for another embarrassment after coughing up 353 yards on the ground against the aforementioned Fighting Irish just last week. While that was going on, North Carolina was running wild against Virginia Tech with 43 carries for 399 yards and five touchdowns.
Javonte Williams and Michael Carter both went over 150 yards in that one, and they should push for another 300-plus combined yards on the ground against the Seminoles. Look for the Tar Heels to build a big early lead and cruise to victory.
I expect both teams to surpass 250 yards rushing in blowout wins, but North Carolina will push closer to the 400-yard mark once again against a floundering Florida State defense.
This is a really tough call. Florida State's run defense has been significantly worse than Louisville's thus far this season, but Notre Dame is slightly more committed to the run than North Carolina is. Plus, the Fighting Irish have the scrambling factor with Ian Book. Notre Dame's QB already has more rushing yards (79) and touchdowns (four) in three games this season than Sam Howell has in his 16-game career (65 and one, respectively).
But I'm going to put my faith in the awfulness of the Seminoles defense and go with the Tar Heels here.
Take out the Jacksonville State game and Florida State has allowed 6.0 yards per carry and 238.0 rushing yards per game. Michael Carter and Javonte Williams ruthlessly gashed Virginia Tech's front seven last Saturday, and I think they'll go off for at least 275 combined yards again this weekend.
It's probably going to be something like 300 yards for North Carolina and 260 yards for Notre Dame.
Will Trevor Lawrence Extend His Interception-Free Streak to 13 Games?
Yes, the streak continues. Now, the problem with this prediction is it can be ruined quickly by a tipped ball or a wideout juggling a catchable pass. Things happen. There are bad interceptions and unlucky ones, but Trevor Lawrence doesn't seem bothered or impacted by either at the moment.
Everything about his game feels improved. The tempo, the accuracy, the aggressiveness. This is what an elite quarterback at the college level is supposed to look like. After struggling some early last year, Lawrence has looked like the QB we expected to see coming out of high school.
This is also terrible news for Georgia Tech, which is roughly a four-touchdown underdog in this game. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a quality win over Louisville. This game will also be played at home. They have some fun, young players. Things are looking up long-term.
But probably not here. And there's no reason to believe Lawrence will be anything but the quarterback we've seen. Sure, maybe he finally throws a pick. (I'm going to say no, but maybe he does.) He'll have a superb game either way.
For some incomprehensible reason, Georgia Tech's secondary has had Lawrence's number. He has thrown three interceptions in 41 pass attempts (7.3 percent) against the Yellow Jackets compared to nine interceptions in the other 879 pass attempts (1.0 percent) of his college career.
It's not like Georgia Tech has a ball-hawking defense. The Ramblin' Wreck only picked off seven passes in the entire 2019 season, and they have three interceptions against 143 pass attempts thus far this year.
So, no, I'm not expecting Lawrence to throw a pick in this game. Are you kidding me? That dude has been flawless for almost an entire calendar year. Projecting Lawrence to throw an interception is almost like expecting Rafael Nadal to lose at the French Open.
Even if he does end up tossing an interception in this game, it won't make a difference. It would just mean Clemson wins by, like, 29 instead of by 36.
If No. 8 Cincinnati Runs the Table, What Are Its Odds of Making the CFP?
Better than zero but less than 1 percent? If I may—and I will, because I'm in charge of this keyboard—let's add BYU to the conversation. BYU has a stronger offense than Cincinnati, but both defenses rank in the top 10 nationally in yards allowed per play. I fully anticipate both programs will be in the New Year's Six bowl picture.
Since the Big Ten and Pac-12 are returning to play, however, I find it extremely difficult to believe the CFP committee will take a non-Power Five team. It stinks! Probably not fair, ultimately. Add this discussion as yet another reason I'm not opposed to an expanded playoff field. Still, this is the reality of the CFP until we see otherwise.
First of all, I don't believe the Bearcats are running the table. Turns out they won't be able to lose this weekend since their game against Tulsa was postponed. But if they're able to play next week, they might lose next at SMU. The subsequent home game against Memphis won't be easy. And even if they successfully navigate those landmines, there's still the road trip to UCF on Nov. 21. We're talking about a one-in-100 type of scenario.
But, in a world where Cincinnati does go undefeated, its College Football Playoff odds are certainly better than one-in-100.
No Pac-12 team is going to be able to put together a better resume than Cincinnati would have with wins over Army, SMU, Memphis and UCF, plus a second victory over one of those latter three teams in the AAC championship. The only Big 12 team with any hope at this point is Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys will be toast if and when they suffer their first loss.
At that point, it's really just a question of whether Cincinnati can edge out the second-best teams from the ACC, Big Ten and SEC.
The ACC probably won't be an issue, unless it's undefeated Clemson against undefeated North Carolina in the championship game. Otherwise—assuming Clemson runs the table—the ACC's runner-up will have at least two losses and almost certainly rank behind Cincinnati. The Big Ten will be tougher, because I could see Penn State going 8-1 with its lone loss coming against undefeated Ohio State—or vice versa, depending on what happens on Halloween. But I suspect the SEC will be Cincinnati's undoing, because even a two-loss runner-up in that conference is going to have several outstanding wins on its resume.
Maybe Cincinnati could get in if all heck breaks loose in the SEC, but given what we presently know, I'd say an undefeated Bearcats team has about a 5 percent chance of getting a shot at a national championship.