Thrilling comebacks, close-calls, and dominating victories were the standout narratives during College Football’s Week 7. It picked up right away with NC State taking No. 3 Clemson to overtime before the Tigers prevailed. And it ended with Alabama asserting themselves as the nation’s clear-cut No. 1. With that said, three of the many prime College Football Playoff contenders survived—just barely—to spend another week in the hunt for conference titles and national semifinal berths. Here are the winners and losers of the week.
Loser: Michigan State. Is there really light at the end of the tunnel? That’s what head Mark Dantonio and all of Michigan State fans are wondering as their record dropped to 2-4 following a confounding loss to Northwestern, 54-40. The latest setback marks the fourth consecutive loss for Michigan State, something Dantonio has never experienced in his career as a head coach (including three years at Cincinnati). Just one year after winning the Big Ten and making the playoff, the Spartans have simply collapsed under the weight of poor quarterback play and a defense that has clearly regressed.
After rotating Damion Terry and Tyler O’Connor with inferior success in prior games – the duo combined to complete 97-of-159 passes for 1,320 yards, 11 TDs and seven touchdowns. Sparty turned to redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke at quarterback. He didn’t do much better, going 12/19 for 99 yards until he was pulled for O’Connor. That sparked the offense, but Michigan State couldn’t get enough stops to stay in the game.
As far as their crippling defense is concerned, Michigan State is now ranked 50th in total defense and 85th in scoring defense nationally. It’s worth mentioning how steep of a drop-off that the Spartans have taken. This once was a unit that prided themselves as a “No-Fly-zone” unit, finishing the past four season in the top 20 of total defense. Now, the Spartans’ D is one that’s surrendering 5.35 yards per play and 378.2 yards per game, respectively.
Winner: West Virginia. Don’t look now but the Mountaineers are methodically moving up in the national polls. Following their drubbing over Texas Tech in Lubbock 48-17, Dana Holgorson has his West Virginia squad 5-0. The Mountaineers have a variety of ways to run the ball, and Rushel Shell had his first 100-yard game of the season while quarterback Skyler Howard ran for 89 yards and threw for 318.
On paper, West Virginia has shown the ability to beat teams handily, averaging a +13.5 scoring margin per game. The biggest question through all of this however is the quality of competition — West Virginia still hasn’t faced a ranked team. After several years of struggling with the transition to the Big 12, this looks like a real breakthrough for Holgorsen. We’ll have a better idea about the Mountaineers in two weeks — they host TCU next Saturday, then go to Oklahoma State — but this has been exactly what they needed over the first half of the season.
Loser: Tennessee. Perhaps the Vols have run out of gas? After surviving a brutal first half of its schedule – against competition such as No. 1 Alabama, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 15 Florida all in a span of four weeks – Tennessee is suddenly laboring. Following their shameful loss to the Crimson Tide 49-10, the Vols no longer control their own destiny in the SEC East race.
During the game, Tennessee provided some positive signs defensively, holding Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts to zero passing touchdowns and forcing the Tide offense to commit three turnovers. However, the Vols’ inability to shut down Alabama’s running game engulfed them, as they allowed 438 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
With so many key Tennessee players on the injury list. The Vols will desperately want another shot at Alabama in the SEC championship game, but after Saturday’s 49-10 loss they’re going to need help. Assuming the Vols win out (they have South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt left), they’ll need Florida to drop one of the following games: Georgia in Jacksonville, at Arkansas, South Carolina or at LSU.
Winner: Ohio State. If there’s one word to describe J.T. Barrett’s performance against Wisconsin last night it would probably be herculean. The burgeoning Heisman hopeful dredged the Buckeyes out of the fire in Madison twice; late in 4th quarter down 23-20 and in the first drive of overtime. Barrett’s total numbers (17/29, 226 yards, 1 TD) didn’t tell the story of the importance he brought to Ohio State’s offense.
Whenever pressure presented itself in the pocket, Barrett’s sharp recognition and composure guided Ohio State out of trouble on occasion. For the game, Barrett rushed for 92 yards and two scores (both coming in 2nd half). So after grinding out a sixth victory, the Buckeyes’ shot at playoff spot remains intact. Ohio State doesn’t face another ranked opponent until the first week of November (at Nebraska), which of course preludes the “Game” with Michigan in Columbus.
What else did we learn?
- Is Nebraska really this good?: For the first seven weeks of the season, the Cornhuskers have quietly made themselves known. Following a workmanlike effort against Indiana, winning 27-22, Nebraska finds themselves as the third unbeaten Big Ten team, behind Ohio State and Michigan. Through their six victories, the ‘Huskers have benefitted from mistake-free football out of quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who sports a 12:4 TD-Int ratio. There’s several things about Nebraska that makes you believe that they can hang with the Big Ten’s best (IE: Ohio State and Michigan). They possess the 17th best scoring defense in the FBS (giving up 18.3 points per game), and 29th best total defense (allowing just 13 offensive TDs on the season). However, a rigid schedule in the second half awaits them as they travel to Madison and Columbus in back-to-back weeks in the end of October and early November. If Nebraska finds themselves with one just one blemish or unscathed in general, then they make a sterling case for a big bowl or playoff bid at seasons’ end.