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College Football 2012 — Week Seven Preview

The Red River Rivalry is one of the highlights of college football season.
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

While there aren’t as many marquee games as last week, we have several intriguing matchups to look forward to this weekend. Saturday features four games between ranked opponents, including one top 10 game in the SEC. Additionally, 14 of the 22 ranked teams in action this weekend are playing road or neutral-site games. So this could be another weekend to be on upset alert.

Here is what to watch for this week in the top 25.

#1 Alabama (5-0) at Missouri (3-3)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on CBS]

Alabama returns from a bye week with the first of two back-to-back SEC road games. The Crimson Tide defense is as dominant as we have seen in recent years in college football, ranking first in the nation in total defense and scoring defense. And, while the offense may not get the attention, they’ve been quietly putting together a championship-caliber season of their own, scoring at least 33 points in every game this season and ranking 17th in scoring offense. Missouri’s first trip through the SEC, meanwhile, has been a bumpy one, suffering three-touchdown losses to Georgia and South Carolina and falling victim to a home upset by Vanderbilt last week. Unfortunately, things don’t get easier for the Tigers with a three-game swing vs. #1 Alabama, vs. Kentucky and at #4 Florida. Mizzou will be without starting quarterback James Franklin, who suffered a sprained MCL last week.

#2 Oregon, BYE

After manhandling then-#23 Washington last week, the Ducks get a week off before returning to action next Thursday night at Arizona State.

#3 South Carolina (6-0) at #9 Louisiana State (5-1)

[Saturday, 8 p.m. on ESPN]

Both teams come into the game with dominant defenses. LSU ranks second nationally in pass defense, third in total defense and eighth in scoring defense. The Gamecocks, however, aren’t far behind, ranking 11th in total defense and fourth in scoring defense. Last week, they held Georgia, which entered the game as the SEC’s top offense, to just 224 total yards. However, LSU has struggled offensively, managing just six points in last week’s loss to Florida and putting up just 50 total the previous two weeks against a terrible Auburn team and FCS Towson. In that three-game stretch, quarterback Zach Mettenberger has completed less than 53 percent of his passes and thrown just one touchdown. The matchup to watch here is the LSU defense against USC running back Marcus Lattimore. Last week, Florida running back Mike Gillislee rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns against the Tigers and the Gamecocks hope to find similar success with Lattimore, the SEC’s second-leading rusher, this week.

#4 Florida (5-0) at Vanderbilt (2-3)

[Saturday, 6 p.m. on ESPNU]

Vanderbilt is coming off an upset win at Missouri, but should face a tougher task this week against a Gators squad that ranks sixth nationally in scoring defense. Coming off a 146 yard, two touchdown effort against LSU, Florida running back Mike Gillislee should be able to find success again this week against a Vandy defense that is giving up 179 rushing yards per game (80th in the nation). This is Florida’s highest ranking since winning the national championship in January 2009.

#5 West Virginia (5-0) at Texas Tech (4-1)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN]

How good is West Virginia’s offense? A Texas player was just named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week for helping the Longhorns only give up 48 points to the Mountaineers. WVU quarterback Geno Smith’s numbers are the kind of things you’d usually only see in a video game—81.4 percent completion percentage, 399.2 passing yards per game, 24 touchdowns and no interceptions. This week, the Mountaineers will face an interesting challenge against a Texas Tech defense that had been ranked number one in the nation in total defense before being lit up for 41 points in last week’s loss to Oklahoma. The Red Raider defense will need to bounce back and at least slow down the Mountaineers to give the Tech offense (21st nationally in scoring offense) a chance.

#6 Kansas State (5-0) at Iowa State (4-1)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on FX]

After knocking off then-#15 TCU on the road last week, Iowa State will return home and try to pull another upset. Unfortunately for the Cyclones, however, while TCU was playing without suspended quarterback Casey Paschall, Kansas State will be at full strength. Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein has already accounted for almost 1,300 total yards and 14 touchdowns. And this year, he’s getting some run support from running back John Hubert (527 yards and eight touchdowns), helping K-State rank ninth nationally in rushing and 11th in scoring. The Wildcat defense is also getting the job done, ranking 16th in scoring defense and holding four of their five opponents this season under 20 points. The Cyclones defense forced five turnovers last week at TCU and will likely need another big game to have a shot at pulling the upset.

#17 Stanford (4-1) at #7 Notre Dame (5-0)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on NBC]

This could be a real throwback, smash-mouth football game as both teams feature strong running games and stout defenses. In last week’s win over Miami, Notre Dame running backs Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III combined for 241 rushing yards and three touchdowns, the first time Notre Dame had two 100+ yard rushers in the same game in 10 years. This week, however, they’ll go against the nation’s #6 rush defense. Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor is third in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game and will look to recapture his 118-yard effort against the Fighting Irish last year. The wild card here could be Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes who, after a slow start to the season, threw for a career-high 360 yards and two touchdowns last week against Arizona. If he can have enough passing success to keep the defense honest and open some running lanes for Taylor, Stanford could have a shot at the road upset in South Bend. Stanford has won three straight in this series after losing the previous seven.

#8 Ohio State (6-0) at Indiana (2-3)

[Saturday, 8 p.m. on Big Ten Network]

After manhandling Nebraska last week, the Buckeyes should be able to make quick work of an Indiana squad that has given up 116 points during its current three-game losing streak. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is running coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense to perfection, already accounting for over 1,800 total yards and 15 touchdowns. The Buckeyes cannot go to the Big Ten title game or a bowl game, but they still have their sights set on the goal of an undefeated season. They will not face another currently-ranked team until their annual rivalry game against #25 Michigan in late November.

#10 Oregon State (4-0) at Brigham Young (4-2)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC]

The Beavers are in the Top Ten for the first time since September 2001, but their quest for a PAC-12 title took a big hit this week when it was announced that quarterback Sean Mannion will be out indefinitely after suffering a knee injury in last week’s win over Washington State. Under Mannion, Oregon State has the conference’s fourth-best offense and #2 passing attack. Mannion will be replaced under center by junior Cody Vaz, who last saw game action in 2010. Vaz and the Beavers could have a tough task against a BYU defense that leads the nation in rush defense, is 12th in passing defense and is giving up less than nine points per game. With neither offense expected to light it up this week (BYU ranks 79th in scoring offense), expect a low-scoring defensive struggle that comes down to whichever team makes the fewest mistakes.

#11 Southern Cal (4-1) at Washington (3-2)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on FOX]

The Huskies were rolled, 52-21, last week by #2 Oregon and things don’t get much easier this week with the Trojans coming to town. While USC’s offense might not be as explosive as the Leinart/Bush era, they have shown flashes of their talent and, most importantly, have been able step on the gas when they needed to (e.g. going on a 38-7 run after falling behind 14-0 to Utah last week). Trojans receiver Marqise Lee continues to be the team’s best offensive weapon, averaging 12.5 yards per reception and scoring seven touchdowns this year. The Huskies rank 97th in the nation in scoring offense and, with a defense giving up over 26 points per game, it will be tough to outscore the Trojans.

Boston College (1-4) at #12 Florida State (5-1)

[Saturday, 5:30 p.m. on ESPN2]

After seeing their national title hopes take a big hit last week, the Seminoles should have the perfect opponent to regroup against. Boston College just lost to Army and is giving up an average of 29 points per game (84th in the nation). Unfortunately for the Eagles, they’ll be going into a hostile road environment against an angry Florida State team looking to take out some aggression. Even with last week’s loss, the Seminoles still rank seventh in the country in both scoring defense and passing defense. FSU running back Chris Thompson has rushed for 515 yards and four touchdowns in his last four games. He should be able to have some success on the ground against an Eagles defense that gives up 259 rushing yards per game (fourth worst in the nation).

#15 Texas (4-1) vs. #13 Oklahoma (3-1)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ABC; game played in Dallas]

This year’s Red River Rivalry features two teams who each come in with a loss, but who both still have high hopes and dreams of a conference title in their sights. Texas lost a 48-45 shootout with West Virginia, but has finally found the consistency at quarterback they’ve been lacking since the departure of Colt McCoy. David Ash ranks third in the nation in pass efficiency and has thrown 11 touchdowns to just one interception this year. He’ll have an interesting matchup against an Oklahoma defense that ranks ninth in pass defense and did a nice job against Texas Tech last week, holding the nation’s seventh-best passing team to 271 passing yards, nearly 90 yards less than the Red Raiders’ average coming in to the game. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones struggled with poor decision making and two turnovers in a Week Four loss to Kansas State, but rebounded with a good game last week. The Sooners will need another solid effort from him against Texas’ #6-rated scoring defense. Oklahoma has won the last two in this series and eight total during Bob Stoops’ 13-year tenure.

#14 Georgia, BYE

The Bulldogs get a week off to regroup from their disastrous 35-7 loss to South Carolina. They return to the field next week at Kentucky.

#16 Clemson, BYE

Clemson needed a fourth-quarter rally to come back to defeat Georgia Tech last week. They now get a week off to regroup and prepare for next week’s matchup against Virginia Tech.

#18 Louisville (5-0) at Pittsburgh (2-3)

[Saturday, 11 a.m. on ESPNU]

After a week off, the Cardinals return to action against Pitt in their last matchup as Big East opponents. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been a solid leader this year, completing 73 percent of his passes while throwing eight touchdowns and no interceptions and leading the Cardinals to their first 5-0 start since their Orange Bowl season of 2006. He’ll be facing a Panthers unit that ranks 22nd nationally in total defense and has come on lately. After giving up 65 total points in season-opening losses to Youngstown State and Cincinnati, Pitt’s defense has rebounded and only given up 41 total points in their last three games.

Tennessee (3-2) at #19 Mississippi State (5-0)

[Saturday, 9 p.m. on ESPN2]

The Bulldogs are off their first 5-0 start since 1999, but will face a tough test this week against a Tennessee offense that leads the SEC in passing and is averaging over 39 points per game. The Vols will face a hard-nosed Mississippi State squad that ranks 11th in scoring defense, giving up just 13.4 points per game. The key to this game could be turnovers—Mississippi State’s defense leads the conference in takeaways, while Tennessee has already turned the ball over 11 times this season.

Syracuse (2-3) at #20 Rutgers (5-0)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on Big East Network]

Off to their first 5-0 start since 2006, the Scarlet Knights have their sights set on a Big East title. Rutgers is getting it done on defense, ranking fifth in the nation in scoring defense and second in rushing defense. This week, they’ll face a Syracuse offense that ranks 87th in scoring and, outside of a 41-point effort in its season opener against Northwestern, has managed just 81 total points in its last four games. Look for a low-scoring game in this one.

Fordham (4-2) at #21 Cincinnati (4-0)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN3]

The Bearcats are making some noise in the Big East, ranked for the first time this season. Cincinnati leads the conference in scoring, total offense and rushing offense. But they’re also getting it done defensively, ranking second in scoring defense. Fordham was added as a late schedule replacement when TCU backed out of its agreement to join the Big East and headed for the Big 12 instead.

#22 Texas A&M (4-1) vs. #23 Louisiana Tech (5-0)

[Saturday, 9 p.m. on ESPNU; game played in Shreveport, La.]

After falling to Florida in its first game of the year, Texas A&M has rebounded nicely with four straight wins, including their first two SEC victories. The Aggies are getting it done on both sides of the ball, ranking eighth nationally in scoring offense and 14th in scoring defense. Freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel has done it with both his arms and his legs, passing for 1,285 yards this year, rushing for 495 and scoring 18 touchdowns. He’ll face a surprising Louisiana Tech squad that is undefeated this year, despite having the second-worst defense in the nation. The Bulldogs have gotten it done in true shootout style, ranking 11th in the nation in total offense and third in scoring. Expect this one to be a high-scoring affair. This game was scheduled to be the season opener for both schools, but the game was postponed due to Hurricane Isaac.

Fresno State (4-2) at #24 Boise State (4-1)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network]

For years, we were used to talking about Boise State’s offense. But this year, the Broncos are getting it done on defense, ranking 16th in scoring defense and second in takeaways. Boise has held four of its five opponents this season to 17 or fewer points. This should be a solid offense/defense matchup with the Boise State defense going against a Bulldogs offense that ranks 14th in passing offense and 19th in scoring.

Illinois (2-4) at #25 Michigan (3-2)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN]

Quarterback Denard Robinson recovered from a disastrous four-interception game against Notre Dame two weeks ago to account for 340 total yards in last week’s 44-13 win over Purdue. Robinson leads the Big Ten in total offense, averaging over 323 yards per game. This week, he should be able to find lots of running room against an Illinois defense that ranks 78th in the nation in scoring defense.

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