College football Week 7 preview: Top-10 showdown in Knoxville, undefeated matchups in Big Ten, Big 12
College football fans have reached the cream of the crop of the 2022 college football season.
Week 7 is the loaded baked potato of the season, topped with some BBQ pulled pork as College GameDay travels to Knoxville for a top-10 matchup between No. 6 Tennessee and No. 3 Alabama.
Yes, it’s a dumb analogy, but college football is fun, folks. And you’re going to say that there won’t be a single loaded potato at the thousands of tailgates outside of Neyland Stadium Saturday morning? Please.
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There are six top-25 matchups on Saturday — the most of the college football season — each matchup more delicious than the next.
See how we’re sticking with the food theme?
Let’s take a look at a few games to be aware of Saturday as the college football season kicks off Week 7.
No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 10 Penn State – 12 p.m. ET, FOX
It’s time for Michigan to prove it’s worthy of a top-5 ranking as it welcomes Penn State to the Big House for its first ranked opponent of the season.
It’s the first time the two schools have faced off with both teams in the top 10 since 1997, and the winner will control its destiny in the Big Ten. Michigan has not lost at home since 2020, when Penn State came into the Big House and beat Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines 27-17.
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“Games like this, where there's more national attention, it's always fun,” Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford said. “Games like this, you come to Penn State to play in.”
The quarterback situations could not be more different for the two schools, with Penn State having Clifford, a sixth-year senior, under center, and Michigan going with sophomore J.J. McCarthy.
“He's young, but he's experienced” Penn State cornerback Kalen King said. “He's got like a certain swagger to him that not a lot of quarterbacks in the country have.”
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The key matchup will be between Michigan’s rushing attack and Penn State’s run defense. Michigan averages 212.3 yards per game on the ground, while the Nittany Lions' defense is fifth in the country in run defense, allowing just 79.8 yards per game.
“We know that these types of games every year are critical,” Penn State coach James Franklin said, according to ESPN.
No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Alabama – 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
It's arguably the biggest game of the year in college football, as Tennessee looks to knock Alabama off its SEC perch.
It’s been since 2006 that Tennessee beat Alabama, but Saturday represents its best chance to flip the script.
The health of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young is a major story heading into Saturday after Young missed Alabama’s close win over Texas A&M in Week 6. Young will be a game-time decision on Saturday, a player Alabama will desperately need to keep up with Tennessee’s absurdly high-powered offense.
Alabama will lean on it's SEC-best rushing attack (257.2 yards per game) as it faces the conference's second-best rushing defense (89.2 yards allowed per game).
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Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker has thrown for 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions as Tennessee leads the country in yards per game (547.8), is seventh in the country in passing yards per game (340.4) and is second in the country in points per game (48.8).
“They're probably one of the most explosive offenses, if not the most explosive offense, in the country,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said, according to ESPN.
Led by Will Anderson, Alabama’s defense will face its toughest test of the season and will be Tennessee’s toughest defensive opponent.
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“He's tall, for one, and he can move really well in and out of the pocket, Anderson said of Hooker this week, according to 247 Sports. “He can extend plays. But he also can make throws. That's one of his best abilities with his game. He can run, but he can also extend plays with his arm as well.”
The Crimson Tide defense is ranked sixth in the country in yards per game (250.8), 12th in passing yards (166.3 yards per game), and eighth in rushing yards per game (84.5).
But Alabama hasn’t faced an offense like Tennessee’s or a crowd like the one that awaits at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“The fans are going to be loud. It's going to be a hostile environment,” Anderson said. “We just have to be prepared as we always do to go in, play our game, ignore the crowd, be locked in, have everybody do our job and have fun.”
No. 13 TCU vs. No. 8 Oklahoma State – 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
With Oklahoma in an absolute free fall, the Big 12 is up for grabs, and Oklahoma State and TCU are hoping to slide in.
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It’s the second game against a ranked opponent for the Cowboys and the third in a row for TCU.
“When you have a lot of hype, there is a feeling in pregame warmups that is different than without that. I still feel that,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. “I always hear coaches say this is what I coach for, and some players say this is what I play for. I like the 28-point spread games, they're much more enjoyable for me. When we're in these games and get going, the crowd and the pageantry of college football is pretty special.”
It’s offense vs. offense in Fort Worth with both teams averaging 46.4 points per game.
TCU head coach Sonny Dykes has his offense rolling and coming off a 38-31 win over then-undefeated Kansas. The Horned Frogs' offense ranks third in the country in yards per game (530.0) with a balanced attack.
TCU quarterback Max Duggan leads the Big 12 in touchdowns (14) and has completed 73% of his passes. On the ground, TCU is averaging 230.2 yards per game with Kendre Miller leading the way with 474 total yards and six touchdowns.
Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders is no slouch himself, leading the Big 12 in yards per game (327), passing yards per game (278.8) and total touchdowns (18).
The last time these two teams met, Mike Gundy’s team crushed TCU 63-17.
No. 18 Syracuse vs. No. 15 N.C. State – 3:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network
It’s the best start since 1987 for Syracuse, and a matchup with No. 4 Clemson is on the horizon. But Dino Babers and his Orange will have to get through a good N.C. State team first.
It’s a matchup of two stout defenses, with Syracuse 10th in the country in yards allowed per game (271.6) and points allowed (14.0 per game). N.c. State comes in allowing just 297.8 yards per game and 15th in the country in points allowed (15.7 points per game).
“This is 15 rounds, heavyweight,” Babers said this week, according to 247 Sports. “You’re going to get hit really, really hard. How you handle that is going to affect the game. It’s going to be everybody that’s out there on the football field. It will be a physical contest.”
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N.C. State quarterback Devin Leary’s status is uncertain after injuring his shoulder against Florida State in Week 6.
“Devin is super tough, and he'll grind,” Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren said Monday, according to ESPN. “It could be this week, or it could be six weeks.”
Backup QB Jack Chambers, who transferred from Charleston Southern in May, replaced Leary against Florida State, attempting just one pass.
“Jack's had 400-yard passing games before. He can throw the football,” Doeren said. “If we're going to get into a game and have to chuck it around, we feel great about him. But everybody's on deck as we get Devin ready to play.”
Saturday’s game will be the first that a ranked Syracuse team has welcomed a ranked team to the Carrier Dome since 1998.
No. 22 Kentucky vs. No. 16 Mississippi State – 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Mississippi State needs to win to keep pace with Ole Miss and Alabama in the SEC West, and Kentucky simply needs to stop the bleeding.
Mike Leach’s Bulldogs have won three straight since losing to LSU in mid-September, and the offense has averaged 42.3 points per game during the stretch. They’ve done it behind the top passer in the SEC – Will Rogers – who leads the conference in passing yards (2,110) and touchdowns (22).
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He earned high praise from Leach after Mississippi State’s win over Arkansas in Week 6. Leach told reporters Rogers belongs in the Heisman conversation.
“I don’t think there’s any question whatsoever,” Leach said, according to Saturday Down South. “I’m extremely curious who somebody thinks is ahead of him. (Somebody) just selects the biggest team they can think of, and some of them will just randomly stick a guy on a list.”
Kentucky has dropped two straight since climbing as high as No. 7 in the country. It lost to unranked South Carolina in Week 6 without the services of quarterback Will Levis, who was out with a foot injury.
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Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops provided positive news on Levis earlier this week.
“I feel like, barring any setbacks, he should be good to go,” Stoops said, according to 247 Sports. “He was out there Monday and Tuesday, and we practice this afternoon, and we expect he’ll be out there [Wednesday]. We hope he's at or near full strength.”
Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., who made his season debut in Week 5, rushed for 126 yards on 22 carries against South Carolina.
No. 20 Utah vs. No. 7 USC – 9 p.m. ET, FOX
In his first year in Los Angeles, head coach Lincoln Riley has USC off to its best start since 2006, but Utah presents the first ranked opponent of the season for the Trojans.
The Utes are coming off their second loss of the season – a 42-32 loss to UCLA – but will still be a dangerous team for undefeated USC.
Utah has the top defense in the Pac-12 (315,8 yards per game) with a pass defense that is first in the conference in yards allowed through the air (179.3). They’ll be looking to shut down the connection between USC quarterback Caleb Williams and wide receiver Jordan Addison.
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Addison, who transferred from Pittsburgh during the offseason, leads the Trojans with 32 catches for 479 yards and six touchdowns.
“He’s done a nice job for us,” Riley said of Addison, according to 247 Sports. “I mean, we had a couple of real opportunities to get to him the other night. And he’s obviously had a really good first half of the season, but I think he’s primed to play really well for us here in the end.”
Utah has won 12 straight games at home.
The Associated Press contributed to this report