Featured in the Week 7 games with the most impact on the playoff hunt, we have two of the primary contenders on the road facing opponents in virtually identical situations, a third favorite hosting a long-shot challenger and two undefeated squads that still have a lot to prove before they’re considered championship candidates. Here they are, without further ado.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 11 Tennessee
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS | Pregame.com line: Alabama by 13
For the Crimson Tide, who still have a date with Texas A&M that will almost certainly decide the SEC West, this is not a must-win scenario. But for the Vols, it is exactly that. A second loss would jeopardize Tennessee’s position in the East.
Unfortunately for the Vols, there are a number of factors working against them. Last week’s double-overtime loss at Texas A&M took an emotional toll on the team as well as a physical one, particularly on the defensive side. The Crimson Tide were also on the road last week but had matters in hand most of the way at Arkansas. Tennessee’s top priority must be improving ball security; the Alabama defense has a way of turning opponents’ miscues into immediate points.
No. 2 Ohio State at No. 10 Wisconsin
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC | Pregame.com line: Ohio State by 10
For the Buckeyes, who still have a date with Michigan that will almost certainly decide the Big Ten East, this is not a must-win scenario. It is for all intents and purposes for the Badgers, who could conceivably still win the West but would likely be knocked out of the playoff discussion with a second loss.
Wisconsin might have a better shot at pulling the upset than Tennessee. First and foremost the Badgers are coming off a bye week, and in their most recent outing two weeks ago at Michigan the defense acquitted itself quite well. The Buckeyes, however, have a vast array of offensive weapons, and QB J.T. Barrett finds ways to make one thing work when something else is not. The Badgers will have to establish a consistent ground game to keep the OSU offense off the field as much as possible.
No. 18 West Virginia at Texas Tech
Saturday, noon ET, FS1 | Pregame.com line: Texas Tech by 1
Of the nine remaining undefeated power-five conference teams, WVU is arguably the one we know the least about. This is a function of the Mountaineers having played only four times with two early bye weeks scheduled. We’ll likely know a lot more after this long road trip and an encounter with the Red Raiders’ high-octane offense.
The good news for the Red Raiders is they can score with anybody with QB Patrick Mahomes slinging the pigskin all over the lot. The bad news is they generally have to, as the defense struggles to get stops. Mountaineers’ QB Skyler Howard will be The beneficiary this week in what figures to be another high-scoring affair.
No. 9 Nebraska at Indiana
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2 | Pregame.com line: 3½
The Cornhuskers will face bigger challenges to their top-10 status in the second half of their schedule. But the manner in which they handle this potentially tricky road trip could shed some light on their future odds of success. The Hoosiers sent one ranked visitor home with a defeat already in 2016 and would love to score another upset.
While Indiana’s takedown of Michigan State might not look as impressive in retrospect, the same can be said of Nebraska’s best win to date against Oregon. But while the Hoosiers were able to hang with Ohio State for nearly a half last time out, their other loss was a mistake-filled home setback against Wake Forest, but aside from that outing Hoosiers’ QB Richard Lagow has been accurate. But Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong appears to have better command of second-year coach Mike Riley’s offense and has more explosive weapons in his receiving corps.
North Carolina State at No. 3 Clemson
Saturday, noon ET, ABC | Pregame.com line: Clemson by 17½
According to most observers, the Oct. 29 trip to Florida State is the last remaining hurdle on Clemson’s schedule before the ACC championship game. But the Tigers must first dispatch the upstart Wolfpack. While one shouldn’t ascribe much value to N.C. State’s win against Notre Dame, the same resolve the team showed in the rain might allow them to make things interesting in Death Valley.
On the one hand, better weather conditions should make it easier for NC State QB Ryan Finley to throw the ball. LB Ben Boulware and the stingy Tigers’ defense, however, could be harder to solve than wind and rain. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, meanwhile, appears to have shaken off some early rust and is looking more like the Heisman finalist he was a season ago.
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