Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:02 AM

Essentials - Week 7

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You know it's October when the wind starts picking up, the leaves start changing colors and the college football schedule starts bearing more gifts. There are a number of games that will be among their conference's top matchups for the entire season this weekend. Here's what you need to know about the top tilts:

Georgia (-7/50.5) at LSU, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: This is a graduation game of sorts for the unbeaten Bulldogs. Win and they’ve made it to their bye week unscathed, avoiding three dangerous road obstacles. Winning in each Columbia, South Carolina and Missouri, is no picnic, but conquering Death Valley, especially this season, makes LSU like the boss on a video game level. Lose and you’re at the mercy of the BCS selection committee going forward, not to mention guaranteeing a long bye week before the Cocktail Party against Florida.

The Gators turned back LSU last weekend to keep this from becoming a battle of unbeatens, knocking around Tigers QB Joe Burrow the way no team had previously. We get to see how he bounces back from his first career loss after throwing his first interceptions of the season, the last of which was returned for six. Georgia and LSU don’t play often, so this will be the first meeting since 2013 and first in Baton Rouge since ’09. Kirby Smart ran into the Tigers as a divisional rival when he was defensive coordinator at Alabama, and with Dave Aranda running things on the LSU side, points could be hard to come by. Ed Orgeron has taken some heat over the years, but he’s never lost consecutive games. Jake Fromm hasn’t lost a true road game in his career at Georgia but is expected to lose some snaps to freshman Justin Fields, whose speed offers a different look the Tigers have had to spend time preparing for.

Wisconsin at Michigan (-10/49), 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC: Neither Jim Harbaugh nor Paul Chryst expected to lose two games all season given the talent returning, so the fact one of them will see it happen before the midpoint of October means we’re about to see two desperate teams square off. The Badgers put together their best offensive game of the season in a commanding 41-24 win over Nebraska and will look to run the ball to keep from being subjected to a fierce pass rush that has produced 18 sacks. The Wolverines are tremendous up front and will have DE Rashan Gary available to anchor the group. RB Chris Evans has also been upgraded to probable, so he and Karan Higdon should prove formidable in anchoring the ground game alongside Shea Patterson.

This line opened a lot higher than I expected, so there’s certainly a dynamic of weighing taking an awful lot of points with a Badgers squad that doesn’t get blown out often against the danger that this particular group is unable to answer the bell in Ann Arbor. Safety Scott Nelson will miss the first half due to targeting and DE Isaiahh Loudermilk has been ruled out for Wisconsin, which has definitely seen its defensive depth compromised. It did get good news with D’Cota Dixon being expected to play despite sporting a walking boot mid-week, but he’s nowhere close to being 100 percent. The same can be said for key LB Andrew Van Ginkel, who is listed as questionable. Harbaugh lost last year’s game in Madison 24-10 after posting a 14-7 win in his first encounter with the Badgers back in ’16. The home team has won eight of nine in this series. The Badgers haven’t been this large an underdog since facing Michigan and Ohio State in consecutive weeks in ’16. Wisconsin lost but covered in both.

Washington (-3.5/57.5) at Oregon, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ABC: Since Stanford is already out of the national title picture with two losses, the winner of this Pac-12 duel will carry the flag for the conference going forward. Although the Ducks lost to the Cardinal due to a memorable collapse, the presence of potential No. 1 overall pick Justin Herbert and an extremely manageable schedule going forward give them a chance to climb if they’re able to handle business at home over the Huskies. Washington’s loss to Auburn no longer looks as impressive as it was expected to, but it will have big home games against Colorado next week and Stanford to open November that should keep it in the national picture. So, who survives? Herbert can really improve his draft spot with a strong performance against a Huskies secondary widely respected as one of the nation’s best. He’ll have tight end Jacob Breeland to work with in addition to a stable of backs CJ Verdell, Tony Brooks-James and Darrian Felix all cleared to play.

Washington will have Myles Gaskin available despite a shoulder issue as he looks to build on his 2-touchdown game at UCLA. So long as he holds up, the Huskies can match Oregon’s firepower even if the Quack Attack gets going. Mario Cristobal and his staff come in off a bye week, so they’ll have had ample time to dial up a few surprises for Chris Petersen, who has won the past two meetings with the Ducks after losing his first two contests against them. Jake Browning set a school-record with six touchdown passes the last time he visited Eugene as U-Dub won at Oregon for the first time since 2002. Washington has won the past two meetings by a combined margin of 108-24.

Colorado at USC (-7/57), 10:30 p.m. ET, FS-1: The Trojans are looking up at the Buffs in the South Division, but it’s no surprise to see even this young version favored since they’re a perfect 7-0 against them in Pac-12 meetings. This is by far the best Colorado team in that span, even superior to the 10-4 2016 squad that lost just 21-17 at the Coliseum, covering in their only regular-season conference loss before being demolished by Washington in the title game. QB Steven Montez started in that loss as a sophomore and fared well, but he’s a much more polished product these days, ranking ninth in the FBS in pass efficiency (174.2). WR Juwann Winfree, who had a huge game against USC last season, is hoping to play after missing last week’s game with an ankle injury.

Colorado needs all of its playmakers to prevail on the road given the recruiting advantages the conference power holds, but if it is going to get a win in this series, this appears to be the perfect opportunity. Clay Helton is just 3-2 coming off a bye week but did get a chance to get a number of banged up players healthier. RB Stephen Carr, guard Toa Leobendahan and DT Brandon Pili should all play, while the disruptive Porter Gustin is going to be spry given the time off to rest a gimpy ankle. Wins at USC and Washington next week would thrust the Buffs into the national conversation, but they were extended at home by Arizona State last Saturday and are underdogs in both of these huge tests.

West Virginia (-6.5/56.5) at Iowa State, 7 p.m. ET, FS-1: Oklahoma’s loss at Texas officially made the Big 12 wide open, although I was leaning towards the Mountaineers as the team to beat in the conference before the season even started. The opportunity is going to be there for them, but it won’t come until November to prove it since a bye awaits next week before a Thursday home game with Baylor. That makes this visit to Ames the must biggest obstacle for West Virginia, which handled business on Homecoming against Kansas and hasn’t really been tested yet since a visit to N.C. State was canceled due to a hurricane.

West Virginia's closest game, a 42-34 win at Texas Tech, was only cosmetically tight since the Red Raiders trailed 35-10 at the break. The Mountaineers haven’t trailed all season, so we’ll see how they handle a potentially tight game in Ames, where the Cyclones are known to be rude hosts. Kansas intercepted Will Grier three times in the end zone last week, so that’s where the primary focus for this matchup is. Iowa State held West Virginia at bay in last year’s 20-16 loss that represented the second-lowest scoring output of the season for the Grier-led offense. ISU tripped up Oklahoma State last week behind the passing of true freshman Brock Purdy, who wasn’t expected to be in the mix this season. The Cyclones have receivers who can do damage if Purdy can consistently deliver the ball, so this may certainly wind up as a live ‘dog situation if West Virginia fails to handle adversity well. Standout RB David Montgomery missed last week’s upset but is expected back here with fresh legs. The Mountaineers have won and covered in four straight meetings with Iowa State.

Michigan State at Penn State (-13/53.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN: Keeping Brian Lewerke in the pocket is a priority for the Nittany Lions, who have had a few weeks to stew over their disappointing loss to Ohio State. James Franklin’s priority was moving on from his “great to elite” rant and that game’s mistakes and should have his team ready to play. He’s just 4-5 coming off byes in Happy Valley and 9-7 overall, so history would say it’s no lock that his team will be perfectly refreshed entering this Homecoming game, which adds its own share of distractions. The Spartans lead the country in run defense and should get back RB L.J. Scott, who has been pulled back as a game-time decision due to a hamstring injury in each of the last two weeks. That suggests he’s been close to returning, so it would be a surprise not to see him out there in such a big game.

Michigan State comes off a loss to Northwestern to spoil their own Homecoming and hasn’t looked sharp at all offensively. The defense was unexpectedly carved up last week and has been vulnerable against the pass, so McSorley will have a chance to build on throwing for a season-high 286 yards without being intercepted against the Buckeyes. Electric WR K.J. Hamler is expected to play after taking a hard hit and leaving the Ohio State game. Michigan State has won 25 of its last 35 Big Ten road games, which includes a solid win at improved Indiana two weeks ago. Mark Dantonio is 5-3 against Penn State and has won at Beaver Stadium twice. He’s 3-1 against Franklin. Inclement weather may factor in here since the current forecast calls for rain all morning that may or may not clear by the afternoon kickoff.

UCF (-4.5/81) at Memphis, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC: TIf you’re tired of the Knights finding their way into the national conversation, the Tigers become your best bet to put a stop to it. The University of Central Florida owns the nation’s longest winning streak at 18 games and will make it to 20 if they survive at Memphis since there’s no way East Carolina can compete, even at home. Realistically, all that separates UCF from a Thursday night home date against Temple that would give them the college football spotlight on November 1 is finding a way to outscore the Tigers in what will likely be a track meet at the Liberty Bowl. Check out that total! It's above 80. Because a Sept. 15 road game at North Carolina was canceled by Hurricane Florence, the Knights are making their first appearance in an opposing stadium since an Aug. 30 rout of overmatched UConn.

Memphis has lost at Navy and Tulane, so this is no longer the American Athletic Conference summit meeting it was expected to be when the Tigers were made the overwhelming West Division preseason favorite, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still dangerous. RB Darrell Henderson is the national leader in yards per carry at 11.69 and is a threat to score a touchdown whenever he touches the ball. The Knights have their own version of that in Adrian Killins and the better quarterback in Heisman Trophy candidate McKenzie Milton, but they’re going to need both to produce if they’re going to win a seventh straight road game that doubles as Josh Heupel’s biggest obstacle until he has to visit rival South Florida on Nov. 23. The Knights have beaten Memphis 11 consecutive times, but that means absolutely nothing here.

Missouri at Alabama (-28/74), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Tigers fell short at South Carolina last week and were also taken down by Georgia, so this game could’ve been potentially topped Georgia-LSU as the biggest game in the country had things gone differently. There is some intrigue in that we get to see how Drew Lock fares against a Tide defense that has been vulnerable threw the air at times, so the prolific senior QB could raise his draft stock significantly with a big game. Unfortunately, top threat Emanuel Hall won’t play due to a groin injury that has impacted the team the past few weeks. Nate Brown is out with a similar ailment, so Mizzou will be without key cogs who have combined for 30 catches and nearly 560 yards.

Alabama will be playing its Homecoming game and have upgraded Tua Tagovailoa to probable despite him dealing with a slight knee issue. In looking like an NFL quarterback toying with kids, the Heisman front-runner has led his team to an average of 20.6 points in the first quarter, realistically ending games inside 15 minutes. It remains to be seen whether he throws his first fourth-quarter pass in this one since that would likely mean Lock is having success keeping the Tigers in this by executing a more balanced offense than Mizzou’s pass-happy approach. RBs Larry Roundtree and Damarea Crockett have combined for seven TDs and will play big roles in attempting to give the defense a breather by extending drives and keeping the Tide defense from keying on the passing game. You can’t hang with Alabama by being one-dimensional. Hanging with the Tide may prove to be a futile endeavor as is, although the last two teams have managed to cover the spread late. Missouri is making its first visit to Tuscaloosa and hasn’t played ‘Bama since losing the 2014 SEC Championship game 42-13.

Miami (-7/48) at Virginia, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Cavaliers are also a live home ‘dog this week, getting Miami on the heels of its comeback win over rival Florida State that may have taken its toll despite ending successfully. Virginia is well-coached by Bronco Mendenhall, who is 17-11 in his career coming off a bye and will have a Homecoming atmosphere to work with in Charlottesville. The Canes last lost there in 2014, getting blown out as a 5-point favorite in one of the uglier episodes of the Al Golden era. Mark Richt’s teams have rolled over Mendenhall’s in consecutive seasons by a combined margin of 78-42, overcoming a 21-14 deficit in last year’s game to remain undefeated. He ended a run of three straight UM losses at UVa in his first season, rolling 34-14. Malik Rosier led last year’s comeback in South Florida with some clutch throws, but he’s behind redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry now. The entire team was terrible in the first half against the Seminoles but rallied from 20 points down behind Perry’s four touchdown passes. He’ll be making his first road start against a Virginia team that is perfect at home this season and has won four of five.

QB Bryce Perkins and versatile WR Olamide Zaccheaus have burned their share of defenses and will be looking to burn a Miami defense that will be looking to create miscues in order to win their first league road game since defeating North Carolina last season. The ‘Canes lead the nation in tackles for loss and will have nose tackle Gerald Willis in the mix despite a finger injury as they look to add to their tally of 20 sacks. If Perkins can keep them off balance with his speed and limit mistakes, he can keep Virginia from being its own worst enemy, which should be enough to flirt with an upset. Miami will need its run game to keep pressure off Perry, who should have top receiver Jeff Thomas in the mix despite a knee injury that has affected him all week. Miami is 17-4 SU the week after facing the Seminoles, but has only covered one of those games.

Others to watch: Baylor at Texas, Duke at Georgia Tech, Minnesota at Ohio State, Texas A&M at South Carolina, Pittsburgh at Notre Dame, Boise State at Nevada, Virginia Tech at North Carolina, Temple at Navy, Louisville at Boston College, Florida at Vanderbilt, Nebraska at Northwestern, Tennessee at Auburn, Iowa at Indiana.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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