College News & Analysis

College Football Week 7 Preview: Storylines, matchups and predictions for the biggest games

Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Milroe (4) celebrates with quarterback Bryce Young (9) after throwing a touchdown pass against the Texas A&M Aggies during the first half at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

• Previewing the biggest Week 7 games in college football: Penn StateMichigan, AlabamaTennessee, Oklahoma StateTCU, NC StateSyracuse, Mississippi StateKentucky and USCUtah.

• Six Week 7 ranked games: That's the most in a regular season week since 2017.

• Bryce Young's availability: It's the biggest storyline of the week with No. 3 Alabama traveling to face No. 6 Tennessee.

Estimated Reading Time: 9 mins

If you had any plans on Saturday, cancel them.

That’s because there are SIX games between ranked teams in Week 7, which hasn’t happened in five years for a regular season week. Two of those games are between top-10 opponents, with another three being between top-20 foes. Here are the storylines to know, matchups to watch and predictions for what should be a historically awesome weekend of college football.


No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions at No. 5 Michigan Wolverines

How to watch: 12:00 p.m. ET on FOX

Storyline to know: Who’s Ohio State’s biggest threat in the Big Ten?

Both Michigan and Penn State enter their showdown with an undefeated record and a top-10 ranking, the first time in 25 years that has happened. 

There’s little doubt that second-ranked Ohio State is the team to beat in the Big Ten, but Saturday should show who the Buckeyes' biggest challenger is.

Matchup to watch: Can Penn State contain Blake Corum?

Corum is arguably the best running back in college football right now. He’s currently the second-highest-graded back in the country (90.2) and has the best Heisman odds at the position, according to BetMGM, at (+2000). Michigan has relied on him for much of its offense, too. His 118 carries are the sixth-most among Power Five backs. 

Penn State’s run defense will need to step up to pull off the upset. Fortunately for them, the unit has thus far. The Nittany Lions have allowed only -0.324 expected points added per run play this year, fifth-fewest among Power Five teams. 

Prediction: Michigan 31, Penn State 23

Against a stout Michigan defense, Penn State’s offense will struggle to keep up. The Wolverines emerge victorious, all but ensuring that their season finale against Ohio State will be a de facto College Football Playoff game.


No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide at No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers 

How to watch: 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS

Storyline to know: Will Bryce Young be able to go?

Alabama was without Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young last week against Texas A&M due to a shoulder injury, and the Crimson Tide almost suffered their first loss because of it. They needed a last-second goal-line stop to escape with a 24-20 victory.

In Young’s stead was redshirt freshman Jalen Milroe, who has struggled mightily thus far. His 29.6 passing grade is the lowest among FBS quarterbacks this season by over five points. Against a high-powered Tennessee offense, Alabama will need Young back to keep up.

Bryce Young vs. Jalen Milroe | 2022
Name Overall grade Rank among 150 FBS quarterbacks
Bryce Young 91.7 2nd
Jalen Milroe 49.5 147th

Matchup to watch: Tennessee’s offense vs. Alabama’s defense

If Young is still sidelined, the Crimson Tide will need their defense to carry them to victory. Fortunately for them, there isn’t a better one in the country. Alabama has the top defense in the country, according to PFF’s power rankings, with the Power Five’s second-best marks in team defense grade and EPA allowed per play. 

They’ll have their hands full with Tennessee, which has the third-best EPA per play rate in the country. The Volunteers are led by quarterback Hendon Hooker, who’s currently tied with Bryce Young for the third-best odds (+1400) to win the Heisman Trophy, according to BetMGM

The key for the Crimson Tide will be to create pressure on Hooker, who has the seventh-lowest passing grade under duress among Power Five quarterbacks this season. Leading that charge will be Will Anderson Jr., who tallied the most pressures in the country in both 2020 and 2021. This season, he sits at eighth in the nation with 26. 

Prediction: Alabama 35, Tennessee 28

Alabama fans should be crossing their fingers and toes for Bryce Young to be ready for Saturday. If he is, Alabama will pull out the win. 


No. 8 Oklahoma State Cowboys at No. 13 TCU Horned Frogs 

How to watch: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC

Storyline to know: Who will be the final undefeated team in the Big 12?

For the first time in five years, Oklahoma State and TCU meet as undefeated teams, the final two remaining in the Big 12 conference.

Neither is very battle-tested yet, though. They’ve played two of the 35 easiest schedules in the country, according to PFF’s power rankings. Saturday will change that and should determine which Big 12 team is a legitimate contender to make the College Football Playoff. 

Matchup to watch: TCU’s offense vs. Oklahoma State’s defense

TCU trails only Ohio State in terms of the nation’s highest EPA per play mark this season, thanks to star skill-position players. Quarterback Max Duggan has the highest passer rating in the country right now (142.0) and the lowest uncatchable pass rate (10.6%). Wide receiver Quentin Johnston was recently mocked in the first round by PFF lead draft analyst Mike Renner and is coming off a 206-yard performance against Kansas. And Kendre Miller has forced 0.36 missed tackles per attempt this season, the eighth-highest rate among Power Five running backs.

Oklahoma State fields a top-20 defense, per PFF's power rankings, mainly due to its front four. The Cowboys' defensive line has an 80.7 grade as a unit, which is a top-10 mark in the Power Five. And that includes three of the Big 12’s nine highest-graded edge defenders: Tyler Lacy, Brock Martin and Collin Oliver

Prediction: Oklahoma State 34, TCU 33

This game will come down to the wire, but Oklahoma State will emerge as a legitimate College Football Playoff contender and the last unbeaten standing in the Big 12. 


No. 15 N.C. State Wolfpack at No. 18 Syracuse Orange

How to watch: 3:30 p.m. ET on ACC Network

Storyline to know: Is Syracuse for real?

Syracuse is one of only 13 undefeated Power Five teams remaining, yet it’s still unknown how legitimate the Orange are. Syracuse has played the third-easiest schedule among Power Five schools, according to PFF’s power rankings.

That will change over the second half of the season, though, with the Orange playing the ninth-hardest remaining schedule remaining in the country. No. 15 N.C. State should provide a good indication of whether Syracuse is a contender or pretender in the ACC. 

Matchup to watch: Will Devin Leary be able to play?

Working in Syracuse’s favor is the fact that N.C. State quarterback Devin Leary might not be available. He injured his shoulder in the win over Florida State last week, and head coach Dave Doeren said his status for Saturday is up in the air. 

If Leary is out, redshirt senior Jack Chambers will start for the Wolfpack. The Charleston Southern transfer has earned just a 39.5 passing grade on the season, the second-lowest mark among Power Five quarterbacks with at least 50 snaps. 

Prediction: Syracuse 24, N.C. State 21

This prediction hinges on Leary’s health. Since Doeren described it as an injury that could be one to six weeks, I'll take the Orange.


No. 16 Mississippi State Bulldogs at No. 22 Kentucky Wildcats

How to watch: 7:30 p.m. ET on SEC Network

Storyline to know: Will Levis‘ health

This is yet another instance of a star quarterback's availability being uncertain.

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis is dealing with a foot injury that kept him out of last week’s game against South Carolina, a game the Wildcats ended up losing. Head coach Mark Stoops said Levis is expected to start barring any setbacks, so he should be available Saturday. 

If the projected top-five pick is out, though, Kentucky could lose its third straight contest after being ranked seventh just two weeks ago.

Matchup to watch: Mississippi State’s passing game vs. Kentucky’s pass defense

If Levis isn’t able to go, Kentucky will need its pass defense to carry the team to victory.

No team throws the ball more than Mississippi State, with head coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense doing so on 66% of offensive plays. Leading that passing attack is quarterback Will Rogers, who’s deadly accurate. Only 14% of his passes have been charted as uncatchable this season, the sixth-lowest rate in the Power Five.

Kentucky has done well in coverage this season, allowing just a 57.9% completion percentage, the fifth-lowest rate in the Power Five. Their EPA per play allowed figure on passing plays is also the 10th-lowest in the Power Five.

Prediction: Mississippi State 27, Kentucky 21

With Levis not being 100%, the Bulldogs prevail in what should be a close game.


No. 7 USC Trojans at No. 20 Utah Utes 

How to watch: 8:00 p.m. ET on FOX

Storyline to know: Is USC actually a CFP contender?

Saturday will provide the toughest test of the season so far for the Trojans. Out of USC’s six wins, the highest-ranked team in PFF’s power rankings is Oregon State, which sits at 43rd. Even then, the Trojans still needed a last-minute touchdown to escape the Beavers, 17-14.

USC 2022 Schedule | Weeks 1-7
Week Opponent PFF Power Ranking Margin of Victory
1 Rice 103rd 52 points
2 Stanford 112th 13 points
3 Fresno State 96th 28 points
4 Oregon State 43rd 3 points
5 Arizona State 81st 17 points
6 Washington State 60th 16 points
7 Utah 21st ?

Utah is 21st in our rankings and should show whether USC can actually secure the school’s first-ever College Football Playoff appearance. 

Matchup to watch: Jordan Addison vs. Clark Phillips III

If you’re a fan of the NFL draft, you’ll want to tune into this game. Two potential first-rounders will be going head-to-head. 

USC wide receiver Jordan Addison was recently mocked in the top 15 by PFF lead draft analyst Mike Renner due to his dominance over the past couple of seasons. Since 2021, Addison’s 2,072 receiving yards are the most in the country. His 89.8 grade in that span ranks fifth among active FBS receivers.

Meanwhile, Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III has been the best defensive back in college football this year. His 90.7 grade this season leads all cornerbacks and safeties in the country. His five interceptions lead all FBS cornerbacks, and they’ve all come within the past three weeks. Not to mention, he’s done this while routinely trailing the opposition’s best receiver. 

This should be one of the best one-on-one matchups we get all season.

Prediction: USC 34, Utah 31

This game could turn into a shootout. If it does, it’s going to be very difficult to outscore USC’s potent offense.

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