One thing we have learned through the first half of the 2021 college football season is to expect the unexpected when given games that appear to be a mismatch on paper.
There aren't a lot of evenly matched showdowns between top-tier teams this week, but that’s not to say we aren’t going to see madness at some point. PFF is here to help spot which games may or may not end in a closer than expected result.
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Below, you’ll find the college football Week 7 schedule, game lines, a guide to PFF Greenline betting picks and a game preview for the most notable matchups. Please note that the lines are courtesy of our friends over at DraftKings Sportsbook and are subject to change up until kickoff.
Related content for you: Highest-graded players at every position through Week 6 of the 2021 college football season via Seth Galina
NO. 10 MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS at INDIANA HOOSIERS
Saturday, Oct. 16th | 12:00 PM EST | FS1
Spread: Michigan State -4.5 (-110)
Moneyline: Michigan State -195, Indiana +165
Michigan State wins the midseason award for most improved team in college football. The Spartans' offense has taken a complete 180 from last season due to quarterback Payton Thorne‘s ability to hit the well-designed play-action shots downfield.
Michigan State’s Passing Offense in 2021
|With Play-Action||Without Play-Action|
|739 (7.3)||Yards (YPA)||869 (13.8)|
|5.6||Average Depth of Target||16.0|
|0.15 (21st in Power Five)||EPA Per Pass||0.64 (first in Power Five)|
An added bonus has been the addition of running back Kenneth Walker III, who leads the FBS in broken tackles (60) and explosive runs of 10-plus yards (26). Walker and Thorne fit Sparty’s system like a glove, and the offense has improved its per-play efficiency more than any other Power Five program year-over-year as a result:
Most improved Power Five offenses (2020 vs 2021 EPA per play):
– Michigan State
Biggest drop-off in offensive efficiency:
– Texas A&M (makes the upset that much more wild)
– Notre Dame
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) October 11, 2021
As for Indiana, the Hoosiers' offense has been one of the most disappointing units in the country this season. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has taken a significant step back from his 2019 and 2020 form when he earned 84.0 and 82.9 grades while combining for a big-time throw to turnover-worthy play ratio of plus-22. He has earned a 69.3 PFF grade in 2021 while posting more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws, which is why Indiana has the 11th-least efficient offense in the Power Five this season. Penix is also battling an AC separation that has him week-to-week for the time being, making Jack Tuttle — who has a 50.5 passing grade for his career — the likely starter for Saturday.
UCF KNIGHTS at NO. 3 CINCINNATI BEARCATS
Saturday, Oct. 16th | 12:00 PM EST | ABC
Spread: Cincinnati -21 (-110)
Moneyline: Cincinnati -1375, UCF +800
This matchup lost a lot of the intrigue after UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel suffered a fractured clavicle in Week 3. The offense now has three-star true freshman Mikey Keene leading the way, which has led to major setbacks. The Knights’ successful pass rate went from 50% with Gabriel on the field to 37% with Keene. In other words, it’s going to be difficult for this team to put up points on college football’s third-highest-graded defense on the road.
While this may be the biggest mismatch of the games in this article, there is one key storyline to watch out for with the Cincinnati Bearcats: slow starts.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder has improved by leaps and bounds in 2021, earning an 86.5 PFF grade through the first five starts — over 10 grading points higher than his first three seasons leading the offense. Ridder is making quick decisions, playing with more poise and successfully throwing the deep ball. The only significant issue is his consistent misfires in a game's early stages.
Cincinnati Bearcats in 2021
|Quarter 1||Quarters 2-4|
|0.03||EPA per Play||0.17|
They’ll need to field a dominant squad from start to finish in all phases of the game to win over the College Football Playoff (CFP) committee. In order to do that, those slow starts can’t happen.
NO. 12 OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS at NO. 25 TEXAS LONGHORNS
Saturday, Oct. 16th | 12:00 PM EST | FOX
Spread: Texas -5 (-120)
Moneyline: Texas -220, Oklahoma State +180
Oklahoma State has snuck its way to a 5-0 record and the No. 12 ranking in the AP Poll. The defense has done its part, ranking seventh in the Power Five in success rate against. The run defense, which is led by off-ball linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, has been the defense's greatest strength, as it has allowed the third-lowest explosive run rate in the Power Five.
The offense, on the other hand, has been sluggish on early downs, which is not a good sign when projecting future play. Its early-down success rate is actually the worst in the entire Power Five.
Lowest Early Down Success Rate in the Power Five
|Power Five Avg.||44.6%|
|63. Vanderbilt Commodores||35.6%|
|64. Illinois Fighting Illini||35.2%|
|65. Oklahoma State Cowboys||34.9%|
Texas may have lost a heartbreaker last week to Oklahoma, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about this team in 2021 and beyond — namely head coach Steve Sarkisian, who has been a masterful play-caller for the Longhorns. Sark has brought the same exact offense to Texas that he ran at Alabama in 2019 and 2020, and it features a significant amount of motion, RPOs, play-action and screens, which is why Texas has accumulated positive EPA in every game this year. The Longhorns rank second in the Power Five in offensive efficiency under Sark.
NO. 11 KENTUCKY WILDCATS at NO. 1 GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Saturday, Oct. 16th | 3:30 PM EST | CBS
Spread: Georgia -23.5 (-110)
Moneyline: Georgia -2000, Kentucky +1000
Kentucky is riding high after extending its perfect record to 6-0. It is going to be virtually impossible to replicate its Week 6 performance against Georgia, who have the indisputable No. 1 defense in college football.
The Wildcats have posted the highest successful play rate in the Power Five through the first six weeks of the season when handing the ball off to a running back (54.8%). Georgia, meanwhile, has allowed a 27.2% successful run rate outside of garbage time this season — the second-best mark in the Power Five. From a passing perspective, Georgia is putting up historic numbers. The Bulldogs own a 94.4 coverage grade and have allowed -0.55 EPA per pass. Not only are those two the best in the Power Five for the 2021 season, but they would be the best of the PFF College era (since 2014) if maintained through the entire season.
Simply put, Georgia is a different animal.
PURDUE BOILERMAKERS at NO. 2 IOWA HAWKEYES
Saturday, Oct. 16th | 3:30 PM EST | ABC
Spread: Iowa -11.5 (-110)
Moneyline: Iowa -490, Purdue +360
Iowa has battled through the tough part of its schedule after its comeback win over Penn State and now is set up to finish 2021 with the easiest schedule in the Big Ten. It’ll take a major upset to prevent the Hawkeyes from securing a College Football Playoff play-in game at the Big Ten Championship.
So the question is, can Purdue be that team?
Iowa will be without starting outside corner Riley Moss this weekend after he went down with an injury celebrating a interception in Week 6. Moss comprised the highest-graded outside corner room in the country alongside Matt Hankins and has been the third-highest graded cornerback this season. Terry Roberts — who has 94 career coverage snaps to his name in four years — will be stepping in for Moss over the next couple of weeks.
The Boilermakers love to attack the opposing defense's main weakness in coverage. Since 2020, they’ve targeted a single coverage defender more than 10 times in seven games — more than any other offense in the Big Ten. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Purdue target Roberts with Milton Wright, who owns a 78.6 PFF grade in his last two games and will be on Roberts' side of the field. Iowa will need Roberts to step up his game and make sure Purdue’s play-action offense stays in check. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell has earned an 85.5 passing grade on play-action passes with five big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays.
TCU HORNED FROGS at NO. 4 OKLAHOMA SOONERS
Saturday, Oct. 16th | 7:30 PM EST | ABC
Spread: Oklahoma -13 (-120)
Moneyline: Oklahoma -575, TCU +410
Oklahoma has a quarterback controversy on their hands after Spencer Rattler was benched in favor of true freshman Caleb Williams in last week's Red River Showdown victory. All indications are that head coach Lincoln Riley isn’t going to publicly name a starter.
Who should be QB1? Let’s dive in…
Oklahoma generated -0.43 EPA per pass play with Rattler on the field — a bitterly disappointing figure given what fans have come to expect more of over recent years. He ended up earning a 61.1 passing grade for the game — the worst mark of his career and just the second one below 70.0. Even with that performance baked in and despite recording eight turnover-worthy plays and just five big-time throws, Rattler is still top 10 in the Power Five in passing grade for the year (87.2). Last year, Rattler was the second-highest-graded passer in the Power Five.
Williams did provide the offense a much-needed boost last week, and his running ability was a key reason why. He busted off a couple of breakaway runs and earned a 91.1 grade in that facet. As a passer, Williams showed off his arm strength and ability to make off-platform throws, but he did miss and was a little too willing to take risks downfield rather than taking what the defense was giving him. Rattler has a major issue with the latter, too, which caused some issues this season, but it worked out for Williams in this game.
The moral of the story: Williams clearly played better, especially in the running game, but this QB situation is always going to be subject to volatility because of the undisciplined nature of their playstyles. And let’s not forget that Rattler is still the highest-graded active passer in the Power Five since 2020.
Unfortunately, TCU is on shaky ground entering the program’s biggest game of the season. Quarterback Max Duggan, running back Zach Evans and wide receivers Quentin Johnston and JD Spielman are all questionable to play due to injury. If Duggan is unable to go, it’d leave former Oklahoma Sooner Chandler Morris, who has six career attempts, in charge of the offense. Running back Kendre Miller is fresh off a surprise performance in Week 6 against Texas Tech that ended with an elite 90.1 PFF grade, but losing Evans — who is one of the five highest-graded ball-carriers in the Power Five — would still be a crushing blow.
NO. 13 OLE MISS REBELS at TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Saturday, Oct. 16th | 7:30 PM EST | SEC Network
Spread: Ole Miss -3 (-105)
Moneyline: Ole Miss -150, Tennessee +130
Tennessee has the sixth-most efficient offense in the Power Five since Hooker took over as the starter in Week 3. Head coach Josh Heupel’s offense is very friendly to the quarterback position because of the simple reads. Hooker is thriving in it, earning an 80.2 passing grade in four starts with only two turnover-worthy plays — both of which have been fumbles — while producing six big-time throws. An area of improvement for Hooker is his pocket presence, but that won’t be that much of an issue against Ole Miss’ dime package, which rushes three and has been getting pressure on the quarterback at the 46th-best rate in the Power Five.
It’s no secret that Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss team is an offensive juggernaut. After all, the Rebels do have the fourth-most efficient group in the Power Five for the 2021 season. Last week’s win over Arkansas was a weird one, as the Rebels pounded the rock and completed few downfield passes. However, the deep passes that Ole Miss' did connect on were major plays that caught the Razorbacks off guard, which ultimately led the group to victory. Quarterback Matt Corral — one of the three highest-graded quarterbacks in the Power Five — could have a field day against this Tennessee defense that ranks 53rd in EPA per play allowed when facing Power Five offenses.