As the college football season nears its halfway point, races for top spots in conferences around the country have already taken shape. Teams are now only a few short weeks away from the first College Football Playoff ranking.
With that in mind, Week 7's docket includes a trio of matchups between top 25 teams. That should be plenty for college football fans to sink their teeth into on this Separation Saturday.
Other ranked action kicks off in the early slot with a border war between Carolina-based teams in NC State and No. 3 Clemson, not to mention a slugfest between No. 20 West Virginia and Texas Tech. Come along as NCAA.com looks ahead at this week's slate of games:
NC State vs. No. 3 Clemson | GameCenter
Saturday, Oct. 15 at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC
An intriguing quarterback matchup headlines this bout between ACC Atlantic foes. Clemson's Deshaun Watson has looked a bit more like himself in recent weeks, while NC State's Ryan Finley is playing in rarefied air without throwing a pick so far this season. He remains one of only two QBs in college football without an interception (The other is Western Michigan's Zach Terrell). NC State went back to the drawing board this week offensively, despite a hard-fought 10-3 victory over Notre Dame in some very sloppy condiitons. The team mustered little in terms of offense, but came away with a win despite the circumstances.
On the other hand, Clemson rolled in a big road victory over Boston College. That said, expectations should be high for the hometown crowd and the Tigers. The building was electric for Clemson's last home game against Louisville, so it remains to be seen whether the noise and the crowd will rattle an NC State offense looking to put things back together from a week ago.
No. 20 West Virginia vs. Texas Tech | GameCenter
Saturday, Oct. 15 at 12:00 p.m. ET on Fox Sports1
When the Mountaineers visit the Red Raiders on Saturday, two distinctly different brands of football will be on display.
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen has brought some offensive life to Morgantown, West Virginia, but WVU still prides itself on a solid defensive unit (allowing the 26th fewest points in the league, 20 points per game). Whereas Texas Tech and quarterback Patrick Mahomes opt to let their offense do all the talking. Texas Tech leads the nation in passing offense and ranks second in scoring, with just a hair under 56 points per game.
It's also worth mentioning that West Virginia, at 4-0, is one of 11 remaining undefeated teams in college football. Don't be surprised if this one turns into a high-scoring affair though because WVU's senior quarterback Skyler Howard can put points on the board as well.
11 FBS football teams remain undefeated. pic.twitter.com/EUZLkEt64e— NCAA Research (@NCAAResearch) October 11, 2016
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 9 Tennessee | GameCenter
Saturday, Oct. 15 at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS
Another high-profile matchup in Week 7 pits the Crimson Tide and the Volunteers against one another in a battle of SEC teams in the Top 10. Tennessee's string of comeback victories came to a close against Texas A&M last week, despite another furious late-game charge, so head coach Butch Jones will likely have to rally his troops before this meeting with the No. 1 team in the nation.
The potential for an upset is always in play in college football, so fans should not be so quick to write off Tennessee's chances in this game. Both teams are prone to slow starts offensively, so who's to say Tennessee doesn't get on the board early and keep the pressure on the defending champs?
Tennessee Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs has shown a knack for making big plays all season long, but a date with Nick Saban and Alabama is rarely something teams look forward to on their schedule. However, this meeting could be a good measuring stick for where Tennessee stands in the SEC.
No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 22 Arkansas | GameCenter
Saturday, Oct. 15 at 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
A two-loss Ole Miss team linking up with a two-loss Arkansas squad means someone is likely leaving this game with their Top 25 ranking in jeopardy. The grueling schedule in the SEC normally helps a team save face with one or maybe even two losses. But in college football playoff terms, it's basically three strikes, and you're out (pardon the cliché). The College Football Playoff was something both of these teams likely felt was within their grasp at the beginning of the season, but now, it's a quickly fading prospect.
Admittedly, Ole Miss could have been 5-0 on the year if not for a one-score loss against Alabama and a huge comeback from Florida State in the opening game of the season. There's no use dwelling in the past though.
QB Chad Kelly (13 TDs to 4 Ints) and tailback Akeem Judd (56 carries, 302 yards, two touchdowns) have paced the offense for a 3-2 Ole miss squad. While the tandem of QB Austin Allen (15 TDs to 5 Ints) and running back Rawleigh Williams III (113 carries, 605 yards, five touchdowns) have lead the Razorbacks to a 4-2 start.
It's clear the defenses will be tested, but something has got to give when these two teams meet on Saturday.
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Wisconsin | GameCenter
Saturday, Oct. 15 at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC
The final blip on this week's radar comes to you courtesy of a Big Ten matchup between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers.
Wisconsin was one of the more talked about teams in the country after knocking off Michigan State a few weeks ago, but a loss to Michigan on the road — and the subsequent bye week that followed — has left the Badgers as a bit less of a hot topic. More to the point, the Badgers are clinging to the third spot in the Big Ten West Division.
Ohio State and Michigan continue to race headlong in lockstep toward their meeting at the end of the season, but OSU needs to be careful to not overlook a very capable Badgers team.
OSU has not really been tested in any of its games this season, boasting a whopping average of 53+ points per game, but Wisconsin poses some upset potential because of the Badgers' defensive prowess. Michigan only mustered 14 points against the Badgers when the two teams met in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the beginning of the month, which should serve as a reminder that defenses in the Big Ten are no joke.
Wake Forest vs. No. 14 Florida State | GameCenter
Saturday, Oct. 15 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
It may seem odd to say, but the Seminoles are actually looking up to the Demon Deacons in conference play. Both admittedly trail Clemson in the Atlantic Division of the ACC, but a win here would give the victor an extra week of life in a crowded race to be conference champion. Florida State may be ranked, but the Wake Forest started the season off 4-0 before falling to NC State. As such, the Seminoles should be aware of the upset potential lurking in this matchup. Although FSU may have turned a corner with its win over Miami last week, there's still plenty of heavy lifting to do.
No. 24 Western Michigan vs. Akron | GameCenter
Saturday, Oct. 15 at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
If you are looking for the only quarterback on a ranked team in college football that has not thrown an interception, then look no further than Western Michigan's Zach Terrell. The Broncos have kept their record a clean 6-0 despite road trips to Northwestern (22-21 win), Illinois (34-10) and Central Michigan (49-10), so a little jaunt down to face the Zips of Akron should be no problem. Both teams lead their respective divisions, so the outcome on Saturday could go a long way in helping determine who is top dog in the Mid-American Conference (MAC).
Stanford vs. Notre Dame | GameCenter
Saturday, Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC
This game makes it on the list based on the nostalgia factor alone. In years past, it could have been one of the most-anticipated matchups of the entire college football season. In 2016 though, many fans would likely punt if given the option to tune in elsewhere. Two Heisman hopefuls at the beginning of the season — Stanford's RB Christian McCaffrey and Notre Dame's QB DeShone Kizer — are finding out that preseason hype and success during the regular season are two very different realities.
Saturday, Oct. 15 at 8:00 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Network
To be blunt, the Pac-12 South is a bit clogged at the top with three teams tied for first place (2-1 in Pac-12 conference play). To make matters worse, each team in the South Division has at least one loss conference loss. There's no real indication that any team has shown the potential to distance itself from the pack, but that doesn't mean Arizona State and Colorado won't give it the old college try when these two squads link up Saturday at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado.