College football: 5 things we learned from a wildly unpredictable Week 7
A lot has happened since Friday morning. The college football landscape has changed drastically thanks to outcomes no one saw coming, and now it's time to take stock of what we know, and what's next.
1. We just witnessed an annual college football tradition: chaos weekend.
The week 7 schedule featured zero games between teams ranked in the AP top 25. Beforehand, it was hard to pick which games were truly the biggest, and even the Red River Showdown between Oklahoma and Texas took a hit after the Sooners were upset by Iowa State last week. Friday and Saturday, we found out that that Sooners' upset loss to the Cyclones in Week 6 would have felt right at home in Week 7.
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The tone for the weekend was set on Friday night, when college football delivered a doubleheader of unlikely upsets. First, with starting quarterback Kelly Bryant dealing with an ankle injury, then a head injury, No. 2 Clemson was outplayed all night by Syracuse in a 27-24 loss. After the defending national champions lost, No. 8 Washington State played as poorly as anybody has all season, repeatedly making mistakes in an ugly 37-3 loss at Cal in which it committed seven turnovers and allowed nine sacks.
Friday night was merely the beginning. On Saturday afternoon, No. 10 Auburn, which had been on fire to start SEC play, jumped out to a 20-0 lead at LSU, where it hadn't won since 1999. Despite losing to Troy two weeks ago, LSU stormed back behind dominant defense and a handful of big plays, winning 27-23 to shut down Auburn's playoff hopes.
Then came the weekend's finale: Despite the fact that it had allowed 30 or more points in 11 straight games, Arizona State shut down No. 5 Washington in a 13-7 upset late Saturday night.
If all that wasn't enough, No. 21 San Diego State, which already owned wins over Stanford and Arizona State, played its toughest remaining opponent, Boise State. Despite some struggles in the first half of the season, the Broncos spoiled the Aztecs' unbeaten run and dealt a big blow to their New Year's Six bowl hopes. Boise State won 31-14, as it shut down SDSU star RB Rashaad Penny (21 carries for 53 yards and a TD) and scored two non-offensive TDs in the first quarter, a 53-yard Avery Williams punt return and a 34-yard Kekaula Kaniho fumble return less than two minutes later.
With losses by Clemson, Washington, Washington State, Navy (30-27 to Memphis) and San Diego State, the number of unbeaten team was trimmed from 13 teams to just eight: Alabama, Georgia, Penn State, TCU, Wisconsin, Miami, USF and UCF.
In reality, Clemson, Washington and Washington State all still hold playoff hopes as one-loss teams, but in losing to inferior opponents, weaknesses have been exposed, and their margins for error have been eliminated.
2. The Pacific Northwestern imploded in the Pac-12.
Washington scored seven points against an Arizona State defense that allowed 36.4 points per game in its first six games. Washington State scored three points against a California team that ranked 127th in scoring defense in 2016. In two nights, the Apple Cup rivalry went from being one of the most highly anticipated games on to the calendar to, well … still a big game, but one featuring teams that just scored a combined 10 points in horrifying performances to ruin undefeated seasons.
Expectations weren't nearly as high, but the nearby state of Oregon didn't fare better. Oregon lost 49-7 at No. 23 Stanford, giving up 147 rushing yards to Bryce Love, and Oregon State -- in its first game after coach Gary Andersen's sudden departure -- lost a heartbreaking back-and-forth game to Colorado, 36-33, on a TD pass with 1:34 left.
On a weekend in which the Pac-12 seemed to do everything possible to crush its playoff hopes, USC at least escaped Utah 28-27. The Trojans came back from down two touchdowns, took the lead thanks to some brilliant plays by QB Sam Darnold and gave up a touchdown with 42 seconds left. Instead of kicking a PAT for overtime, Utah went for two and the win, but QB Troy Williams was stopped.
A common preseason prediction was for a playoff spot to be on the line in a Pac-12 title game between Washington and USC. It looks increasingly unlikely that such a clean, clear-cut scenario will present itself.
3. The ACC entered bizarre territory.
Last year, Clemson beat Syracuse 54-0. This year, the Tigers lost to the Orange 27-24. Last year, Louisville beat Boston College 52-7. This year, the Eagles -- who averaged 16.3 points per game entering Saturday -- beat the Cardinals 45-42 despite allowing 512 yards of total offense to Lamar Jackson. Boston College got 274 yards and four TDs on the ground from A.J. Dillon, and Colton Lichtenberg kicked a 27-yard field goal to win as time expired.
If that wasn't enough, Virginia is now 5-1 after a win at North Carolina. Remember, the Cavaliers have played in one bowl game (2011) since 2007. N.C. State is 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the conference, putting it in first place in the ACC Atlantic. Florida State did beat Duke 17-10, but it was the first time in 20 tries that the Blue Devils came closer than 19 points against the Seminoles. And Miami, which has never won its division since joining the conference in 2004, is now the last remaining undefeated team in the ACC overall at 5-0 after its 25-24 win over Georgia Tech.
Halfway through the 2017 season, a lot of recent ACC history has been thrown out the window.
4. The SEC is even more of a jumbled mess after the top two.
For a few weeks, the SEC could be broken into a few tiers: Alabama at the top, Georgia and Auburn next, everyone else after that. Saturday showed that Alabama and Georgia now exist a step or two (or several) above the rest of the pack. Auburn blew the 20-point lead to lose to LSU, and now the only team in the entire conference that has exactly one loss is 5-1 Kentucky.
Beyond Auburn-LSU and the two undefeated teams -- Alabama crushed Arkansas and Georgia crushed Missouri -- two results stood out as the most important of Week 7: Tennessee suffered more heartbreak, in an agonizing 15-9 home loss to South Carolina in which it didn't score in the second half and failed to score on four plays inside the five-yard line in the final moments of the game. And Texas A&M, which is spending all season trying to recover from the Week 1 blown lead to UCLA, earned a 19-17 road win at Florida thanks to three fourth-quarter field goals by Daniel LaCamera.
5. The Big 12 and Big Ten escaped Week 7 chaos.
On a wild weekend in much of college football, the Big Ten and Big 12 hierarchies mostly survived intact. Only one ranked team lost in either league: No. 24 Texas Tech, in a 46-35 defeat at West Virginia that was in no way an upset. The Red Raiders got off to an impressive start behind QB Nic Shimonek, who threw for 323 yards and four TDs, and they led 35-17 in the third quarter. But West Virginia scored four straight TDs down the stretch, led by a big game from QB Will Grier, who threw for 352 yards and five scores.
Sit back, relax and put your feet up. Check out today's Mountaineer Minute featuring some of the best sights from the win over Texas Tech! pic.twitter.com/jTcah6B1XT— WVU Football (@WVUfootball) October 15, 2017
In the Big Ten, Penn State had off, Ohio State humiliated Nebraska 56-14 and Michigan State (30-27 over Minnesota), Wisconsin (17-9 over Purdue) and Michigan (27-20 in OT over Indiana) held on for close wins. In the Big 12, Baker Mayfield led Oklahoma to a Red River Showdown win over Texas, 29-24 after blowing a 20-point lead; Oklahoma State blew out Baylor 59-16; and TCU beat Kansas State 26-6 after a long lightning delay.
Things may have been relatively normal in these conferences, but perhaps it was appropriate, after chaos claimed Oklahoma (in the upset loss to Iowa State) and Michigan (in the upset loss to Michigan State) last week.