Week 7 sets up to be a pretty good Saturday of college football.
We’ve got some great games on the slate ahead of us, including a massive top-10 matchup in Seattle. USC and Notre Dame renew their rivalry in South Bend, while UCLA travels to Corvallis at night to battle Oregon State. I will be on the call for Indiana–Michigan at the Big House (Noon ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
Here’s a look at what to expect in four of the biggest games on Saturday.
What a game this is going to be.
Both teams are in the top 10 for the first time in the matchup’s history, which dates back to the turn of the 20th century. And these offenses are playing as well as anyone is playing in college football.
Obviously, Washington relies heavily on throwing the ball and getting the ball to its guys on the outside. Michael Penix Jr. is getting one of his receivers on the outside back, too. Jalen McMillan is returning to play in this game, pairing up with Rome Odunze on the outside. Ja’Lynn Polk‘s been really good for this team as well.
Those three guys present so many problems for the opposition. They’re great in one-on-one coverage. They can create space and win. With Penix’s ability to understand leverage and throw guys open, the Huskies’ passing game might be the best in the country. So, I can’t wait to watch that.
On the other side, Oregon is the efficient offense. This team can run, pass, and their quarterback can hurt you on the ground. The Ducks are incredibly difficult to stop, especially when they find their rhythm. They’re averaging over 220 yards per game on the ground and rush for the most yards per carry in college football (7.1). One of the big questions for me entering the season was Oregon and its offensive line, whether it could replace four guys up front or not. It’s done that.
Some of that is the remnants of Mario Cristobal’s time as a coach in Eugene, where he emphasized line play. But Dan Lanning has done a terrific job with the transfer portal plus emphasizing defense, toughness and substance.
This game will come down to what all games come down to: quarterback play and turnovers. Generally, it’s harder to play quarterback on the road. This Washington environment is going to be nuts. In some ways, Seattle is more of a Huskies town than it is a professional sports town. That stadium is going to be on fire, which is going to make it tough for Bo Nix.
That kind of environment lends itself to more aggressive defense. When a defense is playing faster, it hits harder and the ball comes loose. That’s why home teams in a great environment tend to create more turnovers. It’s just an unspoken instinct.
So, the key for Oregon has to be early success. It has to do everything that it can to get the crowd out of the game early. If I was Lanning and I won the opening coin toss on Saturday, I’d take the ball and get my offense on the field in hopes of getting a long touchdown drive to quiet the crowd down. Then, your defense can go out there and potentially get a three-and-out, putting you in a good spot in the middle of the first quarter.
Oregon has to take a page out of Arizona’s playbook. The Wildcats limited the possessions for the Huskies in their matchup a couple of weeks ago, in which Washington won by seven. If Oregon can limit the possessions, take the crowd out of the game and slow things down a little bit, then it’s going to have a great chance to win.
Washington is favored by three points in this game, and it should be. If I had to make a pick, I’d take the home team. I think the environment is going to be incredible. But I could see Oregon winning this game as well.
The Matt Leinart-Brady Quinn Bowl, where “Big Noon Kickoff” will be this weekend. I’m sure they’ll talk a lot about that iconic 2005 matchup and the “Bush Push.”
This game concludes the brutal stretch of Notre Dame’s schedule. The Fighting Irish had matchups against Ohio State, Duke and Louisville in the last three weeks ahead of this game. Every one of those teams were ranked and undefeated at the time Notre Dame played them. It lost the heartbreaker to Ohio State, won a thriller against Duke, and had nothing left against Louisville last week.
Now, Notre Dame gets to come back home and gets a departure from those kinds of teams. Those last three games were knockdown, slug-it-out, physical matchups. USC comes in with its high-flying offense and Caleb Williams.
I’m interested to see how much Notre Dame has left in the tank for Saturday’s game. This isn’t like the NFL, where teams play at or near their best every single week. That doesn’t happen in college, for a lot of reasons. There are natural ebbs and flows throughout the season. You’re seeing it right now with Notre Dame.
Here’s the other interesting part: This is going to be the start of the difficult portion of USC’s schedule. How much energy do the Trojans have to exert to win this game? That’s another thing to watch for because five of their next six opponents are in the top 20. We’ve mentioned all season how difficult the Pac-12 is going to be. USC is starting on that trek.
The big question for USC is how long can Williams drag the Trojans along for the season. He’s playing unbelievable football, and to be fair, he wasn’t great for the entirety of the Arizona game last week. But, he can elevate himself to a place where he takes the offense above the X’s and O’s. I was shocked Arizona kicked the extra point in the first overtime because it gave Williams extra time, and the more time No. 13 gets, the more time he’s going to get to beat you. He’s already got 28 total touchdowns this season, 11 more than he had at this point a year ago. He’s playing sensational.
Flipping things around, Notre Dame has to control the game on the ground against USC’s defense. It should be able to. USC’s run defense hasn’t been very good. It’s allowing about 5.5 yards per carry on non-sack plays. The Trojans’ rushing defense numbers look better because they get to the quarterback. They have 22 sacks, which is the third-most in the country. That comes off of the rushing yardage and when you strip that away, they’re not very good when it comes to stopping the run. The yards per carry they allow is 106th in the country.
If I’m Notre Dame, that’s where I’m attacking. Audric Estime is getting the ball and that offensive line should help eat up the clock. You’ve got to keep Williams off the field. You want Williams to touch the ball 60-to-65 times, at most. That’s the maximum number of plays you want to see. Notre Dame did that against Ohio State and came up just short.
So, Notre Dame’s got to put that same game plan into place against USC. That’s its best opportunity to keep Williams at bay. Williams might have his best receiving threat back in Zachariah Branch. He practiced this week after missing the last two games with an undisclosed injury.
But this game is 100 percent about Notre Dame’s rushing attack. If it can control the game on the ground, then it’ll win. If it can’t and Sam Hartman has to drop back and throw the ball, then USC’s strong pass rush gets involved. You also give Williams more opportunities to score.
Notre Dame needs this one. It needs this one desperately. It’s lost two of its last three games and the one that it did win was almost miraculous. If it was to lose at home to USC, particularly with the way USC has looked over the last few weeks, people will not be happy with Marcus Freeman.
I think Notre Dame’s going to win this game. There’s rain and wind forecasted for this game, which lends itself to Notre Dame.
Michigan’s simply one of the best teams in the country and Indiana has struggled. The Hoosiers are coming off a week where they made an offensive coordinator change, and they’re going to be facing the Wolverines’ No. 1 scoring defense.
But I will say that this isn’t a throwaway game for Michigan. Indiana played undefeated Louisville pretty close earlier this season. It lost by seven and got stopped at the 1-yard line with under five minutes left in that game. So, it was right there, and the Hoosiers have some really good players that we hope are healthy and ready to go.
This game is more about Michigan, though. If Michigan plays well, you’d expect it to win the game. The thing I’m looking forward to the most about Michigan is that I want to see and feel the chemistry of this team. Is the coaching staff getting along? Are the players getting along? What’s the feel like in the building? That’s a big deal to me.
This is my first time at Michigan this season, so I’ll get a feel of that culture and chemistry. It’s been outstanding the last two seasons. One of the unsung and unspoken nuances of Michigan’s recent success has been its chemistry – what it had and built after the COVID year.
In terms of on-the-field, what I’m looking forward to the most is Michigan’s depth. When I walk around during pregame warmups and see a team’s depth chart, I get a good sense of how deep it’s going to be. As I’ve done my preparation for Saturday’s game, Michigan is one of the deepest teams I’ve seen in a long time. So, I want to see that with my own eyes.
Lastly, I want to see Michigan’s size up front. This team is one of the best teams in the country at the line of scrimmage – and it needs to be, that’s its style and MO. On the defensive side, the Wolverines’ defensive tackles look massive. They’re all 300-plus pounds. They all do a great job at stopping the run and being disruptive, or as they call, “destroying blocks.”
UCLA is way better than people realize, and the same goes for Oregon State. DJ Uiagalelei is coming off his best game of the season, throwing for five touchdowns against Cal. However, the Beavers’ defense gave up 40. That is a little bit alarming because I thought Oregon State’s defense would be better than that. Oregon State got hammered by Washington State while UCLA handled Washington State a week ago.
The winner of this game is going to be in the best position to really push the teams that have separated themselves at the top of the conference. It’ll also have a really good, outside shot to get into the Pac-12 Championship Game. The slate in front of UCLA is really quite manageable.
That’s why this game, to me, is more about UCLA. The Bruins won’t be shocked by this road environment because they already played at Utah on the road. Dante Moore didn’t play that great in that game, throwing a pick-6 as UCLA lost by seven. But this is a guy that is learning and developing. He threw a pick-six last week and it still beat Washington State.
Moore doesn’t have to be perfect though for them to win games because the Bruins’ defense is incredible. They lead the nation in yards per play, they lead the Power 5 in takeaways, and most importantly, when you’re playing this Oregon State team, their rushing yards per carry allowed is fantastic. They are also great in the red zone, only allowing 33% touchdowns, which is sixth-best in the country. They can lean on their defense, bring their quarterback along and run the football.
If UCLA wins, watch out. UCLA is a sleeper team in the College Football Playoff race because of what is ahead of them down the stretch. This is going to be a really good game. I like UCLA in this one.
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