College football Week 7 highlights – Top plays, games, takeaways

The term “instant classic” gets thrown around too much these days. Sure, we’re occasionally gifted moments we instantly recognize as something truly life-altering as they’re happening — like every cutaway to Taylor Swift during an NFL broadcast — but most “instant classics” are just run-of-the-mill entertainment — consumed, enjoyed and forgotten.

Washington and Oregon‘s showdown Saturday though? That’s one to remember.

The Huskies won — or, at least, they survived 36-33. The Ducks lost — or, at least, they ran out of time.

Michael Penix Jr. delivered a touchdown throw to Rome Odunze with 1:38 to play to secure the victory and ensconce himself at the front of the Heisman race.

Bo Nix delivered one of the truly great second-half performances by a QB who ultimately lost, completing 20-of-24 passes for 221 yards, but couldn’t connect on two fourth-down tries deep in Huskies territory.

The game featured six lead changes, 19 of 21 drives offered the offense a chance to take a lead, and Oregon’s fate was only sealed by a missed kick that would have sent the game to overtime.

In 10 months, these two teams will move to the Big Ten and, by rule, stop being fun and start focusing on punts. Thank the football gods we still got Saturday.

There will be so many decisions left to critique. Oregon coach Dan Lanning chose to go for it on fourth down deep in Washington territory twice, and failed both times. He went for it on fourth again with a chance to salt away the game just past midfield. That failed, too, and set up the Huskies’ winning score.

There will be so many what-ifs. Would Penix have shredded the Oregon secondary to the tune of 302 yards and four TDs, including that winner, had the Ducks not seen both starting corners injured on the same play? Or perhaps it might’ve been more had Jalen McMillan not been sidelined early for the Huskies.

There will be moments when Lanning wakes up in the middle of the night and wonders why he was so cocky on those fourth-down calls, but never took a shot at the end zone on that final, fateful drive.

There will be replays of the game when future generations sit back in awe at Bucky Irving‘s tenacity and Kalen DeBoer’s offensive genius and Odunze’s ridiculous athleticism — and they’ll ask themselves, what the heck is the deal with Oregon’s uniforms? Was that a cookies-and-cream aesthetic or did the equipment guy accidentally throw a Bic pen in with the wash? Anyway, Irving and DeBoer and Odunze are all good.

There will be so many more twists and turns in the story because this was but a chapter for two heavyweights, with each still facing a chorus of ranked foes before a possible rematch in the Pac-12 championship game.

And that would be the perfect send-off for this weird, beautiful, ridiculous conference. For all the slings and arrows and Larry Scotts the Pac-12 has endured for much of the playoff era, its final season looks to be one for the ages, and Oregon and Washington certainly delivered the goods Saturday. It’s a rivalry that has fought its way to the top of college football — 13 lead changes, 38 drives with the score within one possession in the past two games — and it’s a matchup between two Heisman-caliber QBs and two playoff-caliber teams that truly belong in the spotlight.

Will a Big Ten contender be challenged?

Michigan won in a rout Saturday.

We could’ve typed that sentence in any of the past seven weeks, and we probably will write it again in the next few. Heck, we could’ve scribbled it onto a note card back in July, sealed it in an envelope and locked it inside an uncrackable safe, then opened it again Saturday afternoon to exactly zero fanfare at our prophetic brilliance. The Wolverines’ dominance is the least surprising development of the season.

There’s a good case to be made that Michigan is the country’s best team. The problem with that argument is the lack of anything approaching definitive evidence, thanks to a schedule that has essentially cast the Wolverines as Andy Reid in a 1970s punt, pass and kick competition.

Saturday’s blowout came against Indiana, but that doesn’t matter. It looked the same against ECU and UNLV, Nebraska and Minnesota. The best team Michigan has played thus far might be Rutgers. The biggest challenge the Wolverines have faced so far might’ve been tying their shoes.

It’s not Michigan’s fault, of course, that two-thirds of the Big Ten is made up of teams that should be wearing red Starfleet uniforms — just cannon fodder for the big stars.

And it’s only partially Michigan’s fault the nonconference slate is so bad. Who could’ve foreseen Bowling Green failing to provide a true test? (Don’t answer that.)

It’s not even really Michigan’s fault that its wins vs. such overmatched competition have been so dull. It’s partially slow starts, partially boredom, and for the first three Saturdays of the season, partially because their head coach was suspended and used that time to put the finishing touches on his YA novel about a magical pair of time-traveling khakis sewn with enchanted threads by L.L. Bean himself.

The real story of Michigan’s season requires a deeper dive into the text. J.J. McCarthy has genuinely blossomed into an all-around star at quarterback. He entered Saturday leading the nation in Total QBR, and added to his tally against Indiana, throwing for three touchdowns and averaging 13 yards per pass. The ground game remains strong with Blake Corum treating end zones like Kevin Hart treats movies — he’s in all of them. The defense hasn’t allowed multiple touchdowns in a game yet. The analytics all suggest Michigan’s dominance is noteworthy, with most metrics suggesting the Wolverines have been the year’s most impressive team — that is, if watching LeBron dunk on a team full of second-graders is impressive.

The narrative isn’t markedly different for Michigan’s archrival Ohio State, either. Ohio State thumped Purdue on Saturday 41-7. Yes, the Buckeyes have a win over Notre Dame — on the road, in ugly, low-scoring fashion — but the list of teams who’ve done that over the past two years includes other luminaries like … Marshall and Stanford. The Buckeyes have a playmaker in receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., but the rest of the offense has been like the latter seasons of “The Walking Dead” — occasionally fun, but mostly we’re just watching out of obligation.

And honestly, that all sounds a lot like Penn State, which hosted UMass for homecoming on Saturday, in a game in which the Minutemen played the role unsuspecting insect flying leisurely across the Pennsylvania Turnpike, intersecting with the Nittany Lions’ 18-wheeler to the tune of a 63-0 thrashing. Penn State has won every game by at least 17 points, and has something approaching a signature with a shutout of Iowa — but it’s also worth recalling that Iowa had given up offense in September as part of an intermittent fasting routine. Meanwhile, Penn State’s vaunted tailbacks have been far from electric so far this year, and reporters are openly wondering why James Franklin doesn’t let his QB just chuck it deep on every play like a drunk guy playing Madden. Is that a recipe for the playoff? Maybe!

The Ohio State-Penn State dilemma at least will be settled next week when the two face off in Columbus. After that, we’ll know for certain who Michigan’s true competition for a Big Ten title and a playoff berth might be.

But it’ll still be another month before we see Michigan play anyone likely to provide much of a test.

So, unless you’ve got yourself a magical pair of time-traveling khakis, the real answers on Michigan’s ceiling will have to wait a while longer.

It’s a game about nothing

Nick Saban offered a lecture this week on “the importance of nothing.”

The point, he said, was that even the most talented players are entitled to nothing, and that success only comes when you meet your potential.

We assume there’s some real genius in this lesson because Saban is a football genius and because we liked the pitch when George Costanza gave it in the 1990s, too.

Alabama did just enough nothing Saturday to escape Arkansas, 24-21. It was hardly an impressive win, but it was the type of game in which Saban’s subtle touches made all the difference (and also the type of game where Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos will probably leave his “out of office” autoreply up for a while).

Example: Jalen Milroe finished just 10-of-21 passing and at one point in the second half, he’d completed just one of his last nine passes while the Razorbacks closed a 17-point deficit to just three. In a lesser system, this would’ve spelled disaster. And for much of this season, it has felt like disaster was lurking behind the next corner for Alabama, too.

But this is Saban’s genius.

Why did he bench Milroe against USF? Obviously, Saban knew his backups weren’t ready to produce. They were so bad, in fact, the Tide narrowly escaped USF. On the sideline, though, Milroe was the cheerleader — the guy who rallied his team, even when he wasn’t on the field, pushing the QBs who did play and proving to the Tide that he was a genuine leader.

He was given nothing. He turned it into something.

What are the odds Saban knew that would happen? What are the odds he knew that experience would underpin Milroe’s turnaround since returning to the starting job? What are the odds that understanding of his role is what helped him shrug off that 1-for-9 run to engineer a 10-play drive to drain the final 5:19 off the clock in Saturday’s win?

Maybe we’re reading too much into that decision and its aftermath. Maybe Saban really did nothing.

Or maybe it was yet another brilliant choice in an astoundingly brilliant career.

Jordan Travis appreciation section

Florida State demolished Syracuse on Saturday, 41-3, to remain undefeated. There’s not much to unpack here — FSU is good, Syracuse not so much — so let’s instead make this a Jordan Travis appreciation moment.

Travis arrived at Florida State in 2019 and was effectively told by the coaching staff that he wasn’t a QB. When Mike Norvell took over as head coach, Travis offered to switch positions. Even as he led FSU to within a few points of bowl eligibility at the end of 2021, the general consensus was Travis was a heck of a runner, but not much of a passer.

How silly that all sounds now.

Against Syracuse, Travis threw for 284 yards and a touchdown (he also ran for two short scores), despite playing without one of his top receivers, Johnny Wilson. But over the past calendar year, the numbers are downright eye-popping: 65% completions, 3,035 yards, 26 touchdown passes, three picks and a 12-0 record.

The lesson here: Willie Taggart’s idea for turnover backpacks wasn’t the worst decision he made at Florida State.

The other, more important lesson: Never doubt Jordan Travis.

Heisman five

After dominating this watch list for the past two years, USC QB Caleb Williams is out of our top five after throwing three picks against Notre Dame. Winning the Heisman in back-to-back years is a near-impossible feat, so hat tip to Williams for another good run, but it’s time to focus on a few other big names.

1. Washington QB Michael Penix Jr.

What’s left to be said about Penix after Saturday’s ridiculous performance against Oregon? We’re all just lucky he survived being a part of Indiana’s offense for so long and could still deliver games like that.

2. Oklahoma QB Dillon Gabriel

The Sooners were off in Week 7, which is good because Gabriel needed some down time after celebrating last week’s Red River win by having the Sooner Schooner deep-fried and covered with powdered sugar at the Texas State Fair.

3. Florida State QB Jordan Travis

Travis has 17 touchdowns, one turnover and has taken just seven sacks so far this season. In fairness, though, he could really just throw the ball straight up in the air and there’s still, like, a 28% chance Keon Coleman would come down with it for a touchdown.

4. Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr.

Harrison posted his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season against Purdue, and he’s been the backbone of Ohio State’s offense thus far. His performance Saturday came without Emeka Egbuka on the opposite side, but also it really doesn’t matter if Harrison is playing alongside two middle-aged data processors with a toddler at QB. He’s just really good.

5. LSU QB Jayden Daniels

Daniels had a handful of runs that looked like he was a video game QB played by someone’s cat that had gotten ahold of the controller, and that wasn’t even close to the most fun thing he did in LSU’s 48-18 win over Auburn on Saturday. Daniels finished with 325 pass yards, 93 rush yards and three TDs. He’s currently on pace to finish the season with more than 1,000 yards on the ground and nearly 5,000 through the air.

Trojans, Cards take first Ls

A week ago, Louisville torched Notre Dame in a stunning victory that signaled Jeff Brohm’s Cardinals were emergent and the Irish offense might be stuck in neutral for the rest of the season.

What a difference a week makes.



Caleb Williams throws 3 INTs for first time in USC’s loss to Notre Dame

Caleb Williams throws a trio of interceptions in the first half as USC falls to Notre Dame 48-20.

On Saturday, Louisville was flummoxed by Pitt’s attacking defense, which forced three turnovers, including a pick-six, as the Panthers pulled off the upset, 38-21.

In South Bend, the fix for Notre Dame’s recent offensive woes was USC’s woeful defense. The Irish hung 24 on USC in the first half — seven more points than they’d scored in the first halves of their three previous games — and went on to cruise to a 48-20 win. It was the worst loss for a Lincoln Riley-coached team since the 2019 playoff game against LSU.

The end result: The ranks of the undefeated shrunk by two, while Notre Dame and Pitt both have new leases on the 2023 season.

Pitt’s win came after a QB change the fan base had begged the Panthers to make for weeks. Christian Veilleux — pronounced “Vay-air” according to him, “Vay-you” according to his dad and “Christian” according to us — threw two TD passes and sparked something Pitt fans are told was offense in the win. More significantly, the Panthers’ D shut down Louisville’s dynamic run game and picked off Jack Plummer twice.

Meanwhile, the Irish defense picked off Caleb Williams three times — just the second time in his career he had multiple picks — including two by Xavier Watts, who also recovered a fumble in the win. Sam Hartman and Audric Estime provided the offense for the Irish, each accounting for two TDs, and Notre Dame finishes a stretch of four straight games vs. ranked foes 2-2, but squarely back in the hunt for a New Year’s Six bid.

The bigger question may be where the two losing teams go from here?

Louisville’s remaining schedule is manageable, but the Cardinals will now need help if they hope to make the ACC championship game, and a hamstring injury for star tailback Jawhar Jordan could be a serious blow to the Louisville offense.

USC will face ranked foes in four of its last five games, including a Week 8 date with an Utah team that beat the Trojans twice in 2022.

Heels dig in

It might still be a bit too early to call the ACC a two-team race, but North Carolina took a huge step toward securing its spot alongside Florida State as the league’s best with a 41-31 win over Miami on Saturday.

Drake Maye threw for 273 yards and four TDs, Omarion Hampton ran for 197 yards and a score, and Tez Walker, in just his second game after being ruled eligible, caught six passes for 132 yards and three touchdowns.



UNC’s INT sets up Devontez Walker’s 3rd receiving TD

UNC’s Cedric Gray picks off Tyler Van Dyke, then Drake Maye finds Devontez Walker for their third pitch-and-catch touchdown.

Walker’s emergence is a thrilling sign for a UNC offense that already looks electric. The real story of the Heels’ 6-0 start, however, is the defense, which last year mostly featured matadors waving receivers past them to a genuinely good unit this season. Miami jumped out to a strong start Saturday, leading 17-14 at the half, but the Canes’ offense took a knee from there — with a fumble, an INT, a punt and a turnover on downs on its first four drives of the second half, by which time the Heels’ had pulled away. All that was left was for Mack Brown to continue his run of hilariously aggressive postgame handshakes by reaching into Mario Cristobal’s chest and ripping out his heart.

Until North Carolina’s win Saturday, teams named Miami had been undefeated vs. anyone not named Miami — with Miami (Ohio) at 5-1, its lone loss coming to Miami (Florida) in Week 1, and Miami (Florida) at 4-1, with its lone loss coming to itself last week. The good news for the Canes, however, is basketball season is just around the corner — a sport where Miami dominates and UNC didn’t even make the NCAA tournament last year.

Sadly for the Tar Heels, there’s at least a 40% chance the victory is overturned midweek when the NCAA decides Walker was actually ineligible this whole time.

JMU still unbeaten

Jordan McCloud threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-13 win over Georgia Southern, giving James Madison its most emphatic victory since establishing the precedent of judicial review — or at least thumping Bucknell in Week 1.

JMU is now 6-0 on the season and 14-3 since moving up from FCS in 2022.

The Dukes’ defense has been terrific, and McCloud has emerged as one of the top transfer QBs of 2023 after spending the first five years of his career at Arizona and USF.

JMU’s reward for all of this success? It won’t be a Sun Belt title game appearance or a bowl game — both of which are off limits because the Dukes are still in Year 2 of their transition to FBS.

It’s a stupid rule, of course, but the NCAA has always been a bunch of Federalists.

Colorado collapses in non-Prime time



Deion Sanders questions his team’s love for football

Deion Sanders reacts to Colorado’s huge blown lead in its loss to Stanford and questions whether his team can match his passion.

Credit where it’s due: Deion Sanders saw it all coming.

“Who makes these 8 o’clock games?” Sanders asked last week. “Dumbest thing ever. Stupidest thing ever invented in life. Who wants to stay up until 8 o’clock for a darn game?”

First, we must argue with Prime’s take that it’s the “stupidest thing ever invented” when we’ve got emotional support goldfish in Tallahassee.

Second, boy, was Prime right about everything else. By halftime Friday night, the Buffaloes had all popped a melatonin gummy, changed into their official Coach Prime pajamas (complete with cowboy hat and sunglasses-shaped eye mask) and focused on getting a good night’s rest.

Unfortunately for Colorado, Stanford‘s team is used to pulling all-nighters for their advanced theoretical physics exams, so the Cardinal kept on playing in the second half, erasing a 29-0 Buffs lead and winning 46-43 in double overtime.

Shedeur Sanders threw for 400 yards and five touchdowns, including two to a reemergent Travis Hunter, but his INT in the second OT frame proved to be the final dagger in Colorado’s hopes.

Was it embarrassing for Prime? Sure. Was it an indication that, perhaps, Colorado is a fun — but not exactly good — football team? You betcha.

Under-the-radar game of the week

The lame kids who all just pretend to love horrific offenses and ugly games were all over Iowa-Wisconsin on Saturday, but the real fans of the genre — the hipsters who were into Sickos Football before it was cool — know the real story of Week 7 was the showdown between Navy and Charlotte.

On one side was Navy’s option — of which very few of those options involve scoring points.

On the other side was the struggling 49ers — an offense so inept, points are tougher to find than sleeves on Biff Poggi’s sweatshirts.

Saturday’s game had everything: Stalled drives, ugly turnovers and more punts than Brian Ferentz’s end-of-season highlight film.

The two teams combined to complete 17 of 43 throws.

Fifteen drives lasted three plays or less.

Charlotte racked up 396 yards on punts — which was still 113 less than Navy.

Navy scored on a 69-yard pass and a 62-yard run. Those two plays accounted for 25% of the total offensive yardage in the game. (Oh, and that 62-yard touchdown capped a one-play, 57-yard drive because of both a penalty and also that these offenses were moving so slowly the earth began to rotate backwards underneath them).

So, next time your Iowa friends talk about how much they love punting, ask them if they’ve checked out the new Riley Riethman mixtape. The cool kids know what’s up.

Under-the-radar play of the week

Wake Forest‘s Demond Claiborne took a kickoff 96 yards for the score late in the second quarter against Virginia Tech on Saturday.



Wake Forest’s Demond Claiborne returns kickoff 96 yards to the house

Wake Forest RB Demond Claiborne flies through the Virginia Tech defense for a 96-yard touchdown.

What makes this kick return so special? Well, for one, it came in the middle of 17 points scored in a 24-second span in the game — Virginia Tech field goal, Claiborne return and a Jaylin Lane 75-yard TD catch on the next scrimmage play — which is notable in a game between two teams that gave us the greatest Twitter meme of all time.

The other point that makes Claiborne’s score notable is it might be the only way Wake Forest is scoring any time soon. The Deacons have now lost three straight games in which they’ve scored a total of 34 points. Wake has had 35 offensive drives in that stretch — 13 of which ended in punts and nine in turnovers. So, yeah, special teams will need to be pretty good.

A decorator’s touch

This week, news broke that, amid a woeful 1-4 start, Pitt had installed a vase at the entrance to the football facility where players were to deposit their negative thoughts.

Sadly, it turns out the sadness vase — urn of anguish? jar of joylessness? decanter of despair? — was actually a bit more complicated than all that, and the story was all a big nothing.

But we’re not willing to let a good idea go just because Pat Narduzzi didn’t actually think of it first. So, with that in mind, we’re depositing all our negative emotions from Week 7 into the … uh … flagon of forlornness? Let’s go with that.

It’s time to kill the Kevin James meme

Much like “The King of Queens,” the memes were good for three or four laughs, but it has long since outlived its relevance. Need evidence? Maryland tried to psych out Illinois kicker Caleb Griffin by showing an oversized — “More like life-sized if he keeps up with the pasta bolognese,” says Leah Remini (insert laugh track here) — image of Kevin James on the jumbotron behind the goal posts.

Instead, Griffin drilled a 43-yarder for the winner as time expired, giving the Illini a 27-24 victory.



Illinois stuns Maryland on last-second 43-yard FG

Illinois players go wild after Caleb Griffin’s 43-yard field goal gives them a 27-24 win over the Terrapins.

Like Maryland’s hot starts, Twitter memes were never made to last. So let’s turn the page and focus our kicker-related psychological warfare through more traditional means, like ordering two dozen pizzas to his hotel room at 3 a.m. or telling him Taylor Swift is in the press box and is really excited to meet him if he makes it.

The Air Raid is not ready for the Big Ten

Phil Longo took his high-powered Air Raid offense to Wisconsin this offseason with a promise of injecting a sense of modernity to the staid Big Ten.

Turns out, the Big Ten is utterly uninterested in any offense invented after the Industrial Revolution.

Wisconsin lost QB Tanner Mordecai to injury, failed to throw a TD and converted just 2 of 17 third-down tries in a 15-6 loss to Iowa.

Oh, sure, Wisconsin still held Iowa to just 237 yards of offense, and the Hawkeyes mustered just nine first downs in the game, but that all went according to script. It’s Iowa’s 13th win of the playoff era when scoring less than 20 points — more than any other team in FBS. In fact, Iowa wins 33% of the time it fails to hit 20, while the rest of FBS wins at just a tick better than 10% of the time.

Iowa did punt 10 times for 506 yards though, which in a way, is its own version of a well-executed Air Raid.

Twitter jinxes

We may have tweeted something negative about Stanford at halftime Friday night, and that aged poorly.

We did it again Saturday, noting that Kansas QB Jason Bean was having himself a day.

After that tweet, Bean threw two picks, had two more drives end on downs and Oklahoma State erased an eight-point deficit to win 39-32, as Ollie Gordon ran for 168 yards and caught six passes for another 116.

We take full responsibility and apologize to the citizens of Lawrence, Kansas.

Max Johnson as the world’s best suburban dad QB jokes

It’s been one of the few joys of watching Texas A&M football this year that we’ve been able to crack a few jokes at Johnson’s expense because he’s seemingly been playing college ball for 23 years. For a while, it was all in good fun, and Johnson seemed to have injected some actual life into the Aggies’ offense.

On Saturday, the Aggies lost in agonizing fashion for the second straight week, with Johnson tossing interceptions on each of his last two drives and falling to Tennessee, 20-13.

Afterward, all that was left for Johnson to do was throw the team’s helmets and shoulder pads into the back of his Dodge Caravan, distribute the individually wrapped PB&Js with the crusts cut off and get to work on those reports his boss had asked for Thursday.

Michigan State blew a 24-6 fourth-quarter lead to Rutgers, with the Scarlet Knights scoring three times in less than five minutes of game time and winning, 27-24.

We’re going to suggest Michigan State just sits out the rest of the season and starts fresh in 2024. Nothing good can come from continuing to play football this year. Just sit back, enjoy the Urban Meyer rumors, watch some basketball and we can all pretend this year didn’t happen when spring practice starts in March.

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