What to watch: Week 7 college football viewing guide, picks against the spread

Sam Cooper

Every week throughout the season we’ll give you a college football viewing guide by highlighting the five best games of the coming weekend. We will also pick those five games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.

This feels like the week where things in the college football world really start to pick up.

Don’t get me wrong. There were some fun games last week (hello, SMU-Tulsa and Pitt-Duke), and even a few upsets (good job, Stanford). But Week 6 was indicative of the kind of season it’s been so far. There have been some big games here and there, but Week 7 should finally bring us a full day of significant action.

It all starts with the Red River Rivalry at noon leading into a 3:30 window brimming with upset potential. From there, we’re greeted by an epic nightcap: USC-Notre Dame, Penn State-Iowa, and, of course, Florida-LSU. The night doesn’t end there, either. Keep the coffee brewing in the kitchen for Hawaii’s visit to No. 14 Boise State, one of three quality West Coast games that kicks off after 10 p.m. ET.

We’re in for a fun day.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

(Note: All times ET, point spreads from FanDuel Sportsbook)

5. Hawaii at No. 14 Boise State

Time: 10:15 p.m. | TV: ESPN2 | Line: Boise State -12.5

At No. 14 in the latest AP poll, Boise State is the highest-ranked Group of Five team in the country and may be in the driver’s seat to represent the G5 conferences in a New Year’s Six bowl game. But the Broncos have plenty of competition nipping at their heels, mainly from the AAC (Appalachian State is in the mix, too). The AAC has three ranked teams: No. 21 SMU (6-0), No. 23 Memphis (5-0) and Cincinnati (4-1 with a loss to Ohio State), which jumped to No. 25 after upsetting UCF. Tulane (4-1) is in the mix as well. What you don’t see is a lot of love for the Mountain West. With the depth of the AAC, Boise State — the MWC’s only undefeated team — might not have any margin for error if it wants that New Year’s Six spot.

That brings us to Saturday night when Hawaii visits the blue turf of Albertsons Stadium. Hawaii opened the season with three games against Pac-12 teams, beating Arizona and Oregon State at home before falling to Washington in Seattle. From there, Nick Rolovich’s team knocked off Central Arkansas and destroyed Nevada, 54-3, on the road. Now rolling into Boise off a bye week, the Rainbow Warriors should be one of the toughest teams the Broncos face all season. Boise has a few difficult games remaining, notably road trips to BYU and Utah State, but BSU managed to avoid both San Diego State and Fresno State out of the West Division in 2019. But before worrying about those journeys, Bryan Harsin’s team needs to fend off high-scoring Hawaii.

Picks: Sam Cooper: Hawaii +12.5, Nick Bromberg: Hawaii +12.5

4. USC at No. 9 Notre Dame

Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: NBC | Line: Notre Dame -10.5

Which version of USC will we see this weekend? Will we get the USC team that out-dueled Utah in an impressive home upset on Sept. 20, or the USC team that turned it over three times in a 28-14 loss to Washington a week later? To be fair, both of those games featured third-stringer Matt Fink at quarterback. The magic he pulled out against Utah did not carry over to Washington, and the Trojans fell to 3-2 and out of the Top 25 in the process. Following a bye week, we will see QB Kedon Slovis back in the lineup for the Trojans (stud safety Talanoa Hufanga will return, too). Slovis, who has shown flashes of brilliance in relief of injured J.T. Daniels, suffered a concussion early in the Utah game. The Trojans will need more than the return of Slovis to beat the Irish in South Bend. They’ll have to limit the turnovers (14 in all) that have plagued them so far this season.

On the Notre Dame side, this is still a team with College Football Playoff aspirations. But because the Irish lost on the road to No. 3 Georgia a few weeks ago, they have to win out to reach the CFP for the second straight season. Strong defensive efforts in convincing wins over then-No. 18 Virginia and Bowling Green followed the loss in Athens. While the Irish rank No. 17 nationally in passing defense (183.2 ypg), the defense has also consistently gotten into the backfield, notching 46 tackles for loss and 14 sacks as a team. That will be big against a USC team that relies heavily on its passing attack.

Picks: Sam: USC +10.5, Nick: Notre Dame -10.5

3. No. 10 Penn State at No. 17 Iowa

Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Penn State -3.5

No. 10 Penn State is a team that has a chance to make a move up the rankings in the coming weeks, starting with Saturday night’s game in Iowa City. The Nittany Lions are off to a 5-0 start, but their toughest opponent in that stretch was Pittsburgh. A road game at night in Kinnick Stadium is a different beast, especially for a team full of underclassmen contributors. That includes sophomore QB Sean Clifford, who has thrown for 1,443 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first year starting. PSU leads the Big Ten in plays of 50-plus yards, but the defense has been the stronger side of the ball. The Nittany Lions are fourth in the country in total defense, second in scoring defense and registered a whopping 10 sacks in the win over Purdue last weekend. The defense will need another strong effort if PSU wants to keep pace with Ohio State in the Big Ten East.

Speaking of sacks, Iowa gave up eight sacks last weekend in a 10-3 loss at Michigan. It marked the first defeat of the year for the Hawkeyes. Entering the Michigan game, Iowa had cruised to a 4-0 start with wins over Miami (Ohio), Rutgers, Iowa State and Middle Tennessee. But the Hawkeyes’ offense was completely overwhelmed in Ann Arbor, mustering only 261 yards while turning it over four times. Three of those turnovers came from veteran quarterback Nate Stanley, who tossed three interceptions. Iowa will need a much better effort from its offensive line if it wants to pull off the upset in front of the home crowd and avoid a second Big Ten loss.

Picks: Sam: Penn State -3.5, Nick: Penn State -3.5

2. No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 Texas

Time: Noon | TV: ESPN2 | Line: Oklahoma -10.5

Another year, another transfer quarterback excelling at Oklahoma. Like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray before him, Jalen Hurts has hit the ground running in Norman, putting up ridiculous numbers — including an FBS-leading 14 yards per pass attempt — to help the Sooners to a 5-0 start. Hurts, of course, has plenty of help. He’s got a trio of running backs that collectively averages 8.8 yards per carry along with two deep-threat wideouts, CeeDee Lamb and Charleston Rambo, who are averaging 25.7 yards per reception. Yeah, Oklahoma’s offense, which leads the nation with 50 plays of 20-plus yards, can strike in an instant. But now it will have to prove it can continue producing at that level against its arch-rival: the Texas Longhorns.

Oklahoma’s explosive play ability should be a cause for concern for the Texas defense, especially one that is dealing with injuries in the secondary. But the Longhorns are still one of the national leaders in interceptions after picking off West Virginia’s Austin Kendall four times a week ago. A performance like that will give UT confidence that it can get some crucial stops in crunch time on Saturday at the Cotton Bowl. UT should also be confident that its offense can put points on the board at the same rate Oklahoma does. The Longhorns, after all, are averaging 41.8 points per game behind the stellar play of quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Texas hung 48 on OU in a win in this game last fall, but lost in the rematch in the Big 12 title game. What does 2019 have in store?

Picks: Sam: Texas +10.5, Nick: Texas +10.5

1. No. 7 Florida at No. 5 LSU

Time: 8 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: LSU -13

Can Florida pull off another upset? Last week, the Gators upset Auburn by forcing four turnovers and reeling off two long touchdowns — a 64-yard Freddie Swain catch-and-run early in the first quarter, and an 88-yard Lamical Perine run in the fourth. But that game was played at home in The Swamp. This week, the Gators, who improved to 6-0 with the win, will travel to Baton Rouge to face mighty LSU. Florida will have Kyle Trask back at quarterback after a health scare in the second quarter against Auburn. Trask will need to play his best game yet, and he’ll need plenty of help from his offensive line against an attacking LSU defense. On the other side, the stout Florida defense will have to contend with the high-flying — yes, you read that right — LSU offense, led by QB Joe Burrow. But Burrow hasn’t had to go against cornerbacks as good as Florida’s Marco Wilson and C.J. Henderson.

The ascendance of the LSU offense has been one of the stories of the college football season so far. All offseason, we heard from Ed Orgeron how the Tigers would go to an up-tempo spread offense. And they certainly have. LSU is averaging a whopping 54.6 points (No. 1 nationally) and 571 yards (No. 2) per game with Burrow leading the way. As noted in this week’s Heisman Watch, Burrow became the first LSU quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards in four straight games with his 344-yard outing against Utah State last week. Burrow’s 1,864 yards and 22 TD passes rank second in the country. The stellar trio of Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall have been Burrow’s top targets, though Marshall may miss this game due to a foot injury.

With both teams undefeated, this isn’t a do-or-die game from a CFP perspective. LSU has back-to-back games against SEC West foes No. 12 Auburn and No. 1 Alabama in the coming weeks. Florida could still knock No. 3 Georgia from the top of the SEC East when the two play on Nov. 2.

Picks: Sam: LSU -13, Nick: Florida +13

Records ATS to date: Sam: 16-17, Nick: 13-20

Texas plays Oklahoma in the first half of an NCAA college football game in this general overall view of the Cotton Bowl Stadium  Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Can Texas upset Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl for a second straight season? (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Week 7’s best bets

Nick Bromberg (Last week: 2-1, Overall: 8-10)

Michigan State at No. 8 Wisconsin (-10.5): Did the Spartans’ performance at Ohio State in Week 6 give you any confidence that they can keep it close against the Badgers? Remember, Wisconsin has been blowing people out this season just like Ohio State has. Badgers cruise. Pick: Wisconsin -10.5

No. 15 Utah at Oregon State (+14): The Beavers got a great win over UCLA on Saturday on the road. But UCLA is nothing like Utah, which could be the best team in the Pac-12. I think QB Tyler Huntley has a big game and Utah makes easy work of the worst team in the Pac-12 North. Pick: Utah -14

Nebraska at Minnesota (-7.5): I just have a hunch about this game. It’s pretty clear that Nebraska was overrated entering the season and Minnesota might have been underrated. But the Gophers have been escape artists, save for games against Purdue — where Elijah Sindelar and Rondale Moore both went down with injuries — and Illinois, the perennial basement-dweller in the Big Ten. Gophers likely win, but Nebraska covers. Pick: Nebraska +7.5

Sam Cooper (Last week: 2-1, Overall: 8-9-1)

No. 23 Memphis at Temple (+6): At 5-0 and ranked in the AP poll for the first time this season, Memphis has to be feeling pretty good. But I think Memphis is a little overrated. The Tigers needed a second-half push to beat Navy and were only up six late last week against UL Monroe. Temple, meanwhile, had a bad loss at Buffalo a few weeks ago but bounced back with back-to-back wins. Temple is 3-0 against the spread at home this year. I think it’ll be 4-0. Pick: Temple +6

Middle Tennessee at Florida Atlantic (-10): After losing to Ohio State and UCF to open the season, FAU is on a three-game winning streak. Better yet, Lane Kiffin’s offense is humming again and has scored more than 40 points in those wins. MTSU is coming off a nice win over Marshall, but I don’t think the Herd will be able to keep up offensively. Pick: Florida Atlantic -10

Fresno State at Air Force (-3.5): Air Force lost to Navy in brutal fashion last week, so Troy Calhoun should have his boys extra determined this week. I worry about Fresno State coming off a bye here, but this team isn’t as talented as the Fresno teams of the past two seasons. In wins over Sacramento State and New Mexico State, Fresno State failed to cover the spread in both games by a combined 26.5 points. Pick: Air Force -3.5

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