By Bryan Fischer
FOX Sports College Football Writer
College football is frequently a sport where satisfaction is managed relative to expectations. Every week we hit Saturday anticipating a certain set of outcomes, only to revel in every astonishing result, miraculous last-minute touchdown or agonizing missed kick.
Week 7 was a perfect encapsulation of just that.
It was slated to be a weekend full of mega-matchups on a scale that has been rare. Four top-10 teams were on the road against opponents ranked in the top 20. Massive tests in conference play awaited numerous others on a schedule packed with must-see contests from high noon right on through midnight.
Incredibly, it all lived up to the lofty billing we gave it coming in.
RJ Young’s Top 25: Tennessee makes a move
Ohio State holds the top spot after a bye week, but there was plenty of shuffling behind the Buckeyes.
On an emotional night for Utah, the Utes used a thrilling comeback and go-ahead two-point conversion to stun USC in Salt Lake City. TCU took control of the rollercoaster that is the Big 12 by rallying from a 14-point hole in the fourth quarter to eventually beat Oklahoma State in double overtime. Michigan sent a message to the rest of the Big Ten — and beyond — with an emphatic second-half trouncing of Penn State in front of a jam-packed Big House.
Perhaps most memorably, Tennessee unleashed 15 years of built–up emotions when Chase McGrath’s 40-yard field goal sailed through the (now missing) goalposts to beat Alabama and send Neyland Stadium into an orange-coated frenzy it hasn’t seen in ages on a truly unforgettable Third Saturday in October.
And that’s to say nothing of Sun Belt leaders Coastal Carolina and James Madison falling from the ranks of the undefeated, Colorado getting off the schneid with its first win of the season in OT over Cal, Arkansas and BYU combining to remind us that defense is sometimes optional, Texas gritting out a victory over Iowa State, former Big 12 bottom-feeder Oklahoma picking up a win over a ranked opponent and Syracuse crystalizing its best start to a season since 1987 by thumping N.C. State.
It was a lot and it was glorious.
As we cruise past the halfway mark of the season, though, all those results are starting to add up and have a real impact in framing how the rest of 2022 will be viewed — particularly when it comes to the ultimate prize in the College Football Playoff. And as juicy as that chase is right now after such a chaotic Saturday, just think about how much better things would be if the 12-team expanded setup was in place right now to enhance it for pretty much everybody involved.
The Horned Frogs didn’t even make a bowl game last year but, by knocking off the Cowboys, would now be in line to receive a first-round bye and go straight to an improbable playoff quarterfinal down the street at AT&T Stadium. Sonny Dykes is already off to one of the best starts of any first-year head coach, but can you imagine the euphoria around Fort Worth if such a win could end up resulting in a breather after winning the Big 12 title?
That Vols win would have resulted in a significant shakeup and could have impacted as many as a dozen teams. Detractors would say moving to a 12-teamer devalues moments like what we saw across Week 7, but that’s such a bizarre hypothetical. Do you think the UT fans who carried those goalposts all around Knoxville would celebrate any less after beating a rival like Alabama? Definitely not.
Would a loss in the expansion era have dampened Crimson Tide fans’ pain for the way things ended? Certainly not in the immediate aftermath. But they could take solace in knowing that continuing to win would still keep them in line to host a game in Tuscaloosa down the road.
The Trojans’ loss at Utah would have been even more meaningful for each side of the coin. USC likely would have gone from a bye to, as it stands, out of the tournament completely. Consequently, the Utes presently have almost no chance to enter the four-team invitational of the current setup, but in the future iteration of the playoff would fully crack open the door to not only making the cut but even hosting a game amid that raucous crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Can you imagine the threat of some team getting sent to play at altitude on (fairly) short notice just looming over the final weekend of action?
Then there’s Texas, which remains in the hunt for Big 12 hardware after a gritty home win over a pesky Iowa State team. Should the Longhorns run the table, however, they will need a very forgiving selection committee to heavily weigh the absence of QB Quinn Ewers to allow them into the playoff this year. A slim margin for error now, but perhaps by the time Arch Manning arrives at the 40 Acres, things will be far more forgiving of key injuries like Ewers’.
Heck, don’t overlook Dino Babers going from a hot seat in upstate New York to red, er, Orange hot. Such a turnaround would put the team firmly in the mix for an ACC title and a resulting playoff berth.
Highlights: Michigan runs over Penn State
Blake Corum continued his dominant season, running for 166 yards and two touchdowns against Penn State.
Penn State getting blown out this week by Michigan could also be reminiscent of 2016. The Nittany Lions ended up bouncing back from that loss at the Big House to fuel a nine-game winning streak culminating in a Big Ten title. Only back then the program missed the cut on the Playoff. Make the same kind of run again, and they would instead be in line to not just make it in, but even get that bye.
Maybe that kind of hope would help currently despondent PSU fans to look on the bright side and feel just a tad better about James Franklin’s contractual obligations moving forward.
Further down the pecking order, think about a program like Tulane. The Green Wave recently cracked the top 25 and will have a chance to go into November playing a pivotal role in who wins the American. That conference champion is looking, at best this year, to a trip to the Cotton Bowl against an unmotivated Power 5 side full of likely opt-outs.
In the 12-team playoff era, they would be ticketed to an environment like what we saw at Neyland, the Big House or even get to experience a game day at The Grove with ginormous stakes.
So embrace and cherish what we just saw across the country in college football. Celebrate those moments that will be brought up in highlight reels and dinner discussions for decades to come. Hopefully, we’ll get plenty more in the weeks to come.
But also note that the future postseason structure won’t take any modicum of heft from what just unfolded — it will only serve to enhance it. If you think every Saturday in the fall is fun now, just wait until the bar gets raised and the field of contenders grows exponentially.
Make It Make Sense
Best Player: Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
Team of the Week: Tennessee
Goat of the Week: James Franklin
Tweet of the Week:
Here’s how I voted in the FWAA/NFF Super 16 Poll this week.
- Ohio State
- Oklahoma State
- Ole Miss
- Wake Forest
- Penn State
Just missed the cut: Utah
No. 1 scoring offense in the country against the No. 3 scoring defense … who you got? Silly question, because the only thing to watch in this one is if Ohio State’s defense can create a turnover and outscore the Hawkeyes’ anemic offense on their own.
No. 9 UCLA at No. 10 Oregon (3:30 p.m. ET; FOX and the FOX Sports app)
No shortage of storylines surrounding this one, which might have the most hype coming into the contest for a marquee Pac-12 matchup in several years. It’s no secret as to what the key for this one will be with both programs coming off a bye: stopping the run. As good as the Bruins have been in rolling to this start, we’ll lean toward the Ducks doing that just a tad better in a very different return to Eugene for Chip Kelly.
No. 14 Syracuse at No. 5 Clemson (Noon ET)
The Orange have played Dabo Swinney’s crew fairly close when in the Dome, but it’s a different story down in Death Valley. That trend figures to hold true for another season even if Syracuse stays around for a half (or even a little more). Clemson’s defense will be too much up front and in case you haven’t noticed, DJ Uiagalelei has the offense looking much better than it was a month ago.
No. 20 Texas at No. 11 Oklahoma State (3:30 p.m. ET)
Steve Sarkisian eventually understood that feeding Bijan Robinson and Xavier Worthy would guide UT to victory over Iowa State, but that won’t be enough to knock off the Cowboys in that bandbox they call home. If Ewers can step things up, they’ve got a chance. But the Horns’ (potentially last) trip to Stillwater could be just the motivating factor needed for Mike Gundy’s crew, which was a play or two away from being undefeated coming in.
Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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