College football Top 25, Week 7: Games, players to watch

College football Top 25, Week 7: Games, players to watch

Welcome to The Top 25, a weekly rundown of the best of college football.

Each week, The Baltimore Sun will break down the top games, players and teams to watch, from the Power Five to the Group of Five. Here’s what to know for Week 7:

Alabama linebacker Henry To'oTo'o (10) celebrates with a "straightening the tie" gesture after a stop against Tennessee during a game Oct. 23, 2021, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

No. 10 Penn State at No. 5 Michigan (Saturday, noon, Fox): While the Nittany Lions have won two of the past three meetings against the Wolverines — and nearly pulled off the upset last season in Happy Valley — they haven’t won in The Big House since 2009. This might come down to which quarterback makes fewer mistakes, and that’s hard to predict between Sean Clifford and J.J. McCarthy. Michigan has dominated inferior opponents thus far, but we’ll see if it’s truly worthy of being considered a playoff contender this week.

No. 3 Alabama at No. 6 Tennessee (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS): This has been a lopsided rivalry since coach Nick Saban took over Alabama in 2007, with the Crimson Tide winning 15 straight meetings by an average margin of nearly 26 points. With star Alabama quarterback Bryce Young still recovering from a shoulder injury and Tennessee’s offense ranking among the best in the country, this is the Volunteers’ best chance yet to end the streak.

No. 8 Oklahoma State at No. 13 TCU (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC): The battle between the last two unbeaten teams in the Big 12 might be decided by big plays. TCU’s offense ranks first nationally in yards per play, but the defense has allowed 12 plays of 30-plus yards. Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders completed six passes of 20-plus yards in a 41-31 win over Texas Tech, while the defense recorded 14 tackles for loss. One big gain (or loss) could be the difference.

No. 4 Clemson at Florida State (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ABC): The Tigers have won six straight in this series, but this might be the best Seminoles team they’ve faced in awhile. Clemson’s defense hasn’t been as spectacular as last season, a curious development considering how much talent there is up front. If quarterback Jordan Travis can deliver both on the ground and through the air, this could be a season-defining win for Florida State.

No. 7 Southern California at No. 20 Utah (Saturday, 8 p.m., Fox): Given the soft schedule that awaits the Trojans, it’s fair to say this game could decide their postseason fate. This will be USC’s first matchup against a team inside the top 40 of ESPN’s SP+ efficiency rankings, putting pressure on not only quarterback Caleb Williams to meet high expectations, but for the Trojans defense to prove it’s capable of making some stops.

Minnesota's Mohamed Ibrahim skips through a tackle attempt by Michigan State's Angelo Grose in the first half at Spartan Stadium on Sept. 24 in East Lansing, Michigan.

Mississippi State QB Will Rogers (at No. 22 Kentucky): While the return of Will Levis for Kentucky will capture most of the attention, the quarterback on the other sideline is worth watching, too. Rogers has operated coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense to perfection, leading the country with 351.7 passing yards per game and throwing 22 touchdown passes to just three interceptions.

Minnesota RB Mohamed Ibrahim (at No. 24 Illinois): The Baltimore native ranked second in the nation in rushing before being ruled out against Purdue with an ankle injury, and Minnesota struggled to move the ball in his absence in a 20-10 loss. He’s expected to return this weekend, breathing new life into the Gophers’ Big Ten West title hopes.

Ole Miss WR Jonathan Mingo (vs. Auburn): In a 52-28 comeback win over Vanderbilt, Mingo had nine catches for 247 yards and two touchdowns, including 71- and 72-yard scores that iced the game. He ranks second in the country with an average of 23.1 yards per catch.

Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer (vs. Stanford): Considered the best tight end prospect in the 2023 NFL draft class and a potential first-round pick, Mayer has come on strong after a slow start. He enjoyed his best game of the season in a 28-20 win over BYU, catching 11 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns.

Florida LB Ventrell Miller (vs. LSU): The redshirt senior has been all over the field when healthy, recording a season-high 11 tackles in last week’s win over Missouri. Miller is the highest-graded linebacker in the Power Five, according to Pro Football Focus.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) throws during an NCAA college football game against Utah in Pasadena, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

1. Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud (70.6{f5ac61d6de3ce41dbc84aacfdb352f5c66627c6ee4a1c88b0642321258bd5462} completion, 1,737 passing yards, 24 TDs, 3 INTs, 94.8 QBR): The second-year starter is on track to not only win a national title, but be the top quarterback selected in April’s draft.

2. Kansas QB Jalon Daniels (66.7{f5ac61d6de3ce41dbc84aacfdb352f5c66627c6ee4a1c88b0642321258bd5462} completion, 1,072 passing yards, 11 TDs, 1 INT, 90.1 QBR; 335 rushing yards, 3 TDs): The breakout star of the season has led the Jayhawks to a remarkable turnaround with his big arm and quick feet, though he was hurt last week against TCU and is unlikely to play against Oklahoma.

3. UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson (74.8{f5ac61d6de3ce41dbc84aacfdb352f5c66627c6ee4a1c88b0642321258bd5462} completion, 1,510 passing yards, 15 TDs, 2 INTs, 88.4 QBR; 231 rushing yards, 4 TDs): The former five-star recruit has put it all together in his fifth season, leading the Bruins to their best start in the Chip Kelly era.

4. USC QB Caleb Williams (64.9{f5ac61d6de3ce41dbc84aacfdb352f5c66627c6ee4a1c88b0642321258bd5462} completion, 1,590 passing yards, 14 TDs, 1 INT, 83.1 QBR; 178 rushing yards, 3 TDs): The Oklahoma transfer has been the unflappable leader of a rebuilt roster, making the Trojans playoff contenders in coach Lincoln Riley’s first season.

5. Michigan RB Blake Corum (118 carries for 735 yards, 6.23 average, 11 TDs): The former St. Frances Academy star has been an explosive playmaker for an offense that’s needed his production more than ever.

Kansas coach Lance Leipold prepares to enter the field with his team before an NCAA college football game against Iowa State Saturday, Oct. 1 in Lawrence, Kansas.

1. Lance Leipold, Kansas: After building a Division III dynasty at Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he won six national championships, Leipold has turned one of the worst programs in the Power Five into a legitimate Big 12 contender. The Jayhawks are ranked for the first time since 2009 and one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2008.

2. Josh Heupel, Tennessee: The former Oklahoma quarterback has built one of the best offenses in the country and taken the Volunteers to heights they haven’t reached in nearly two decades. The last time Tennessee was ranked as high as No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll was 2005, when it entered the season No. 3.

3. Lincoln Riley, USC: The former Oklahoma coach has defied expectations for a first-year leader, delivering immediate results with a combination of impact transfers and a brilliant offensive scheme.

4. Dino Babers, Syracuse: After three disappointing seasons under Babers, the Orange have bounced back to start undefeated and put themselves in contention to compete for an ACC title.

5. Bret Bielema, Illinois: The former Wisconsin and Arkansas coach has helped build one of the strongest defenses in the country, propelling the Fighting Illini into the Top 25 for the first time since 2011.

Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. waves to fans as he leaves the field after the team's win over Texas A&M on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

1. Alabama OLB Will Anderson Jr.: The junior edge rusher has been as disruptive as ever, recording five sacks, 10 tackles for loss and a pick-six to lead one of the stingiest defenses in the country.

2. Utah CB Clark Phillips III: The sophomore leads the nation with five interceptions and has returned two of them for touchdowns, including an 80-yard pick-six against UCLA.

3. Arkansas LB Drew Sanders: The junior has outperformed All-SEC teammate Bumper Pool, ranking second nationally with 6 1/2 sacks while adding two forced fumbles and three passes defended.

4. Iowa LB Jack Campbell: The senior All-Big Ten standout has been the leader of perhaps the nation’s best defense, ranking eighth nationally with 63 tackles while grading as one of the top linebackers in the country, according to PFF.

5. USC DL Tuli Tuipulotu: The junior leads the country with seven sacks and ranks second with 12 1/2 tackles for loss, helping lead a disruptive defense that’s forced 15 turnovers.