Sports

College football ahead: Week 7 was crazy, but next weekend could be better

Washington v Arizona State
Washington quarterback Jake Browning (3) reacts as he walks off the field during the second half against Arizona State on Saturday. The Sun Devils defeated the Huskies 13-7.
(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Think of all the things we knew just a few days ago.

We knew Clemson was neck and neck with Alabama at the top of the college football heap, the two programs seemingly distancing themselves from the pack.

We knew Washington had nudged its way into the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 Conference with a clear sailing toward a playoff spot.

We knew Washington State was this season’s Cinderella and Auburn was quietly mounting a run to the Southeastern Conference championship.

Two days of head-scratching upsets changed all that, with each of the above teams, except Alabama, losing and the College Football Playoff situation getting turned on its head halfway through the race.

“Oh yeah,” coach Todd Graham told reporters after his Arizona State team defeated Washington, “no one gave us a chance.”

The craziest part about last weekend? It was supposed to be a sleeper with not a single game between ranked teams. Next weekend, with a couple of marquee billings and a few potentially interesting matchups, could be even better.

October showdown

A lot of questions about the Big Ten Conference will get answered in Happy Valley when the newly anointed No. 2 Penn State takes on No. 19 Michigan.

The Nittany Lions should be rested after a bye week and are hoping to keep the offense firing on all cylinders with so many opponents stacking the box against running back Saquon Barkley.

“We’re in a situation where it’s almost like you’ve got to pick your poison,” coach James Franklin told reporters recently. “People are going to try everything they possibly can to not allow Saquon Barkley to beat you, but it creates just a lot of opportunities for other guys.”

Quarterback Trace McSorley is averaging 266 yards passing with an efficiency rating of 154. The problem is, he and his Penn State receivers now face a Michigan defense that ranks No. 1 in the nation, allowing only 223.8 yards a game.

The Wolverines have something to prove after escaping Indiana with an overtime victory on Saturday. As coach Jim Harbaugh put it: “We’ll move on with humble hearts.”

Shillelagh time

The intersectional rivalry between USC and Notre Dame has some teeth to it this fall.

The Trojans have climbed back to No. 11 after their upset loss to Washington State. Notre Dame, meanwhile, trails right behind them at No. 13.

The Irish opened as slight favorites on their home field and there’s more than history at stake — this figures to be a true elimination game because whoever loses will have two defeats and will almost certainly be out of the hunt for the College Football Playoff.

“We’ve got to keep getting better as the season goes on,” USC linebacker Cameron Smith said. “That’s the most important thing for us is keep winning games and move on.”

Confidence booster

Coach Dino Babers might just be working a turnaround at Syracuse, where the Orange sent Clemson tumbling five spots to No. 7 after Friday night’s shocker.

Following a string of seasons that ranged from mediocre to awful, Babers and his 4-3 team have strung together consecutive victories leading into a road game at No. 8 Miami.

The Hurricanes are undefeated and, with a couple of last-minute victories, have that look of destiny. At the same time, Syracuse players sound as if they are starting to believe in themselves.

“I had doubts about the future of the program, as did everyone,” linebacker Zaire Franklin said. “Coach Babers has done so much for us.”

That sort of confidence could make a difference. At this point, we know the Orange are a two-touchdown underdog, but imagine what we might know next week.

david.wharton@latimes.com

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