No. 3 Clemson was nearly on the receiving end of the first big upset of the season and Tennessee found out that its fall-behind-big-early approach does not work quite so well against No. 1 Alabama.
The college football season reached its midway point, with a chance for some major movement at the top of the rankings.
Thoughts, takedowns and takeaways from Week 7:
1. Clemson was sloppy. Clemson was lucky. Clemson won and that’s all that matters.
2. Style points in the College Football Playoff era are overrated. And losing to North Carolina State would not have been a death blow to the third-ranked Tigers’ playoff hopes. But with a trip Florida State still on the schedule, losing a division game would have given away all of Clemson’s leeway.
3. The Tigers do need to work on ball security. They turned it over a lot last season (27 times) and still reached the national championship game. They are ahead of that pace this season (16 giveaways) and minus-1 in turnover margin. That’s a tough way to stay unbeaten.
4. Deshaun Watson’s completion percentage (63.6 from 67.8) and yards per attempt (7.56 from 8.36) are both down from last season. He is throwing interceptions more frequently (one every 33 passes instead of 37). And he has run for only 279 yards and one touchdown after 1,105 and 12 touchdowns last year. By almost every measure Watson is not playing as well as he did last season, but he has performed well late in close games against Auburn, Louisville and North Carolina State so he is still a Heisman Trophy contender.
5. But Watson did not gain any ground on Lamar Jackson this week.
6. Never play for the field goal in college.
7. There was some confusion about this on the internet after Clemson won. The students rush the field after every victory in Death Valley. It’s a tradition.
8. Alabama is not having any of your comebacks, Tennessee. The Crimson Tide ran for 438 yards, its first 400-yard rushing game since 1992.
9. The SEC is loaded with future NFL first-round draft picks at defensive end. None of them are playing better than Tennessee’s Derek Barnett.
10. Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy as redshirt freshmen. A true freshman has never won it. Crimson Tide freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts is going to get himself into the mix.
11. If you hadn’t already, scratch Christian McCaffery off the list of Heisman contenders.
12. When you replace a coach who averaged nine victories a season for 15 years, the bar is high. So when Georgia loses to Vanderbilt in Kirby Smart’s first season as coach to fall to 2-3 in the SEC, a lot of people will point that out.
13. Of course, that coach Smart replaced, Mark Richt, did not have a particularly good day either. For the second straight week, Richt failed to record his 150th career victory.
14. Miami is likely to go from ranked 10th to unranked in two weeks, but the Hurricanes have bigger issues. Specifically, a banged-up defense that was already thin and inexperienced having to get ready for a Thursday night road game against No. 17 Virginia Tech.
15. The Hokies were the ACC Coastal’s hot team last week. And then they were upset by Syracuse , which beat a ranked team for the first time since 2012.
16. No. 20 West Virginia, the most overlooked undefeated team in the country, deserves a little more attention. Everybody puts up big numbers against Texas Tech’s defense, but the Mountaineers also contained Patrick Mahomes, who came in averaging 10 yards per pass attempt and was held to 6.9.
17. Still, sticking with No. 20 Oklahoma as the Big 12’s best team.
18. No. 11 Baylor will argue, but the Bears still have much to prove.
19. Everything is broken at Michigan State, which has lost four straight games for the first time in 10 seasons under Mark Dantonio. The fall has been maybe the most startling development of the first half of the season. At 2-4, just reaching a bowl game will take at least one upset for Michigan State.
20. Is this the type of season that would make Dantonio ponder if he has peaked at Michigan State and consider moving on? Doubt it. Can’t see Dantonio bailing on the Spartans at the first sign of problems.
21. Nebraska has taken the 2015 Iowa path to its lofty ranking so far, with nothing that would qualify as a marquee victory. But the 10th-ranked Cornhuskers have only a home game against Purdue next week before two huge road games to prove themselves against Wisconsin and Ohio State. Be excited Huskers fans, even if it might not last long.
22. Western Michigan won twice on Saturday. The 24th-ranked Broncos first game as a ranked team was a 41-0 rout at Akron. Northwestern and Illinois both winning help the resume of undefeated WMU, which has hopes for a New Year’s Six bowl bid as the best conference champion from the Group of Five.
23. Everybody’s favorite receiver had the best game of his career. Travis Rudolph was the difference for No. 14 Florida State against Wake Forest. The junior had only six catches in the last four games.
24. Rudolph was good but not as productive as Louisiana Tech’s Carlos Henderson, who caught 12 passes for 326 yards against UMass.
25. Comeback player of the year: Utah running back Joe Williams, who had given up football, returned to the team after a rash of injuries and helped the Utes beat Oregon State.