1 – Rocky Top
There was arguably no bigger star in week 7 than the Tennessee Volunteers. After a 5-0 start to the season behind Heisman hopeful Hendon Hooker, you could feel a sense of shift within the program after two decades of floating in stagnant water. The Vols grabbed wins over SEC foes Florida and LSU in consecutive games, and got revenge against a Pitt team that beat them the year prior. However, Saturday would be an entirely different test.
Alabama came to Rocky Top in a top 6 matchup that featured ESPN’s College Gameday returning just weeks after they made a stop there. Peyton Manning was on hand as guest picker. Ultimate hype man Pat McAfee jumped into the damn river. The Tide, though, who under Nick Saban have won every single meeting in the rivalry, were 8.5 point favorites with the return of Bryce Young under center.
The most impressive aspect of the Vol’s win? Not once did they look or play scared. Hooker and wide receiver Jalin Hyatt connected on six completions, five of which went for touchdowns, and 207 yards. Tennessee came out guns blazing, holding the lead for almost two whole quarters before the Tide came storming back to tie the game 28-28 in the third quarter. Tennessee promptly responded with another score, and then Alabama did the same. With a little under 8 minutes left in a 42-42 game, Hendon Hooker made a critical mistake deep in their own territory on a mesh play that resulted in a Dallas Turner scoop and score. 49-42 Alabama. This is traditionally where the wheels fall off against the college football equivalent of Thanos.
Not for this team. Not on this Tennessee Saturday night. Tennessee marched down the field and tied it. Bryce Young and company marched right back down the field, but key defensive stops forced the Tide to attempt a 50 yard field goal. It went wide. The sea of orange that engulfed the stadium erupted. Overtime. BUT WAIT! A couple quick passes against a soft Alabama defense put Tennessee in position to attempt a 40 yard field goal that Chase McGrath knuckleballed just barely over cross bar. Rocky Top rang. The field was stormed, looking like you poured a bottle of Fanta into a cereal bowl. An entire Fourth of July fireworks display. You could probably hear the song ‘Dixieland Delight’ from Mars. The goalposts were torn down and taken clear out of the stadium and placed in the river.
It was a seen straight out of a movie. Tennessee asserted themselves as a contender, as a downtrodden program that somehow picked itself off the mat by making some incredibly uninspiring hires during NCAA investigations. The AD from UCF? The UCF head coach who wasn’t quite as good as Scott Frost? A middling transfer quarterback from Virginia Tech who was the backup to start 2021! You really never know in this crazy sport. Rocky Top is on top of the college football mountain yet again.
2 – Utah QB-TE Duo Cam Rising & Dalton Kincaid (vs. USC)
Alabama wasn’t the only undefeated top 10 team to lose on the road in a Week 7 thriller. The USC Trojans went to Utah and got beat late by the Utah Utes behind the connection of Cam Rising and tight end Dalton Kincaid.
After a close loss to Florida in Week 1 and a road loss to UCLA last week, it seemed as though the Utes weren’t quite the team analysts predicted in the preseason. Add in the loss of star tight end Brant Kuithe, it seemed as though the season was going downhill. That all changed Saturday night, as the Utes constantly battled back behind a stellar performance by quarterback Cam Rising. Rising threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns on 30 completions and added 60 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Dalton Kincaid accounted for 16 of those 30 completions and 234 yards as the Trojan defense had no answers for the senior receiver.
With a little under a minute left, Rising scored to bring Utah within a point, and a gutsy call by head coach Kyle Whittingham to go for two and the win paid off as Rising ran it in for the 43-42 victory. What makes the win even more special? They did it while honoring fallen teammates Aaron Lowe and Ty Jordan on the helmets.
3 – Michigan Wolverines (vs. Penn State)
I think many in the college football industry had questions about how good the Wolverines are this season. After a poor non-conference schedule that featured three of the worst teams in FBS, they would reel off convincing victories against Maryland, Iowa, and Indiana, but on Saturday they’d have a pretty good Penn State team come to Ann Arbor to really test this squad.
Michigan aced the test. The defense kept Penn State in check all game, aside from a long Sean Clifford run that set up the Nittany Lions to score their lone offensive touchdown of the afternoon. Penn State was held to just 157 yards through the air and their running backs were held to just 41 yards on 13 carries. Offensively, the Wolverines dominate the game via the ground as Donovan Edwards ran for 173, Blake Corum for 166, and J.J. McCarthy for 57.
A quick glance at team stats tell the whole story though. Michigan outgained Penn State 563 to 268, held the ball for 41:56, and had 28 first downs to the Nittany Lions measly 10. This was a prove it game for a program that many questioned, considering the breakout 2021 campaign and loss of talent to the NFL this past Spring. Michigan will get a bye week next week before seeking revenge against in state rival Michigan State.
4 – Kentucky RB Chris Rodriguez Jr. (vs. Mississippi State)
Kentucky has had an up and (then) down year. Rodriguez, the Wildcats bell cow back, missed the first several weeks of the season due to NCAA issues. Rodriguez came back for a big matchup against Ole Miss, in which star quarterback Will Levis got banged up and the Cats ultimately lost. The next week, Levis was out and Kentucky lost again, this time to South Carolina. Needing a huge win against a ranked SEC foe, and with Levis still battling through some hurt, Kentucky put it on Rodriguez and he delivered. Carrying the ball 30 times for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns, the running back helped Kentucky hold the ball for nearly 40 minutes of game time and kept Mike Leach and his air raid offense on the sidelines.
Rodriguez is one of the more underrated running back prospects in this years draft. A bruising runner, he should be valued in the mid/late rounds as a solid short yardage/goal line back for a team looking for such an option.
5 – Miami DL Ahkeem Mesidor (vs. Virginia Tech)
I need some positive Miami vibes so I’m giving the final star to Mesidor, a West Virginia transfer who’s battled some injuries but has been a force when healthy. Against Big East rival Virginia Tech on Saturday, Mesidor registered 3.5 sacks on Hokies quarterback Grant Wells while also leading the team with 8 tackles. Its been, lets say, a rough open to the Mario Cristobal era at Miami as the team has faced talent and depth issues at many key positions and quarterback Tyler Van Dyke struggled early in the new offense, but Mesidor has arguably been one of the more valuable players on the team.