Week 7 was billed as "Separation Saturday" thanks to a loaded slate of games.
It didn't disappoint.
Alabama topped Texas A&M 41-23 in College Station, Memphis stunned 13th-ranked Ole Miss 37-24 at the Liberty Bowl, and LSU ended Florida's hopes of a perfect season in Death Valley.
Who were the key players this week?
The best individual performances in the SEC based on production and importance to the team are in this slideshow.
With five matchups between teams ranked in the AP Top 25, college football had a lot of hype to live up to this weekend. Fortunately for those watching, the sport delivered and then some.
The ending to Michigan-Michigan State was one of the greatest plays in college football history, Alabama and Iowa both secured big victories against ranked opponents and moved closer to a possible spot in the New Year’s Six and LSU handed Florida its first loss of the season.
It has already been one of the most entertaining college football seasons in memory, with no team safe from an unexpected upset and no clear favorite for the title. As the season heads into the second half things don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Let’s take a look at the projections for the New Year’s Six Bowls and the teams that will make it to the this season’s College Football Playoff:
For those really plugged into college football, Saturday wasn’t too unexpected, but for the more casual fan Memphis taking down Ole Miss in comfortable fashion was unheard of. The Rebels were ranked No. 13 heading into the game and had taken down Alabama a few weeks ago but were now losing at a team from the American.
But Memphis is a part of the new era of the American—which itself is a young conference that used to be the Big East—and Saturday’s result was anything but a fluke.
Scoring 31 consecutive points after falling behind 14-0 at home, the Tigers managed to hold on as Ole Miss battled back into the game late, likely securing a debut in the AP Top 25 poll this coming week. With the highest ranked non-Power 5 team earning a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl, Memphis looks to be in pole position, but it is a long road ahead.
The Tigers have the strongest non-conference win of any of the teams vying for the top spot, but with both Houston and Temple undefeated in the AAC, as well as Toledo running unchecked through the MAC, Memphis still has plenty of work left to do to if it wants to secure a spot in one of the big bowls.
But for now the Tigers should celebrate. They were the better team against Ole Miss and have come a long way from the program that won just five combined games over a three-year span from 2009 to 2011.
For the first time this season, it feels like Iowa might actually be capable of pulling off one of the most surprising runs to a New Year’s Six bowl in recent memory. Typically a good not great team, the Hawkeyes dominated No. 20 Northwestern to move to 7-0 on the year and look to have a relatively easy path to an undefeated regular season.
Of the remaining teams none should have Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes truly scared, although a road matchup with Nebraska at the end of the year with a lot on the line could be a dangerous outing for an unprepared squad.
There is no guarantee that this is legitimate yet and Iowa losing out for the rest of the year wouldn’t be the most surprising development, but without Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State on its schedule, Iowa has a pretty good shot at heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game with an unblemished record.
Even if the title game turns into a blowout similar to last season when the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin 59-0, it would be nearly impossible for a 12-1 Hawkeye squad with a loss to a top 10 team to fall far enough that it misses out on the New Year’s Six entirely.
Despite some tiring of Ferentz and his approach in the past few seasons, Iowa is only five years removed from an Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech and could be on the cusp of reaching another big-time bowl this season.
Last season it was a 59-0 walloping of then-No. 21 Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa, Ala., that got Alabama back on track after some early-season issues. This season in College Station, Texas, the Crimson Tide were much kinder to the Aggies, only winning 41-23.
The Aggies fought back as hard as they could after falling into a big hole, but the turnovers were too much to overcome as Alabama picked off both quarterbacks—taking three back for touchdowns—to beat Texas A&M for the second consecutive year.
Derrick Henry continues to impress as arguably the most underappreciated running back in the country. While all eyes are on Baton Rouge, La., and Leonard Fournette, the Alabama running back has been having a huge season of his own, scoring in every game and going for a career-high 211 yards against the Aggies.
There are clearly some issues on special teams that coach Nick Saban will not be pleased with. But were it not for a five-turnover game against Ole Miss, Alabama would be undefeated and very much in the discussion for the No. 1 spot in the polls.
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