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2014 season preview: Five games to watch in week 8

The college football offseason is long and arduous, but its end is almost in sight. We’re going to take a look at five games you have to look forward to for every weekend of the season. (This is also a handy guide to decide how to RSVP for any autumn weddings.)

All times are Eastern and all games are played on Saturday unless otherwise noted.

These games take place the weekend of October 18.

 Previously: Week One (August 30) ~ Week Two (September 6) ~ Week Three (September 13) ~ Week Four (September 20) ~ Week Five (September 27) ~ Week Six (October 4) ~ Week Seven (October 11) 

Notre Dame at Florida State (TBD)

Should Notre Dame make it into this game with a respectable record (possible but not easy with games against Michigan, Stanford and North Carolina), you can bet a decent amount “College GameDay” will be bringing the show to Tallahassee. Why? Because the very first “GameDay” road show was in South Bend for Noles/Irish in 1993, and they were there in 2002 when FSU hosted ND. Although there is likely no way to stop Jameis Winston, the Irish may have a weapon capable of at least slowing him down in linebacker Jaylon Smith. Smith, a five-star sophomore gaining some preseason All-American accolades, is comfortable attacking or dropping back into space to make plays like this. He’ll need to play like a superstar if the Irish hope to slow down Winston, who gets four offensive line starters back in addition to his leading receiver and top tight end Nick O’ Leary. Jimbo Fisher’s squad will likely be riding a 22-game winning streak into this game.

Kansas State at Oklahoma (TBD)

Last time these two met in Norman was in 2012, when the 16-point underdog Wildcats stunned the sixth-ranked Sooners 24-19 on their way to the Big 12 title. Oklahoma gained a measure of revenge last year (41-31 in Manhattan), but did so behind 200 yards on the ground from running back Brennan Clay, who is projected to make the Denver Broncos roster this fall. Replacing Clay will likely be sophomore Keith Ford, a top-fifty recruit from Texas who averaged 5.8 yards per carry on only 23 carries last year. (Sophomore Alex Ross, another four-star option, will also likely see plenty of touches.) Kansas State only returns 11 starters but Bill Snyder has his usual assortment of JUCO transfers coming in to backfill the roster, including big Terrell Clinkscales, a four-star defensive tackle from Dodge City Community College.

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Alabama safety Landon Collins. (John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports)

Alabama safety Landon Collins. (John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports)

Texas A&M at Alabama (TBD)

Unlikely this clash maintains the drama of the two Johnny Manziel games (a 29-24 Aggies win in Tuscaloosa in 2012, a 49-42 Tide victory in College Station last year), but it’s late enough in the season that Kevin Sumlin will have had a chance to get presumed start Kyle Allen up to speed in his offense. Then again, no matter how talented Allen is or how good Sumlin is at running an offense, a true freshman coming into Bryant-Denny Stadium will be a tough task. (Manziel was at least a redshirt freshman when he knocked off the Tide on the road in November.) Looming as potential superstars and Aggie tormentors on the Tide defense are all-everything junior safety Landon Collins (the team’s second-leading tackler in 2013) and sophomore end A’Shawn Robinson, who managed five and a half sacks as a true freshman.

Washington at Oregon (TBD)

One of the oldest and most frequently played rivalries in the land (105 meetings since the first one in 1900), this northwest border war had been consistently dominated by Washington, who had a 58-33-5 advantage. That was the series record going into the 2004 game and Oregon hasn’t lost since, reeling off ten straight, all by double digits. Chris Petersen had some success against the Ducks while at Boise and now has a roster with more recruiting stars than anything he assembled at the height of blue field fever, which could swing this series back into competitive territory. The Ducks are plenty capable of handling the hypothetically resurgent Huskies, as potential top NFL draft pick Marcus Mariota’s return for his redshirt junior season gives them perhaps the perfect player to orchestrate Mark Helfrich’s offense (Mariota shined last year with a 31:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio). Probably worth noting that Oregon will be coming off a trip to UCLA while Washington has a rebuilding Cal team the week prior.

Stanford at Arizona State (TBD)

This is a rematch of last year’s PAC-12 title game where the Cardinals rolled the Sun Devils 38-14 in Tempe, their second victory over ASU that season. That game clinched Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan’s second conference championship in as many years as starter, as the junior from Virginia completed a second season doing something Andrew Luck couldn’t quite manage in his illustrious career: Beating Oregon on the way to a PAC-12 title and the Rose Bowl. Hogan matches up against another accomplished quarterback in Taylor Kelly, who has 67 total touchdowns in two years as a Sun Devil starter and a career completion percentage of 64.6. Arizona State will be coming off a bye while Stanford is smack in the middle of a very challenging stretch (at Washington, at Notre Dame, Washington State, at Arizona State, Oregon State, at Oregon).

Other games to consider:

Virgina Tech at Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m., Thursday)

Two old Big East rivals and potential contenders in the clustered Coastal Division, this will be Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik’s first action against a Frank Beamer/Bud Foster defense. He’ll be able to lean on eight returning offensive starters but will need some protection against Hokie defensive tackle Luther Maddy, who accrued six and a half sacks and another 16 QB hits in 2013.

Fresno State at Boise State (8:00 p.m., Friday)

Your two Mountain West division favorites and the purveyors of last year’s 41-40 dandy, a Bulldogs comeback that mainly rode the arm of departed quarterback Derek Carr (460 yards and 4 touchdowns). Expect plenty of points as you start your weekend.

Michigan State at Indiana (TBD)

Indiana had some success moving the ball against Sparty’s ridiculous defense last year (28 points in a 42-28 defeat in East Lansing), and get Mark Dantonio’s reigning Big Ten champs at home with 17 returning starters. The Spartans now share a division with Ohio State, meaning they can’t avoid many (if any) slip-ups against some of their less regarded conference foes.

Nebraska at Northwestern (7:30 p.m.)

Unlikely to match the drama of last year, where Nebraska contributed to Northwestern’s nightmare season with a Hail Mary touchdown grab as time expired. A big game in what could be a clustered Big Ten West.

Missouri at Florida (TBD)

This is the end of an important stretch for the Gators, who travel to Tennessee before hosting LSU and Missouri, the reigning SEC East champs who blasted Florida 36-17 in Columbia last year.

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