Looking ahead to college football: Week 8′s five games to watch

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 are played the weekend of October 19.

Florida State at Clemson (TBD) – In 2011, Clemson beat Florida State, won the ACC Championship Game and went to the Orange Bowl. In 2012, Florida State beat Clemson, won the ACC Championship Game and went to the Orange Bowl. With no apparent challenger from the remainder of the Atlantic division, this game will help decide the league title and possibly – depending on each team handles their non-conference slate (Georgia and South Carolina for Clemson, Florida for Florida State) – the national championship. Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris have the best quarterback in the conference if not the country in Tajh Boyd, but they’ll go against a ferocious Seminoles defense littered with highly touted recruits and potential NFL draft picks. Clemson returns most of their defensive front seven, so it may be up to new FSU quarterback Jameis Winston to make some plays against an inexperienced Tigers secondary.

Miami (FL) at North Carolina (7:30 p.m., ESPN, Thursday) – The other ACC division is wide, wide open, with these two teams competing with Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech for the second spot in the league's title game. I really cannot stress how good the Hurricane offense might be, with their entire offensive line and the majority of the skill positions coming back. Larry Fedora’s defense will have to play better than it did in the second half of last season (38 points to Maryland, 68 to Georgia Tech, 35 to NC State, 33 to Duke) or else Tar Heels quarterback Bryn Renner (28 touchdowns, 7 picks and 3,356 yards passing in 2012) will be tasked with matching Canes counterpart Stephen Morris in a shootout.

UCLA at Stanford (TBD) – A rematch of last year’s tightly contested Pac-12 Championship Game and a road test for the Bruins in a season full of them, as Jim Mora’s squad must also travel to Nebraska, Oregon, Arizona and USC over the course of the fall. This will be a battle of talented linebacker tandems, as Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks of UCLA (223 combined tackles last year) try to keep up with salty Cardinal veterans Shayne Skov, A.J. Tarpley and Trent Murphy. Both teams return 4 of 5 starters along the offensive line, so the quarterbacks may be afforded some room to breathe. If they want to win, UCLA will need to find a replacement for tailback Johnathan Franklin, as Stanford had no answer for him last year (194 yards and 2 touchdowns on 19 carries in the Pac-12 Championship Game).

TCU at Oklahoma State (TBD) – The Cowboys are getting a little bit of hype as a dark horse national title contender and should be 6-0 coming into this game. They’ll need to settle on a quarterback, but it’s a nice problem to have as both Clint Chelf (the presumed starter) and J.W. Walsh threw for over 1,500 yards and started multiple games last year. The Cowboys defense returns seven starters and is under new management, as linebackers coach Glenn Spencer takes over to guide a unit that was sneaky good (30th in the country in FEI) last year despite a few ugly games. If Horned Frogs quarterback Casey Pachall can stay on the field after missing time for rehab last autumn, he’s capable of keeping up with Mike Gundy’s offense. (Pachall was not with the Horned Frogs when they lost to the Cowboys 36-14 last season.)

Southern Cal at Notre Dame (7:30 p.m., NBC) – Two years ago the Irish hosted the Trojans in the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium in two decades. There were a lot of bells and whistles – tons of recruits visiting, new shiny helmets and pumped-in music for the first time – but the Trojans jumped out to a 17-0 lead and were on their way to letting the Irish tie it when this tiny swing of momentum occurred:

Notre Dame got a measure of revenge by sealing their trip to the BCS title game in the Coliseum last November, but I imagine they would like to exorcise the demons of 2011 and end USC’s five-game win streak in South Bend.

Other games considered:

LA-Lafayette at Western Kentucky (8:00 p.m., Tuesday) – Tuesday night Sun Belt action! Both of these teams went bowling last year, both are favorites in the conference again this season and oh yeah Bobby Petrino is coaching the Hilltoppers against the Ragin’ Cajuns. This will be a joyous mid-week treat.

Georgia at Vanderbilt (TBD) – The Dawgs blew out the Commodores in Athens last year, but they had a little trouble in Nashville in 2011, slipping by 33-28 in James Franklin’s first year as coach. Vandy will be coming off a bye and conceivably sitting at 5-1, so expect a raucous crowd and a nice measuring stick game for the home team.

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