Like we’ve done in years past, every week throughout the season we’ll be highlighting the best games of the coming weekend. We’ll be doing it a little differently this year, however. We’ll rank the top five games we’re most intrigued by while also providing some insight on other games that will be worth your time.
Week 7 didn’t feature any matchups between ranked teams and four top-10 teams still lost. What does Week 8 have in store for us?
We’re excited to find out. Two big evening games — between ranked teams! — highlight the schedule and there’s a Noon game we all highlighted at the beginning of the year that doesn’t have nearly the stakes we anticipated. But it should still be intriguing.
Starting with the five best games, we broke down this week’s slate for you:
5. Louisville (4-3, 1-3) at Florida State (2-3, 2-2) — Noon, ESPN: Both of these teams have badly underachieved so far in 2017, but Florida State has revenge on its mind after what happened in Louisville last fall. FSU, then ranked No. 2, was absolutely trounced by the Cardinals, 63-20. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said otherwise, but his players have said during the week that they took last year’s beatdown personally and it is on their minds entering Saturday.
To get revenge, FSU will have to corral Lamar Jackson, who continues to put up insane numbers on a weekly basis. Even if Jackson is not totally kept in check, the Seminoles should be able to get their offense going against Louisville. Louisville got torched defensively by noted offensive powerhouse Boston College last week to the tune of 45 points in a loss. FSU’s offense has been pretty underwhelming with true freshman QB James Blackman running the show, but another freshman, RB Cam Akers got things going in last week’s win over Duke. He should see plenty of work on Saturday.
4. No. 10 Oklahoma State (5-1, 2-1) at Texas (3-3, 2-1) — Noon, ABC: After losing to TCU, Oklahoma State and its offense are humming along once again, scoring a combined 100 points in wins over Texas Tech and Baylor. Texas should be a tougher challenge. The Longhorns are just 3-3 so far in Tom Herman’s first season, but they have played both USC and Oklahoma very tough, so OSU and its top-ranked offense, led by QB Mason Rudolph and big play WR James Washington, won’t just walk all over them.
Texas has a gutsy freshman in Sam Ehlinger playing quarterback. He grabbed hold of the starting gig after an injury to sophomore Shane Buechele and has brought a running element to the table. Defensively, if the Longhorns can force a few turnovers, which OSU has been prone to, they certainly can give the Cowboys a scare. A loss for Oklahoma State would be catastrophic for its College Football Playoff aspirations.
3. No. 20 UCF (5-0, 3-0) at Navy (5-1, 3-1) — 3:30 p.m., CBSSN: In just his second season at UCF, Scott Frost has the Knights off to a 5-0 start heading into its toughest challenge yet. Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback, is the perfect coach to help a defense prepare to face an option attack. Navy’s is arguably the most-lethal option offense in the country, so Frost, who ran a variation of the offense for two seasons for the Huskers, has played the role of scout team QB in practice to help his team try to stop the Midshipmen, who are led by QB Zach Abey. Abey is already over 1,000 yards rushing this season.
As long as in-state and AAC East rival USF keeps winning, UCF needs to follow suit. The Knights are averaging 50.6 points per game with sophomore QB McKenzie Milton, one of the more underrated signal-callers in the country. They’ll need to make the most of their possessions. Navy leads the country in time of possession and can’t afford to lose either after dropping a close one to AAC West foe Memphis last week.
2. No. 19 Michigan (5-1, 2-1) at No. 2 Penn State (6-0, 3-0) – 7:30 p.m., ABC: Strength of schedule has been really the only knock on Penn State so far this year. Coming off a bye, PSU enters the toughest stretch of its season on Saturday with Michigan coming to town for the annual whiteout game at Beaver Stadium. PSU became known for its high-powered offense last year with Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley. Barkley leads the country in all-purpose yards per game (217) while McSorley is third in the Big Ten in passing. The Michigan defense, allowing only 223.8 yards per game, will be the toughest test of the season for PSU’s offense.
And while Penn State’s offense gets most of the attention, its defense has been just as impressive so far this year, allowing only nine points per game. That figure is No. 1 in the country. That is bad news for Michigan, which has had to replace to a ton of talent on offense. Over the past few weeks, Karan Higdon has emerged as the Wolverines’ top running back, but UM will have to have some success throwing the ball with John O’Korn if it is going to pull off an upset. O’Korn is completing only 54.9 percent of his passes and has four interceptions compared to just one touchdown.
This game has huge College Football Playoff implications too. If Penn State wins, it heads into a matchup with Ohio State undefeated. If Michigan wins, the Wolverines are suddenly back in the mix, especially with games against Wisconsin and the Buckeyes still looming.
1. No. 11 USC (6-1, 4-1) at No. 13 Notre Dame (5-1) — 7:30 p.m., NBC: This has been given the playoff-elimination label for good reason. Notre Dame, after losing to now No. 3 Georgia, has quietly been piling wins together and is legitimately in the CFP picture. The Fighting Irish have a different identity on offense than in year’s past. Notre Dame has been running the ball more than 60 percent of the time and has one of the top backfield duos in the country with QB Brandon Wimbush and RB Josh Adams. Adams has 776 yards on just 86 carries and has broken off quite a few long TD runs. Wimbush has struggled with accuracy through the air (51.9 percent) but has 402 yards rushing to go with eight scores.
USC stopped Utah on a two-point try in the final minute to improve to 6-1 last week, putting back-to-back wins together after dropping a close one at Washington State. Sam Darnold entered the year as a Heisman favorite, but has thrown way too many interceptions to keep his name in that conversation. If he can avoid the turnovers and spread the ball to his talented playmakers at receiver and running back, the Trojans can put up yards and points as good as almost anybody in the country.
You know by now that a two-loss team has never reached the College Football Playoff. That should tell you all you need to know about the stakes here. The fact that the Irish and Trojans are rivals only adds to the intrigue.
Keep an eye on…
Iowa State (4-2, 2-1) at Texas Tech (4-2, 1-2) — Noon, FS1: The Cyclones are playing with an edge after their big upset over Oklahoma and rightfully so. Either they will keep playing at a high level or get a dose of reality when trying to contain the Texas Tech offense. But Texas Tech, though its defense is improved, can still be scored on. Expect a shootout.
Kentucky (5-1, 2-1) at Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2) — 4 p.m., SECN: Mississippi State rebounded from blowout losses at Georgia and Auburn by beating up on lowly BYU. Now, the Bulldogs are 13-point favorites over 5-1 Kentucky. UK’s largest margin of victory is 11 against a pretty easy schedule, but that spread makes no sense to me. If Kentucky can keep MSU’s run game relatively in check, this could come down to the wire.
Wake Forest (4-2, 1-2) at Georgia Tech (3-2, 2-1) — 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU: If college football games were 58 minutes instead of 60, Georgia Tech would be 5-0. Instead, it is 3-2 because of a last-second loss to Miami and 2OT loss to Tennessee. Wake Forest only allows 16.7 points per game and it had a bye week to prepare for Georgia Tech’s offense. This could be a really fun one to put on your third TV while the PSU-UM and ND-USC games are on.
Arizona (4-2, 2-1) at Cal (4-3, 1-3) — 8 p.m., Pac-12 Network: Justin Wilcox deserves a lot of praise for the job he has done in his first season at Cal. Last week, Wilcox’s Golden Bears had their best game of the year, upsetting No. 8 Washington State at home. Now Cal, which has played well at home, hosts Arizona. The Wildcats have been reinvigorated with the electric Khalil Tate at quarterback. Tate has rushed for a combined 557 yards in his last two games. That is not a misprint.
Syracuse (+17) at No. 8 Miami — 3:30 p.m., ESPN: Perhaps this line indicates Vegas thinking Syracuse (4-3, 2-1) might be feeling itself a bit after the big win over Clemson, but Dino Babers doesn’t strike me as that kind of coach. They surely celebrated beating the national champs, but the Orange will be ready for Miami (5-0, 3-0), which has needed late rallies in its last two games to stay undefeated. Miami wins this game, but Cuse keeps it close.
Arizona State (+10) at Utah — 3:30 p.m., FS1: I nailed my Arizona State (3-3, 2-1) covering against Washington pick last week, though I didn’t expect the Sun Devils to actually win that game. ASU, which has now covered three straight weeks, travels to Salt Lake City to play a Utah (4-2, 1-2) team that has lost two in a row and doesn’t seem as strong on defense as usual. I like ASU outright.
Oregon (+7) at UCLA — 4 p.m., Pac-12: Oregon (4-3, 1-3) has struggled without starting QB Justin Herbert, losing to Washington State and Stanford, but facing the UCLA defense is the perfect antidote for a struggling offense. UCLA (3-3, 1-2) allows more than 300 rushing yards per game. Royce Freeman should have a big day.
No. 16 USF at Tulane (+12) — 7 p.m., ESPN2: USF (6-0, 3-0) has been prone to slow starts and hasn’t really had a true road test yet. Tulane (3-3, 1-1) is a tough, well-coached team that is undefeated at home. I’ve got a feeling about this one…
Channel surf through…
Akron (4-3, 3-0) at Toledo (5-1, 2-0) — Noon, ESPN3: It’s a crime that a game with the teams leading the two MAC divisions is not on ESPN2 on a Wednesday night.
Boston College (3-4, 1-3) at Virginia (5-1, 2-0) — 12:30 p.m., ACC Network: Virginia, which hasn’t won more than five games in a season since 2011, can clinch bowl eligibility against Boston College. The Eagles are coming off an upset of Louisville. That is not a sentence I expected to type in October.
Tennessee (3-3, 0-3) at No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0) — 3:30 p.m., CBS: This will likely be the last time Butch Jones gets his soul crushed by Nick Saban. It could get ugly.
Indiana (3-3, 0-3) at No. 18 Michigan State (5-1, 3-0) — 3:30 p.m., ABC: Indiana plays everyone tough and has a pretty solid defense. Michigan State needs to avoid the turnovers it had against Minnesota or else this could end up a lot closer than many project.