Correction/clarification: A previous version of this story misidentified the team that's second in the Atlantic division of the ACC. It is North Carolina State.
Sometimes, the weekends that don't have the biggest matchups deliver the most drama in college football. Last week saw No. 2 Iowa fall unexpectedly when there was just one game matching ranked opponents.
The situation is the same in Week 8. The lone clash between teams in the poll has No. 23 Pittsburgh hosting No. 24 Clemson. The Panthers established themselves as the favorites in the ACC Coastal last week with a resounding victory at Virginia Tech. The Tigers, who have won the conference six seasons in a row, trail both Wake Forest and North Carolina State in the Atlantic division. A loss would almost ensure they miss the title game for the first time since 2014.
So where do the upsets come this week? There are several possibilities.
No. 9 Oklahoma State heads to Iowa State with a share of first place in the Big 12 with fellow unbeaten Oklahoma. The Cyclones have been prone to second-half surges under Matt Campbell and have looked better the last two weeks.
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No. 10 Oregon visits UCLA after several uneven performances that have resulted in wins in all but one game, but also created doubt about the Ducks. The Bruins need a win to stay in the Pac-12 South race and have the offense to make this a fun, back-and-forth shootout.
A couple of rivalry games are also worth keeping an eye on: No. 12 Mississippi hosts LSU and No. 13 Notre Dame face Southern California.
In the crazy world of college football, there are always surprises and unexpected results. Our experts offer their forecasts for some unlikely events this weekend.
Let's face it. Oregon is the Pac-12's last hope to try to get a playoff spot, and if they want consideration for a final four spot, they need to start this weekend against UCLA. The Ducks not only need to beat UCLA, they need to blow them out. And that also goes for the rest of their schedule. Squeaking by opponents is not going to get it done. That being said, Oregon will find a way to be unimpressive and will become an afterthought once the first College Football Playoff rankings come out.
A 2-2 start after an offseason of high expectations dropped Iowa State out of the rankings and off the national radar. But its losses are more understandable in hindsight (a road setback to No. 20 Baylor and a home loss to an Iowa team that rose as high as No. 2 in the coaches poll). Now, ISU has a chance to send a major message that it's still a solid team to be reckoned with as unbeaten Oklahoma State comes to town. The No. 9 Cowboys have a stout defense, but can their inconsistent offense answer the bell on the road in what should be a fairly electric environment? I don’t think they’ll be able to do quite enough as Iowa State wins a slugfest.
Unranked Iowa State hands Oklahoma State a double-digit loss and takes the first step toward a return trip to the Big 12 championship. After a slow start, the Cyclones are rounding into form and looking good enough to handle the Cowboys’ impressive defense.
San Diego State is one of 10 unbeatens remaining in college football. The Aztecs will no longer be part of that exclusive club after their trip Saturday to Air Force. The Falcons have quietly won six of their first seven and have knocked off Wyoming and Boise State in consecutive weeks heading into this showdown. Another thing working in Air Force's favor is the altitude in Colorado Springs and the fact San Diego State got only eight days to prepare for the its option offense.
Do you remember, with apologies to Earth Wind and Fire, the 17th night of September? The Pac-12 was riding high on the eve of Week 3 of the college football season. Both Oregon and UCLA were ranked in the top 15, and there were realistic hopes at the Pac-12 office that the league’s playoff drought would come to an end this year.
Things haven’t gone that well for the two early division favorites since then as they prepare to square off at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins were tripped up by a good Fresno State team but were then thumped at home by Arizona State. The Ducks, hit hard by the injury bug after their huge win at Ohio State, managed a number of narrow escapes but couldn’t get out of Stanford unscathed.
Oregon still has an outside shot at cracking the top four thanks to that triumph in Columbus, but that’s about to go by the boards. The Bruins needed a late touchdown to get out of Washington last week, but Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet will have an easier time on their home turf against the struggling Ducks defense that is surrendering 408 yards a game. Oregon will score, but the Bruins will get more and pull off the upset.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football picks: Predictions for Top 25 NCAA games in Week 8