By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 8
1. Four teams enter Week 8 with one conference loss in the ACC Coastal. Georgia Tech was thought to be in the driver’s seat for the division title, but was upset by Virginia last week. The Yellow Jackets are still in great shape for the division crown, but Saturday’s game against Miami will be critical to their title hopes. Georgia Tech has lost its last two matchups to the Hurricanes and neither has been close. Stopping the run is going to be critical to Miami’s chance of winning on Saturday. The Hurricanes rank 94th nationally in rush defense, and the defensive line took a hit with the suspension of tackle Micanor Regis earlier this week. Although the Yellow Jackets are averaging 347.9 rushing yards per game, the passing attack has to have success. Quarterback Tevin Washington began the year by tossing seven scores in his first three games. However, the junior has thrown zero touchdowns and three interceptions in his last two games. Quarterback play was expected to be an issue for Miami this year, but Jacory Harris has performed well over the last three games, tossing eight scores and no interceptions. This battle for positioning in the ACC Coastal should be a high-scoring affair.
2. On paper, the Sunflower Showdown between Kansas and Kansas State shouldn’t be much of a game. However, a rivalry can bring out the best in the underdog, and the Wildcats should be on upset alert. The Jayhawks were blown out in last year’s contest (59-7) and enter this matchup with a four-game losing streak. Kansas State has been one of the surprise teams midway through the season, posting a 6-0 record and ranked among the top 15 teams in the nation. Any hope Kansas has of pulling the upset has to rest with its rushing attack, which is averaging 206.8 yards per game. The Wildcats are allowing only 96.8 yards a contest and 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. With a huge showdown against Oklahoma next Saturday, the Wildcats have to be wary of their hungry in-state rival, particularly on the road in Lawrence.
3. Behind quarterback Andrew Luck and a solid defense, Stanford has easily cruised to a 6-0 start. However, the Cardinal will face their biggest test of 2011, as Washington visits Palo Alto. Despite the departure of quarterback Jake Locker, the Huskies haven’t missed a beat on offense. New quarterback Keith Price has been stellar, throwing for 21 touchdowns and 1,466 yards. Price has plenty of help, especially with running back Chris Polk and a deep group of receivers, led by senior Jermaine Kearse. Stanford’s defense suffered a blow this week, when safety Delano Howell was ruled out for Saturday’s game. The Cardinal ranks 81st nationally against the pass, and without Howell, figures to be tested even more by Price and his receivers. Although Washington has the firepower to hang with Stanford, its defense has to play better to win this game. The Huskies own the Pac-12’s worst pass defense and rank eighth in the conference in points allowed. An upset here wouldn’t be surprising, but it’s tough to pick against Stanford at home and with Luck under center.
4. Even though Missouri is 3-3, it’s hard to call it one of college football’s disappointing teams after seven weeks. The Tigers have lost three games by 10 points or less, including a 38-28 game against Oklahoma and an overtime defeat to Arizona State. A couple of plays bounce in Missouri’s favor and this team could be 5-1. The Tigers have a difficult schedule remaining, starting this Saturday against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys will bring one of the nation’s top passing attacks to Columbia, led by Heisman contenders Brandon Weeden (QB) and Justin Blackmon (WR). Missouri’s defense is allowing only 20.3 points a game, and the secondary has given up only seven scores. If the Tigers can get pressure on Weeden and keep the Cowboys from pulling away early, Missouri will have a chance to score the upset. The Tigers also need a big game from running back Henry Josey, who is averaging a ridiculous 9.7 yards per carry. The Tigers can score with Oklahoma State, but their best chance to win this game is if they can control the time of possession and keep this game in the 31-27 range.
5. Could Saturday’s matchup between Wisconsin and Michigan State be a preview of the Big Ten title game? Both teams enter Week 8 undefeated in conference play, with the Spartans coming off a huge win over rival Michigan last Saturday. This matchup features the Big Ten’s top offense (Wisconsin), against the conference’s best defense (Michigan State). And what happens in the trenches will play a key role in deciding the outcome of Saturday’s game. The Spartans have forced 21 sacks this season, but will be without end William Gholston, who was suspended one game due to his actions in last week’s win over Michigan. Losing Gholston is a huge loss for the Spartans, but don’t expect much of a drop-off. The one-two punch of Montee Ball and James White will test the Michigan State run defense, but the difference in this game could be Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. If the senior continues to play mistake-free ball, the Badgers should move to 7-0 and knock the Spartans from the ranks of the unbeaten in Big Ten play. One stat that is worth mentioning: Wisconsin has lost its last three trips to East Lansing.
6. While most conferences are already deep into conference play, no Big East team has played more than two league games so far. South Florida began the season 4-0, but has dropped two in a row. If the Bulls want to keep pace with Rutgers and West Virginia for the conference crown, Saturday’s game against Cincinnati is a must-win. The Bearcats own the Big East’s top scoring offense, averaging 41.7 points a game. However, the big difference in Cincinnati from last year to this season has been the defense. The Bearcats have forced 19 turnovers, registered 20 sacks and rank first in the Big East in rush defense. South Florida’s offense is averaging only 13.5 points in conference play and will need more production in order to win on Saturday. If the Bulls lose on Saturday, it’s going to be very difficult to make up three games in conference play. And a three-game losing streak isn’t what they had in mind after winning in South Bend in the season opener.
7. The Tennessee-Alabama series has produced plenty of memorable moments, but it’s unlikely the matchup on Saturday will be close. The Volunteers are coming off a 38-7 defeat to LSU last week, while Alabama remained unbeaten with a 52-7 win over Ole Miss. Tennessee’s offense posted a season-low of 239 yards against the Tigers, and with quarterback Tyler Bray sidelined once again with a thumb injury, the Volunteers will struggle to move the ball. This game will be Alabama’s final tune-up before a bye and the much-anticipated showdown with LSU on Nov. 5. The Crimson Tide don’t have many weaknesses, but the matchup with Tennessee will allow them one more opportunity to clean up any areas of concern, along with getting more work for quarterback AJ McCarron and his receivers.
8. The LSU-Auburn matchup on Saturday got a little more interesting thanks to the suspension of three LSU players. Cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon, along with running back Spencer Ware will sit out this game. Despite losing three key players, LSU should have no trouble moving to 8-0. Auburn’s offense has been struggling, so head coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn have made the decision to switch to Clint Moseley at quarterback. Making your first start at LSU is never easy, but that’s the task ahead for Moseley this Saturday. Auburn is a dangerous opponent, but even with the suspensions, LSU is still the better team and should win this one by two touchdowns.
9. It’s strength versus strength when Penn State meets Northwestern this week. The Wildcats are averaging 40.3 points a game with quarterback Dan Persa back in the lineup, but the Nittany Lions are allowing only 11.6 per contest. Penn State remains in the hunt for the Leaders Division title, but this is a huge game for Northwestern. The upcoming schedule features matchups with Nebraska and Michigan State, and getting to six wins and a bowl could be difficult. Penn State’s offense has struggled to get consistent quarterback play, but Northwestern’s defense ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten. Will Persa and the Wildcats' offense get the best of a solid Nittany Lion defense?
10. Notre Dame snapped an eight-game losing streak to USC last season, winning 20-16 in Los Angeles. Are the Irish about to go on a run of dominance in this series? Notre Dame is well-positioned under coach Brian Kelly to jump back into the mix as a top 10-15 team. USC has been solid under coach Lane Kiffin, but sanctions from a NCAA investigation are about to hit, including significant scholarship losses. The Irish have cut down on the turnovers in their last couple of games and are riding a four-game winning streak. USC’s secondary is allowing 271.7 yards per game, which will be under attack from Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees and receiver Michael Floyd.
Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 8 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.
Stanford 38, Washington 31
Wisconsin 27, Michigan State 20
Notre Dame 31, USC 27
Georgia Tech 34, Miami 31
LSU 31, Auburn 13
Oklahoma State 40, Missouri 37
Kansas State 34, Kansas 20
South Florida 27, Cincinnati 24
Clemson 37, North Carolina 20
Florida State 40, Maryland 17
Virginia 24, NC State 20
Oklahoma 51, Texas Tech 20
Alabama 41, Tennessee 10
California 27, Utah 24
Penn State 23, Northwestern 20
Southern Miss 34, SMU 31
Looking for a few upsets? Keep a close watch on these games.
NC State at Virginia (-4)
After last week’s big win over Georgia Tech, will the Cavaliers have a letdown?
Georgia Tech at Miami (-3)
The folks in Vegas have the Yellow Jackets as an underdog, but this one is a coin flip.
Oklahoma State (-7.5) at Missouri
The Tigers have lost three games to three solid teams. The Cowboys need to be on upset alert.
Penn State (-3) at Northwestern
The Wildcats are reeling with a four-game losing streak, but can the Nittany Lions find enough offense to match Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa?
Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 8
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