If the last two weeks were a celebration of what the state of Mississippi has accomplished, this week’s slate of games will be a chance for the traditional powers to recapture the attention of the country.
On Sunday, Florida State dropped from its perch at No. 1, a spot where it had been since Dec. 1 last year. The Seminoles could reclaim the top ranking when it faces Notre Dame, provided they can emerge (again) from a wave of off-field news surrounding Jameis Winston.
Meanwhile, teams like Oklahoma and Alabama haven’t looked like the playoff contenders they appeared to be only weeks ago. Games against Kansas State and Texas A&M, respectively, could be key games for the Sooners and Tide to return to the forefront of the conversation.
Previewing the Top five Games of Week 8
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
Kansas State at Oklahoma
When and where: Noon, ESPN
We’re watching because... we want to see if Oklahoma starts to look the part of a national title contender again. The Sooners followed a loss to TCU with a mere five-point win over a 2-4 Texas team. Oklahoma amassed only 232 yards against Texas (partially due to two fewer possessions due to non-offensive touchdowns), but the Sooners are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry the last two games. Kansas State is coming off a bye week after a 45-13 throttling of Texas Tech.
Vegas says: Oklahoma by 8 1/2
Oklahoma State at TCU
When and where: 4 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... we’re curious what TCU has left in the tank after the last two weeks. Until the 10:39 mark against Baylor, TCU had a win over Oklahoma and a three-touchdown lead against Baylor on its resume. The Bears finished with 24 unanswered points for a 61-58 win. What kind of toll with that take on TCU’s psyche? Oklahoma State is 3-0 in the Big 12 but its wins have come against the three worst teams in the conference by an average of 11.3 points.
Vegas says: TCU by 9
Texas A&M at Alabama
When and where: 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... after the last two seasons, this game has proven to be the most entertaining series in the SEC. Without Johnny Manziel facing a No. 1-ranked Alabama team, perhaps the stakes feel different, but both teams need to add a jolt to their seasons. The Tide responded to a loss to Ole Miss with a sloppy 14-13 win at Arkansas. Facing the Aggies’ defense may provide the boost the Crimson Tide offense needs. Meanwhile, A&M quarterback Kenny Hill has cooled since a torrid start. He’s thrown six interceptions the last three SEC games.
Vegas says: Alabama by 12
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Notre Dame at Florida State
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... Florida State can reclaim its spot at No. 1, or Notre Dame can build some legitimacy. Wide-ranging off-field issues — mostly concerning quarterback Jameis Winston — haven’t impacted FSU's record, but that’s against teams like Wake Forest and Syracuse. The lack of statement wins helped knock Florida State out of the No. 1 spot in the polls, so a game against undefeated Notre Dame is an opportunity for the Seminoles to restore their championship credentials. Meanwhile, the Irish are coming off two nail-biting wins over Stanford and North Carolina. Is Notre Dame finding ways to win like it did during the run to the 2012 title game or is it flirting with disaster?
Vegas says: Florida State by 12
Washington at Oregon
When and where: 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... Oregon is becoming an intriguing litmus test for the selection committee. True, this is a rivalry game featuring a Heisman contender (Marcus Mariota) and an upstart program looking to reverse a 10-game losing streak in a rivalry (Washington). That said, a one-loss Oregon could be an interesting test for the first College Football Playoff selection committee. The Ducks lost to Arizona and played their worst football of the season with an injured offensive line. When that offensive line is healthy, the Ducks have two of the best wins of the season (Michigan State, at UCLA). The BCS system likely would have punished a team like this. The selection committee is supposed to take these nuances into account ... but only if Oregon keeps winning. Also: Marcus Mariota vs. Shaq Thompson is the best offense vs. defense matchup of the year.
Vegas says: Oregon by 21