By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the most important things to take away from this weekend.
Alabama/LSU – As expected, both teams passed their Week 8 tests with flying colors, and the countdown to Nov. 5 can officially begin. The Alabama-LSU matchup has to be the most-anticipated game of 2011 and credit both teams for getting to this point undefeated.
Arizona – The Wildcats have had a brutal schedule to start the year and after coach Mike Stoops was fired, it would have been easy to pack it in. However, Arizona responded with a blowout win over UCLA on Thursday night, which keeps its slim bowl hopes alive for another week.
Cincinnati – Are the Bearcats the new frontrunner in the Big East? Cincinnati defeated South Florida 37-34 on Saturday, which moves the Bearcats to 6-1 overall and 2-0 in Big East play. Coming into this year, there was no question about Cincinnati’s offense, but the defense had to step up and so far, it has answered the bell.
East Carolina QB Dominique Davis – Davis set two NCAA records in Saturday’s win over Navy. The senior completed his first 26 attempts to break the single-game NCAA record, and dating back to East Carolina’s last game, had a streak of 36 completions in a row (also a NCAA record). The Pirates are off to a slow start, but still have a chance to get bowl eligible this year.
Eastern Michigan – The MAC is out of the national spotlight on most Saturdays, but let’s give a little credit to the job coach Ron English has done in Ypsilanti. The Eagles defeated Western Michigan to sweep the Michigan MAC schools and move to 5-3 this season. The five wins in 2011 are the most at Eastern Michigan since a 6-5 finish in 1995. With games against Buffalo and Kent State remaining on the schedule, the Eagles have a shot to get bowl eligible.
Florida State – Sure, the Seminoles might be a disappointment this year after the high expectations placed on them in the preseason, but they didn’t fold after losing three straight. Florida State has rallied with back-to-back 41-16 wins, beating Duke and Maryland to move to 4-3 this season. The Seminoles still have a chance to win out and finish with a solid 9-3 season.
Houston QB Case Keenum – Keenum broke the NCAA’s career record for total offense in a 63-28 blowout win over Marshall. The senior finished with 376 yards and six touchdowns. Keenum isn’t finished breaking records, as he needs just 802 passing yards to break Timmy Chang’s NCAA mark and five touchdown tosses to pass Graham Harrell in the record books.
Michigan State – Sometimes you have to be a little lucky to win a conference title. The Spartans capped off one of the weekend’s best games with a Hail Mary touchdown catch by receiver Keith Nichol to give them a 37-31 win over Wisconsin. So far, Michigan State has survived a difficult stretch (at Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin), but this Saturday’s game against Nebraska is huge for their conference title hopes.
Stanford – The Cardinal expected to get a test from Washington, but easily handled the Huskies for a 65-21 victory. Quarterback Andrew Luck had a solid performance, while the rushing attack wore down the Washington defense. The Cardinal still has some obstacles to clear for an undefeated season, including games against USC and Oregon, but it looks like Stanford will be in good position to play in one of the BCS games this year.
Texas Tech – The Red Raiders were a huge underdog against Oklahoma, but went into Norman and pulled off one of the year’s biggest upsets. Quarterback Seth Doege torched Oklahoma’s secondary, while Texas Tech’s defense kept receiver Ryan Broyles in check. With Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Baylor remaining, the Red Raiders have a difficult schedule, but should have a lot of confidence after their Week 8 upset.
UAB – The attendance at Thursday night’s UAB-UCF was horrendous, but let’s give a tip of the cap to the Blazers. UAB finally broke into the win column with a 26-24 win over the Knights.
USC – The Trojans have been somewhat of an afterthought on the national level this year. Due to the NCAA sanctions, USC can’t play in a bowl and is ineligible to participate in the conference title game. However, that hasn’t stopped the Trojans from figuring into the conversation as one of the best 25 teams in college football. USC posted a 31-17 win over Notre Dame on Saturday, which moves the Trojans to 6-1 this year.
Western Kentucky – The Hilltoppers began the year 0-4 but have rallied with three consecutive wins. Coach Willie Taggart has made noticeable improvement during his tenure at Western Kentucky and will have this team in contention for the Sun Belt title in the next couple of years.
Buffalo – The Bulls scored a touchdown with less than 20 seconds to go to pull within one point of Northern Illinois. However, the extra point was missed, giving the Huskies a 31-30 victory.
Georgia Tech – Three weeks ago, the Yellow Jackets looked like the class of the ACC Coastal. Now, Georgia Tech is on the outside looking in. The Yellow Jackets have back-to-back losses, and their high-powered offense has struggled in both games. Quarterback Tevin Washington has to throw the ball better if the Yellow Jackets want to have a shot at winning all of their remaining games.
Illinois – After jumping out to a 6-0 start, the Fighting Illini has lost two in a row. Losing to Ohio State is one thing, but getting handled on the road by Purdue was a surprise. With Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin the next three weeks, Illinois could have a five-game losing streak going into the season finale against Minnesota.
Kansas – The Jayhawks were easily handled by rival Kansas State on Saturday, opening the door for even more criticism on head coach Turner Gill. Kansas isn’t likely to make a coaching change in the offseason, but Gill needs to show big progress in 2012.
New Mexico offense – It’s no secret the Lobos are bad. However, the offensive numbers in Saturday’s loss to TCU were embarrassing. New Mexico managed only 85 yards and only five first downs against the Horned Frogs, which were both season lows. The Lobos only hope for a win appears to be on Nov. 12 against UNLV.
Notre Dame – The Irish had a four-game winning streak snapped on Saturday, losing 31-17 to USC. While the Trojans are a good team, it’s clear the Irish weren’t ready for the preseason BCS hype placed on them in the preseason. Notre Dame can still salvage a 9-3 season, but beating Wake Forest and Stanford is no sure thing.
Oklahoma – The Sooners watched their national title hopes lk disappear with Saturday’s 41-38 loss to Texas Tech. Oklahoma’s offense did not have running back Dominique Whaley, and quarterback Landry Jones struggled at times with his accuracy, but it was a surprise to see this team have only seven points at halftime. Without cornerback Jamell Fleming, the Sooners’ pass defense was awful, allowing Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege to throw for 441 yards. There’s a chance Oklahoma could work its way back into the national title picture, but it will need a lot of help. Considering the preseason expectations surrounding the Sooners, Saturday night’s loss was a huge disappointment.
Ole Miss – Inserting Randall Mackey as the starting quarterback appears to have jumpstarted the Rebels’ offense, but it wasn’t enough to beat Arkansas. Ole Miss makes this list, thanks to blowing a 17-7 lead at halftime over Arkansas. The Rebels have now lost 10 consecutive SEC games.
South Florida – After a 4-0 start, the Bulls looked like they were ready to emerge as one of the top contenders in the Big East. However, the last three weeks have been a disaster. South Florida lost a 37-34 shootout to Cincinnati, leaves it as the only winless team in Big East play. The Bulls’ look to snap their three-game losing streak on Nov. 5 at Rutgers.
Tulane – It’s an automatic mention in this section when you lose to Memphis.
West Virginia – Just when you think you have the Big East figured out, it all changes and its back to the drawing board. The Mountaineers seemed to be the clear No. 1 team in the conference going into Week 8, but was defeated handily 49-23 by Syracuse. West Virginia can still win the conference, but this team has more concerns than expected.
Wisconsin – There’s really no shame in losing at East Lansing, but Saturday night’s defeat could cost Wisconsin a shot at the national title. With Oklahoma’s loss to Texas Tech, the door would have been open for the Badgers, provided they were able to finish the season unbeaten. Wisconsin can still claim the Big Ten title, but playing for a national championship is unlikely.
Looking Ahead to Week 9
A small sample of what’s ahead
Connecticut at Pittsburgh (Wednesday)
It might not be a matchup between top 25 teams, but hey, it’s midweek football.
Virginia at Miami (Thursday)
Canes look to get revenge for last season’s upset loss at Virginia.
BYU at TCU (Friday)
Cougars have won five in a row, but TCU will be a step up in competition.
South Carolina at Tennessee
Can the Gamecocks generate a rushing attack without Marcus Lattimore?
Clemson at Georgia Tech
Is this the final hurdle for Clemson to clear for an undefeated regular season?
Illinois at Penn State
Nittany Lions quietly putting together a solid season.
West Virginia at Rutgers
Winner of this game keeps the pressure on Cincinnati in the Big East race.
NC State at Florida State
Wolfpack need three wins to get bowl eligible – can they pull off the upset?
Wake Forest at North Carolina
Demon Deacons need a win to keep the pressure on Clemson in the ACC Atlantic race.
Oklahoma at Kansas State
Sooners looking to get back on track with a win and keep slim national title hopes alive.
Baylor at Oklahoma State
With Oklahoma’s loss, the Cowboys are now the frontrunner in the Big 12.
Michigan State at Nebraska
Another week, another key Big Ten matchup for the Spartans.
Missouri at Texas A&M
Future SEC matchup?
Florida at Georgia
Bulldogs remain in the mix for SEC East title, but need a win over Gators.
Wisconsin at Ohio State
Can the Badgers bounce back after last week’s last-second loss to Michigan State?
Stanford at USC
Trojans’ defense will be tested by physical Stanford offense.
Injuries from Week 8
Army QB Trent Steelman – leg – questionable for Week 9
Cincinnati CB Dominique Battle – sprained knee – questionable for Week 9
Clemson RB Andre Ellington – foot – probable for Week 9
Colorado QB Tyler Hansen – concussion – questionable for Week 9
Georgia Tech C Jay Finch – knee – questionable for Week 9
Iowa WR Keenan Davis – sprained ankle – questionable for Week 9
Kentucky RB Raymond Sanders – high ankle sprain – out for Week 9
Miami OT Jonathan Feliciano – leg – unlikely to play in Week 9
Navy QB Kriss Proctor – elbow – questionable for Week 9
Northwestern QB Dan Persa – ankle – probable for Week 9
Oklahoma State WR Hubert Anyiam – foot – out for remainder of 2011
Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon – concussion – probable for Week 9
South Florida WR Sterling Griffin – ankle – questionable for Week 10
USC K Andre Heidari – sprained ankle – questionable for Week 9
Virginia Tech LB Bruce Taylor – sprained foot – questionable for Week 9
Washington State QB Jeff Tuel – shoulder – questionable for Week 9