NCAA Football News
The slate of games is smaller, and the quality is certainly down compared to the past couple of weeks, but it's still not going to be difficult for SEC football fans to find something entertaining to watch this weekend.
There's only one game involving two ranked conference opponents, and that will take place in Oxford, Mississippi, as the sliding Ole Miss Rebels try to end their recent skid against Texas A&M, which lost its first game of the year in lopsided fashion last week against Alabama.
Those same Crimson Tide players will return home to renew one of the most storied rivalries in all of college football when the Tennessee Volunteers come to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the "Third Saturday in October" showdown on the fourth Saturday of the month.
Kentucky will travel south to take on its second consecutive SEC West opponent, and Auburn will try to capitalize off the momentum of winning in Lexington last week on the road in Starkville.
There's also a defensive struggle shaping up in Nashville between Missouri and Vanderbilt, and LSU must face an upstart out-of-conference opponent.
Some potentially intriguing storylines are possible this weekend, so even though it isn't a banner week for SEC showdowns, there could still be twists and turns. Let's take a look at the top games of the week.
Reigning champions Ohio State overcame another sluggish start to crush Penn State and retain its spot atop the AP and Coaches polls. At least five teams are receiving first-place votes in both polls, however, which showcases the muddled landscape at this stage of the college football season.
Week 8 could create further havoc in the rankings. That's because 12 of the 19 ranked teams in action are on the road, including Utah, Clemson, Florida State and the Buckeyes from the Top 10. So there should at least be some marquee upset alerts around the country.
Let's check out the complete slate of games involving Top 25 squads along with viewing information for each contest. That's followed by a look at some of the most intriguing matchups on tap.
Week 8 Top 25 Schedule
Top Games to Watch
No. 6 Clemson at Miami (Fla.)
The Tigers have quietly rattled off six straight victories to open the season and moved firmly into the playoff conversation. That said, their only high-profile win so far came over Notre Dame, and that was at home. Facing a talent-laden group from Miami on the road will be a good measuring stick.
While the Hurricanes already have two losses, quarterback Brad Kaaya headlines a roster with plenty of explosive playmakers. They lost by just five on the road against rival Florida State and are 3-0 at home with wins over Nebraska and Virginia Tech.
This matchup has also created some hard-fought battles as of late. Clemson sports information director Tim Bourret provided some interesting notes about the recent series history:
One key question for the Tigers is whether the offense can still produce big numbers if Canes corner Tracy Howard slows down top target Artavis Scott. It should be a terrific battle and, if Howard gets the upper hand, it will put extra pressure on the likes of Deon Cain and Charone Peake.
For Miami, the story remains much the same as the individual talent is in place, but bringing everything together to create a title contender remains elusive. That doesn't make the Hurricanes any less dangerous as they attempt to derail Clemson's push toward the Top Four, though.
No. 15 Texas A&M at No. 24 Ole Miss
Games in which both teams are coming off crucial losses always come with an extra bit of uncertainty. That's the case here, as the Aggies lost a clash with Alabama that could have moved them into the playoff hunt and the Rebels fell short against Memphis, likely ending their playoff dreams this season.
In each case, the defense failed to hold up its end of the bargain. Texas A&M gave up 41 points to Alabama. Ole Miss allowed 37 to Memphis, including 31 straight at one point. The onus is on each of those units to bounce back in a major way this week.
On the offensive side, the Rebels should benefit quite a bit from the return of star lineman Laremy Tunsil after serving a seven-game suspension. Gil Brandt of NFL.com noted there will be no shortage of people watching his return:
Now, getting back a lineman isn't the same as a star quarterback. That said, Tunsil should provide an immediate boost as the Rebels are forced to deal with Texas A&M edge-rusher Myles Garrett, who already has 8.5 sacks this season.
Both teams are feeling the heat after losing last week, and their margin for error to reach a marquee bowl, or possibly the playoff in Texas A&M's case, is razor-thin. That type of pressure usually showcases what a team is truly made of, and that should make for an entertaining battle.
No. 3 Utah at USC
The outlook is promising for Utah. The Utes already have victories over Oregon, Cal and Michigan on their resume, and the remaining schedule is certainly navigable. They can't afford to overlook an underperforming Trojans squad, though.
USC entered the season as a popular choice to crack the playoff out of the Pac-12. Instead, its lost three of its past four games and dealt with off-field turmoil that led to Steve Sarkisian's exit. But they still have enough ability to rebound and finish the season on a high note.
So Utah, which has survived close calls against Cal and Arizona State in recent weeks, needs to put together a more complete performance Saturday. The silver lining is head coach Kyle Whittingham has been happy with the fight his team has shown in difficult moments, per Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.
"You get an idea going in what type of team you might have and the personality," Whittingham said. "But it really starts to take shape as you hit about midseason, which is now. ... They're a tough group of guys. Very physical. Just warriors."
If the Utes can continue that trend and take down USC, they will have a golden opportunity to run the table. While there are some tests (Washington and Arizona on the road, UCLA at home), it's nothing a championship contender shouldn't overcome.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Tennessee's top-heavy first half of the football season is over, and after this week's Alabama game, the rest of the year looks manageable.
That would be good news for a fanbase that has been through the emotional roller coaster so far through a 3-3 start.
The Volunteers have endured coaching gaffes, blown leads and a huge comeback in a big win against Georgia. They've almost won national-stage games against Florida and Oklahoma, only to lose in heartbreaking, finger-pointing fashion.
In the midst of the season, the Vols broke in heaps of young, talented players and endured enough season-ending injuries to last a couple of years. It's been a crazy year when positions expected to be weaknesses have emerged as strengths and areas full of talent have become major concerns.
While the win over the Bulldogs entering the bye week has fostered a little bit of goodwill on Rocky Top, there have been rocky moments. And there are plenty of areas for improvement as coach Butch Jones tries to lead his program into another step forward.
An 8-4 (or perhaps even 9-3) season is still possible if UT can reach its talent-filled potential, but in order to do that, the second-half grades for each positional unit need to be better than these.
Given all the hype entering the year, the first part of the season has been below satisfactory, but there's still time for the Vols to bring up their grades. Let's take a look at the position-by-position breakdown.