What looked last week like one of the marquee games of the season has instead taken a much different tone.
After Texas A&M lost to Alabama and Ole Miss lost to Memphis, the Week 8 matchup between the Aggies and the Rebels is no longer a critical College Football Playoff qualifier; it's a game in which the loser leaves town.
Both teams are still ranked in the Associated Press poll—Texas A&M at No. 15, Ole Miss at No. 24—but whoever loses Saturday will likely drop out. Ole Miss won last year's meeting 35-20, but that was with a far better defense and against former Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill.
Presumably, Kyle Allen is an upgrade from Hill, but he looked worse against the Crimson Tide last weekend. Kevin Sumlin's team played careless, sloppy football, but if it rectifies those issues against the Rebels, it still has a clear path toward a playoff berth.
It just no longer has a margin for error.
Date: Saturday, October 24
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium; Oxford, Mississippi
Line: Ole Miss -6, according to Odds Shark
This is the part of a weekly college football preview where the author tells you how magnificent the next Saturday will be. It’s up to the author—in this exact portion of the piece—to build the appropriate hype for the games ahead, doing so with care and enthusiasm. His editor demands it; otherwise, it will be sent back.
So allow me to tell you that Week 8 of the college football season is gargantuan in scale. It’s the biggest weekend in the history of sports and life.
Don’t bother hunting down the schedule; we’ll get to that shortly. Just know that this is the greatest lineup of games any sport has ever seen. Now, run right through that screen door and into the sunlight to embrace this magnificent truth.
Well, perhaps it’s not the best slate of games ever. Perhaps it’s not even the best slate of games of this month. After a loaded Week 7, however, Week 8 seems like one of those Saturdays that could produce unexplainably weird results. The way this season has gone, it seems reasonable.
It may not have the hype or the plethora of Top-25 matchups, but these are often the weekends that provide unexpected, wall-to-wall entertainment. Don’t sleep on college football; you know better.
As for the games to watch, one to avoid, the wide receiver doing wizard things and some thoughts on Ohio State’s rich-program problem, let’s get to it.
The Buffet: Previewing the Top 5 Games of Week 8
5. Western Kentucky at LSU (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
If you are at all surprised that Western Kentucky made the buffet, don’t be. That’s not to say that the Hilltoppers are a lock to pull an upset that would result in countless broken Louisiana flat screens, but this team is dangerous. Keep the remote out of reach.
With one loss on the year, Western Kentucky has found an offense. And if you have not watched quarterback Brandon Doughty work, you have missed out. This season, Doughty has thrown for 24 touchdowns and just four interceptions. The Hilltoppers have won six games thanks in large part to his presence. He can take a game over.
LSU knows all about this. After all, no one takes over a game quite like running back Leonard Fournette. In Week 7, Fournette ran for a ho-hum 180 yards and two touchdowns against an excellent Florida defense. It’s incredible how his absurdity is now almost assumed.
But LSU also found a bit of a passing game, and Brandon Harris suddenly looks comfortable. If he can continue to grow, the Tigers will continue to be in the playoff conversation. Still, before Alabama, LSU has to get by Western Kentucky.
This may not be the most taxing stop on the schedule, but the Tigers had best be careful.
4. Clemson at Miami (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, ABC)
If Al Golden wants to make an emphatic case to keep his job, a win over Clemson won’t hurt that cause. In fact, results like these are precisely what the Hurricanes have lacked since he took over.
As a result, the weekly banners demanding his firing are flying high. Here was the latest bit of air messaging.October 17, 2015
In a 30-20 win over Virginia Tech last Saturday, the formula was there. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was excellent, throwing for 296 yards and two touchdowns. The Miami defense also forced four turnovers, which would be a solid trend to carry onward. This will be slightly more challenging now that linebacker Raphael Kirby, the team’s leading tackler, is out for the year.
Clemson, meanwhile, has done exactly what it needs to since beating Notre Dame. The Tigers followed up a win over Georgia Tech with a 34-17 win over Boston College. And while we’ve spent a great deal of time talking about Deshaun Watson and this offense, the Clemson defense has been the key cog.
This game feels strange. It feels like Miami could surprise. Then again, that feeling has been wrong before. Clemson is the more talented team, but the Hurricanes have the quarterback to make it a game.
Regardless, the banners will be flying high. Seriously, isn’t this getting expensive? I’d love to know their budget.
3. Utah at USC (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
Give USC credit. It has not packed up shop and and looked ahead to being coached by USC savior Jon Gruden. (Please note: This is not actually going to happen, probably. But let’s start the rumor regardless.)
The Trojans played hard last week; this part is very real. Although they lost to Notre Dame 41-31, the fight was evident. Interim head coach Clay Helton did his best Ed Orgeron impression and pushed the Irish to the brink. He did so thanks in large part to a heavy dose of offense.
This week, USC comes home to play one of the nation’s elite teams. Utah and Arizona State played close for a while on Saturday, although running back Devontae Booker, having been held in check the entire game, uncorked two long touchdown runs in the fourth to seal it.
Utah finds itself in a wonderful position. Two months into the year, and the Utes—with a manageable schedule laid out before them—are suddenly eyeing the playoff. And yet, this game, like a few other high-profile matchups this week, feels like anything but a given.
USC has absolutely nothing to lose and a wealth of individual talent. It’s a dangerous spot for the opposition. Oh, and Las Vegas has made the Trojans the favorite at bet-taking establishments.
Keep an eye on this one.
2. Texas A&M at Ole Miss (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Oh, this one had potential. In an alternate universe, both Texas A&M and Ole Miss won last Saturday, prompting ESPN’s College GameDay to pick up its things and sprint immediately to Oxford, Miss. for one of the games of the year.
But that did not happen. Texas A&M’s undefeated season was undone by Alabama, and more specifically, three passes that Nick Saban’s defense took back the other way for a touchdown.
"It's virtually impossible to win when you are giving away 21 points and four interceptions total," head coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters after the game. "Whatever offense you're running, it's hard to win when you play that way…when you play a quality football team like that, particularly defensively, your mistakes are amplified."
The Aggies made a push to make it a game before halftime, but the 41-23 score at home certainly was a setback, something Ole Miss knows plenty about following a loss to Memphis as a double-digit favorite.
Defensively, the Rebels were carved apart—especially after the first quarter—allowing the Tigers to total nearly 500 yards. Offensively, quarterback Chad Kelly still played a respectable game minus the two interceptions. The main problem? Ole Miss finished with just 40 rushing yards on 24 carries.
Who can bandage wounds best? The SEC West can still be had with some breaks, although it has to start somewhere. Here, for example.
1. Tennessee at Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
This was supposed to be the year that this lovely, hate-heavy rivalry got an injection of new energy. A few early losses for Tennessee have tempered that sentiment some, although this game is still extremely meaningful for both. And there’s always that magnificent hate.
Alabama’s destruction of Texas A&M, as documented above, was another step in the right direction. The secondary is making plays, and running back Derrick Henry has taken to this full-time running back role better than anyone could have anticipated. His 236 yards, many of which came in the first half, changed the perception of the game entirely.
The one major advantage Tennessee has heading into the week is the time off. As has been a theme in recent years, Alabama must play an opponent coming off a bye.
I'm not saying there is a conspiracy in the works, but maybe you should email your local politician regardless, Alabama fans.
Re: Alabama's schedule. This is pretty remarkable. Note that no other SEC team has more than 10 games. pic.twitter.com/z7EIuShCR9— Aaron Suttles (@AaronSuttles) October 15, 2015
Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs was brilliant in his team’s win against Georgia, throwing for 312 yards, running for 118 yards and scoring five touchdowns. This brand of quarterbacking has given the Alabama defense fits in recent years; Dobbs certainly is capable of making it another long day in the film room.
The Vols, however, also have to deal with Henry, which will not be an easy task. This year, they’re allowing more than 170 yards on the ground per game on 4.61 yards per carry.
Tennessee has the offensive formula to push Alabama to the brink. The Crimson Tide has the offensive formula to make sure that doesn’t happen. Should be fun and hate-filled, per usual.
Sad Scoreboard Game of the Week: Missouri at Vanderbilt (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
If you fancy points being scored in copious amounts, here's a game you should avoid. In fact, even if low-scoring games are your thing, I’m not sure this is the one you want to watch, either.
Just run, friend.
Missouri has scored nine points in the past two games. Vanderbilt has scored a gaudy—well, it is by such reserved standards—27 points the last two times out. Both teams play above-average defense; both offenses have spent much of the season looking like lost puppies.
The only major redeeming quality of this matchup is that it could produce some very odd score. Perhaps a 3-2 game. Or maybe, somehow, both teams will head into overtime tied at 0-0 or 11-11. Things will be undoubtedly strange.
Scratch that. Maybe you should watch this game just to say you actually did.
One-on-One Matchup of the Week: Laremy Tunsil vs. Myles Garrett
There’s a distinct possibility that the next two No. 1 overall picks in the NFL draft are going head-to-head on Saturday. Sure, that’s an ambitious declaration. But do yourself a favor and watch Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil and Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett just in case.
After sitting out seven games because of NCAA matters, Tunsil will make his season debut for a team in desperate need of some offensive line assistance. Even with the injury concerns coming into the year—along with the NCAA stuff—Tunsil is widely regarded at one of the top prospects at the position and one of the nation’s best juniors overall. (Chances are he says goodbye after the season.)
Welcoming him back will be the most destructive force currently operating on the defensive side. Although the Aggies fell to Alabama last Saturday, it was through no fault of their star. Garrett logged another sack, pushing his yearly total to eight-and-a-half, and two tackles for loss.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but NFL teams are already salivating over what he can do off the edge.
Oh, this will be fun. It’s wonderful to have Tunsil back on the field. Now we get to watch two of the sport’s great forces literally collide.
A Reminder to Watch Baylor Play Every Week Because Corey Coleman Is a Sorcerer Capable of Magical Powers
A few weeks ago I highlighted Baylor wideout Corey Coleman for his statistical destruction. He has followed that up with, well, more statistical destruction. In six games this season, Coleman has scored 16 touchdowns.
This is a real stat and a single-season record for the Bears. IT'S OCTOBER. HE HAS PLAYED SIX GAMES.
But this young man isn’t about the numbers. In fact, it’s the nuances to his game that make him one of the most exciting players in all of college football. Just look at him last week against West Virginia, creating new science.
Corey Coleman's footwork against WVU was insane. Slowed this clip down, check out the hurdle. pic.twitter.com/4B8qQkthD2— Max Olson (@max_olson) October 19, 2015
With Baylor playing Iowa State this weekend as an enormous favorite, Coleman will probably score and do something that defies gravity.
Don’t miss it.
Parting Shot: On Ohio State’s First-World Problem and Making the Right Call
Urban Meyer made it official on Tuesday. He announced that he was making a change at quarterback.
Cardale Jones has been benched in favor of J.T. Barrett—the young man many, including myself, thought would start when the season began.
"J.T. has earned the right to start Saturday at Rutgers," Meyer told reporters. "It was a difficult decision."
Think about this for a moment. The nation’s No. 1 team just benched its national championship-winning quarterback who is without a loss in his career. Jones’ next regular-season defeat will be his first. He still has more rings than losses. It's staggering.
And yet, given the way Ohio State’s offense has evolved, struggled and had to absorb losses, the move makes perfect sense. It comes at the perfect time. And as a result, there has not been an ounce of backlash to a historically unprecedented decision. Strangely, it feels right.
When Barrett was in the game against Penn State last week, there was a sense of unpredictability and explosiveness the team has lacked with Jones taking the majority of the snaps. In the red zone, it was even more apparent.
Jones hasn’t played heinous outside of a few wayward throws. The play-calling hasn’t helped him out, either. Given the way the team will rely more on the H-backs and misdirection—and less on downfield passes—this is the move that had to be made.
The role Jones plays moving forward will be fascinating. Meyer will still find ways to get him involved, and just the threat of his arm will keep coordinators in the office after hours. He will play a significant role at some point.
He won’t disappear into the deepest depths of the roster. There is still some flash left in this giant machine. Just watch.
Still, the change was strange news to hear and process. It’s strange to even write about. The Buckeyes just benched the mortar-armed, national championship-winning quarterback two months into an undefeated season ad the No. 1 team. Things like this don't normally happen, and no one's really seems to have noticed.
It’s good to be king.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
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.