It’s time to gaze into the unknown, with college football Week 8 serving as the platform for our latest venture into the future.
Last week served as a midway point to the season, and it’s safe to say there aren’t many givens around the nation. What we do know by now that Alabama is the undisputed heavyweight champ of college football and that Ohio State, Clemson and Michigan are all a step below.
We also know that it’s almost impossible for any Group of 5 team to crack the College Football Playoff. But there is still one team remaining with a sliver of hope.
With that as our launching point, here are the top-10 storylines for college football Week 8.
1. Boise State faces big test at home against BYU
If you’re interested in a football game that won’t stink Thursday night (aka, not the NFL’s travesty, Thursday Night Football), check out BYU heading to Boise to take on the Broncos.
Colorado State gave No. 14 Boise State a run for its money last weekend. Thanks to a final surge of time-killing offense, the Broncos won by five points at home after giving up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. We’ve already seen Houston fall out of playoff contention with a loss nobody saw coming against Navy.
Now it’s BYU’s turn to see if it can pull off the upset special, which it is quite capable of producing. The Cougars, after all, won by 11 points last year to stun the Broncos with a Hail Mary and subsequent pick-six in the waning moments of the game.
This year, both programs see one another as rivals, with Boise State having a 4-2 record the past six meetings.
“I think there is a rivalry there,” senior receiver Thomas Sperbeck said, per the Associated Press. “We’re definitely looking forward to it, especially on a short week. It will be a great challenge for our team.”
Expect a lot of points to be scored in this one. Both teams average at least four touchdowns per game and allow at least 19 points.
We’re expecting a close game, but Taysom Hill is a bit too turnover prone to our liking. This is why we’re picking Boise State to remain perfect on the season.
2. How will Wisconsin respond to second tough loss?
Nobody can really say Wisconsin is not one of the most impressive teams in the nation. The fact it remains in the top 10 is a testament to that.
But after losing two heartbreakers against No. 3 Michigan and No. 2, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world if they dropped another one. The emotional energy expended in their overtime loss at home last weekend is going to be difficult to bounce back from.
And while Iowa comes into the game unranked, this team is by no means a pushover. Sporting a tough-as-nails defense that has allowed just 19.1 points per game and an offense that loves to pound the ball on the ground, the Hawkeyes could be trouble at home.
The biggest factor will be whether or not freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook can shake off the cobwebs after his ill-fated final play against Ohio State.
“In the moment, I probably could have just gave ground, got back and chucked the ball up,” Hornibrook said (h/t Jason Galloway of Madison.com). “There’s no excuse for that. You’ve got to get the ball off in that situation.”
Though he’s looked darn good for the most part this season, he has made critical errors in both the team’s losses.
Look for Wisconsin’s defense to keep the Badgers in it and shut down Iowa’s rushing game. If Hornibrook rebounds nicely with an error-free performance, then he’ll help his team record another big win.
3. Can the Wolfpack give Louisville a run for its money?
Clemson should have lost to the NC State Wolfpack last weekend in Death Valley. They would have lost, too, if not for the shaky leg of NC State kicker Kyle Bambard, who shanked the chip-shot game-winner (watch here).
Why do we mention this? Well, because Louisville — which lost to Clemson three weeks ago, took a week off and then struggled against Duke — is hosting this same Wolfpack team Saturday.
We correctly identified this team as a tough matchup for Clemson last week, and Louisville better be sharp as well to avoid losing its second game this year.
In particular, sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson needs to be back on point, scoring touchdowns in bunches, to ensure his Cardinals win. Jackson was surprisingly held in check against the Blue Devils last week, scoring just two touchdowns. That said, he did not fail to wow the masses with one of his signature Heisman moments (watch here).
The Wolfpack will attempt to shorten the game by implementing their strong rushing attack. Keeping Jackson on the sideline as much as possible will be the ultimate goal.
After a wake-up call following the bye, we’re expecting to see a different Cardinals team in Week 8. A blowout might be a bit much to ask for, but it’s not going to be awfully close, either.
4. Will Nebraska make it seven straight to open the season?
Even with a perfect 6-0 record, we cannot help but wonder if the No. 8-ranked Cornhuskers are for real. That said, it’s the first time this program has started 6-0 since 2001.
Having faced nobody of consequence to this point (unless you count Oregon at home), Nebraska will have an excellent chance to make it 7-0 this Saturday in front of their fans at Memorial Stadium when Purdue comes to visit.
Just don’t tell quarterback Tommy Armstrong they’ve had it easy.
“We get criticized about who we play. At the end of the day, we play great teams,” Armstrong said (h/t Associated Press). “At the end of the day, the Big Ten came out of the preseason as one of the top conferences going into the conference (season). We look at it as we’re going to win each (game), if we don’t get respect, oh well. We’re going to go out there and demand it. But if we keep winning, there’s nothing anyone can say about our team.”
The Purdue Boilermakers are allowing more points on average (34.3) than they are scoring (27.5) and don’t sport a strong rushing attack.
This smells like the beginning of a sweet, home-cooked meal for Nebraska.
5. West Virginia’s defense gets another chance to shine
Heading into Week 7, we wondered if the Mountaineers might have the defensive firepower to shut down the high-powered offense of Texas Tech. Challenge accepted, and conquered. While Patrick Mahomes wasn’t quite himself, West Virginia’s 48-17 blowout in Lubbock, Texas was a sight to behold (more on that here).
Now coming home as conquering heroes, and with a perfect 5-0 record, things don’t get any easier. TCU, as it does every year, sports a potent offense that puts up 530-plus yards and 40-plus points per game.
Can West Virginia apply the same kind of pressure that doomed Mahomes and Co. this weekend against Kenny Hill and the Horned Frogs?
That’s going to be the difference in the game. West Virginia can score enough points to win if its defense holds TCU to under 30 points. We expect another sensational, inspirational performance by Tony Gibson’s defense, which will keep the Mountaineers perfect on the season.
If this does happen, it’s quite possible West Virginia will sneak into the top 10 for the first time this year when the new AP poll comes out Sunday.
6. Prove-it time for the Aggies in Tuscaloosa
Is there any team in the SEC that can compete with mighty Alabama? At home?
But if ever there was a week to hold out hope, Crimson Tide haters, this is it.
No. 6 Texas A&M took out UCLA in Week 1 when the Bruins were considered hot stuff. The Aggies have also won against now-ranked teams Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee. They feature a defense that gets after the quarterback and an offense that can dominate up front with a potent rushing attack.
Look out for Myles Garrett (future All-Pro NFL defensive end), Daeshon Hall and Co. to bring the heat all game long in an attempt to rattle freshman Jalen Hurts. It looked like Tennessee had something going on that end last week but couldn’t stop the run — something head coach Nick Saban felt the need to highlight after the game.
That’s something the Aggies have done fairly well thus far, holding opposing running backs to 3.85 yards per carry. But they haven’t faced anything like what Lane Kiffin brings with his ‘Bama offensive attack.
Discipline will be key. If the Texas A&M front seven displays spectacular gap discipline and doesn’t leave superhighways of open turf for Hurts to romp through, then the Aggies might have a chance.
But quite honestly, an upset here is not likely. The Crimson Tide, at home, will prove far superior when it’s all said and done.
7. Can Josh Rosen and the Bruins tame the Utes?
After an impressive campaign in 2015 as a true freshman, it’s safe to say Josh Rosen’s 2016 campaign has been a disappointment. For that matter, UCLA has come up well short of national and local expectations, entering the upcoming game with a dismal 3-4 record.
With that said, the Bruins might have what it takes to upset No. 19 Utah in much the same way Davis Webb and Cal got the job done a few weeks back. Hopefully Rosen is fully healed up after missing the Washington State game with shoulder and knee injuries. If so, then the gunslinger could be the key to a Pac 12 upset special.
The vertical passing game troubled the Utes against Cal, and Rosen can sling it with the best of them. Now, receivers catching those balls is another story — UCLA has been plagued by drops. The Bruins might be able to stifle Utah’s offense a bit, having one of the best defenses in the Pac 12.
Another reason to think UCLA might upset Utah is that the Utes have been recently ravaged by injuries. Head coach Kyle Wittingham admitted “there’s never been a year like this” after Utah’s narrow win over Oregon State last weekend.
UCLA is up against it as well. Another loss would likely mean the end of any remaining hope to win the Pac 12 South.
All these factors have us thinking an upset is in the works.
8. Arkansas vs. Auburn: Who’s for real?
The short answer to this question might just be, “yes,” because both teams have been impressive to this point in the season. Unfortunately, they also have both lost twice to undefeated national powerhouses.
No. 17 Arkansas has the leg up in the standings after having taken down Ole Miss last weekend with a late touchdown. No. 21 Auburn has rattled off three wins in a row, the last two handily after a close shave against LSU.
The biggest reason to favor Arkansas is its physical running game. The big hogs up front are already on a roll after blasting huge holes for Rawleigh Williams III last week (180 yards) and should have an advantage over Auburn’s defensive front.
But if Sean White can remain precise in the passing game, Auburn’s well-balanced offense should be able to hang tough in a high-scoring game.
The X-factor will be Razorbacks quarterback Austin Allen, who has been tremendous passing the ball this year against tough competition. He was able to throw three touchdowns against the brutal Alabama defense, despite getting hammered the entire game by ‘Bama’s front seven.
Though it’s never easy to win at Jordan-Hare Stadium, we’re picking Arkansas to pull out a close one.
9. Baker Mayfield returns to Lubbock
Once the toast of the town, Baker Mayfield and the No. 16-ranked Sooners will be in Lubbock, Texas to take on the Red Raiders — the team Mayfield started with in 2013. He won the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year award that season, starting in eight games, throwing for 2,315 yards and 12 touchdowns.
But as we know, Mayfield left Texas Tech after a clash with the coaching staff and walked on at Oklahoma. The rest is history. The redshirt junior quarterback continues to feature one of the nation’s most dynamic skill sets and has the Sooners rolling on a three-game winning streak.
The folks in Lubbock haven’t forgotten about his decision to leave. He was asked to leave a local restaurant in 2014 and expects no warm welcome Saturday night. That said, he says there is no “revenge” factor for him this weekend.
“Everybody tried to talk about the ‘revenge’ or whatever, but that’s all way in the past,” Mayfield said (per Dallas News). “We talked about that last year. It is going to be a little different with the fan base. That’s the first time I’m going back there since playing there. That’ll be the different part. But, for me, it’s no different than playing any other Big 12 team.”
Truly, the game itself offers enough motivation. While Oklahoma has lost two games this year, it remains perfect (3-0) in the Big 12 after taking down TCU, Texas and Kansas State the past three games.
Texas Tech is coming off a humiliating loss to West Virginia and will be eager to respond well for its home crowd. But the Sooners will prevail.
The key to victory, however, may not be fully functioning just yet. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was not himself last week as he played through an injury to his throwing shoulder. But if he’s ready to go full bore, it should be a tremendous battle between Mahomes and Mayfield under the bright lights.
10. The return of Leonard Fournette
It’s been three weeks since Leonard Fournette took the field for No. 25 LSU, and he’s coming back just in time for an SEC West showdown against No. 23 Ole Miss.
O on Fournette: "Looks full speed." #LSU
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) October 19, 2016
The Rebels and Tigers have both experienced plenty of disappointment this year and come into this game with a combined record of 7-5 (3-3 in the SEC).
Chad Kelly and Co. are coming into Baton Rouge after a heartbreaking loss to Arkansas, while Fournette’s Tigers have had nothing but easy sailing the past three weeks against easy opponents and a week off when Hurricane Matthew postponed their game against Florida.
At home, we expect LSU’s defense to put pressure on Kelly, who is prone to make mistakes. And if Fournette is truly up to “full speed,” then we can expect the Tigers to rely heavily on him to carry the offense to victory.
If he gets injured for a third time this year or isn’t quite himself just yet, then the Rebels’ offense will prevail. Without Fournette at the top of his game, the Tigers just don’t have the offensive firepower to compete.