The first seven weeks of college football have flown by. Somehow, we’re more than halfway through the season and after last week, it feels like we know less than when we started.
The overwhelming dynamic of right now seems to be Alabama in a tier of its own. Behind them, eight other teams are fighting to be with the Crimson Tide, the problem being that half of them lost last week. Things will only get crazier from here — most teams still have a lot of tough games on the schedule. This is shaping up to be perhaps the most controversial season in the playoff era, as — other than ‘Bama — no team is pulling away from the pack. Here are your studs and duds for Week 8.
Stud: Oklahoma State
Do not count out Oklahoma State. Since the Cowboys were knocked off by TCU, they’ve gone right back to looking like one of the country’s best teams. Mike Gundy’s squad won a nail-biter against Texas Tech, then blew out Baylor coming off a bye week.
Now, Texas will have to deal with the nation’s second-ranked offense by S&P+. The Longhorns played well in the Red River showdown, however, the score may have overstated just how well. Despite losing by just five points, Texas had a five percent win expectancy during the game, per Football Study Hall. Even at home, they won’t pull the upset in this one.
Being completely unable to score is a problem. Especially when you’re facing Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, on the road, at night, in a white-out. Believe it or not, Michigan may need to score some points in this one. It doesn’t help that the Nittany Lions have the best scoring defense in the country, holding opponents to just nine points per game. Jim Harbaugh may be forced to go to backup quarterback Brandon Peters at some point, but even that won’t save the Wolverines.
Wisconsin sneaking into the College Football Playoff thanks to a Big Ten West schedule is a scenario that’s becoming all too real with each passing week. The Badgers got a scare last week, as Purdue kept it within a score. They won’t have the same kind of trouble with Maryland this week. Wisconsin can follow their formula of shutting down the opposing run game and expect an easy victory. With the Badgers’ best opponents for the rest of the year — Iowa and Michigan — being home games, it will take an upset of notable proportion to keep them from the Big Ten title game.
A 2-4, Idaho coming to Columbia to play a 1-5 Missouri probably isn’t at the top of your must-watch list on Saturday, nor should it be. However, this game could well be where Barry Odom’s tenure as Mizzou head coach reaches the beginning of the end. The Tigers are big favorites at home, however, they really aren’t that much better than Idaho. Most of Missouri’s offense thus far has come on explosive plays, which the Vandals happen to be very good at containing. This may turn out to be an ugly game, however, Idaho can get the win.
Stud: Matt Campbell, head coach, Iowa State
Don’t look now, but the Cyclones are 28th in S&P+ and climbing. This is only Campbell’s second year in Ames, but he seems to be making an impact. Beyond the obvious — Iowa State’s stunning upset of Oklahoma — Campbell has this team playing well consistently and on both sides of the ball.
The Cyclones rank in the top-40 in S&P+ on both offense and defense, a rare achievement for a middle of the road Big 12 program. Playing at Texas Tech this weekend will be a great test for Iowa State and it’s one they can pass. The defense is good enough to at least slow down the Red Raiders. If the Cyclones can do that, a victory is easily attainable.
Dud: Butch Jones, head coach, Tennessee
Tennessee has delayed Jones’ funeral procession long enough. There hasn’t been a single game this season — at least against an FBS squad — where the Vols have looked anything like a good football team. After failing to score on the last play of the game against South Carolina, Jones getting the axe feels inevitable. It’s very hard to see anything other than a blowout coming for Tennessee as they face Alabama this week. Perhaps that will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Stud: Central Florida
Central Florida is ranked slightly below South Florida right now, but it’s clear that the Knights are the superior squad in the G5. UCF hasn’t just won each of their five games, they’ve blown out every opponent. That’s not because of scheduling either — the Knights crushed Maryland in College Park and a tough Memphis team. Their offense ranks fourth in the country by S&P+. This is a legit team. They should handle Navy this week with ease.
Dud: Michigan State
The Spartans get Indiana this week, a team that qualifies as a slightly worse version of Michigan State itself. Both programs like to grind out wins with defense, ranking ninth and 22nd in S&P+ on that side of the ball. So why take the Hoosiers on the road? Two reasons: special teams and Simmie Cobbs. Indiana ranks 10th in special teams S&P+, Michigan State 59th. In a defensive game where field position is key, this matters a lot. As for Cobbs, the star wideout has a height advantage on every Michigan State corner. He will make 50/50 catches this week thanks to that. Those two reasons are enough for Indiana to win a close one.
This week, the 5-1 Wildcats get their toughest game of the year thus far: a trip to Starkville to face Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are coming off an easy win against BYU, but let’s not forget: Mississippi State was badly exposed in two straight blowout losses at Georgia and Auburn. Obviously, Kentucky isn’t in the same class as either of those teams. However, the Wildcats are a bad coaching decision away from being 6-0. That’s nothing to sneeze at, despite an unimpressive schedule. If Kentucky can break one or two runs, they will win this game.
Dud: Notre Dame
The 13th-ranked Fighting Irish’s schedule is about to get really tough, really fast. Starting this week, they play USC, NC State, Wake Forest, at Miami, Navy and at Stanford. We’re going to see what Notre Dame is made of during this stretch and the toughest game may be the first. The Trojans are certainly vulnerable, however, this is still a hard team to beat. As we saw last week, quarterback Sam Darnold has ability to make plays in the clutch. After struggling in a loss at Washington State, Darnold has thrown for over 300 yards in USC’s last two games with six touchdowns compared to just one interception. This is the game where Darnold will remind us why every NFL scout is drooling over him.
Stud: Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets are one of the hardest teams to predict on a weekly basis because the triple-option is such a unique style. However, they should win this game. Wake Forest ranks 14th in defensive S&P+ and they aren’t half-bad in run defense. However, they are terrible at running the ball, averaging just 4.1 yards per carry as a team. Georgia Tech usually wins the possession battle, but this disparity could become even more lopsided than usual if the Demon Deacons struggle to run. It’s worth noting that the Yellow Jackets have a top-35 defense as well. They should get what could be a key win for bowl eligibility.
The Wildcats have consistently wilted against good defenses this year and that won’t change against Iowa this week. Kirk Ferentz’s squad isn’t of the same caliber as some of the Big Ten’s better defensive teams, but Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson will have a lot of trouble throwing the ball. The Hawkeyes have stifled big plays in the air this year and rank 23rd in overall defensive S&P+. Unless running back Justin Jackson has a big game, it’s tough to see Northwestern doing much scoring on Saturday.
Stud: Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Louisville
At this point, the best case anyone can make for Jackson to win the Heisman is putting on tape of the rest of his team. The Cardinals have three losses, but they’re averaging 38.1 points per game with a one-man offense. Winning at Florida State may be too big an ask, but Jackson will continue his statistically absurd campaign. Even on the road against a good Seminoles defense, Jackson is simply unstoppable. If only you could say the same of his teammates.
Dud: Josh Allen, quarterback, Wyoming
Allen’s struggles against good opposition may crop back up again this week as Wyoming visits Boise State. The Broncos rank 28th in defensive S&P+ and held San Diego State to just 14 points on the road last week. Beyond the implications for Wyoming, a strong game from Allen could reverse the narrative around him for the NFL Draft. But it won’t happen. There’s nothing we’ve seen from him to suggest it will. Until Allen puts in a good performance against a good team, there’s no point in giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Stud: Washington State
The Cougars have the late game this week — a 10:45 eastern start time against Colorado — but they’re a team worth staying up to watch. Despite a blowout loss last week, Washington State can climb back into the conversation with a win. There are no undefeated teams left in the Pac-12 after last week’s chaos. In other words, the Cougars’ season is far from over. This is still one of the better teams Mike Leach has ever had and Colorado should not pose much of a challenge.
No point in getting carried away. The Orange may have just pulled the season’s biggest upset, but this is still Syracuse. We shouldn’t adjust our expectations based off one game. ‘Cuse is facing an undefeated Miami on the road this week and we won’t see a repeat of last week. The Hurricanes are the better team in every facet of the game. Don’t overthink this one.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in college football this season: Virginia, which went 2-10 last season, is one game away from bowl eligibility as early as Week 8. Some of that is due to the schedule — the Cavaliers don’t play the Coastal Division’s tougher schools until late in the year — but Bronco Mendenhall has done an unbelievable job with this program. Virginia is at home against Boston College this week which means, barring an upset of notable size, they will reach the magic number of six wins.
The Bruins are coming off their worst performance of the year at Arizona and things won’t get easier for them. Even back home at the Rose Bowl, with Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert still out with a broken collarbone, UCLA faces a tough matchup this week. Replacing Herbert hs been an issue for Oregon, however, UCLA ranks an abysmal 115th in defensive S&P+. This should be a big game for Oregon running back Royce Freeman. The passing game may even be able to find some rhythm. Oregon’s defense is far from great, but if the offense is scoring at will, they’ll manage to slow down Josh Rosen and co enough to get the win.
Stud: The Big 12
The Big 12 isn’t just the most fun conference in college football, it’s also the best. By far. Seven out of its 10 teams have been ranked at some point this year and it’s not inconceivable that Iowa State makes it eight with a win this week. Outside of Kansas and Baylor — two of the worst teams in the country — this conference is loaded. There isn’t a single game involving the other eight teams in which an upset couldn’t happen. And every one of those eight teams is entertaining.
Dud: The SEC
Even with Georgia looking like one of the best foes Alabama has had this decade, we know how this story ends. This is ‘Bama’s conference. They own it. They know they own it. So does every other team in the SEC. There’s no suspense here and — other than Alabama and Georgia — no team in the SEC makes a neutral viewer stop changing channels to watch. The most compelling storylines — Tennessee and LSU — are compelling not because the teams are good, but because the coach might get fired. (Though Ed Orgeron looks safe after two straight dramatic wins). Time to stop thinking of this as the superior conference.