Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is the key to Penn State beating Michigan in college football Week 8

Is there any possible way college football Week 8 can top last weekend’s action in terms of chaos, intrigue and excitement? Probably not, but it’s certainly going to try.

There are plenty of opportunities for underdogs to rise up and take down heavy favorites. There are also some huge games on the slate featuring ranked opponents. This weekend’s schedule has a little bit of everything.

These top storylines will be worth following as the action unfolds.

From frying pan into fire for Houston at home vs. Memphis

Houston was stunned last weekend, not only losing to Tulsa but getting absolutely blown out by the Golden Hurricane. It was an embarrassing loss for Major Applewhite’s program, which came into the weekend with only one blemish, a three-point loss to Texas Tech. Now the Cougars are hosting one of the hotter offensive teams in the nation in Memphis, which just took down Navy and features the 12th-best scoring offense in the nation. Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver was playing on one leg last game, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be 100 percent for this game. But he’ll need to be a wrecking ball in the middle of the Cougars defense if his team has any chance of slowing the Tigers down.

Wisconsin just needs to keep rumbling along 

The Badgers are playing a well-known refrain this year: They play stout defense and run the ball between the tackles as well as any team in the nation. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown five interceptions in his last three games, so logic dictates he needs to throw less and hand off to Jonathan Taylor more. That’s a sound strategy every week, but going up against a Maryland offense that can get loose sometimes, it makes even more sense this weekend. This game shouldn’t be all that close, but if we learned anything last weekend it’s that college football is as predictable as a set of dice.

Will Cowboys wrangle Longhorns, or will they get the horn?

Chances are, Mason Rudolph, James Washington, Justice Hill and Co. will have a field day against a Texas defense that isn’t exactly wowing these days. And while Sam Ehlinger and his Longhorns offense did manage to make things interesting last weekend in the Red River Showdown against Oklahoma, the Cowboys have a more potent offense and a better all-around defense than the Sooners. In the opinion of this scribe, Oklahoma State will win by double digits, shoving Texas back down into sub .500 territory.

Keeping an eye on Lamar Jackson

The Louisville Cardinals are on the road for an ACC battle with Florida State this Saturday. The Seminoles will have to rely on Cam Akers and the ground game to win this game, barring an off performance by Lamar Jackson, who’s been unreal this year. The FSU defense has the potential to contain Jackson on the ground, however, and he tends to make poor decisions passing the ball when he’s bottled up as a runner. Still, this young man is averaging 430 yards per game and has 27 touchdowns this year. He’s kept Louisville competitive all year and should do so again in Tallahassee Saturday.

Butch Jones still has a job, but for how much longer?

It’s pretty crazy that Butch Jones hasn’t been fired by Tennessee yet. The Volunteers have lost three of their last four games. They engineered an embarrassing shutout loss at home to Georgia in Week 6 and followed that up with a nine-point performance in another home loss to South Carolina, failing miserably with three chances to score at the end. Perhaps a trip to Tuscaloosa will finally do the trick. Tennessee is visiting Alabama Saturday and should get trucked in a major way.

Syracuse couldn’t possibly do it again, right?

One week removed from pulling off the biggest upset of the 2017 college football season, taking down Clemson, Syracuse gets another shot at altering the postseason landscape. The Orange will be on the road taking on Miami, which remains undefeated after two gut-check wins by razor-thin margins against Florida State and Georgia Tech. Can Syracuse pull off a second major upset? Anything’s possible. But will the Orange make it happen? Probably not. Then again, this team has lost its three games by a combined 24 points and hung tough with LSU and NC State. The Hurricanes better be ready to brawl.

Potential trap game for Hokies

Virginia Tech has a bit of a gauntlet to run through after Week 8 to close out the season. But first, Josh Jackson and the Hokies must dispatch North Carolina. Should be pretty easy. The Tar Heels have lost their last four games by a combined 65 points and rank No. 96 in the nation, allowing over 31 points per game to opposing offenses. This should be a prime opportunity for the Hokies to jump out to a huge lead and cruise to victory. Then again, it could also be a trap game. Don’t fall into the trap.

Keeping the wheels of momentum rolling is key for Sparty

Michigan State is 5-1. Let’s say that again. After after winning just three games last year, Sparty is 5-1, including 3-0 in the Big Ten. That’s huge. Now ranked No. 18 in the nation, this team will host Indiana, which gave Michigan a hard time last weekend in an overtime affair. In reality, this should be all about continuing what we saw from Michigan State’s offense against Michigan and Minnesota, which is to say it’s time to run the ball some more. LJ Scott was magnificent last game after missing Week 6, and Madre London has been very effective the past two weeks. Provided the Spartans don’t lose track of Indiana’s very talented receivers, this should add up to win No. 6 on the season.

UCF looks unstoppable, but can Navy pull off the upset?

There isn’t a team in the nation putting up more points on a regular basis than the Knights, who average 50.6 per tilt. UCF casually put up 603 yards and 63 points last weekend against East Carolina, despite possessing the ball just over 27 minutes. This potent offense is a nightmare. However, Navy might have what it takes to keep McKenzie Milton and Co. from running up the score, and it’s not defense. If the Midshipmen can pound the rock, control the clock and finish off drives with seven points, then perhaps this game gets interesting at the end.

Baker Mayfield and Co. need a convincing win 

Baker Mayfield

One week after getting owned at home by none other than Iowa State, the Sooners were less than stellar against Texas, blowing an early lead and hanging on to win by just five points. Now it’s time to get back to making statements, starting with a road game against Kansas State. The Wildcats just got shut down by TCU, lost to Texas in double-overtime, were held to just seven points by Vanderbilt…you get the idea. If ever there was a game in which the Sooners should get back to winning in a convincing manner, it’s this one. If they have any chance at all of somehow squeezing into the playoff discussion, it’s going to take running the table the rest of the way, and winning big.

Keeping the fire burning hot is key for LSU

We cannot help but be impressed with the turnaround Ed Orgeron and his team has accomplished the past two weekends. Beating Florida in The Swamp and then taking down Auburn at home, these Tigers have made it clear they’ll be a force to be reckoned with the rest of the season. Given the level of play we’ve seen the past two games, LSU should wipe the floor with Ole Miss, which legitimately posted an opening for a new head coach two weekends ago. As long as Orgeron can keep his team playing with the kind of intensity we’ve been seeing, the Tigers should win their third game in a row.

Penn State finally gets to test its mettle

After six games against relatively easy-to-mediocre opponents, Penn State finally gets to prove itself in Week 8. Hosting Michigan, the team that annihilated them 49-10 last year at The Big House, the Nittany Lions will have a chance to prove they belong in the playoff discussion and get some revenge in the process. Really, this game will be all about whether Saquon Barkley can get going on the ground. He’s had trouble getting loose in the first half the past couple of games against Northwestern and Indiana, and Michigan’s defensive front can be very good. However, we did see the Spartans run the ball effectively against the Wolverines. So what it will really come down to is whether James Franklin commits to running the ball — something he has yet to do this year — or tries to put the game in the hands of Trace McSorley instead. We highly advise against the latter.

The Notre Dame-USC game has some serious clout this year

Notre Dame and USC both have just one loss on their records heading into Saturday’s rivalry game, and a second loss will definitely hurt them in terms of the national rankings. The Fighting Irish probably have the “best” loss of any one-loss team, falling by just one point to Georgia early in the year. They’ve been blowing teams out ever since, too. USC, on the other hand, seems to give its fan base heart palpitations every weekend and has needed big-time performances in the second half in five of its six wins this year. We’re giving the home team a big edge in this game. Notre Dame’s defense is much improved in 2017 compared to last year, and the offense can pound the rock. Given Sam Darnold’s struggles with turnovers, we won’t be surprised if the Fighting Irish win by double digits.

Auburn has no excuse not to annihilate Arkansas 

One week after getting stunned by LSU, the Tigers will be ready to get some secondhand revenge against Arkansas, which is ripe for the picking. The Razorbacks are coming off a huge blowout loss to Alabama and feature one of the worst defenses in all of college football. They don’t exactly scare anyone offensively, either, so Auburn’s defense should eat. Really, anything other than a blowout win for the road team in this game would be cause for alarm.

TCU has some big expectations to live up to 

After last weekend’s mayhem, TCU finds itself ranked No. 4 in the nation by both the AP Top 25 and the Coaches Poll. The only undefeated team remaining in a very competitive Big 12, the Horned Frogs feature a potent blend of high-scoring offense and shut-down defense (relatively speaking, for the Big 12) that has them riding high. Coming off a mentally tough game last weekend in which the weather was the big hurdle, the Horned Frogs are coming back home to take on the one-win Kansas Jayhawks, who should be a walk in the park. So, for at least one week, TCU should have no trouble living up to the expectations surrounding its No. 4 ranking. Things get a bit tougher heading into the back end of October and into November, however.

Baylor looking to play spoiler, win its first game

There’s a really good chance Baylor will remain winless heading into Week 9 with West Virginia coming to Waco, Texas. The Mountaineers are coming off a huge win against Texas Tech that saw quarterback Will Grier throw five touchdowns, four of which came in the second half. That said, there’s a sliver of hope for Baylors fans that Matt Rhule’s club might possibly, finally break through. The Bears nearly toppled Oklahoma a few weeks back, thanks to the fine play of quarterback Zach Smith. If he has a big game and the Bears find a way to force Grier into a turnover of two, we could be in for an upset special.

Fresno State, San Diego State battle for Mountain West supremacy

When Boise State shocked San Diego State late Saturday night in Week 7, suddenly it dawned on us that Fresno State is the No. 1 team in the Mountain West West division. Yes, the same Fresno State squad that Alabama and Washington curb stomped in consecutive weeks to the tune of a combined 89-26 early this year. The Aztecs have a chance to reclaim their lead in the division Saturday night at home against the Bulldogs, and as always Rashaad Penny is the key. He was shut down for the most part by Boise State’s defensive front, and Fresno State isn’t giving up the farm on the ground this year. It is an intriguing matchup that could go either way.

Can Cougars redeem themselves after awful loss to Cal?

Before Week 7, it sure looked like Washington State was going to head into the month of November with a perfect record. Then Luke Falk had the worst game of his career, throwing five picks and failing to lead a single touchdown-scoring drive against Cal. The Cougars fell, 37-3, and now have the tough task of pulling themselves off the mat to fight another day. Thankfully for them, they’re back at home and are facing a Colorado team that lost three games in a row before eking out a three-point win over Oregon State last weekend. If the Cougars don’t win, and win big this weekend, then we’ll really see their stock take a tumble.

Jesse Reed
Managing Editor at Sportsnaut. Featured on Yardbarker and MSN.com, and formerly was a breaking news writer/NFL analyst for Bleacher Report.