The opening month of the college football season is typically thin on upsets, but conference play regularly brings a handful of stunning results.
And in Week 8, we should see 2018’s group of national championship contenders get trimmed even further.
Four top-12 teams take on another ranked opponent, and two others have challenging road games against league foes. With every loss comes the risk of being eliminated from the College Football Playoff discussion.
Shockers could happen elsewhere — college football is relentlessly weird, after all — but these ranked teams are on high upset alert this weekend.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Dwayne Haskins is excellent. Ohio State’s quarterback has thrown a Football Bowl Subdivision-best 28 touchdowns with only four interceptions. But what happens if he struggles? The Buckeyes can’t lean on the running game, since it’s mustered 3.3 yards per carry over the last four games. Although Haskins is a tough matchup for an inconsistent Purdue defense, his worst showing of the season happened on the road.
Additionally, the Boilermakers have an explosive passing game that can take advantage of an uncharacteristically spotty Ohio State secondary. Purdue has a real chance to pull off a stunner if its pass coverage complements a big offensive day.
In both 2016 and 2017, Clemson survived a last-second drive by North Carolina State to pull out a tight win. Ryan Finley will be motivated to change that trend in a positive way for the Wolfpack. The senior has thrived so far, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt while guiding them to a 5-0 start.
NC State has surrendered only two sacks, too. While holding off that dynamic Clemson front will be a greater test than anything the offensive line has previously faced, if Finley has time to throw, he could thrive. Trevor Lawrence is a rising star, but the Tigers might need their freshman to lead them in a higher scoring game than some anticipate.
LSU’s team speed on defense is remarkable. And it better show up when the decked-out Tigers host Mississippi State, which won a 37-7 laugher during the 2017 meeting. Not only did Nick Fitzgerald run for 88 yards and two scores, he collected 180 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
Passing, however, isn’t the dual-threat quarterback’s strength. Fitzgerald has trudged to a 49.6 completion rate with 5.8 yards per attempt this season. LSU could obliterate the visiting Bulldogs if the defense contains Fitzgerald’s mobility and forces him to throw. Allowing him space to run would be a critical mistake.
Over the last decade, Michigan State has always performed better opposite Michigan than the experts in the desert predicted. That’s not hyperbole, and it’s not an opinion, either. According to OddsShark, the Spartans are 10-0 against the spread in the rivalry’s last 10 meetings.
Michigan State’s defense certainly is capable of making it difficult on the Wolverines once again. MSU ranks No. 1 nationally with 2.3 yards allowed per rush. Forcing the maize and blue to have a one-dimensional offense will test Shea Patterson’s ability to play a mistake-free game for Michigan. He has the talent, but that’s a huge burden to carry on the road.
If the Ducks can navigate a trip to Pullman, they’re officially a College Football Playoff threat. By no means is the remaining schedule easy, yet Oregon’s only potential ranked opponent would be Utah. Favorable, to say the least.
But Washington State presents a tricky matchup. The defense has allowed more than 400 yards just once this season. Though it happened opposite Oregon State last week, the Cougars also racked up 56 points in the process. Their 85.7 red-zone touchdown rate is third-best nationally. Oregon cannot afford to waste scoring chances opposite a defense that’s better than it’s given credit for.
One of the quietest unbeaten teams in the country, Cincinnati has climbed to No. 20 in the AP poll thanks to stellar defense. The Bearcats sixth in the country at 4.3 yards allowed per play, and they’ve held five of their six opponents to 21 points or less en route to a 6-0 start.
However, Temple’s defense is equally as stingy. Led by the “Minister of Mayhem” in head coach Geoff Collins, the Owls’ 4.2 yards allowed per play is one spot ahead of Cincinnati. The Bearcats offense has been excellent recently, but their two worst performances of 2018 occurred during road trips to UCLA and Miami, Ohio. If that trend repeats, loss No. 1 could be coming to Cincy.