Top takeaways from college football Week 8

Unlike what we’ve seen in recent weeks, college football Week 8 wasn’t loaded with upsets, shocking losses or many huge surprises. There were some serious statements made, however, by teams looking to gain a foothold in the soon to come College Football Playoff rankings at the beginning of November.

The two biggest games of the weekend were rather lopsided affairs. Both USC and Michigan were chewed up and spit out by their respective opponents. Meanwhile, the likes of Alabama and TCU made easy work of the poor teams they were matched up against.

We did get to see some top teams pushed to the limit. Texas nearly toppled Oklahoma State, and Syracuse came awfully close to pulling off its second straight upset on the road against Miami.

We’ll discuss these games and more looking at the biggest storylines from college football Week 8.

Fighting Irish return to relevance with blowout win over USC

Heading into this classic rivalry game, we predicted Notre Dame would have a big edge in the game against USC and wrote, “we won’t be surprised if the Fighting Irish win by double digits.”

That said, we did not see this coming. The Fighting Irish absolutely dismantled the Trojans on national television, winning by the score of 49-14. It was complete and utter annihilation.

Sam Darnold had a truly disheartening game, from his perspective, the team’s perspective and the perspective of USC fans who’ve been riding a roller coaster of emotions with him all year long. He turned the ball over on the first offensive snap of the game for the Trojans, and three plays later the Irish scored a touchdown.

It was all downhill from there. Darnold would throw his obligatory interception (he’s had at least one in every game this year but one) in the second quarter. It was an awful read by Darnold, who threw into double coverage. Notre Dame scored a touchdown on its next drive to go ahead 28-0 at that stage in the game.

While Darnold struggled, Notre Dame’s dual-threat passer Brandon Wimbush did everything right. He wasn’t particularly accurate through the air but totaled 226 yards and four touchdowns, leading an offensive effort that dominated the defense of USC from the start of the game to the finish. Josh Adams was huge, too, rushing for 191 yards and three scores.

This team is legit. Remember, Notre Dame’s only loss this year was a one-point affair against Georgia, which is No. 3 in the nation this week. That said, the next few weeks will determine just how good it is, with contests against ranked opponents in three of the final games to close out the season.

Penn State makes huge statement in blowout over Michigan

The game got started on an auspicious note for the Nittany Lions. Heisman favorite Saquon Barkley took the first hand-off of the game 69 yards to pay dirt, leaving everyone behind. He scored his second touchdown of the game on Penn State’s next offensive possession, and his third was a veritable cherry on top late, capping off a 42-13 win over the Wolverines.

Penn State had 302 yards at halftime, which is the most yardage allowed by the Jim Harbaugh-era Wolverines in one half of play. Trace McSorley and Barkley were a 1-2 punch Michigan’s defense was ill-equipped to handle. The Nittany Lions finished with 25 first downs and 506 total yards, absolutely leaving no doubt about which team had more firepower.

Perhaps just as impressive was the defensive effort of Penn State. The Wolverines were unable to get any consistent offense going, barring a short stretch during the first half when they scored their 13 points.

Needless to say, this victory was sweet revenge for the blowout loss the Nittany Lions suffered at the hands of Michigan last year. And there’s no doubt this team deserves its No. 2 ranking right now.

Texas-sized defensive effort not enough for offense-challenged Longhorns

Let’s be honest, Oklahoma State got away with one Saturday on the road against a scrappy Texas squad that really should have won the game.

There are some standout performers worth mentioning who nearly sparked a huge upset win for the Longhorns. Pass rusher Breckyn Hager was wreckin’ the Cowboys’ offensive line all game long and finished with two sacks. Defensive back Holton Hill was spectacular on the back end. The two of them helped spearhead a Texas defensive effort that held the nation’s top offense to just 13 points.

Unfortunately, Texas’ offense was inept. The offensive line failed miserably, both in the running game (1.3 yards per carry) and protecting quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who was running for his life half the time. The team finished the game having converted just 3-of-17 third downs, and offensive coordinator Tim Beck called an awful game.

In the end, it took overtime. And as it had done all game long, Texas’ defense thwarted Mason Rudolph and Co., forcing a field goal. But the offense couldn’t stop shooting itself in the foot and the game finished with an interception in the end zone, with no Longhorns receivers even near the ball.

Iowa State is a serious contender in the Big 12

Two weeks after shocking Oklahoma in Norman, and one week removed from shutting out Kansas (45-0), the Cyclones were at it again on the road against Texas Tech. Iowa State absolutely owned the Red Raiders, winning 31-13.

Former third-string quarterback Kyle Kempt, who outplayed Baker Mayfield in the upset win two weeks ago, was tremendous in this one, throwing three touchdowns Saturday. He’s now thrown seven touchdowns and just one pick the past three games and is firmly entrenched as the starter.

The normally potent Cowboys offense was rendered average this day. The Cyclones forced three turnovers that turned into 17 points, including a pick-six in the fourth quarter by Marcel Spears Jr., who returned it 61 yards to put the game away for good.

Now at 5-2 on the season, including 3-1 in the Big 12, it’s clear the Cyclones are no pushover. In fact, they’re in position to make some noise now in the final months of the season with undefeated TCU coming up and games against West Virginia and Oklahoma State after that.

Miami continues to have late-game magic, stays undefeated

Syracuse did all it could (including this insane run by quarterback Eric Dungey) to knock off another top-10 team after taking down Clemson last weekend. However, as we’ve come to expect from the Hurricanes, a late-game surge by the offense kept them undefeated and in good shape the final month of the season.

In the end, Miami quarterback Malik Rosier threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns, and Travis Homer ripped off a 33-yard touchdown run with 2:48 left to seal the 27-19 win.

Before that score, it was a one-point game following a three-drive surge by Syracuse that produced 13 points. Momentum appeared to be swinging in the Orange’s favor. However, Homer shut the door quickly, and Miami’s defense threw away the key with a nice stand on Syracuse’s next offensive possession to close out the game.

Baker Mayfield sparks second-half comeback in must-win over Kansas State

As he’s done so many times throughout his career, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield willed his team to a win Saturday on the road against Kansas State.

Down by 11 points at the half, he calmly engineered a scoring drive that ended with a brilliant rushing score that left a Wildcats defensive back grasping at nothing but air as Mayfield scampered past him.

Barring an interception in the first half, Mayfield was nearly perfect. He finished the game with 479 total yards and four touchdowns and led scoring drives on five of the Sooners’ six second-half possessions to win by a touchdown, 42-35. This keeps Oklahoma within striking distance, one game behind TCU in the Big 12. Another loss would have likely doomed the Sooners as a championship contender in the Big 12.

It’s also worth adding that Rodney Anderson, who scored the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter, had a breakout game. The redshirt sophomore running back totaled 177 yards and scored twice, marking the first time in his career that he eclipsed 100 yards or scored multiple touchdowns.

Spartans play dead for three quarters, only to put Indiana down hard 

With nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, it sure looked like the Hoosiers were set to take down the Spartans. They were up 9-3 and had held the Michigan State offense to just 158 yards while forcing two turnovers that resulted in six of their own points.

Apparently Sparty was just sleepwalking the first 51 minutes of this game. The offense went on to score two touchdowns on consecutive seven-play drives that nearly doubled their offensive output on the day.

Indiana isn’t a cupcake and gave Michigan all it could handle last weekend. So it’s not as if Michigan State should feel bad about the way it played in the first three-plus quarters. However, this type of sleepwalking performance isn’t going to fly against the likes of Penn State and Ohio State, who are both looming large on the horizon.

Can Butch Jones finally go away now?

If this seems a bit mean, sorry, but I’m not sorry. Butch Jones should have been fired a few weeks back after Georgia shut the Volunteers out 41-0 in Knoxville. Then last weekend South Carolina laid waste to the team’s awful offense, winning 15-9 due to the worst playcalling anyone could have imagined in the final moments of the game.

Jones should have been gone, but somehow he’s still hanging around. And once again under his watch, the Vols were routed, this time by Alabama Saturday, 45-7.

The only touchdown Tennessee has generated in four weeks came in the third quarter when Daniel Bituli took an interception 97 yards to the house. Even that was marred by a dumb decision by Rashaan Gaulden, who gave ‘Bama fans the double-bird right after the score, down by 22 points at the time.

All that did was tick off the Crimson Tide, who went on to score 17 more unanswered points to close out the blowout. Jones has an offense that cannot score and a team that is generally undisciplined, and now he’s lost four out of his last five games, the lone win being a four-point affair against UMass, and is 0-4 in the SEC.

UCF running back Adrian Killins was unstoppable

UCF running back Adrian Killins

One of the games we had circled on our calendars was UCF hitting the road to face Navy. Both teams have been impressive this year in different ways. Navy came into Saturday’s game with the top-ranked rushing offense in the nation, averaging nearly 400 yards per game on the ground. UCF entered the week with the nation’s highest-scoring offense, averaging over 50 points per game.

We’ll give both defenses a pat on the back for their efforts. Navy only gained 248 yards on the ground and scored just 21 points. The Midshipmen held the Knights to just 14 points in the first half and tied the game up early in the third quarter, 14-14.

That’s when diminutive speedster Adrian Killins took the game over. On the next play from scrimmage following Navy tying things up, he romped 79 yards for six (watch here). Not even an injury (he crashed into the Navy mascot’s feed bucket) could keep him from adding more yardage to his total, as Killins finished with 141 total yards and two touchdowns.

The Knights remain undefeated now heading into their final five games. Barring a big upset they’ll likely be undefeated heading into the final weekend of the regular season against South Florida.

Mistakes doom FSU at home against Louisville

James Blackman had his worst game as a starter at home Saturday against a pretty awful Louisville defense. Florida State’s defense was equally complicit during the team’s 31-28 loss to the Cardinals, who won the game at the last moment with a 34-yard field goal.

Blackman threw two interceptions, which turned into seven points for Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals’ offense. It could have easily been 10 points if not for a missed field goal at the end of the first half. Then with the game on the line late, Blackman’s third turnover (lost fumble) led to the game-winning score two minutes later. It was just a brutal game for the freshman quarterback, who was thrust into the job in Week 1.

Jackson was pretty darn impressive, minus one lost fumble that turned into a defensive touchdown for Florida State in the first half. He finished the game with 334 yards and two touchdowns — one through the air and one on the ground. The Cardinals absolutely abused Florida State’s defense on the ground to the tune of 293 yards and three touchdowns at a 6.7 yards-per-carry clip.

The Seminoles did some good things offensively. Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick combined to rush for 145 yards on 30 carries. Blackman threw two touchdowns. But the lack of execution defensively and the mistakes by Blackman doomed them to failure.

Now at 2-4 on the season (for just the second time in the past 40 years), Jimbo Fisher’s squad, which started out as the No. 3-ranked team in the nation, is in deep trouble. Fisher himself got into it with a fan after the game and said something that could have escalated things in a bad way.

Meanwhile, the win for Louisville was a historic one. It’s the first time since 1952 that the Cardinals have won in Tuscaloosa against Florida State.

Parting shots

— Wisconsin is coasting right now entering the final month of October. Sitting pretty with a record of 7-0, including a 4-0 record in their conference, the Badgers are in prime position to cruise to another Big Ten West championship. If they stay hot the next few weeks it’ll come down to whether they can handle Michigan on November 18.

— Memphis sure utilized an unorthodox formula in its four-point win over Houston on Thursday night. Quarterback Riley Ferguson passed for nearly 500 yards but managed just one touchdown through the air and was picked off. The running game only managed 30 total yards but punched in four touchdowns, and the Tigers got another score when running back Tony Pollard went 93 yards to the house on a kickoff return. Not the way head coach Mike Norvell and his staff drew it up, but they’ll take the win to remain among the ranked teams heading into Week 9.

— North Carolina might as well have not shown up Saturday against Virginia Tech. The Hokies were up 35-0 at the half, and three of the five touchdowns came via special teams or defense. In the end, the Tar Heels were sent packing in humiliating fashion, losing 59-7.

— Missouri’s Drew Lock is on fire these days. He threw six touchdowns and passed for 467 yards in a 68-21 victory over Idaho. The past four weeks he’s thrown 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions, and now the Tigers finally have their second win of the season.

— Oregon remains in free-fall mode since quarterback Justin Herbert was lost to a broken collarbone. The Ducks lost to UCLA Saturday, 31-14, marking the third game in a row they’ve lost without their starting quarterback. The Ducks have been outscored 113-31 in those three games.

— Lane Kiffin’s FAU offense exploded Saturday against North Texas. The Owls set a school record with 69 points and a conference record with 804 yards of offense, winning their third game in a row and fourth in their last five. Suddenly, FAU is 3-0 in their conference and above .500 on the season.

— We’ve been waiting for LSU’s Derrius Guice to have a legendary game this season, and it finally happened. All it took was a matchup against the dumpster fire defense of Ole Miss, which allowed Guice to romp for 276 yards and a touchdown as LSU ran away with the game, 40-24. LSU has now won its last three games and is ready to test its mettle against Alabama in Week 10 after a bye next week.

—  Predictably, Auburn cut through Arkansas like a hot knife through butter, winning 52-20. The Tigers have looked like a top-tier team this year. Their two losses (to Clemson and LSU) were by a combined 12 points. It’s not shaping up to be a championship-contending season for Gus Malzahn and Co., but this team will be dangerous come bowl season.

— TCU is on quite a roll right now. At 7-0 to start the season, the Horned Frogs have already taken down Oklahoma State and West Virginia. They thrashed Kansas Saturday, winning 43-0, and we’re very interested to see how Iowa State handles them next weekend.

— West Virginia survived a bit of a scare as Baylor scored 23 unanswered points to finish the game just two points back. The Mountaineers got another huge game from quarterback Will Grier, who threw five touchdowns. But as we’ve seen recently they struggle to keep other teams from piling up the points, too.