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College Football 2012 — Week Eight Preview

 

Collin Klein can shake up the Heisman and national title races this week.
Brett Deering, Getty Images

For most teams, we’ve reached the halfway point of the regular season and the conference title races are starting to take shape. Last week gave us exciting finishes and monster upsets, and we’ve got another good slate of games this week with three big games between ranked teams and 11 ranked teams playing on the road.

Here is what to watch for this week in college football:

[All times Eastern.]

#1 Alabama (6-0) at Tennessee (3-3)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN]

We know that Alabama’s defense is really good, ranking first in rushing, passing, total and scoring defense. But we’re going to find out just how good over the next four weeks as the Crimson Tide go to Tennessee (the best offense—25th nationally—they’ve faced thus far) followed by three consecutive games against ranked opponents (#15 Mississippi State, # 6 LSU and # 20 Texas A&M). Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray ranks second in the conference in passing and the Vols are averaging 38 points per game. But they’ve never seen a defense like this one (giving up just 181 yards and 7.5 points per game), arguably the best unit Nick Saban has had during his time in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is seeking its third straight win in this series, the longest such streak since 1992.

#2 Oregon (6-0) at Arizona State (5-1)

[Thursday, 9 p.m. on ESPN

After manhandling then-#23 Washington in their last game, the Ducks return to action Thursday night with their first true road game of the season. Arizona State’s defense has been solid this year, ranking eighth nationally in total defense and ninth in scoring. But they will definitely face their toughest test of the season against an Oregon offense that is averaging almost 542 yards and 52.3 points per game, good for second nationally. Ducks running back Kenjon Barner ranks 12th nationally in rushing yards per game and has put up 366 total yards and four touchdowns in his last two games. Arizona State can certainly put up some points of its own (40.5 points per game this season), but will need a flawless defensive effort to stay within striking distance of the high-powered Ducks. Oregon is riding a seven-game winning streak against the Sun Devils, winning by an average of 20.4 points per game.

#9 South Carolina (6-1) at #3 Florida (6-0)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on CBS]

Florida hosts the Gamecocks in the first of a five-game home stand that could position the Gators for their first trip to the SEC title game since 2008. With #9 South Carolina coming to town, Florida got some good news this week as it appears that five starters—including three offensive linemen—who missed all or part of last week’s game at Vanderbilt should be back this week. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel rushed for a school-record 177 yards and five touchdowns. He’ll need another solid game against a Gamecocks defense that ranks fifth nationally in scoring defense. South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore (35 yards rushing) and quarterback Connor Shaw (19/34 for 177 yards, two interceptions, four sacks) both had games they’d rather forget last week at LSU and will look to recover in another tough road environment. The Gamecocks are seeking their first-ever three-game winning streak against Florida.

#4 Kansas State (6-0) at #17 West Virginia (5-1)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on Fox]

After laying an egg last week at Texas Tech, West Virginia’s high-powered offense will look to regroup against a Kansas State team that, through solid but not flashy play, suddenly finds itself in the national championship mix. Don’t expect KSU quarterback Collin Klein to duplicate the 499-yard passing effort from Tech’s Seth Doege, but the run-first Wildcat offense (11th nationally in rushing) should be able to find plenty of success against a Mountaineer defense that ranks 114th nationally in total defense and has given up over 37 points per game. After being held to just 275 yards and one touchdown, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith will look to return to the form (399 yards per game and 24 touchdowns before last week’s game) that made him the Heisman frontrunner.

Brigham Young (4-3) at #5 Notre Dame (6-0)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on NBC]

Notre Dame’s defense has not given up a touchdown since Week Two, and it will be difficult for a BYU offense that ranks 78th nationally in scoring to break that streak in South Bend. In last week’s loss to Oregon State, BYU quarterback Riley Nelson threw for a season-high 305 yards, but also threw three interceptions, including a pick-six. The Cougars will need to do a better job of protecting the football against an Irish defense that ranks fifth in pass efficiency defense and eighth in interceptions. Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson suffered a concussion in last week’s win over Stanford, but has been cleared to play this weekend. This is a game that Notre Dame should win, but the Irish better not be caught looking ahead to their next matchup at #10 Oklahoma.

#6 Louisiana State (6-1) at #20 Texas A&M (5-1)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPN]

Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel has been the hottest quarterback in the country the last three weeks, throwing for 1,095 yards, rushing for 414 more and scoring 12 touchdowns. However, he’ll face the toughest test of his young career this week against an LSU defense that ranks second nationally in pass defense. But this week bigger challenge this week may come for the LSU offense, which has struggled to score this year. Last week against South Carolina, quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed just 48 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions while four of the Tigers’ five trips into the Gamecocks’ red zone resulted in field goal attempts. As good as LSU’s defense is, field goals might not be enough for the Tigers to pull off a road win against an A&M squad that has scored 48 or more points in five of its last seven games.

Purdue (3-3) at #7 Ohio State (7-0)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2]

Although they are banned from postseason play, the Buckeyes still have their sights set high on an undefeated season and a possible Heisman trophy. Quarterback Braxton Miller has been superb in coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense. He ranks seventh nationally (130.3) in rushing yards per game and is averaging almost 312 total yards per game. The sophomore has rushed for at least 136 yards and scored at least two touchdowns in all but one game this season. This week, he’ll face a struggling Boilermaker squad that has given up 82 points while scoring just 27 in two Big Ten games this year. Ohio State’s weak spot might be a defense that has given up 400 yards per game and ranks 107th nationally in pass defense. Ohio State and Purdue have split the last six matchups in this series, but the Buckeyes have taken the last seven straight in Columbus.

Utah (2-4) at #8 Oregon State (5-0)

[Saturday, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN2]

An injury to quarterback Sean Mannion did little to derail the Beavers’ title hopes, as backup Cody Vaz threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns in Oregon State’s highest scoring game of the season last week. This week, the Beavers will face a down Utah team that came into this season with hopes of a PAC-12 championship, but now finds itself in a tailspin with three straight conference losses. The Utes rank 90th or worse in almost every offensive category and freshman quarterback Travis Wilson will likely not find much success on the road against a Beavers’ defense that has recorded nine sacks and nine interceptions in the last three weeks. Utah has won four of the last five in this series, while an Oregon State win would give the Beavers their first 6-0 start since 1907.

Kansas (1-5) at #10 Oklahoma (4-1)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on Fox Sports Net]

After their beat down of archrival Texas, the Sooners return home for what should be a tune-up game before next week’s big showdown vs. #5 Notre Dame. The Jayhawks have lost 15 straight road games and are on a five-game losing streak this season. This week, they’ll face an Oklahoma team that is 13-0 under Bob Stoops in games immediately following the Red River Shootout. After a mistake-filled loss to Kansas State in September, Oklahoma has been dominant since, outscoring Texas Tech and Texas by a combined score of 104-42. Revitalized under Mike Stoops, the OU defense has stepped up big this season, ranking 11th nationally in pass defense and 14th in total defense.

Colorado (1-5) at #11 Southern Cal (5-1)

[Saturday, 6 p.m. on PAC-12 Network]

After playing four of their first six games away from home, the Trojans return to The Coliseum for what should be an easy win. USC’s defense continues to improve, giving up an average of just 284 yards and 17 points in each of its last three games. This week, they’ll face a woeful Colorado offense that ranks 103rd in both total offense and scoring. USC quarterback Matt Barkley should be able to have success against a Buffs’ defense that is giving up almost 313 passing yards per game (117th nationally).

#12 Florida State (6-1) at Miami (4-3)

[Saturday, 8 p.m. on ABC]

Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel is arguably the hottest player in the ACC, coming off a career-high 439 yards and four touchdowns last week against Boston College. He could be poised for another big game against a Hurricanes defense that ranks 86th nationally in pass defense and has given up an average of 36 points per game to FBS opponents this year. Miami needs a win to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2010. The Seminoles have won two in a row in this series, and five of the last seven. Miami could be without starting quarterback Stephen Morris, who is nursing a sprained left ankle.

#13 Georgia (5-1) at Kentucky (1-6)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on Fox Sports South]

Coming off a career-low 109 passing yards against South Carolina, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has had a week off to prepare for a better game against Kentucky’s 68th-rated pass defense. Murray needs just one touchdown pass to tie David Greene’s career record at the school. But the Bulldogs’ biggest plus in this game might be a terrible Kentucky offense that has already used four quarterbacks this season and is averaging just 215 yards and 9.5 points in conference games. Georgia has won 13 of the last 15 in this series.

Virginia Tech (4-2) at #14 Clemson (5-1)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2]

The Clemson offense is on a school record pace, averaging 525 yards and 41 points per game. This week, they should be able to light up a struggling Virginia Tech defense. Last week, the Hokies needed to come back from a 20-0 deficit vs. Duke to avoid a three-game losing skid and the defense has been the big culprit for the recent downturn. After giving up just 59 points in their first four games of the year, the Hokies have given up 95 in their last three. Clemson beat the Hokies twice last year (regular season and ACC Championship game), but had lost the previous five in the series.

Middle Tennessee (4-2) at #15 Mississippi State (6-0)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN2]

After jumping out to a surprising 6-0 start, Mississippi State takes a midseason journey out of conference play against a Middle Tennessee team that is 0-13 against ranked teams since making the jump to FBS in 1999. The Bulldogs’ offense has put up 25 or more points in every game this season, a first in school history. And they should be able to find success against a Blue Raiders’ defense that ranks 94th nationally in total defense. However, Middle Tennessee did upset Georgia Tech earlier this year, so the Bulldogs would be wise not to get caught looking ahead to next week’s showdown with #1 Alabama. This is the Bulldogs’ highest ranking since 2000 and the first time they have been undefeated this late in the season since 1999.

South Florida (2-4) at #16 Louisville (6-0)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC]

Playing their first home game in over a month, the Cardinals are looking for a successful homecoming against a South Florida team that has lost four in a row. Louisville’s junior running back Senorise Perry has rushed for 219 yards and six touchdowns in his last two games and should be able to find more running room against a Bulls defense that has given up 12 rushing touchdowns and over 173 yards per game on the ground, both last in the Big East. Louisville is looking for its fourth straight home win, which would be its longest such run since a 20-game home streak from 2003-07.

#18 Texas Tech (5-1) at Texas Christian (5-1)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2]

After shocking West Virginia last week, the Red Raiders will look to continue their success against the Big 12’s other newcomer. Tech quarterback Seth Doege threw for 499 yards and six touchdowns last week, but should have a much tougher task against a stout Horned Frogs defense that ranks 11th nationally in scoring defense and leads the nation with 14 interceptions. TCU lost starting quarterback Casey Paschall (left school to seek treatment after a DWI arrest) but his replacement, Trevone Boykin, proved to be solid (261 yards and four touchdowns) in last week’s win over Baylor. The last four times Texas Tech has beaten a ranked team, they went on to lose their following game.

#19 Rutgers (6-0) at Temple (3-2)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on SNY/MASN]

Rutgers is off to its first undefeated start in five years, thanks to a potent defense that is third nationally in scoring defense, second in scoring defense and third in interceptions. This week, however, they could be tested by a Temple offense that is second in the Big East in rushing. In his previous two games, Owls running back Montel Harris has rushed for 275 yards and three touchdowns. This is Rutgers’ highest ranking since 2007.

#21 Cincinnati (5-0) at Toledo (6-1)

[Saturday, 7 p.m.; no television]

Cincinnati is 5-0 for the first time since 2009, but faces a stiff test in its first true road game against a Toledo squad that is seeking its first seven-game winning streak since 2001. The Bearcats and Rockets both feature high-powered offenses that average better than 465 yards and 36 points per game. Cincinnati does have a decided advantage on the other side of the ball with a defense that gives up 125 yards per game fewer than do the Rockets. However, with Toledo’s high-scoring offense, the Bearcats cannot afford the slow starts that have plagued them the last two weeks.

#22 Stanford (4-2) at California (3-4)

[Saturday, 3 p.m. on Fox]

Stanford will try to shake off its controversial loss to Notre Dame and focus on beating their archrivals in the 115th version of The Big Game. The Cardinal needs a win to avoid going 0-3 on the road for the first time since 2006. This game could hinge on each team’s ability to run the ball. Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor is fourth in the PAC-12 in rushing yards per game, while Cal is averaging 195 yards on the ground. Stanford’s defense ranks sixth nationally in rush defense, but gave up a season high 150 yards to Notre Dame last week. Look for Cal to try to run the ball and, if they have some success on the ground, things could get interesting. Led by Andrew Luck, Stanford has won the last two in this series after dropping seven of the previous eight.

Michigan State (4-3) at #23 Michigan (4-2)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network]

After struggling in losses to Alabama and Notre Dame, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson returned to “Shoelace” form, racking up 577 total yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games. This week, he’ll look to get his first and only win against the Spartans. But to do that, he’ll have to get past a Michigan State defense that ranks seventh nationally in total defense, eighth in rushing and 14th in scoring. The Spartans are seeking a school-record five-game winning streak in this rivalry that dates back to 1898.

Nevada-Las Vegas (1-6) at #24 Boise State (5-1)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network]

After years of high-scoring games behind Kellen Moore and Doug Martin, the 2012 Broncos are getting it done with defense. Boise State ranks 12th in scoring defense this year and has held four of its six opponents scoreless in the first half. For the season, the Broncos have given up just 11 touchdowns and recorded 19 turnovers, second-most in the nation. While Boise is a heavy favorite in this one, they could be tested by a Rebels offense that has scored 31 or more points in three of its last four games. UNLV has lost 18 straight road games and five straight to the Broncos.

#25 Ohio, BYE

After joining the AP rankings for the first time since 1968, the Bobcats have a week off to prepare for Miami (OH).

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