After a wildly unpredictable Week 7, college football rolls into a strong weekend of much-anticipated bumper matchups. Last week’s string of upsets completely revolutionised the playoff picture, with little certain with the reveal of the first College Football Playoff Rankings perhaps just two weeks away. In this weekly preview, we rundown the most anticipated games in Week 8 of College Football:
N0. 25 MEMPHIS TIGERS (5-1) @ HOUSTON COUGARS (4-2)
We start with a sneakily good Thursday Night matchup from the American Athletic Conference. This big cat battle is sure to be an entertaining kickoff to the weekend, with the Memphis Tigers looking to solidify their position in the AP Top 25. The Tigers snuck past Navy last week but have one of the more prolific passing attacks in the country behind star quarterback Riley Ferguson and wide receiver Anthony Miller: the pair have connected nine times for touchdowns already this year and will look to continue to dominate against the Cougars. Miller is a dynamic all-around receiving threat, a gorgeous route runner with soft hands who can make teams pay after the catch, while Ferguson’s blend of size, mobility and arm strength has many tipping him to rise come draft season.
The Cougars superstar is defensive tackle Ed Oliver: the sophomore enjoyed a ridiculous freshman season last year. This year, teams are sending at least two blockers his way on almost every snap and yet the freakish Oliver is still making plays. He leads a solid defense, but if Houston is to have any shot they will need improved offensive consistency. At times the Cougars’ offense can purr but questions at quarterback have handicapped what they have been able to do. Neither transfer Kyle Allen nor Kyle Postma have cemented themselves as the starter, with up-and-down play from both. Postma took over for Allen in Week 3, offering running ability and less propensity for throwing turnovers. When he and halfback Duke Catalon get going they can be dynamic, but it is not happening with regularity.
Despite being on the road, Memphis should feel confident for this game. Ferguson and Miller combine for another pair of touchdowns as Houston fails to keep up in a relatively highscoring affair.
TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (3-3) @ No.1 ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (7-0)
SEC on CBS’ game this week comes from Tuscaloosa and would usually be a much-anticipated clash of two top SEC teams. However the Volunteers’ general ineptitude leaves them well out of the race for SEC title at 0-3 in the conference. The Vols are not a good team and could conceivably be 1-5, barely squeezing past UMass and Georgia Tech by a combined 5 points. Offensively they are a disaster (aside from enigmatic running back John Kelly) with Quinten Dormady finally benched last week against South Carolina. His replacement Jarrett Guarantano did little to capture the imagination and faces a stern test against the best defense in the SEC and perhaps all of college football.
Alabama are the best team in college football by some distance it would seem. While others have faltered or offered uninspiring outings Bama have chugged along, handily dismantling each and every opponent on their way to 7-0. Of course, this is no surprising sight, for it is one that adorns the television screens of the Tide faithful seemingly every year. Nick Saban, architect-in-chief, attracts five-star recruit after five-star and implementing them into the best coached team in the country. Few sports teams can rival such consistency of excellence and Alabama look on course for another run at the National Title. The defense is unbelievably talented and deep, with versatile defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick perhaps the best of a whole host of future NFL stars. Up front, Da’Ron Payne sets the tone and linebacking duo Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton are the enforcers, military missiles that destroy any semblance of a productive rushing attack. Thus far they have given up just 10.1 points per game, and are surely salivating at the prospect of Guarantano so early in his college career.
Jalen Hurts spearheads a dynamic and destructive offense with four starting quality running backs: Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris will be featured most prominently alongside Hurts’ own zippy rushing style, with the trio operating behind a powerful herd of gigantic offensive lineman who can overpower even the stoutest of defensive lines.
This game will not be close. #RollTide
No.19 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (5-1) @ No.2 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (6-0)
The Michigan Wolverines are an odd team: simultaneously good and bad in seemingly equal measure and yet somehow 5-1. Offensively there is a dearth of talent at key spots and an absence of creative or smart play calling, with Jim Harbaugh and his offensive staff not using the ability of the skill positions well. John O’Korn and Wilton Speight are a black hole of bad at the quarterback position and this issue is compounded by an inadequate offensive line that have drawn the ire of the passionate Maize and Blue faithful. At least the Wolverine fans can take solace in their defense, who are coached outstandingly by Don Brown. Undersized defensive line game-breakers Rashan Gary and Maurice Hurst will have huge roles to play in this game as they look to control the best player in all of college football.
That man is Saquon Barkley. Utterly dominant at this level, Barkley has notched scores as a passer, a rusher, a receiver and a returner this year and will probably find a way to kick a field goal at some point. A ridiculous athlete and instinctive runner, Michigan’s defense may be his toughest test of the year; though there is little to suggest he won’t tear them to shreds as he has all others thus far in his college career. Even beyond Barkley this is a talented offense: quarterback Trace McSorley and tight end Mike Gesicki two other stars of note. Also lookout for Tommy Stevens: the triple-threat backup quarterback has been utilised as a receiver out of the backfield in the redzone for some success. Defensively they lead the nation in points allowed per game, and the aforementioned soporific Michigan offense offers opportunity for further stingy play.
One has to favour the Nittany Lions in this game, but if the Wolverines can corral Barkley and force McSorley into turnovers they may be able to spring an upset.
No.11 USC TROJANS (6-1) @ No.13 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (5-1)
This game is hugely important for both teams if they wish to springboard back into the conversation around the college football playoffs. A loss for either team likely plummets them out of contention and thus both will be desperate to best their opponent.
The Trojans will hope for better play from Sam Darnold who has largely failed to hit the heights of his spectacular freshman season. Ronald Jones is having a strong year at halfback and when the pairing are on there is no defense in the country that can hope to stop them. Deontay Burnett’s reliability as a top wideout has been proven through the first half of the season. The Trojans have failed to top 30 points just twice this year, the first in their loss to Washington State and then last week in their one-point victory against Utah. If Darnold limits the turnovers Notre Dame will struggle to contain the Trojans. Linebacker Cameron Smith leads a solid defense that will look to keep the Fighting Irish’s offense in check despite some troubles on the backend.
That Fighting Irish offense will look to attack on the ground. Running back Josh Adams’ tremendous season has been complimented by quarterback Brandon Wimbush and the duo have combined for close to 1200 yards and 13 touchdowns. But few sports cars are effective on rough terrain and the roads have been paved by a strong offensive line, particularly the left side, where Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson combine.
This game may evolve into a shootout pretty quickly, and a strong game from Darnold will just enable the Trojans to get the victory.
Follow Harry Latham-Cole on Twitter, at @HLC1221