The dust has settled after a crazy Week 7 and the second half of this season’s tight race to the College Football Playoff is set to kick off.
Seven ranked teams in the AP Top 25 took losses last weekend, including four top 10 squads. Only eight FBS teams with perfect records remain.
Two ranked showdowns headline Week 8 action, while a handful of other conference matchups present intriguing upset possibilities. Here are five games to follow on another busy Saturday:
No. 11 Oklahoma State at Texas | Noon ET on ABC
Texas is 3-3 through six games for the second straight year. But if not for late-game heroics from Sam Darnold’s USC Trojans and Baker Mayfield’s Oklahoma Sooners, the Longhorns would be sitting on a 5-1 record with a pair of big-time wins on their resume.
Texas has shown signs of improvement since a disappointing 51-41 loss at home to Maryland to start the season, as freshman Sam Ehlinger has brought toughness at the quarterback position and the defense has caused some havoc with 10 takeaways this year.
— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) October 18, 2017
The Longhorns’ defense will be tested once again by Oklahoma State’s top-ranked offense that’s averaging more than 600 yards of production per game. The Cowboys (5-1) are 2-0 since their loss to No. 4 TCU and are led by Heisman candidate Mason Rudolph (2,368 passing yards) and running back Justice Hill (633 rushing yards), both leaders in the Big 12 in those respective categories.
Oklahoma State likely cannot afford another loss if it wishes to keep its CFP hopes alive. For Texas, an upset at home would be a nice launching point toward finishing strong in the first year of the Tom Herman era.
Syracuse at No. 7 Miami (Fla.) | 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Syracuse was one of four unranked squads to play spoiler against a top 10 opponent last weekend, defeating then-No. 2 Clemson 27-24 Friday night at home in the Carrier Dome. Quarterback Eric Dungey dazzled with 339 total yards of offense and three touchdown passes.
So what do the Orange (4-3) have in store next?
They’ll have to hit the road this week to take on another undefeated ACC opponent in Miami, who’s developed a knack for great escapes.
A at how the teams matchup for Saturday’s game vs. Syracuse.
— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) October 19, 2017
The Hurricanes came away with comeback victories in the final minutes in back-to-back weeks against Florida State and Georgia Tech. In both games, wideout Darrell Langham was on the receiving end of heroic catches to set up the wins. Langham is one of a handful of Canes who have stepped up in the first half of Miami’s season, which has seen plenty of injuries and other obstacles.
Miami has a flair for the dramatics while Syracuse is riding high on perhaps its biggest program win since 1984. Saturday’s mid-afternoon battle could shape up to be an exciting finish.
No. 20 UCF at Navy | 3:30 p.m. ET on CBSSN
Navy (5-1) stands atop AAC West standings despite dropping its first game of the season last weekend against Memphis. No. 20 UCF matches No. 12 USF (5-0) atop the AAC East standings and is outscoring opponents by more than four touchdowns per game. This midseason matchup may very well be a preview for the conference championship game on Dec. 2.
Navy’s triple option offense has only attempted 49 passes this year while its ground attack presents three players with at least 400 rushing yards and four with at least two touchdown runs. Quarterback Zach Abey leads both categories with 1,080 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Midshipmen lead the nation in rushing offense and time of possession at about 36 minutes per game.
“They play as hard as anybody that I’ve watched on tape.”
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) October 19, 2017
Meanwhile, the Knights continue to score in bunches. UCF’s lowest output of the year was a measly 38 against Maryland, while its season highmark came last weekend in a 63-21 rout against East Carolina. Quarterback Milton McKenzie is completing 70 percent of his passes this year and is complemented by six rushers with at least 100 yards on the year. UCF has no shortage of offensive weapons.
It’ll be interesting to see how the result when these two different offenses collide. Will Navy’s triple option dictate the pace of the game and keep UCF’s explosive unit off the field? Or will UCF’s firepower and stingy defense barrel through yet another opponent?
No. 10 Southern California at No. 16 Notre Dame | 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC
Now for the main course: A double diet of ranked rivalry games in primetime.
In the only nonconference matchup on this list, USC and Notre Dame square off for the 86th time in the programs’ illustrious histories. The Trojans (6-1) haven’t quite looked as dominant as expected as preseason Heisman favorite Sam Darnold has just a 15:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
But despite laboring through victories against Western Michigan, Texas an Utah — and suffering a three-point loss to Washington State — USC can still make a run at a Playoff spot by running the table and claiming the Pac-12 championship.
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) October 19, 2017
Week 8 is no easy task, though, against the streaking Fighting Irish (5-1), winners of four straight. Brandon Wimbush’s return from injury will be a boost for Notre Dame under center, to go along with a potent rushing attack averaging 308 yards per game.
Another advantage for the Irish: They sat out of last week’s craziness with a well-timed bye week. With an extra week of rest, Notre Dame looks for its first ranked win of the season to justify its gradual rise in the polls.
No. 15 Michigan at No. 2 Penn State | 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC
It was a dominating Michigan performance at the Big House in last year’s Week 4 conference battle, in which the Wolverines routed the Nittany Lions 49-10. That was Penn State’s lone loss in the next three months in 2016.
Penn State rattled off nine straight victories following last year’s blowout loss to then-No. 4 Michigan to clinch a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Nittany Lions have rode last year’s momentum into 2017, starting the year 6-0 and moving to No. 2 in the latest AP Top 25.
Saquon Barkley has showed no signs of slowing down in his Heisman campaign, averaging over 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards per game.
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) October 19, 2017
But Michigan’s front seven will present the toughest test yet to Barkley and the Nittany Lions offense. While the Wolverines’ (5-1) offense continues to struggle to find its footing, their defense has continued to stifle opponents. The balanced Wolverines rank first in passing efficiency against and sixth in rushing defense. Their weekly dominance is astounding, considering Michigan returned just one starter from last year’s unit.
Michigan’s play-making defense has been great enough to win some early-season games by itself, but that likely won’t be the case against Penn State. The Wolverines will need an encore performance from running back Karan Higdon (career-high 200 yards against Indiana) and an efficient game from quarterback John O’Korn, who continues to play in place of injured Wilton Speight.