After a couple weeks marked by several good matchups, but nothing really spectacular, college football Week 8 has two big-time battles set for Saturday. An ACC showdown will decide the conference favorite and have national title implications. And on the opposite coast is a Pac-12 game that will likely have repercussions on the BCS bowl picture, and may yet impact the national championship race.
TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage will open by looking at the two big games, Florida State-Clemson and UCLA-Stanford. After that, we’ll back up and go through 12 other games that will be on national television and one that should be.
Florida State-Clemson (8 PM ET, ABC): It’s a big-time battle in Death Valley, and a big-time showcase for two big-time quarterbacks in Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. Did I say “big time” enough? Good, because this is the biggest game the 2013 college football season has seen since Alabama-Texas A&M in Week 2, and the winner of this game will emerge as the likely alternate to Oregon when it comes to the race for the BCS National Championship Game.
Winston and Boyd are excellent and points should flow, but the game will come down to who can get some big stops, and that will depend on which team gains an edge in the running game. That shifts the focus to Devonta Freeman for Florida State and Roderick McDowell for Clemson.
I like the key Tiger players a little more than their Seminole counterparts, and Clemson is still a more proven commodity–their win over Georgia is more impressive than anything on the FSU resume. And Clemson is at home. And if you’re a betting man, you’re getting three with the Tigers. By any standard, I’m picking Clemson.
UCLA-Stanford (3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN2): UCLA is still unbeaten, but this game begins a two-week stretch that starts in Palo Alto and then has Oregon on next week’s docket. Stanford is coming off last week’s shocking loss to Utah and the previous week’s narrow escape against Washington. The Bruins are looking to show their a national title contender, while the Cardinal wants to re-establish themselves as such.
More realistically, both teams are competing in their conference race. Stanford can’t afford to fall two games behind Oregon in the Pac-12 North. Furthermore, if Oregon does run the table, the winner of this game could end up chosen to replace the Ducks in the Rose Bowl.
UCLA has a key injury with running back Jordon James doubtful with an ankle injury. Both teams rely quite a bit on their power, so while you can’t rule out that the Bruins have someone in reserve, this injury has to be taken as significant. On the Stanford side, they’ve got to get their defense playing well again, and sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan has to get himself back on track and open up the UCLA defense.
I like Stanford to win, but the 5.5 point spread is a little stiff.
Now, on with the rest of the key Week 8 TV games…
Central Florida-Louisville (Fri, 8 PM ET, ESPN): Louisville is undefeated, but has yet to look the part of anything more than a nice potential champion of the American Athletic Conference. That includes a terribly mediocre showing against Rutgers last Thursday night. In the meantime, Central Florida has won at Penn State and put a scare into South Carolina. Yet UCF is a 14-point underdog. I don’t get it. This is a true showdown game. It’s in Louisville, and I respect head coach Charlie Strong and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, so I lean the Cards way, but by all means take the points at the betting window.
South Carolina-Tennessee (Noon ET, ESPN): The Gamecocks may have finally gotten their sea legs under them last week, as a 52-7 rout of Arkansas was their first really good showing of the year. They’re getting a strong running game from Mike Davis and Connor Shaw is playing consistently at quarterback. Tennessee has had two weeks to get ready since taking Georgia to overtime, but I’m toying with jumping back on the South Carolina bandwagon, and expect them to win here, and probably to cover the (-7) line.
Georgia-Vanderbilt (Noon ET, CBS): Georgia’s loss to Missouri likely ended the Bulldogs’ national title hopes, with two defeats, but the SEC East is still very much in play. Georgia needs to rebound and take care of business against a Vandy team that has yet to do anything against a quality opponent and while they don’t look like the “old Commodores”, they aren’t as good as has been the case the past couple years. Georgia should be focused to win and take a couple weeks off to get ready for Florida, meaning the (-7) line might be short.
Texas Tech-West Virginia (Noon, Fox Sports 1): Texas Tech is 6-0, although the toughest tests for the Red Raiders are still ahead. This trip to Morgantown is one that tripped up Oklahoma State, and West Virginia also gave Oklahoma a tough 16-7 game. On the other hand, Baylor dropped 73 points on the Mountaineers. Thus, it would seem, this road game would be a good early test spot for where Kliff Kingsbury’s team fits on the Big 12 and national spectrum. They come in a (-6) favorite.
TCU-Oklahoma State (Noon ET, Fox): TCU defensive end Devonte Fields–last year’s Big 12 Player of the Year–is now officially out for the season after having already missed some key games. This comes on top of the Horned Frogs starting and playing the entire year without quarterback Casey Pachall. Sometimes it’s just not your year. Oklahoma State is a (-8) favorite and while they haven’t always looked sharp themselves, I’m okay with giving that.
Minnesota-Northwestern (Noon ET, ESPN2): This is the week if we find out whether Northwestern’s 35- loss in Wisconsin last week was just a post-Ohio State hangover. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner looks ready to go, as he’s beaten out Philip Nelson for the job. But the Gophs have yet to look good this season, and Northwestern is a (-12.5) favorite at home. Earlier this week TheSportsNotebook did some Big Ten bowl projections, and the Legends Division race is wide open. Even with two losses, Northwestern can rebound, but it has to start here.
Florida-Missouri (12:21 PM ET): This game isn’t on national television, but after Missouri’s thumping of Georgia to validate themselves as a player in the SEC East, I’m not sure why, given that most every other SEC game is on TV. Missouri quarterback James Franklin is going to miss this game with a shoulder injury, and though I doubt that had any impact on the TV decision, it does mean that missing it likely won’t be that big of a deal. Florida doesn’t look good, but they’re viable as a three-point road favorite against a second-string quarterback and team in a letdown spot.
Iowa-Ohio State (3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN2): Both teams have had two weeks to cool their jets and get ready for this one. Maybe that gave Kirk Ferentz time to cook up something special, but at the same time I doubt Urban Meyer was sitting around twiddling his thumbs. Ohio State is a (-18) favorite, and while they have yet to do anything this year to justify that kind of confidence and Iowa isn’t that bad, there is also no reason to be on upset alert.
Auburn-Texas A&M (3:30 PM ET, CBS): Auburn is emerging as a real sleeper in the SEC West, and have already spoiled Ole Miss’ hopes of a breakout season. Can they go to College Station and upend A&M’s hopes of a BCS bowl game, which they likely control their own destiny for? I expect Auburn to be competitive and I’d take the two touchdowns Las Vegas is offering. But a team that’s going to upset the Aggies needs to be a physical type that can smack them in the mouth. Auburn is one that will play the same open offense, and at the end of the day Texas A&M is just better at that style.
Oklahoma-Kansas (3:30 PM ET, ESPN): Can someone please explain to me how any game involving Kansas, and that isn’t the sport of basketball, got on a prime ESPN slot? Oklahoma starts healing its post-Texas wounds with an easy win and likely cover as a (-23) favorite.
Arkansas-Alabama (7 PM ET, ESPN): Arkansas has lost four in a row and looked progressively worse each week. Alabama’s opponent next week is Tennessee, so this is not a major lookahead situation. There’s no shot at an upset and the (-28.5) line is evidence of that.
LSU-Ole Miss (7 PM ET, ESPN2): LSU still controls its destiny for the SEC title, and even with one loss, that likely means they control their destiny for the national title. Ole Miss has gone through a tough stretch, being shut out at Alabama, playing poorly in a loss to Auburn and then dropping a close game to Texas A&M. Perhaps the strong showing against the Aggies, got Ole Miss’ juices going again.
We’ll find out, and we’ll also find out if LSU’s first good defensive performance of the year last week was more about them or about the offensive incompetence of Florida. I like LSU to win, but not at a (-10) point spread.
USC-Notre Dame (7:30 PM ET, NBC): Now we can start to find out how much of USC’s big win over Arizona last week was about real improvement and how much was just a temporary burst after the firing of Lane Kiffin and playing a shaky team. Notre Dame has already beaten Arizona State at a neutral site. The Trojans aren’t as good as the Sun Devils, the venue is now South Bend, and the price is cheap at (-3).