25 Key Storylines to Watch Heading into CFB Week 8
The college-football plot immediately thickened on Sunday with the initial BCS standings being released with some questionable rankings toward the top.
Week 8 of the 2012 season has a lot of great games lined up with far-reaching implications. From potential national champions to conference-title hopefuls and well-established head coaches to coaches on the hot seat, there are stories to be watched.
Here are the top-25 storylines to keep an eye on this week.
25. Oklahoma State and the Quest for the Lever 2000 Bowl
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Oklahoma State begins a brutal stretch against ranked opponents, beginning with No. 24 Iowa State this weekend. That stretch stands at six straight right now (with the current rankings), but it could turn into anywhere from three to seven before the dust settles.
Both teams need the win badly, and the fight should be fierce. The story here is that this is an absolute must-win for Oklahoma State, as it's only going to get tougher from here on out.
The Cowboys are fighting to keep their bowl hopes alive, and without a win over Iowa State, it becomes nearly impossible to find the necessary wins moving forward from Week 9.
24. UTSA Auditioning for the Role of WAC Champion
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The UTSA Roadrunners were recently handed their first loss of the season against Rice. Luckily for the 'Runners, it wasn't a conference loss.
They are still alive for the WAC title in their first year of FBS football, and the battle with the San Jose State Spartans will be a pivotal point in the tale.
UTSA is a long shot for the WAC title, but the hope is still far from dead.
23. Nevada Fights to Retain Mountain West Lead
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Nevada is 3-0 in Mountain West play, which is one game ahead of Boise State.
Nevada hosts San Diego State (2-1 MWC) on Oct. 20 and will stay in the MWC lead with a win. With a loss, San Diego State would be slightly ahead of Nevada in the conference race and put Boise State squarely in the lead.
This is a must-win for Nevada, and the Wolf Pack is grateful for the home-field advantage. Especially after taking 1-5 Wyoming to overtime back in Week 6.
22. Boise State and the Quest for the Mountain West
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Boise State will eventually meet Nevada to settle once and for all who the better team in 2012 really is.
In the meantime, the Broncos need to keep winning just to stay within striking distance of the Wolf Pack. Nevada already took UNLV down by five points last week, and Boise needs this win badly.
The Broncos also need to start showing some consistency on offense. Their defense has shown up in almost every game this season, so it can be relied upon. However, their offensive output has fluctuated anywhere from zero to 40 points in each of Boise's five wins.
The Broncos must continue to score points, or the MWC title is merely a pipe dream.
21. The Georgia Bulldogs Attempt to Rebound
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Georgia will have had two weeks to ruminate on the absolute stomping that it suffered at the hands of South Carolina on Oct. 6 when it takes on Kentucky.
Georgia and South Carolina now have one loss apiece, and Georgia has to win out and hope that South Carolina doesn't. Kentucky is the first opponent to face the wounded Bulldogs and will likely suffer a massive beat-down as a result.
20. Cincinnati at Toledo: 'It's a Trap!'
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Cincinnati is in a Week 8 must-win against a Mid-American Conference team that has only lost to Arizona (in overtime) so far this season.
Toledo stands atop the MAC West and will be looking to take Munchie Legaux to school on Saturday. Cincinnati will not let that happen easily.
The Rockets enjoy home-field advantage on Oct. 20, and the Bearcats are going to do their best to make sure that's all the Rockets enjoy about the game. Hopefully, the Bearcats aren't looking ahead to Louisville.
19. South Florida at Louisville: 'It's a Trap!' 2
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South Florida comes to Louisville in Week 8, and the Bulls will be trying to take advantage of the fact that they are not Cincinnati. The Bulls will be hoping to catch a Louisville squad slipping that's getting ready for one of its biggest games of the season...in Week 9.
Louisville needs to maintain focus to make it through the 2-4 USF Bulls. While that's very likely, it was also likely that West Virginia would take down Texas Tech last week.
18. Could This Be Indiana's Week?
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After losing its last two games by a combined seven points, Indiana appears to be ready to do something it hasn't done since the end of the 2010 season—win against an FBS opponent with a household name.
Navy lost the season opener to Notre Dame, 50-10, but the Midshipmen have shown some fight over the past couple of weeks.
So have the Hoosiers. Coming within three points of taking down an undefeated Ohio State is a real sign of improvement for the Hoosiers, and taking down Navy would be a welcome relief for Indiana fans.
17. Oklahoma Sooners Continue the Streak?
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Oklahoma took one on the chin back in Week 4 at the hands of the Kansas State Wildcats. Ever since then, the Sooners have been taking their frustrations out on everyone in their path.
Texas Tech, who just manhandled West Virginia, fell to the Sooners in Week 6. Texas fell last week. Notre Dame is looming large in the Sooners' minds, and that game comes the week after Kansas.
Oklahoma is better than Kansas, and Oklahoma has home field in the battle. If Oklahoma is going to win the Big 12, it cannot have any more letdowns. A loss to Kansas would be the end of Oklahoma's already-slim title hopes.
16. Battle for the Bottom of the BCS
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Texas is ranked 25th in the BCS, while Baylor did not make the list at all.
That could all change with a win over the Longhorns on Saturday. Baylor and Texas are separated by one thing: Baylor's loss to an unranked TCU. (The Longhorns lost to then-No. 13 Oklahoma.)
Baylor can get back into the rankings by beating Texas. Based on the 'Horns defense of late, that seems pretty darn likely.
If Texas is going to mount any kind of decent assault on the bowl system this year, a win over the Bears is the first objective in the campaign.
15. Who Is Stanford?
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Every game Stanford has played has been decided by seven or fewer points except for the Duke beat-down.
Who is Stanford? Where does Stanford belong in the Pac-12 this year?
Maybe all those questions won't get answered against the California Golden Bears, but a lot of questions will be if the Cardinal can finally put together a dominating conference victory. Stanford can establish a real identity with at least a 10-point win against the Golden Bears.
14. Clemson Continues to Fight for Breath
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Clemson's only loss was to Florida State back when the Seminoles were fourth in the nation. Why the Tigers are 19th in the nation after only losing to No. 4 is beyond me. Especially when teams like West Virginia are ranked over the teams that destroyed them, like Texas Tech.
Clemson has won handily against every team other than Florida State. A win over Virginia Tech won't move the Tigers too far up the rankings, but it will still keep them in the hunt for an ACC title match.
The Tigers need some help from others to make the conference title game, but winning is the only thing in the Tigers' control.
13. The Knight and the Owl
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The Owls can take the straight-up conference lead with the upset at home over the Scarlet Knights. The real question that leads this story is, "How much fight does Temple have in it?"
It's a David-and-Goliath story at the edge of the BCS Top 15.
12. Florida State's Recovery
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Florida State began recovering from the NC State loss against Boston College by doling out a 51-7 punishment to the Boston College Eagles last week.
While Florida State's national-title hopes are slim at best, dominating blowout wins over every one of its remaining opponents would certainly place it in contention if the big boys were all to suffer key losses throughout the season.
LSU, Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon could all theoretically take two total losses each and open the door for a one-loss ACC champion in the title game.
The key to that happening is Florida State's need to blow out every opponent for the rest of the season. Simply winning will likely not be enough. Miami will be fighting to maintain its lead over Duke in the Coastal Division, so a big Florida State win here will send a message to the ACC that it is not ready to give up on the national title just yet.
11. Michigan, Are the Wolverines Legit...Again?
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Michigan has had a bumpy season to say the least. While a loss to Alabama was almost expected, the Wolverines' loss to Notre Dame was not.
That situation was mostly due to poor coaching, as the staff tried to force Denard Robinson to be a pocket passer when he is anything but that.
In the meantime, Michigan has beaten a good Purdue team by 31 points and delivered a 45-point shutout to Illinois.
The Week 8 bout with the Michigan State Spartans is a huge game with conference implications written all over it. While Michigan is undefeated in conference play, it has yet to produce a signature win that places it above the rest of the conference in terms of title hopes.
Michigan State would be that win, and the Wolverines could follow it up a week later by taking down the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Those two wins would legitimize Michigan as a Big Ten power in 2012 and make the Ohio State rivalry game one of the most intriguing games of the year.
10. Is NC State Capable of Pulling out an ACC Championship?
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NC State defeated the mighty Florida State Seminoles before entering the bye week leading up to this contest with Maryland. One question is whether the Wolfpack can keep their intensity up and run through the rest of the schedule undefeated.
The other question is about Maryland. Maryland enters this game undefeated in conference play following victories over Wake Forest and Virginia. Can Maryland continue to survive close calls with conference opponents to make it to the ACC title match?
Either way, this is easily one of the 10 best games of Week 8.
9. Will Ohio State's Reign of Terror Continue?
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Ohio State hosts a disappointing Purdue squad this week in the Horseshoe. The Buckeyes have a fairly clear path from here to the absent postseason.
As the ranked teams on their schedule disappear from the rearview mirror, this story gets less entertaining.
However, the Buckeyes keep winning by tiny margins over lesser opponents. Most recently, they took down Indiana by three points. Any game has the potential to be lost with just one or two mistakes, and Ohio State keeps making just few enough mistakes to walk away with wins.
Will the Buckeyes survive another nail-biter, or will they find the form they had against Nebraska? Braxton Miller should use the Boilermakers to make a case for the Heisman.
After Geno Smith's loss to the Texas Tech Red Raiders, the Heisman is anyone's to win once again.
8. Texas Tech, What's Up with You?
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Texas Tech brought almost nothing to its game against Oklahoma in Week 6 and lost by three touchdowns. The next week, the Raiders brought the house and took down the mighty West VirGeno Smiths by a whopping five touchdowns.
Which Texas Tech will show up against TCU? It's anyone's guess at this point, but it's probable that the Oklahoma loss lit a fire underneath the Raiders. That fire could carry these Raiders all the way to a conference title with a little bit of help from the Sooners and the Kansas State Wildcats.
Is Tommy Tuberville's SEC defense going to show up, or will it be the same defense that played against the Sooners?
7. Poor, Poor Arizona State
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After the Week 4 shutout Oregon handed to Arizona, there were questions about whether the Ducks should be ranked first or second in the polls. That discussion continued following Alabama's lackluster performance against Ole Miss in Week 5.
The BCS standings would finally settle that debate...or so we all thought. Oregon sits at third in the inaugural 2012 BCS Standings.
So, Oregon is rightfully ticked off and Arizona State is the next team up to bat against the Ducks. Poor, poor Arizona State. The Ducks are going to be mad, and they are going to make a case for No. 1 against you.
The story here is whether the Ducks can do enough against the Sun Devils to move up the rankings. It's doubtful, since the 49-0 win over Arizona was a very strong argument for first place. That particular tidbit of information seems to have done nothing in this case.
6. Can Oregon State Extend the Streak to 6?
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Oregon State hosts Utah in an attempt to make it through Week 8 with a 6-0 record. After handing BYU a decisive loss, things are looking good for the Beavers against Utah.
With home-field advantage against a 2-4 team that barely beat the team they just handled easily, expect the Beavers to survive another week of college football unscathed.
Oregon State can contend for a national championship berth, but an undefeated run will definitely be required. Utah is the first conference game of six straight for the Beavers, which includes ranked Stanford and Oregon.
If Oregon State starting quarterback Sean Mannion doesn't suit up, Cody Vaz will need to continue his campaign. Vaz is a good quarterback and has shown flashes of greatness. If the Beavers can just keep finding ways to win, a BCS bowl is in order.
5. Notre Dame Hosts BYU
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Sandwiched between two ranked teams on Notre Dame's schedule are the unranked, but dangerous BYU Cougars.
While this game will be called a trap for many reasons, here are some that will make it worthwhile to watch the game that prove it won't be a trap:
- Every victory Notre Dame has earned has been a battle, with the exception of Navy and Miami (Fla.). Notre Dame can win a fight.
- Notre Dame has plenty of experience losing in recent years; the Irish don't need to lose again just to find the will to win.
Notre Dame will come out strong and finish strong; the only question is how highly ranked its scoring defense will be at the end of the game. The other major question that may be answered in this game is who the starting quarterback will be.
Everett Golson has been serviceable for the most part, but Tommy Rees has bailed the Irish out too much this season. While that has worked so far, Patches O'Houlihan proved in Dodgeball that the luck o' the Irish eventually runs out in stunningly ironic fashion (6:45 in the video).
Will Rees start? If not, how long before that bites the Irish in the form of a loss that he can't bail them out of?
4. The LSU Tigers Are Great...Good...Decent...No, They're Great Again!
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Which LSU will show up to the A&M game? The Tigers took a tough, hard-fought loss to the Florida Gators before proving in gritty, determined fashion that they are one of the top teams in the nation against South Carolina.
LSU's loss to Florida motivated it to do what it did to the Gamecocks. The team that should fear the Tigers most is Texas A&M. The Tigers are on a comeback tear that just started.
They are aided by the No. 6 ranking in the BCS, which will allow them to get into the national-championship game as long as the teams in front of them lose at least once.
Every team should fear the giant "LSU" on its schedule, and the Aggies are about to prove exactly where they stand in the SEC.
Depending on which LSU shows up, the result could be very different. Don't expect the Tigers to leave any doubt at the end of this game as to how great they really are.
3. The Third Saturday in October
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The Third Saturday in October is the Red River Rivalry of the SEC. It doesn't happen during rivalry weekend, rankings get thrown to the wind, and the score is frequently "wrong" as far as established seasonal statistics are concerned.
For instance, an unranked Tennessee squad lost to Alabama in 2009 by two points. During the course of that game, Tennessee straight-up missed two field goals, kicked one into Terrence Cody's stomach and finished the game on a legit blocked field goal by the same Mt. Cody.
Tennessee's offense is quite capable of giving Alabama more than a struggle. With Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Bray alone, the offense and return game could put up a few touchdowns on the Tide.
On the other side of things, Alabama looked absolutely unbeatable against Missouri last week until the lightning delay completely threw off 'Bama's rhythm.
That may prove to be Tennessee's biggest clue as to how to beat the Tide. If you get 'Bama out of sync, the Tide will struggle.
Alabama has settled for field goals against teams like Florida Atlantic, and Tennessee's defense is better than that. This is a game worth watching because Alabama has only faced one starting quarterback in SEC play, and that was against Ole Miss.
Derek Dooley will certainly be fighting with everything he's got. The only way to save himself in the fans' eyes is by taking down the top-ranked team in the nation. He's already had many chances to topple other ranked teams. If he beats Alabama, he could buy some peace over in Knoxville, however fleeting.
2. The Big 12 Heavyweight Bout
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Unbeaten Kansas State has one of its toughest road tests of the season in Week 8 against the wounded West Virginia Mountaineers.
Kansas State has a viable defense and a good offense. West Virginia has a great offense, but can be beaten, as Texas Tech proved in Week 7. As far as defense goes, West Virginia can make stops when necessary against teams like Texas.
The Mountaineers did not find a way to stop the Red Raiders. Redemption is one win away for the Mountaineers. Defeat Kansas State, and the 'Eers are in the mix for the conference title.
If Kansas State defeats West Virginia, its path to the conference championship is relatively downhill. Well, assuming the Red Raiders don't mess that up next week.
Heisman note: If Collin Klein can pull out the win in Week 8, he can distance himself from Braxton Miller, who would love to bring a Heisman to the Horseshoe under sanction.
1. Are the Florida Gators Deserving of the No. 2 Ranking?
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Florida's body of work is impressive already. While they didn't blow LSU out, the Gators still beat the team that beat the Gamecocks.
The confirmation game is here in Week 8. There is every reason to believe that Florida is capable of winning. There is also every reason to believe that South Carolina is ticked off and looking for someone to take its frustration out on.
That team is Florida. This is one of the biggest games of the year, but it really wasn't supposed to be. Florida wasn't supposed to beat LSU. Florida was supposed to be a non-factor to the top half of the SEC.
Florida wasn't supposed to be ranked, much less at No. 2. Well, Florida seems not to care what was supposed to happen.
Florida has earned its time in the spotlight and would like it to last longer. South Carolina isn't done being on center stage.
This is going to be a battle and will be worth every minute you spend watching it. Especially for Oregon fans (and SEC haters in general), who should be rooting for South Carolina.