Week 8 of college football action features four games pitting ranked opponents against each other.
Three of the four games, which are previewed below, have big implications for the national title hunt and the Heisman race. The results of these games will serve to shake the landscape of the rest of the 2012 college football season.
LSU's last victory over A&M came in the 2011 Cotton Bowl
LSU is riding high off a strong showing over South Carolina, yet, the Tigers are 1-7-1 all-time in front of the 12th Man at Kyle Field. This game should be yet another exploration into which side of the ball wins championships, as the A&M SEC best offense squares off with LSU's perennially stingy defense, which allows a measly 14 points per game. They're currently ranked second in the SEC in total defense (219.6) and fourth in total defense (219.6).
The LSU defenders, led by future NFL talents at defense end in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, will be responsible for shutting down an Aggie offense that averages an SEC-best 47 points and 543.7 total yards per game.
The Aggies are one of only two FBS teams that rank in the top 20 in rushing (13th), passing (20th), total offense (sixth) and scoring (fifth) offense. The explosive Aggies are directed by true freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has thrown at a 67% clip for over 1,600 yards with 14 touchdowns against three interceptions thus far.
Manziel’s contributions have perhaps been most felt in the Aggies’ ground game, rushing for over 600 yards and 10 touchdowns. The 24 combined touchdowns by the young signal caller are more than the 22 touchdowns LSU’s offense has accumulated as a whole.
The Tigers will be relying on another true freshman in HB Jeremy Hill, who had a coming out party by rushing for 124 yards and two touchdowns against South Carolina.
His 50-yard run clinched the Tigers impressive 23-21 victory. LSU put together its best offensive showing of the year with 406 total yards (258 rushing) against the Gamecocks.
In addition to the young freshman, the Tigers boast a bevy of talented tailbacks. In fact, the Tigers have four backs with over 40 carries on the year: Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue and Spencer Blue. The LSU ground game will need to make up for the inconsistent play of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who has been vastly underwhelming in his first year as starter.
Prediction: LSU wins 27-20
The Gamecocks have won the last two meetings, including a 36-14 win in 2010 that marked their first win in Gainesville following 12 consecutive losses.
Steve Spurrier returns to the site he so appropriately named 20 years ago.
The now famous "Swamp" was the home of the Old Ball Coach's "Fun 'N Gun" offense, dominating the 1990s by capturing six SEC titles and the consensus 1996 National Championship. This week's site of College Gameday serves as Round 3 of the round robin slug-fest between South Carolina, LSU, and Florida.
Over the last two weeks, Florida defeated LSU, while South Carolina fell by two points in Baton Rouge.
This game could very well serve to decide whether Steve Spurrier or Will Muschamp will be pacing the sidelines in Atlanta at the SEC Championship Game. In essence, this game could eliminate either Carolina or Florida from national title contention.
The key to this game will come down to how the South Carolina defensive line handles Jeff Driskel and the Gators' running game.
Their defensive line should be able to handle the weak pass protecting offensive line of Florida, which is giving up 3 sacks a game for a total of 18 on the year. This should force the Gators to become one dimensional.
The only problem is that Florida is exceptional in this one dimension.
The combination of HB Mike Gillislee and QB Jeff Driskel has been crucial in victories of LSU and Vanderbilt. Driskel eclipsed the school single game rushing record by a quarterback, running for 177 yards and three touchdowns over Vanderbilt. Gillislee has three 100-yard games on the season, along with seven touchdowns.
The key to beating Florida is stopping their running game, as Florida ranks last in the SEC in passing, accumulating only 138 passing yards over their past two games.
South Carolina should still be considered a very strong team, with their only loss coming in an unwinnable night game in Death Valley.
The Gamecocks defense has been stout, but inconsistent play from quarterback Connor Shaw and struggles from Marcus Lattimore have held the offense back. If Lattimore can return to the form he had two years ago against the Gators, a game in which he rushed for 212 yards and three touchdowns, Shaw shouldn't have a problem finding open receivers.
Ultimately, this game will come down to the matchups between each squad's defense and the opposing team's rushing offense. In my opinion, whoever rushes for the most yards should win this matchup of SEC powers.
Prediction: South Carolina wins 17-13
The quarterback of the winning team in Saturday’s matchup in Morgantown will immediately jump to the top spot in the Heisman race.
By the end of the day, either Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein or Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith will be the undisputed Heisman favorite heading into the stretch run of the season.
Both offenses, led by All-American gunslingers, have been extremely effective this year. Their philosophies have vast differences, however.
The modus operandi of Bill Synder’s Kansas State squad is ball control, while Dana Holgorsen frustrates defense with a deadly quick strike approach.
It is imperative that Kansas State controls the time of possession, keeping the dangerous weapons of West Virginia off of the field.
This bodes well for a Wildcats team that is 10th in the nation in third-down conversion percentage, connecting 52.2 percent of the time. In contrast, West Virginia can’t get off the field on third downs, allowing opponents to convert 50% of third downs, worse than all but 10 teams in the nation. This played out last week, when Texas Tech, with nation’s best third down conversion rate, shredded the West Virginia defense for 49 points and 676 total yards.
Led by dual-threat quarterback Collin Klein, Kansas State should have no trouble putting up big points on the porous Mountaineers defense, which allows an average of 496 yards per game.
Klein has thrown at a 67 percent clip for 1,074 yards with seven touchdowns and only two interceptions. Klein compliments his throwing abilities with legs that have carried him to 10 rushing touchdowns. Klein can add another signature win to his resume, which includes a 24-19 win over a strong Oklahoma team in Norman.
Klein needs this win as he faces strong competition from West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. Despite the loss to Texas Tech, Smith’s resume is impeccable. To date, he has thrown at a 75 percent clip for 2,271 yards with 25 touchdowns and no interceptions.
These numbers are actually better when compared to 2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III's numbers at this point last season.
No doubt, both quarterbacks will put up big numbers in this game—and the rest of the season, for that matter
It will be the one that comes out with the W that will get called to the podium in New York this winter.
Prediction: Kansas State wins 42-35
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