The national championship deck was shuffled again this past weekend as Florida was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten by a re-energized Auburn squad. With UF and Missouri falling, there are seven unbeaten teams remaining, and the list continues to be shortened with every week of action.
Looking ahead to week #8, there are no clear matchups between national title contenders this weekend, but numerous contests between teams fighting for conference titles highlight the slate, with the best battle taking place in Clemson’s Death Valley. Let’s take a peek at what contests will further shape the collegiate landscape as the BCS picture continues to come into focus.
GAME OF THE WEEK
#13-Georgia Tech at #12-Clemson
In what is turning out to be an upside down year in the ACC, this game will have huge implications on the conference race. Georgia Tech is off to a 3-0 conference start, while Clemson now stands at 3-1 on the season in ACC play. The Yellow Jackets have won 5 straight contests after their opening week loss to Notre Dame, while the Tigers are on a 5 game win streak of their own after their week two OT loss to Boston College. This contest is likely to be in stark contrast to last year’s game at Atlanta, where Georgia Tech held on for a 10-9 victory as the two defensive units traded right hooks. These teams have too much offensive firepower to be held down for an entire game, and the fans in Death Valley are looking forward to a thriller on Saturday evening.
The Clemson offensive unit is firing on all cylinders and now stands at #6 in the nation in total offense, is averaging 43.9 points per game. The Tigers are coming off a scrimmage versus Temple where they piled up 559 yards of offense, with RB James Davis only needing 9 carries to reach 138 yards and 3 touchdowns. The key all season long for Clemson has been the excellent play of the offensive line, which has provided Davis with daylight and Proctor with the opportunity to work downfield. The Yellow Jacket defense is coming off a game that was not their best effort on the season against Maryland, but the unit came through when it needed to and shut down the Terps as Tech held on for the 27-23 win. The one area of concern for Tech remains the secondary, and to beat Clemson, the defensive line and linebackers will need to apply pressure or Will Proctor will be able to pick apart the Jackets' DBs.
Nothing new with the Georgia Tech offense as the combination of QB Reggie Ball to WR Calvin Johnson sets the tone for the Jackets' attack. In his 3 ACC games, Calvin Johnson has 22 catches for 413 yards and 5 touchdowns as he has lit up the opposition's secondary. Tech RB Tashard Choice has also emerged in recent games and given the Jackets a threat on the ground, and he looks to be a great complement to Johnson. Although the Clemson offense receives all the attention, the Tigers stop troops rank 4th in the nation in total defense, even after losing several key starters to injury early in the year. Leading the unit is DE Gaines Adams who is having a tremendous season and is basically responsible for the Tigers' comeback win over Wake Forest. A win by Georgia Tech gives them control of the ACC race, while a Clemson victory allows them to keep pace with Boston College in the Atlantic Division.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
#5-Texas at Nebraska
The Longhorns have rebounded nicely from their week two loss to Ohio State, as Texas has pounded 5 straight opponents by an average score of 47-13. Texas QB Colt McCoy is coming off a 6 touchdown effort versus Baylor, as the Texas offensive line provided him with all day to throw and pick apart the Bears'secondary. The one concern for the Longhorns is that the running game is not yet rolling, and it will need to step up against a tough Nebraska defensive front. Nebraska has not impressed anyone with the final scores of their games, yet they are off to a 6-1 start with their only defeat coming at the hands of USC. The Cornhuskers are utilizing a ball control offense that dominates the time of possession, but that game plan is not likely to produce a win versus a team as potent and talented as Texas. If the Huskers have their sites set on pulling off the upset, QB Zac Taylor will need to throw the ball downfield and generate big plays to keep pace with an explosive Texas offense.
Boston College at Florida State
Another contest with big ACC implications takes place this weekend in Tallahassee. FSU got the medicine they needed after their tough loss to North Carolina State as the Seminoles took out their frustrations against an outmanned Duke squad, 51-24. The concern for FSU heading into this contest remains a running game that has been unable to get on track this season, and against a BC defense that is playing well, the Noles will need a balanced attack. BC is a last-play touchdown pass at NC State away from being undefeated, and they are led by a defensive unit that limited Virginia Tech to 181 yards of total offense in their last game. Even with the tough loss to NCSU, due to their early season win over Clemson, BC still controls their own destiny in the Atlantic Division. In the Coastal Division, meanwhile, FSU can jump right back into the race with a win in a wide open ACC and re-establish themselves after dropping two straight conference contests before blasting Duke.
Alabama at #7-Tennessee
Tennessee has turned around their fortunes after a tough 2005 season, and with Florida’s loss on Saturday, the Volunteers find themselves right back in the SEC title chase. The Vols return home to the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium for the first time since September 23 and are looking to build upon their impressive performance in their last effort, a 51-33 win at Georgia. Tennessee QB Erik Ainge and WR Robert Meachem have been tremendous so far this season, leading their unit to 8th place in the nation in passing offense. The Crimson Tide arrives in Knoxville off of a 26-23 OT win over Mississippi in a game that was not pretty for Alabama fans. The Tide defense has not been up to the standards of prior versions, and struggling to put away a 2-5 Ole Miss team is not the effort Alabama wanted heading into the battle with Tennessee. This game should have significantly more offensive fireworks than last seasons 6-3 defensive slugfest that saw Alabama emerge as the victors. Tennessee needs this win if they still retain hopes for an SEC title as games at South Carolina and Arkansas sandwich a home contest versus LSU in the next 3 weeks.
Iowa at #2-Michigan
Michigan has looked tremendous so far this season, especially their defensive front which is basically manhandling opponents' offensive lines. The Wolverines rank #7 in the nation in total defense and are coming off a win over Penn State in which Michigan held PSU to negative yards rushing for the first time ever under head coach Joe Paterno. The stout defense combined with the steady play of QB Chad Henne and the pounding style of RB Mike Hart has launched Michigan into the heart of the national title picture. On the other hand, Iowa left its Big 10 title hopes on the turf at Indiana, as the Hawks were upset 31-28 in a game that saw Iowa get off to a 21-7 first half lead before everything fell apart. The Iowa defense struggled all day against Indiana and could not come up with the key stop in the second half to hold off the upset bid. Iowa will need to come up with their best effort on the season by far to have any chance against a Michigan team that is on a roll and looking to keep pace with Ohio State in the Big 10.
Rutgers at Pittsburgh
A few years ago, Rutgers was not even a player on the college football scene, but head coach Greg Schiano has lifted the fortunes of this program and has this team believing in themselves. The Scarlet Knights head into their biggest game of the season fresh off of a dominating performance versus Navy, as they shut down the Middies' attack in recording a 34-0 shutout. Rutgers will look to pound the RB combo of Ray Rice and Brian Leonard at Pittsburgh to control the clock and keep Pitt QB Tyler Palko tucked away safely on the sidelines. The Panthers enter this game off of a 52-7 rout of a solid Central Florida team. In addition to the strong play of Palko, Pitt has found a strong running game, led by LaRod Stephens who has 356 yards rushing in his last two games. The winner of this game emerges as the main challenger to Louisville and West Virginia in a suddenly wide open Big East race.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Wisconsin at Purdue - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
The Badgers are humming, punishing their last three Big 10 opponents by a combined 141-38. Purdue is 5-2 on the season but do not have a marquee win on their resume. A win this Saturday would make a huge statement.
Washington at #10-California - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Since their opening day loss at Tennessee, California’s slimmest margin of victory in their 6 game winning streak is this past week’s 18 point win at Washington State. Washington is having a nice turnaround season, but the Huskies stumbled at home against Oregon State and now face a team playing as good as anyone in the nation.
UCLA at #11-Notre Dame - Saturday 1:30 PM CDT
Most college football fans expect Notre Dame to win out before their November 25th clash at USC to set up a huge game with national championship implications. UCLA played well in their 10 point loss at Oregon and is just dangerous enough to make this one interesting.
Oregon at Washington State - Saturday 4:00 PM CDT
The Ducks better be careful as they head on the road against a Washington State team that is better than it’s 4-3 record indicates, with the Cougars' 3 defeats coming at the hands of Auburn, USC, and California. Oregon must win this game to remain in contention in the Pac-10 race.
South Carolina at Vanderbilt - Saturday 2:00 PM CDT
Vanderbilt has actually played very well this year and finally was able to break through in their huge win at Georgia. South Carolina has been up and down this season, and they will need their best effort against a Commodore team that has its sites set on earning a bowl bid.
Southern Miss at Virginia Tech - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT
Virginia Tech is coming off two consecutive losses to Boston College and Georgia Tech, and in both cases, the games were not even close. If the Hokies play at the same level this Saturday, a good Southern Miss team is capable of heading home with a victory in hand.
Texas A&M at Oklahoma State - Saturday 6:05 PM CDT
A&M is coming off a huge win for the program as they put an end to Missouri’s undefeated run with a 25-19 win. No time for a letdown, as the Aggies head on the road for only the second time this year, with their first road trip being a tight 21-18 win over Kansas.
North Carolina State at Maryland - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Maryland is a very quiet 4-2 on the year, and the Terps are coming off a huge win as they came back from a 20-0 halftime deficit to knock off Virginia. NC State has fought back after a disappointing start to the season, with the Wolfpack suffering their first conference loss on Saturday, a 25-23 setback to Wake Forest.
Kansas State at Missouri - Saturday 1:00 PM CDT
Missouri will look to bounce back in a big way after losing their first game of the season at Texas A&M. The Tigers can still be a major player in the Big 12 race with Oklahoma and Nebraska looming, but Mizzou needs to first take care of business versus K-State this weekend.
Louisville at Syracuse - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
This game has taken on added significance after Louisville struggled all day to put away Cincinnati, finally winning 23-17. Syracuse gave WVU a run in the first half but could not hold up against the Mountaineer offense in the 2nd and fell 41-17.