Just when you thought it was safe to take a Saturday off, along comes Week 8, serving up a nationally-televised match-up between ranked teams during each and every major time slot.
Though the Week 8 blockbuster is obviously No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State, don’t make the mistake of leaving your viewing for after the sun goes down.
It’s “decision Saturday” in the Big 12 with four ranked members squaring off: No. 14 K-State at No. 11 Oklahoma early and No. 15 Oklahoma State at No. 12 TCU in the mid-afternoon. As a bonus, No. 4 Baylor—fresh off its 24-point comeback win over TCU—is traveling to West Virginia, where hangovers are commonplace.
If you’re looking for a sleeper, check out Ohio State-Rutgers or Michigan State-Indiana, both featured in the 3:30PM ET time slot.
Thursday night’s Virginia Tech-Pitt and Utah-Oregon State are the cream of the pre-Saturday crop. No matter what time you tune in on Saturday, you’ll be treated to meaningful action.
Thursday, Oct. 16
7:30PM ET, ESPN: VIRGINIA TECH (4-2) at PITT (3-3): Two former Big East rivals hooking up for the third time as ACC members, tune in to see a solid strength-vs.-strength matchup as the Hokies’ No. 16-ranked rushing defense squares off with Pitt’s No. 20-ranked ground attack. The Panthers’ rushing numbers have slipped as the season has progressed and will be severely tested by a Virginia Tech defense that’s giving up an average of only 108 ground yards per game. Players to watch for include Pitt running back James Conner, leading the ACC with nine touchdowns and 146 yards per game (Conner will also be lining up at defensive end on Thursday night) and Hokie linebacker Chase Williams with 49 tackles (23 solo), eight-and-a-half tackles for a loss, three-and-a-half sacks and a forced fumble.
10:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 2/PAC 12-NETWORK: No. 20 UTAH (4-1) at OREGON STATE (4-1): Stay up late to see two rising Pac-12 programs try to improve on their 1-1 records in league play. Utah hasn’t been ranked since 2010 and Oregon State hasn’t won back-to-back Pac-12 games since beating Washington State and Cal last October. While Utah’s defense has been effective at stopping the run, it’s been less successful shutting down the pass, ranking No. 89 in pass D. To beat the Beavers the Utes’ will have to shut down quarterback Sean Mannion and an attack that has averaged 275 yards through the air in each of its four wins. In light of the rest of their conference schedules, both need this “winnable” game to keep moving in the right direction.
Friday, Oct. 17
8:00PM ET, ESPN: FRESNO STATE (3-4) at BOISE STATE (4-2): Despite the 7-6 combined record of these two teams, this is still a battle between Mountain West heavyweights—one from each division—that are both 2-1 in conference play. Though Fresno State lost a ton of skill players on offense from last season’s 11-2 squad, its defense that’s costing it this year. The Bulldogs rank No. 108 in scoring, No. 106 vs. the run and No. 95 vs. the pass. These are numbers that could make Boise State’s No. 60-ranked scoring offense look like Baylor. Watch out for Bronco running back Jay Ajayi, who is No. 17 in the FBS in yards per game (118) and tied for No. 6 in rushing touchdowns (8). What might keep things interesting is Boise State’s No. 104-ranked pass defense, taking on a Fresno State aerial attack that is continuing to pick up steam under first-year starting quarterback Brian Burrell. This could be a preview of the Mountain West title game, slated for Saturday, Dec. 6.
9:00PM ET, ESPNU: TEMPLE (4-1) at HOUSTON (3-3): At 4-1, Temple has already doubled its win total from last season and is off to its best start since 1979, when it went 10-2 and beat Cal 28-17 in the Garden State Bowl. Despite Houston’s offensive heritage, this is a battle between two of the best defenses in the country: The Cougars’ D is No. 19 in scoring and Temple is a lofty No. 4. Both units have been successful against the pass, but both have been burnt on the ground. Look for either Houston’s tandem rushing attack of Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson or Temple’s Jahad Thomas and Jamie Gilmore to make the difference in this one. The Owls are 0-3 all-time vs. the Cougars.
Saturday, Oct. 18
12:00PM ET, ESPN: No. 14 KANSAS STATE (4-1) at No. 11 OKLAHOMA (5-1): K-State has only knocked off Oklahoma twice in the last 11 tries, most recently in 2012 when the No. 15 Wildcats marched into Norman and beat the No. 6 Sooners 24-19. What’s intriguing about this matchup is Oklahoma’s pass defense, ranked No. 110 in the FBS, a unit that has given up 300-plus yards through the air in each of its last three games. This includes coughing up 334 to Texas, a team that is averaging 209 passing yards per game. This sets the stage for K-State quarterback Jake Waters (No. 32 in the nation in passer rating) and his top two targets, seniors Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton (each with 300-plus yards this season) to be potential game changers.
12:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: No. 4 BAYLOR (6-0) at WEST VIRGINIA (4-2): After its epic comeback win over TCU last Saturday, Baylor can’t afford to miss a beat this week at West Virginia. Remember, this is a Mountaineer squad with losses to No. 2 Alabama (33-23) and No. 4 Oklahoma (45-33), making it one of the best two-loss squads in the nation. Though it’s hard to find fault with Baylor—at least on paper—its defense coughed up 346 yards of passing last week to TCU. This Saturday the Bears’ secondary will square off with West Virginia’s No. 7-ranked passing attack led by quarterback Clint Trickett and receiver Kevin White, who with 888 yards is the No. 1 receiver in college football. On the flip side, the Mountaineers gave up over 280 yards of rushing in each of its two losses this season, look to Baylor running back Shock Linwood—who ran for 178 yards vs. TCU—to be the difference maker. The two teams have combined for a whopping 248 points in their last two games, also the only times they’ve met in history.
3:30PM ET, CBS: No. 21 TEXAS A&M (5-2) at No. 7 ALABAMA (5-1): Though this game will rightly be billed as Alabama’s No. 6-ranked scoring defense squaring off with Texas A&M’s No. 6-ranked scoring offense, the final outcome may come down to if the Aggies D can shut down the Tide’s ground attack. A&M’s rush defense ranks No. 81 in the country, giving up 240-plus ground yards to Rice, Arkansas and Mississippi State this season. This sets up well for Alabama’s ground game, which has looked less scary over the past two games, but still has T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry at its disposal. If nothing else, this game ought to be entertaining, remember that both teams have struggled with turnover margin: A&M is ranked No. 114 and normally resourceful Alabama is No. 95. Are the Aggies overrated? That’s arguable, what’s not is the fact that Alabama is A&M’s third Top 12 ranked opponent in the last three weeks.
3:30PM ET, ESPN: No. 8 MICHIGAN STATE (5-1) at INDIANA (3-3): Don’t get bedazzled by the Alabama-A&M game and miss out on this Big Ten clash which sets up to be far more interesting than it looks on the surface. On one hand, you’ve got one of the best strength vs. strength matchups of Saturday as Michigan State’s No. 5-ranked rushing defense takes on Indiana’s No. 7-ranked rushing offense. The Spartans held Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah—averaging 146 yards per game this season—to only 45 yards in Week 6’s 27-22 win. This week they’ll take on Hoosier running sensation Tevin Coleman, who leads the nation with an average of 177 rushing yards per game. In the strength vs. weakness category, its Michigan State’s No. 4-ranked scoring offense taking on Indiana’s No. 90-ranked scoring defense. The Hoosiers have only beaten the Spartans once in the last ten tries, a 46-21 triumph in Bloomington in 2006.
3:30PM ET, ABC/ESPN2: RUTGERS (5-1) at No. 13 OHIO STATE (4-1): The other Big Ten game that should be better than it looks on paper, it’s the first-ever meeting between the Buckeyes and Scarlet Knights. This contest will go a long way in validating Ohio State’s improvements in the secondary. Last season the Buckeyes finished an awful No. 112 vs. the pass, giving up 268 yards per game. This year they’ve improved to a No. 13 ranking through five games, allowing an average of 179 yards. That said, the Bucks gave up 352 passing yards to Cincinnati in Week 5 and 244 to Maryland in Week 6. The guy to watch in this game is Rutgers’ quarterback Gary Nova, who owns the fifth best passer rating in the FBS and is No. 1 in the nation in yards per passing attempt with 10.7.
3:30PM ET, ABC/ESPN2: UCLA (4-2) at CAL (4-2): It’s hard to say which 4-2 record is more shocking: That of UCLA, which after dropping two straight games is out of the rankings for the first time since the middle of the 2012 season, or that of Cal, who with four wins has already equaled its win total from the last two seasons combined. Though UCLA’s offense ought to pound Cal’s No. 120-ranked scoring defense, what’s really worth tuning in for is the Golden Bears’ No. 4-ranked passing offense lining up against the Bruins’ No. 97-ranked pass defense. UCLA gave up 266 yards through the air in the opener at Virginia, 305 to Memphis is Week 2 and 488 to Arizona State in Week 5. Cal has gone over the 300-yard passing mark in each of its six games this season, led by quarterback Jared Goff who is No. 4 in the FBS in yards per game (363) and No. 3 in touchdowns (22).
3:30PM ET, ESPNU: CLEMSON (4-2) at BOSTON COLLEGE (4-2): Don’t overlook this game over on ESPN U, the battle between two 4-2 teams from the ACC Atlantic. Boston College has only beaten Clemson once in the last six tries, in 2010 when it dropped the Tigers 16-10 in Chestnut Hill. Look for two solid strength vs. strength matchups in this one: First up, its Clemson’s No. 19-ranked passing attack (a young unit led by Cole Stoudt, the clear starter now that Deshaun Watson is out with a broken hand) against BC’s No. 19-ranked passing defense. Next up, how about the Eagles’ No. 5-ranked rushing attack (led by running back Tyler Murphy who has broken the 100-yard mark in five of six games this season) taking on the Tigers’ No.-11 ranked rushing defense? The defensive studs to watch are Boston College’s linebacker Josh Keyes (nine-and-a-half tackles for a loss and four sacks) and Clemson’s defensive end Vic Beasley (nine tackles for a loss, eight sacks and a 16-yard fumble return for a touchdown vs. NC State).
4:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: No. 15 OKLAHOMA STATE (5-1) at No. 12 TCU (4-1): Another game to keep in mind in the afternoon, don’t forget to flip way over to FOX SPORTS 1 for the second Big 12 ranked showdown of the day. TCU is 0-2 vs. Oklahoma State in Big 12 play and hasn’t bested the Cowboys since winning 13-11 in Fort Worth in 1992. Oklahoma State came into the season young and inexperienced, ranked No. 122 in the FBS in returning starters and while lots of things have gone right, pass defense is not one of them. The Cowboys rank No. 105 vs. the pass, giving up 267 yards per game. This sets up nicely for TCU—averaging 325 passing yards per game (No. 12)—to rebound this week. Of course, this is also the same Horned Frog team that coughed up 510 yards passing to Baylor last week and 309 to Oklahoma in the previous game. It’s a shame that the young Cowboys are depending on backup quarterback Daxx Garman and a young receiving corps.
4:00PM ET, SEC NETWORK: No. 10 GEORGIA (5-1) at ARKANSAS (3-3): With all the midafternoon has to offer, this may the best game of the bunch. Tune in to see two of the best rushing offenses in the country—Georgia is ranked No. 12 in rushing yards, while Arkansas is No. 11—square off in this season’s rush-fest. This one will come down to who can stop who. The edge in defense, across the board, goes to the Bulldogs, holding opponents to 18 points per game (No. 13) and 102 yards of rushing per game (No. 12). This vs. the Razorbacks which are No. 57 in scoring (24 points per game) and No. 38 against the run (127 yards per game). Arkansas won the last time these two met, in 2010, but before that dropped six straight. The Hogs have never beaten the Bulldogs in Arkansas, the four all-time wins coming in Athens (2010 and 1993), in Dallas (the 1976 Cotton Bowl) and in New Orleans (the 1969 Sugar Bowl).
7:00PM ET, ESPN: TENNESSEE (3-3) at No. 3 OLE MISS (6-0): Primetime gets kicked off with No. 3 Ole Miss hosting Tennessee for the first time since 2009, a game the Rebels won 42-17, their only triumph in the last 17 tries against the Vols. If Ole Miss’ defense (No. 2 in scoring) can keep up the pressure, Tennessee (No. 82 in scoring defense) will struggle to make it onto the scoreboard. It’s worth noting that the Volunteers have a stingy defense of their own, No. 19 in scoring and No. 8 against the run. This sets up well against a Rebel offense that has been one dimensional to the tune of a No. 26 ranking in passing yards vs. No. 88 in rushing. You’ve got to figure that Tennessee will have to totally shut down Ole Miss’ passing attack and then force the Rebels to make costly mistakes (Bo Wallace threw six picks in the first four games but hasn’t thrown one since) to have a chance. Keep an eye on Volunteer cornerback Cameron Sutton, who already has three picks this season.
7:00PM ET, ESPNU: GEORGIA TECH (5-1) at NORTH CAROLINA (2-4): The last time these two met in Chapel Hill (2012) Georgia Tech hung up 380 yards of rushing on the Tar Heels, the most allowed by a North Carolina defense since 2002 when Maryland racked up 388. This season East Carolina—a team that averages 193 rushing yards per game—rushed for 343 yards vs. UNC in its 70-41, Week 3 win. North Carolina ranks No. 96 vs. the run this season, a stat which looks even scarier when you consider Georgia Tech’s option offense, ranked No. 8 in rushing yards. Look for Yellow Jacket quarterback Justin Thomas and running back Zach Laskey to go off on Saturday night. North Carolina was favored to win the Coastal this season, but if Georgia Tech can win this game and secure a 6-1 start look out for the Yellow Jackets in a jacked-up ACC race. The Tar Heels have dropped five straight to Georgia Tech, last winning 28-7 in 2008.
8:00PM ET, ABC: No. 5 NOTRE DAME (6-0) at No. 2 FLORIDA STATE (6-0): This game is a lot of things, but most importantly it might be last time either of these Top Five contenders faces a ranked team this season. FSU has already won over No. 22 Clemson, but as of now has no other ranked opponent on the slate, this includes the ACC title game since no Coastal team is in the Top 25. Notre Dame knocked off No. 14 Stanford earlier this year and still has No. 17 Arizona State (4-1) and No. 22 USC (4-2) left on the table, but both of those teams are one-loss away from dropping out of the rankings. The Irish have looked solid on defense all season; that is until they coughed up 510 yards (326 through the air) and 43 points to North Carolina last week. This creates a sizeable opportunity for Florida State’s No. 13-ranked pass attack to riddle Notre Dame’s secondary. On the flip side, remember that this is the same Seminole defense that gave up 520 yards to NC State and 412 to Syracuse. Look for FSU quarterback Jameis Winston or Irish gunslinger Everett Golson to be named man of the match. If Golson is the guy, he’ll be the Heisman front runner moving forward.
8:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: WASHINGTON (5-1) at No. 9 OREGON (5-1): Don’t forget that you have this game to switch over to as the Florida State-Notre Dame drama unfolds over on ABC. The good news for Oregon’s beleaguered pass defense—ranked No. 119 in the land—is that Washington’s offense ranks No. 106 in passing yards. More good news for the Ducks comes via the Huskies’ own struggles vs. the pass, giving up an average of 274 yards per game (No. 108). Look for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota—averaging 270 yards per game (No. 28)—to pick apart Washington’s secondary. The real super stud in this game—and a longshot for the Heisman—is Huskie senior linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha who leads the nation with 10 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss.
10:30PM ET, ESPN: No. 23 STANFORD (4-2) at No. 17 ARIZONA STATE (4-1): The better of the two late options, tune in to see the Pac-12’s No. 3-ranked scoring offense square off with the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense. Arizona State is averaging 41.2 points per game while Stanford is only allowing a measly 10. This is another case of the History Channel visiting the Sci-Fi Network on the World Wide Leader in Sports. Check out Stanford’s rising defensive star, sophomore outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi who has four-and-a-half sacks, five-and-a-half tackles for a loss and an interception in his first six games as a collegian. On the other side of the ball check out backup quarterback Mike Bercovici, who may or may not see action depending on starter Taylor Kelly’s status. Bercovici started vs. UCLA and USC, racking up 998 yards and eight scores in two games. This airs awfully late if you are on the East Coast, but it’s totally worth staying up for.