After a wacky Week 7, Week 8 was pretty straightforward. No top-10 teams lost and all of the teams who entered the weekend undefeated made it through unscathed.
Since we had no major upsets, we figured this week was a good time to assess each of the remaining unbeaten teams. Who are the legitimate contenders for the College Football Playoff? Which teams have gotten by because of an easy schedule? Who’s at a disadvantage because of the conference they play in?
We’ll attempt to answer those questions and more.
No. 1 Alabama (8-0): Let’s be up front. Alabama hasn’t played anyone. Florida State is sputtering and is underachieving even without quarterback Deondre Francois. The best team the Tide have played is Texas A&M. And while the Aggies are good, they aren’t ranked either.
But that eight-point win has been Alabama’s closest of the season. Every other game has been decided by 17 points or more including a 45-7 shellacking of Tennessee on Saturday. That win against the Vols could have been a shutout too if it wasn’t for a pick-six.
Alabama is legitimately the best team in the country and has a clear path to the playoff even if it loses a game.
No. 2. Penn State (7-0): Just how close are the Nittany Lions to the Crimson Tide? It’s fair to wonder if the gap is smaller than we realized after Penn State’s shellacking of Michigan on Saturday night. Penn State boasts the Heisman Trophy favorite in RB Saquon Barkley and has given up fewer than 20 points in every game this season. This is a well-rounded team.
Next week’s matchup vs. Ohio State is the Big Ten’s game of the year and a potential College Football Playoff elimination game. We can’t wait.
No. 3 Georgia (7-0): The Bulldogs were off in Week 8 and a case can be made that Georgia is one of the biggest surprises of the season. A lot of people expected Georgia to be good … but this good?
Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm has played with poise and improved on a near-weekly basis. Meanwhile, the team’s rushing attack is one of the best in the country with RBs Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift. A Nov. 4 matchup with Auburn is the toughest game Georgia has left on its schedule and like we said last week, it’s not out of the question that Alabama and Georgia meet in the SEC Championship Game undefeated.
No. 4 TCU (7-0): The Horned Frogs are a bigger surprise than the Bulldogs. A team that was picked around fourth in the Big 12 is now suddenly No. 4 in the country. TCU cruised Saturday night against Kansas, a team that has surprisingly given the Horned Frogs fits. KU had just 21 yards of total offense.
TCU’s defense has allowed just 61 points through four Big 12 games and suddenly next week’s matchup at Iowa State looks pivotal as the Cyclones have just one conference loss. TCU has to get through the Cyclones, Texas and Oklahoma in the next three weeks, but the Horned Frogs are still the clear favorite in the Big 12 until proven otherwise.
No. 5 Wisconsin (7-0): The Badgers have methodically marched through the first seven games of the season. But who is Wisconsin’s best win? Is it a Northwestern team that got its second conference win of the season Saturday vs. Iowa? A Purdue team that lost to Rutgers on Saturday? A Maryland team that started its third-string quarterback against the Badgers?
With Michigan looming as by far the Badgers’ toughest opponent over the next five games, the chances of Wisconsin making it to the Big Ten title game undefeated are pretty good. But the Badgers’ schedule could come back to bite them when the committee starts to rank teams at the end of the month.
No. 8 Miami (6-0): Here’s another team we’re fascinated to see how the committee views. Miami scraped out a last-second win at Florida State two weeks ago and has since had two unnecessarily close wins against Georgia Tech and Syracuse.
If you’re on the fence about Miami’s true strength, don’t worry. You’ll have a good idea over the next few weeks. After the Hurricanes face a reeling North Carolina team in Week 9, matchups with top-15 teams Virginia Tech and Notre Dame are up next. We can classify Miami as a legitimate contender if it’s still undefeated after playing Notre Dame.
No. 16 South Florida (7-0): After three-straight wins by 30 or more points, South Florida looked like it was on its way to a fourth against Tulane on Saturday. But the Green Wave made it close in a 34-28 loss. USF’s toughest game until playing Central Florida on Nov. 24 is next week against Houston, but …
No. 20 Central Florida (6-0): … both UCF and USF are hamstrung by playing in the American Athletic Conference. The winner of the AAC is likely to get the Group of Five’s berth in the New Year’s Six Bowl games but won’t come within sniffing distance of the College Football Playoff. Both teams’ schedules don’t have a signature win over Power Five schools (sorry, Maryland and Illinois don’t count) and Memphis is the AAC’s only other ranked team. The winner of that Nov. 24 game is the favorite for the New Year’s Six berth.
Here are this week’s winners and losers.
Florida Atlantic: Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic team had a record-setting performance in a 69-31 win over North Texas. Not only did FAU break the school record for points in a game (previously 57 points against Florida International in 2008), but it finished with a conference-record 804 yards of offense. FAU’s offensive yardage was second-highest of any FBS team this season and the most any team has had against an FBS opponent. Missouri had 815 yards against Missouri State in September.
The Owls are now 4-3 overall and 3-0 in Conference USA play. North Texas was 3-0 in conference play entering Saturday, now the Owls and Marshall are the only two teams unbeaten in league play.
Royce Freeman: Oregon’s Royce Freeman became the program’s all-time rushing leader with 5,103 career rush yards. He surpassed LaMichael James, who ran for 5,082 yards over three seasons from 2009-11. In Oregon’s 31-14 loss at UCLA, Freeman had 160 yards on 29 carries. His 100-yard performance also broke another record of James. It was Freeman’s 27th game with over 100 yards rushing. Freeman is now the No. 2 all-time leading rusher in the Pac-12.
Stats don't lie. ⤵️
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) October 21, 2017
Rutgers: Rutgers’ 14-12 victory over Purdue means Rutgers has its first Big Ten winning streak since joining the conference in 2014. And it comes on the heels of a long losing streak. Rutgers’ 16-game losing streak in the conference came to a halt last week when it beat Illinois 35-24. This week’s contest came down to a late two-point conversion with 25 seconds left in the game, but Rutgers pressured Purdue quarterback David Blough into throwing an incomplete pass to seal the win. Rutgers is now tied with Michigan for fourth in the Big Ten East. For real.
Army: Welcome back to bowl eligibility, Army. After defeating Temple 31-28 on Saturday, Army (6-2) accepted an invite to the Armed Forces Bowl barring an invite to a New Years Six game. It marks the first time the Black Knights will play in a bowl game in back-to-back years since 1984 and 1985. Army won the game in dramatic fashion, too. Army forced overtime when Kelvin Hopkins found Jermaine Adams for a 16-yard score with one second left on the clock.
My goodness! Are you kidding?
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) October 21, 2017
The Black Knights then made a field goal to open overtime and won the game when Temple missed from 27 yards out.
Iowa State: No longer the second-biggest punchline in the Big 12 (looking at you, Kansas and Baylor), the Cyclones seem more and more like legitimate threats in the conference. The latest offering came by way of 31-13 walloping of Texas Tech in Lubbock. This is a program that was long known as the Big 12’s likeliest trap game. Now there’ll be no pity for the opponent that sleeps on ISU. The Cyclones are 5-2 (3-1 in the Big 12) and has TCU at home next week. Will another top team fall victim in Ames? It’s not out of the question.
Boston College: After a wild 45-42 upset over Louisville last week on the road, Boston College picked up its second-straight ACC road win for the first time since 2014 after defeating Virginia 41-10. Virginia was looking to clinch bowl eligibility, but the Eagles scored on their first four possessions of the game and racked up 331 yards of total offense in the first half alone. Redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Brown threw for a career-high three touchdowns in the victory. Boston College is now 4-4 overall (2-3 ACC) and broke Virginia’s four-game win streak. Virginia is now 5-2 (2-1 ACC).
Darrin Hall: There’s no way Pitt beats Duke on Saturday without running back Darrin Hall. Hall, who entered the game with just 108 yards on the ground, rushed for a career-high 254 yards and scored all three of Pitt’s touchdowns in a comeback 24-17 win. Hall reeled off a 79-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, cut Duke’s lead to 17-14 with a 92-yard scamper in the third and put the Panthers ahead with a four-yard TD in the fourth. Hall’s effort gave Pitt a much-needed victory. The Panthers lost five of their previous six games.
Fresno State: Jeff Tedford’s bunch is a win away from bowl eligibility.
Fresno State is now 5-2 after easily beating San Diego State 27-3 on Saturday night in the battle for the Old Oil Can Trophy. That’s already a four-win improvement on 2016. And more importantly, Fresno is now 4-0 and the leading contender for the Mountain West’s West Division title.
Running back Josh Hokit ran for three touchdowns and Oregon State transfer quarterback Marcus McMaryion was 10-16 passing for 176 yards. Fresno’s defense held star SDSU running back Rashaad Penny to 69 yards on 15 carries.
The Bulldogs could be favored in their next three games before heading to Wyoming on Nov. 18.
David Sills: After three touchdowns in a close win over Baylor, West Virginia receiver David Sills now has 15 receiving touchdowns on the season. Nobody else in the country has more than nine. Sills, whose story has been well-documented, was a phenom quarterback recruit who is now in his second stint as a receiver for the Mountaineers. Now, after totaling seven catches for 136 yards against Baylor, he has 46 receptions for 737 yards to go with his 15 scores. WVU improved to 5-2 (3-1 Big 12) with the win.
Charlotte: Charlotte finally picked up its first win of the season on Saturday, and did so in dramatic fashion. The 49ers trailed UAB 17-0 late in the third, but came all the way back to force overtime. UAB scored to open the extra session to take a 24-17 lead. Charlotte responded with a touchdown of its own. But instead of forcing double OT with an extra point, Charlotte dialed up a trick play and won the game with a two-point conversion.
— beIN COLLEGE SPORTS (@beINCOLLEGE) October 22, 2017
Derrius Guice: LSU’s Derrius Guice has been banged up for much of the year, but finally exploded with a big game Saturday night in the Tigers’ 40-24 win over Ole Miss in Oxford. Guice totaled a 276 yards (his career high is 285) and a touchdown on 22 carries in the win. Entering Saturday, his best game of the season was only 122 yards. The win improved No. 24 LSU’s record to 6-2 on the year and served as a bit of revenge for head coach Ed Orgeron. Orgeron had a rough stint as head coach at Ole Miss, winning three SEC games (two at home) in three seasons with the Rebels from 2005-2007. Now Orgeron has three career SEC wins in Oxford.
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) October 22, 2017
Houston: The Cougars’ defense couldn’t stop Memphis in the second half Thursday night. So for some reason, Houston coach Major Applewhite put his faith in the defense late in the Cougars’ 42-38 loss to the Tigers.
With 3:17 left and leading 38-35, Houston faced a 4th and 1 at its own 41. Instead of going for it, Applewhite decided to punt and give Memphis the ball back. In many circumstances, that’s the right call. But Memphis had scored all 35 of those points in the second half after being shut out in the first.
Sure enough, Memphis scored its go-ahead touchdown with 1:28 left. Because it had all three timeouts, Houston got the ball back two more times after that touchdown but both drives ended in turnovers.
BYU: The Cougars were tied 10-10 at halftime with fellow 1-6 team East Carolina on Saturday. Then the wheels came off.
BYU gave up 23 second-half points in a 33-17 loss to the Pirates. Not much has gone right for BYU this season, a team whose only win is over an FCS opponent. The good news, perhaps, is that the offense had 421 total yards. The bad news is that BYU’s lone turnover led to an ECU touchdown and a 23-point fourth quarter lead.
Arkansas: No one was expecting Arkansas to contend for the SEC West title. But was anyone expecting Arkansas to be this bad? After losing 52-20 at home to Auburn on Saturday, Arkansas is now 2-5.
Arkansas was within striking distance at halftime as the Tigers led 17-6. But Auburn scored 28 points in the third quarter to sprint away.
The Tigers had 47 carries for 345 yards and five rushing touchdowns. That’s an average of 7.3 yards a carry … which is not good for a defense. But that’s a two-yard improvement over the Auburn game a year ago when the Tigers had 57 carries for 543 yards and seven touchdowns. Is this where we say progress is incremental?
North Carolina: Remember the days when Larry Fedora was at the top of coaching search lists? Those are long, long gone. UNC’s free fall continued with a 59-7 schooling at the hands of Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels didn’t score until the fourth quarter, so don’t feel too good about those seven points. UNC hasn’t scored more than 14 points since Week 4 against Duke. Next week the Tar Heels get Miami before traveling to Pittsburgh. A long year for the Tar Heels will keep getting longer
Georgia Southern: Tyson Summers’ second season at Georgia Southern has turned into a disaster. Summers almost lost his job after the Eagles went 5-7 last year. On Saturday, his team dropped to 0-6 on the year with a 55-20 loss at UMass. It was UMass’ first win of the season. Yeah, things are very, very bad for Southern. UMass put up 670 yards of offense in the win while forcing four Georgia Southern turnovers. It would be a surprise if Summers makes it through the weekend employed.
Duke: Duke started of its season with a hot 4-0 win-streak with victories over NC Central, Northwestern, Baylor and UNC, but the Blue Devils are now spiraling with a four-game losing streak. Its latest was a 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh, who had yet to beat a Power 5 conference team this season. That changed Saturday, with Pitt holding Duke scoreless in the fourth quarter. Duke, which blew a 17-7 lead, dropped to 4-4, (1-4 ACC) with Pitt improving to 3-5 (1-3).
Utah: Utah was a 10-point favorite at home against Arizona State. The Utes lost by 20, and it was ugly. The Utes turned the ball over four times and mustered only 265 yards of offense in a 30-10 loss. Utah started the season 4-0 and were ranked No. 20. Since then, the Utes have dropped three straight, all in Pac-12 play.
Kentucky: Kentucky had a 5-1 record entering Saturday’s trip to Mississippi State, but the Wildcats’ largest margin of victory was just 11. Many suspected the Wildcats were a bit fraudulent, and that was proven to be correct as UK was absolutely trounced, 45-7. After Kentucky tied the game 7-7 midway through the second quarter, Mississippi State scored 38 consecutive points. It wasn’t pretty.
Kansas: We don’t like to pick on Kansas, but its performance against No. 4 TCU was a special level of ineptitude. In a 43-0 loss, the Jayhawks finished with 21 — yes, 21 — yards of offense. That is the lowest total in the FBS in the last 20 years, per ESPN. KU’s leading rusher had 10 yards while the team had only 38 passing yards. TCU had more first downs (22) than Kansas had yards (21). Kansas also tied an NCAA record that goes back 81 years with its 44th straight loss in a true road game.