Among this week’s quintet of games with the most impact on the hunt for the College Football Playoff, there is really only one in which both participants can be considered true candidates. We’re quite sure you can figure out which one.
The other contenders are simply trying to stay out of snares. Here, then, are the Week 8 games with the most potential to affect the playoff.
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS | Pregame.com line: Alabama by 18
As has been pointed out often, the Crimson Tide have proved that they can lose a game and still win the national championship. That said, however, with the season now half completed, the loser of this game is less likely at this juncture to get the help it would need to win the SEC West.
While an 11-1 record without a conference title would certainly be under strong consideration by the committee, both teams will do their utmost to avoid that scenario. In short, it will be a championship atmosphere in Tuscaloosa.
The Aggies might have a stamina edge since they had an open date last week. But they’d be advised not to count on that being much of a factor, as Alabama turned what could have been a physically taxing game at Tennessee into a romp. The Alabama defense and special teams continue to pose a constant scoring threat, and freshman QB Jalen Hurts seems to be improving on a weekly basis.
A&M DEs Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall will do their best to make it difficult for Hurts to settle into a rhythm, but the Tide’s strong ground attack can neutralize a lot of pass rushes. The Aggies must have a clean game from Trevor Knight, one of the few QBs in the country who has had success against the Alabama defense in his career. He’d do well to avoid Tide DBs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Eddie Jackson.
No. 2 Ohio State at Penn State
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC | Pregame.com line: Ohio State by 19½
With a tough challenge at Wisconsin out of the way, the Buckeyes remain on a collision course with Michigan in what looks to be a winner-take-all showdown in the Big Ten East (on Nov. 26). But the Nittany Lions aren’t interested in OSU’s playoff aspirations.
Penn State’s trip to Michigan didn’t go well. But they had their way with Maryland in their most recent action, and they’re well rested after a bye week. They’ll nevertheless need a flawless performance from QB Trace McSorley. That might not be easy against the OSU defense that has swiped 11 passes, led by Malik Hooker’s four. Buckeyes’ QB J.T. Barrett has proven he can win games with his feet if he has to, but he’d prefer to get more help from his receivers.
TCU at No. 13 West Virginia
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2 | Pregame.com line: West Virginia by 6
Even an undefeated Big 12 champ might be at a disadvantage compared to the champions of the other four power conferences. The Mountaineers have a lot of ground to cover before that even becomes a factor in the discussion, of course, but the dream lives as long as they keep winning. TCU didn’t look the part of a conference contender in their one-point escape from Kansas two weeks ago but had last weekend off to regroup.
Horned Frogs’ QB Kenny Hill has shown flashes but remains error prone. That could be problematic against WVU’s 3-3-5 defensive alignment that has stymied other prolific Big 12 passing attacks. The offense is keyed by Mountaineers’ RBs Rushel Shell and Justin Crawford, both of whom are averaging around 5 yards per rushing attempt making life considerably easier for QB Skyler Howard.
North Carolina State at No. 7 Louisville
Saturday, noon ET, ABC | Pregame.com line: Louisville by 19½
The Cardinals could have used N.C. State’s help a week ago. But since the Wolfpack couldn’t quite get the job done at Clemson, all the Cardinals can do now is keep winning and hope to benefit from some chaos around the country. The Wolfpack’s performance as well as the Cardinals’ own close call with Duke last week undoubtedly got the Cardinals’ attention in practice.
Though it was a win, Louisville had its lowest scoring output of the season against Duke. QB Lamar Jackson was able to compensate for a subpar passing day with some timely runs by himself and RB Jeremy Smith. Much like Barrett, however, he’d like to get the aerial attack ironed out this week. Kicking woes aside, the Wolfpack can challenge another top-10 opponent if QB Ryan Finley gets another big outing from RB Matthew Dayes.
No. 10 Wisconsin at Iowa
Saturday, noon ET, ESPN | Pregame.com line: Wisconsin by 4
The Big Ten West is still in play for the Badgers, and they’d be only too happy to get another crack at either the Buckeyes or the Wolverines in the league title game. But first they have to get by the defending division champion Hawkeyes, who were sluggish out of the gate this season but are still in the mix with only one conference loss.
Iowa’s problem has been getting both units to be at peak efficiency in the same game. The offense struggled in lackluster wins against Rutgers and Minnesota, while the defense failed to deliver in the loss to Northwestern. The Hawkeyes will need a complete effort to stick with Wisconsin. The Badgers are giving up just 15.2 points a game and might have a star in the making in freshman QB Alex Hornibrook.
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