Each week, I take a look at the week ahead, including games, upsets and players to watch for. I have also added a guide to the best/most intriguing games of the week.
What I am watching: Is Northwestern for real? Is Michigan State really an impostor? Can Iowa continue their resurgence? Is the old Wisconsin power running game really back? I'll start in Evanston, where Northwestern welcomes Nebraksa. The Wildcats still have their doubters and a win this week would silence the majority of them. Remember, Northwestern went into Lincoln and upset the Cornhuskers a year ago. Sparty travels to the Big House and all indications favor the home Wolverines. The Michigan defense is playing at a high level and the MSU offense, well, it is not. Denard Robinson struggled in East Lansing a year ago and has yet to beat the in-state rival. If he can make even a few plays, it will be tough for a reeling Spartans team to overcome. Penn State visits Iowa, where the Hawkeyes have rebounded from a rocky start to go 2-0 in the Big 10. Penn State also comes in 2-0 and I would not expect a lot of points here. Finally, Wisconsin bludgeoned Purdue with a running game circa de 2011. The Badgers will look to continue that trend with Minnesota coming to town to try and steal the ax. Montee Ball looked like a Heisman contender a week ago and needs to look that part to get Bucky into Rose Bowl contenders.
Upset alert: Northwestern over Nebraska. In what could be a shoot-out, this game could go either way depending on which teams defense shows up to play. Wouldn't it be something if Northwestern ran their record to 2-0 vs Nebraska in the "Battle of Nowledge"? Last week: Wisconsin over Purdue (should have been Wisconsin over Purdue or Iowa over Michigan State).
Player on the spot: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan. Simply put, he hasn't beaten Michigan State. All signs point to that happening. Robinson just needs to avoid the detours. Last week: Mark Weisman, RB, Iowa - 26 carries, 116 yards and the tying TD with 55 seconds left in a 19-16 win over Michigan State.
What I am watching: Did Virginia Tech get the wake-up call it needed or is Clemson just a much better team? Was Duke sent reeling setting them up for a clunker against a really good North Carolina team? Is Maryland or NC State more for real in the ACC Atlantic? The Hokies travel to Clemson hoping their season took a turn for the better after spotting Duke a 20-0 lead last week. Last season, the Tigers had the Hokies number twice, so this will not be an easy trip for Tech. Clemson has their eyes on the BCS and needs to win out and hope for another Florida State trip-up, which we all know is entirely possible. Duke was headed toward bowl-eligibility when the Hokie ambush hit and now has to travel to face a Tar Heel team playing as well as any ACC team right now. For those that don't know Gio Bernard's name, you will soon as the UNC tailback is tearing up opponents after an early season injury. Lastly, Maryland has been a surprise and NC State has the upset of the year in the ACC. They meet Saturday in College Park where one will emerge as a chief contender with FSU and Clemson in the ACC Atlantic.
Upset alert: Wake Forest over Virginia. I will go with Virginia again because somehow they are still favored despite playing arguably the worst football in the ACC. Problem is, Wake would be part of that argument too. Last week: Maryland over Virginia (should have been Maryland over Virginia)
Player on the spot: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson. The Tigers should beat the Hokies again this year and Boyd can continue his mastery of them. In the two victories last season, Boyd accounted for 500 yards and 5 TD's. Last week: Gio Bernard, RB, North Carolina - 27 carries, 177 yards, 2 TD's in an 18-14 win over Miami, FL.
What I am watching: Can Florida keep the momentum that eventually leads to an undefeated showdown with Alabama in the SEC Championship game? Or will South Carolina regain control of the SEC East? I will also be watching Johnny Manziel to see how the super-frosh can do against a tough LSU defense. The big one is in Gainesville, where Florida looks to hand South Carolina its second consecutive loss. The Gaotrs handled LSU while the Gamecocks did not, but irregardless, this is a must win for each to get to the SEC Championship. If Florida wins, it will basically need to dispatch Georgia and be headed to Atlanta. If South Carolina wins, they own the head-to-head vs Georgia and Florida and will just need to avoid a slip-up on their way to Atlanta. It will be a typical SEC battle, where points are hard to come by and punts can be a positive play. In College Station, Texas A&M gets another crack at an elite SEC team, losing a close one to Florida earlier in the year. Johnny Manziel continues to set records and may be more comfortable this time around.
Upset alert: Texas A&M over LSU and South Carolina over Florida. Many think LSU got back on track last week, but let's see how they take it on the road again this week against a quality opponent. South Carolina is less dangerous if Marcus Lattimore is out, but the defenses will likely decide the fate in the South Carolina/Florida game. Last week: South Carolina over LSU (should have been None).
Player on the spot: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. He has set the SEC all-purpose yardage record twice already this season. Now comes the tough part. Conquer one of the best defenses he will see all season and lead the Aggies to a signature win in their inaugural SEC adventure. Last week: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina - 6 tackles, no sacks in a 23-21 loss to LSU.
What I am watching: All eyes are on Morgantown, where Kansas State visits the Mountaineers in another big showdown. A little luster came off this game with West Virginia's loss last week, but this is still another in a long season of Big 12 heavyweight bouts. Geno Smith and company must play with more urgency as another loss will be devastating to their title hopes. Collin Klein will have something to say about that and may have something to say about the Heisman race in this one as well. If the West Virginia defense doesn't show, it won't matter even with the home crowd in their favor. 3 other interesting games dot the Big 12 card this weekend. A tough Iowa State team travels to Stillwater where the Cowboys will look to avenge last season's surprising and only loss. I am still unsure on this Oklahoma State team and I think this week will tell us a lot. Texas Tech is at TCU on Saturday as they try to follow-up last week's upset surprise of West Virginia. TCU got back on track with a huge win over Baylor, so both teams enter with momentum. Finally, Baylor visits Texas in a game where the loser takes their third conference loss already. Both teams were punched in the face last week. Will either one hop back up?
Upset alert: Kansas State over West Virginia. As I eluded to above, you can talk about the Geno Smith vs Collin Klein match-up all day, but if the Mountaineer defense stinks again, the Wildcats will emerge still unbeaten and in the thick of the National Title race. Last week: Texas over Oklahoma (should have been Texas Tech over West Virginia or TCU over Baylor).
Player on the spot: Nick Florence, QB, Baylor. The Big 12 could get 9 teams to bowls, but the Bears may be the most tenuous. Florence can prove me wrong by leading an upset of Texas and make us forget about that RG guy. Last week: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma - 21-37, 321 yards, 2 TD, 1 Int in a 63-21 destruction of Texas.
What I am watching: Oregon faces their best opponent to date on the road on a Thursday night. Will all the stars align for an Arizona State upset? The Sun Devils defense is playing well and they have adapted to the high pace offense of coach Todd Graham. Can they outscore Oregon at their own game? The Ducks defense is also playing at a high level, but this seems like a dangerous game for them. Will Oregon unleash a little more D'Anthony Thomas this week? This one should be a fun way to start the College Football weekend. Stanford and Cal meet in October for like the first time ever. Cal needs this game if a bowl is to be a possibility. Arizona needs to get back on track at home vs Washington or a bowl might slip from their fingers as well.
Upset alert: Cal over Stanford. The Stanford offense has looked stagnant at times and Cal is starting to play better. Being a home underdog is extra motivation for the "Big Game". Last week: None (should have been none).
Player on the spot: D'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon. There is a lot of hype surrounding Thomas and when he touches the ball, I would recommend stopping to watch. The problem is the amount of touches he is getting. This might be the game to get Mr. Thomas more involved. Last week: Josh Nunes, QB, Stanford - 12-25, 125 yards, 0 TD, 2 int in a 20-13 OT loss to Notre Dame.
What I am watching: Two of the Big East's three unbeatens go on the road. Rutgers has an interesting test against a Temple team that has won 2 in a row to start the Big East season. The Owls play similar to the Scarlett Knights and keep games close by running the ball and playing good defense. Rutgers is mastering that concept, but with the big games ahead, this could be a trap week for them. It also might be a trap week for Cincinnati, who travels to play the high-flying Toledo Rockets. The Rockets are explosive and Cincy similarly has important Big East games coming up. Despite the defensive struggles of Toledo, Munchie and the Bearcats best be ready.
Upset alert: Toledo over Cincinnati. Its mid-October and this is the Bearcats first road game. That seems like a recipe for potential disaster. Last week: Temple over Connecticut (should have been Temple over Connecticut).
Player in the spotlight: B.J. Daniels, QB, South Florida. Daniels erratic play has contributed to the disappointing start for the Bulls. He needs to turn it around this week and save the season for South Florida. Last week: Tino Sunseri, QB, Pittsburgh - 28-37, 287 yards, 3 TD (1 rushing) in a 45-35 loss to Louisville.
What I am watching: I am always watching for how many victories the Non-BCS schools can accumulate against the BCS conferences. Ohio, Nevada, Colorado State, Utah State, Louisiana-Monroe, Rice, Western Kentucky, Ball State, Fresno State, Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Ball State(again), Louisiana Tech, Louisiana Tech(again) and Middle Tennessee State have done it the first five weeks with the victories over Penn State, California, Colorado, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Colorado(again), Iowa, Connecticut, Kansas(again), South Florida, Illinois, Virginia and Georgia Tech, respectively. Last season the total was 15. The chances are dwindling as the non-conference season slows, but which games this week might add to the current 16? This week there are two chances...Cincinnati at Toledo and Middle Tennessee at Mississippi State.
Upset alert: Marshall over Southern Mississippi. I am not sure how 0-6 Southern Miss is favored, but in Rakeem Cato I believe. Look for this one in Jabesblog's picks of the week. Last week: Fresno State over Boise State (should have been Tulane over SMU).
Players on the spot: Stepfon Jefferson, RB, Nevada. With quarterback Cody Fajardo banged-up, the Wolfpack need to lean on Jefferson against a good San Diego State team to keep pace with Boise State in the Mountain West. Last week: Colby Cameron, QB, Louisiana Tech - 44-58, 450 yards, 5 TD in a 59-57 loss to Texas A&M.
Week 8 Game Guide
Oregon at Arizona State, Thursday, 9 PM EST, ESPN
Virginia Tech at Clemson, Saturday, 12 PM EST, ABC
LSU at Texas A&M, Saturday, 12 PM EST, ESPN
South Carolina at Florida, Saturday, 3:30 PM, EST, CBS
Texas Tech at TCU, Saturday, 3:30 PM EST, ABC/ESPN2
Nebraska at Northwestern, Saturday, 3;30 PM EST, ESPN2
Michigan State at Michigan, Saturday, 3;30 PM EST, Big Ten Network
BYU at Notre Dame, Saturday, 3:30 PM EST, NBC
LA-Monroe at Western Kentucky, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN3
Cincinnati at Toledo, Saturday, 7 PM EST, ESPN3
Alabama at Tennessee, Saturday, 7 PM EST, ESPN
Kansas State at West Virginia, Saturday, 7 PM EST, FOX
Florida State at Miami, FL, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ABC/ESPN3
Baylor at Texas, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ABC/ESPN3
Penn State at Iowa, 8 PM EST, Big Ten Network