As we enter Week 8 of the college football season, the magic number is eight, as in eight remaining undefeated Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
After last week’s carnage that saw Clemson, Washington, Washington State, Navy and San Diego State toppled from the unbeaten ranks, the challenge is demanding to guess which team will fall next. A more difficult task is to figure out which team or teams could enter the College Football Playoff with a zero in the loss column.
Alabama and Georgia both could be undefeated going into the SEC championship game but each still has to play at Auburn. Tough three-game stretches face Penn State (Michigan, at Ohio State, at Michigan State), Texas Christian (at Iowa State, Texas, at Oklahoma) and Miami (Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Virginia). South Florida and Central Florida play each other on Thanksgiving weekend.
Which brings us to Wisconsin, which does not play three of the four ranked teams in the Big Ten East. The Badgers host Michigan on Nov. 18. Other than that, only a gigantic stumble will prevent them from moving into the Big Ten championship game at 12-0.
As we’ve seen in recent weeks, a lot can happen. For this weekend, only Georgia is guaranteed to remain unbeaten; the Bulldogs are in a bye week.
Irish dreams alive
After going 4-8 last season and being a punching bag for criticism, Brian Kelly has Notre Dame poised to tackle a brutal second half of its schedule with an outstanding rushing game, a knack for forcing turnovers and most important, a different attitude in the locker room.
That attitude, many say, results from a more involved approach to coaching in the off-season by Kelly and his staff.
“That change is as telling as anything as to why guys are buying in,” offensive tackle and Penn Charter graduate Mike McGlinchey said in an Associated Press article. “That’s why guys are coming to work every single day since January with a great attitude and a want and a drive to get better.”
McGlinchey and Central Bucks South product Josh Adams (776 rushing yards, 10th in FBS) are main reasons why Notre Dame’s rush offense ranks fifth in the nation at 308 yards per game. The team also is plus-7 in turnover margin.
The Fighting Irish’s only loss is a one-point defeat to Georgia at home. Starting with Saturday night’s home game versus Southern California, their six remaining opponents – four of them ranked – have a combined seven losses. A playoff spot may be out of reach, but not a big bowl game.
Canes living right
It’s good to be a Miami fan these days. Two weeks ago, the Hurricanes hit a touchdown pass with six seconds left to beat archrival Florida State. Last week, a fourth-down catch of a tipped ball set up a game-winning field goal over Georgia Tech with four seconds remaining.
“Just another day in paradise,” Miami head coach Mark Richt said after the Tech win. “That’s how we roll.”
The Hurricanes are the only unbeaten team in the ACC and lead the Coastal Division. They played last week without five injured starters, at least two of whom are expected to return against Syracuse. Their No. 8 ranking is their highest in four years.
“At this point in the season, to have that type of ranking is good,” Richt said, “but it just gets people more excited about knocking you out of there.”
Dropping a note
Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, still going strong at 78, the oldest head coach in FBS, has accomplished a lot in his 26 years at the helm with 205 career victories on his resume.
For all the respect he has garnered over the years, Snyder also has been admired by opposing players for the letters he sometimes sends them after games. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who will lead Oklahoma against the Wildcats, says he has received three.
“It can’t get much better than him,” Mayfield said in an AP story. “People around college football have so much respect for him. It’s a special thing to have respect from a guy like that because he’s very well-known and he’s established.”
Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley, the youngest FBS head coach at 34, called Snyder “amazing” but added, “I’m not going to be doing this at 78, I can tell you that much.”
Speaking of the ACC, consider the turnaround in its Atlantic Division. In the previous three seasons, Clemson, Florida State and Louisville went a combined 36-0 against the other four teams in the division. This year, North Carolina State, on the strength of wins over the Seminoles and the Cardinals, is the Atlantic’s only unbeaten team in conference play. Boston College knocked off Louisville and Syracuse stunned then-No. 2 Clemson last week. The Tigers and Wolfpack play on Nov. 4 in Raleigh.
Expatriate of the Week
In his third season as a Syracuse captain, senior linebacker Zaire Franklin, a graduate of La Salle College High School, was part of the upset of Clemson last week, the biggest win of his career. The 6-foot, 236-pound Franklin had four tackles in the game, including a sack. For the season, he is second on the team with 44 tackles, including a season high 12 last month against North Carolina State.
Games of the Week for Saturday
Syracuse at Miami, 3:30 p.m., ESPN: Behind quarterback Malik Rosier, the Hurricanes have pulled out victories over the last two weeks with late drives to remain unbeaten. The Orange achieved a miracle of their own last week behind quarterback Eric Dungey, knocking off No. 2 Clemson.
Tennessee at Alabama, 3:30 p.m., CBS3: By all indications, this game won’t be close, but watching the Vols these days is like watching a NASCAR race in that you never know when the wreck is going to happen. Meanwhile, the over-under on smiles by Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban is ½.
Oklahoma at Kansas State, 4 p.m., Fox29: The Sooners managed to escape the Cotton Bowl last week with a win over Texas and now take on the Wildcats. The game matches the oldest coach in the FBS – Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley (34) – versus the oldest, 78-year-old Bill Snyder of K-State.
Southern California at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m., NBC10: Since no team with two losses has ever reached the College Football Playoff, it’s fair to say that this is an elimination game between these two long-time rivals, their first meeting when both were ranked in the top 15 since 2006.
QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State, 6-2, 220, R-Sr., Wichita Falls, Texas
After a pair of shaky early-season performances, Barrett has rediscovered his mojo, leading the Buckeyes to five straight wins going into their bye week. In those five games, in which Ohio State has averaged a little more than 53 points, he has thrown for 18 touchdowns and has run for four more. He ranks fourth in the nation in passing efficiency, completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,838 yards and 21 TDs while throwing only one interception. He also is fourth in FBS in points responsible for at 22.6 per game. Ohio State hosts Penn State next Saturday.
The Inquirer Top 10
1. Alabama (7-0)
2. Georgia (7-0)
3. Penn State (6-0)
4. Texas Christian (6-0)
5. Wisconsin (6-0)
6. Ohio State (6-1)
7. Miami (5-0)
8. Clemson (6-1)
9. Oklahoma (5-1)
10. Southern California (6-1)