College Football Week 8 Preview – Will SEC West Showdowns Shake Up the Playoff Race?
It’s a big week in the SEC West with three Top 25 matchups that could shake up the conference landscape. Here are some of the big question marks as we enter the second half of college football’s regular season.
Can Anyone Catch Alabama?
There’s no doubt that No. 1 Alabama is the best team in the SEC and that anyone beating them would be a sizeable upset. That said, stranger things have happened in college football and this week could turn the conference title race on its head as the Crimson Tide hosts No. 6 Texas A&M in one of three divisional matchups between Top 25 teams.
The Aggies are eighth nationally in total offense, but have never faced a defense the likes of this Alabama unit (fifth nationally in total defense). A&M will likely need to put up some big points to account for a “bend but don’t break” defense that ranks 22nd nationally in scoring but 98th in yards allowed.
The winner of that game will remain undefeated and in the driver’s seat in the division. But No. 21 Auburn and No. 25 LSU each have just one conference loss and can stay in contention with victories over No. 17 Arkansas and No. 23 Ole Miss, respectively. While the odds are certainly in Alabama’s favor, let’s not hand them the trophy just yet. And don’t lose sight of the big picture -- with the Big 12 and Pac-12 down this year, a one-loss SEC West team is still very much in the playoff picture.
Can West Virginia Keep Rolling?
After Oklahoma’s blowout loss to Ohio State and Texas’ three game losing streak, most observers (myself included) were ready to write off the Big 12 as a playoff contender. However, that snap judgment might have been slightly premature.
Not only is No. 9 Baylor still undefeated, but West Virginia has come out of nowhere to roll off five straight wins and move up to No. 12 in the AP polls, the Mountaineers’ highest ranking since 2008.
West Virginia ranks seventh nationally in total offense and is prepared to win in a shootout, if need be, this week against Texas Christian (ninth nationally). But the Mountaineers boast a surprisingly stout defense that is giving up just 19.4 points per game (25th best). So look for them to be able to slow TCU down. If West Virginia wins this weekend, it should be a solid favorite in its next three games and gets Oklahoma and Baylor at home late in the season. So this week’s game not only has Big 12 implications, but playoff ramifications as well.
How Bad Can Things Get at Notre Dame?
Let’s be clear: Notre Dame might be the best 2–5 team in history. After all, the Irish have outscored their opponents 202-177 this season and their five losses have come by a total of just 28 points. So its not like they’re getting blown out of the water.
However, that 2–5 mark is tied for the fourth-worst start in school history. While Notre Dame players are publicly optimistic they can turn things around, only once (1997) has a Notre Dame team that started 2–5 or worse finished with a winning record. And they’re finding new and creative ways to lose every week. An offense that averaged nearly 40 points per game in its first five outings has suddenly disappeared, managing just 13 points total the last two weeks. Special teams blunders have hurt, the shuffling between quarterbacks Malik Zaire and Deshone Kizer can’t help and now they’re having trouble even getting the ball snapped.
The Irish mercifully have a bye this week to regroup and get their next four games at home, but it may not be enough. Notre Dame’s five remaining opponents have a combined record of 20–10.
What Can LSU Do With Leonard Fournette?
We touched earlier on the big game between LSU and Ole Miss. But one key to that game will be the return of LSU’s star running back Leonard Fournette. In the three games Fournette has played this year, he has averaged nearly 152 total yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry. He is expected to play after suffering an ankle injury in the September 24 loss to Auburn. If he is anywhere close to 100 percent, he could have a field day against an Ole Miss defense that ranks 104th nationally in rush defense and has given up 13 rushing touchdowns through six games.
The firing of Les Miles looked like a desperation move by a team ready to write off the season and start rebuilding for the future. But, believe it or not, LSU has just one conference loss and still controls its own destiny in the SEC West. Yes, getting past Alabama or Texas A&M won’t be easy. But the new energy interim coach Ed Orgeron has brought to the offense combined with a healthy Fournette could make the Tigers a conference competitor late into the season.