5 Things I Think Going Into Week 8!

We’re finally here. After this week’s games, the first BCS rankings will be released. For those of you who have been following “5 Things” over the years, or who have talked football with me in person, you know that I’m not a fan of the BCS formula. Particularly, I am not at all a fan of the Coaches Poll because it’s so superficial. I don’t think it’s always the actual coaches making the votes (which several coaches have admitted) and coaches have neither the time nor the inclination to watch games that involve teams that don’t have a direct impact on their team (e.g. teams within their own conference or teams ranked above them). I also don’t like that the big thing that was supposed to be better about this formula is the input of the computers because they were supposed to inject some objectivity into the process, but most years the two human polls make the computer rankings virtually irrelevant.

The first selection committee for the college playoffs was officially announced this week (even though virtually every member’s name was already leaked), and I don’t have a problem with any of the selections. I’m a little curious how they determined who was going to be the chairman (Arkansas AD Jeff Long), but I don’t really have any objection to that selection either. The most interesting choice in my view, wasn’t Condoleezza Rice, it was Tom Jernstedt. While I think it’s a good choice because of his extensive experience being involved with the basketball selection committee, which I think will be useful for the first few years of this one, I think it’s interesting that a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame is a member of the first College Football Playoff selection committee. That sounds like a trivia question waiting to happen.

Let’s dive into some of these games!

1. UCF at #8 Louisville (Friday 7pm CST on ESPN): I think this will likely be the last chance this regular season for a team to challenge the Cardinals. It’s certainly possible that Houston could challenge them, but the Cougars likely won’t be undefeated by then, as they have to face BYU, Rutgers, and UCF before they visit Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in Week 12. Part of me hopes they make it through that schedule because I’d love to write about the Cougars’ quarterback who I think has the second-best last name in college football after Clinton-Dix — O’Korn. This week, Teddy Bridgewater’s team faces a one-loss UCF squad that nearly knocked off South Carolina and beat Penn State. The Knights have two players that are fun to watch, in quarterback Blake Bortles and tailback Storm Johnson. Johnson, a former Miami Hurricanes back, was in that stable of backs in the 2010 recruiting class that included Marcus Lattimore and Michael Dyer. I call Bortles the “poor man’s Johnny Manziel” because he’s very creative in the pocket. He doesn’t take off in the rushing game as often as Manziel ( and he’s only averaging a little over a yard per carry), but he’s great at extending plays and making things happen. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so tonight because if the Louisville defense plays as well as it did last week against Rutgers then the Knights will be in big trouble. The Cardinals defense picked off Gary Nova four times (he’d only thrown four all season before that) and held the Scarlet Knights to just 12 yards rushing (one of two teams to hold them to fewer than 185 yards). Bortles will have to take care of the ball and convert on third down this week because they need limit the opportunities Teddy Bridgewater, his stable of running backs, and one of the best receivers in the nation in the red zone (Devante Parker) are able to get. Louisville is third in the nation in third down defense, allowing a first down only 24% of the time. This game will be closer than people think, just as was the case when the Knights faced South Carolina, but I don’t see an upset here. Louisville wins.

2. No. 22 Florida at No. 14 Missouri (11:21am CST ESPN3): I wish this game was on television because I want to see how Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk does against a strong, but overworked, Florida Gators defense. In an SEC battle that will include two backup quarterbacks, I think the Tigers have the advantage in quarterback play. I realize he’s a redshirt freshman and hasn’t even played an entire quarter, but as I wrote earlier this week, this guy is going to be good. The problem is that the Gators pass defense hasn’t allowed 200 yards passing yet this season and that includes games against Miami’s Stephen Morris (boy, was he frustrating to watch last night against UNC!) and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger. It also bears mentioning that the Gators are also very good against the run, having only allowed two teams to rush for more than 100 yards (Arkansas and LSU). Missouri is averaging 239 yards on the ground and I think Maty Mauk is actually a little more mobile than James Franklin so it’s possible that could cause some trouble for the Gators. The biggest problem for the Gators defense is that they’re on the field too much. Their offensive counterparts are only converting a little over 46% of their third downs and are averaging nearly eight penalties per game. Florida also lost their second-leading rusher this week, Matt Jones, for the season with a torn meniscus. Perhaps this will be a chance for freshman Kelvin Taylor (son of Florida alum and longtime NFL star Fred Taylor) to get some carries. He’s going to be good, but there just wasn’t room to give him playing time behind Jones and Mack Brown. The Gators actually have not one, but two, cornerbacks that can line up against Missouri’s star sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. He’s 6’6″ 225 and is a strong route runner, and he’ll have at least 6 inches on both Purifoy and Hargreaves III, but these two are great at positioning and being a ball hawk. In the red zone, though, I don’t know how they’d defend a fade route, or a back-shoulder throw. We’ll have to see how Coach Muschamp compensates for that. If Maty Mauk doesn’t turn the ball over, I think they have a chance to pull off another win. However, I think Florida’s defense wins out and either causes some turnovers or is dominant on third down (maybe both). Gators win a close one.

3. No. 9 UCLA at No. 13 Stanford (2:30pm CST ABC/ESPN2): UCLA is probably the team currently ranked in the top ten that gets the least amount of attention. Part of that is the fact that the west coast teams often play late and part of it is because the only Pac-12 teams that really are talked about are Oregon, USC, and Stanford. The Bruins already have road wins against Nebraska and Utah this season and are about to go through one heck of a stretch in their schedule (including this week at Stanford, at Oregon, Washington, and at USC). Stanford is coming off a loss to the Utes (at Utah) and I’m sure David Shaw has been working very hard this week to try to avoid back-to-back losses. The Cardinal haven’t lost two games in a row since 2009 when Jim Harbaugh’s squad lost at Oregon State and at Arizona. They’ll have to be very strong defensively to beat the Bruins as only four teams in the nation average more yards per game than UCLA (Baylor, Oregon, TAMU, and FSU). They’re averaging 547 yards of offense per game while Stanford is 48th in the nation in total defense allowing nearly 380 yards per game. UCLA’s Brett Hundley can often look like a prototypical pocket passer, but then he takes off running and changes the game. Even though I know he can run, it still often surprises me when he takes off. In that way, he reminds me of Andrew Luck in that he’s great in the pocket, but when he decides to run he has great athleticism. Hundley runs about twice as often as his counterpart, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, but both are threats to run for a first down if it’s necessary. Both teams are in the top 15 in the nation in third down conversions, but I think what will change the game is defending them. The Bruins are second in the nation against third down conversions, only allowing a 24% conversion rate. I’m a big believer in the criticality of being able to convert third downs and being able to defend third downs and UCLA is in the top five in the nation in both categories. Stanford has to be thrilled that this game is at home, but I don’t think it will matter. Third downs will be the difference and I have to give UCLA the edge there. The Bruins win and, hopefully, gain some much-deserved attention for it.

4. Indiana at Michigan (2:30pm CST Big Ten Network): This seems like an odd choice of games to discuss doesn’t it? However, my Buckeyes face these two teams back to back to finish the regular season. Furthermore, I don’t put it past either of them to pull off a possible upset and you’ll see why. The Hoosiers rank 13th nationally in passing yards per game (331 yards per game) while averaging nearly 42 points per game. Coach Kevin Wilson is in his second year and has done a good job of implementing his offense from his days as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma (former winner of the Broyles award as the top assistant in the country). The Hoosiers have been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde team this year in that it’s been difficult to get a good read on just how good they really are. They lost to Navy but beat Penn State by 20, for example. This is only the second road game on the season for the Hoosiers after a loss at Michigan State last week. MSU’s top-ranked defense was one of only two teams this season that was able to stop Indiana from scoring at least 30 points (Missouri). Michigan has the 13th-ranked team in terms of total defense so I’m sure they feel like if they can hold the Hoosiers under 30 points, they have a chance. The Wolverines are coming off a crushing quadruple overtime loss to Penn State last week for their first loss of the season. The Achilles heel for Michigan this year is turnovers, however, because only twice this season have they lost fewer than three turnovers (1 versus Notre Dame and 0 versus Minnesota). Devin Gardner has thrown 10 interceptions (versus 11 touchdowns) and five of them have come on third down. Two of the five interceptions the Hoosiers have on the season have come on third down, so we should probably keep an eye on that. As a Buckeyes fan, I actually need both teams to win this game to help boost my team’s remaining schedule, but a Michigan win would help more because there’s a chance they’re a one-loss team going into the final game of the regular season (although they still play at Michigan State, Nebraska and at Northwestern). However, with the Hoosiers ability to put up yards and points, Michigan’s tendency to turn the ball over, and Michigan’s struggles against weak teams like Akron and Connecticut, I can’t reasonably pick a Wolverines victory here. Indiana wins and pulls the upset!

5. No. 5 Florida State at No. 3 Clemson (7pm CST ABC): This is the game that I’ve looked most forward to this season. It’s a battle of legitimate Heisman candidates (Tajh Boyd and Jameis Winston) at quarterback and for the lead in the ACC Atlantic. I have a feeling that after this game I’ll wish they were in different divisions so that there would be a chance for them to meet again in the ACC Championship. This game should answer a question I’ve had about each team thus far. For Clemson: How will the Clemson defense handle a mobile quarterback? Jameis Winston only has 36 rushing attempts this season (averaging 3.75 yards per rush), but anyone who has watched him play can see he can fly if the need arises — and that need hasn’t arisen very often thus far this season due to the competition faced. For Florida State: How will that defense that is currently ranked 7th nationally in total defense handle a team that averages nearly 82 plays per game when their opposition thus far has averaged a mere 64? I’ve been an advocate of Boyd’s for years and it appears his senior season is working its way to being his best. However, he and the rest of the Tigers need to get past what ESPN’s David Pollack calls “Clemsoning”, which he defines as collapsing in big games. He frequently points out that the it was just two bowl seasons ago that the Tigers lost 70-33 to West Virginia after winning its first ACC Championship in 20 years. I think beating LSU in last year’s bowl season and starting this season off with a win over a healthy Georgia team should have gone towards overcoming that “Clemsoning” stigma, but perhaps it will take passing this test to do that. Florida State has started nearly every season in recent memory with preseason hype because they are perennially stacked with fantastic athletes (and the media’s seeming love affair with quarterback EJ Manuel). If there were no preseason polls (my dream scenario), I don’t think Florida State would be ranked this high. Well, maybe they would be given the media sensation that his phenomenal play has made “Famous” Jameis Winston. Yes, they beat a ranked opponent, but all that did was show that Maryland shouldn’t have been ranked (they lost 63-0) and it almost seemed liked they were moved into the Top 25 for the sole purpose of giving FSU a win against a ranked opponent. They wouldn’t do that though. (Why isn’t there a sarcasm font?) Both of these teams are in the top 20 in both total offense and total defense and only six other teams can make that claim (only FSU and Wisconsin are in the top ten in both categories, however). Clemson is first in the nation defending third down only allowing a first down an amazing 23.71% of the time. Even a healthy Georgia converted just four third downs (in 14 attempts) against the Tigers. If I put that on top of the fact that Clemson is playing at home (in the other Death Valley) where they’ve lost just three times since 2010, then I cannot convince myself to pick the Seminoles. I think “Famous” Jameis will still have a good game, but Clemson will lean on the senior quarterback to come through in the clutch and he’ll respond. Clemson wins a close one!

P.S. I think USC will upset Notre Dame as well.

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