College News & Analysis

College Football Week 8 Preview: Storylines, matchups and predictions for the biggest games

Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange running back Sean Tucker (34) runs for a touchdown against the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the fourth quarter at JMA Wireless Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

• Previewing the biggest Week 8 games in college football: SyracuseClemson, UCLAOregon, TexasOklahoma State, Mississippi StateAlabama and Kansas StateTCU.

• UCLA puts its undefeated record on the line: The No. 9 Bruins face their toughest test yet in No. 10 Oregon.

• Texas needs to prove its legitimacy: The Longhorns look for their first win over a ranked opponent as they take on No. 20 Oklahoma State.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 mins

This college football season is the gift that keeps on giving.

Last week lived up to the hype, with three games between top-20 opponents being decided on the final play. This week, there are five games between ranked opponents. Before this season, five ranked games were the most in a regular season week for five years. Now, we’ve had three such slates in the past four weeks.

Here are the storylines to know, matchups to watch and predictions for those five ranked games.

No. 14 Syracuse Orange at No. 5 Clemson Tigers

How to watch: 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC

Storyline to know: Battle between the ACC’s final unbeatens

Only two undefeated teams remain in the ACC. Clemson is not a surprise, as the Tigers were ranked fourth to start the season.

Syracuse is shocking, though. Most didn’t expect the Orange to win enough games to make a bowl game, and they’ve already clinched that with half of the season remaining. It’s the first time in 35 years that Syracuse started a season 6-0. If the Orange somehow extend that to 7-0, they should crack the top 10 for the first time since 1996. 

Matchup to watch: Syracuse’s run game vs. Clemson’s run defense

The Orange have run the ball on 55.9% of their plays, the 14th highest-rate in the Power Five. Leading that rushing attack is running back Sean Tucker and quarterback Garrett Shrader. Tucker’s 646 rushing yards are the 13th-most among Power Five running backs, while Shrader has 26 rushing first downs this season, tied for the fourth-most among Power Five quarterbacks.

Meanwhile, Clemson's average depth of tackle on run plays is just 3.38 yards downfield, the sixth-lowest figure in the Power Five. Keith Maguire, in particular, has an 87.1 run-defense grade, sixth-best among Power Five linebackers this season. 

If Syracuse is going to upset Clemson, it’ll need Tucker to be very pleased with his performance. 

Prediction: Clemson 31, Syracuse 17

Tucker might be pleased with his performance, but not with the outcome. After a magical start to the season, the Orange come crashing down to earth against the Tigers.

No. 9 UCLA Bruins at No. 10 Oregon Ducks

How to watch: 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX

Storyline to know: UCLA tries to remain perfect, while Oregon looks to continue its comeback

Syracuse isn’t the only school with a surprising 6-0 record. After starting the season unranked, UCLA now sits at No. 9 after its undefeated start. It’s the first time in 17 years that the Bruins began a season with six wins.

Unlike UCLA, Oregon entered the season with a lot of hype as the No. 11 team in the preseason AP poll. That hype quickly ceased following a 49-3 season-opening curb-stomping courtesy of now-top-ranked Georgia. The Ducks have rebounded nicely since then with five straight wins by an average of 25 points a game. Oregon now ranks 10th, which is even better than its preseason ranking.

Matchup to watch: Oregon’s offensive line vs. UCLA’s pass rush

Oregon's 89.2 team pass-blocking grade is the highest in the Power Five and the line has also allowed just an 11.3% pressure rate this year which is the lowest mark in the country. 

UCLA currently has the highest pass-rushing grade in the Pac-12 (79.9), mainly due to North Texas transfer Grayson Murphy. His 31% pass-rush win rate and 20.4% pressure rate are the best and fourth-best marks in the country, respectively, among edge defenders.

If UCLA can consistently pressure Oregon quarterback Bo Nix, it has a good chance of continuing its perfect season.

Prediction: Oregon 37, UCLA 31

Oregon outlasts UCLA in what should be a shootout, re-establishing itself as a College Football Playoff dark horse.

No. 20 Texas Longhorns at No. 11 Oklahoma State Cowboys

How to watch: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC

Storyline to know: Is Texas *really* back?

Falsely declaring Texas as “back” has been a timeless tradition in college football. The thing is, the Longhorns might actually be back this season.

Texas currently ranks eighth in PFF’s power rankings, higher than any other Big 12 school. The Longhorns' only losses came to then-top-ranked Alabama and Texas Tech by a combined four points. Star quarterback Quinn Ewers played a combined one quarter in those losses, so an argument can be made that the Longhorns would be undefeated if he never got hurt.

Beating No. 11 Oklahoma State would go a long way in showing that Texas is a legitimate contender to win the Big 12.

Matchup to watch: Texas run game vs. Oklahoma State’s run defense

Texas' Bijan Robinson has unsurprisingly been one of the best running backs in the country this season. His 56 forced missed tackles top the college football leaderboard. Since PFF began charting college football in 2014, only Javonte Williams has been as efficient of a tackle-breaker as Robinson.

Most career forced missed tackles per attempt in PFF College era (since 2014, min. 250 attempts)
Name School Missed Tackles Forced/Att.
Bijan Robinson Texas 0.39
Javonte Williams North Carolina 0.39
DeWayne McBride UAB 0.35

Amazingly, backup running back Roschon Johnson has been even more efficient this season. His 0.53 missed tackles forced per attempt ranks second among Power Five running backs. That two-headed backfield is a load for opposing defenses to bring down.

That duo faces a tough test in Oklahoma State, which has made 52 tackles for loss or no gain this season, the second-most among Power Five teams. However, their 18% missed tackle rate on runs doesn’t bode well against two bulldozing backs in Robinson and Johnson.

Prediction: Texas 33, Oklahoma State 28

Texas secures its first win over a top-25 opponent this season and sets its sights on its first Big 12 title since 2009.

No. 24 Mississippi State Bulldogs at No. 6 Alabama Crimson Tide

How to watch: 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN

Storyline to know: How will Alabama respond to adversity?

Alabama is coming off a soul-crushing 52-49 loss to Tennessee, a game in which the Volunteers drove 45 yards in 15 seconds to kick the game-winning field goal with no time left. 

If the Crimson Tide want to keep their playoff hopes alive, they must move on quickly, as another ranked opponent awaits in No. 24 Mississippi State.

Matchup to watch: Mississippi State’s passing game vs. Alabama’s defense

Alabama’s usually elite defense was exposed by Tennessee’s aerial attack. The Crimson Tide allowed 0.351 expected points added per pass, by far their worst mark of the season.

Alabama’s Pass Defense | 2022
Week Team defense grade on pass plays (P5 Rank) EPA/pass allowed (P5 Rank)
First six games 89.1 (7th/65) -0.268 (6th/65)
Week 7 vs. Tennessee 47.0 (47th/47) 0.351 (36th/47)

No team in the country relies more on its passing game than the Bulldogs. Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense throws the ball 67.4% of the time, the highest mark in the country. Mississippi State will need to have similar success against Tennessee if it’s going to pull off the upset. 

Prediction: Alabama 40, Mississippi State 20

The Crimson Tide enter this game with something to prove, which doesn’t bode well for the Bulldogs. 

No. 17 Kansas State Wildcats at No. 8 TCU Horned Frogs

How to watch: 8:00 p.m. ET on FS1

Storyline to know: Can TCU keep the magic alive?

Three schools started the season unranked but are now in the top 10: Tennessee, UCLA and TCU. After taking down then-No. 8 Oklahoma State in double overtime, the Horned Frogs are the final undefeated team remaining in the Big 12. 

TCU will face its fourth top-25 opponent in a row this week in No. 17 Kansas State. If the Horned Frogs win, they’ll join Tennessee as the only teams to beat four ranked opponents.

Matchup to watch: TCU’s passing game vs. Kansas State’s pass-defense

TCU’s Quentin Johnston is the hottest wide receiver in the country. Over the past two weeks, the projected first-rounder has a 91.9 grade, 22 catches and 386 yards, all of which are top marks at the position. 

Kansas State’s coverage unit, meanwhile, has been stingy all season. The Wildcats have allowed -0.178 expected points added per pass this season, eighth-lowest among Power Five schools. Their 89.4 coverage grade is tied for 12th in the Power Five, as well.

Kansas State will need to slow down the red-hot Johnston to pull out the victory.

Prediction: TCU 30, Kansas State 27

TCU takes a close win and starts 7-0 for the first time in five years. 

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