|This story originally published on CollegeFootballNews.com|
Week 8 ... and Who's Not?
You have to go all the way back to the opener in Tucson to find a Rockets loss. Since falling to Arizona in overtime, Toledo has reeled off seven consecutive wins, including another of the landmark variety for the MAC on Saturday night. Facing unbeaten Cincinnati in an in-state showdown, the Rockets overcame a rare off night from the offense by getting a touchdown each from the defense and the special teams unit in a 29-23 win in front of the home crowd at the Glass Bowl.
By the modest standards of the Blue Devils, Saturday was a perfect evening for the football program. For the first time since 1994, Duke is finally bowl eligible, reaching the Promised Land on a Sean Renfree to Jamison Crowder touchdown pass with just 13 seconds left on the clock. Oh, and the victim? Yeah, that was rival North Carolina, which had won the last eight games in the series. David Cutcliffe, who deserves a lifetime contract for what he’s done this year, actually has the Devils in contention for the wide-open ACC Coastal with a 3-1 mark.
8. ’Bama’s Rookie Skill Players
QB AJ McCarron has been operating like a strong Heisman contender all season long. He’s starting to get plenty of help from a young supporting cast that’ll form the building block of the future in Tuscaloosa. True freshman RB T.Y. Yeldon has three 100-yard games in his debut, two in the last two games. He’s averaging almost seven yards a carry, providing a perfect complement to the bruising Eddie Lacy. Rookie WR Amari Cooper has given the Tide an unexpected weapon on the outside. The 6-1, 198-pounder leads the team in catches after schooling Tennessee for seven grabs for 162 yards and two scores on Saturday night.
Okay, so maybe this is not a vintage Badgers team … or maybe it is after all. Wisconsin has quietly rallied from a slow start to win three straight by at least 17 points. The ground game is churning out yards behind backs Montee Ball and James White, and the Mike Taylor-led defense has stabilized from a rough patch at the end of September. Despite being written off by many, the Badgers are now 6-2 and on the verge of waltzing into the Big Ten title game. Oh, and about those two losses—they came on the road and by six points combined to pretty good teams from Oregon State and Nebraska.
6. Hoke at Home
Almost two years into his tenure at Michigan, head coach Brady Hoke has yet to lose a game at the Big House. He moved to 12-0 in Ann Arbor on Saturday following one of his most emotional wins with the program. Using four field goals, the final one by Brendan Gibbons with just seconds left on the clock, the Wolverines snapped a painful four-game losing streak to Michigan State to give the seniors a poignant first victory over their arch-rival. With Hoke at the helm, the maize and blue has reestablished its dominance at home, something his predecessor did not do.
5. Oregon RB Kenjon Barner
On a Thursday night when all of the stars were out, Barner shone the brightest in the Ducks’ pivotal 43-21 rout of Arizona State in Tempe. He was only needed for 16 carries, yet wound up turning them into 143 yards and three touchdowns as Oregon made a compelling case for being the nation’s No. 2 team. With three straight 100-yard efforts—all in Pac-12 games—Barner has begun to explode outside of the shadow of teammate De’Anthony Thomas in the eyes of Heisman voters.
4. Texas Tech QB Seth Doege
Doege has played the past two weekends as if he’s taken over the body of Geno Smith, who has been on an almost polar opposite decline. The Red Raider senior has thrown 13 touchdown passes and just a single pick over the last two games, guiding his team to crucial wins over West Virginia and TCU. By carving up a pretty thorny Horned Frogs defense on Saturday afternoon, Doege has now thrown at least five touchdown passes on four separate occasions. Up next is a trip to Manhattan and a chance to steal some of Collin Klein’s Heisman juice.
3. Penn State
This is turning into the kind of season in Happy Valley that results in a movie or a documentary. Head coach Bill O’Brien has done a staggering job under unprecedented circumstances, guiding a depleted Penn State team to five consecutive wins. The Nittany Lions are now 3-0 in Big Ten games, having torched Illinois, rallied to beat Northwestern in the final quarter and crushed Iowa at Kinnick Stadium this past Saturday night. Mike Mauti and the rest of the defense have been fantastic, and blue-collar QB Matt McGloin just continues to get the job done. Whatever doubts there were about O’Brien being the right man to guide Penn State through rough waters have long been dissipated in Pennsylvania.
2. The LSU D
The Tigers are back in the thick of the SEC and BCS National Championship Game discussion. And John Chavis’ defense deserves most of the credit. LSU has not played a bad defensive game all season, giving up just 14 points a week. In typical Bayou fashion, the program is extremely fast and physical at the point of attack, and is loaded with ball-hawks at the last line of defense. Although the Tigers had their string of seven straight games holding opponents under 300 yards broken, they were no less suffocating at Texas A&M. The Johnny Manziel-led Aggies began the weekend averaging 47 points a game, but ended it with a better understanding why their new league is the toughest in the country for opposing offenses to navigate.
1. Kansas State
And not just QB Collin Klein, which is making Bill Snyder’s program such a dominant force as the season heads into the final turn. After completely pulling back the curtain on West Virginia, 55-14, in Morgantown, the Wildcats can now boast road victories over Oklahoma, Iowa State and the Mountaineers in their last four games. Sure, Klein is the undisputed leader, but how about the play of a defense that now ranks 14th nationally in points allowed? K-State was the first team to pick off Geno Smith—twice—in 2012, and held him to just 143 yards through the air. The Cats are in the national championship discussion, and don’t appear to be going away.
Week 8 ... and Who's Not?