College Football

The Top 25, Week 8: College football games and players to watch, plus a look at the teams rising and falling

Welcome to The Top 25, a weekly rundown of the best of college football.

Each week, The Baltimore Sun will break down the top games, players and teams to watch, from the Power Five to the Group of Five. Here’s what to know for Week 8:


5 games to watch

No. 14 Syracuse at No. 5 Clemson (Saturday, noon, ABC): Since becoming ACC rivals in 2013, the Tigers are 8-1 against the Orange, including four straight wins. But this might be the best Syracuse team of the Dino Babers era, boasting one of the nation’s best running backs in Sean Tucker and a defense that ranks sixth in the country allowing 13.2 points per game. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei and Clemson will have their work cut out for them to stay undefeated.

No. 7 Ole Miss at LSU (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS): The Rebels boast a top-10 ranking and an unblemished record, but the Tigers are the betting favorite. While Ole Miss has been impressive on both sides of the ball under coach Lane Kiffin, LSU is rounding into form under first-year coach Brian Kelly. A road win in Death Valley will go a long way in determining the Rebels’ SEC title potential.


No. 9 UCLA at No. 10 Oregon (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Fox): With USC suffering its first loss last week, the Pac-12 title race is wide open. After being held to three points in a season-opening loss to Georgia, the Ducks have averaged nearly 50 points during their five-game winning streak. The Bruins, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Dorian Thompson-Robinson, have been just as potent, averaging 41.5 points per game. Turnovers will likely decide what’s expected to be a close game.

No. 20 Texas at No. 11 Oklahoma State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC): With a healthy Quinn Ewers at quarterback, the Longhorns have been one of the best teams in the country, ranking sixth in overall efficiency according to ESPN’s SP+. The Cowboys, who rank 12th in SP+, will need to bounce back quickly after a gutting loss to TCU to stay in the Big 12 title race.

No. 17 Kansas State at No. 8 TCU (Saturday, 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1): It’s a meeting between the top two teams in the Big 12 standings, and it might have been two unbeatens were it not for the Wildcats’ head-scratching loss to Tulane earlier this season. It’ll be a fascinating contrast of styles, with quarterback Max Duggan and wide receiver Quentin Johnston leading a high-flying TCU offense against a ground-and-pound Kansas State attack led by quarterback Adrian Martinez.

Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt carries the ball during a game against South Florida on Saturday in Tampa, Florida.

5 players to watch

Tulane QB Michael Pratt (vs. Memphis): The junior is a big reason why the Green Wave are ranked for the first time since 1998, averaging 9.5 yards per attempt — tied for the sixth-best mark in the country — while throwing 11 touchdown passes to just three interceptions.

Old Dominion RB Blake Watson (vs. Georgia Southern): The junior ranks 16th nationally with 102.8 yards per game and is coming off a huge performance in a 49-21 upset win over Coastal Carolina in which he rushed for a school-record 256 yards and three touchdowns on just 18 carries.

Mississippi State WR Caleb Ducking (at No. 6 Alabama): After Jalin Hyatt caught five touchdown passes in Tennessee’s 52-49 upset win over Alabama, maybe Ducking can take advantage of a disjointed Crimson Tide secondary. The 6-foot-5 senior already has seven touchdown catches this year, tied for sixth nationally, and leads the team with 33 receptions.

Texas Tech OLB Tyree Wilson (vs. West Virginia): The 6-6, 275-pound edge rusher leads the country with 31 quarterback pressures this season, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s also recorded nine tackles for loss and six sacks.

Cincinnati LB Ivan Pace Jr. (at SMU): The 6-foot, 235-pound senior has been incredibly productive for an off-ball linebacker, recording 63 tackles, six sacks and a nation-leading 13 1/2 tackles for loss. He’s also tied with Wilson for the most quarterback pressures with 31.

Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid runs up field during a game against Southern California on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

5 midseason AP All-Americans you might not know

Utah TE Dalton Kincaid: The 6-4 senior had an absurd 16 catches for 234 yards and a touchdown in a 43-42 upset win over USC last week. It was the second-most receiving yards in school history and nearly eclipsed his total in the first five games (324).

Illinois DL Jer’Zhan Newton: The 6-2, 295-pound sophomore has been dominant, recording four sacks and eight tackles for loss while grading as the No. 3 interior defensive lineman in the country, according to PFF.

Nevada S Bentlee Sanders: The sixth-year senior is tied for the national lead with five interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and has forced two fumbles.

Washington State LB Daiyan Henley: The 6-2, 232-pound redshirt senior ranks 10th nationally in tackles (68) and fourth in tackles for loss (11) while adding four sacks and two forced fumbles.

Mississippi State CB Emmanuel Forbes: The 6-foot, 180-pound junior is tied with Sanders and Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III for the national lead with five interceptions while ranking third in passes defended (11).

UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee fakes the pass and runs in for a touchdown during a win over Temple on Oct. 13.

5 teams rising

UCF (5-1): After a surprising loss to Louisville in Week 2, the Knights have won four straight by an average margin of 30.5 points, including a 70-13 win over Temple last week.


South Alabama (5-1): The Jaguars’ only loss is a near upset against UCLA that featured one of the worst fake field-goal attempts you’ll ever see. They’ve climbed all the way to No. 50 in SP+ after finishing last season at No. 99.

No. 18 Illinois (6-1): Led by a defense that ranks first nationally in points (8.9 per game) and yards allowed (221.1 per game), the Fighting Illini have put themselves in position to not only finish with their best record since the 2007 Rose Bowl season but contend for a Big Ten West title.

Oregon State (5-2): After back-to-back losses to USC and Utah, the Beavers bounced back to beat Stanford and Washington State. If they can get to eight wins, it’ll be their best finish since 2012.

Cincinnati (5-1): After a season-opening loss to Arkansas, the Bearcats have won five straight to remain in contention to win their third straight American Athletic Conference title. The defense has been the driving force, ranking 15th in efficiency.

BYU wide receiver Chase Robberts (27) drops a pass while defended by Arkansas' Dwight McGlothern (3) during a game in Provo, Utah, on Saturday,

5 teams falling

BYU (4-3): After an upset win over Baylor led to dreams of the College Football Playoff, the wheels have fallen off. The Cougars have lost two straight and three of their last five and have slipped all the way to 70th in overall efficiency.

NC State (5-2): A season that started with such promise has quickly fallen apart after losses to Clemson and Syracuse. Now star quarterback Devin Leary is out for the season with a torn pectoral, leaving Charleston Southern graduate transfer Jack Chambers to keep hope alive.


Notre Dame (3-3): Just when it seemed as if the Irish were turning the corner under first-year coach Marcus Freeman, they lost 16-14 to Stanford, which entered riding a four-game losing streak. Bowl eligibility is not guaranteed with three ranked teams still left on the schedule.

Indiana (3-4): The Hoosiers had a chance to capitalize on an injury to Maryland starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, but they couldn’t stop backup Billy Edwards Jr. and lost their fourth straight. To add insult to injury, Indiana became the first Division I football program to reach 700 losses.

Coastal Carolina (6-1): The Chanticleers were one of the last remaining unbeaten teams before their 49-21 loss to Old Dominion last week, but there were signs of instability during that hot start. They now rank 61st in SP+ thanks to a defense that has been among the nation’s worst.