Week 8 of the college football season represented a return to normalcy.
Following two straight Saturdays defined by standings-shaking upsets, last week saw just two members of the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 go down.
Then 11th-ranked USC (6-2) was thumped 49-14 by then 13th-ranked Notre Dame (6-1), and then 19th-ranked Michigan (5-2) was drubbed 42-13 by second-ranked Penn State (7-0).
Other than that, the nation’s upper echelon showed exactly what elite means, with most AP-ranked teams easily handling the competition.
We’re now entering the home stretch of the regular season, as most teams are left with just four or five games to work with if they hope to make a College Football Playoff push.
The top-ranked team in the land is, as it’s been all year, Alabama (8-0) – but the Crimson Tide can breathe easy with a bye this week.
The Nittany Lions just rolled over a would-be stumbling block in the Wolverines, but Penn State faces its toughest test of the year this week against sixth-ranked Ohio State (6-1).
Since losing to then fifth-ranked Oklahoma (6-1) in Week 2, the Buckeyes have reeled off five straight wins – scoring over 54 points and allowing fewer than 14 points on four occasions. But blowing out the likes of UNLV (2-5) and Rutgers (3-4) is one thing, and Penn State’s NFL-caliber tandem of running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorely are a different story altogether.
Averaging an impressive 40.0 points per game, while surrendering a paltry 9.6 points per game to lead the nation in scoring defense, Penn State is simply dominating the competition in all phases of the game.
They’ll have to hit the road, however, and the “Shoe” is always among the toughest stadiums for the away team to handle. Accordingly, online sportsbook Bovada gives the edge to Ohio State here as 6-point home favorites.
Third-ranked Georgia (7-0) looks like the odds-on favorite to take the SEC East title, which would send them through to a conference championship game against Alabama. But to get there, the Bulldogs must first take care of unranked Florida (3-3) in what would normally be a highly anticipated matchup of Playoff contenders.
But the Gators have been swamped by a combination of Hurricane Irma postponements and mass suspensions, so even as the home team here, they’ll be big 14.5-point underdogs.
For fourth-ranked TCU (7-0), ranked teams haven’t posed a problem thus far, as the Horned Frogs are 2-0 against the big boys on the block. They’ll get a chance to extend that record this week when they travel to meet 25th-ranked Iowa State (5-2).
The Cyclones’ season took a turn for the better when they downed then third-ranked Oklahoma as massive underdogs three weeks ago. Since then, a pair of dominant wins has swept Iowa State into the AP Top 25 for the first time all year.
It’ll be a short stay if they can’t hang with the Horned Frogs though, as TCU’s typically high-octane offense is putting up a gaudy 41.6 points per game (9th in the nation). Iowa State has only surrendered 13 points combined in its last two victories, so they may just have what it takes.
With home field on their side, Bovada seems to agree, installing the Cyclones as slim 6.5-point underdogs despite taking on a Top-5 team.
In another matchup involving two Top-25 squads, ninth-ranked Notre Dame (6-1) hosts 14th-ranked North Carolina State (6-1) with a chance to keep an impressive streak alive.
The Fighting Irish have won five consecutive games by at least 20 points, including last week’s 35-point dismantling of the rival Trojans. The Wolfpack is on a winning jag of its own, with six straight victories to its credit, but the margins have been much closer by comparison.
With the game played in South Bend, the Fighting Irish are 7.5-point favorites in this one.