At first glance, the offerings on the Week 8 menu in college football don’t appear all that appetizing compared to some future dates on the calendar. Many of the sport’s current top teams are either facing overmatched opponents or have the week off.
Of course, this is college football, and as we know this is the kind of week that can produce some unexpected results. And, even in what is seemingly an uneventful week, there are always going to be some games worth watching.
There is one contest matching top-25 teams, but we can’t bring ourselves to put that at the top of the list. Instead, we’ll start with a couple of fringe top-10 squads facing tricky conference road games.
No. 9 Oklahoma State at Iowa State
3:30 p.m. ET, Fox
Why watch: Somehow, the Cowboys continue to find ways to win. But before we can talk about a possibly epic Bedlam showdown with Oklahoma next month, they must first deal with this visit to Ames, where the Cyclones might still be a factor in the Big 12 picture having only lost once thus far in league play. Both teams feature balanced offenses with a lot of experienced hands. Fans of the Texas Longhorns have been quick to point out their own team’s complicity in aiding Oklahoma State’s Houdini act last week in Austin, but Cowboys QB Spencer Sanders and RB Jaylen Warren also did their part. The Cyclones, meanwhile, have been more effective of late themselves with improved play from QB Brock Purdy giving standout RB Breece Hall room to operate.
Why it could disappoint: Iowa State is putting up 33.7 points a game, but that figure is inflated by blowouts of lowly Kansas and winless UNLV. The Cowboys’ defense is holding opponents to 19.5 points and allowing a third-down conversion rate of just 28.7%. Oklahoma State’s offense can bog down at times as well, so there could be a lot of punting.
No. 10 Oregon at UCLA
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Why watch: The Ducks have been living dangerously since their signature win at Ohio State over a month ago. So far, they’ve only been tagged once in Pac-12 play and still control their own destiny in the North. The Bruins will need help to win the South but must start by helping themselves in this home opportunity. The injury bug has not been kind to Oregon, but QB Anthony Brown and RB Travis Dye have kept things moving. UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson has needed to do a lot of heavy lifting of late with defenses focusing on the Bruins’ running game, but the Ducks’ ground-stoppers have looked equally shaky at times. That could be good news for Bruins RB Zach Charbonnet.
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Why it could disappoint: It’s unlikely either team will make it a rout. Oregon hasn’t exactly run away from anyone – even the Arizona game was closer than it should have been in the fourth quarter. But if the Ducks do grab a multi-score lead, the Bruins could struggle to catch up.
No. 24 Clemson at No. 23 Pittsburgh
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Why watch: The week’s lone top-25 clash is in the beleaguered ACC, which has seen its national stock tumble but should at least feature interesting second-half races in both divisions. The Panthers, in the Coastal driver’s seat for now, look to maintain their unblemished conference record. The Tigers, who have ruled the roost for the past six seasons, are in the unusual position of being merely average at best and will need help just to win the Atlantic. This game does feature a QB who is part of the Heisman conversation, but he doesn’t play for Clemson. The Panthers’ Kenny Pickett has already thrown for 1,934 yards with 21 TDs and just one pick. Despite Clemson’s struggles getting QB D.J. Uiagalelei and the offense going, the Tigers’ defense has been rock-solid, surrendering just 12.5 points a game.
Why it could disappoint: Let’s be honest – Clemson games in 2021 have made for painful viewing, even for the most devoted Tigers fans. If Pickett is held in check, another lengthy slog could ensue.
LSU at No. 12 Mississippi
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Why watch: Yes, we know the mid-afternoon window is crowded already, but this SEC tilt might also be worth a look. The Rebels will be glad to be back in Oxford after surviving last week’s wild night in Tennessee that ended with fans behaving badly. Ole Miss is still on track for a major bowl but must take care of business against the enigmatic Tigers, who are trying to get to bowl eligibility as they finish out what has now become coach Ed Orgeron’s farewell tour. The Tigers were finally able to get RB Tyrion Davis-Price rolling in last week’s upset of Florida, and they’ll need to maintain that momentum against the banged-up Rebels’ defense. The LSU secondary has been hit even harder by injuries, however, which doesn’t bode well with Mississippi averaging 553 total yards a game, second only to Ohio State nationally.
Why it could disappoint: Ole Miss QB Matt Corral took a pounding in Knoxville and might not be at full strength. If he is unable to play at all, it would diminish the game’s star power considerably.
No. 21 San Diego State at Air Force
7 p.m. ET, CBSSN
Why watch: You’ll probably be drawn more to the name-brand power of USC-Notre Dame in the prime-time window, but we humbly suggest giving this important Mountain West showdown a look. Cincinnati of course leads the way among major bowl contenders from group-of-five conferences, but the MWC also boasts an unbeaten candidate. Granted, the Aztecs have been more than a little fortunate to get to 6-0, and they’ll likely face another close contest in this trip to Colorado Springs, where the Falcons have somewhat quietly climbed into contention in the Mountain Division. Both teams rely heavily on running the ball, though in SDSU’s case, that is due to a lack of big plays through the air. The Falcons’ option-based attack leads the nation in rushing at 336 yards a game, and they’re flying high after winning at Boise State for just the second time in program history.
Why it could disappoint: The Aztecs are allowing just 16 points a game, good for ninth in the nation. The Falcons, allowing 16.3, aren’t far behind in 11th. As such, there aren’t likely to be many explosive plays either way, so the game might not be your cup of tea. It won’t lack for intensity, though, so you might want to be there for the end.
Follow Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football games to watch: Iowa State a threat to No. 9 Cowboys