Notre Dame's visit to Florida State on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC) will shape the College Football Playoff picture as much as any game left in the regular season. One will fall from the ranks of the unbeaten, the other will pass its biggest regular-season test to stay that way.
The quarterback matchup of Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and Fighting Irish star Everett Golson, who is enjoying a career resurgence after sitting out all of 2013 for academic misconduct, promises to be a thrilling subplot. But if the Seminoles hope to contain Golson's dual-threat skills, they would be well-advised to play better defense on third down.
Lost in the star power and individual matchups that will make this game a must-see is this: FSU's third-down defense just isn't very good. The Seminoles rank 94th in the NCAA in that category, allowing first downs on 44.2 percent of opponents' third downs. And converting third downs just happens to be a Golson specialty. Notre Dame's offense converts 46.7 percent of its third downs, which ranks 24th in the nation.
Here are eight other things you should know about week eight in college football:
- Add this to the pile of craziness that has become the 2014 college season: Kentucky goes to Baton Rouge, La., Saturday with a quarterback advantage over LSU. Wildcats sophomore Patrick Towles has led UK to a 5-1 mark with 10 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, and Kentucky has impressively replaced Vanderbilt as the upstart program in the SEC East. Meanwhile, LSU is still looking for something -- anything -- from struggling quarterbacks Anthony JenningsandBrandon Harris. The Tigers' season is beginning to go sour, and Towles could expedite the process.
- How cool is Marcus Mariota under pressure? We'll find out Saturday, as the Oregon quarterback's poise and awareness in the pocket will get fire-tested against Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha. Kikaha is the first pass rusher in the country to reach double-digit sacks (10). And when things go bad for Oregon's pass protection, they go really bad. Mariota has been sacked 15 times this season, all in the span of the Ducks' three toughest games: (seven sacks vs. Washington State, five vs. Arizona, three vs. Michigan State).
- It's the Late Show with Taylor Kelly on ESPN. Yep, the Arizona State quarterback returns from a foot injury Saturday tonight (10:30 p.m. ET), and the Sun Devils did well to stay in the Pac-12 hunt without him. At 4-1, Kelly's return comes just in time for ASU to take on Stanford's nails-tough defense, which allows just 10.0 points per game.
- Like touchdowns? Last week, we pointed fans of track-meet offense to the West Virginia-Texas Tech game, and they didn't disappoint in piling up 1,115 yards between them. The Mountaineers are looking at another points bonanza Saturday in hosting Baylor, and its Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Bryce Petty. And other thing about this game ...
- Upset Alert I. The Bears are coming off an emotionally-draining thriller of a win against rival TCU, and now travel 1,300 miles to WVU. Mountaineers quarterback Clint Trickett hasn't thrown for less than 300 yards since Nov. 2 of last year. Look for the home underdogs to bump Baylor into the pool of other one-loss teams who have lost their margin for error where the playoff is concerned.
- Upset Alert II. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema hasn't won an SEC game in the year and a half he's been at the school, but we're predicting a stunner against visiting Georgia. The Bulldogs will be without suspended star running back **Todd Gurley** again. Georgia has the NCAA's 12th-ranked run defense at 101.7 yards per game, but Arkansas' massive offensive line could pave the way for twice that much or more for the Razorbacks. Add to that, no team in the SEC West has lost a game outside the division all year. It might not happen in Little Rock, either.
- Time's up for Tide. Like the other top programs that already have lost a game, Alabama's margin for error is essentially down to zero if it hopes to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. And one of Alabama's biggest concerns -- pass defense -- will get a stiff test from Texas A&M and its fast-scoring passing attack. Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill ranks second in the entire NCAA in passing yards (2,511), but he's also thrown five interceptions in his last two games, both losses. Having already lost twice itself, Texas A&M is more or less in spoiler mode now, with only a whispered prayer of a hope to win the SEC West.
- Call it Separation Saturday in the Big 12. Six of the conference's top teams will square off as Oklahoma State visits TCU, Kansas State visits Oklahoma, and Baylor visits West Virginia. Wins by TCU, Oklahoma, and West Virginia would really make things fun in the Big 12, making for half a dozen one-loss teams logjammed at the top of a league that doesn't have a conference championship game. On the flipside, wins by OSU, Kansas State, and Baylor would create a two-game gap between them and the rest of the conference, essentially making the Big 12 a three-team race.