In Week 8 of the college football season, Penn State and the rest of the Big Ten finally join the party
Five Big Ten teams will begin their seasons in the top 25, led by fifth-ranked Ohio State. No. 18 Michigan and No. 21 Minnesota will meet under the lights in snowy Minneapolis.
It is Week 8 in the college football world, but as far as Penn State and its Big Ten partners are concerned, this is Week 1.
Five teams are ranked in the Top 25 even though they haven’t played anyone yet and they’re all in action, with two squaring off against each other.
Nebraska at No. 5 Ohio State, noon, Fox29
This game brings together two of the loudest voices that objected to the Big Ten’s decision in August not to have a fall season: head coaches Ryan Day of the Buckeyes and Scott Frost of the Cornhuskers. In three of the next four weeks, Nebraska plays Ohio State, No. 14 Wisconsin, and No. 8 Penn State. Coincidence?
The Buckeyes are considered the class of the conference and a playoff contender, and with Justin Fields returning at quarterback, it’s easy to see why. The 2019 Heisman Trophy finalist and former Penn State recruit accounted for 51 touchdowns last season — 41 passing, 10 rushing — and threw just three interceptions.
The defense lost all-world defensive end Chase Young but remains a formidable unit with All-American cornerback Shaun Wade anchoring the secondary. Ohio State outscored opponents in 2019 by 33 points per game.
Adrian Martinez, who had an excellent freshman year but was hampered by a knee injury last season, is back as the Huskers' starting quarterback.
No. 18 Michigan at No. 21 Minnesota, 7:30 p.m., 6ABC
Jim Harbaugh was one of the best quarterbacks in Michigan history. Now in Year 6 as the Wolverines' head coach, he will begin the season for the first time with a starting quarterback he recruited.
That quarterback is 6-foot-5, 243-pound junior Joe Milton, who has “made a lot of great strides,” Harbaugh said. Milton will conduct an offense with four new starting offensive linemen and an inexperienced group of receivers.
Minnesota, which began the year ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 2004, brings back quarterback Tanner Morgan and his favorite receiver, Rashod Bateman, who had opted out but returned.
Temperatures for the game are expected to be in the 20s.
No. 9 Cincinnati at No. 16 Southern Methodist, 9 p.m., ESPN2
Of the teams that have been playing, nine unbeatens remain, and two of them square off in this AAC matchup of offensively prolific SMU and defensively stout Cincinnati.
Senior Shane Buechele has completed 67% of his passes for 1,710 yards and 12 touchdowns for an SMU attack that ranks fourth in FBS total offense at 563.2 yards per game. Freshman Ulysses Bentley IV has rushed for 506 yards and eight touchdowns.
Cincinnati, the highest-ranked Group of 5 team at the moment, has a decent offense (35.7 points scored per game), but its defense has been really good, allowing an average of 12.3 points (sixth in FBS) and 306.7 total yards (12th).
Syracuse at No. 1 Clemson, noon, ACC Network
The Tigers last lost a regular-season game three years ago in Syracuse. After putting up 73 points on Georgia Tech last week, they will seek to extend their ACC winning streak to 27 games against the Orange, a 46-point underdog. If there is any bad news, it’s that quarterback Trevor Lawrence saw his streak of consecutive passes without an interception end at 366 with a first-quarter pick last week.
No. 3 Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, 3:30 p.m., 6ABC
An uninspiring 12-7 win last week over Louisville has fans of the Fighting Irish a little worried. Another concern: Quarterback Ian Book has only three completions of 20 or more yards. Notre Dame is averaging 261 yards on the ground, but the Panthers are No. 1 in FBS in rushing defense, allowing 61.8 yards per game. Pitt will allow about 5,500 spectators into Heinz Field under Pennsylvania’s new COVID-19 guidelines.
No. 17 Iowa State at No. 6 Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m., Fox29
The Big 12 has been rather quiet, with marquee members Oklahoma and Texas languishing at .500, but three teams are undefeated in conference play, including these two. Iowa State can go to 4-0 in the league for the first time with a victory and has a sophomore running back, Breece Hall, who has rushed for 531 yards and eight touchdowns. The Cowboys have allowed just nine points per game, second in the nation.
Expatriate of the Week
Junior Taj Harris, a multitalented offensive player during his days at Palmyra High School, has been a bright spot for Syracuse this season. The 6-foot-2, 164-pound wide receiver is among the ACC leaders with 26 catches for 434 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 16.7 yards per reception.
His numbers in the last two weeks: six catches for 138 yards and a score against Duke, nine catches for 96 yards and a TD against Liberty.