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College Football Week 8 Preview – Will J.T. Barrett Spark Another Buckeye Title Run?

Virginia Tech v Ohio State
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

It’s a fairly quiet week as we enter the stretch run, with just one game between ranked teams. But there are still plenty of interesting questions to be answered this Saturday.

Will J.T. Barrett Jump-Start Ohio State?

It’s possible that Ohio State might be the most underappreciated defending champion in history. I mean the Buckeyes have gone 21–1 the last two seasons and all the talk is about how they’re not winning by enough.

Well, coach Urban Meyer has apparently heard the talk and agrees, announcing that J.T. Barrett would be re-taking the reins as Ohio State’s starting quarterback. Cardale Jones hasn’t been terrible (1,242 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions this season) but he certainly hasn’t been playing at the level that made him the hero of last year’s playoffs. With Jones as the starter, the Buckeyes are averaging 458 yards and 37 points per game. Certainly, most teams would love to have numbers like that, but they are significantly down from last year’s Ohio State performance (512 yards and 44.8 points). With Rutgers and a bye week coming up, this looks to be a good spot to shake things up.

Barrett led the Buckeyes to an 11–1 mark last year before being sidelined with a broken ankle. While he doesn’t have the cannon-strength arm of Jones, he is accurate (64.7 completion percentage and 34 touchdowns to 10 interceptions last year) and adds a quarterback run game element (938 rushing yards last year) that should make the offense more dynamic. Combined with running back Ezekiel Elliott, who this week will attempt to become the first Big 10 player since 2008 to rush for 100-plus yards in 13 straight games, having Barrett under center could be the spark the Buckeyes need to get back to championship caliber play.

Ohio State Spring Game
Related note: How much must other coaches hate Urban Meyer for stockpiling this kind of talent? (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Will Ole Miss or Texas A&M Rebound?

After starting the season with such lofty expectations, this has been a rough season for the SEC West. In this week’s only game between ranked teams, No. 15 Texas A&M and No. 24 Ole Miss come in off of demoralizing losses. The Aggies were blown out by Alabama while the Rebels suffered a non-conference loss to Memphis. Both teams desperately need a win to right the ship and keep their SEC title hopes alive.

Playing their first true road game of the season, the Aggies are seeking their first ever 3–1 start in the SEC. But quarterback Kyle Allen will need to rebuild some confidence after having three interceptions returned for touchdowns in last week’s loss to Alabama. Coach Kevin Sumlin already has more road wins over ranked opponents (five) than any other coach in school history.

The Rebels, meanwhile, boast the SEC’s top passing game and should be helped on the ground by the return of All-American left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who was suspended by the NCAA for seven games for receiving improper benefits. The defense, however, will be shorthanded with All-American tackle Robert Nkemdiche and safety Trae Elston out with concussions.

Going into last weekend, A&M and Ole Miss were the SEC’s two highest scoring offenses and will look to post some big numbers. With both teams already saddled with one conference loss, expect them to be geared up for a contest that will likely knock the loser out of SEC West contention.

Is This the Year of the Running Back?

Despite his first game of the season being cancelled due to weather, LSU running back Leonard Fournette is the talk of college football. Through six games, the sophomore leads the nation in rushing yards (1,202), yards per game (200.3) and touchdowns (14). He is easily the Heisman frontrunner at this stage of the season, and probably deservedly so.

But he is far from the only running back making waves this season. Although Everett Golson has been solid at quarterback for Florida State, it’s safe to say the Seminoles would probably not be undefeated without the play of Dalvin Cook, who is second in the nation in both yards per game (159.2) and yards per carry (among players with at least 50 carries; 8.68). Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott has rushed for 12 straight 100-yard games and is third nationally in rushing yards. Heck, Fournette even has competition in his own conference from the likes of Georgia’s Nick Chubb (8.1 yards per carry) and Derrick Henry of Alabama (seventh nationally in rushing, fourth in touchdowns).

Quarterbacks have taken home the Heisman eight of the last nine years, but Fournette and company look to put a dent in that streak this year.

Can Tennessee Shock Alabama?

Yes, the Crimson Tide has won eight in a row against Tennessee and is a 15-point favorite in this one. But the Vols have had close losses to Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas before scoring a big upset of Georgia. They’re coming off of a bye week that gave them additional time to prepare and get healthy.

Alabama, meanwhile, is playing like the dominant Crimson Tide units we’ve come to expect under Nick Saban, outscoring its opponents 140-47 in four games since the loss to Ole Miss. To be sure, Alabama is the more talented team here and should win handily. But with the Tide coming off a big road win over then–No. 9 Texas A&M and looking ahead to their next game against No. 5 LSU, this has all the makings of a classic trap game.

Which Northwestern Will Show Up?

After posting two shutouts and an upset of No. 10 Stanford during a 5–0 start, Northwestern was arguably the biggest surprise in college football early in the season. But since that hot opening stretch, the Wildcats have gone in the tank, dropping two in a row by a combined score of 78-10.

So which team will show up when Northwestern visits Nebraska this weekend? Nebraska is only 3–4, but those four losses have been by a combined 11 points and the Cornhuskers are coming in with a boost of confidence after their strongest showing of the season in last week’s win at Minnesota. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson has completed just 53.7 percent of his passes this year, but will need to capitalize against a Nebraska squad that ranks last in the nation in pass defense (341.7 yards per game) if the Wildcats want a happier ending than the last time they went to Lincoln

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