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Week 8 College Football Viewing Guide: The Epic Upon the Grandiose

We have arrived, and now we must set out again

Football is entertainment. Expensive, gory, high-stakes entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless, and as such, proper stagecraft is essential. This is particularly true in flights of games like Week 8, where spotlight matchups are few and spaced evenly throughout the day: Like any act of theater, football can exist without fripperies, but where’s the fun in that? The trappings matter, and this Saturday, the ACC provides them by the spangled wagonload.

On Your Marquee

All times Eastern.

No. 5 Florida State at no. 3 Clemson. The whole college footballing world will be watching, and not just because the other 8 p.m. kickoff options are no. 25 Wisconsin at Illinois, Nevada at Boise State, and Rice at New Mexico State. What we said, up there, about trappings? How’s this for a setup: Two top-five teams that are not only conference mates but division rivals, one a preseason favorite and one a pleasant surprise, both undefeated at the season’s midpoint. ACC Atlantic stakes. Conference championship stakes. National title stakes. Sentimental anniversaries. A home winning streak for Clemson in the series that stretches back more than a decade. An acoustically belligerent stadium with a cinematic entrance, made under a dark sky and blinding lights. Names in lights! Tajh! Jameis! Sammy! Dabo! Jimbo!1

Aside from our perpetual wish to see a sideline mascot fight that spills onto the field during live play — and who better to perpetrate such an act than the entirely too-alert Clemson Tiger? — this week presents us with one of those infrequent matchups that seems to want for nothing.

Nothing, perhaps, except maybe a smidge more love for Tajh Boyd? New ACC plaything Jameis Winston has performed with otherworldly poise for a kid making his first collegiate starts, but somewhere along the way Winston’s novelty and very real talent have overshadowed an older guy we once saw personally account for eight touchdowns in a single game. Boyd’s enemy coach is actually the one who gave the best explanation for this phenomenon, in a post-practice press appearance earlier this week:

“His consistency,” Jimbo Fisher said of Boyd. “That’s the thing we all get bored with. That’s what you don’t want to write about. You want to write about something spectacular. Great players are consistent in how they perform — his decision-making, his athleticism, his arm, all those are great attributes, but what makes a great player is he does it every week. He’s consistent in his performances. To me, that’s key to any great player, is consistency and performance over any long period of time, and he’s definitely done that.”

Saturday night, the battle for attention will manifest into shared physical space. Winston himself pointed out earlier this week, quite sensibly, that he and Boyd aren’t competing against one another, not really: “It’s probably going to be a quarterback battle, but I’m pretty sure he’s not thinking about competing against me, he’s thinking about competing against Telvin [Smith] and those guys just like I’m thinking about competing against Clemson’s defense.” But dueling Heisman hopes rest on Winston’s and Boyd’s performances, and neither player is without obstacles. Winston, who is very young, very productive, and doesn’t rattle easily, is still entering the most hostile environment of his football career. Boyd, despite having the luxury of throwing to Sammy Watkins, Adam Humphries, and Martavis Bryant, must circumvent a talented Noles pass defense. A well-played contest on both sides could still land even the losers in a BCS bowl, but who wants to take that chance? (Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC)

No. 9 UCLA at no. 13 Stanford. It’s unfair to treat Week 8′s Pac-12 headliner as a majestic prelude to UCLA-Oregon in Week 9, but then again, Oregon didn’t spend Week 7 getting pantsed in Salt Lake City. The Cardinal did, snapping their 13-game winning streak2 and abetting the second half of a Goofus-and-Gallant turn for Utes quarterback Travis Wilson, who had thrown six interceptions against UCLA in a 34-27 Week 6 loss only to be hoisted up and carried off in victory a week later by Utah’s legendary student section.

The Cardinal did not care for Wilson and pals; safe to say they will not be overfond of Brett Hundley. Or Devin Fuller and Shaquelle Evans. Or Anthony Barr. Or the threat the Bruins pose to Stanford’s still-intact 12-game home winning streak. The Cardinal have won five in a row in this series, including the last game of the 2012 regular season and the conference title game, but that streak also seems imperiled if they can’t keep their shit together. And coming right on the heels of this game are two more exasperating offenses with which to contend: Oregon State on October 26 and Oregon on November 7.

Don’t mistake these misgivings for assurances of a UCLA walkover. The Bruins’ Week 7 win over Cal might have been decisive, but it wasn’t pretty. Plus, it’s entirely possible, however impossible to prove, that Stanford was simply operating on fumes and autopilot against Utah following what had to have been an exhausting bout with Washington, but will come out this week and restore the Pac-12 pecking order straightaway. Win or lose, the Bruins will likely remain the favorites to win the Pac-12 South into Week 9, but they can’t afford to sleepwalk, not with Oregon up next and Washington still to come.3 (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2)

No. 22 Florida at no. 14 Missouri. So. Right. James Franklin’s recovery time has been pegged at three to five weeks, so he certainly won’t be around to face the conference’s best defense. That happy task falls upon redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, who has completed five of six pass attempts for 41 yards in his collegiate career and will find the Gator defenders facing him Saturday markedly less friendly than Georgia’s. Meanwhile, Florida is nursing an Athenian injury streak of its own and ranks 102nd nationally in scoring.

The mere fact that there’s a game this weekend between two ranked divisional opponents that won’t be broadcast on national television should provide all the indication necessary of the current state of the SEC East. But somebody’s got to go to Atlanta as a marked underdog in December, and wouldn’t it set stomachs aflutter if that sacrificial squad wound up being the division’s newest member team? If you want to get real riled up: There are scenarios, however unlikely, in which Alabama loses here and there and A&M wins out, with Mizzou meeting the new batch of gremlins from the West in an all-realigned league title game. Look upon your conference square dance repercussions, ye traditional powers, and despair, and then flee to the nearest sympathetic message board armed with nothing more than a purloined copy of Photoshop and the willingness to write THEY CHEATIN in 40 different and increasingly elaborate fonts. (Saturday, 12:21 p.m., ESPN3)

Weeknight Football: Should I Bother?

The question of whether to consume non-Saturday football products is between you and your family — and perhaps a trusted physician, if you’ve already indulged in Week 8′s Tuesday-night throwdown between Louisiana and Western Kentucky — but this week it’s a practice we heartily endorse.

Ranked teams playing weeknight games is too rare a treat, and this week we get two, one of which is playing an opponent that might actually put up a fight. No. 10 Miami visits 1-4 North Carolina in a game that’s being billed in Chapel Hill as Zero Dark Thursday (“Black and Blue Never Felt So Good”), an association that may turn out uncomfortably literal for the home team (7:30 p.m., ESPN). And Friday night, Central Florida hauls up to no. 8 Louisville for the most high-profile regular-season game for either squad, a contest that will partially break up the four-way logjam of AAC teams with undefeated conference records (8 p.m., ESPN).

Q&A: Steve Sarkisian

A chat with Washington’s head coach as he prepares the no. 20 Huskies to travel to Arizona State.

Washington Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian

One of your biggest hurdles at Washington was engaging a culture that at the time seemed very apathetic. What has the response been on campus to the Huskies being in a national spotlight these past couple weeks?

Oh, it’s been awesome. To have College GameDay here last Saturday was just tremendous for our university. I thought our fans, our students did an amazing job of representing the University of Washington and all that is good here, and I couldn’t be more proud of the fact that we got GameDay here for the first time ever. And the way our students showed up and have continued to do so — we’ve got great fans. I think our fans are starving to get back on top of this conference, where we were for so many years. Their support has been huge in allowing us to make this climb.

So have you gotten a chance at all to look at the makeup of the selection committee? What do you think of it?

I didn’t see it specifically. Obviously, I know a few of the names on there, but I didn’t have a chance to really look at it. It sure seems like a group of people that is highly respected, highly intelligent, and I think that’s good for college football.

Do you think we’re headed toward an expanded playoff? What do you think of that?

Quite honestly, I hope so. I think we’re moving in the right direction, and a four-team playoff is good for college football.

So you’d be in favor of an expanded, eight-team field?

For sure.

Despite the losses the past two weeks, your team has performed at a pretty high level against the most difficult portion of its schedule. Would it be a stretch to say that’s the best the Huskies have looked in your time at Washington, despite the losses?

I would agree that this is the best football team we’ve had since I’ve been here. I think we’ve played good football. We’ve played hard, we’ve played fast. I think our execution has been good against quality opponents. But that being said, we’ve lost our last two games, so we need to try to continue to get better and hopefully go out and perform even better against Arizona State.

What was your initial reaction when you saw this stretch of schedule? Do you remember?

Well, it’s kind of the norm here. I think this is three of the last four years that we’ve [played Oregon and Stanford in consecutive games], so for whatever reason or by whatever mechanisms the schedule gets done, you play the hand you’re dealt. We play these guys, we have to play them every year. We’re in the Pac-12 North together; it’s a tough division in a very difficult conference. To get to the top of this conference, ultimately, we’re going to have to beat those guys. [Oregon] is a tough team to prepare for. And especially when we played Stanford, then Oregon, they’re so drastically different. That’s really the biggest challenge they pose. You go from a two-back, power-football team to the spread and speed that Oregon possesses. It makes it difficult on the defensive coaches.

Was it tricky to get the team back on track mentally after playing so well and still coming up short in games like that?

I don’t think so. At the end of the day, there are no moral victories, but what we’ve come out of these two ball games thinking to ourselves and telling ourselves is: You know what? We’re a pretty good football team. And we went toe-to-toe with the two best teams in our conference. Unfortunately we didn’t win, but I think it did validate, in our own minds, that we’re a pretty good football team when we prepare really well. We can go out and play basically with anyone in our conference, and we’ll have to do that again against Arizona State.

Did you have to make any physical concessions in practice this week to rest up any guys?

You know, we were prepared to, if it pointed in that direction, if our guys looked that way, but they’ve been great. They’ve been energized. We’ve had a really good week of practice up to this point. They seem healthy, they seem in good spirits, and so we’ve been kind of status quo, doing what we normally do.

Keith Price’s durability in particular continues to impress; were there any changes in his preparation for the season?

We did focus on his legs a bit more this offseason, with squats and power cleans and getting him stronger and more explosive. I think we’re seeing that in his mobility. He’s able to get on the edge and escape and buy more time to create plays for us, whether it’s running or throwing, but he’s just a tough-minded kid. And that hasn’t changed in any of his mind as a starter. Two years ago, he just got pounded at Nebraska, and he kept getting up and kept getting up and playing, so I think it’s innate in him. He’s just a tough, hard-nosed kid. It’s a great trait. And not only for him, but for our entire football team to see this guy who gets hit and gets bounced around and continues to get up.

How does Price’s leadership balance with that of Bishop Sankey, who really seems to be the center of the team’s offensive identity?

If you followed us last season, the second half of the season it was really Bishop’s offense as well. He was tremendous the second half of the season, and he’s just carried right over into this season with it. The better Bishop is, the better we are as a complete offensive football team, because it allows us to utilize the play-action pass and throw the ball down the field, which is when we’re at our best.

Sankey seems like he’s heading into a favorable matchup with Arizona State, especially given his performance against Stanford.

Well, they’re a very active defense. Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, [Alden] Darby in the back end, they’re a very active group. They pressure the quarterback in a variety of ways. Sometimes when you just look at numbers, they don’t always tell the whole story. And in our conference, the numbers might not always look great because you’re going up against so many high-powered offenses, but they’re a talented defense and we’re going to have our work cut out for us.

No. 20 Washington and Arizona State kick off on Saturday at 6 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network.

Superlatives

Rivalry game of the weekend: As determined by our exclusive metric that focuses chiefly on the wackiness of trophies presented, this weekend’s top tilt pits Colorado State against Wyoming, where these Rams will attempt to reclaim an actual bronzed boot from the Cowboys for the first time in their careers. (Saturday, 2 p.m., Root Sports/Mountain West Network)

Most intriguing undercard: Houston gets BYU at home in a Cougars-on-Cougars contest, which is interesting for Houston for a couple reasons: first, what we’ll see out of Tony Levine’s squad as it heads into its heavily back-loaded schedule; second, whether a victory and a 6-0 record would garner them more than three votes in next week’s AP poll. (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPNEWS)

Most promising nightcaps [TIE]: Sleep until the crack of GameDay on Saturday morning and stay hydrated, because Washington State–Oregon, UNLV–Fresno State, and Utah-Arizona all kick off at 10 p.m. (on Fox Sports 1, Mountain West Network, and Pac-12 Network, respectively), followed by Oregon State–Cal on ESPN2 at 10:30. Keep your eyes open late enough and you could see an extra couple hundred points scored between the conclusion of FSU-Clemson and bedtime.

FAQ

Where’s Johnny? Manziel and his knee and no. 7 Texas A&M are at home this weekend, hosting no. 24 Auburn and Nick Marshall and his knee (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS). What is it with Ole Miss and opposing quarterbacks’ knees? Hey, compared to the ranks of sidelined SEC East starters, these two quarterbacks look as sturdy as Pacific Rim robots.

Which winless team has the best shot at pulling out a victory in Week 8? 0-6 Miami (Ohio) against 1-6 Akron is the logical choice here, although “best” still isn’t saying much. (Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN3)

Where can I get a Kliff Kingsbury Stubblebobble doll? Right this way. Why isn’t it wearing a V-neck?? Why indeed.

Where is Week 8′s most nut allergyaccommodating football contest located? Peanut-sensitive friends and neighbors, hie thee to Evanston. (Saturday, noon, ESPN2)

Where can I see Marqise Lee, a whole bunch of people over-pronouncing “shillelagh,” and the band Chicago this weekend? Glad you asked! All of these elements should be present in South Bend (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBC), in a valiant effort to make this season’s USC–Notre Dame rivalry tilt into a compelling event. The band’s gonna play “Old Days,” right? Unclear at this time, but if they’re going the thematic route, we’d suggest “Saturday in the Park.” What about “It Better End Soon”? Now, that’s just mean-spirited. Will the final score be 25 or 6-4? Nobody likes a smart-ass. It’s a Hard Habit to Break.

Arbitrary Power Rankings: Alternate Jameis Winston Nicknames

He has a nickname already, but “Jaboo” is a holdover from Winston’s childhood. It’s a term of endearment that feels too intimate for a disinterested observer to use, and an appellation that doesn’t properly convey his greatness. Florida State fans and other onlookers offer the following able substitutes:

1. The Wee Baby Jameis
2. Famous Jameis
3. Jameis Christ
4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
5. Le Petit Winst

Devotional

Filed Under: College Football, Sports

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Holly Anderson is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ HollyAnderson