Joe Burrow was supposed to be the difference between this year's LSU team and all the others that didn't have nearly enough offense to topple Alabama in recent seasons.
The Ohio State transfer has largely been a steadying influence for the Tigers' offense, leading them to four wins over ranked teams. But Burrow's underwhelming 16-of-28, 129-yard, one-interception performance against Mississippi State has created enough nagging doubt about what kind of threat LSU actually poses to the nation's best teams -- let alone Alabama.
Consider that Saturday's outing was the fourth game of the season in which Burrow failed to throw a touchdown pass.
Of the handful of teams thought to be serious national title contenders, the Tigers probably have the weakest and least-threatening pass offense, and that's in no small part because of Burrow's limitations.
1. Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC)
Week 8 result: Defeated Tennessee 58-21
What's next: Open week
It's assumed the Crimson Tide will face their first real challenge of the season on Nov. 3 against LSU in Death Valley. But even that seems a stretch after their eighth straight blowout of the season; no other team has even come within three scores. Former Bama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and Tennessee were the latest to endure a 60-minute beatdown, yet another example of the distance between the program Nick Saban's acolytes leave and the ones they hope to rebuild. In running his record to 15-0 against former assistants, Saban got another Heisman Trophy-worthy performance from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (306 yards, four touchdowns) even though he was hobbled by a knee injury.
2. Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC)
Week 8 result: Defeated North Carolina State 41-7
What's next: at Florida State (noon Saturday)
In relatively short order, the Tigers cleared up any confusion about whether they have a legitimate challenger for the Atlantic Division title. Clemson scored touchdowns on two of its first three possessions, quickly taking the suspense out of this supposed showdown between two undefeated teams. In only his third career start, true freshman Trevor Lawrence looked like everything that recruiting analysts said he would be in going 26-of-39 for 308 yards and a touchdown. Lawrence and Clemson's defense, which didn't allow a score until the fourth quarter and harassed star Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley into three turnovers, looks (so far) like the only one capable of preventing an Alabama repeat.
3. Notre Dame (7-0)
Week 8 result: Open week
What's next: at Navy (8 p.m. Saturday, CBS)
It's way too early for talk of the playoff and waking up the echoes, especially now that opponents have four games of film on junior quarterback Ian Book. In fact, don't be surprised if the Fighting Irish's next few games look a lot like their last-minute escape over Pittsburgh last week. Navy and Northwestern have traditionally played them tough, and Florida State has made steady improvement in recent weeks. But as the Irish showed in going to the wire with the Panthers, Book can rescue them in games when they're not at their best. That hasn't been true for Notre Dame in quite a while.
4. Michigan (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten)
Week 8 result: Defeated Michigan State 21-7
What's next: Open week
Jim Harbaugh followed up a statement win against Wisconsin with another statement win. One more against Penn State on Nov. 3 will surely quell those critics who wondered if his huge salary and blustery personality were worth it. Won't it? At least until Ohio State? Regardless, this had to be one of the most satisfying victories in recent memory for the Wolverines. They held the Spartans to 94 yards of offense, their third-lowest output in school history and worst offensive performance in 71 years. Plus, Karan Higdon slapped 143 yards on the nation's top-ranked run defense, and Shea Patterson (212 yards passing, 2 TDs) continued to give Michigan a dimension it has been lacking at quarterback for years. Overall, the Wolverines backed up Devin Bush's pregame trash talk in a big way.
5. Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1 Big 12)
Week 8 result: Defeated TCU 52-27
What's next: vs. Kansas State (2:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox)
Saturday was a big step toward the Sooners' reinserting themselves into the playoff race. Coming off a heartbreaking loss to archrival Texas, Oklahoma returned to form in its dominating road victory over TCU. Other than a sluggish close to the first half, Heisman contender Kyler Murray and the Sooners controlled the game from start to finish. And their first game under new defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill was a resounding success, holding the Frogs to 275 yards and 12 first downs. Oklahoma might have even figured out how to replace the production of the injured star running back Rodney Anderson, with both Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon topping 100 yards rushing
6. LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC)
Week 8 result: Defeated Mississippi State 19-3
What's next: open week
After wins over Miami, Auburn and Georgia, the narrative was that the Tigers were much-improved under second-year head coach Ed Orgeron. But a middling win over Mississippi State should raise questions about how much better LSU actually is. The same problems from previous seasons crept up against the Bulldogs. Cole Tracy's four field goals provided virtually the only scoring for the Tigers, who got their lone touchdown following a turnover deep in Bulldogs territory and who were actually outgained 260-240. There's no way the Tigers survive a similar performance against Alabama on Nov. 3, a task already made tougher given that star linebacker Devin White will miss the first half of that game following a targeting call against Mississippi State.
7. Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC)
Week 8 result: Open week
What's next: vs. Florida (3:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS)
How much longer can Jake Fromm hold off super freshman Justin Fields? We'll likely find out against the Gators in Jacksonville on Saturday. Florida has a formidable defense not altogether different from the one at LSU that forced Fromm into the worst game of his career (16-of-34, two interceptions, four sacks and plenty of missed throws). If Fromm gets off to a rough start, it's not hard to envision Kirby Smart feeling pressure to turn to Fields. Beyond that, another loss would most likely keep the Bulldogs from making another trip to the SEC championship game. Basically, Fromm and Smart both have a lot riding on those first few possessions against Florida.
8. Ohio State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten)
Week 8 result: Lost to Purdue 49-20
What's next: Open week
It's hard to know what to make of the Buckeyes' dramatic collapse at Purdue. Was this simply their annual inexplicable letdown, like last year's 31-point loss at Iowa? Was this a sign of a deeper problem on a team that all of a sudden can't sustain the run or tackle in the open field? Ohio State will get a chance to make up for that mulligan, as it faces the softest portion of its schedule following its bye week (Nebraska, three-loss Michigan State and Maryland) before a certain little game up in Ann Arbor. But following a night when quarterback Dwayne Haskins had almost as many pass attempts (73) as the Buckeyes had rushing yards (76), Urban Meyer probably won't let them overlook anyone else down the stretch.
9. Texas (6-1, 4-0 Big 12)
Week 8 result: Open week
What's next: at Oklahoma State (8 p.m. Saturday, ABC)
OK, yes, Oklahoma is ranked ahead of the Longhorns even though this was supposedly settled in Dallas a couple of weeks ago. But these are power rankings, not a list beholden to the transitive property. And if these two teams meet again, say, in the Big 12 championship game, rest assured that the Sooners will be the favorite. All that said, Texas' bye couldn't have come at a better time, as it gave quarterback Sam Ehlinger more time to recover from the shoulder injury he suffered against Baylor last week. Reports out of Austin were that Ehlinger was throwing again and might be able to play on Saturday. Texas will need him if it is to win against an Oklahoma State team that is sure to put up some points.
10. UCF (7-0, 4-0 American)
Week 8 result: Defeated East Carolina 37-10
What's next: Open week
On Saturday, the Knights got an extended glimpse of life without McKenzie Milton, who saw his streak of 27 straight starts end because of an ankle injury. It wasn't pretty. Sophomore Darriel Mack Jr. started, and predictably, it took a while for UCF to get into a rhythm with him at the helm before pulling away to extend its nation-leading win streak to 20 games. Mack was much better on the ground (120 yards, 1 TD) than he was through the air (12-of-20 for 69 yards), and the Knights' defense forced five turnovers that led to 24 points. Milton will have the bye week to get healthy before a Thursday night battle against Temple for first place in the American East.
11. Florida (6-1, 4-1 SEC)
Week 8 result: Open week
What's next: at Georgia (3:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS)
Perhaps Dan Mullen's finest accomplishment in the first half of his first season in Gainesville is this: There's no longer any dispute about who the starting quarterback is. Feleipe Franks certainly hasn't made anyone forget about Tim Tebow, Danny Wuerffel or even Chris Leak. But he has shown modest improvement from last year, already throwing more touchdowns (15) than he did all of last year (nine) and developing a better feel for avoiding pressure. He's even coming off the best game of his career in the win over Vanderbilt, going 19-of-29 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. For the Gators to knock off Georgia, he'll need to be even better and certainly not much worse.
12. Texas A&M (5-2, 3-1 SEC)
Week 8 result: Open week
What's next: at Mississippi State (7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN)
It's hard to imagine anyone could've expected Jimbo Fisher's first season in College Station going much better than it has. A nail-biter against Clemson and a respectable showing against Alabama are the only blemishes on his record and, hey, those are probably the two best teams in the country. The Aggies eked out three straight close conference wins -- and currently have the nation's top-rated recruiting class, according to RecruitingNation. Now Fisher has a chance to prove there's been real improvement in the program in an upcoming three-game stretch against SEC West rivals Mississippi State, Auburn and Ole Miss. Win at least two of those, and maybe those Aggies jokes will finally be at someone else's expense.
13. Kentucky (6-1, 4-1 SEC)
Week 8 result: Defeated Vanderbilt 14-7
What's next: at Missouri (4 p.m. Saturday, SEC Network)
Benny Snell Jr. and one of the nation's stingiest defenses helped the Wildcats rebound from an overtime loss at Texas A&M a couple of weeks ago. After Kentucky forced a fumble in the red zone early in the fourth quarter, Snell rushed for 74 yards on the game-clinching drive that ended with his 7-yard touchdown. The Wildcats forced another late fumble to put the game away, keeping them in the thick of the SEC East race. Snell's hard-charging 169 yards on 32 carries steadied Kentucky as it struggled to separate from a surprisingly stingy Vanderbilt. It was the kind of bruising, gutsy effort that has typified the change in Lexington, where the Wildcats look like contenders for the first time in recent memory.
14. Washington (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12)
Week 8 result: Defeated Colorado 27-13
What's next: at California (4:30 p.m. Saturday)
Not surprisingly, the Huskies got off to a slow start following their heartbreaking overtime loss at Oregon. But they got back on track against Colorado in the perfunctory style that has been a staple of the Jake Browning era. It was Browning's 26-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with fewer than four minutes left that finally put the game out of reach for the Huskies. Most impressive was that Browning and Washington had to do it without Myles Gaskin, the school's all-time leading rusher who missed a game for the first time in his career. But they'll need him back and healthy for the season-ending stretch, which includes games against Stanford and Washington State that'll likely decide the Pac-12 North champion.
15. Penn State (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten)
Week 8 result: Defeated Indiana 33-28
What's next: at Iowa (3:30 p.m. Saturday)
The hangover from losses to Ohio State and Michigan State almost doomed the Nittany Lions in Bloomington, which is increasingly a tough place to play for the conference's heavyweights. Trace McSorley helped Penn State escape with a win, passing for 220 yards, running for 107 and scoring three touchdowns. It was barely enough to offset a defense that surrendered 554 yards but managed to create two turnovers on Indiana's last three possessions. The Nittany Lions will need to be much-improved in next week's game at Iowa, suddenly a game that looks every bit as formidable as the ones they've already lost.
16. Iowa (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten)
Week 8 result: Defeated Maryland 23-0
What's next: vs. Penn State (3:30 p.m. Saturday)
On a day when wind gusts topped 40 mph in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes took the air out of the game and stuck to bullying Maryland along both lines of scrimmage. Iowa held the ball for more than 40 minutes, holding the Terrapins to just 115 yards and seven first downs in its first shutout of a Big Ten opponent in nearly two years. Heading into next week's showdown in State College, few teams in the nation are playing better than the Hawkeyes, who've won their past three games by an average of 21 points. It's not hard to imagine Iowa continuing this impressive run against Penn State.
17. Washington State (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12)
Week 8 result: Defeated Oregon 34-20
What's next: at Stanford (7 p.m. Saturday)
This afternoon was a long time in the making, as the Cougars welcomed presumptive Pac-12 North favorite Oregon and College GameDay to town. But with Mike Leach's high-powered offense now backed by a salty defense, Washington State made its own case for the role of division favorite. While the Cougars looked unstoppable in building a 27-point lead in the first half, it was their defense that slowed Justin Herbert and Oregon down the stretch for the win. The Ducks needed drives of nine, 11 and 16 plays to score in the second half and their last offensive possession ended with three straight incompletions and a sack. Wazzu will need an encore at Stanford, which has lost two of its past three but still has offensive weapons.
18. West Virginia (5-1, 3-1 Big 12)
Week 8 result: Open week
What's next: vs. Baylor (7 p.m. Thursday, FS1)
The Mountaineers had shown signs of wobbliness in a closer-than-expected win over Kansas and were toppled the next week in their toughest test to date, at Iowa State. Is a bye week enough to fix whatever is going on with the offense, once thought one of the nation's best but held to only 152 total yards on 42 plays in the loss at Ames? West Virginia's defense didn't exactly cover itself in glory, either, surrendering 498 yards to an Iowa State offense led by a true freshman quarterback making his first career start. All of the Mountaineers' toughest games are still ahead of them (at Texas, TCU, at Oklahoma State, OU). They'll need to figure it out quick.
19. Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten)
Week 8 result: Defeated Illinois 49-20
What's next: vs. Northwestern (noon Saturday)
The Badgers may already be out of playoff race, but they're still in the thick of the Big Ten West. The win over Illinois sets up a big game against Northwestern, which leads the division by a half-game. To win that one, Alex Hornibrook must build on Saturday's performance following his 100-yard, two-interception debacle at Michigan. Hornibrook went 13-of-22 for 188 yards and was steadier than in the loss at Ann Arbor, but he still had two interceptions with a third erased by a defensive penalty. A more promising sign was the Badgers' defense, which was missing as many as five starters at Michigan. It created five turnovers and held the Illini to only 90 passing yards.
20. Oregon (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12)
Week 8 result: Lost to Washington State 34-20
What's next: at Arizona (10:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN)
Saturday in Pullman was about as close to a scheduled ambush as a team can have. After pulling out an emotional overtime win over longtime nemesis Washington, it should've been expected that the Ducks would come out flat. But 27-0 was simply too much of a deficit to recover from. That said, Oregon can find solace in a gritty second-half comeback that brought it within a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. And facing the league's best offense, the Ducks forced two three-and-outs and a punt before surrendering the game-clinching touchdown. That's something to build on. Two of the league's weakest teams -- Arizona and UCLA -- are up next before a road game against Pac-12 South leader Utah.
21. Utah (5-2, 3-2 Pac-12)
Week 8 result: Defeated USC 41-28
What's next: at UCLA (10:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN)
The Utes' third straight win stamped them as the favorite in the Pac-12 South, almost by default in a year when almost everyone else in the division has been a disappointment. Utah recovered from an early 14-0 deficit by scoring 34 straight points, a run punctuated by three touchdown passes from Tyler Huntley. Most impressive was a Utes defense that held the Trojans to only 205 yards, forcing them to sub out true freshman starter JT Daniels for backup Matt Fink. It reeked of a helplessness that was as palpable for USC as it was affirming for Utah. The Utes can complete a sweep of the L.A. schools at the Rose Bowl next week.
22. NC State (5-1, 2-1 ACC)
Week 8 result: Lost to Clemson 41-7
What's next: at Syracuse (Saturday, ESPN2)
The Wolfpack entered Death Valley under a cloud of suspicion, with an undefeated record built an especially weak nonconference slate -- though a game against West Virginia was canceled because of Hurricane Florence -- and two ACC wins against Virginia and Boston College. Saturday clarified the distance between the Wolfpack and Clemson (and it's immense), but they still should be favored in every game remaining on their schedule. That's assuming, of course, that star quarterback Ryan Finley and NC State emerged with their confidence and health intact in a game in which they were held to fewer than 300 yards and committed three turnovers. There's no great shame in losing to Clemson, but they'll have to recover quickly to survive Saturday's road game at Syracuse.
23. Appalachian State (5-1, 3-0 Sun Belt)
Week 8 result: Defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 27-17
What's next: at Georgia Southern (7:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPNU)
In retrospect, the Mountaineers' season-opening loss at Penn State in overtime is looking better and better with time. A five-game winning streak also helps their cause for entering the Top 25 for the first time this season. Saturday's 10-point victory was their first competitive game after beating the previous four opponents by an average of 43 points. Darrynton Evans paced Appalachian State with 183 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. There's likely another close game ahead Thursday night, when the Mountaineers travel to Georgia Southern for a matchup of teams that are unbeaten in the Sun Belt East.
24. South Florida (7-0, 3-0 American)
Week 8 result: Defeated Connecticut 38-30
What's next: at Houston (3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC/ESPN2)
It's increasingly hard to put a lot of stock in the Bulls' unblemished record after yet another squeaker past a one-win team. First USF narrowly pulled out a one-point win at Tulsa, then followed it up with an unimpressive performance against UConn on Saturday. No matter; these Bulls have matched the best start in school history heading into a game against Houston -- same as last year. USF lost that game against Houston in 2017. The Bulls enter the rematch with a more diversified offense, leaning on a rushing attack that includes Johnny Ford (164 yards and 3 TDs on 7 carries), Jordan Cronkrite (103 yards) and even quarterback Blake Barnett (78 yards and a TD). Defense? That might need some work after the Huskies rolled up 455 yards of offense.
25. Texas Tech (5-2, 3-1 Big 12)
Week 8 result: Defeated Kansas 48-16
What's next: at Iowa State (noon Saturday, ESPN2)
It has been a long time since the Red Raiders had a defense worth mentioning, but Saturday was the third time in four games they held an opponent to 17 or fewer points and the first time they held consecutive conference opponents under 20 points since 2013. But as always, Texas Tech's offense carried the day. True freshman Alan Bowman threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns in his first game since suffering a partially collapsed lung three weeks ago. They'll get a stiffer test on Saturday at Ames, where Iowa State shut down an even more potent West Virginia offense a couple of weeks ago.