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College Football Week 8 Preview: SEC West on the line in Tuscaloosa

NCAA Football: Alabama at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

With only three ranked matchups on the schedule this week, all of which are taking place in the SEC West, the top six showdown in Tuscaloosa is the clear game of the weekend.

*All rankings from Coaches Poll

#6 Texas A&M at #1 Alabama. 3:30pm on CBS.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest game of the weekend undoubtedly takes place in Alabama as Texas A&M travels to take on the top ranked Crimson Tide. With both teams undefeated, the winner will have the inside track to play for the SEC Championship this December. The Tide have won three straight against the Aggies, their last defeat coming in 2012 when Johnny Manziel led to Aggies to an upset win. Alabama did however lose the last time they played Trevor Knight. Knight announced himself on the national stage with a huge game against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in 2013.

Both teams defeated Tennessee in their last game. The Aggies won an overtime thriller at home, while Alabama went to Knoxville and ran all over the Vols. Texas A&M was off last weekend which gave them a chance to heal up for the big contest. Two matchups to watch in this game will be Texas A&M’s wide receivers against the Alabama secondary. Josh Reynolds, Christian Kirk, and Speedy Noil provide a tough test for the Alabama DBs. The second is a matchup that could be available on Sunday’s for the next decade. A&M defensive end Myles Garrett against Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson. Both are likely going be drafted in the top ten of the NFL draft next spring.

A&M must clean things up on defense to come away with a win against Alabama. They gave up over 600 yards to the Vols two weeks ago. With Alabama freshman QB Jalen Hurts growing more each and every week, another defensive performance like two weeks ago could see the Aggies blown out. The Alabama defensive has not been the same as shutdown defenses of the past. The Tide give a good bit of yards and points compared to other Saban defenses. Where this defense excels is turning turnovers into points. With 11 non-offensive touchdowns already this season, Trevor Knight and the A&M offense cannot turn it over. The winner of this one is likely to be the SEC’s representative for the College Football Playoff, but the loser certainly won’t be eliminated with a close defeat.

TCU at #13 West Virginia. 3:30pm on ABC/ESPN2.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia looks to stay unbeaten as they welcome in TCU. The Horned Frogs already have two defeats this season, dropping home games against Arkansas and Oklahoma. They almost hit rock-bottom two weeks ago in Kansas before a last minute field goal gave them a 24-23 win over the lowly Jayhawks. Texas A&M transfer QB Kenny Hill has struggled at his new school. With three INTs at Kansas last week, Hill has eight picks on the year with only 12 touchdowns. Hill also fumbled three times last week, losing one.

Dana Holgorson has the Mountaineers playing good football on both sides of the ball. They played their first true road game of the season last week and knocked off Texas Tech 48-17. They have been running the ball well and controlling the clock. Last week they ran for 332 yards and five touchdowns.

This contest starts WVU’s tough run in the Big 12. With seven games remaining the Mountaineers still play at Oklahoma State, at Texas, Oklahoma, and undefeated Baylor. There is still a long way to go, but the Big 12’s playoff hopes seem dependent on an unbeaten showdown between West Virginia and Baylor during conference championship week. Anything less than that and the conference will likely be left out of the playoff.

#17 Arkansas at #24 Auburn. 6pm on ESPN.

NCAA Football: UL Monroe at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

After a three game win streak, Auburn is ranked in the top 25 for the first time this season. After a having a week off following their big win at Mississippi State, the Tigers welcome in Arkansas. With the SEC West tight after the top two, this one could go a long way for bowl game positioning.

After a 1-2 start, Gus Malzahn’s Tigers are third in the SEC West. They could even control their fate to Atlanta if Alabama knocks off Texas A&M this week. Auburn is led by their defense, but they must find some offense this week if they are going to keep the SEC titles hopes alive.

Arkansas picked up a big home win last week, knocking off Ole Miss. The Hogs got a big game from RB Rawleigh Williams III. Williams lead the Hogs in rushing with 180 on the ground. QB Austin Allen also rebounded well from his three INT game against Alabama, throwing three touchdowns on the Rebels. Arkansas still has a shot at a New Year Six bowl if they can win out. If this one is anything like last year, (54-46 four OT Arkansas win) it will be well worth the watch.

#2 Ohio State at Penn State. 8pm on ABC.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

After picking up a huge overtime-road win at Wisconsin last week, Ohio State hits the road again this week, going to Penn State. The Nittany Lions are 4-2 on the year but unbeaten at home. Beaver Stadium will be rocking with the usual 100,000 white-out expected.

For Penn State to pull off the upset they’ll need more of the same from QB Trace McSorley and RB Saquon Barkley. The two combined for 283 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, with McSorley adding another two scores through the air in a 38-14 win over previously unbeaten Maryland two weeks ago. Former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin was in need of a better year before the season, a win against the Buckeyes would give him that signature win in year three.

Ohio State has undefeated Nebraska and Michigan on the schedule later in the year, but they cannot overlook the trip to Happy Valley. As long as they show up ready to roll from the whistle, they should be able to take care of business.

Others to Watch

NC State at #7 Louisville. Noon on ABC.

Wisconsin at Iowa. Noon on ESPN.

Colorado at Stanford. 3pm on Pac 12 Network.

#22 Ole Miss at #23 LSU. 9pm on ESPN.

Washington State at Arizona State. 10pm on Pac 12 Network.