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Anthony Chiusano | | October 21, 2016

Three ranked SEC matchups highlight Week 8 games to watch

  No. 6 Texas A&M travels to No. 1 Alabama for a battle of unbeatens.

With the first College Football Playoff rankings just two weeks away, many teams are entering a vital second-half stretch to the finish line. Week 8 is an indication of that with three ranked matchups – all within the SEC, numerous key division showdowns and some sure-to-be offensive fireworks.

Here are all the must-watch games to tune into this Saturday:

Iowa vs. No. 10 Wisconsin | GameCenter

Saturday at noon ET

The assertion that there will be some notable high-scoring games this weekend is certainly true with some of the top offenses going head-to-head. But this Big Ten noon kickoff is the exception.

Wisconsin and Iowa are two defensive-minded teams that thrive in low-scoring games. And while Iowa hasn’t played at the level it was expected to heading into the new season, Saturday’s matchup in Iowa City is likely to be a war of attrition.

Wisconsin (4-2) has been one of the most impressive teams in the nation thus far, despite back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State, and that shows in its No. 10 ranking. Jack Cichy and T.J. Watt have been wreaking havoc all year at linebacker, and Vince Biegel may soon rejoin that same corps after returning to practice this week.

Meanwhile, Desmond King has created his own island at defensive back for Iowa to lead a still-dangerous Hawkeyes defense.

Wisconsin enters as the visibly better team but must avoid any drop in intensity that may occur after playing tough against the No. 2 Buckeyes and No. 3 Wolverines. Iowa may have fallen below expectations, but is hungry to work itself back into the West division picture.

That should create a classic, hard-hitting Big Ten matchup come Saturday.

No. 20 Western Michigan vs. Eastern Michigan | GameCenter

Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET

  Quarterback Zach Terrell still hasn't thrown an interception in seven games.
The Wolverines aren’t the only team out of the Great Lakes State to make some noise in college football.

Western Michigan cracked the AP Top 25 for the first time in program history two weeks ago and now stands in the top 20 following another easy win over Akron. Now the Broncos face a much-improved Eastern Michigan team from across the state.

Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell is now the lone quarterback standing that hasn’t thrown an interception this season and running back Jarvion Franklin has found his footing with three straight 100-yard games – including a career-high 281 yards in Week 7.

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That kind of offensive efficiency has allowed the Broncos to put up at least 30 points in five straight games en route to becoming one of college football’s biggest surprises in the first half of 2016.

For Eastern Michigan, its five wins this season already match the amount of victories it captured in the previous three seasons combined. That’s allowed the Eagles to move up to a tie for third in a close MAC West race that the Broncos lead.

Western Michigan is right in line to compete for a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl with its 7-0 start to the season. But its cross-state rivals will happily embrace the role of spoilers entering this weekend.

No. 12 West Virginia vs. TCU | GameCenter

Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET

Don’t tell West Virginia it’s a down year for the Big 12.

The Mountaineers continue to roll as it now enters the heart of its conference schedule that will feature TCU, Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor over the final half of the season. It starts with the Horned Frogs visiting Morgantown off of a one-point victory over Kansas.

TCU has been inconsistent this year but has plenty of firepower on offense. That naturally begins with Kenny Hill at quarterback with his 19 total touchdowns and 2,142 passing yards.

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But West Virginia showed it can contain big-time quarterbacks just last week when it held the nation’s leading passer Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech to a single score in a 48-17 dominant win.

The Mountaineers will need to do the same against the dual-threat talent of Hill who leads an offense similar to that of Texas Tech that often relies on outlasting opponents in shootouts in order to win.

West Virginia likely needs to finish 12-0 and get some outside help in order to qualify for the Playoff at the end of the season. While the latter is out of the Mountaineers’ control, they now enter a challenging stretch against some of the nation’s top offenses.

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 6 Texas A&M | GameCenter

Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET

  No. 1 Alabama has a nation-best 11 non-offensive touchdowns this year.
Undoubtedly, the game of the week will be in Tuscaloosa where the Tide and Aggies square off in a battle of the unbeaten.

Alabama has already knocked off two straight ranked SEC teams but Texas A&M may be the most talented yet.

Trevor Knight has done it all with nine touchdowns through the air and nine on the ground to lead a potent offense averaging 40 points per game. Myles Garrett and his four sacks carry a high-pressure defense.

On the other side, the Crimson Tide have shown no signs of slowing down following a 49-10 win over then-No. 9 Tennessee.

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Alabama ran for nearly 400 yards last week and quarterback Jalen Hurts had a large part to do with that with his speed outside the numbers. If the Tide can find similar openings this week, it could be a long day for the Aggies.

No. 21 Auburn vs. No. 17 Arkansas | GameCenter

Saturday at 6 p.m. ET

  Arkansas topped Ole Miss 34-30 in another ranked SEC matchup last weekend.
Auburn (4-2) is back in the top 25 and is surging on a three-game winning streak at midseason. But the Tigers have to be weary of a repeat of a disappointing trend.

Auburn headed into Arkansas last year at 4-2 and left with a 54-46 four-overtime loss that started a 3-4 stretch to end the season. Despite appearing in a similar situation this year, the Tigers appear to be playing at a much more consistent clip.

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Auburn’s defense has stood out by allowing an average of 11 points a game over the past three weeks and its offense has picked up the pace with back-to-back outings of 38 and 58 points.

But Arkansas is no slouch either. The Razorbacks fell short in their matchups with Texas A&M and Alabama but proved they are one of the SEC’s elite teams with a 34-30 win over No. 12 Ole Miss last week.

Austin Allen continues to stand out under center for Arkansas and continued his stellar season with a three-touchdown performance over the Rebels. Meanwhile, running back Rawleigh Williams added 180 yards on the ground to help the cause.

The Razorbacks pose the stiffest competition for Auburn since its recent run of success led it back into the AP Top 25. Time will tell if Auburn is due for another late-season collapse or a positive end to the year.

Honorable Mention:

Penn State vs. No. 2 Ohio State | GameCenter

Saturday at 8 p.m. ET

Ohio State is coming off that overtime win over Wisconsin and a shaky 38-17 win over Indiana the week before.

The Buckeyes haven’t given fans too much to worry about to this point in the season, but coming off an emotional comeback win against the Badgers and now heading into always rowdy Happy Valley, it’ll worth keeping an eye on Saturday.

Texas Tech vs. No. 16 Oklahoma | GameCenter

Saturday at 8 p.m. ET

Despite an off-week against West Virginia last weekend, Patrick Mahomes continues to lead quarterbacks with 2,579 passing yards for a Red Raiders offense that’s averaged 48.8 points per game.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma is on the rise with three straight wins thanks to quarterback Baker Mayfield returning to his 2015 Heisman candidate form. Mayfield has racked up 12 touchdowns during the winning streak and has dished out six of those to breakout receiver Dede Westbrook the past two weeks.

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With Mahomes and a revitalized Mayfield -- who once walked on for the Red Raiders -- going up against each other, offense won’t be at a premium in this primetime affair.

No. 25 LSU vs. No. 23 Ole Miss | GameCenter

Saturday at 9 p.m. ET

So far, so good for the Ed Orgeron era at LSU – even sans Leonard Fournette.

Now two weeks away from LSU vs. Alabama, this week’s ranked matchup should serve as a nice warm-up and a greater indication of where LSU stands in the SEC.

Meanwhile, Ole Miss dropped to 3-3 in a season that started so promising but has so far been hampered by close calls to some of the best teams in the nation. It’s interesting to see how the Rebels respond for the rest of the season with some of its loftiest preseason goals now out of reach.

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