Louisville Cardinals

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 17:  College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy presented by Dr Pepper is seen at Tiger Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Power Five conference races beginning to come into focus

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As we get set to embark on Week 8 of the 2016 college football season, we’re officially beyond the halfway point and closer to championship weekend than we are to opening weekend. And, with that, the Power Five conference races are starting to come into focus — but are far from finished.

This weekend, though, there are a handful of key matchups that could offer further clarity across the major conferences, although most, if not all, are still weeks away from being decided.

That said, here’s a look at where the Power Five conferences and, in four of the five cases, how their respective divisions stand before the eighth weekend of the regular season kicks off.

At 4-0, Clemson currently controls its own destiny in the division courtesy of the Oct. 1 win over 3-1 Louisville.  The U of L will be desperately rooting for Florida State, at 2-2 with one of those league losses coming at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in the middle of last month, to knock off Clemson next Saturday as well as the Tigers tripping up in one of their other three remaining conference games (Syracuse, Pitt, at Wake Forest) while also holding serve through the remainder of their slate.  FSU, with league losses to the U of L and North Carolina, will need a minor miracle to get back to the conference championship game.

Technically, 2-2 Wake Forest remains in contention, and still has games against Clemson and Louisville.  Then again, they’re Wake.

In all likelihood, the Coastal will come down to a three-team race: 3-1 North Carolina, 3-1 Virginia Tech and 2-1 Pittsburgh.  Tech has already beaten UNC, and will face Pitt next weekend.  The Tar Heels, meanwhile, own a win over the Panthers to go along with the loss to the Hokies.  Simply put, if Tech wins out (at Pitt, at Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia), they will claim the division and represent the Coastal against their Atlantic counterparts.

As you know, though, this division very rarely plays to the form it presents halfway through the conference season.

With all due respect to 2-1 Penn State, 3-0 Michigan and 3-0 Ohio State are on a collision course for an epic edition of the greatest rivalry in all of college football that will likely not only impact the division and the conference race but the College Football Playoff as well.  PSU could make me eat my words almost immediately as they play host to OSU in the always-dangerous white-out game later tonight; that said, if the Buckeyes can get past the Nittany Lions, they’ll have to traverse home games against Northwestern and Nebraska as well as road trips to Maryland and an abruptly vulnerable Michigan State before hosting UM.  The Wolverines get to host Illinois, Maryland and Indiana along with visits to rival Michigan State and Iowa before The Game.

Like the ACC Coastal, this division’s winner will very (?) likely come from a trio of teams: 3-0 Nebraska, 3-1 Iowa, 2-1 Northwestern.  The Cornhuskers already have a win over the Wildcats, while the Wildcats beat the Hawkeyes on the road the first weekend of this month.  Nebraska will close out the season against Iowa, while the latter has one sizable advantage over the other two as they avoid Ohio State completely while the others will face the Buckeyes in Weeks 9 (Wildcats) and 10 (Cornhuskers).  Both of those games, incidentally, are in Columbus.

There’s a potential wrench that could be tossed into the race, it should be noted, as 1-2 Wisconsin still has games remaining against all three of the West teams mentioned above.  Sweep those and get a little additional help, and the Badgers could be right back in the discussion by the end of the regular season.

BIG 12
Next season, this conference’s champion will be decided by a league title game.  This season, the standard round-robin format will determine the champion, and, because of that and the way the schedule is constructed, this league is as convoluted as any in the sport.

Three members are undefeated at the moment in Baylor and Oklahoma at 3-0, West Virginia at 2-0.  Two others are 2-1 — Oklahoma State and TCU.  How convoluted is the current state of the Big 12 race?  Just two games have been played between those five teams thus far: Baylor beating Oklahoma State and Oklahoma beating TCU.  A third will be played this weekend as the Horned Frogs will travel to Morgantown to face the Mountaineers in a contest that will allow a little — little — clarity when it comes to the conference race.

This could be the most simplistic of all the P5 divisions: barring something extraordinary taking place, the winner of this division will be decided in the Apple Cup between a 3-0 Washington and a 3-0 Washington State.  Or, at the very least, the winner will play in that rivalry game.  And, of all the developments thus far this season, that may be the most stunning.  To put a finer point on this divisional race, the team currently in third place at 2-2, 2015 Pac-12 champion Stanford, lost to both UW and Wazzu by a combined score of 86-22.

Utah and Colorado are tied atop this division at 3-1, with 3-2 USC still in the same neighborhood.  The Utes own a win over the Trojans, while the Trojans own one over the Buffs.  Utah and USC still have Washington on their schedule, while Colorado, which avoids UW, has to play a Washington State team that won’t face either of the other.  One date to circle on the calendar: Nov. 26, with the Utes traveling to Boulder to square off with the Buffs in the regular season finale.

A lot like the Big 12, this race likely won’t be decided until we get deep into November.

Despite its loss to 2-2 Tennessee, 3-1 Florida controls its own destiny in this division.  Win out, and the Gators will earn their second consecutive berth in the SEC championship game.  Their remaining league schedule?  The annual World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party grudge match with Georgia in Jacksonville, and road trips to No. 17 Arkansas and No. 25 LSU sandwiched around a home game against South Carolina.  UT, though, could easily win out as their lone remaining games consist of South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt.  While the Gators are currently in control, their path to Atlanta is much steeper than that of the Vols despite currently sitting in the driver’s seat — and knowing full well that that come-from-ahead loss to UT is riding shotgun.

This might be the most fun division in all of college football.  Again.  Alabama and Texas A&M both sit at 4-0, while Auburn and LSU are at 2-1.  The really, really fun part?  Only A&M and Auburn have met already this year, a Sept. 17 win for the Aggies on The Plains.  The Tide and Aggies meet in a critical matchup this afternoon, but several more critical contests await the division in the coming weeks.

In other words, grab your popcorn.  This thing is far from decided — a sentiment that’s far from the exclusive property of this division.

Louisville to wear glow-in-the-dark gloves and cleats against N.C. State

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 14:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball during the game against the Duke Blue Devils at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 14, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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We’ve seem some pretty crazy uniform combinations over the years but it seems adidas is looking to raise everybody’s game a little this weekend.

The school and apparel company tweeted on Friday afternoon that Louisville — just in time for Halloween — would be debuting some glow-in-the-dark gloves and cleats with a skeleton design for their homecoming game against N.C. State.

Yes the Wolfpack and Cardinals play at noon ET and not in primetime so the effect of the glow-in-the-dark cleats is probably a bit muted but it’s still a pretty cool idea.

It’s a little unclear as to if N.C. State will also don some glow-in-the-dark gear (they are also an adidas school) but it should make for a slick look on Saturday at Papa John’s Stadium either way.

AP Top 25: Idle Michigan rises to No. 3, Clemson falls

FILE - In this June 8, 2016, file photo, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh encourages high school football players in their speed drill at a Michigan Satellite Camp at Pearl High School in Pearl, Miss. Plenty of coaches use Twitter, whether they’re capitalizing on the new rule or communicating indirectly with fellow coaches. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh called out Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Tennessee coach Butch Jones on Twitter during the offseason for their comments about his decisions to hold spring practice sessions in Florida and conduct satellite camps. (Elijah Baylis/The Clarion-Ledger via AP, File)
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The Michigan Wolverines did not play a single down this weekend, but that did not stop the Wolverines from moving up one spot in the poll. Michigan moved up one spot in the AP poll this week after Clemson struggled at home against North Carolina State. Alabama remains the top-ranked team in the poll this week, followed by Ohio State.

Alabama received 60 first-place votes in this week’s AP poll. Michigan was the only other team to receive a first-place vote, as they have received each week of the season so far from Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News. Nebraska moved up two spots within the top 10 this week, and Baylor moved up two spots to crack the top 10. Despite its second loss, Wisconsin remained in the top 10 after falling two spots.

West Virginia is on the move once again, jumping up eight spots to No. 12 in this week’s AP poll. At No. 14, Boise State is the second-highest-ranked Group of Five program this week. No. 11 Houston remains at the top of the Group of Five pack, despite a loss to No. 24 Navy.

New teams in the poll this week include No. 22 North Carolina and No. 25 LSU. Big drops were experienced by No. 18 Tennessee (down nine spots) and No. 23 Ole Miss (down 11 spots).

Miami and Virginia Tech each dropped out of the poll this week following losses.

AP Top 25 By Conference:

  • ACC – 4
  • American – 2
  • Big 12 – 3
  • Big Ten – 4
  • MAC – 1
  • Mountain West – 1
  • Pac-12 – 2
  • SEC – 8

Here is this week’s updated AP Top 25, with first-place votes noted:

  1. Alabama (60)
  2. Ohio State
  3. Michigan (1)
  4. Clemson
  5. Washington
  6. Texas A&M
  7. Louisville
  8. Nebraska
  9. Baylor
  10. Wisconsin
  11. Houston
  12. West Virginia
  13. Florida State
  14. Boise State
  15. Florida
  16. Oklahoma
  17. Arkansas
  18. Tennessee
  19. Utah
  20. Western Michigan
  21. Auburn
  22. North Carolina
  23. Ole Miss
  24. Navy
  25. LSU

Coaches Poll: No changes in top 10, Auburn and Navy crack top 25

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) warms up before an NCAA college football game against Tennessee Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
AP Photo/Wade Payne

Though there was some tension in some games involving top-ranked teams, there were no change sin the top 10 of the Amway Coaches Poll this week. No. 1 Alabama remains on top, followed by No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson after the Buckeyes and Tigers each survived overtime scares in conference play. Despite losing at home to the buckeyes, No. 10 Wisconsin remained ranked 10th in the coaches poll despite losing two games (to Ohio State and Michigan).

Alabama continues to have a firm grasp on first-place votes with 61 of the 64 available first-place votes this week. Ohio State received two and Clemson received one.

No. 19 Tennessee and No. 22 Ole Miss took big drops in the coaches poll this week after losing game sin SEC play. The Vols fell eight spots after being demolished at home by Alabama. The Rebels were dropped nine spots after falling against Arkansas to go to 3-3 on the season. Miami, Virginia Tech and Arizona State all fell out of the top 25 this week following losses.

Coaches Poll By Conference:

  • ACC – 4
  • American – 2
  • Big Ten – 4
  • Big 12 – 3
  • MAC – 1
  • Mountain West – 1
  • Pac-12 – 2
  • SEC – 8

Here is the full coaches poll, with first-place votes noted:

  1. Alabama (61)
  2. Ohio State (2)
  3. Clemson (1)
  4. Michigan
  5. Washington
  6. Texas A&M
  7. Louisville
  8. Baylor
  9. Nebraska
  10. Wisconsin
  11. Houston
  12. Florida
  13. West Virginia
  14. Boise State
  15. Florida State
  16. Oklahoma
  17. Arkansas
  18. Utah
  19. Tennessee
  20. Western Michigan
  21. North Carolina
  22. Ole Miss
  23. LSU
  24. Auburn
  25. Navy

Duke plays No. 7 Louisville close but Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals survive for the win

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 14:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball during the game against the Duke Blue Devils at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 14, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Duke fans of a certain age are used to seeing the four corners offense when ACC play rolls around. They were probably a bit surprised to see the Blue Devils use it themselves in a football game against Louisville on Friday night though.

David Cutcliffe’s squad held the ball a remarkable 37 minutes and tried their best to play keep away from the potent Cardinals offense but it wasn’t enough as Lamar Jackson was able to squeak out a 24-14 win that was much closer than the final score indicated.

The Heisman Trophy favorite did not have the sharpest of nights in the passing game after spending nearly two weeks off since the team’s last outing in a close loss at Clemson. Jackson finished with just 181 yards and a touchdown pass through the air but came up big on the ground with 144 yards rushing and another score. In a rare fourth quarter appearance on the year, the young signal-caller made several big plays in leading the Cardinals to a scoring drive just after the Blue Devils cut the lead to three points late in the game.

Jeremy Smith also chipped in with 97 yards rushing, including an 80-yarder in the third quarter that was Louisville’s longest offensive play of the year.

The story of the game was the impressive defensive effort by the visitors however. Facing the top scoring offense in the country, Duke slowed Louisville down considerably by limiting them to “only” 469 yards and a measly 24 points thanks to some big stops in the red zone. Joe Giles-Harris was all over the field on his way to a nine tackle, one sack effort and he got plenty of help from an offense that allowed for plenty of rest on the sidelines.

The Blue Devils thought they had a chance late when they held the Cardinals to a field goal attempt on 4th and 22 to keep it within a touchdown during the final few minutes. They suffered a heart-breaking penalty on the play when they were called for roughing the kicker though, which extended the drive and allowed Jackson to later punch it in for the final points of the night to salt away a win.

Either way it was an impressive effort from Duke in perhaps their most complete game of the season –against a top 10 team no less. Louisville still held on for the win to keep their slim College Football Playoff hopes alive however and will hope Friday night’s close game was simply the result of rust from a bye week instead of any lingering effects from their first loss of the season.