Week 8 Preview: Next 3 games to show Penn St. playoff mettle

Of the teams contending for the four spots in the College Football Playoff, none face a more treacherous stretch than Penn State over the next three weeks.

Elbowed out of last year's playoff despite winning the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions are well positioned right now as the No. 2 team in The Associated Press poll.

For the first time since 2004, they face three straight games against ranked opponents. They host No. 19 Michigan on Saturday night and play No. 3 Ohio State and No. 18 Michigan State in back-to-back road games.

One loss won't slam the door on Penn State's playoff hopes. Two losses more than likely would.

Things to know about Week 8 of the college football season.

BEST GAME

No. 11 Southern California at No. 13 Notre Dame.

In this 89th game in what's billed as college football's greatest intersectional rivalry, the winner gets the jeweled Shillelagh and stays alive for the playoff. Notre Dame has beaten the Trojans four times since 2010 and two straight in South Bend.

USC quarterback Sam Darnold likely is out of the Heisman Trophy race, but he holds the key to keeping the Trojans — and the Pac-12 — in the playoff discussion. He threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns in last year's 45-27 win over the Irish in Los Angeles and is 15-2 as a starter.

Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush has been declared healthy after missing the game against North Carolina two weeks ago because of a right foot injury.

HEISMAN WATCH

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

Taylor probably is a long shot, but he deserves to be in the conversation because he's a big reason Wisconsin is a top-five team. He ran for 219 yards in a hard-earned win over Purdue last week and has gone over 200 three times in six games. He leads all freshmen with 164.3 yards per game and 10 touchdowns, and he's the No. 3 rusher overall. He faces three of the Big Ten's four worst rushing defenses the next three games, so more big numbers are coming.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

14 — Since entering the Big 12 in 2012, TCU has won all five meetings with lowly Kansas but never by more than 14 points. The Horned Frogs won 24-23 in Lawrence last year. They're favored by 38 at home.

23 — The number of consecutive games South Florida has scored 30 or more points, tied with Oregon (2011-12) for longest streak since 1936.

28 — Total points allowed by LSU in the fourth quarter. The Tigers have held their last two opponents, Florida and Auburn, to a combined zero points, 71 yards and three first downs over the last 15 minutes.

52 — The number of rungs Washington State has ascended on the national total defense chart since last season, from No. 62 to No. 10. Don't be fooled by the 37-3 loss to California. The Cougars turned over the ball seven times, and Cal started four of its scoring drives at the WSU 20, 23, 38 and 26. The Cougars are allowing 288 yards a game and their 23 sacks are tied for fourth nationally.

76-0 — The margin by which Penn State is outscoring opponents in the first quarter.

UNDER THE RADAR

Iowa State at Texas Tech

Second-year coach Matt Campbell has the Cyclones (4-2, 2-1) tied for second in the Big 12 and bidding for a fourth straight road win for the first time since 1960-61. Iowa State followed its upset at Oklahoma with a 45-0 win over Kansas last week, holding the Jayhawks to 106 total yards.

Texas Tech (4-2, 1-2) needs this one. Bowl eligibility isn't assured with Oklahoma, Kansas State, TCU and Texas still on the schedule.

HOT SEAT WATCH

Jim Mora, UCLA

The Bruins (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) enter their home game against Oregon off losses in three of their last four, including last week's 47-30 defeat at Arizona in which Khalil Tate shredded UCLA's defense for 230 yards rushing and 148 yards passing. The Bruins are touchdown favorites in this one, but it gets no easier after this for Mora, who's 7-11 the last two seasons. The next two games are on the road at Washington and Utah.