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College football Week 8: 15 players to watch

Week 8 is a major milestone in the college football season as the Big Ten and Mountain West Conference kick off their seasons. The Big Ten is attempting to play eight games in eight weeks (with a ninth game for everyone during their championship weekend) while the Mountain West will play seven conference games with some schools playing independent BYU (or Air Force playing six conference games as well as facing Army and Navy).

So the schedule has thickened a bit, and we are in a crazy -- and quick -- race for conference championships and one of those coveted spots in the College Football Playoff. Also, with the Mountain West back (and the Pac-12 starting up in two weeks) we get late night football again!

So with nearly a full slate of games on tap, here are 15 players to watch in Week 8.

 
1 of 15

Hank Bachmeier, Boise State

Hank Bachmeier, Boise State
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Can Boise State make a run at getting one of those playoff spots? With just eight games to prove it and just one game against anyone of note (they host BYU on Nov. 6), the Broncos not only need to win but they need to win big. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier needs to take that leap if Boise is going to reach its lofty goals. As a freshman in 2019, he had some big yardage games (most notably 407 yards at Florida State) but was short on touchdowns (just nine) and threw some bad interceptions. He also took a lot of hits, which limited him to just eight games last year. Boise State hosts Utah State in a huge conference battle. 

 
2 of 15

Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Can Minnesota make another run at a Big Ten title? If it does, Bateman will be a major reason why. Bateman caught 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Gophers as a sophomore last year, and with Tyler Johnson now in the NFL, quarterback Tanner Morgan will be looking Bateman's way a lot in 2020. Minnesota hosts Michigan in the Big Ten's biggest game of its opening week. 

 
3 of 15

Shane Buechele, SMU

Shane Buechele, SMU
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Buechele has been big in two tough, close games in the last couple of weeks. Against Memphis and Tulane, Buechele threw for a combined 858 yards and five touchdowns in two three-point wins. This week, the Mustangs host Cincinnati in a huge AAC showdown where one of the best passing quarterbacks in the nation faces one of the best defenses. Buechele must play big to beat the Bearcats.

 
4 of 15

Justin Fields, Ohio State

Justin Fields, Ohio State
Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

There is a lot of pressure on Justin Fields. For one, Ohio State is a major contender to win a national championship and the Buckeyes are getting a very late start on their campaign. With just eight regular-season games in the Big Ten, winning each one is crucial. Add in the fact that Fields is also a Heisman contender and projected to be one of the top picks in the 2021 NFL Draft and it is imperative that he hits the ground running this week against Nebraska. 

 
5 of 15

Pat Freiermuth, Penn State

Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State might be the Big Ten favorite, but Penn State is definitely capable of winning the Big Ten as well. The Nittany Lions might not be as dynamic as the Buckeyes, but they have one of the nation's best security blanket in Pat Freiermuth. The tight end, nicknamed "Baby Gronk", has caught 69 passes for 875 yards and 15 touchdowns over his first two seasons in Happy Valley.  Penn State opens its season at Indiana.

 
6 of 15

Dillon Gabriel, UCF

Dillon Gabriel, UCF
Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

Gabriel has been unreal this season. In four games, he's already thrown for 1,756 yards (a 439 yards-per-game average) and 14 touchdowns. Last week against Memphis, he threw for 601 yards and 5 TDs in a 50-49 loss. While the Knights are on a rare losing streak, Gabriel is still shredding defenses. UCF hosts Tulane on Saturday. 

 
7 of 15

Collin Hill, South Carolina

Collin Hill, South Carolina
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Hill hasn't done much statistically to typically make him a guy you need to keep an eye on each week, but his opponent in Week 8 puts him in this category. South Carolina travels to LSU on Saturday night, and the Tigers have been making quarterbacks look like Heisman candidates (see: K.J. Costello, Connor Bazelak). Hill was solid in an earlier loss to Florida and was decent, albeit unspectacular, in last week's upset win over Auburn. Also, keep an eye on receiver Shi Smith having a big day.

 
8 of 15

Sam Howell, North Carolina

Sam Howell, North Carolina
Adam Richins-USA TODAY Sports

For much of the Tar Heels' crushing loss to Florida State last week, the offense couldn't put points on the board. North Carolina would make a furious comeback that came up just short with Howell airing the ball out. He will need to have a quicker start this Saturday as the Heels host rival (and rolling) N.C. State. In last year's battle against the Wolfpack, Howell threw for 401 yards and three TDs in a 41-10 blowout victory. While Carolina's national title hopes took a big hit with last week's loss, there is still a great shot for the Tar Heels to get to the ACC title game. 

 
9 of 15

Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State

Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

It will have been three weeks since we last saw Hubbard and the Cowboys play a game. In that game (Oct. 3 against Kansas), Hubbard ran for 145 yards and two touchdowns in the 47-7 win over the Jayhawks. The Heisman candidate is getting stronger and better each week and should be well-rested with a couple of weeks off. Oklahoma State hosts Iowa State in a huge Big 12 showdown.

 
10 of 15

Patrick Jones II, Pittsburgh

Patrick Jones II, Pittsburgh
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt is a dangerous team, despite its pedestrian 3-3 record. The Panthers have a tough, physical defense and a quarterback who is eighth in the FBS in passing yards. Jones has been one of the best defensive ends in the country and has put up huge games this season. He had three sacks against Boston College a couple of weeks ago and three sacks against Louisville earlier in the season. This week, Pitt hosts a Notre Dame team whose offense that struggled last week against Louisville. Irish quarterback Ian Book better watch out.

 
11 of 15

Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina

Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

It seems a bit like destiny that Coastal Carolina's big game with Louisiana was pushed back to a Wednesday since a very good game got a night all to itself. McCall has been so good this season as a redshirt freshman. The Chanticleers are a run-first offense, but McCall is completing 67.8% of his passes and has thrown 11 touchdown passes to just one interception and is averaging nearly 16 yards per completion. Coastal Carolina is ranked this week and will host Georgia Southern, which has an underrated defense.

 
12 of 15

Rondale Moore, Purdue

Rondale Moore, Purdue
Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier, Lafayette Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Moore was one of several Big Ten players who opted out of school when the conference initially postponed the season but was able to opt back in when the league reversed course. Moore, frankly, can score any time he has the football. One of the best receivers in the nation, he broke out as a freshman in 2018 with 114 catches for 1,258 yards and 12 TDs but played just four games last season as a hamstring injury shortened his season. In the first two games of 2019, he caught a total of 24 passes for 344 yards and two scores. Purdue hosts Iowa on Saturday.

 
13 of 15

Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State

Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Has anyone noticed that after an embarrassing opening-game loss to Arkansas State, Kansas State is sitting atop the Big 12 after beating Oklahoma, Texas Tech and TCU? One big reason is Vaughn, a versatile running back who can beat you all kinds of ways. What he lacks in statistical bulk he makes up for with quality. For example, his only catch against TCU was a 45-yard reception and he's already racked up a 70-yard catch against Texas Tech and a 77-yard grab against Oklahoma. His smallish frame (he is just 5-foot-5) and quick moves remind many of former K-State great Darren Sproles. The Wildcats host rival Kansas this week.

 
14 of 15

Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Mickey Welsh, Montgomery Advertiser via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Waddle has been putting up monster numbers all year. In last week's win over a very good Georgia defense, Waddle caught six passes for 161 yards and a touchdown ... including a 90-yard score that gave the Crimson Tide a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Alabama travels to Tennessee this week. Waddle caught just one 13-yard pass in last year's game but caught a 77-yard TD pass against the Vols in their 2018 meeting.

 
15 of 15

Zach Wilson, BYU

Zach Wilson, BYU
Rick Bowmer/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

I will keep harping on this: watch Zach Wilson. BYU hosts Texas State late Saturday night in what should be another easy win for the Cougars and another opportunity for Wilson to show his brilliance. He has completed 78.7% of his passes for 1,641 yards and 12 touchdowns (he's also rushed for six TDs). 

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