College Football Picks - Week 8

Written by Sam Pearce

***Looking for our NFL Week 7 picks? Get them here!***

Last week we noted that it was a rare Saturday with no matchups of ranked vs ranked games, but we told you that you better tune in anyway.  If you did, you weren't disappointed. Sam and Kevin were at the Carrier Dome to witness the stunning Syracuse upset over Clemson on Friday night and that was just the beginning of a wild weekend of College Football.  Alabama and Penn State are rolling, but should either of these teams be on upset alert?  Also, the schedule this Saturday has a couple matchups that are absolutely de facto playoff games.  All the commentary, previews, and game picks you need are right here!

Can Penn State Beat Michigan and Stay Undefeated?  Photo Courtesy: Chris Knight, AP Photo

 

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Louisiana (+12.5) @ Arkansas State:

You don't have plans for Thursday night?! Well you do now! It's Sun Belt Conference football on ESPNU when Louisiana (Louisiana-Lafayette) heads to Arkansas State. The Sun Belt isn't broken down into divisions. Instead, its champion is crowned based on whoever has the best regular season record in the conference. Both of these teams are in the top half of the conference, so this is a big game. The Arkansas State Red Wolves are heavy favorites and that makes sense as the home team has won the last three meetings. Arkansas State nearly pulled off a shocking upset on opening weekend when they stayed within a touchdown of Nebraska in Lincoln. It was a sign of things to come, as the Red Wolves have covered in four of five games this year. They're also 7-0 ATS in their last seven games at home. And 5-1-1 ATS in their last seven on Thursday nights. More importantly, quarterback Justice Hansen continues to have a nice season. Through five games, Hansen has already thrown 19 touchdowns. Louisiana was giving up large chunks of yards and too many points early in the season, but they've improved in recent weeks. The key to this game is how well they can contain Hansen. Despite his early success this year, he has thrown too many interceptions - six already. If Louisiana can force turnovers, they've got a shot to cover and win outright. If not, it could be a long night. Nothing's for sure in the Sun Belt, but I'll take the Red Wolves to cover and continue their march to the conference championship:

Sam's Play: Red Wolves
KAM's Play: Red Wolves
Kevin's Play: Rajin' Cajuns 
Matt's Play: Rajin' Cajuns

 

Memphis (+2.5) @ Houston:

In addition to the big time Sun Belt game on Thursday night, we've got AAC action too. Memphis, fresh off a big win at Navy last week, heads to Houston for an AAC West matchup that will go a long way in deciding the division. Coach Mike Norvell has done a nice job at Memphis. Thanks to wins over UCLA back in the second week of the season, and then over Navy last week, Memphis has beaten two ranked teams in the same season for the first time in the history of their program. Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson is having an excellent season. Ferguson is averaging over 300 yards per game (YPG) passing, and has 19 touchdowns already this year. But he'll have his work cut out for him on Thursday night. Houston is second in the AAC, to only South Florida, when it comes to forcing turnovers in the passing game. The Houston defense has at least one interception in every game they've played this year. They're also good when it comes to red zone defense. Houston has only allowed opponents to score touchdowns on 41% of their red zone trips. That's best in the AAC by far. By comparison, Memphis allows 57% of opponents red zone trips to end in touchdowns. That's a large disparity, especially since Houston is at home. It's also a short week for both squads, which generally favors the home team. The Memphis win at Navy last week was great, but it was also a physically demanding game. It'll be tough to win back-to-back road games on a short week. Cougars to cover at home:

Sam's Play: Cougars
KAM's Play: Tigers
Kevin's Play: Cougars 
Matt's Play: Cougars 

 

Colorado State (-7.5) @ New Mexico:

CSU survived and won a wild episode of #MountainWestAfterMidnight last Saturday, beating Nevada and remaining unbeaten in the conference. CSU is quietly having an impressive season: The Rams have only dropped two games; the first was the Rocky Mountain Showdown, and the second was a game at Tuscaloosa when they weren't completely embarrassed by Alabama. Most teams can't say that, so we'll give the Rams credit. Their 5-2 record is broken down as 1-2 against Power 5 opponents and 4-0 against Group of 5 (3-0 in the Mountain West). Most Group of 5 programs will gladly take that record, especially since one of those losses was Alabama.

Ultimately though, CSU's season will be graded on how well they compete in the Mountain West. At 3-0 in conference play the Rams are off to a good start, but this trip to Albuquerque will be their toughest test yet. Led by quarterback Nick Stevens, CSU is putting up 35 points per game (PPG) and well over 500 YPG. Those are impressive numbers that may be difficult to reach against New Mexico. The Lobos are most successful when they run the ball (240 YPG rushing this year) and control the clock. If they can do that, they can keep this close. The Lobos have been up and down all season, but they've been better at home. Their last game in Albuquerque they gained almost 400 yards on the ground and scored 56 points in a win over Air Force. The Rams should be able to win here, but Lobos to cover getting more than a touchdown at home:

Sam's Play: Los Lobos
KAM's Play: Los Lobos
Kevin's Play: Los Lobos
Matt's Play: Los Lobos

 

Oklahoma State (-7.5) @ Texas:

Way back in August, Kevin and I predicted College Football futures and we posted our predictions here. I was high on Texas, and expected Tom Herman to get things turned around for the Longhorns in a hurry, so I took them OVER the 7.5 wins number. Texas is playing well this season but that includes a couple close losses to USC and Oklahoma. So here are the Longhorns with a 3-3 record after six games, and hosting Oklahoma State as home underdogs this Saturday. The Cowboys bring the nation's leading offense to Austin, averaging well over 600 YPG. Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph has already thrown for over 2300 yards and 19 touchdowns. But Texas has the athletes to match up with Oklahoma State. We saw this last week when Texas came back to take a fourth quarter lead over Oklahoma before losing late. But Texas covered, just like they did in the close loss to USC. Texas is actually 5-1 ATS this year and 5-0 in their last five. Cowboys may win, but Longhorns to cover, getting more than a full score in Austin:

Sam's Play: Longhorns
KAM's Play: Cowboys
Kevin's Play: Longhorns
Matt's Play: Longhorns  

 

Maryland (+24) @ Wisconsin:

With the recent carnage that's taken place across the college football landscape, Wisconsin has crept into the AP's top five. Keep in mind that the AP poll is meaningless in the College Football Playoff (CFP) era, but it gives the old guys that still write for newspapers something to do. So the Badgers are ranked #5 in the country but how good are they? They haven't beaten a team with a winning record this year, and their last two home wins - over Northworst and Purdon't - have hardly been impressive. Last week the Badgers got up early on the Boilermakers, 14-0, on the strength of their run game. The run game is impressive. The offensive line is awesome and true freshman Jonathan Taylor is having a tremendous season. So a team like Purdue is a little overwhelmed early by the size and strength of the Wisconsin offensive line. They're not ready for Taylor's strength/speed combination either. So the Badgers get up early, but a well-coached team makes adjustments and commits to stopping Wisconsin's powerful but simple run game. That's exactly what Jeff Brohm and Purdue did last week. By committing to stop the run, Purdue was able to force Wisconsin into third-and-long situations. This is becoming problematic for the Badgers. Sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook is adequate but has trouble hitting open receivers on deep routes that could be big plays. The Badgers actually have a talented and athletic group of receivers this year. But if you've watched the games you know that every time one of them is running wide open down the field, the ball is underthrown. And it's usually bad. Hornibrook has also struggled with turnovers. He's thrown five interceptions in the last three games. These are typically awful passes that shouldn't even be thrown, including an inexcusable pick-6 against Nebraska a couple weeks ago. These turnovers allow Wisconsin's opponents to stay in games. And if you're picking games, it gives their opponents a great chance to cover. Check out these stats from last week: Wisconsin outgained Purdue, 494-221. Wisconsin outgained Purdue on the ground, 295-66. Wisconsin controlled the clock, holding the ball for just under 40 minutes, compared to Purdue's 20! So how the hell do they win by a mere 8 points? At home! Because once Purdue sold out to stop Wisconsin's run game, they got Hornibrook in tough spots and he wasn't able to deliver. Or worse, turn the ball over, and give the opponent a shorter field.

It will be difficult for Paul Chryst and Wisconsin to resolve all of these passing issues in a week. Over the course of the rest of the season, perhaps. But not in a week. Wisconsin will also stick to a relatively primitive game plan for an opponent like Maryland. They'll continue to run the ball, play great defense, and if necessary, even play field a field position game against a lesser opponent. Badgers to win, but Terps - who have some playmakers on offense - to do enough to cover this huge number: 

Sam's Play: Terps
KAM's Play: Badgers 
Kevin's Play: Terps
Matt's Play: Badgers 


Tennessee (+34.5) @ Alabama
:

The Third Saturday in October already? Yes. But is it very meaningful this year? No, not really. On our podcast this week, KAM discussed just how long it's been since Tennessee has been competitive in this series: Tennessee hasn't won since 2006. Seven of those ten Alabama wins were by 20 points or more. Only twice has Tennessee kept it within double digits. Things are bad in Knoxville and just keep getting worse. As Butch Jones has so eloquently stated, Tennessee can't score touchdowns. Alabama can. Winning by five of them in Tuscaloosa won't be an issue. Tide to keep rolling:

Sam's Play: Crimson Tide
KAM's Play: Volunteers 
Kevin's Play: Crimson Tide
Matt's Play: Volunteers

 

Syracuse (+15) @ Miami:

Syracuse shocked the world last Friday night with their win over the defending national champs; now they head to Miami to face another undefeated ACC foe. This is actually an old Big East rivalry, and Syracuse's Carrier Dome felt like it was Turn Back the Clock night to the Big East days last week when the Orangemen knocked off Clemson. Can they take out the ACC's last remaining unbeaten? Vegas doesn't think so; hence, the big line here. Miami is having a good season. Maybe they're even on their way to a great season. But their last two games, wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech, required late game heroics. Miami only won those games by a combined five points, and they haven't been able to score more than 25. Syracuse hasn't been blown out in a game this year, and they're 4-2-1 ATS for the season. That includes 2-0 ATS against the two best ACC teams they've seen so far, NC State and Clemson. Miami should win this game at home but the Orangemen can keep it closer than 15:

Sam's Play: Orangemen 
KAM's Play: Hurricanes
Kevin's Play: Orangemen 
Matt's Play: Orangemen 

 

Central Florida (-8) @ Navy:

In case you've missed it, the Scott Frost Sweepstakes have absolutely begun! Confused? Here's what you need to know: Frost played quarterback for Nebraska a really long time ago. Well, for Cornhuskers fans it wasn't that long: About 20 years ago, when Nebraska was Tom Osborne's Nebraska program. Huskers fans want to see a return to that era and since they're about to fire yet another coach, it's only natural that Frost's name has surfaced as a possibility to take over the program. That's because Frost has done an excellent job coaching Central Florida. It's hard to say exactly how many big-time D1 jobs will be open going into 2018. Depending on what happens over the next month, we could see openings at Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee, UCLA, and of course, Nebraska. (And believe it or not, that's the short list. It could be longer since so many college football programs have unrealistic expectations...) But will Frost's history in Lincoln guarantee that it's a head coaching job he'll want? We'll find out soon enough.

As for the job that Frost is doing at Central Florida, the Knights are averaging over 50 PPG, best in all of Division 1 football. They're also 6-0 and moving up the AP rankings. What makes Central Florida an even more challenging matchup for Navy this Saturday is that the Knights are also stout on defense. They've given up only 84 points in five games this year, the best scoring defense in the AAC. Because they're so good on both sides of the ball, it's no wonder the Knights are 5-0 ATS this year. Uncharacteristically, Navy turned the ball over 5 times last week in their loss to Memphis. If they turn it over against Central Florida, they have no chance. If they play the way we've come to expect Navy to play over the last decade then they'll keep it close. I don't think they can win outright, but I like the Midshipmen to keep it close at home:

Sam's Play: Midshipmen 
KAM's Play: Knights 
Kevin's Play: Midshipmen 
Matt's Play: Midshipmen 

 

Oklahoma (-13.5) @ Kansas State:

With their win over Texas in the Red River Shootout last week, Oklahoma is back on track to at least compete for the Big 12 conference title. Before the season started this looked like a tough trip to Manhattan, KS. But K-State is really struggling. They've lost three of their last four games, and now that starting quarterback Jesse Ertz is out, they're really struggling to get much going on offense. They managed all of six points last week in a loss to TCU, and they're only 2-4 ATS for the season. Oklahoma has zero margin for error after their upset loss a couple weeks ago. To stay in contention they need to take care of business on the road and they will. Sooners to win big:

Sam's Play: Sooners
KAM's Play: Sooners 
Kevin's Play: Wildcats
Matt's Play: Wildcats

 

Michigan (+10) @ Penn State:

Can Coach Harbaugh Win in Happy Valley and Silence Some Critics? 
Photo Courtesy: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

 

We're getting to that point in the college football season where we get a couple games every week that are essentially regular season playoff games. And we've got two of them on Saturday night, starting with Michigan traveling to Penn State. Just a few weeks ago there was no way I thought this would be a ten point line. And despite Michigan's recent struggles, I still think their defense can keep them in a game with pretty much anyone not named Alabama. How good is Michigan's defense? They still haven't given up 300 yards of offense in a single game this year, an impressive stat. Penn State is off to an impressive start too. And at #2 in the country, their highest ranking in the AP poll since 1999. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is probably the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy right now, and for good reason: He's gained well over a thousand yards from scrimmage and scored eight touchdowns in six games. Those stats, while very good, don't do the young man justice. You have to watch his games to truly appreciate his brilliance. He looks like an NFL all-pro already; like he's on a totally different level compared to the rest of the guys on the field. But Penn State's offense isn't a one-trick pony. Quarterback Trace McSorley led an awesome last-minute drive in Iowa City a few weeks ago to beat Iowa on the last play of the game. McSorley threw a perfect touchdown pass in a tight window to win that game. He's capable of doing the same thing this Saturday night if necessary. That Iowa win was impressive because a lot of teams would have folded in that spot. But Iowa's also a mediocre Big Ten team this year. Penn State is yet to beat a ranked opponent. And while Michigan has some [well-publicized] struggles offensively, Penn State hasn't seen any unit as good as the Michigan defense yet. Not even close. The Nittany Lions should win this game, but they're in for a physically demanding three hours on Saturday night. On the strength of their formidable defense, I'll take the Wolverines to keep it closer than double digits:

Sam's Play: Wolverines
KAM's Play: Wolverines
Kevin's Play: Nittany Lions
Matt's Play: Nittany Lions

 

USC (+4) @ Notre Dame:

Will USC need another Bush Push to Beat Notre Dame in South Bend?
Photo Courtesy:  Andy Altenburger, Icon SMI

 

On the podcast this week I said this was the game I'm most looking forward to. Some of you love Notre Dame and some of you hate Notre Dame. And it's safe to say the same thing about their opponent this weekend, the USC Trojans. There aren't many college football fans that don't have an opinion when it comes to either of these teams. Regardless, there's a lot of history here and it's fun to see both of these rivals ranked and ready for a consequential game. How consequential? It's a MUST-win game for both teams. That's not hyperbole. Both teams still have a shot at the CFP. But neither can afford a second loss. USC needs to win here, win out in the Pac-12, and beat the North division champ in their conference title game. A 12-1 record and a Pac-12 title almost certainly sends them to the CFP. If they win their league but have a second loss courtesy of the Irish, they'll almost certainly miss out. Notre Dame needs to make a similar run: Beat USC, win out the rest of their regular season, and get to 11-1. My opinion is that they'd still need to get some help to get in. (I specifically compared them to a hypothetical one-loss Georgia team on the podcast.) But they can at least make their case at 11-1. A second loss ends all hope since Notre Dame still [foolishly] plays an Independent schedule and has no chance to win a conference championship game. So this game means everything to both teams. The fact that it's rivalry makes it even better.

USC comes to South Bend as an underdog; it's the Trojans first time they haven't been favored in a game all year. They'll face a Notre Dame team that is running the ball very well: The Irish are averaging over 300 YPG on the ground. They should be able to have some success running on Saturday night as well. But Notre Dame isn't particularly good at stopping the pass. This is good news for Sam Darnold. Darnold needs to play well and he especially needs to avoid turning the ball over. If he can do that, then the Trojans can get the balance on offense that they need, and this will be close throughout. I'll take either team getting more than a field goal here. Trojans to cover:

Sam's Play: Trojans 
KAM's Play: Trojans 
Kevin's Play: Trojans 
Matt's Play: Trojans 

 

Wyoming (+13.5) @ Boise State:

Last week we pointed out what a huge game it was for Boise in the Mountain West. So let's give Boise a ton of credit for going on the road to San Diego and beating the Aztecs. Looks like we can't just hand over the Mountain West Conference to San Diego State quite yet. Now Boise is back in their familiar role as a big favorite for a conference game. Wyoming comes to Boise this Saturday for some #MountainWestAfterMidnight action, and let's face it - Wyoming hasn't played very well against good teams this year. The Cowboys were beaten badly in their opener at Iowa and they looked even worse when they hosted Oregon. Iowa and Oregon are run of the mill Power 5 teams, so Wyoming was hoping to compete in those games. To the Cowboys credit, they've won everything else and they're 2-0 in Mountain West play. But their offense, led by NFL prospect Josh Allen, has underwhelmed all season. If they can knock off Boise, like they did last year in Laramie, this would easily be their biggest win of the season to date. But it won't be easy. Boise ran all over San Diego State last week, and also stopped the run. Unless Allen has a break-out performance, the kind we were hoping to see more of this year, the Broncos defense should be good again this week. It's a big number, but I'll take the Broncos to cover at home:

Sam's Play: Broncos
KAM's Play: Cowboys 
Kevin's Play: Cowboys
Matt's Play: Cowboys

 

Colorado (+10.5) @ Washington State:

#Pac12AfterDark wasn't too kind to Washington State last week at Cal. We're still waiting for the Cougars to even show up in Berkeley. To review, Washington State had the big win over USC a few weeks ago and then won big at Oregon the following week. After avoiding the immediate letdown, I thought they were on their way to a solid season. Not necessarily the CFP, maybe not even the division title, but I didn't expect them to completely no-show against an unranked opponent. Can they get back on track at home in Pullman this Saturday night? I think so. Quarterback Luke Falk has always been better at home and I think we'll see a good game from him against a Colorado team that's struggled to defend anyone in the Pac-12. Colorado just got their first win in the conference last week, but it came at the expense of an Oregon State team in a lot of turmoil. And even in the win, Colorado wasn't that impressive, nor did they prevent a bad Beavers team from putting up over 30 points. Despite the awful performance last week, Washington State is 4-3 ATS for the season. Colorado is only 2-5 ATS. I'll take the Cougars to cover the big number at home:

Sam's Play: Cougars
KAM's Play: Cougars  
Kevin's Play: Cougars
Matt's Play: Cougars

 

 

Good luck with your picks and have a great October weekend! After some busy weekends with travel and work, I'm home all weekend to watch games and teach my wife and daughter more about nickel and dime defensive packages. Life is good: Thank God it's football season!

 

Last Week Win Loss Push
Sam 9 4 0
KAM 3 10 0
Kevin 8 5 0
Matt 6 7 0

 

Season Win Loss Push
Sam 40 39 0
KAM 36 43 0
Kevin 37 42 0
Matt 42 37 0

 

***Want even more picks?! Lucky you! Our NFL picks are posted here!***  

Still can't get enough? Listen to this week's football podcast. Packed with college football and NFL coverage, both!

 

Like our college football picks this week? Or last week? Hate the picks? Want to weigh in?  All feedback welcome! Find us on Twitter and let us know: 

 

Sam
Sam often picks with his heart rather than his head. Or he tries too hard to hedge the other way. Don't be afraid to fade his picks; it won't hurt his feelings.
@samuelwpearce
 
KAM
The voice of thefootballpod.com, KAM's so good that she's been known to pick both NFL and college games. She'll share her picks as long as you don't trash talk her Packers.
@kimberlymaley
 
Kevin
Need power picks and the power sweep, both? Then look no further than Kevin's picks. This Western Pennsylvania football product knows the game as well as anyone.
@kjcon71
 
Matt
Historically the best player in the Tipperary Hill Premier League, Matt's also excellent when it comes to picking college games. Just don't bother him when Iowa's playing!
@sportsapalooza