Bleacher Report Expert Predictions for Week 8 in College Football
Here's the only safe college football prediction at this point: There will be chaos.
Three AP Top 10 teams suffered losses in Week 6. Four such teams went down in the span of a few hours this past Saturday. Aside from Alabama, no one is safe.
Five Top 10 teams play on the road and two others host Top 25 teams this weekend, so that trend may well continue.
Our college football experts—Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton—have once again offered up predictions on some of the hardest-hitting questions of the week, including:
- Who wins each of the week's four ranked vs. ranked showdowns?
- Does Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins rack up a ton of passing yards again?
- Will Cincinnati remain undefeated?
- What does the College Football Playoff look like from our current spot in the calendar?
- And will Connecticut be able to force a single South Florida punt?
The experts are on the case.
Who Wins the Clash of the ACC's Undefeateds: No. 16 NC State or No. 3 Clemson?
Matt Hayes (Twitter: @MattHayesCFB)
Clemson. I still don't think people realize the unique abilities of Trevor Lawrence. He has barely played half a season and already has beaten out a previous starter who led his team to the College Football Playoff (sound familiar?), and he has shown uncanny passing skill and ability (sound familiar, again?). Years from now, we’ll look back on the next three years and marvel at both Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa and what they accomplished in college at such a young age.
David Kenyon (Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR)
Clemson's pass defense numbers are a little skewed because three opponents had heavy run-first styles. In the Tigers' last two games, though, they surrendered only 4.8 yards per attempt. Ryan Finley will be well-prepared early on, but late-game mistakes doomed NC State in both 2016 and 2017. I don't expect that to change.
Adam Kramer (Twitter: @KegsnEggs)
Clemson, and I expect this game to be decided by more than double digits. For our degenerate readers (love you, guys), let's translate that as a cover.
I feel like the Tigers' best football is still out there somewhere, which better be the case, considering the lapses we've seen at times by a team so deeply stocked with talent. The bye week couldn't have come at a better time, and we will see a healthier, more polished Lawrence at quarterback.
NC State is a fine team with a fine quarterback in Finley. I just feel like the talent gap will be too big in too many other places, and playing on the road adds to this as well despite the unique history between these two. Clemson 38, NC State 20.
Kerry Miller (Twitter: @kerrancejames)
NC State has done a great job of protecting Finley, allowing just two sacks thus far this season. That includes games against Marshall and Boston College, each of which averages at least three sacks per game. And the Wolfpack limited the Tigers to one sack in last year's 38-31 close call. That could cause problems for Clemson's defense. Moreover, NC State has a strong rush defense that may be able to keep Travis Etienne from running wild. I'm picking Clemson to win, but this could be the Tigers' third game that comes down to the wire.
Brad Shepard (Twitter: @Brad_Shepard)
This game is going to be closer than a lot of people think, but Clemson still has far too much talent and will come away with the win in the end. Dave Doeren will find some ways to limit Lawrence, who hasn't quite matured into his starting role. But Etienne will be the difference, and I'm not sure the Wolfpack can consistently move the ball against the Tigers front seven.
Ian Wharton (Twitter: @NFLFilmStudy)
Clemson has more depth and the equity of a powerhouse, but NC State has been as good as the Tigers have been this season. The Wolfpack are experienced on both sides of the ball and stand the best chance to upset the Tigers in Death Valley as anyone. Both defenses have been excellent this year, but I'll take the Wolfpack to pull out the road win thanks to their stellar red-zone and third-down defense and ability to rely on their senior quarterback.
Does Michigan State Knock Off a 2nd Consecutive AP Top 10 Foe Against Michigan?
Michigan is feeling it. The Wolverines are playing with confidence, and they know the guy under center (Shea Patterson) will make game-winning plays. The defense is stout, and this is where they take a stand and begin to change coach Jim Harbaugh's losing ways against his biggest rivals. This win leads to more confidence for that huge game at the end of November (Ohio State) that means more than anything.
This is an opportunity for Michigan's improved offensive line to prove itself. Over the last three seasons, the Wolverines have trudged to a combined 3.1 yards per carry against Michigan State. This year's 5.4-yard rushing average is the best of the Harbaugh era, and that's a huge reason for Michigan's ascent. MSU has a tremendous front seven, but I'm taking the Wolverines.
No, but this one should be close. With the point spread hovering around a touchdown, it's clear oddsmakers believe what we saw from Michigan State last week was much more than a blip on the radar. But this is a step up in class—at least it feels that way, given how Michigan has played. I expect the Wolverines to be ready for a meat grinder of a football game. Michigan wins close.
Would it shock me if Michigan State won this game? Not in the least. Michigan has been outstanding in the Big House, but it has been mediocre at best on the road, which has been the case for years. But have you seen how much trouble opposing quarterbacks are having with this Wolverines defense? In four Big Ten games, opponents have averaged 110.0 passing yards, completing 50.0 percent of passes with one touchdown and four interceptions. MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke, meanwhile, hasn't been dominating against inferior competition. Defense prevails in a physical 20-10 victory for the Wolverines.
Last week, the Fightin' Lewerkes came out of nowhere, didn't they? That was a good story, but this week the Spartans go up against a Michigan team that is playing at an all-time high in the Harbaugh era. That defense is for real, and the offense is doing enough to win games. It's setting up to be a fun end-of-the-year game against Ohio State, and MSU won't derail that. It's a rivalry, so stranger things have happened. But Michigan is playing too well right now.
No, but it's not a surprise that Mark Dantonio's team is hitting its stride at the right time in the schedule. The Spartans are resilient and earned a tough road win at Penn State, but Michigan is more talented than the Nittany Lions. Lewerke has completed just 53.9 percent of his throws against Big Ten competition, and the Wolverines have the secondary to suffocate the Spartans' passing game en route to a win.
Will No. 20 Cincinnati Improve to 7-0 with a Road Win over Temple?
More important question: How utterly deflated will the AAC be if Cincinnati doesn't win? The league that likes to bill itself as a Power Six conference—it's cute; let them have their marketing idea—desperately wants a November with three unbeaten teams (UCF, USF and Cincinnati) to elevate the conference. They're all in the same division (AAC East) and they all play each other in November, at the peak of the College Football Playoff madness. But, yes, Cincy gets out of Philadelphia with a close win.
Temple and Cincinnati rank fifth and sixth nationally in fewest yards allowed per play, respectively, so signs point to a defensive slugfest. My concern with Temple is it has had five multi-turnover games, while Cincinnati has only seven giveaways all season. Give the Bearcats easy points and expect to lose.
I actually like Temple in this game. So does Las Vegas, by the way, as the Owls are favored over a team that has yet to lose a game. Outside of an ugly Week 1 loss to FCS Villanova, Temple has lost to only Buffalo and Boston College—two quality opponents. Ryquell Armstead has been excellent at running back, and he could have a huge game against the Bearcats.
Cincinnati certainly has been good this season. You don't stumble into 6-0. But at the same time, the six wins have not come against a string of juggernauts. I would say they will be on the wrong end of an upset here, but that would be incorrect based on the point spread. Instead, they lose this week as an underdog.
Cincinnati's defense was a joke last season. The Bearcats gave up at least 31 points eight times, allowing 428.5 yards per game on the year. But this year, they have yet to allow 31 in a game, and that yardage average is all the way down to 274.3—good for fourth in the nation. Quite the remarkable job by second-year head coach Luke Fickell, and I believe the undefeated season continues for at least one more week. Temple is a formidable foe with wins in four of its last five games, but quarterback Anthony Russo should come back to earth a bit against this D.
Not enough is being said about Fickell and the job he has done with the Bearcats. They've been able to play defensive battles and can win games with high-scoring offenses too. They aren't the sexiest Group of Five team, but it's hard to downplay an undefeated record that includes a win over a power-conference program (UCLA). Temple is sneaky decent too, but Cincy is going to stay spotless.
This is the Bearcats' biggest test yet after a favorable schedule in the first six weeks. But Fickell's team has dominated its foes by nearly 200 yards and 25 points per game. Temple running back Armstead will be in the spotlight as the catalyst for the Owls to pull the upset, but the Bearcats defense is stout enough to slow Armstead and stifle the Owls offense.
After Stunning Georgia, Does No. 5 LSU Take Care of No. 22 Mississippi State?
A classic trap game, and there's no letup from the physical pounding that awaits LSU. Everyone in the SEC is physical, and LSU is now into the back end of consecutive games against Ole Miss, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama. Get through that gauntlet—this week is the fourth step by shutting down the Mississippi State run game and forcing Nick Fitzgerald to win the game with his arm—and there's no team more deserving of a No. 1 ranking. LSU wins this one.
Last week, LSU absolutely shut down Georgia by sitting in coverage and forcing Jake Fromm to be perfect. He wasn't. I suspect Dave Aranda will bring consistent pressure this week to contain Fitzgerald, who's a mediocre passer but threatening runner. Mississippi State's defense is great, but I can't trust Fitzgerald.
LSU wins this game, although it could be a nail-biter. You couldn't draw up a letdown spot "better" than this one. Coming off a huge win over a monster opponent, check. The last game before a much-needed bye, check. The last game before the team will welcome Alabama to town, check again.
A lot of things point in the direction of Mississippi State, which is still a quality team with some really good players. It helps that the Bulldogs just had a bye themselves. But LSU finds a way to survive a quality scare. Tigers 24, Bulldogs 20.
As mentioned in last week's expert picks, the good Lord did not see fit to bless me with the gift of predicting the outcome of LSU games. After picking Georgia to win last week, I'm now 0-5 in this space on games that involve the Bayou Bengals. But I've got to pick them to win this one. Mississippi State has had a world of trouble trying to move the ball and put points on the board in conference play, and this Tigers defense is just as fierce as that of Florida, Kentucky and Auburn. As long as it doesn't allow Fitzgerald to run rampant like he did against Auburn, LSU should take care of business at home.
This is one of my two big upset picks of the week. LSU is playing great football right now, but the Tigers are up and down. Yes, Joe Moorhead's team has been the same, but the Bulldogs have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, and they're coming off a bye week. Fitzgerald is the kind of quarterback who can give aggressive defenses issues, and this is going to be an upset that spirals the SEC West out of control once more.
The SEC has been cannibalizing itself this season, but that won't be the case in this game. LSU will beat Mississippi State as the Tigers defense swallows the Bulldogs offense. Moorhead deserves a lot of credit for creating a productive offense functionally opposite from what he deployed at Penn State. But an offense that lacks a quality passing game doesn't stand a chance against LSU's speed and discipline on defense.
Will Dwayne Haskins Throw for at Least 400 Yards for a Third Straight Game?
He might have to. Purdue is much better than its 3-3 record. The Boilermakers are eight points from being unbeaten—and frankly should have beaten Northwestern, Eastern Michigan and Missouri. West Lafayette will be jacked Saturday, and Purdue will score in the 30s. The problem: Ohio State will score more, led by another huge day from Haskins.
Yes. Ohio State's rushing attack hasn't been much of one lately, and Purdue's run defense is strong. The Buckeyes will need to lean on Haskins, not simply because of his talent, but also since Purdue should put up plenty of points too. Besides, the Boilermakers have given up 300-plus passing yards three times. Haskins will be the first one to eclipse 400.
Yes. And I implore you to watch Ohio State-Purdue because it will almost certainly feature around 1,768 points and a whole lot of yards. The Purdue offense has been good. The Purdue defense has been "meh." You could say the same for the Buckeyes, which is a bit of a surprise given the talent on the defensive side.
But Haskins has been brilliant, and he will be asked to perform once again. There is no reason to believe he won't be able to do just that—even if the environment on the road will be ready for this one in prime time. Final numbers: 412 yards passing, five touchdowns, one interception.
Yes, Haskins eclipses the 400-yard mark again. And I'm going with that pick because this could be a back-and-forth passing extravaganza. Since his return to the starting job in Week 3, Purdue quarterback David Blough has averaged 393.3 passing yards per game, and the Boilermakers have scored at least 30 points each week. But they have also allowed at least 320 passing yards three times this season, including letting Missouri's Drew Lock rack up 375 yards and three touchdowns. Haskins continues his quest for the Heisman with a monster performance here. I'm thinking 427 yards and five touchdowns in a 17-point win.
Against Purdue? Yes. That secondary is not good. Though I think the Boilermakers pull off the shocker of the mid-year with an upset of OSU, it won't be because of Haskins. He is the Buckeyes team right now, and he has masked some issues the past couple of games. He's going to have to throw the ball around a lot to keep up with Purdue's offensive production.
Yes. He'll have to continue shouldering the load on offense for Ohio State for multiple reasons. The first is that he's a fantastic passer to all levels, cementing him among the best quarterbacks to ever play for the Buckeyes, despite starting only seven games. He gives the Buckeyes the best chance to score so long as the offensive line is a better pass-blocking unit than run-grading bunch. Also, the OSU defense is firmly mediocre, forcing the Buckeyes to continue pushing the ball for a cushion on the scoreboard.
How Will No. 12 Oregon Fare Against Its Fourth Consecutive Ranked Opponent?
This is a tough spot for a Ducks team that should be unbeaten and that has embraced coach Mario Cristobal's concept of football: play tough, play smart. It helps to have an elite QB (Justin Herbert) and a defense that stiffens when it needs to. Oregon will limit turnovers—the most important factor in big road games—and get a fourth-quarter win.
Oregon has twice flirted with disaster, losing the game it should've won (Stanford) and winning the game it should've lost (Washington). Pretty impressive, honestly. The inability to pull away in those contests isn't surprising—the Ducks are still improving—but it's a concern for this road game. This is only Oregon's second weekend outside of Eugene, and Washington State should be able to throw on the Ducks. I'll take the Cougars and their home-field edge.
The cardiac Ducks are great entertainment, and this week should be no different. This is an awkward opponent and challenging setting Oregon will walk into, which could be a problem.
Washington State is a three-point loss at USC away from being undefeated. Yes, the schedule has been soft—although that win against Utah from a few weeks back suddenly looks like a quality W. But at home, with the Fireball flowing, this feels like the perfect time to take down Oregon. Mike Leach was born for games like these, and he will deliver. A close, fun, hard-fought win for Wazzu at home.
Washington State pulls off what looks like an upset in the rankings but really isn't. The Cougars have won three straight against the Ducks and have averaged 426.8 passing yards over the last six games in this series. Even when Oregon has had a strong, turnover-forcing secondary, Leach is always able to find some holes in that coverage. And with College GameDay in Pullman for the first time ever, Martin Stadium is going to be rocking. Cougars improve to 6-1 in a shootout.
Love Oregon's mentality. Gone is that spread, "soft" program. The Ducks have the demeanor of Cristobal. They can play tough and physical with defense and the running game like they had to against Washington, or Herbert can beat you with his arm. He's one of the most underappreciated players in the country. The Cougars are better than I thought they'd be this year, but give me a big Herbert day in an Oregon win.
Last week I said I couldn't pick Oregon in a big matchup again until the Ducks proved themselves worthy, and they defeated a talented Washington team. So, I'm back in on the Ducks and say they'll beat Leach's scrappy Cougars.
Washington State continues to play quality defense despite the departures of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and defensive tackle Hercules Mata'afa. But their run defense has been spotty, and Oregon has the personnel to exploit an advantage in the trenches, as both CJ Verdell and Travis Dye have had big years on the ground.
Over/Under 699.5 Total Yards from Scrimmage for No. 21 South Florida vs. UConn?
Seriously? USF might hit 700 yards before the end of the third quarter. I'm taking the over for a talented USF offense that gets a stat game against college football's worst defense—not only in 2018, but in a long, long time. Go juice up those stats, fellas. You earned it.
Under, but not by much. USF cracked 600 yards in a win over Illinois earlier this season, so it's totally reasonable to anticipate that could happen again. Connecticut, man. What a mess. Six games into the year and the lowest point total allowed is 49.
Let me first say that I love that we were able to squeeze a question about this game into this week’s predictions. I'm not sure I can on good faith suggest you watch this—the spread is greater than 30 points—but perhaps you will just to see how we fared here.
First, some stats. UConn quite literally has the worst defense in the country by almost a touchdown, allowing more than 53 points per game. There are other horrible statistics I could include here, but I will not. Fine, one more. UConn is allowing, on average, more than 650 yards a game. THIS IS THE WORST IN THE COUNTRY BY MORE THAN 110 YARDS. I CANNOT POSSIBLY STRESS HOW BAD THIS ALL IS RIGHT NOW. I AM SORRY FOR YELLING ABOUT IT. So, yeah. Over for me.
For most offenses against most defenses, 700 yards is unattainable. But for the Bulls against the Huskies, sure. Why not? Connecticut has allowed at least 630 yards and 49 points in each of its five games against FBS competition. Even Cincinnati—which hasn't otherwise amassed 450 yards against an FBS foe—went for 659 yards against UConn. After darn near losing to Tulsa last Friday night, South Florida might want to blow off a little steam by filling up the box score in a blowout win.
I'll go slightly under. I'm thinking around 645. Connecticut is one of the worst defensive teams you'll ever see, and the Bulls do plenty on offense. But this game is going to be so out of hand by the middle of the third quarter that Charlie Strong will call off the dogs. USF will still score 50-plus points, and it will be brutal. But I'm taking the under.
Connecticut is allowing an average of 9.21 yards per play this year, which is inconceivable. With an average of 658 yards allowed per game by UConn, the Bulls just need to do moderately more than average to hit 700. I'll say they hit the over.
Time to Revisit and Revise a Preseason Prediction: Who Makes the Playoff?
I originally had Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Clemson. My four are still alive, and I'm sticking with it. OU should get another shot at Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game, and Clemson and Alabama aren't losing. That leaves Ohio State as the only uneasy pick, as the Buckeyes have a tough road (at Michigan State, Michigan, Big Ten Championship Game) to get there.
Alabama and Clemson are in good shape. Washington is no longer in the picture, and Georgia's margin for error is zero. But I'll stick with the Bulldogs, who need to survive consecutive games against Florida and Kentucky but shouldn't have trouble with Auburn. That's the biggest change. I'm also sliding in Notre Dame in place of Washington, largely because the Big Ten should wreck itself down the stretch.
Well, for starters I better add Alabama. I had Georgia from the SEC, which can still happen, but I should probably include the best team in football by a wide margin. I had Clemson and Ohio State, and I will stick with those. I can't say those are powerful sticks at this point, but they will work fine for now.
And last, I will throw in Notre Dame. The team isn't perfect, but the schedule is conducive to a playoff run. I can't say I feel married to that pick either, but that's the kind of year it has been in college football. (It's also why I love the sport.)
I had both Georgia and Washington in my preseason quartet, neither of which would even sniff the Top Four today. Thus, I'm not going to argue with taking this mulligan. I'm sticking with Alabama and Clemson as two of my four, the former much more confidently than the latter. Give me Ohio State for the third spot. And I better do something bold with the fourth: UCF! Notre Dame loses at USC in its season finale, opening the door for the Knights to actually get a shot to win a national championship.
Now that Georgia's vulnerabilities have been exposed, Washington has a pair of losses and Texas upended Oklahoma, this is a good time to reassess. I have no questions about Alabama. The Crimson Tide are far and away the best team in all of college football. Though Ohio State will lose this weekend, the Buckeyes will be a one-loss team in the playoffs after righting the ship. It's hard to argue with Clemson, even if the offense hasn't been as strong as I'd like. And Notre Dame's schedule suits up favorably, even though the Irish will be the weakest of the four teams in it.
1. Alabama. 2. Ohio State. 3. Notre Dame. 4. UCF.