B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 8

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2021

B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 8

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    Kenny Pickett
    Kenny PickettKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

    It's not even the weekend, and Week 8 has already provided some excitement.

    Wednesday night, Coastal Carolina lost to Appalachian State and fell from the unbeaten ranks. That result may simply be the precursor to a wild weekend.

    Sure, the slate doesn't include any matchup between Top 25 teams. But the contenders are trying to separate themselves from pretenders. Breakout teams and surprising stars have begun to catch some attention.

    And like we do every Friday, our college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—are sharing their insight on those emerging topics.

    Among the storylines in Week 8, we examined:

    • Can Oregon keep the Pac-12's College Football Playoff hopes alive?
    • Will Pitt topple Clemson?
    • How will LSU play after Ed Orgeron's delayed dismissal?
    • Is another undefeated team headed for a loss?

    Let's get to it.

No Top 25 Games, but Which Matchup Is Most Interesting?

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    Spencer Sanders
    Spencer SandersChuck Burton/Associated Press

    Brad Shepard

    When it comes to "most interesting" in a week with no games between Top 25 opponents, it boils down to an unbeaten that could suffer an upset.

    That screams No. 8 Oklahoma State heading to Ames to take on Iowa State.

    I've checked milk cartons all season, and there's no sign of Matt Campbell's Cyclones, who were in everybody's Top 25 to begin the year. They've faltered to a 4-2 start and haven't made a peep in the recent rankings. But this is still a good team, folks. If you look at the Cyclones' record, they lost by 10 to rival Iowa, which was ranked second nationally last week, and by two to No. 20 Baylor.

    When you couple those setbacks with an uninspiring 16-10 win over FCS powerhouse Northern Iowa, that spells no love from the pollsters. But it's way too early to count out the Cyclones.

    This weekend is a huge opportunity for them to earn a little prestige back. It may be a danger zone for Oklahoma State, but Mike Gundy's team is getting better each week, able to lean on what looks like the Big 12's best defense and a strong running game. If quarterback Spencer Sanders begins to live up to his potential, the Cowboys can run the table.

    The back end of Oklahoma State's schedule isn't too bad, aside from a looming matchup with Oklahoma. Make it through this one and the Nov. 20 game at Texas Tech, and the end-of-year matchup in Bedlam will have national ramifications. 

    This game is by far the most interesting of the weekend, even if it won't produce a ton of points and some explosive scoreboard lights.

                       

    David Kenyon

    In short: I agree, Brad.

    While the spread is larger than anticipated, I'm not surprised Iowa State (-7 as of Thursday) is favored. Those two early losses catapulted the Cyclones out of the national conversation, but Septemberfor whatever reasonhas handcuffed Campbell during his five-plus-year ISU tenure. And, very consistently, they've improved in October.

    Oklahoma State, meanwhile, seems to have shaken an unimpressive start and is riding a solid defense. Granted, this is not an ideal matchup for an underwhelming offense. The Pokes haven't cracked five yards per snap in four of six games.

    Iowa State will win at home. But my full expectation is a late score to determine the winner.

Will No. 10 Oregon Win at UCLA to Keep Pac-12 Playoff Hopes Alive?

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    Mario Cristobal
    Mario CristobalJed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Brad Shepard

    Whatever slim playoff hopes Oregon has are hanging by a feather, but there's no question the Ducks have been dealt a tough hand with the major injuries that have shelved star after star on a team that—if you recall—traveled across the country and upset Ohio State.

    On the other hand, the UCLA team that beat LSU early in the year doesn't look quite like that one, either.

    Plenty of subplots exist too. No one's blocked Kayvon Thibodeaux consistently when he's been healthy, and the defensive end took over the fourth quarter at points in last week's narrow win against California. Then there's the consternation surrounding quarterback Anthony Brown's poor performance, causing Ducks offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to have to defend his starter this week.

    The Bruins haven't been able to develop much of a consistent passing game to go with the one-two running punch of Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown.

    With both teams able to run the ball and both defenses loaded with talent or at least producing (UCLA is ninth nationally in rush defense), this one will come down to the quarterbacks. Dorian Thompson-Robinson hasn't been 100 percent lately, considering his ailing non-throwing arm, but this is an opportunity to upend the Pac-12's beast.

    Look for him to make enough plays to win, the grumbles surrounding Brown to get louder and the Pac-12's narrow chance at the CFP to spiral down the drain after Chip Kelly's biggest win yet in Westwood. Bruins 27-23.

                     

    David Kenyon

    I share the concerns about Brown. There simply isn't enough explosiveness in this offense to make it a legitimate high-end contender outside the Pac-12.

    On this particular Saturday, though, the defense can buoy the Ducks. DTR hasn't played up to his potential lately, and the Thibodeaux-led Oregon pass rush should put constant pressure on UCLA's improved, yet still vulnerable, offensive line.

    Plus, the Ducks have reinforcements on the way. Both linebacker Mase Funa and cornerback DJ James are expected to play, adding two valuable pieces back to a defense that has surrendered less than five yards per snap in four consecutive games.

    Oregon sneaks out a tight victory on the road.

Will No. 23 Pitt Solidify Itself as ACC Contender with Win over Clemson?

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Adam Kramer

    As weird as it is to process, I am a bit surprised Pitt isn't a larger favorite over Clemson.

    The Tigers defense can keep the team close against most opponents, although Pitt has an offense (and a quarterback) that could present problems.

    If you have not become acquainted with Kenny Pickett, now would be the time to do so. His 24 total touchdowns and one interception have put him squarely in the Heisman Trophy discussion, albeit a bit behind the favorites. A win here could change the complexion of that in a hurry.

    The Panthers can also play a little defense, something we saw last Saturday when they held Virginia Tech to seven points in Blacksburg.

    Clemson just isn't the same team offensively, which should come as no surprise given what they lost in quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne, among others. Injuries have also been brutal. But with two losses and an assortment of close calls, the Tigers aren't trending in the right direction.

    Pitt stays firmly in the ACC race with a victory.

            

    David Kenyon

    Clemson has a championship-caliber defense. Through six games, the Tigers have ceded a paltry 12.5 points per game and only 4.4 yards per snap. Opponents are converting third downs at just a 34.5 percent clip, and Clemson's 27.8 red-zone touchdown rate is mere tenths of a point behind the juggernaut that is Georgia.

    For that variety of reasons, Pitt will probably have trouble putting major separation on the board.

    But don't mistake that for criticism. Pickett is a borderline Heisman contenderthriving against this kind of defense can vault him into the "legitimate" categoryand the brutal truth is the Panthers might only need to score 17 to win.

    This Clemson offense is bad. If that changes, OK. However, six games is more than enough evidence to call it what it is.

    It's close. It's ugly. But the hosts will win and establish Pitt as the team to beat in the ACC. What a strange year.

After Ed Orgeron News, How Will LSU Play at No. 12 Ole Miss?

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    Michael Clubb/Associated Press

    Morgan Moriarty

    While news of Ed Orgeron and LSU's separation following the 2021 season became public after the Tigers' 49-42 upset of No. 20 Florida last week, you have to wonder whether LSU players at least had an idea that Coach O was on his way out of Baton Rouge before the game.

    It would be a little awkward to see Orgeron pull off another upset this week against Ole Miss.

    The Rebels are coming off a huge road win over Tennessee, capped by the team's having to dodge objects thrown onto the field by a raucous Vols crowd near the end of the game. The Rebels' high-powered offense would, on paper, have a massive edge over a depleted LSU defense.

    But Ole Miss' offense might be without star quarterback Matt Corral.

    He picked up an undisclosed injury after handling 30 carries in last week's win and has thrown for 1,728 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 450 yards and eight scores.

    "That's not a stat that I'm excited about," Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin told reporters of Corral's carries. "We'd like for that to be a running back and not our 200-pound quarterback, so he's not in very good shape, hasn't been for the past two days, so we gotta see how we are on injuries. Hopefully he will play, but I do not feel good about that right now."

    It wouldn't be surprising if Corral tries to push through his injury. But if he can't go, Ole Miss will likely turn to backup true freshman Luke Altmyer, who has yet to complete a pass this season. In that case, LSU might have a chance.

                   

    David Kenyon

    While this "dead man walking" scenario isn't typicalusually it's an interim coach taking overI'm always fascinated at the locker room dynamics around a leadership change.

    Will LSU players bond and Win for Coach O!, or will that midseason separation announcement spark an ugly slide?

    For this weekend, there are two main storylines: Corral's health and whether Ole Miss can stop LSU's counter runs. Last week, Florida had no answer for LSU's channeling of Marshawn Lynch when they ran the same play over and over and over and over again.

    If Corral plays, I can't pick against Ole Miss. But if he's out, what an awkwardly great opportunity for the Tigers to start the post-Orgeron-but-still-Coach-O era.    

Does Tennessee Have a Shot to Upset No. 4 Alabama?

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    Josh Heupel
    Josh HeupelWade Payne/Associated Press

    Adam Kramer

    First, let's talk about the mustard.

    To the person who brought a mustard bottle into Neyland Stadium last week, I want to know more. (To be clear, I do not endorse throwing anything onto the football field, let alone a bottle of mustard, but I just want to know why someone was carrying that bottle with them.)

    Thank you.

    Now, to the question at hand: No. I don't think Tennessee has a shot against Alabama. I never say never in this weird sport of ours, although the Crimson Tide looked like a much different team against Mississippi State last Saturday on both sides of the ball.

    I actually bet on the Vols against Ole Miss, and they did a lot of good things. In fact, in recent weeks, the overall product has looked much better. The injuries from that game, especially on offense, could impact this outcome a great deal. But regardless of what happens with running back Tiyon Evans, O-lineman Cade Mays and QB Hendon Hooker, Tennessee could be in for a long night.

    That's nothing new. The Vols have not won this matchup since 2006. That streak continues, somewhat easily.

                   

    David Kenyon

    I'm more of a ketchup man myself, anyway. Just kidding. That unnecessarily riled some of you up, though.

    Actually, let's lean into Dad Joke territory. Tennessee will be playing catch-up against the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide, who responded nicely after their loss at Texas A&M with a thorough 49-9 victory on the road against Mississippi State.

    While some salty Tennessee fans peppered the field with condiments and other itemssuch as Kiffin's new favorite golf ballthe defense still struggled to contain Corral and an assortment of Ole Miss reserves. I don't envision the Vols flipping the script in Tuscaloosa, leading to saucy performances from both Alabama QB Bryce Young and running back Brian Robinson Jr.

    All right, that's enough. My wife is probably so mad I wrote this. Honey, I'm sorry, but I relish these opportunities.

Who Will Be the Biggest Underdog to Win Outright?

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    Max Bortenschlager
    Max BortenschlagerBrad Tollefson/Associated Press

    Kerry Miller

    Not only have there been several instances of teams winning as underdogs by at least 30 points (Bowling Green over Minnesota and Louisiana-Monroe over Liberty to name two), but there has also been at least one outright victory by an underdog of at least 15.5 points in each week this season.

    Thus, that was the lowest possible spread I was willing to consider.

    And after crossing off most of the candidates from that pool, I've somewhat talked myself into Florida International winning at home as a 17-point underdog against Western Kentucky.

    I love me some Bailey Zappe at quarterback for the Hilltoppers, but that WKU defense is some kind of awful. And FIU has a pretty good quarterback of its own in Maryland transfer Max Bortenschlager, who threw for 466 yards and four touchdowns in the Panthers' most recent game against Charlotte. Granted, they still lost that game because they, too, have a defense that is some kind of awful, as it's allowing nearly 37 points per contest. But in what figures to be a race to 50 points, maybe FIU gets there first.

    New Mexico +20 at Wyoming is also a viable option, as both of those teams are averaging 7.0 points per game the past two weeks. The Lobos did also beat the Cowboys last season. But I cannot in good faith recommend putting money on New Mexico football.

              

    David Kenyon

    Kerry, at risk of being incredibly boring, same.

    The other matchup worth considering is Louisiana-Monroe as a 13.5-point underdog to South Alabama, which lost to Texas State on the road two weekends ago.

    But it feels uncomfortable to take ULM following that stunning upset of Liberty. Lightning doesn't normally strike twice for an offense that averaged 15.6 points in the first five contests of the season. Possible, sure. Definitely improbable.

Down to 10 Undefeated Teams; Any More Losses in Week 8?

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    Brady Hoke
    Brady HokeTony Avelar/Associated Press

    Morgan Moriarty

    If I had answered this on Tuesday, I would have said no way. But we have already seen one undefeated team go down this week, thanks to Appalachian State's upset of No. 14 Coastal Carolina at home! Wednesday night #FunBelt is the best, man.

    But looking at the rest of the games this week, there are some intriguing matchups for the undefeated teams heading into Week 8. No. 16 Wake Forest is 6-0—which is still jarring to write, to be honest—and faces Army on the road. The Demon Deacons are just three-point favorites heading into Saturday, and the Black Knights defeated Wake 21-13 the last time these two met in 2016.

    Elsewhere, undefeated Oklahoma State faces 4-2 Iowa State on the road, where the No. 8 Cowboys are seven-point underdogs. Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell has beaten Oklahoma State just once in his head coaching career in Ames, but Iowa State gets home-field advantage. 

    No. 22 San Diego State (6-0) travels to face Air Force this week, and the Falcons are 3.5-point favorites. The last time Air Force defeated San Diego State was in 2009, as the Aztecs have beaten the Falcons eight straight times since then.

    Lastly, unbeaten Cincinnati should have no problems facing 1-5 Navy, and 7-0 UTSA faces a 2-4 Louisiana Tech team.

    I could see Wake Forest or Oklahoma State going down this week, facing some big road tests. If Wake can remain undefeated, the Deacs might be the ACC's best chance of getting a team into the playoff come December.

                    

    David Kenyon

    Earlier, I highlighted Oklahoma State's trip to Iowa State as Week 8's most interesting game. And, no, I haven't changed my mind in picking the Cyclones to hand the Pokes loss No. 1.

    Two more undefeated teams will fall too.

    First, as Morgan mentioned, San Diego State is an underdog at Air Force. It has a great defense, but SDSU's concerning game of quarterback roulette is turning to Lucas Johnsonwho has averaged a dreadful 4.8 yards per attempt this season.

    And while Louisiana Tech is 2-4, the losses include a 35-34 final against Mississippi State, a Hail Mary defeat opposite SMU and a 34-27 loss at North Carolina State. To be clear, last weekend's loss at UTEP is far less defensible. But the Bulldogs will get back on track at home and upset UTSA.

Over/Under 308.5 Total Yards for Caleb Williams at Kansas?

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    Alonzo Adams/Associated Press

    Kerry Miller

    If Caleb Williams plays 60 minutes, he'll absolutely rack up at least 309 yards. He was sensational in relief of Spencer Rattler in the Red River comeback. He also efficiently shredded TCU's defense last weekend, and let's just say Kansas isn't Texas or TCU.

    Williams won't play the whole game, though, because this one is going to be over by halftime.

    Not only that, but I also suspect Oklahoma will do most of its damage on the ground, considering the Jayhawks rank 128th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game. Williams will be responsible for some of those yards, as he is electric with his legs. But this will be predominantly the Kennedy Brooks and Eric Gray Show.

    Besides, recent history has shown that—though Kansas seems like a team that a Heisman-caliber quarterback would destroy—Oklahoma prefers to limit its star signal-caller to a light day of work in this game. Spencer Rattler had 215 total yards against Kansas last year. Jalen Hurts was "held to" 284 total yards in 2019. Kyler Murray got to 371 total yards in 2018, but he actually did play deep into the fourth quarter of that closer-than-usual affair. Baker Mayfield had 266 yards in 2017 and 252 yards in 2016.

    That trend continues with Williams finishing in the 250 range in an Oklahoma blowout.

                   

    David Kenyon

    Every shred of Kerry's analysis is factual or logical. Oklahoma will cruise to a win, and history has undeniably shown Sooners QBs tend to have smaller production because of a massive lead on Kansas.

    But this is not a normal year. The preseason Heisman Trophy favorite wasn't the backup QB in 2020, behind Hurts in 2019 or Mayfield in his last two seasons. For the Sooners to keep progressing, Williams needs all the reps he can handle.

    The unknown is whether head coach Lincoln Riley would give garbage-time snaps to Rattler. Would that be awkward? Or what if Williams has an underwhelming game, yet Rattler lights it up?

    My gut feeling is Riley doesn't want to answer those questions, and he knows Williams needs experience. I'm taking the over.

                    

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