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Paul Sancya/Associated Press
No. 12 Oregon, No. 16 Michigan and No. 17 Arizona State all need to go on the road to face ranked opponents during a Week 8 slate of college football that is bound to further separate the haves from the have-nots.
We’ll also have four of the top title contenders—No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Clemson, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 6 Wisconsin—playing on the road against unranked foes, which is where things start to get a little unpredictable.
Last week’s South Carolina-over-Georgia upset was a sobering reminder that colossal shocks can happen on any given Saturday. (Or perhaps in Ohio State’s case at Northwestern, any given Friday?) Every team in the AP Top 6 is favored by at least three scores in Week 8, but maybe there’s another earth-shattering result lurking in the weeds.
To help you figure out what to expect, David Kenyon, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton joined forces to offer predictions on the hottest questions, such as:
- Who wins each of the three ranked-against-ranked showdowns this week?
- Does South Carolina have another AP Top 10 upset up its sleeve?
- Will Jonathan Taylor out-gain the entire Illinois offense?
- And will Tua Tagovailoa rack up five or more touchdowns during Alabama’s shellacking of Tennessee?
Our experts are on the case.
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Barry Reeger/Associated Press
Is Michigan capable of winning? Sure. With such an efficient defense, it’s possible. But the amount of evidence that leans away from Michigan is substantial. In simplest terms, Penn State has a better offense and a more disruptive defense. Throw in home-field advantage and Jim Harbaugh’s tenure-long trend of not winning on the road against ranked teams, and Penn State is the logical pick.
First of all, bet the under. In four combined games against defenses allowing fewer than 300 yards per game, neither Penn State (17-12 at Iowa; 17-10 vs. Pittsburgh) nor Michigan (14-35 at Wisconsin; 10-3 vs. Iowa) has scored more than 17 points, and both of these defenses fit that description.
Second of all, Penn State wins the game. The Nittany Lions have the better offense and the better defense, they are nowhere near as turnover-prone (six in six games) as the Wolverines (13), and they’re the home team. Strange things happen every week in this beautiful sport, but it just feels like a whole bunch of things would need to go awry for Penn State to lose. Nittany Lions 21, Wolverines 10.
Despite the embarrassment against Wisconsin, Michigan is better than its ranking. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, that doesn’t change where they are in the Big Ten pecking order: a clear fourth behind Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State, in that order. This game being in Happy Valley makes all the difference, and while it’ll be close throughout, I like the Nittany Lions because of their defense. I’ll take PSU 27-16.
Michigan has won me over a bit after its slow start to the year, but I’m still going with Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ rushing attack is one of the best in the nation because of its depth and Sean Clifford’s added value with his legs. Their advantages on the ground will complement their deadly pass rush and raucous home crowd. It’ll all be too much for the Wolverines to overcome.
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Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
Utah, and it probably won’t be that close. The Utes’ diversity on offense will be enough to overcome a respectable Arizona State defense, but the opposite (Utah’s defense vs. ASU’s offense) will steer the result in Utah’s favor. Still, this has been an impressive start from Herm Edwards in his second year with the Sun Devils.
Got to go with the Utes. Arizona State has a solid defense, and true freshman Jayden Daniels has been impressive at quarterback, but the Utes are substantially better on both sides of the field. Aside from that one weird Friday night when Matt Fink came off the bench and led USC to 30 points and an upset, Utah’s defense has been impenetrable. Meanwhile, Zack Moss is spearheading the best rushing attack in the Pac-12.
ASU has played four consecutive games decided by a one-possession margin, but I can see this one getting a little out of hand. Utah rolls 34-13.
I’ve been riding that Sun Devils bandwagon for much of the season, so why stop now? Jayden Daniels is the best freshman quarterback in the country, and he’s improving with each game he plays.
Last weekend against pass-happy Washington State, ASU had to get away from what it usually wants to do, but the offense responded in a huge win. That game proved a lot to Daniels and his offensive unit, and they’ll need that confidence against an excellent Utah defense. This will be Herm Edwards’ biggest win yet in a 23-20 upset.
Give me Utah. This Utes team certainly regrets its flat performance against USC, as it would probably be ranked in the Top 7 had it not dropped that contest. The defense is balanced and tough, and Tyler Huntley is leading the offense well despite his lack of eye-popping numbers. Utah will have to contain Arizona State’s dynamic backfield, but I have faith in this deep defensive front.
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John Bazemore/Associated Press
Four takeaways allowed South Carolina to steal a win at Georgia last week. Unless that happens again, I don’t see Florida losing. The Gamecocks have a very limited offense and will struggle to score on an excellent Gators defense. It’s probably a relatively low-scoring game, but Florida wins.
I suppose that depends on whether Florida is also going to shoot itself in the foot with a minus-four turnover margin, but I can’t see that happening.
Kyle Trask has been better than anyone was expecting, leading this Gators offense every bit as well as Feleipe Franks did. He has only thrown one interception in his last three games. And on top of that, the Gators have one of the top ball-hawking defenses in the country. Florida will bounce back from a poor defensive effort against LSU to shut down a South Carolina offense that hasn’t been anything special. Florida wins 28-16.
Nope. Quarterback Ryan Hilinski dodged a major scare against the Bulldogs, and his Gamecocks hung on for the win without him. But is he 100 percent? He needs to be for South Carolina to have any hope.
The Gators may be the best team in the SEC East, as they hung with the LSU Tigers for much of the game last weekend before losing by two touchdowns. I simply don’t think South Carolina has the firepower to hang with Florida, and Dan Mullen will keep his team marching forward with a double-digit win.
It looks like Hilinski will play this week, which is shocking considering how the left knee injury initially looked. Florida will win, though, as it’ll be dialed in off a tough loss to LSU. South Carolina will keep it close and has what it takes to win, but I don’t think the Gators will give the ball away as many times as the Bulldogs did last week.
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Chris Pietsch/Associated Press
Barely, but yes. It feels odd to say, but I have significantly more trust in Oregon’s defense than its offense. That’s the reason for my pick. However, the Ducks haven’t much opened the playbook for Justin Herbert, mostly leaning on quick passes and the running game. If they’re not going to challenge Washington downfield, this will be a tight finish.
I have no faith in Washington’s offense. Jacob Eason and Co. have put up nice numbers against the likes of Eastern Washington, Hawaii and Arizona, but defenses worth a darn have given them fits. They only scored one touchdown each in losses to California and Stanford, and neither of those defenses is anywhere near as good as Oregon’s, which has quietly held five consecutive opponents to seven points or fewer.
And at long last, that Ducks offense seemed to figure things out a bit against Colorado. They’ll get that run game going once again, and they’ll pick up a key road win. Oregon 24-13.
Yes, it will. I’m curious to see which Washington team shows up. But even if its the high-powered offense and Eason is on, the Huskies are going to have a difficult time putting up points against the Ducks’ vaunted defense, which is the best in the Pac-12 and one of the 10 best in the country.
It’s time for Herbert to make some massive, clutch plays in front of pro scouts rather than just shred inferior opponents. This will be a game in which his leadership skills shine through. Oregon will win 34-23.
They certainly can. Both Herbert and Eason are coming off strong performances, but each is also prone to checking down too often. If Herbert slides backward with inconsistency throwing the ball or shells up, the Huskies will win. He has to be impactful like he was against Colorado, not passive with his decision-making. And I suspect he will be.
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Orlin Wagner/Associated Press
Two: SMU and Baylor. Both teams have a trio of one-score victories this season, and that trend is concerning.
The Mustangs can avoid the upset if quarterback Shane Buechele has a productive day, but Temple’s defense is feisty. The Owls only allow 4.4 yards per play, which is 11th-best in the country. Meanwhile, Baylor has not yet faced an offense with legitimate stars, and Oklahoma State has two in Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace.
Only one: Baylor at Oklahoma State. The Bears have spent too much time flirting with disaster this season, barely showing up against Rice, blowing a 20-0 lead against Iowa State and needing all sorts of late miracles in a double-overtime win over Texas Tech last Saturday. Playing on the road against a quality, rested opponent, those chickens are going to come home to roost. Oklahoma State wins by multiple scores.
Part of me wants to pick the upset of Louisville over Clemson. But while the Cardinals are ahead of schedule in head coach Scott Satterfield’s first year, they aren’t ready for that. Also, Boise State needs to be careful against BYU, and Penn State could slip against Michigan.
But the only two unbeatens I actually see losing this weekend are SMU and Baylor. The Mustangs are strong, but the Owls are a better team, and they’ll knock off their second consecutive undefeated foe. And this just feels like a spot for a major Oklahoma State home upset over the Bears.
Two. SMU loses to a tough Temple team despite being at home, and Baylor drops a shootout against Oklahoma State. I can easily see both winning, but it’s getting to be that time of the year at which undefeated teams start dropping off in bunches.
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Andy Manis/Associated Press
It’s a harsh but fair question. I’ll take Taylor.
He has already accomplished this exact feat in three 2019 games, and Illinois’ offensive efficiency has steadily fallen during this four-game losing streak. I didn’t expect Wisconsin’s defense to recover so quickly from a down 2018, but the Badgers are absolutely thriving.
In each of its last three contests, Illinois has allowed at least 40 more rushing yards than it has gained total yards, and it was held below 300 yards in all three games. And it’s not like the Illini were facing elite offenses or defenses, either. They’re just plain bad.
Now consider that Taylor is averaging over 160 yards from scrimmage per game and Wisconsin has held four of its six opponents below 160 total yards. So yeah, I’ll take Taylor, and I don’t even think it’ll be that close. 235 yards for JT23 and 174 yards for Illinois.
Illinois. Taylor has proved he’s going to get his yardage, and he’ll eclipse 5,000 career rushing yards this weekend. But the Illini are going to do everything in their power to slow him down. Look for Lovie Smith’s team to have a couple of decent drives—ending in turnovers, of course, because nobody scores on the Badgers. Illinois will go over 200 yards; Taylor won’t.
My instinct was to say Illinois, easily, until noticing the Illini are averaging under 340 total yards per game. Wisconsin will hold them under that number, and Taylor will surpass 240 yards, but Illinois will still out-gain him by a slim margin.
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Chris Szagola/Associated Press
Tulane’s trip to Memphis deserves some love. Both teams are 5-1 and have exciting offenses. Memphis has true explosive potential in both quarterback Brady White and running back Kenneth Gainwell, while Tulane leans heavily on a deep backfield. I’m taking Tulane in a slight upset.
Give me Tulane at Memphis.
Both teams are 5-1 and averaging close to 40 points per game, and this is a critical contest for both sides if they want to have a shot at winning the AAC West. Look for Tulane to ride one of the best rushing attacks in the nation to victory. Take out the road game against Auburn and Tulane is averaging 321.6 yards and 4.0 rushing touchdowns per game. And Memphis has had a lot of trouble slowing down the run lately.
I’m going with Colorado and Washington State.
The Buffaloes were embarrassed 45-3 a week ago against Oregon, but they’re a better team than that. Steven Montez will follow up a four-interception performance with at least four scores, and Colorado will play in a shootout with the Cougars. Mike Leach’s team has shown it’s going to throw the ball all around the field with reckless abandon, per usual. This game is going over 80 points.
Toledo at Ball State in some Saturday MACtion. The over/under on this game is 57.5, so Vegas expects this to be a rare high-scoring affair in the MAC. Plus we know this conference is unique and creative with its play-calling. Both teams have the offensive firepower to give us a great show in the early-afternoon time slot.
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Sam Craft/Associated Press
Under, but he’ll still get four. Najee Harris should pick up a couple of rushing touchdowns in this one, which probably won’t be close by halftime. There’s no sense in running out Tagovailoa once Alabama has scored six touchdowns and holds a 35- or 42-point lead.
The secondary hasn’t been Tennessee’s problem this year. The Volunteers have held opponents below 200 passing yards per game and have yet to allow more than two passing touchdowns in a game.
But they also haven’t faced anything close to Tagovailoa this season. He torched the Vols last October, and he has been even more of an unstoppable force this year, accounting for at least four touchdowns in each game. I’ll say he throws for four touchdowns and sneaks in a fifth at the goal line. Thus, I’ve got the over.
As a proud UT alum, I’m prepared for devastation.
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt was only half-joking when he said Alabama has to work not to score 100 points. The Vols played much better defensively a week ago than they have all year while defeating Mississippi State. And if UT beats UAB, Kentucky and Vanderbilt and surprises South Carolina or Mizzou, it could still make a bowl. (I know, I know. That wasn’t even part of the question.)
This week, though, it’s going to be debauchery. Tua goes over, and Alabama scores at will. Tennessee can’t do anything to slow the Tide. I’m feeling 48-17 while Tua goes for five scoring tosses.
I have to take the over.
Tagovailoa’s competition for the Heisman is Joe Burrow, and the Crimson Tide seem to be aware that he needs to continue stacking numbers to win the award. Plus, Tennessee stinks and completely lacks the personnel to slow down the Tide’s immensely talented and fast receivers. Tua will have another field day and finish with five passing touchdowns.