Spread picks for college football's biggest Week 8 games
With three matchups featuring two ranked teams, this week belongs to the SEC. The headline is of course Texas A&M’s road trip to Alabama, as the winner will have the clear inside track to both the conference championship and a national playoff bid.
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama
Line: Alabama, -18.5
Texas A&M QB Trevor Knight has struggled mightily when faced with pressure this year. While he has taken just four sacks, on 66 pressured drop-backs he has completed just 16 of 56 passes for 224 yards and has a QB rating of 48.4. I expect the Alabama offense to move the ball almost at will on the ground due to the Aggies’ inability to tackle (they lead FBS with 90 missed tackles for the season), thus it will be necessary for Texas A&M to take to the air when playing from behind. The Alabama pass rush is on a roll, having racked up 98 combined pressures in the past three games, and while A&M’s pass blocking has generally been solid, I think it falters this week and Alabama wins comfortably.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Texas A&M 17
No. 17 Arkansas at No. 21 Auburn
Line: Auburn, -9.5
At 78.3, Arkansas QB Austin Allen is tied with Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield for the highest passing grade among Power-5 teams. While the Razorback receivers are talented enough to effectively always “get theirs,” they’ll face a stiff challenge this week from Auburn’s excellent CBs, Carlton Davis and Johnathan Ford. Davis gave up seven receptions for 143 yards during the week one matchup against Clemson, but since then has given up grabs on just eight of 19 targets and has four passes defended. Ford has been excellent in Auburn’s last two, yielding catches on just four of 12 targets for 44 yards. Arkansas has enough firepower to cover the spread, but not enough against this defense to go on the road and pull off the upset.
Prediction: Auburn 27, Arkansas 21
No. 23 Mississippi at No. 25 LSU
Line: LSU, -5.5
LSU has played significantly better the past two games with Ed Orgeron as interim head coach, but Mississippi is a far superior opponent to Southern Miss or Missouri. The Rebels’ 30 points in a road loss at Arkansas last week represent their lowest offensive output of the season; this being said, while LSU certainly has one of the top defenses in the country, The Mississippi passing game still managed to shred Alabama and Memphis this season our highest and fifth-highest graded pass coverage defenses. The question the turns to whether or not LSU can keep up. Star RB Leonard Fournette returns this week after being out since Week 4, but without a consistent passing game I have my doubts about the Tiger offense this week. At the very least Mississippi should cover, but this is also a juicy opportunity to pick a road dog for the outright win.
Prediction: Ole Miss 27, LSU 24
BYU at No. 14 Boise State
Line: Boise State, -7
Yes, Boise State is undefeated this season, but their three home wins have come by a total of 19 points, the last two coming against Utah State and Colorado State. BYU is a much tougher opponent, and is certainly big-game tested this season. Cougars RB Jamaal Williams has been on a tear this season, as his 37 forced missed tackles on runs is third-best in the country behind only Florida State’s Dalvin Cook (46) and San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey. I see the Broncos getting the job done on the Smurf Turf, but expect this to be BYU’s seventh one-possession game of the season.
Prediction: Boise State 27, BYU 21
North Carolina State at No. 7 Louisville
Line: Louisville, -20
Considering what happened with both teams last week, this spread is shocking. At this the very least, both teams have been excellent defensively this year, making the under/over appear completely out of whack. North Carolina State’s run defense and pass coverage grades are both in the top twenty nationally, meaning they should at least keep this one close enough to cover. Louisville will bounce back with a better performance with an extra day of rest, but that doesn’t mean they win in blowout fashion.
Prediction: Louisville 27, NC State 17
No. 10 Wisconsin at Iowa
Line: Wisconsin, -3.5
Iowa RB Akrum Wadley leads all FBS RBs with at least 75 carries in elusive rating, as he has forced 31 total missed tackles. He (and LeShun Daniels for that matter) will need to be in form on Saturday, as the return of Vince Biegel is likely to cause serious issues with the Hawkeyes’ pass protection. With a home crowd that should be revved up to see a top ten opponent, and a defense capable of minimizing the Badgers on offense, I see Iowa having an opportunity to throw a massive wrench into the Big Ten West race.
Prediction: Iowa 19, Wisconsin 17
No. 22 North Carolina at Virginia
Line: North Carolina, -8
North Carolina has beaten Florida State and Miami on the road two out of the past three weeks, and it’s impossible to imagine Virginia being a tougher matchup than either team from the Sunshine State. The Cavaliers have strong run defenders up front in Donte Wilkins and Andrew Brown, but Tarheels QB Mitch Trubisky his receivers should be able to take advantage of a defensive backfield that has accounted for 32 of Virginia’s 61 missed tackles. Mack Hollins, whose college career is now done after breaking his clavicle last week, will be missed long term, but not necessarily against an under-manned Virginia squad.
Prediction: North Carolina 38, Virginia 24
Eastern Michigan at No. 20 Western Michigan
Line: Western Michigan, -23.5
This is not a typical Eastern Michigan squad, as the Eagles are just one win away from being bowl eligible and have the 13th-highest-graded run defense. The defense’s ability to stop the run will be critical in this week’s matchup, as Western Michigan RB Jarvion Franklin has shredded opponents the last three weeks for 578 rushing yards. While the Eagles appear more capably of stymying the Bronco rush attack, their 66th-ranked pass coverage unit won’t stop the likes of QB Zach Terrell and WR Corey Davis.
Prediction: Western Michigan 31, Eastern Michigan 10
Illinois at No. 3 Michigan
Line: Michigan, -35.5
QB Wes Lunt returned to practice for the Illini this week, although it is currently unknown whether he or Chayce Crouch will lead Illinois against the Wolverines on Saturday. This will not matter against the nation’s second-highest graded defense, as a rested Michigan squad will roll on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: Michigan 45, Illinois 6
Purdue at No. 8 Nebraska
Line: Nebraska, -24
Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong had a terrible game against Indiana last week, as he was accurate on just 44 percent of his aimed throws and had a QB rating of just 49.3. Fortunately for him, Purdue’s defensive backfield does not have a starter with an overall grade higher than 53.9. He’ll get things right this week, setting up huge back-to-back road trips to Madison and Columbus.
Prediction: Nebraska 31, Purdue 13
Memphis at No. 24 Navy
Line: Memphis, -2.5
Memphis has weapons in the passing game, but Navy will be able to take advantage of an offensive line (and QB) that has yielded 14 sacks and 71 total pressures this season. Expect another big day for Navy DE Amos Mason, who posted four pressures in the Midshipmen’s huge Week 6 win over Houston.
Prediction: Navy 27, Memphis 20
TCU at No. 12 West Virginia
Line: West Virginia, -6.5
None of TCU’s WRs have yet to emerge as legitimate game-changers, and the Mountaineers showed last week how capable their defense is of shutting down an explosive passing game by rushing just three defenders and trusting the coverage unit. This is West Virginia’s biggest test to date, and a win will mean voters will start to take them more seriously.
Prediction: West Virginia 31, TCU 24
No. 19 Utah at UCLA
Line: UCLA, -7
Utah safety Marcus Williams is our top-graded safety this year, but unfortunately will not be playing this week due to injury. With QB Josh Rosen returning to action for the Bruins, this is a very fair line despite Utah’s ranking.
Prediction: UCLA 21, Utah 13
Oregon State at No. 5 Washington
Line: Washington, -36.5
With Oregon State’s top two QBs (Darell Garretson and Conor Blount) out of action this week, the Huskies will have no problems distancing themselves from the Beavers on Saturday. Another big win will set Washington up well for two-straight key road tests against Utah and Cal.
Prediction: Washington 55, Oregon State 0
No. 11 Houston at SMU
Line: Houston, -21
The Cougars barely escaped with a win against Tulsa last week, but SMU hasn’t beaten a FBS team since North Texas in week one. WR Linell Bonner has caught 35 of his 41 targets the last three weeks, and is likely to reach double digits in targets and receptions again.
Prediction: Houston 48, SMU 21
No. 2 Ohio State at Penn State
Line: Ohio State, -19.5
CB Gareon Conley was one of the heroes of the Buckeyes’ overtime win, as he had an interception and a key pass breakup at the end of regulation that secured extra time. QBs have a 0.0 rating when throwing at him this season, which will mean another tough outing for top Penn State WR Chris Godwin. With the ability of Conley and the rest of the Ohio State defensive backfield to make the Penn State offense one-dimensional, the Buckeyes should at least come close to covering this large road spread.
Prediction: Ohio State 34, Penn State 14
No. 16 Oklahoma at Texas Tech
Line: Oklahoma, -14
Texas Tech can’t keep FBS teams not named Kansas out of the end zone, and Oklahoma is obviously the top offense they’ll have faced to date. In the last three games, WR Dede Westbrook has snared 26 of 29 targets for 574 yards and eight scores, and he should be able to post another monster game for the Sooners.
Prediction: Oklahoma 55, Texas Tech 23