Picks for the biggest Week 8 games
Wes Huber previews and offers up picks for Saturday's biggest matchups.
Picks for the biggest Week 8 games
No. 15 Texas A&M at No. 24 Ole Miss
Line: Ole Miss -6.0
Not too many days ago, both of these teams were at the forefront of the playoff conversation and facing the heart of their schedule with a chance to prove their place. Despite a second-half heartbeat, Texas A&M flopped against Alabama, and Ole Miss’ vulnerabilities were highlighted in the Florida and Memphis defeats.
The connection between QB Kyle Allen and true freshman WR Christian Kirk has proven to be one of the nations best and DE Myles Garrett consistently gifts opposing quarterbacks with reoccurring nightmares. The Rebels field a formidable QB-to-WR duo themselves in Chad Kelly and Laquon Treadwell, but they bring the seventh-rated overall defense in the country into this matchup.
This is an extremely tight matchup on paper and offers fair warning to avoid this and any altered spread. A seemingly even matchup equates to targeting straight up-only action. Ole Miss has yet to lose at home this season where the defense has been far more reliable.
Prediction: Ole Miss 35, Texas A&M 29.
No. 6 Clemson at Miami
Line: Clemson -7.0
Clemson’s defense ranks within the top-seven in the nation in run defense (sixth), pass rushing (fourth), and passing coverage (seventh). The Tigers have yet to allow an opponent to score greater than 24 points and the offense averages north of 30 points per game on the season.
The strength of the Hurricanes offense centers on its run blocking, but the Hurricanes only opponent to date with a run defense remotely approaching that of Clemson’s – Florida State – held Miami to 20 total rushing yards.
The seven-point spread is simply a path to easy money behind the recent dominance of Tiger wide receivers Artavis Scott and Deon Cain. The Miami pass rush is a gaping disaster and will be unable to slow QB Deshaun Watson’s aggressive approach.
Prediction: Clemson 33, Miami 23.
Western Kentucky at No. 5 LSU
Line: LSU -17.0
Despite the perception, LSU’s defense has not been a dominating force in 2015. They’ve yet to allow less than 19 points to any opponent, the run defense has been average, and – most importantly – the secondary has been vulnerable. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, LSU will score the victory, but a 17-point spread assumes that the WKU offense will be stagnant. Don’t buy into that assumption and take advantage of a perception-based offering.
Prediction:: LSU 40, Western Kentucky 32.
No. 9 Florida State at Georgia Tech
Line: Florida State -6.5
This matchup should not require much time to convince of the unreasonable spread evaluation. Searching for holes within the Seminoles program is a fruitless endeavor … unless you find value in a medium-to-high penalty rate. Georgia Tech contains significant questions in pass protection and fields one of the bottom-20 overall defenses in the country. The component most lacking in the Yellow Jacket defense is a complete inability to stop the run and FSU RB Dalvin Cook may be able to outscore Georgia Tech all by his lonesome.
Prediction: Florida State 42, Georgia Tech 27.
No. 3 Utah at USC
Line: USC -3.5
The case has been made of the (supposed) convincing reasoning behind placing action in favor of the host in Los Angeles. A case that will prove to simply not be enough to halt the miracle season of a Utes program providing an impressive resume.
USC QB Cody Kessler will find reasonable success targeting his options within the Utah secondary and the Utah offense will look to maintain a slow-paced, clock managing philosophy. On the flip side, the Trojans defense is well below average, and that will only provide the Utah defense with an even greater advantage. Utah has already defeated more talented teams in their year-to-date schedule.
Prediction: Utah 27, USC 24.
Penn State at Maryland
Line: Penn State -6.5
Surprisingly, the Maryland defense has been relatively solid behind the unstoppable pocket corruption created by DE Andre Monroe. A fact that would present the Nittany Lions and QB Christian Hackenberg with a migraine of problems — that is, if their focus remained on forcibly targeting downfield receivers.
That is no longer the case as Penn State has evolved over the last few weeks and at the heart of that reinvention is true freshman RB Saquon Barkley. Despite only playing greater than 38 snaps in two of the teams seven games, Barkley checks in as PFFs 12th-highest rated running back on the season, leads the nation by a huge margin in elusive rating (260.4), and racked up 194 rushing yards on the formidable Buckeye defense in Week 7.
Ohio State’s place in the run defense rankings, unsurprisingly, fell down the list after Saquon’s display, but still checks in as the FBS’ 12th-best. A far cry from a 99th-ranked Terrapin run defense that has allowed 196.8 yards per game and 14 TDs to running backs. We could see some movement from a 6.5-point spread, but, at present, the offering remains highly exploitable.
Prediction:: Penn State 30, Maryland 17.
Washington State at Arizona
Line: Arizona -7.5
With four wins in five games and a near defeat of California, it would seem that the Cougars would have earned significantly more respect. Arizona has not defeated an opponent with a winning record since November of 2014 and may be required to face Washington State without RB Nick Wilson, their most talented offensive weapon.
Two striking deficiencies exist in the Wildcats YTD performance and the first revolves around a 100th-ranked passing offense in the country that may not be efficient enough to ably exploit the Cougars pass coverage ranked eight spots from the cellar. The second problem for Arizona is a complete absence of a pass rush required to move QB Luke Falk off of his spot … leaving him free to scour the field for separation created by his roster of talented receivers.
While not offering one of the weekends expected headline matchups, the tenderized opportunity to take advantage is tantalizing nonetheless. The over/under has been reasonably calculated, but the spread is a definite avenue to travel, especially without Wilson in the backfield. Arizona may ultimately find a way to win this game, but they will be unable to cover the spread.
Prediction:: Washington State 34, Arizona 30
Hawaii at Nevada
Line: Nevada -7.0
If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch these teams in action, you will likely not be able to see the significant flaws within the offered statistical movement. Nevada is a ground-based, option offense with a highly-underrated Tyler Stewart under center. Senior RB Don Jackson headlines the backfield, but sophomore James Butler may be one of the most talented running backs in the country.
Hawaii was far more impressive with Ikaika Woolsey at quarterback than dink-and-dunk specialist Max Wittek, RB Paul Harris has emerged as a significant threat, and BYU-transfer WR Dylan Collie must be accounted for at all times. All said, Nevada will be able to take this game in a significant defeat that will put the spread and over/under to shame. Hawaii RB Harris left last week’s game against New Mexico and could leave the team without it’s number one playmaker.
Prediction:: Nevada 42, Hawaii 22.
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Wes Huber | Analyst
Wes is an analyst and fantasy correspondent at Pro Football Focus. He's been with the company since 2014, and his work has been featured on DraftKings Playbook and FantasyPros.