After a thrilling week 7 in college football, week 8 doesn’t have as exciting of a schedule but College Football Playoff and Conference Title hopes remain on the line as our experts make their predictions including in a pair of Thursday night games this week. The standings with our experts John Bava, Yesh Ginsburg, Steen Kirby, and Mike Loveall tightened after last week as well.
Georgia Southern at Appalachian State (Thursday 10/22/15 7:30 P.M. EST in Boone, NC)
Line: Appalachian State by 6
Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, NC should be rocking for this matchup between two heated Southern rivals. Both teams have recently completed transitions to FBS after being among the two most dominant programs at I-AA/FCS level, having combined for nine national titles. Now they’re both in the Sun Belt, are undefeated in league play and face off in a game that could determine who wins the conference.
The Eagles and Mountaineers boast extremely potent rushing attacks. That’s not much of a surprise from the standpoint of Georgia Southern, who’ve always been known for a vaunted triple option attack. They currently lead the nation in rushing offense, averaging a whopping 399 yards on the ground per game, buoyed by 11 touchdowns from running back Matt Breida.
App State is much more balanced on offense but still ranks in the top 10 nationally running the ball. They’re only averaging 205 yards passing per game, but quarterback Taylor Lamb is finding the end zone with regularity, leading the Sun Belt with 16 touchdown passes.
Both offenses are potent, but I give the edge to Appalachian on account of their stout defense that’s allowing just 11.8 points per game, fifth-best in the nation. The school might be on the precipice of their first-ever bowl appearance.
Prediction: Appalachian State 38, Georgia Southern 23
It’s the battle for the Sun Belt and we should have a great #FunBelt game in stock for us. The winner here probably wins the conference and will be looking at an outside shot (a very outside shot) at a New Year’s Six Bowl if we see chaos in the American Athletic Conference. Either way, these two first-year full members of FBS have very quickly risen from the cream of the FCS to the cream of the Sun Belt. Appalachian State is an experienced and veteran team who will need their full discipline to beat Georgia Southern’s triple option attack. Both of these teams will be going bowling. The winner of this game probably wins the conference and goes to the New Orleans Bowl.
Prediction: Appalachian State 41, Georgia Southern 38
A battle of former FCS powerhouse rivals that have picked up right where they left on in FBS now, and are competing for the Sun Belt conference title (and possibly a New Years 6 bowl with 1 loss on their record). These two classic southern squads are in rural college towns where football is a regional passion. Southern,with their GA Tech style triple option attack, was fantastic last year, and though they got shutout against West Virginia in a week 1 blowout, they have otherwise picked right back up where they left off, controlling the clock and rushing to wins over weak competition with the dual threat tandem of QB Kevin Ellison and RB Matt Breida. Breida is averaging 10 yards a carry and has 11 touchdowns already.
App State is playing their most important game as an FBS school so far. Home field in the cold mountains should help them out as they look to stretch their winning streak to 5 games in a row, after they got throttled by Clemson in week 2. The gap between an elite team like Clemson and App State is clearly wide, but with a solid defense and a balanced offensive attack led by QB Taylor Lamb the Mountaineers look to have a slight edge in this game against an opponent at their level. Presuming they can stop the GASO option enough to get the ball and score, they will prevail in this one.
Prediction: Appalachian State 35, Georgia Southern 31
All signs point to Appalachian State in this match-up. It’s a short week, which always favors the home team. The Mountaineers want a chance to redeem themselves from a poor showing in last year’s rivalry game. The offensive and defensive stats both favor Appalachian State. And, their uniforms look much better than Georgia Southern’s uniforms. Other than App State’s 41-10 loss to Clemson earlier this season, they’ve outscored their opponents by 49, 49, 45, 34, and 18. The Eagles, however, have an almost similar resume. A 44-0 loss to West Virginia, and wins against other opponents by 35, 30, 26, 24, 20. In such an evenly matched affair, look for the afore-mentioned signs to guide us to the winners. Especially the uniforms.
Prediction: Appalachian State 34, Georgia Southern 26
#20 Cal at UCLA (Thursday 10/22/15 9:00 P.M. EST in Pasadena, CA)
Line: UCLA by 3
The second of our Thursday night games pits two Pac-12 teams at opposite ends of the expectation spectrum. UCLA was a dark horse conference favorite who’ve disappointed so far, while Cal seems to finally be making strides in Sonny Dykes’ third year as head coach.
Both quarterbacks got off to torrid starts but have since had mistake prone outings. The Bears’ Jared Goff is in the top ten nationally in touchdown passes with 17 but also has nine interceptions. Five of those came in Cal’s first loss of the season two weeks ago at Utah. UCLA’s Josh Rosen had a similarly ineffective outing in the 56-35 pounding the Bruins took at the hands of Stanford last week, tossing two picks and getting a great deal of his production in fourth quarter garbage time.
Cal has one of the top secondaries in college football, forcing 12 interceptions which it top five in FBS. It could be the difference against a relatively inexperience freshman quarterback in Rosen. Expect the Bears to be motivated to get a better result than in their last two games in the Rose Bowl, where they’ve lost by an average of 22 points.
Prediction: Cal 31, UCLA 27
UCLA has questions on defense and Jared Goff is still a great quarterback, five interceptions against Utah notwithstanding. UCLA has the right type of offense to gash this Cal defense. It’s been a great season so far for Sonny Dykes and the Bears, but this is where those dreams of a Playoff run come crashing down to Earth. They’re still in the running for a solid bowl game, though.
Prediction, UCLA 37, Cal 24
UCLA has lost two straight, all be it against bowl quality opponents, and after a promising start the wheels seem to be coming off for the Bruins. They haven’t been healthy, QB Josh Rosen has shown he’s still a true freshman, and the loss of star Myles Jack in the middle of the season was not only a loss of talent, but also created a leadership deficit with this team. Like their neighbors USC, the Bruins have plenty of talent but I look for them to keep slumping in this one and drop another PAC-12 game.
Cal is coming off a bye week with a chance to gameplan, get healthy, and focus after the close loss to Utah, and they still have designs on finishing with a 1 loss record. Jared Goff is a fantastic QB and this Golden Bears team excels at forcing turnovers, something Rosen and his company may be all too willing to surrender. It should be close for a while but the Bear Raid will pull this out.
Prediction: Cal 38, UCLA 28
Just three weeks ago UCLA was talked about as being one of the top teams in the nation. But their last two games have exposed an under-performing (albeit injured) defense. And while the offense has put some points on the board, it’s generally been well after the game was decided. And while Cal hasn’t had any big wins against top teams, they are 5-1 and their one loss was by six points against Utah. They have a dynamic quarterback you can extend plays, and their defense has played solid – not outstanding, but solid – for most of the season. You can see this team starting to gain confidence. Is it possible that UCLA takes it on the chin from the Bay Area schools in consecutive weeks. Not only is it possible, I think it’s likely.
Prediction: Cal 35, UCLA 31
Texas Tech at #17 Oklahoma (Saturday 10/24/15 3:30 P.M. EST in Norman, OK)
Line: Oklahoma by 14.5
Both these teams had fairly successful forays into the state of Kansas last weekend. Oklahoma erased the memories of their unexpected loss to Texas by throttling Kansas State 55-0. Texas Tech had trouble putting away hapless Kansas late in the game but ultimately prevailed 30-20.
This game will come down to which team’s defense can hamper the opposing quarterback the most. Tech’s Patrick Mahomes is currently fourth in the nation, averaging 374 yards passing per game and has also thrown for 20 touchdowns, sixth best nationally. He’ll be facing a formidable Sooner pass rush that includes senior linebacker Eric Striker who has 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss this year.
OU quarterback Baker Mayfield is similarly averaging over 300 yards through the air per game and hasn’t made very many mistakes, tossing just three interceptions. Coach Bob Stoops is probably hoping he can get more out of running back Samaje Perine down the stretch, who’s only averaging 70 yards per game so far and has a mere three touchdowns. He’ll have a chance to improve on those numbers as he’s facing the nation’s sixth-worst rushing defense. Expect a high-scoring affair with the Sooners prevailing.
Prediction: Oklahoma 48, Texas Tech 28
We have seen two Oklahoma teams in the last two weeks. The first one was ineffective in the trenches and was dominated by Texas at the point of attack. The second was firing perfectly in all facets in an unheard-of demolition of Kansas State.
Texas Tech only has two losses, to Baylor and TCU. It took a miracle catch for TCU to beat them. TTU has no real valuable wins, though, so they are hard to judge. This line of 15 feels high, but if last week’s Oklahoma shows up it would be very hard for anyone to stay within two touchdowns of them.
Prediction: Oklahoma 51, Texas Tech 24
Oklahoma laid an egg against Texas two weeks ago and made gave themselves no margin for error in both the Big 12 and College Football Playoff committee but this Sooners team is still excellent on both sides of the ball and can attack with both the passing and running game. They came out dominant last week against a bowl quality Kansas State team, and while Texas Tech can score themselves, their defense doesn’t have a prayer. The Red Raiders have fought hard in their games and they play an exciting brand of football, but OU should outrace, and outclass them in this home game, staying alive in the conference as Kliff Kingsbury can’t match Bob Stoops in talent and TTU struggled with Kansas last week.
Prediction: Oklahoma 52, Texas Tech 28
This is a match-up of two teams that are looking to stay in the Big 12 race. Both teams have experienced some tough moments this year. Texas Tech was one highlight reel play away from an upset of TCU just a few weeks ago. The Sooners earned a surprising loss to rival Texas two weeks ago. But both teams have bounced back; Oklahoma more so than Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have averaged over 43 points in the last three games, but their defense has allowed over 38 points in those three games, including a 30-20 win against a terrible, terrible Kansas team. Oklahoma destroyed Kansas State 55-0 last week. Look for Oklahoma to finally find some balance on offense and wear the Tech defense out. The Red Raider offense won’t have the same luck against the Sooners.
Prediction: Oklahoma 52, Texas Tech 27
#15 Texas A&M at #24 Ole Miss (Saturday 10/24/15 7:00 P.M. EST in Oxford, MS)
Line: Ole Miss by 6
The Aggies and Rebels will both be looking to right the ship this weekend in Oxford after disappointing performances in week seven. This will especially be the case for Ole Miss. They looked like potential CFP contenders after shocking Alabama, but now appear to be SEC West also-rans after fairly uninspiring losses to Florida and Memphis.
This game matches up arguably the two most prolific quarterbacks in the SEC. Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly and Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen are one-two in the league in passing yards with Kelly the only SEC signal caller averaging over 300 yards per game. The two have combined for 30 touchdown tosses on the year.
The Rebels pass rush could be severely short-handed if defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche can’t go. He suffered a concussion while running a play on offense against Memphis. His potential lack of availability almost certainly gives the defensive edge to the Aggies. A&M’s defensive line tandem of Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall have combined for 13.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. Unfortunately I feel a bit of a post-Memphis loss hangover for Ole Miss at Vaught-Hemingway Saturday.
Prediction: Texas A&M 34, Ole Miss 27
People who didn’t see Memphis coming (read: not me) might think that Ole Miss just isn’t very good this year. They would be wrong. Ole Miss is a very good team who still has that win over Alabama. Memphis is just also a good team led by perhaps the best young coach in football right now. Ole Miss still controls their own destiny in the SEC West and they get this game at home. Texas A&M has serious questions at quarterback right now and the strong Ole Miss defense is probably licking their chops after seeing Alabama’s three pick-sixes last week.
Prediction: Ole Miss 34, Texas A&M 24
The Rebels are a jekyll and hyde squad this year. QB Chad Kelly and his talented Wr’s, including Laquon Treadwell are fantastic, but they have been kept in check in both their losses this year (on the road against Florida, and Memphis). The defense likewise is talented and fast, but surrendered 35+ points in both of those losses as the team lost its focus and containment. Hugh Freeze seems to have issues motivating his team, but they still have a shot at winning the SEC West (and a chance to win the SEC with it), and playing at home they no excuse to give up on the season in this one.
Texas A&M has great end rushers that should be able to bother Kelly, and besides the loss to Alabama at home last Saturday, the John Chavis defense has looked good and helped the Aggies reach the next level. With that said, the offense has taken a step backward and if QB Kyle Allen starts I give TAMU the edge in this game. The defense is more likely to contain Ole Miss spread than they did Alabama’s physical running game, but Allen is erratic and INT prone compared to freshman QB Kyler Murray. Murray is a young dual threat scrambler who can stretch the field of play and gives TAMU far more options on offense. If Sumlin can’t bring himself to trust his new young QB, a budding star in the SEC, Ole Miss will ride home field advantage and come out with a win behind Kelly’s arm.
Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Texas A&M 24
This is a hard one to call. Ole Miss is clearly not the same team that coaxed five turnovers out of Alabama. And Rebel fans have to be concerned that A&M’s offense is much closer to the Memphis style of attack than the Alabama style of offense. The biggest question in this game will be Kevin Sumlin’s ability to get his young quarterback’s mind back in the game. If Kyle Allen can find his own receivers and avoid the disastrous turnovers that plagued him last week (the Alabama defense scored more points than the Aggie offense), A&M has a chance. I just didn’t see the same life in the Ole Miss team last week that was there earlier in the season, which has been a question mark for Hugh Freeze’s team. Look for the Aggies to stay in the SEC West hunt.
Prediction: Texas A&M 31, Ole Miss 27
#3 Utah at USC (Saturday 10/24/15 7:30 P.M. EST in Los Angeles, CA)
Line: USC by 3.5
Despite being the only remaining undefeated team in the Pac-12, the oddsmakers don’t have a lot of faith in the Utes who’ve been installed as slight road dogs against a three-loss Trojans team with an interim coach. They did put up a spirited fight in South Bend last weekend against Notre Dame, though.
USC quarterback Cody Kessler currently has the second highest completion percentage in the Pac-12 and is one of three signal callers in the league averaging over 300 yards passing. The Trojans clearly have the advantage at that position over Utah’s Travis Wilson, even though Wilson does bring an added dimension with his mobility.
Utah can keep their undefeated run going if they can regularly get at Kessler. The Trojans are susceptible to the pass rush, as indicated by the fact they’ve given up 15 sacks which is tied for 78th in the nation. Ute defensive lineman Pita Taumoepenu leads the conference at bringing down opposing quarterbacks, having tallied six sacks on the year so far.
Much like they did when Ed Orgeron took over in the wake of the Lane Kiffin firing, USC’s players appear to have rallied around Clay Helton. I think it continues in the Coliseum with the Trojans pulling off the upset.
Prediction: USC 27, Utah 20
How is USC favored in this game? They might technically have more talent, but they certainly haven’t played like it for most of this year. This might be the most shocking line of the season. Utah is a very good football team who for some reason still can’t quite get the respect they deserve. They made a statement a few weeks ago against Oregon. I think they make another one this week.
Prediction: Utah 42, USC 21
One of the strangest lines I’ve seen in years, Utah is clearly the better football team and the oddsmakers don’t even have this as a pick ’em. The Utes were tested for a while at home vs. Arizona State last week but their defense was rock solid and Travis Wilson and Devontae Booker continue to do work on the offensive side. Utah also has better special teams and far superior coaching. USC is talented but unfocused and in turmoil. I don’t see an interim coach being able to rally them to a win after already suffering two PAC-12 losses and a routine defeat to the hands of rival Notre Dame last week. The Utes defense will bother Kessler and company, and the USC secondary is like swiss cheese. Utah will stay in the national title hunt, and is all but certain to take part in the PAC-12 Championship.
Prediction: Utah 34, USC 17
Talk about having to earn respect. Utah is undefeated with quality wins against Michigan, California and Arizona State in addition to their dismantling of Oregon earlier in the season. USC is 3-3 and playing for an interim coach. And let’s face it, the Coliseum is NOT your normal home field, 3-point advantage. What do the people in Vegas know that we don’t? A lot probably, but they put their pants on one leg at a time as well. I’m singing Utah’s song. I think their consistency and toughness outlasts a slightly more talented USC team.
Prediction: Utah 38, USC 27