NCAA Football Predictions: Week 8 Opening Line Report and Picks
OK, so I was expecting a rather blah college football weekend. For the first time since November 2009, there were no ranked teams playing each other in a post-September weekend. So, of course, four Top-10 teams were upset by unranked foes: No. 2 Clemson fell Friday night at Syracuse, 27-24; No. 8 Washington State also lost on Friday, 37-3 at Cal; No. 5 Washington lost at Arizona State, 13-7; and No. 10 Auburn fell at LSU, 27-23.
So what does that all mean?
Let's start with the two Pac-12 upsets. That conference is now in major jeopardy of missing the College Football Playoff (first rankings on Halloween night) for the second time as every team in the conference has at least one loss now. Plus, Washington and Washington State close the regular season against one another as usual in the Apple Cup. The Huskies are going to get no love from the committee thanks to a ridiculously easy nonconference schedule that consisted of Rutgers, Montana and Fresno State. UW dropped to No. 12 in the new AP poll and Wazzu to 15th.
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I'd be lying if I said I saw Clemson's loss coming, but that sure felt like a major trap game. Tigers QB Kelly Bryant was questionable entering it and ended up leaving with a concussion - good thing Clemson is off this week. Playing at Syracuse is always a bit strange because of that dome and all the noise. If Clemson, now seventh in the AP poll, wins out it should be just fine. Remember that every playoff winner has had one loss.
Auburn, now 21st in the AP poll, can forget about the playoff as that was its second loss. The Tigers gave that game away in Baton Rouge, leading 20-0 in the second quarter. Auburn scored just six points and averaged just 3.3 yards per play in the final three quarters after putting up 17 points and 9.9 yards per play in the first quarter. Auburn teams ranked in the AP Top 10 are now 0-4 all-time in Baton Rouge, with three of those losses coming to unranked LSU teams. Also entering Saturday, AP Top 10 teams had been 182-0 when leading by at least 20 points against unranked opponents over the last four seasons. The heat is on Auburn coach Gus Malzahn again, although if his team wins out it could still take the SEC West. I just have trouble seeing the Tigers beating both No. 3 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama even though both are at home.
Here are a few Week 8 opening lines that caught my eye. Games Saturday unless noted.
No. 10 Oklahoma State at Texas (+6.5): I believe that if the Pokes win this matchup they will reach the Big 12 title game as they should be favored the rest of the regular season: at West Virginia (no pushover), vs. Oklahoma, at Iowa State, vs. Kansas State, vs. Kansas. If OSU loses here, kiss that title game goodbye and ditto to Mason Rudolph's Heisman chances. The Pokes come off a 59-16 beatdown of Baylor. Rudolph threw for 459 yards and three scores while running for another. James Washington caught six balls for 235 yards and a score while running for one; he'll likely be the first receiver taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. OSU had a school-record 747 yards. Texas covered in the Red River Rivalry but lost to Oklahoma, 29-24. Oklahoma State beat Texas last year, 49-31.Rudolph passed for 392 yards and three touchdowns. OSU somehow blocked three extra points in the first half, tying a school record for a game. Texas had won eight straight in Stillwater. The Pick: OSU.
No. 20 UCF at Navy (+7): This could be a preview of the AAC Championship Game, although Saturday's loser could find it tough to get there - that conference has some quality teams this year. Central Florida is one of just eight FBS teams still unbeaten and is 5-0 for the first time since moving to Division I. Scott Frost's crew pummeled East Carolina 63-21 on Saturday and is now tied for first nationally in averaging 48.8 points per game. UCF totaled 600 yards of offense, exceeding 500 yards for the third straight game, its longest such streak since 1998. Navy usually is one of the most disciplined teams in the country for obvious reasons but had five turnovers in Saturday's 30-27 loss in Memphis to fall out of the Top 25. The Midshipmen were looking to go 6-0 for the first time in almost four decades. UCF and Navy, the defending AAC champion, didn't play in 2016. The Pick: UCF (buy it down to 6.5).
No. 19 Michigan at No. 2 Penn State (-11): ESPN GameDay will be at this game. This line shocks me, frankly. But Michigan hasn't looked great the past two weeks without injured QB Wilton Speight, losing two Saturdays ago at home to Michigan State and then escaping at Indiana 27-20 in overtime. John O'Korn threw for only 58 yards on 20 attempts vs. the Hoosiers. Karan Higdon saved the day with 200 yards and three scores on 25 carries. Another day, another coaching rumor involving the SEC. This time, it's Texas A&M reportedly coveting Penn State's James Franklin if the Aggies dump Kevin Sumlin after this season, which is probably about 50-50 at this point. A&M is a good job, but I don't see Franklin leaving Happy Valley for that. Frankly, the PSU program is in much better shape and Franklin has a loaded recruiting class for 2018. Before this season, Franklin signed a contract extension that would make him Penn State's coach through the 2022 season at an average of $5.8 million per year. PSU was off in Week 7 and comes off a 31-7 win at Northwestern on Oct. 7. Heisman favorite Saquon Barkley was held to 75 yards on 16 carries but did score twice. The Nittany Lions opened Big Ten play last year at No. 4 Michigan and were bombed 49-10 - PSU wouldn't lose another conference game. Barkley was held to 59 yards on 15 carries. The Pick: Michigan.
No. 11 USC at No. 13 Notre Dame (-3.5): I guarantee you that every commissioner of a Power 5 conference (especially the Pac-12's Larry Scott) is secretly rooting for the Trojans here. That's because if the Irish manage to run the table - that won't be easy with games vs. NC State, Miami, Navy and Stanford - they will be in the College Football Playoff, without question. Thus that takes a spot away from a Power 5 conference. The Trojans certainly would be knocked out of any shot at the playoff with a second loss, and the worst-case scenario for the Pac-12 would be for USC to lose this game, still win the South Division and then knock off a one-loss Washington or Washington State in the conference title game. Then the Pac-12 wouldn't have a playoff representative. USC thumped the Irish 45-28 to close last regular season. Adoree Jackson, a 2017 first-round pick of the Titans, had a game for the ages in returning a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns while also catching a TD pass. Sam Darnold threw for 205 yards and two TDs as the Trojans won theJeweled Shillelagh (some sort of fancy Irish club) for the 11th time in 15 years. The Pick: USC.
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