Week 8 college football predictions for the 10 biggest games. The SEC West takes center stage, headlined by the battle in Tuscaloosa between Alabama and Texas A&M.
It’s the fourth Saturday in October, or that time to really get to know your SEC West members. Six of the seven programs in what is arguably the premier division in college football are ranked this week. And they all face one another in a scheduling anomaly that’ll only really matter in the race to Atlanta if someone can actually defeat unbeaten Alabama. Otherwise, it’s a traffic jam to determine who finishes second and remains viable for a New Year’s Six bowl invitation.
Below are the breakdowns and predictions for the 10 most consequential and entertaining games of Week 8.
10. Utah (6-1) at UCLA (3-4)
Utah is tied atop the Pac-12 South Division. UCLA gets a chance to play spoiler this weekend in Pasadena.
It’s been a disappointing season for the Bruins, to say the least. The team has dropped back-to-back close conference games, and is still uncertain if Josh Rosen will be healthy enough to suit up. Meanwhile, the Utes continue to scrap their way to victories, overcoming their own devastating injuries along the way. Neither team is clicking on offense, a trend that’ll continue against two of the league’s toughest defenses.
This alley brawl will follow the script—close, physical and offensively unappealing. Neither team will move the ball consistently, especially if Rosen can’t play or is knocked around by defensive end Hunter Dimick and the rest of the Ute front wall. The difference in a toss-up game? The Bruin ground game is futile, while Utah has gotten a big boost from running back Joe Williams, who’s back after leaving football for a month.
Prediction: Utah 24, UCLA 19
9. Colorado (5-2) at Stanford (4-2)
Last week, Colorado defeated Arizona State for the first time ever. This Saturday, the Pac-12’s biggest surprise attempts to take down Stanford for the first time since 1990.
The Buffs are the league’s feel-good story of 2016, tied with Utah atop the South Division with five games remaining. But Stanford on the Farm is still a psychological hurdle, even in a down year for the Cardinal. Plus, there’s hope around Palo Alto that Christian McCaffrey will be available after sitting out last week’s win at Notre Dame.
Colorado is playing with soaring confidence for Mike MacIntyre. And it’s simply the better overall team right now. The Buffs are diverse on offense, with QB Sefo Liufau, RB Phillip Lindsay and a deep corps of receivers. The Cardinal, meanwhile, is floundering at 19 points per game, which will continue against a Colorado D allowing 20 points per game and ranked No. 8 in the country in pass efficiency defense.
Prediction: Colorado 28, Stanford 24
Line: Stanford -2
8. Miami (4-2) at Virginia Tech (4-2)
The Canes and the Hokies look to get off the mat and remain in ACC Coastal Division contention.
All of the optimism surrounding these programs and their first-year head coaches evaporated over the past couple of weeks. Miami has lost consecutive games to Florida State and North Carolina, while Va Tech inexcusably took it on the chin against Syracuse. Buh-bye Top 25 rankings. Thursday night on national TV is a fork in the road that could dictate how the second half transpires for both programs.
A return home will be critical for the Hokies, which have already had two bad showings outside of Blacksburg. It’s a short week, but Bud Foster will rally his defensive troops against a fading Miami offense that’s scored just 32 points over the past two games. Dual-threat Jerod Evans will outplay Brad Kaaya in a defensive struggle, sending the Canes to a crushing third loss in a row.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 26, Miami 21
Line: Virginia Tech -6
7. NC State (4-2) at Louisville (5-1)
The Pack was a missed 33-yard field goal from ruining Clemson’s season. In Week 8, State tries to put Louisville in its crosshairs.
The Pack hung with one of the nation’s top 5 programs a week ago, another sign of the progress being made by fourth-year coach Dave Doeren in Raleigh. The Cards, meanwhile, are looking to rebound from a clunky effort against Duke in a game that was far closer than anticipated. If Louisville plans to remain viable in the playoff discussion, while propping up Lamar Jackson’s Heisman hopes, it has to perform better in Week 8.
Jackson will be tested by the ACC’s top-ranked run defense and a vastly underrated Pack front seven. But he’s too dynamic to be bottled up for 60 minutes. He’ll break loose enough times to build a cushion on NC State, which will struggle to untrack its own quarterback, Ryan Finley, against the speed and disruptiveness of Todd Grantham’s defense.
Prediction: Louisville 34, NC State 23
Line: Louisville -20
6. TCU (4-2) at West Virginia (5-0)
West Virginia is bucking to carry the Big 12 banner this season, rising up to No. 12 in the AP poll following an unexpectedly easy shellacking of Texas Tech, 48-17, last week.
The Mountaineers get another opportunity this week against TCU to show they belong as a Big 12 contender and maybe even a distant threat to grab a playoff berth. They’re playing real well on both sides of the ball, consistently winning at the line of scrimmage. The Frogs, on the other hand, need this game to shift the direction of a season that’s been a big disappointment through the first half.
TCU is capable of ruining an opponent’s season, especially with QB Kenny Hill and RB Kyle Hicks on offense and a defense that’s talented up front. West Virginia, though, will be up to the task at home. The Mountaineers actually have the better defense, and the balance with QB Skyler Howard and RB Rushel Shell to keep Gary Patterson’s defense reeling.
Prediction: West Virginia 37, TCU 27
Line: West Virginia -5
5. Wisconsin (4-2) at Iowa (5-2)
The Badgers are ranked No. 10, fresh off a laudable effort in an overtime loss to Ohio State. However, if they lose this week in Iowa City, they’re basically done in the Big Ten West Division race.
Wisconsin is being hamstrung by facing Michigan and the Buckeyes in the first half of the year, but it’s running out of time, especially as No. 8 Nebraska keeps winning. While the Hawkeyes are in the hunt as well, they must play much better than they have through the first seven games of 2016.
These are two similar squads, longtime rivals who rely on defense and the ground game. And while the Hawkeyes are home and winners of two straight, the Badgers are battle-tested and boast the stiffer overall D. Plus, the offense, namely RB Corey Clement and QB Alex Hornibrook, showed signs last week of being ready to carry a little more of the weight going forward. Tight, competitive and hard-hitting, but Wisconsin remains viable in the Big Ten title chase.
Prediction: Wisconsin 24, Iowa 17
Line: Wisconsin -3.5
4. Ohio State (6-0) at Penn State (4-2)
White out. Primetime. No. 2 Ohio State. It’ll be an electric scene in Happy Valley on Saturday night.
The Buckeyes survived Camp Randall a week ago … barely. They’ll be challenged again in Week 8 by a Penn State team that’s coming off a bye, has won two straight and is hungry for a signature win under James Franklin. This is the kind of event that affords a staff an opportunity to initiate a paradigm shift in a program’s direction.
The Lions will be fired up, the crowd will be rocking … and then reality will set in. Penn State has one, possibly two, game-changers in RB Saquon Barkley and FS Marcus Allen. Ohio State is littered with them on both sides of the ball. The Buckeyes have too much speed and too many playmakers to be threatened by the Lions after halftime. Plus, the D will play with something to prove after an uncharacteristically soft performance against Wisconsin.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Penn State 17
Line: Ohio State -19.5
3. Ole Miss (3-3) at LSU (4-2)
Alabama and Texas A&M are taking center stage this weekend, but LSU might still have a say in the SEC West race.
The Tigers return to league play for the first time in three weeks, looking to build on blowouts of Missouri and Southern Miss to kick off Ed Orgeron’s interim regime in Baton Rouge. The big news this Saturday, besides the 105th meeting between these longtime rivals, is the anticipated return of RB Leonard Fournette, whose ankle has kept him out since Sept. 24. The Rebs are hoping to avoid sinking below .500 following last Saturday’s crushing home loss to Arkansas.
LSU will be fueled by the return of Fournette, who’ll join Derrius Guice in attacking a mediocre Ole Miss run defense. Plus, the Tigers will neutralize the Rebs’ best weapon, QB Chad Kelly, with CB Tre’Davious White, SS Jamal Adams and the rest of an elite secondary that’s tied for the nation’s lead with just three touchdown passes allowed.
Prediction: LSU 33, Ole Miss 24
Line: LSU -5.5
2. Arkansas (5-2) at Auburn (4-2)
The winner of this matchup at Jordan-Hare Stadium will finish Week 8 as the hottest SEC team this side of Tuscaloosa.
Outside of the Top 25 when the season began, Auburn and Arkansas are now ranked, trending north and thinking major bowl game if they can carry a head of steam into November. The Hogs just got done upsetting Ole Miss in Oxford behind three Austin Allen TD passes, while the Tigers haven’t lost in more than a month. It’ll be a battle of contradictions of the Plains, the Arkansas passing attack against the old-school ground-and-pound and D of Auburn.
Auburn is rested, home and a tough matchup for Arkansas. The Tiger secondary and Carl Lawson-led pass rush will create problems for Allen. So, too, will backs Kamryn Pettway and a healthy Kerryon Johnson, who’ll plow directly at a Razorback defense that’s 123rd nationally in yards per carry allowed and missing injured LB Dre Greenlaw.
Prediction: Auburn 33, Arkansas 24
Line: Auburn -10
1. Texas A&M (6-0) at Alabama (7-0)
Bama looks unbeatable right now. A&M is eager for its shot to shock the world and take over the No. 1 spot.
The Aggies were one of the top stories of the first half, traveling from preseason anonymity to No. 6 following wins over UCLA, Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee. Kevin Sumlin has deftly inserted newcomers on his staff and on his two-deep, like QB Trevor Knight, who ironically upset the Tide as a member of Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. But Bama is beginning to roll with locomotive strength as true freshman QB Jalen Hurts matures on the fly and the defense and special teams contribute points of their own.
A&M is a terrific all-around team, maybe even a fringe contender to be the second SEC squad in the playoff discussion. But Bama possesses too much defensive skill and speed for an offense relying on an average passer, Knight, and a rookie back, Trayveon Williams, to extend drives. The Aggies have the defenders, like DE Myles Garrett, LB Shaan Washington and DBs Justin Evans and Armani Watts, to stall the Tide offense for a while. But mounting drives and closing divides will be overwhelming against a Nick Saban D that’ll put all of the pressure on Knight to reach the end zone.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Texas A&M 20
Line: Alabama -18.5