Week 8 College Football Picks: Can Michigan, LSU and Oregon Keep This Up?
The season’s first significant top-10 shakeup went down in Week 7, when West Virginia, Georgia, Washington and Penn State all saw their playoff chances take a hit. It was wild, but it was only a taste of what’s ahead. Some of last week’s biggest winners face tricky tests in Week 8 against teams the college football public may be sleeping on: Michigan heads to Michigan State, LSU hosts Mississippi State and Oregon heads to Washington State. And that group doesn’t include Clemson’s game against ACC Atlantic challenger NC State or Cincinnati’s bid to remain undefeated in Philly.
Below, our writers and editors take turns defending their straight-up picks for the biggest games of the Week 8 slate.
Ross Dellenger: 59–24 (71.1%)
Scooby Axson: 58–25 (69.9%)
Molly Geary: 56–27 (67.5%)
Joan Niesen: 53–30 (63.9%)
Max Meyer: 52–31 (62.7%)
Laken Litman: 51–32 (61.4%)
Andy Staples: 51–32 (61.4%)
Eric Single: 48–35 (57.8%)
Stanford at Arizona State (Thursday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Max Meyer picks Stanford: This was not an easy pick. Arizona State is strong at defending explosive pass plays (which is especially crucial against this version of Stanford) and a shaky Stanford offensive line will struggle against the Sun Devils’ pressure. But I’m going with my heart over my head here and taking the Cardinal, simply because I can’t see a David Shaw–coached team losing three straight games. Arizona State’s run defense has struggled mightily in the past four games, allowing 227.3 yards per game, and Bryce Love feasted for 301 yards on the ground against this team last season.
Michigan at Michigan State (Saturday, Noon ET, FOX)
Joan Niesen picks Michigan State: With as high as the college football world is on Michigan, this rivalry seems prime for an upset, and the Spartans already played spoiler last week, so why not again? Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke will be able to wear down the Michigan defense enough to take the edge in a close one.
Auburn at Ole Miss (Noon ET, ESPN)
Ross Dellenger picks Auburn: Ten months after receiving a sparkling new $49 million contract extension, Gus Malzahn was asked this week if he was coaching for his job. Things are not going well on The Plains. Malzahn’s slumping Tigers just lost at home to a Tennessee team that hadn’t won a road SEC game in more than two years. A trip to Ole Miss, where Matt Luke has the Rebels playing well, will not be easy. It’s a must-win situation for Malzahn’s team, even if his buyout keeps this from being a must-win situation for his job.
Oklahoma at TCU (Noon ET, ABC)
Scooby Axson picks Oklahoma: All eyes will be on the Sooners’ defense, which was getting torched by a pedestrian Texas offense when we last saw it. TCU is no juggernaut offensively either, having scored less than 20 points three games in a row. This game will be all about Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, who one has stopped this season. Oklahoma will do enough against TCU to keep its Big 12 title hopes alive.
Cincinnati at Temple (Noon ET, ESPNU)
Molly Geary picks Cincinnati: The Owls should not be overlooked—as Maryland learned back in Week 3—and this game has definite upset potential. The matchup pits two top-10 passing defenses, which means this one could be decided on the ground. That’s potentially bad news for Temple, whose leading rusher, Ryquell Armstead, missed last week’s win and is day-to-day. Also not in the Owls’ favor is that the Bearcats’ leading rusher, Michael Warren II, has 11 scores on the year—or that Cincinnati’s run defense is giving up 63 fewer yards per game.
Virginia at Duke (12:30 p.m. ET, ACCN)
Eric Single picks Duke: Raise your hand if you had this circled as a pivotal ACC Coastal matchup before the season started. Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones feasts on middling-to-bad competition, and although Virginia’s defense held Miami in check for most of the night last weekend, it’s still middling. According to PFF, Jones throws a catchable pass on 71.4% of his throws that travel 20 yards or more, the highest rate in the nation. The Cavaliers will be the team that drops from the four-way tie for second in the Coastal.
NC State at Clemson (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Laken Litman picks Clemson: NC State has come so close to knocking off Clemson the past two years, losing by one possession each time. Is this the year the Wolfpack can finally do it? The winner of this battle of ACC unbeatens takes control of the Atlantic Division and has a clear path to the playoff. It might be another close game, but the Tigers likely aren’t losing in Death Valley—not with Trevor Lawrence’s efficiency (completing 69% of his passes and throwing 11 touchdowns to two interceptions), Travis Etienne’s speed (he leads the ACC with 761 rushing yards on 9.17 yards per carry for 11 touchdowns) and a stifling defense (holding opponents to 261 yards per game).
Colorado at Washington (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
Joan Niesen picks Washington: Washington will rebound from its second loss of the year with a win at home against a team it has beat every year since it became a conference opponent. This one will come down to the Buffs simply being unable to score on the Huskies’ defense.
Mississippi State at LSU (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Andy Staples picks LSU: This might be a trap game for LSU if the Tigers didn’t remember getting thrashed in Starkville last season. The Bulldogs have figured out their offense—heavy doses of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald on the ground. The problem is LSU’s corners are good enough to allow the Tigers to load the box to stop such a run-heavy offense.
Oregon at Washington State (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
Laken Litman picks Washington State: Oregon is coming off an emotional overtime win knocking off Washington last week, but the Ducks are about to run straight into Mike Leach at night in Pullman after the school’s first visit from College GameDay. Wazzu has traditionally been good against the Ducks, winning the last three meetings, and will be fresh coming off the bye week. Oregon moves fast and Washington State throws it downfield (quarterback Gardner Minshew leads the country with 403.7 passing yards per game), and as Leach said this week, “I don’t know, but it’s come down to whoever’s most willing to slug it out at the end.”
Ohio State at Purdue (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Ross Dellenger picks Ohio State:The loss of Nick Bosa is a blow for the Buckeyes, but that shouldn’t affect their performance at Purdue. The Boilermakers’ three-game win streak came against Boston College, Nebraska and Illinois, so don’t go crazy thinking they can knock off Urban Meyer’s boys. If they can hang within two scores in the third quarter, it’ll be impressive. This is a defense that allowed 31 against Northwestern, 40 to Missouri and 28 to Nebraska.
USC at Utah (8 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)
Max Meyer picks Utah: USC is pretty predictable under Clay Helton. If the Trojans are a favorite at home, they win (19–0). If they are an underdog away from home, they lose (1–10), and usually it occurs in blowout fashion. Utah is a 6.5-point favorite in Salt Lake City.
The Trojans just lost their top pass rusher Porter Gustin for the year due to a fractured ankle. He has seven sacks (seventh-highest total in the nation) on the season; the rest of the team has six. USC will struggle to run the ball against the Utes, which will force the offense to become one-dimensional. And USC gets flagged incessantly, whether shooting itself in the foot on offensive possessions or giving the opponent second and third chances. Utah will take control of the Pac-12 South after a convincing win on Saturday.