2023 NCAAF: Week 8 Preview

October 19, 2023

The previous weekend of college football generally did not disappoint. The game of the week came down to the wire, and if you placed a bet for Oregon to cover prior to the line moving to +2.5, you came away a winner.

Week 8 shifts its attention from out West to the Midwest, where the Big Ten will take center stage on Saturday afternoon before ceding the spotlight to a couple of ranked matchups down South.

The balance this season has been quite refreshing and has seemingly kept fans across the country tuned in, rather than only in certain geographic pockets.

Before we dive fully into the weekend ahead, let’s take a look back at Week 7 and a set of negatively charged headlines.

3 Things We Learned in Week 7

Lincoln Riley won’t win a national title as long as he ignores defense

This has become abundantly clear as of late. The most recent reminder, a 28-point beatdown at the hands of Notre Dame last Saturday evening, was far more blunt than the previous indicators. To some degree, Southern Cal’s loss last weekend was felt in the air on the heels of a triple overtime, two-point victory over Arizona the previous weekend. On the other hand, true Playoff contenders simply do not lose games by four touchdowns.

Coach Riley is as close to an offensive genius as college football has, an innovator on that side of the ball with a recruiting ability to match. But despite the game at all levels evolving in a way beneficial to the likes of Riley, you can’t simply write off defense entirely. It seems, however, that Riley and his staff have done just that. Things won’t get any easier when Southern Cal joins the Big Ten and is forced to play November games in cold, Midwestern weather.

Kicking in college football is…ugly

In the NFL, quantitative analytics has prompted coaches to be more aggressive on fourth down and two-point conversions. In college, such aggression often can be explained by a confidence level, or lack thereof, in the kicking crew.

Sometimes there is no choice but to line up for a field goal. With just seconds remaining in the Oregon-Washington game last weekend, that decision was a no-brainer; a 36-yard field goal would have sent the game into overtime. Lined up in between the hashes, Oregon’s Camden Lewis pushed his attempt wide right, shocking most viewers and delighting those in purple garb. Take solace, Camden – it happens to the pros, too.

Georgia’s first adversity of the season is in the form of an injury

Heading into its bye week, Georgia received the unfortunate news that its star tight end Brock Bowers would need surgery on his left ankle to repair an injury suffered against Vanderbilt. The surgery, known as a TightRope procedure, should allow Bowers to return to action in as little as four weeks. The challenge is that the timeframe would prevent Bowers, who leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, from playing in games against currently ranked Missouri and Mississippi, as well as Florida.

With all the talent outside of Bowers on the offense, the Bulldogs may be just fine. His presence alone will be missed, however, let alone the actual production that he has provided this season. From a receiving perspective, Bowers has over 200 yards more than any other Georgia player and has caught 10 more balls than the next wideout.

5 Games You Need to Watch This Weekend

#7 Penn State at #3 Ohio State (Saturday, 12 PM ET – FOX)

Here we are yet again – another massive tilt between these two programs. For the seventh time in as many years, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions will take each other on as ranked squads. Penn State will look to end a six-game slide against the Buckeyes in Columbus with perhaps its most talented squad in the James Franklin era. To do that, the Nittany Lions Big Ten leading pass defense (121 YPG allowed) will need to bring it’s ‘A Game’ against the Buckeyes’ league leading pass offense (308 YPG passing).

Penn State boasts the country’s second best pass rush, coming in with 27 sacks on the season. Kyle McCord hasn’t had to deal with a ton of pressure this season, and there’s a good chance that the Buckeyes are held to far below their normal averages in the passing game. Therefore, it will be imperative that Ohio State is able to soften things up with the running game, which has battled injuries all season. Playing in front of a home crowd will certainly help, but the Buckeyes won’t win this one easily.

My Pick: 27-23 Ohio State (does not cover -4.5 spread)

#17 Tennessee at #11 Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – CBS)

Last season’s game of the year occurred in Knoxville when the Volunteers upset then-No. 3 Alabama on a last second field goal. While there is the potential for this game to be just as excited, two very different teams will enter the ring in 2023. Neither offense is as potent through the air, with both struggling to find consistency at the quarterback position. Instead, expect defense to rule the day and points to come at a premium.

Tennessee averages over 230 yards per game on the ground, but faces an Alabama defense that has been able to prevent what have seemingly been its most capable opponents from gashing it with the run game. Junior Jaylen Wright is one of two players in the conference with at least 80 rushing attempts that averages over 7 yards per carry, and Tennessee’s offense in general relies on breaking big plays. Alabama has been unusually non-clinical in the fourth quarter this year and if it allows the Volunteers to hang around, Josh Heupel’s team is good enough to take advantage.

My Pick: 24-17 Alabama (does not cover -8.5 spread)

TCU at Kansas State (Saturday, 7 PM ET – ESPN2)

It has been a bit of a disappointing season for two of the favorites in the Big 12 to contend for a conference title. While there is still a long way to go, this game is a must-win to avoid falling out of the race completely. TCU has been here before – quarterback Chandler Morris is out with an injury, replaced by a relative unknown entity. Only this time, the entity is a freshman (Josh Hoover). The kid can sling it, but sometimes at a cost, having already thrown 4 interceptions in the three games he’s attempted a pass. Turnovers in general have been a problem for the Horned Frogs this season.

The Wildcats have had an extra week to prepare for Hoover, but are candidates to fall victim to the same fate that BYU did last weekend given their porous pass secondary. Kansas State will need to keep the ball out of TCU’s hands and keep this game low scoring. If the Horned Frogs dictate the tempo, even a couple of turnovers won’t negate what they’re able to do in the passing game. Since this is the Big 12, it’s difficult not to side with the team that is better at throwing it around.

My Pick: 35-34 TCU (covers +6.5 spread)

#16 Duke at #4 Florida State (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – ABC)

A pundit who will remain anonymous said that if Duke didn’t beat Notre Dame earlier this season, the Blue Devils would ‘go back to being Duke’. Well, Mike Elko’s team didn’t win that game, but they’re still relevant in college football this season. The Blue Devils get another shot at a marquee victory over a team with golden domes, only this time it’ll have to come on the road. Florida State has asserted itself as the class of the ACC this season and will look to prove it is the only true football school in this matchup.

On paper, Duke is sneaky good and has the tools to keep this one very interesting. The Blue Devils can take the air out of the ball on offense with its ground and pound approach and are the best in the league at defending the pass. More bluntly (and arguably importantly), Duke is one of four teams in the country allowing fewer than 10 points per contest. The question will be, ‘is close good enough?’ Duke shouldn’t be a two touchdown underdog here, but will still come up slightly short of an upset that would look bigger on paper than it would be in reality.

My Pick: 23-17 Florida State (does not cover -14.5 spread)

#14 Utah at #18 Southern Cal (Saturday, 8 PM ET – FOX)

This doesn’t feel like a comfortable game for either side, for different reasons. The Trojans are coming off of a 28 point blowout loss to rival Notre Dame that essentially ended their Playoff hopes. The Utes are hoping they can simply keep up with, or slow down, an offense that even in the loss wasn’t the real issue for Lincoln Riley. Believe it or not, some happiness does await at the end of the night for one of these teams.

Utah’s offensive struggles have been unfortunate to witness, to say the least. The absence of Cam Rising has been grossly apparent, and last weekend Kyle Whittingham had no choice but to shake things up by replacing struggling freshman Nate Johnson with junior Bryson Barnes. The Utes got the win, though Barnes was hardly impressive, failing to throw a single touchdown. The defense has been the rock for Utah in past seasons, but some help is needed. Southern Cal could allow the Utes to throw multiple touchdowns for the first time this season and still win this game.

My Pick: 34-21 Southern Cal (covers -7 spread)

5 Games to Keep an Eye On This Weekend

Washington State at #9 Oregon (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – ABC)

The Ducks are back at home this weekend and will look to blow off some steam against a Washington State team that has struggled mightily since briefly cracking the Top 15 earlier in the month.

Toledo at Miami (OH) (Saturday, 4 PM ET – ESPNU)

With multiple teams on their tails, this is a crucial matchup in the MAC featuring the current leaders of the West and East divisions. Each squad is riding a six game win streak and currently rank No. 1 and 2 in the conference in scoring offense.

#13 Mississippi at Auburn (Saturday, 7 PM ET – ESPN)

Somebody call Admiral Ackbar, because this one feels like a trap! Mississippi has reached that point in the Top 25 where it has been many times before under Lane Kiffin, but has rarely been able to improve upon.

Clemson at Miami (FL) (Saturday, 8 PM ET – ACC Network)

Another game that feels like a must-win for both teams. Neither Clemson nor Miami expected to be unranked heading into this matchup and an ‘L’ by either program could thrust the campaign into ‘lost season’ territory.

Georgia State at Louisiana (Saturday, 8 PM ET – ESPNU)

With the Fun Belt nearly turned on its head based on preseason predictions, a win by either team puts it in great position to contend for a conference title. Not bad for programs that collectively finished 10-15 last season.

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