by Ian Boyd
In my eyes, Week 7 established LSU as the most terrifying offense in college football. This is really a remarkable outcome for a program that just two years ago was languishing with another under-center, run-based unit that couldn't score on Alabama under the direction of a head coach in Ed Orgeron with zero expertise in crafting a modern offense. Well, Orgeron adjusted. He promoted assistant Steve Ensminger to offensive coordinator and welcomed in Ohio State grad transfer Joe Burrow and ran more of a spread offense in 2018, then before 2019 they hired young offensive wunderkind Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints to help further modernize the spread for Burrow.
Last week against the Florida Gators, Burrow completed 21 of 24 passes for 293 yards at 12.2 yards per attempt with three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and zero sacks. The Tigers are playing pro-spread offense at an exceptionally high level, and college defenses long geared towards stopping the run are really struggling to even slow them down.
The rest of Week 7 was largely chalk, at least in terms of victory if not the point spread, with Oklahoma, Alabama, Notre Dame, and Penn State all winning as favorites. USC gave Notre Dame a great game in a 30-27 defeat, suggesting there's still life in that locker room despite head coach Clay Helton's uncertain status. We'll see in future weeks if the Trojans can maintain their focus.
Week 8 has much fewer high-profile games, but does feature a few interesting teams in important contests before wrapping up with a consequential Big 10 East showdown between Michigan and Penn State at State College.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Florida (-6) at South Carolina -- 12 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Florida (6-1)||South Carolina (3-3)|
|When Florida has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When South Carolina has the ball||Defense||Offense|
The Gators gave LSU a good game on the road in Death Valley last week but couldn't match the hyper-explosiveness of the Tigers passing attack. Kyle Trask continues to be a revelation as a passer and threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns against LSU on the road in that contest. Trask continues to help the Gators make the most of tight end Kyle Pitts, who had five catches for 108 yards against the Tigers and is one of the big keys that unlocks their offensive potential. The numbers still have Florida as a somewhat middling offense, but you can see what Trask has brought in their passing SP+ numbers. The run game is still coming along as Dan Mullen reworks it around a different skill set at quarterback.
The Florida defense is well regarded by the stats, despite getting gashed by LSU, and should be able to get back on form this week going up against a poor South Carolina unit. The Gamecocks lost starting quarterback Jake Bently early in the year and have leaned on Ryan Hilinksi, who missed the end of South Carolina's big win over Georgia last weekend after taking a shot to the knee. Hilinski should be back, but the Gamecocks tend to live or die by the running game and lead back Rico Dowdle. The running back has 449 rushing yards at 5.8 yards per carry so far this season; he is backed up by Clemson transfer Tavien Feaster. The passing game is barely a constraint on the run game and offers little explosive punch to the offense, as you can see reflected in the numbers.
The reason South Carolina is a test is their defense, which is head coach Will Muschamp's specialty. D.J. Wonnum, Aaron Sterling, and Javon Kinlaw make up a very strong front that has combined for 16.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Big safety Israel Mukuamu, a 6-foot-4 and 210-pound sophomore, already has four interceptions on the year playing behind that front and is third on the team in tackles behind inside linebackers T.J. Brunson and Ernest Jones. Muschamp has always specialized in utilizing fronts that create matchups for his best defensive linemen and linebackers in order to allow him to play conservatively elsewhere with the coverage. That should be a tough challenge for the Florida offense, which may struggle to make headway in the run game if the Gamecocks play two-deep on their receivers and dare them to move the ball with consistent gains on the ground.
Both teams will also have to prove they have the fire and focus to win this game. South Carolina should be riding high on confidence after playing spoiler to Georgia, but do they have enough energy and fight left to pull off another shocker the week after against Florida? And the Gators have played two high-profile games in a row, first hosting Auburn and then traveling to LSU. Will they be ready to rebound against South Carolina, or are they beat up and sluggish from the previous two contests? This could be a good game to hit the under.
- How will Florida's run game handle South Carolina's potent defensive line and conservative coverages?
- Can Kyle Trask keep up his pace putting up big numbers in the Florida spread passing game?
- Do these teams have the juice to play a competitive noon kickoff game coming down from the highs and lows of the previous week?
FEI Outright Pick: Florida by 0.3
Clemson (-24.5) at Louisville -- 12 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Clemson (6-0)||Louisville (4-2)|
|When Clemson has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Louisville has the ball||Defense||Offense|
The regular season is filled with these sorts of semi-challenging games for the Clemson Tigers, who above all else will need to prove that they are up for bringing at least their B+ game every week lest they suffer a disaster like Georgia did against South Carolina. The ACC simply doesn't have much top-line talent to throw at the Tigers, but they do have some tough squads like Scott Satterfield's first-year Louisville Cardinals.
The Cardinals just learned that the season's starting quarterback Jawon Pass will be lost for the year, but his backups Micale Cunningham and Evan Conley have combined to go 4-1 while throwing for 1,238 yards at 12.1 yards per attempt with 11 touchdowns (plus four more on the ground), and two interceptions. Satterfield has rebuilt the Cardinals run game that languished after Lamar Jackson graduated but gave Notre Dame fits earlier in the year. Satterfield has the Cardinals running wide zone from the pistol with a lot of wrinkles such as sweeps, triple-option, and play-action. It's a tough look in the college game since it's not as common to face these lead run schemes from bigger formations with these angles.
Clemson's best chance at plugging along undefeated in the ACC is that their defense is playing at an extremely high level again and can give troublesome offenses like Louisville's some extra attention when they need to. The Tigers don't have the same caliber of defensive line as last year (small surprise) but the linebackers and safeties have been dominant. Isaiah Simmons leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks playing a safety/linebacker hybrid position that has moved him all over the field. This game should be interesting just to note where Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables plays Simmons in order to try and stymie the Louisville rushing attack.
It's also always worth watching Clemson to get a sense of how quarterback Trevor Lawrence and the offense are coming along. Last year this unit ran over the ACC without flexing their full potential before unleashing a devastating passing attack with freshman wide receiver Justyn Ross in the playoffs. This year Lawrence has had some problems executing at the same level with "only" 8.1 yards per attempt and 11 touchdowns to six interceptions. The Tigers have made some changes to their offense, and some of this may simply be them feeling their way through some transitions and new concepts. Louisville hasn't played good defense this season, but they'll give Clemson their best shot and hope to limit the Tigers' possessions with their own approach on offense, so if the Tigers aren't sharp there could be some intrigue to this game.
- Louisville's pistol run game against a speedy and aggressive Clemson defense that could be punished by cutbacks.
- Can the Clemson offense get Trevor Lawrence going this week or will the Cardinals slow them up?
- The different places that Isaiah Simmons lines up on the field for the Clemson defense.
FEI Outright Pick: Clemson by 24.9
Oregon (-3) at Washington -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Oregon (5-1)||Washington (5-2)|
|When Oregon has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Washington has the ball||Defense||Offense|
This is the first of the bigger games for Week 8, whereas the previous two could provide early excitement or intrigue that has college football fans flipping on their television sets after seeing a highlight or getting a tip online. Oregon and Washington are dueling for the Pac-12 championship, and while Washington is deep in a hole with two early conference losses, they're still in the mix and playing at home in this game.
The Huskies have slipped on defense this year, which is to be expected when you lose eight defensive starters, five of which were drafted by the NFL. They have maintained a high standard of play, but the run defense has struggled without nose tackle Greg Gaines or middle linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven. That vulnerable run defense is something that Oregon will likely look to get after in this contest, but this really just points to a problem with the 2019 Ducks. Head coach Mario Cristobal's intention at Oregon was to build a big, powerful offensive line like the ones he coached back at Alabama under Nick Saban. The Ducks came into this season with a big, veteran unit, but in big games against Auburn, Stanford, and Cal, they've struggled to impose their will.
Oregon's scariest dimension on offense is quarterback Justin Herbert, who has 17 touchdown passes to a single interception. However, the Huskies still have a good secondary that will focus on taking away big passing plays and will find it easier after Herbert lost his top target, tight end Jacob Breeland, for the season with a knee injury. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Breeland was the toughest matchup in the Ducks offense and a catalyst for their pro-spread passing dimensions. Washington won't struggle to match up against Oregon's other, much smaller receivers with their own skill athletes in the secondary.
The real reason that Oregon is atop the Pac-12 standings, though, is the play of their defense, which is thriving under new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos. Oregon has picked off nine passes through six games and cornerback Deommodore Lenoir has broken up five passes without yet picking one off. Linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia has broken up four with no picks, and cornerback Thomas Graham has five break-ups with a single interception. The Ducks are getting their hands on a ton of passes and picking off a perfectly reasonable number of them at the most.
Washington has had an effective passing game with former Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason at the helm this season, but they've maintained the same problem they've had every year since the breakthrough 2016 season when they made the playoffs. They've never replaced wide receiver John Ross' explosiveness in the passing game. Lead receiver Aaron Fuller is averaging 8.8 yards per target, which isn't bad but hardly lethal.
- Can Washington quarterback Jacob Eason avoid the ball magnets in the Oregon secondary?
- Will Oregon be able to establish the run effectively without star tight end Jacob Breeland?
- Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert against Washington's always-effective pass defense.
FEI Outright Pick: Oregon by 6.9
Temple at SMU (-7.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
|Overall||Temple (5-1)||SMU (6-0)|
|When Temple has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When SMU has the ball||Defense||Offense|
SMU has been one of the more enjoyable stories this year in college football. They're undefeated with a big win over cross-town rival TCU and enjoying good quarterback play from Texas transfer Shane Buechele, as well as effective play on defense. This is the program's second year under head coach Sonny Dykes, who was a former Mike Leach assistant at Texas Tech that had success at Cal with quarterbacks Jared Goff and Davis Webb but didn't translate it to consistent winning and was fired. The Mustangs were only 5-7 in Year 1 but the additions of Buechele and wide receiver Reggie Roberson, a West Virginia transfer, have helped the offense turn the corner in Year 2.
But what has been surprising has been the play of the SMU defense, led by Illinois transfer Patrick Nelson, who leads the team in tackles and sacks blitzing from his nickel linebacker spot. The Mustangs have been aggressive and multiple up front and managed to get by on the back end when Nelson or the other blitzing linebackers haven't been able to get home. Against Temple they'll face a vulnerable offense that tries to control the ball with the run game but is really only effective moving the chains with the passing attack. Quarterback Anthony Russo has three different receivers with at least 30 catches and 360 or more receiving yards, but he's averaging just 6.9 yards per attempt and has 13 touchdowns to six interceptions. These are the tells of a dropback passing game that doesn't land a lot of damage throwing over the top and asks the quarterback to repeatedly fit the ball into windows underneath.
It'll be hard to keep up with SMU executing that style against an improved Mustangs defense, but Temple's calling card is their own defense. The Owls have been a strong defense for each of the last two head coaches (Matt Rhule, now at Baylor, and Geoff Collins, now at Georgia Tech) and new head coach Rod Carey (formerly of Northern Illinois) has been able to maintain that tradition. He inherited star defensive lineman Ifeanyi Maijeh, who's second on the team in tackles with 34 and first in tackles for loss (10) and sacks (five). The defensive tackle is explosive off the ball and could submarine the SMU offensive efforts before they can get going.
If not, the Mustangs have a dangerous offense that's built around running inside zone with fourth-year starting running back Xavier Jones in order to set up opportunities for Buechele to hit receivers down the field on play-action. Jones is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and already has 12 rushing touchdowns. James Proche is the main target for the passing game and has also been a four-year starter at SMU. Many of these players were recruited and developed over multiple seasons by Chad Morris before he left for Arkansas, and Dykes has found it easy to plug them into his own spread offense. If the Mustangs win this game, they'll only have Memphis and the ACC title game as major roadblocks to an undefeated season and New Year's Six bowl appearance.
- SMU's ability to run a balanced spread attack against a talented Temple defense.
- Can the Temple offense avoid negative plays against SMU's pressuring defense?
- SMU quarterback Shane Buechele, wide receiver James Proche, running back Xavier Jones, and Temple defensive tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh highlight a pretty talented Group of Five game.
FEI Outright Pick: SMU by 21.9
Baylor at Oklahoma State (-3.5) -- 4 p.m. (FOX)
|Overall||Baylor (6-0)||Oklahoma State (4-2)|
|When Baylor has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Oklahoma State has the ball||Defense||Offense|
The Baylor Bears were something of a dark horse pick for the Big 12 in 2019 amongst some commentators, and they've made good in Year 3 under head coach Matt Rhule, starting the season 6-0 with back-to-back close home wins over Iowa State and Texas Tech. Between the narrow margins of those victories and the set-up for their big road contest against Oklahoma State, the Vegas point spread thinks that Baylor's run is due for a stumble, but the Bears have played well.
The keys to Baylor's success have been junior quarterback Charlie Brewer throwing to a pair of excellent downfield receivers in Denzel Mims (32 catches, 503 yards, five touchdowns) and Tyquan Thornton (24 catches, 411 yards, three touchdowns), and then a defensive front that's been headlined by defensive lineman James Lynch (11.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks) and middle linebacker Clay Johnston (leading tackler, eight tackles for loss). The Bears passing game has been explosive thanks to those two receivers and their ability to stretch the field. The defense has come alive this season thanks to a transition to a 3-2-6 dime scheme that leans on Lynch and Johnston to hold down the box while the Bears drop eight defenders back.
But there are two catches for Baylor in this contest. To begin with, they lost left tackle Connor Galvin two weeks ago to an injury that is expected to hold him out for a few more weeks, and last week they lost Johnston to a knee injury that will end his season. The question now becomes whether they can protect Brewer long enough for him to find his top receivers down the field and whether they can hold up in the box on defense without their senior linebacker.
The other catch is that the Bears are playing a talented but struggling Oklahoma State team on the road coming off a bye week. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy needs to generate a win for his program to get them back on track this season after a couple of conference losses to Texas and Texas Tech. His problems have included a struggling defensive front to anchor his own 3-2-6 dime defense and then the typical struggles of a young quarterback. The Cowboys' quarterback is Spencer Sanders, an ultra-athletic redshirt freshman with a cannon arm who struggles to get past his first read or protect the football when his star receiver Tylan Wallace (39 catches, 703 yards, seven touchdowns) is covered.
Gundy has had a bye week to download more of his offense into the quarterback's head and try to calm down the freshman, to get his offensive line healthier, and for his defensive staff to game-plan the Bears. Last year Gundy and his staff won a big home game against Texas coming off a bye week thanks a great game plan that smothered Texas' favorite players and concepts and forced the Longhorns to play left-handed on offense. Texas took a few quarters to get rolling and was barely able to erase an early 24-7 deficit before the Cowboys pulled the win out late.
Expect the Cowboys to work out ways to bracket Baylor's receivers with deep safety help while firing linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga (3.5 sacks) late off the edges against the Bears' young tackle tandem. If they can slow down the Bears, they may be able to pull away and create panic and pressure. It'll also be easy for the Cowboys to probe Baylor's interior defense without Johnston by running the ball to star running back Chuba Hubbard, who is a dark horse Heisman contender with 1,094 rushing yards at 6.8 yards per carry and 13 touchdowns.
- Can Baylor's young, backup offensive left tackle protect Charlie Brewer against the Oklahoma State blitz package?
- How will Baylor hold up inside on defense from their dime against Chuba Hubbard without middle linebacker Clay Johnston?
- What will Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy have cooked up for the Bears coming off a bye week?
- Can Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders rebound after a tough start to conference play?
FEI Outright Pick: Baylor by 7.2
Michigan at Penn State (-9) -- 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Michigan (5-1)||Penn State (6-0)|
|When Michigan has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Penn State has the ball||Defense||Offense|
The Nittany Lions are fresh off a grueling defensive struggle on the road against Iowa that they managed to pull out 17-12. Now they will continue their attempt to be undefeated at home against the Michigan Wolverines. Penn State's defense has been steady all year, with a disruptive pair of linebackers in Micah Parsons and Cam Brown who against Iowa mostly served to help the pass-rush by generating one-on-one matchups for the Penn State defensive line. Senior defensive tackle Robert Windsor (2.5 sacks) generated major problems for the Hawkeyes while defensive ends Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney have a combined 10.5 sacks now on the year.
It's a very tough Penn State defense, and their matchup with the Michigan offense will certainly draw a lot of eyeballs given the struggles for the Wolverines on that side of the ball. Jim Harbaugh hired Alabama offensive assistant Josh Gattis to install an RPO spread attack that ostensibly would free up the run game by punishing defenses that loaded the box with quick throws from senior quarterback Shea Patterson to "speed in space." Instead, the Michigan run game has floundered while the receiving corps has been efficient but largely overwhelming. At any rate, like future opponent Ohio State, Penn State will likely play a lot of three-match coverage that keeps linebackers in the box and dares Patterson to win by getting the ball out on time against tight coverage on his targets. If the Michigan offensive line can't protect against Gross-Matos, Toney, and the rest of the Penn State front, then it's hard to imagine Patterson finding a great deal of success on the road at night in State College.
The Penn State offense has a tough task ahead as well, though. They've been cycling through young running backs, riding Noah Cain against Iowa for 102 hard yards on 22 carries, while leaning on slot receiver K.J. Hamler to give their offensive scoring firepower. The 180-pound speedster has 455 yards and five touchdowns this season, serving as one of Penn State's favorite constraints on their spread run game. Quarterback Sean Clifford is another key piece; due to their rotation of running backs he's a leading rusher with 49 carries for 308 yards at 6.3 yards per carry (after removing sack yardage).
Michigan will handle them in a fashion similar to how Penn State has defended opponents and will likely defend the Wolverines offense. Defensive coordinator Don Brown will match K.J. Hamler in man coverage with Khaleke Hudson while using converted safety Jordan Glasgow (6-foot-1, 226 pounds) at linebacker to match up on Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth and a large collection of pressures to attack the Penn State run game and pressure Clifford on passing plays.
Both of these teams are excellent at playing defense, attacking opponents, and avoiding bad matchups or assignment busts in the passing game that can yield easy gains. This game likely comes down to which quarterback avoids turnovers and which offensive staff has some tricks up their sleeve to try and catch the opposing defense for a big gain either with a trick play or a formation or concept they haven't shown this season. That'll be hard as these two staffs have been going up against each other for the last few years now; the Nittany Lions caught out Michigan badly a few years back only to be shut down in subsequent contests by Don Brown.
- Can Michigan's offensive line block the Penn State defensive ends and hold up in one-on-one matchups when the Nittany Lions bring the blitz?
- How will Penn State find running room or space for K.J. Hamler against Michigan's speedy and aggressive defense?
- Which offensive staff has something stored up in this game to scheme up some advantages for their team in order to get some points?
- Which quarterback will protect the ball and make big throws against tight coverage?
FEI Outright Pick: Penn State by 17.2
FEI PICKS: WEEK 8
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||FEI Pick||FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Against the Spread
|Florida||6||at South Carolina||Florida||South Carolina||Florida|
|at Oklahoma State||3.5||Baylor||Baylor||Baylor||Oklahoma State|
|at Penn State||9||Michigan||Penn State||Penn State||Penn State|
FEI's Picks against the spread last week: 2-3
FEI's Picks against the spread on the year: 23-16
Ian's Picks against the spread in last week: 3-2
Ian's Picks against the spread on the year: 18-21