Ole Miss hosts rejuvenated LSU in Ed Orgeron's return to Oxford
The Week 8 edition of college football picks against the spread is highlighted by an intriguing showdown in the SEC West (LSU travels to Ole Miss) and a critical Big Ten East battle (Penn State hosts Michigan). Here are 10 predictions for games against the spread:
Ole Miss (+7) over LSU
No team has changed the tenor of its season more in the last two weeks than LSU. After losing at home to Troy, the Tigers ripped off wins at Florida and over Auburn (in a game in which they trailed 20–0). We’re still not sure LSU is very good — but it might not be the train wreck that it appeared to be in late September. Ole Miss has scored 77 points in its last three halves of football, 20 in the final two quarters at Auburn and 57 in an impressive 22-point win over Vanderbilt. The Rebels have their issues — most notably on defense — but they have one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in Shea Patterson and an outstanding group of wide receivers. This should be a very entertaining game.
LSU 34, Ole Miss 31
Michigan (+9.5) over Penn State
Now it starts to get fun in the Big Ten East. Michigan visits Penn State in the first of several key games between the top four (yes, I’m including Michigan State in the group) teams in the most intriguing division in college football. Penn State has been as impressive as any team in the nation not named Alabama. The Nittany Lions are 6–0 and have only broken a sweat once — in a 21–19 win at Iowa. Michigan is more battle tested but continues to struggle on offense. Despite the ongoing issues on offense, the Wolverines have scored 27 points or more in all but one game (10 vs. Michigan State). Bottom line: Penn State appears to be the better team, but 9.5 points is a lot to give up to a team with an elite defense.
Penn State 24, Michigan 17
Old Dominion (+9.5) over WKU
Both teams have been a disappointment halfway through the season. Western Kentucky’s record is fine (4–2 overall and 2–1 in the league), but the Hilltoppers have clearly taken a step back in the post-Jeff Brohm era. The offensive production is down by 147.3 yards per game and the scoring is down by 20.0 points per game. Old Dominion returned 15 starters from a team that shared the C-USA West title with WKU (7–1 in league play) but is 2–4 overall and 0–2 in league play. Those two losses, however, were to FAU and Marshall, two of the top teams in the league. Old Dominion isn’t as bad as its record (and WKU isn’t as good).
Old Dominion 28, Western Kentucky 27
Marshall (-2.5) over Middle Tennessee
Marshall has emerged as the team to beat in Conference USA East on the strength of a defense that is allowing an average of 10.6 points in five games against non-Power 5 opponents. The Thundering Herd have only one loss, in Week 2 at NC State, a team that has emerged as a legitimate contender in the ACC. Middle Tennessee is struggling without starting quarterback Brent Stockstill, who will be out for the sixth straight game with an injury. Without Stockstill, the Blue Raiders have lost to Minnesota by 31, FAU by 18 and UAB by 2 and defeated Bowling Green by 11 and FIU by 20. Other than Minnesota (maybe), Marshall will be the best team Middle Tennessee has faced during this stretch.
Marshall 33, Middle Tennessee 17
Army (-5.5) over Temple
Army, at 5–2, is one win away from bowl eligibility. Yes, the wins have come against Fordham, Buffalo, UTEP, Rice and Eastern Michigan, but this program has taken some huge steps in the last two years. And the vast majority of those steps have come on the ground; the Black Knights have completed only eight passes total in seven games! Temple went 15–3 in the AAC in the final two seasons of the Matt Rhule era but is off to a 1–3 start under Geoff Collins. Last week, the Owls dropped a 28–24 decision at home to UConn. Not good.
Army 24, Temple 21
Missouri (-15.5) over Idaho
Missouri has no doubt been a disappointment in 2017. The Tigers are 1–5 overall, with the one win coming in Week 1 over Missouri State. But this is still a very capable offensive team, one that scored 28 points and threw for 253 yards last week at Georgia. Idaho is a mid-level Sun Belt team that has underachieved offensively so far in 2017. The Vandals’ scoring is down by 8.0 points per game from last season despite the return of quarterback Matt Linehan. They have yet to score more than 28 points in any game in 2017 after averaging over 30 a year ago.
Missouri 48, Idaho 21
UCF (-8) over Navy
There is a trend in UCF games this season: The Knights win them all by a lot of points. Scott Frost’s team is 5–0 and has not had a game closer than 28 points — and that includes a trip to Maryland (38–10) and a home date with Memphis (40–13). UCF is averaging 3.0 yards per play more than its opponent (a greater differential than Alabama, for example). Navy has been solid this season, but the Midshipmen’s 5–0 start was a bit of a mirage; the best team they have defeated is Tulane. Last week, they lost 30–27 at Memphis and averaged a season-low 4.4 yards per play. That is the same Memphis team that lost by 27 points at UCF.
UCF 37, Navy 24
Georgia Tech (-5.5) over Wake Forest
Georgia Tech is two plays away — a late fumble (or made field goal) vs. Tennessee and a fourth-down stop vs. Miami — from being 5–0 and ranked in the top 10. Instead, the Yellow Jackets are 3–2 overall and still seeking a quality win (North Carolina and Pitt do not count). Wake Forest is 0–2 in the ACC, but the two losses have come against Florida State and Clemson. This is a good team that has improved on the offensive end while continuing to play well on defense. That being said, I still think Georgia Tech is undervalued. The Jackets have won seven straight at home. Make it eight.
Georgia Tech 28, Wake Forest 21
Syracuse (+15) over Miami (Fla.)
Two programs that have enjoyed some big wins in recent weeks will be looking to keep the momentum going strong. Miami appears to be the better team, but keep in mind the Hurricanes needed some late-game heroics — and a little luck — in wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech. Syracuse is more of a work in progress, though there was nothing fluky about the Orange’s win over Clemson. SU rolled up 440 yards on the outstanding Clemson defense and, most impressive, picked up three huge first downs on the final drive that ran out the clock. Not many teams could get that done in that spot against that defense.
Miami 28, Syracuse 20
Arizona (-2.5) over California
Khalil Tate’s production over the last two weeks is almost unbelievable. Arizona’s sophomore quarterback has rushed for 557 yards on 29 carries (for a 19.2-yard average) while completing 21-of-26 passes for 302 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions as the Wildcats knocked off Colorado and UCLA. And he didn’t even start the Colorado game! Tate won’t be able to sustain this type of production, but it’s clear that Rich Rodriguez has found his quarterback — and perhaps saved his job. California, too, is feeling good about itself after last Friday night’s 37–3 win over Washington State. It was the first Pac-12 win of the Justin Wilcox era and it was a nice bounce back after losing to USC, Oregon and Washington by an average of 20 points.
Arizona 34, California 31
Last Week: 6-4