Week 8 of the college football season is here, with another Saturday of terrific matchups.
Our handicappers Adam Burke, Tim Murray, Wes Reynolds and Scott Seidenberg are here to give you their best bets for the weekend's card.
Overall record: 30-33-3 ATS
Lines are consensus odds from VSiN's college football lines page, as of Wednesday night.
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (-18, 70) at Arkansas State Red Wolves
7:30 p.m. ET
Burke: A horseplayer once told me to fade a horse off of its all-time best performance. I don’t know that Louisiana had an all-timer last Tuesday against Appalachian State, but as far as performances against the Mountaineers go, it was pretty impressive.
Louisiana was beaten twice by App State in 2018 and 2019, with the second of those losses in the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game. Last year’s revenge may have been tempered by COVID-19, but this year’s 41-13 rout was not. The Ragin’ Cajuns racked up 6.59 yards per play and were + 4 in the turnover margin department in the runaway win.
Louisiana scored 21 points directly from App State turnovers and got intercepted in the end zone on the other. Up until that point, the Ragin’ Cajuns had struggled in back-to-back weeks against South Alabama and Georgia Southern and had only beaten Nicholls by three. Louisiana bludgeoned Ohio, but the Bobcats are awful.
Arkansas State is not a very good team from a wins and losses standpoint, but 18 points feels like a lot here against a team off of a bye with a veteran head coach in Butch Jones. The Red Wolves throw the ball a ton, which leaves all sorts of second-half possibilities open. The bye certainly came at a good time for Arkansas State, as they’ve allowed 52 or more points in four of the last five games, but the Louisiana offense hadn’t been all that potent prior to taking advantage of App State’s misfortunes.
The Red Wolves just played two very efficient offenses in Coastal Carolina and South Alabama (17th in EPA/play) and this actually looks like a more favorable matchup with extra prep.
Pick: Arkansas State (+ 18)
Northwestern Wildcats at No. 6 Michigan Wolverines (-24, 51)
Burke: Pat Fitzgerald’s defense looks nothing like what we’ve seen in the past. By yards per play, this will be Fitzgerald’s first defense outside the top 60 since 2011 (the Wildcats rank 96th in yards per play allowed). Michigan’s offense ranks in the top 30 in yards per play.
However, let’s consider everything surrounding this game. First, Michigan really played down to inferior competition against both Rutgers and Nebraska. The Wolverines are 26th in yards per play overall, but have only had 5.26 YPP in three conference games; they had nearly eight yards per play in nonconference action.
Second, Michigan plays Michigan State in a top-10 battle next week. The Wolverines actually have three top-10 games left as of now, with Sparty, Penn State and Ohio State. This sure feels like a flat spot in advance of the game in East Lansing. You can bet that some preparation during the bye went into that game.
Third, Michigan and Northwestern are tied for 110th in plays of 10 or more yards with 72. Michigan’s yards per play numbers have been propped up by some huge gainers that came against bad defenses. The Wolverines have 10 plays of 50 or more yards to just two for Northwestern.
As long as Northwestern can avoid giving up the long touchdowns, the Wildcats should be able to keep this game close. I have a lower-scoring expectation here than the line would suggest, which adds some line equity to getting 24 points.
Pick: Northwestern (+ 24)
Eastern Michigan Eagles (-3, 49) at Bowling Green Falcons
Burke: Remember when Bowling Green had its 15 minutes of fame from beating Minnesota for the program’s first win over a FBS team since 2015? Since then, the Falcons have lost three straight to MAC foes, dropping games to Kent State, Akron and Northern Illinois.
To this point, the Eagles haven’t scored more than 26 points in a game against a FBS team and haven't scored more than 27 in any game this season. This offense is very limited with just 4.71 YPP on the season. While Bowling Green’s defense grades better from a yards per play standpoint for the season, Eastern Michigan’s defense has actually allowed fewer yards per play in conference games.
The Eagles have a big third-down advantage in this game as well, as they rank 26th nationally in third-down conversion rate at 46.2 percent; Bowling Green ranks 120th at just 31 percent. The two defenses are pretty similar. Eastern Michigan also has a big red zone advantage, ranking 23rd in TD percentage to Bowling Green’s rank of 122nd.
EMU is definitely known as more of a home team with an outstanding ATS record on the grey turf in Ypsilanti, but the Eagles hold enough advantages here to take them in a short favorite role at Doyt Perry Stadium.
Pick: Eastern Michigan -3
No. 16 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (-3, 52.5) at Army Black Knights
12 p.m. ET
Seidenberg: The service academies are always a popular underdog pick and this week is no exception. It seems everyone is on the Black Knights to keep it close and possibly pull off an upset against an undefeated Wake Forest in unfamiliar territory. Yes, Army’s triple option offense is difficult to prepare for, but Wake Forest is coming off a bye, so they had extra time to practice for the Army attack. Plus, Wake has played Army three times already under head coach Dave Clawson, so this isn’t the first time he’s preparing his team for this offense. Wake is 2-1 in those games and the two wins were by three points, so I can see why people want to take the points here. But this is a different Wake offense than in previous years.
The Demon Deacons average 38.7 PPG and convert on third downs at a whopping 47 percent. They rush for 173 yards per game and even though Army has been stout against the run, last week they allowed Wisconsin to rush for 198 yards. Earlier this season, against a formidable passing attack in Western Kentucky, Army was torched by QB Billy Zappe for 435 yards and three scores. I expect Sam Hartman to have a big day and Wake to convert on its possessions, win the game and improve to 7-0. I’m not going to mess around with this spread, instead I’ll take the money line at -160.
Pick: Wake Forest ML -160
Wisconsin Badgers (-3, 40) at No. 25 Purdue Boilermakers
3 p.m. ET
Reynolds: Purdue is now ranked for the first time since 2007, as the 4-2 Boilermakers went to Kinnick Stadium and dominated No. 2 Iowa 24-7. This victory was not a fluke win either, as the Boilers piled up a 464-271 yardage edge including 375 through the air from quarterback Aidan O'Connell. Superstar receiver David Bell had 240 yards on 11 catches and a touchdown. Iowa had been living large on turnovers and led the nation with a + 15 turnover margin, but that all changed on Saturday as Purdue had four takeaways and the Hawkeyes were -3 on the turnover ledger. Purdue's much-improved defense was also able to generate four sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Now the Boilermakers will get the opportunity to prove that they can handle success when Wisconsin comes to town. The Badgers failed to cover as two-touchdown favorites against Army, but by and large controlled the game. Wisconsin's top-ranked rushing defense only allowed Army's No. 2 rushing offense to gain 179 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Wisconsin continues to get back to basics and do what it does best: run the ball. The Badgers ran for 198 on Saturday. QB Graham Mertz has been much maligned all season and only threw for 112 yards, but for only the second time this season did not turn the ball over.
Wisconsin and Purdue rate No. 2 and No. 13 respectively for total defense. Wisconsin also rates in the bottom 15 in passing offense while Purdue rates near the bottom in rushing offense, so the low total of 40 is justified here.
The Badgers have won 14 straight games in this series against Purdue dating back to 2004. Purdue just went to Iowa and pounded the then-No. 2 team in the country while Wisconsin is just 2-4 ATS (covers vs. Eastern Michigan and at Illinois) and still looks a bit ugly on offense. Yet the Badgers are still favored? This is a classic buy-low spot on Wisconsin, and a sell-high on Purdue.
Pick: Wisconsin -3 or -155 ML if preferred
No. 10 Oregon Ducks at UCLA Bruins (-2, 60)
3:30 p.m. ET
Murray: There are four games on the schedule this week featuring an unranked team favored over a ranked team, including this showdown in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks are 1-5 ATS this season but their lone cover came as 14.5-point underdogs at Ohio State in Week 2. Last Friday, Oregon needed a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in order to slip past Cal, 24-17. QB Anthony Brown has done a nice job with ball security this season with just one interception, but he’s only completing 58.9 percent of his passes.
UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson played well in a 24-17 road win last weekend at Washington, going 21-of-26 for 183 yards with two touchdowns through the air and rushing for 87 yards. Additionally, RB Zach Charbonnet is 15th in the country with 697 yards on the ground. Charbonnet has rushed for 100 yards or more in all five of the Bruins wins this season while failing to reach the century mark in the two losses. The Ducks are 59th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game. Oregon has been hit with a bunch of injuries on the defensive side of the ball this season with LBs Justin Flowe and Dru Mathis sidelined in addition to safety Bennett Williams.
Offensively, the Ducks lost RB CJ Verdell in early October against Stanford, but RB Travis Dye stepped up against Cal with 145 rushing yards and 73 receiving yards. UCLA enters the weekend as the ninth-best rushing defense in the country, allowing just 91 rushing yards per game.
Can UCLA’s offensive line keep Oregon’s Kayvon Thibeodeaux from wreaking havoc? The Bruins’ offensive line (as well as Oregon’s) was named to the Joe Moore Award midseason honor roll, an annual award handed out to the nation’s most outstanding offensive line. Surprisingly, the Ducks are averaging just two sacks per game.
Oregon opened as a short 1-point favorite when Circa Sports opened the market on Sunday and sharp action quickly flipped the favorites. If Thompson-Robinson can continue to play well and the UCLA defense limits Dye and forces Brown to beat them, the Bruins should emerge with a victory on Saturday afternoon.
Pick: UCLA -2
Liberty Flames (-21.5, 60.5) at North Texas Mean Green
4 p.m. ET
Seidenberg: Let’s be fair and acknowledge what happened last week with Liberty, losing as 30-points favorites at UL Monroe. However, that loss is in the rearview mirror now, so how do the Flames bounce back?
Teams that lose as 30+ point favorites and are laying at least 15 points in their next game, are 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS, outscoring their opponents 182-13. It's this history that I’m banking on repeating itself as Liberty will blow out a North Texas team that is 7-23 ATS in its last 30 games. Despite the shocking loss last week, Liberty is still 13-2 ATS in its last 15 games. The Flames average 34.3 points PPG while the Mean Green allow 35 PPG. Hugh Freeze is a veteran coach that will have his team ready to bounce back after an ugly game.
Pick: Liberty -21.5
No. 22 San Diego State Aztecs at Air Force Falcons (-3.5, 40)
7 p.m. ET
Burke: After San Diego State’s ugly performance against San Jose State last week, it’s not a big surprise to see the unranked Falcons as home favorites here. This line should probably be bigger than it is, but the low total and the unbeaten record for the Aztecs are keeping it in a range that I’d like to attack.
Both teams have played poor schedules to this point, as San Diego State’s strength of schedule ranks 143rd in the nation per Jeff Sagarin; Air Force’s ranks 114th. The combined record of San Diego State’s opponents going into this week is 13-26. Towson is 3-3 in FCS. Air Force has almost half as many wins as SDSU’s schedule to date combined at 6-1.
The Falcons recently beat Boise State and Wyoming and control their own destiny now in the Mountain Division with those important head-to-head tiebreakers and Colorado State on the horizon.
Keep in mind that Air Force has run the ball on 90.4 percent of its offensive plays and has still gained 0.59 YPP more than San Diego State on the season. The Aztecs have run the ball on 66.7 percent of their offensive plays. So, you can certainly see and understand the low total in this game.
Air Force is 29th in the country in third-down conversion rate at 45.7 percent. San Diego State is 104th at 34.5 percent. Air Force has 30 red zone trips in seven games and San Diego State has 20 in six games. Both teams are on equal footing from an efficiency standpoint inside the 20.
With a limited number of possessions available because of a running clock and the option offense, Air Force’s more efficient offense looks to have a big advantage in this game. The elevation may also be a huge factor. San Diego State played an overtime game last week, while Air Force’s defense was only on the field for 23 minutes against Boise State.
I’ll take my chances with the Falcons this week.
Pick: Air Force -3.5
No. 24 UTSA Roadrunners (-7, 59.5) at Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
7:00 p.m. ET
Reynolds: The 7-0 Roadrunners of the University of Texas San-Antonio are ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time in program history. UTSA is also 6-1 ATS this season, covering by an average of 8.3 PPG. The Roadrunners have outright underdog road wins at Illinois, at Memphis, and at Western Kentucky. Furthermore, UTSA shut out Rice 45-0 last week. Now the Roadrunners are priced at their market high travelling to a disappointing 2-4 Louisiana Tech team.
The Bulldogs have struggled to recover from blowing a 20-point fourth quarter at Mississippi State in the season opener. After a much closer-than-expected victory over FCS squad SE Louisiana, Louisiana Tech had the lead over now No. 21-ranked SMU with just :36 left to play and gave up a touchdown at the buzzer to lose 39-37. Another closer-than-expected victory over North Texas preceded a close loss at NC State.
Then, Louisiana Tech, as a near touchdown favorite, only scored three points in a 19-3 loss at UTEP last weekend. Now, UTSA is priced at the top of the market while Louisiana Tech has hit its bottom.
UTSA defeated the Bulldogs, 27-26, last season as a 2.5-point home underdog. Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz is 22-11 ATS as an underdog when seeking revenge the following season during his 17-year career at the FBS level. Holtz’s club has won nine of its last 10 at home in Ruston and there could be a letdown for UTSA after reaching such a milestone of earning its first-ever ranking. This is a good spot for the desperate home underdog.
Pick: Louisiana Tech + 7
South Carolina Gamecocks at No. 17 Texas A&M Aggies (-21, 45)
7:30 p.m. ET
Burke: It is really easy to laugh at teams that have embarrassing performances like South Carolina’s effort against Vanderbilt last week, but those types of games can create some buy-low spots in the marketplace. I think this is one of them.
Texas A&M looked great in the letdown spot against Missouri and covered for me last week, but I wonder if the paradigm has shifted to make the second game after a big upset the letdown spot. Now the Aggies are laying an enormous number at home the week before the bye. After the bye week, The Fighting Jimbos will face Auburn and Ole Miss.
Having watched way more Gamecocks football than I’d like to admit this season, their biggest issue has been the quarterback position. The defense really scraps and claws, but the offense just doesn’t have the right guy under center. Graduate assistant turned roster player Zeb Noland gets the start after leading SC’s game-winning touchdown drive against Vandy. He’s been better than Luke Doty. You can’t blame Shane Beamer for playing the guy with eligibility past this season, but Doty’s injury puts Noland into the lineup.
Zach Calzada’s out-of-body experience against Alabama was a surprise, but he was just 13-of-25 for 148 yards last week against Missouri’s pathetic defense. The Aggies simply ran it down Missouri’s throat with a defense that has now allowed well over six yards per carry. The Gamecocks run defense isn’t stellar, but it is two yards per carry better than Missouri’s.
We’ve got a low total and a big spread here. I don’t think we need a ton from the South Carolina offense to get a cover in this one. You can see the tempered expectations for the Aggies offense with an expected final score of 33-12 with the spread and total factored in.
Pick: South Carolina + 21