Adjust your horn rim glasses, because this week all eyes are on Coach Khaki.
While it may not be a make-or-break game for Jim Harbaugh and his Michigan Wolverines, it’s certainly a contest that will determine whether the Maize and Blue remain the elite program they purport to be. That nice 5-1 record belies a rout at Wisconsin, a near collapse against Army, and general anxiety from Cement City to Sault St. Marie.
So indeed, Michigan has plenty riding on Saturday’s trip to Penn State, the biggest game of a weekend that includes two other matchups between top-25 teams. So add some more tape to the bridge of those glasses, hitch up those pleated chinos, and consider these five best bets for Week 8 in college football.
The Nittany Lions can win ugly, as they showed in grinding out a victory this past weekend at Iowa (and covering as a 4-point favorite). They can put up points, as they’ve shown against Maryland and Purdue. Overall, they’re a far more complete squad than Michigan, which suffers through lapses on both sides of the ball — even evident in the second half last weekend at Illinois.
The Wolverines and their inconsistent offense will have their hands full with a Penn State defense that’s allowing just 8.2 points per game. Nine points is a big spread, but it’s hard to forget what happened the last time Michigan went on the road to play an opponent of this caliber — it got steamrolled by Wisconsin, 35-14.
While most of the nation lost interest in Oregon after its last-second loss to Auburn in Week 0, those who have kept paying attention have discovered a team that’s gotten better on both sides of the ball. The Ducks are 5-1 not just on the arm of quarterback Justin Herbert, but also behind a defense that hasn’t allowed more than seven points in any game since the opener.
Washington has been all over the place, suffering an awful outright loss to Stanford as a 13-point favorite, and in general beating up on mediocre teams. Washington quarterback Jacob Eason will be tested by a Ducks secondary that leads the Pac-12 with 12 interceptions, and even amid the din of Husky Stadium it’s still easy to foresee Oregon winning and covering.
It’s very easy to like Utah, with its relentlessly efficient offense keyed by the Pac-12’s leading rusher, tailback Zack Moss. Other than a misstep at USC, the Utes have been blowing opponents out.
But Herm Edwards’ Arizona State team has been winning behind defense and field position — don’t laugh, the Sun Devils lead the league in punting, which is hardly glamourous. But clearly ASU has been effective to this point.
Eno Benjamin gives the Sun Devils a ball-control back to augment that defense, all elements that traditionally travel well. Utah should win but nearly two touchdowns just seems too large of a spread against an opponent capable of controlling tempo and turning this one into a grind-it-out affair.
So, LSU. Yeah. Wow. The way the Tigers just ground down an exceptional Florida defense was textbook ruthlessness, making that Nov. 9 LSU-Alabama game look like a pick-’em with an over/under in the 120s. But this week for the Tigers there’s a trip to Starkville, where they haven’t had much lately to clang cowbells about.
Joe Moorhead’s team is stuck in idle offensively, struggling to find an effective quarterback, and coming off a loss at woeful Tennessee.
Losers of three of their last four against the spread and 1-3 against Power 5 opponents, the Bulldogs also present a mediocre defense that’s especially vulnerable against the pass. It all adds up to lots of points on Saturday for an LSU offense that’s nearly unstoppable right now.
The Cavaliers are emblematic of the muddle that is the ACC below Clemson, getting off to a nice start before falling apart offensively against a Miami team that hardly brings back memories of The U. Even worse, Virginia apparently lost star defensive back Bryce Hall to a leg injury that saw him carted off the field.
Now here comes plucky Duke, which is 4-1 since its opening-week defeat to Alabama and has lost against the spread just once in those same five games. It’ll be a clash between Duke’s dual-threat quarterback Quentin Harris and a stingy Virginia defense. But given how mightily the Cavaliers struggle to maintain drives and convert in the end zone, the slight edge goes to the Blue Devils.