Week 8’s two biggest games kick off concurrently in prime time, as Penn State and Notre Dame begin the most challenging parts of their respective schedules. The Nittany Lions’ repeat Big Ten title chances likely hinge on their next two games against Michigan and Ohio State; for the Irish, a single slip-up down the stretch could scuttle their fringe College Football Playoff hopes. Recent losses absorbed by Texas, Navy and Louisville have taken some of the shine off of some other intriguing games on the docket, but seasoned college football fans know never to overlook a team backed into a corner in conference play.
Below, our experts make their picks for Week 7’s biggest games, taking turns defending their selections.
Chris Johnson: 67–21 (76.1%)
Molly Geary: 65–23 (73.9%)
Andy Staples: 62–26 (70.5%)
Eric Single: 59–29 (67.0%)
Bruce Feldman: 53–27 (66.3%)
Scooby Axson: 48–26 (64.9%)
Joan Niesen: 57–31 (64.8%)
Memphis at Houston (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Scooby Axson picks Memphis: Turnovers will decide this crucial matchup in the AAC West. Memphis is in the top 10 nationally in turnover margin, and got five in their 30–27 victory at Navy last weekend. Tigers quarterback Riley Ferguson is an underrated talent and should find open passing lanes all night against a Cougars defense that just gave up 45 to Tulsa.
Oklahoma State at Texas (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC)
Bruce Feldman picks Oklahoma State: Tom Herman’s team continues to make strides, and I expect them to give the Cowboys all they can handle, but Mason Rudolph has too much firepower—the Pokes will rally to win this one in the fourth quarter. The hunch here is that the emotional roller coaster coming off last week’s tough loss to arch-rival Oklahoma will be too much for the Longhorns to overcome against an explosive opponent.
Louisville at Florida State (Noon ET, ESPN)
Joan Niesen picks Florida State: Part of me thinks the Seminoles won’t be able to score enough to top Louisville—their offense hasn’t done much of anything this season—but in the end, it’s too hard to imagine Jimbo Fisher at home to a team that lost to Boston College (at home, no less) the previous week.
Iowa State at Texas Tech (Noon ET, FS1)
Chris Johnson picks Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are clearly improved over last season, and they had West Virginia on the ropes in Morgantown last week before ultimately falling short. They'll make easy work of Iowa State in a matchup of Big 12 playoff spoilers.
Syracuse at Miami (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Andy Staples picks Miami: The Hurricanes learned last week that it’s very hard to get back up after a huge win, and it took a miracle catch to save them against Georgia Tech. Syracuse, which doesn’t have Miami’s roster, is about to learn the same thing.
UCF at Navy (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)
Eric Single picks UCF: The Knights are laying waste to their AAC schedule and look to be on a collision course with South Florida in the final week of the regular season. We saw Navy struggle to go score-for-score with Memphis last week when the Midshipmen suffered their first loss, and UCF will put a similar strain on that triple-option attack to be as efficient and mistake-free as possible.
Arizona State at Utah (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1)
Molly Geary picks Utah: The Sun Devils are coming off a major high after beating Washington; the Utes, a tough one-point loss at USC. Their fortunes will reverse this week as Utah gets back on track at home to avoid a third straight defeat.
Oklahoma at Kansas State (4 p.m. ET, Fox)
Joan Niesen picks Oklahoma: Kansas State has been disappointing this season, even at home, and even its one bright spot, a stout defense, won’t be enough to stop Oklahoma’s dynamic offense.
Kentucky at Mississippi State (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Andy Staples picks Mississippi State: Kentucky controls its destiny in the race for the SEC title, but the Wildcats have lived dangerously the past few weeks. It may be time for a little regression to the mean in Starkville.
Michigan at Penn State (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Chris Johnson picks Penn State: This is the first of two games that will determine whether the Nittany Lions can win the Big Ten East. (The more challenging one is next week at Ohio State.) Michigan could keep it close early, but the Wolverines don’t have the horses on offense to keep up with Penn State.
USC at Notre Dame (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Bruce Feldman picks Notre Dame: The Trojans have been sputtering. They’re 65th against the run this season, allowing 4.1 yards per carry, and this will be the best O-line they have faced this year. I think the Irish will wear down USC, and although Sam Darnold will respond with some big plays to keep USC in it, the Trojans won’t be able to pull out a win the way they did against Utah last week.
Colorado at Washington State (10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Eric Single picks Washington State: Let’s just write off last Friday night’s 37–3 loss to Cal due to air quality, or the short week of preparation, or some very unlucky bounces that led to turnovers, or anything to distract from the fact that in one bad game the Cougars have lost all goodwill from their surprise 6–0 start. Luke Falk should be eager to put that five-interception game behind him against a Colorado defense that is exploitable, and the Washington State defense should also be playing for pride.