College Football Staff Picks Against the Spread, Best Bets for Week 8 Games

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Washington QB Jacob Eason

There are some very intriguing games on the slate in Week 8, including three clashes between ranked teams.

Below, our staff's writers and editors make their picks against the spread for Week 8, along with their best bet out of the games below.

Season-long standings:

Laken Litman: 46-35-3

Molly Geary: 42-39-1

Ross Dellenger: 41-40-3

Max Meyer: 41-40-3

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BEST BETS

No. 2 LSU (-18) at Mississippi State

The Tigers are on a tear. They've got the Heisman Trophy favorite at quarterback and the top-scoring offense in the nation. Can anyone slow them down? Unlikely. To beat LSU, you'll have to outscore it, and that's something the Bulldogs aren't equipped to do. Mississippi State has problems that LSU will almost certainly expose. —Ross Dellenger

No. 9 Florida (-5) at South Carolina

South Carolina exposed Georgia last week, pulling off maybe the greatest upset of the season when it clinched a 20-17 double-overtime win in Athens. The loss was brutal for the Bulldogs, they dropped seven spots in the AP Poll. While that was definitely the most exciting game of last Saturday, the Gamecocks have questions heading into another critical SEC East matchup this week. Quarterback Ryan Hilinski is nursing a knee injury, which left him sitting on the bench during both OT periods. Coach Will Muschamp told reporters this week he expects Hilinski to play against Florida, but we’ll see what happens. Backup Dakereon Joyner was poised as a replacement.

Meanwhile, Florida is a team coming off a 42-28 loss to LSU in Death Valley. The Tigers could end up being the best team in the country, so this might not be the worst loss when all is said and done. This week, though, you can bet the Gators will be taking that game out on South Carolina. The Gamecocks face a Florida defense that leads the SEC in interceptions (12) and sacks (26), and is holding teams to an average of 14.1 points per game. QB Kyle Trask, who got his first SEC road start at LSU, held his composure and was mostly accurate against one of the country’s best defenses last week, and still managed to pass for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

South Carolina has momentum, but Florida has more talent and knows it has to win this one to stay on top of the SEC East. —Laken Litman

No. 12 Oregon at No. 25 Washington (+3)

If you’re betting the Pac-12, you have to accept the premise that anything can happen and that you will be betting sides that make no sense on paper. Oregon has one of the best defenses in the country this season, as the Ducks are No. 1 in S&P+ and fourth in yards per play allowed at 3.94—only behind Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State. Washington, meanwhile, has been inconsistent all season, already dropping conference games to Cal and Stanford, and was losing to Arizona at the half this past weekend.

So why in the world am I taking the Huskies?

Let’s start with Oregon’s defense. Andy Avalos is no doubt in the conversation for one of the best offseason hires, as the former Boise State defensive coordinator has gotten the Ducks to play at a completely different level. Oregon has not allowed more than seven points in five straight games.

But let’s look at the offenses the Ducks have played. They’ve faced a true freshman that made his CFB debut in Bo Nix, and allowed 27 points to Auburn in that loss. That was followed by a Nevada team coming off a ridiculous comeback win over Purdue, and the Wolf Pack have mustered 4.92 yards per play this season (112th, one spot behind Georgia Tech). After suffocating FCS Montana, Oregon shut down Stanford’s offense with an injured K.J. Costello under center for the Cardinal. Costello had an unfathomable 4.0 yards per attempt through the air, and had the second-worst quarterback rating of his career, only besting a game against Washington State his freshman year when he completed 9 of his 20 throws for 105 yards and an interception. Next, Oregon hosted a Cal offense that has certainly struggled in the Justin Wilcox era, and had to employ backup QB Devon Modster as its signal-caller after Chase Garbers suffered a shoulder injury the week before. Modster, as stated above, has been a sizeable downgrade from Garbers thus far. And this past Friday, Oregon stomped a banged-up Colorado team traveling to Autzen on a short week.

So while I do think Oregon’s defense is good, I think the Ducks have certainly benefitted from who they’ve faced and when. Even with its ups and downs, Washington is at 6.34 yards per play this season, which is tied for 31st in the nation. The best offense in terms of yards per play that Oregon has faced in 2019 is Auburn at 5.92, which ranks 64th. Jacob Eason has been inconsistent, but the weapons he has in running back Salvon Ahmed, wideout Aaron Fuller and tight end Hunter Bryant are dangerous. Additionally, true freshman wideout Puka Nacua, who was behind more experienced wideouts in the depth chart to start this campaign, emerged as a legitimate downfield threat against Arizona. Expect his role to increase, which should be another boost for the Huskies offense.

On the offensive side of the ball for Oregon, the Ducks received brutal news this week that tight end Jacob Breeland is out for the season with a leg injury. Breeland led the Ducks in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, and was Justin Herbert’s favorite and most reliable target. He was also the Ducks’ biggest physical mismatch. Getting wideouts Mycah Pittman and Juwan Johnson back from injury helps, but replacing Breeland is a tall task for this Oregon passing attack. This is a team, however, that wants to overpower you with its run game, despite having a potential first-round draft pick at QB in Herbert. The problem is, Oregon isn’t that efficient at running the ball, ranking 41st in yards per carry (4.91). The Ducks also have problems with their vanilla play-calling at times, which falls on the shoulders of their offensive coaching staff.

There’s also the Mario Cristobal factor. This is a head coach that I can’t trust in big games. Headlined by Oregon meltdowns against Auburn to start this season and Stanford in 2018, a major coaching discrepancy is one that a team can ill-afford in showdowns like this. Chris Petersen hasn’t been a smashing success in Seattle, but he is still a much better coach than Cristobal. Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo also has come under fire in big games, and it’s strange to see the Ducks’ offense look this clunky at times with all the talent on that side of the ball. Additionally, Justin Herbert has performed much worse in conference games on the road in his collegiate career compared to his home confines in Eugene.

So sure, Oregon does look like the much better team on paper. But this is betting the Pac-12, and sometimes you have to go in the opposite direction of what you see on the surface. Give me the points with home underdog Washington, who I also think wins this game outright. —Max Meyer

Temple (+7.5) at No. 19 SMU

SMU's offense is built around a big-play attack that ranks 11th nationally in passing plays of at least 20 yards, third in passing plays of at least 30 yards and 27th in rushing plays of at least 20 yards. Temple's defense excels at taking away the big play, ranking 16th with only 18 plays this season of 20 or more yards allowed.

Look where SMU's six previous 2019 opponents rank defensively this season in the same stat:

Tulsa: T-89th

South Florida: T-68th

TCU: T-36th

Texas State: T-58th

North Texas: T-68th

Arkansas State: T-114th

In short, SMU has yet to face a defense as good as Temple when it comes to limiting plays of 20 or more yards. Additionally, the Owls rank seventh nationally in passing yards per attempt allowed, at a paltry 5.6. What's a common denominator between both of the teams Temple has upset this season (Maryland and Memphis)? They both rank in the top 25 in plays of 20 or more yards gained this season.

The Owls' defense is physical and stingy, and it doesn't stop at limiting big plays. Temple ranks fourth nationally in defensive red-zone conversion rate, allowing a score just 55% of the time. This is an area of weakness for SMU offensively, as the Mustangs rank 89th in conversion rate, scoring only 78% of the time. Temple has the kind of defense that could grind things out and make things tough for Shane Buechele and SMU, even if it isn't able to get to the quarterback (both teams have done a strong job limiting sacks so far this year).

Defensively, SMU has a few question marks, especially in the secondary. Owls QB Anthony Russo has a big arm and will likely look to take advantage. One last food for thought: Given that this line is currently hovering right above a TD margin, it's worth noting that the Mustangs have used three different kickers this year, who combined have missed seven(!) extra points. They also have yet to attempt a field goal of 40 or more yards. —Molly Geary

Season record: 17-17