Week 8 in college football features an AAC clash between UCF and Navy, a Big BIG10 contest between Michigan and Penn State, Syracuse looking to pull off another upset against Miami, another edition of the USC-Notre Dame rivalry, and Kentucky traveling to take on Mississippi State. Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, Mike Loveall, and Brett Margolies offer their previews and predictions.
#20 UCF at Navy (Saturday 3:30 P.M. in Annapolis, MD)
Line: UCF by 7.5
Steen: This is a really strong UCF team that is well coached. Navy doesn’t back down against any opponent but simply put UCF has too much firepower to lose this one, even on the road. UCF 35, Navy 21
Yesh: UCF is eviscerating teams. Navy is the best team the Knights have faced this year, but this UCF team is one of the very best in the country, and that gets proven this week. UCF 41, Navy 17
Mike: UCF is quietly having the best season of any Group-of-Five team in the nation. Their offense, led by McKenzie Milton, is putting up ridiculous numbers. The Knights are averaging 300+ passing yards and 225+ rushing yards per game. They’ve looked good on defense, as well. Navy is still a potent rushing attack, but they haven’t showed an ability to threaten through the air yet this season. The consistency isn’t there, and for a triple option team, that’s not good. Navy’s defense can’t keep up with UCF. UCF 45, Navy 34
John: With San Diego State falling last week, it appears the Group of Five berth in a New Year’s Six bowl will fall to one of the two directional Florida schools in the AAC. One of them is UCF, who’s looked as dominant as any non-Power Five school in the nation. They currently lead the nation in scoring offense and have an average margin of victory through five games of 33.8 points.
The Knights travel to Annapolis this weekend to face a Navy side coming off a narrow 30-27 loss to Memphis in week seven. Turnovers proved disastrous for the Midshipmen as they finished with five on the day. But the vaunted triple option is always a challenge for opposing defenses to defend. UCF might be up to the task though as they rank top 20 nationally in rush defense. UCF 41, Navy 35
Brett: UCF and USF might be the biggest surprises of the season so far as both teams are still undefeated. Quarterback McKenzie Milton has been putting up huge numbers all year and that won’t stop on Saturday as the usual well disciplined Navy defense has given up an average of 28 points per game this season. The triple option will be tough to stop for UCF as well, but I like the Knights chances to stay undefeated. UCF 41, Navy 27
Syracuse at #8 Miami (Saturday 3:30 P.M. in Miami, FL)
Line: Miami by 15
Steen: Syracuse is much improved from recent years and should be genuine contenders in the ACC if Dino Babers keeps building his program, that said, it just seems like Miami’s lucky year. The Hurricanes aren’t perfect but they haven’t lost for a reason and they should find a way to win this one. Miami 31, Syracuse 20
Yesh: Syracuse is coming off the program’s biggest win in decades. It could be followed up with extreme inspiration or a total letdown. Either way, this line is way too high. Syracuse has too much talent on offense to not come within two touchdowns of a Miami team that has been suspect at times. Miami 34, Syracuse 27
Mike: Miami struggled against a run-first Georgia Tech team last week, albeit in the rain. Meanwhile, Syracuse pulled the upset of the season by beating second ranked Clemson. I get it, that people think Syracuse will come back down – especially on the road. But the Orange took LSU to the wire at Death Valley as well. And they’re a much, much better passing team than Georgia Tech. Dino Babers is starting to get a lot of attention in Syracuse. He’ll get more after this week. Syracuse 34, Miami 31
John: Despite the line which installs Miami as a fairly hefty favorite, Syracuse comes into this game confident they can pull the upset. After all, they upended defending national champion Clemson last week. Don’t let their three losses fool you, either. Two of them came on the road in narrow fashion to teams currently ranked in the AP poll (LSU and NC State).
The Orange go on the road this week to take on a Canes team who were far from impressive in their last two wins. In both, they needed to come from behind on their final drive in order to cement the victory. Though ‘Cuse does look much improved, they haven’t beaten a ranked team on the road since 2010. Expect Miami’s stout pass rush to slow down Syracuse’s air attack which ranks second in the ACC. Miami 31, Syracuse 20
Brett: Syracuse over Clemson was the biggest upset so far this season, it won’t get any easier going in to Miami to face a red hot undefeated Canes team. Eric Dungey was able to move the ball on Clemson so I don’t see why Miami would present too many problems, but the South Florida conditions won’t do him any favors. Miami has looked vulnerable this year, but they shouldn’t have any issues with the orange. Miami 34, Syracuse 24
Kentucky at Mississippi State (Saturday 4:00 P.M. in Starkville, MS)
Line: Mississippi State by 10.5
Steen: Kentucky deserves more respect but I’m not convinced they are as good as their 5-1 record. Mississippi State can really struggle sometimes but they have a great quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald and more talent, they should win this one at home. Mississippi State 24, Kentucky 14
Yesh: Kentucky has skated by to a 5-1 record by barely beating some awful teams. The Wildcats could easily have lost to Eastern Michigan and Missouri. They did play their absolute best game of the season against South Carolina, but that seems more aberration than norm. Kentucky will need another equally-big aberration to hang with Mississippi State, and I don’t see it. Mississippi State 37, Kentucky 13
Mike: I finally believe in Kentucky. It’s taken several years, but I think Mark Stoops has taken advantage of a weak SEC East and got his Wildcats to a level of competitiveness in the SEC. I’m worried that Mississippi State is too one-dimensional on offense, even with a Kentucky defense and considering Nick Fitzgerald’s ability. Kentucky is motivated, and looking to finish the season strong for once. Kentucky 31, Mississippi State 28
John: Kentucky comes into this game probably feeling a bit disrespected. Despite their only loss coming against Florida (who was ranked at the time) by a point, the 5-1 Wildcats are still unranked in either the AP or Coaches Poll. And they’re also fairly sizable road underdogs this weekend as they travel to Starkville to take on Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs possess one of the more dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in Nick Fitzgerald. He ranks in the top ten nationally among players at the position in rushing yards, and only two SEC quarterbacks account for more total offense. Against the conference’s worst pass defense who also looked suspect defending the run against a bad Missouri team last week, Fitzgerald could be in line for a field day. Mississippi State 38, Kentucky 20
Brett: If it weren’t for what now looks like a bad loss at home to Florida, the Wildcats would be undefeated heading in to Starkville. The Bulldogs got back on track with a nice win over BYU snapping a two game losing streak. Nick Fitzgerald has had no problem moving the ball at home and it won’t be any different against the Wildcats. Stephen Johnson should be able to keep it close, but I like the Bulldogs at home. Mississippi State 28, Kentucky 24
#19 Michigan at #2 Penn State (Saturday 7:30 P.M. in Happy Valley, PA)
Line: Penn State by 9.5
Steen: Michigan has been a big disappointment this season, they lack a passing offense, and their defense has been what has carried them through games. Penn State by contrast looks really strong right now, they have strength on both sides of the ball and at home they should roll. Penn State 28, Michigan 10
Yesh: Michigan has no offense, and Penn State’s defense is criminally underrated. It will take a while for the Nittany Lion offense to find its way through the Michigan defense, but Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley will get things rolling in the second half. Penn State will dominate this game, and will pick up a few first-place votes in the polls while it’s at it. Penn State 38, Michigan 10
Mike: This difference in this game is on both sides of the ball. Penn State’s offense is balanced and lead by Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley. It matches up against Michigan because it’s a tough offense. Penn State’s defense is only allowing 9 points per game and less than 300 total yards of opponent’s offense per game. Michigan’s offense is having trouble finding rhythm. Everything points Penn State’s way: coming off a bye, at home, seeking revenge, and the trajectory of the programs in opposite directions. Penn State 38, Michigan 17
John: Saturday’s primetime slate of games includes this mouth-watering clash in Happy Valley. Last year, Penn State’s worst loss of the year came in a 49-10 blowout at the hands of Michigan. The Nittany Lions then proceeded to win nine in a row en route to their first outright Big Ten title since 1994. Coming into this game as the number two team in the nation, PSU certainly has put a damper on Michigan’s looming dominance of the Big Ten under Jim Harbaugh.
Heisman frontrunner Saquon Barkley certainly has his work cut out for him against a Wolverine defense ranked sixth nationally against the run. Only six other FBS teams have given up fewer than their three rushing touchdowns on the season. But Penn State’s no slouch on defense themselves. They’re the only team in the nation allowing less than ten points per game. At a raucous Beaver Stadium Saturday night, that defensive prowess helps lead the Nittany Lions to victory. Penn State 24, Michigan 10
Brett: Even with Michigan’s defense being the strength of their team, I think this game has the potential to get ugly. Saquon Barkley once again has a chance to give his heisman hopes a boost in a primetime night game against a top 25 team. Michigan looked less than impressive last week against Indiana, and without Wilson Speight they just don’t seem to have much offense. Penn State 37, Michigan 17
#11 USC at #13 Notre Dame (Saturday 7:30 P.M. in Notre Dame, IN)
Line: Notre Dame by 3.5
Steen: USC has talent, but once again they seem a bit lacking when it counts. Notre Dame’s only loss came to a strong Georgia team and they have recovered nicely to be outside playoff contenders if they win out. At home look for the Fighting Irish to prevail. Notre Dame 38, USC 27
Yesh: Brian Kelly has his best team so far at Notre Dame. Running through the brutal gauntlet of their remaining schedule will be all but impossible for the Irish, but they should have enough to take out an underachieving USC team–especially in South Bend. Sam Darnold will continue his turnover streak, and that will be too much to overcome. Notre Dame 31, USC 21
Mike: Notre Dame is the one team from this weekend’s picks that I am least convinced about. USC hasn’t performed up to expectations this season, but they still have a strong resume and they’ve played some quality opponents. The ACC isn’t quite as strong as many thought going in to the season, so Notre Dame still has some work to do to prove themselves. USC takes advantage of being on the road – avoids the distractions at home – and they are comfortable under the lights. Look for USC to take this one. USC 34, Notre Dame 28
John: For the first time in 11 years, these two storied programs with arguably college football’s best intersectional rivalry play each other while both are ranked 15th or better in the AP poll. Both have one loss on their resume, with Notre Dame’s one-point defeat to Georgia looking all the more impressive considering the Bulldogs are now in the top five. For the Trojans, they’re looking to escape South Bend with a statement win after a few iffy performances this year.
The quarterback matchup is a battle of contrasts. USC’s Sam Darnold is your quintessential pocket passer while ND’s Brandon Wimbush exudes dual-threat capabilities. What could shift the balance in this game is who’s more efficient in the red zone on defense. If it comes down to that, it’s advantage Notre Dame. Only three teams in the nation have a lower defensive red zone touchdown percentage than the Irish. Notre Dame 30, USC 24
Brett: Sam Darnold going up against one of the best pass defenses in the country makes for an intriguing game in South Bend. The preseason Heisman favorite has slipped a little early on this season, but a big win in a rivalry game like this could get him back in the picture. Notre Dame was without quarterback Brandon Wimbush the last few weeks, but early reports have him back on Saturday. If he does in fact play I like Notre Dame’s chances. Notre Dame 31, USC 24