by Ian Boyd
Week 8 in college football was the coming out party for Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore, who dropped 170 yards and two scores as the Boilermakers upset Ohio State in a 49-20 blowout shocker. All of Ohio State's issues with running the ball in short-yardage or red zone scenarios came home to roost while their defenses' struggles with yielding big plays showed up time and again as Purdue poured on points late.
Washington State continued the craziness out west in the Pac-12, beating Oregon 34-20, while Clemson, LSU, Michigan, and Oklahoma all took care of business with some dominant wins over would-be conference challengers. The upcoming week of college football seems on the surface to be unlikely to hold many surprises, but that's generally when you know crazy stuff is about to go down.
Clemson draws Florida State in the big ACC rivalry game; Florida and Georgia square off for the SEC East division in their annual neutral-site rivalry game; and No. 6 Texas travels to Stillwater to play Oklahoma State in a prime-time contest.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Clemson (-17) at Florida State -- 12 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Clemson (7-0)||Florida State (4-3)||F/+||2||62||S&P+ rating||24.2||2.5||Special teams S&P+||77||95||When Clemson has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||19||33||S&P+||11||21||IsoPPP+||63||56||Rushing S&P+||15||28||Passing S&P+||21||36||When Florida State has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||1||106||S&P+||2||109||IsoPPP+||34||8||Rushing S&P+||1||116||Passing S&P+||13||44|
Just a few weeks ago it appeared as though this game would be over before it began simply because of the massive deficit Florida State was facing in the matchup between their offensive line and the Clemson defensive line. The Seminoles ranked amongst the nation's worst offenses in sacks yielded as injuries at tackle and elsewhere had them putting out patchwork quilt units that couldn't protect their quarterbacks.
Although still likely overmatched, the Seminoles are healthier and more consistent now, and haven't yielded a sack in either of their last two games. As a result, quarterback Deondre Francois has started to come alive and involve talented wide receiver Nyqwan Murray (487 receiving yards) and the Seminoles' other skill athletes. They still haven't really gotten their run game going and probably won't this week either against Clemson's powerful defensive line and always strong linebacker play, but they may be able to keep pace in a game played in the 20s.
On the other side, Clemson has kept chugging along with freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence and will face the best test yet for the young signal-caller in the Florida State defense. The Seminoles are going to load up to stop the Tigers run game, which is feasible if a defense can play some man coverage against their spread sets and get an extra man in the box. North Carolina State did so a week ago, holding star running back Travis Etienne to 39 yards on 15 carries, but they were hurt by Lawrence throwing for 308 yards at 7.9 yards per attempt on 39 passes. A successful effort by Florida State looks like Lawrence throwing for less than 7 yards per attempt due to incompletions forced against man coverage.
Florida State's secondary has been solid enough to offer hope for the Noles, and perhaps more importantly, pass-rusher Brian Burns has had a great season with nine sacks and three forced fumbles coming off the edge. Their installation of an aggressive, Michigan State-style defense has paid dividends, allowing them to pressure the ball and force teams to throw down the field against the pass-rush or else running into numbers.
If Clemson blows Florida State away by a margin like this point spread, they'll be a good bet to finish the year ranked high enough to make the playoff for a fourth consecutive year.
- Can Florida State's offensive line hold up against this Clemson defensive line?
- Can Florida State cover up Clemson's passing game in man coverage?
- How will Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence hold up against a defense with this level of skill and athleticism?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Clemson
Florida vs. Georgia (-6.5) at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
|Overall||Florida (6-1)||Georgia (6-1)||F/+||9||4||S&P+ rating||13.4||19.7||Special teams S&P+||9||13||When Florida has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||40||21||S&P+||32||24||IsoPPP+||46||8||Rushing S&P+||25||84||Passing S&P+||24||9||When Florida has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||18||3||S&P+||19||6||IsoPPP+||67||13||Rushing S&P+||56||9||Passing S&P+||21||8|
Last year this game was a big moment for both programs. The Bulldogs ran wild on Florida in a blowout win, and Gators head coach Jim McElwain was forced to resign the following day. Florida is in much stronger shape this time around under head coach Dan Mullen, and they have a victory under their belts against the same LSU team that beat Georgia. There's currently a three-way tie atop the division between Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky. The Wildcats handed Florida their only loss of the year and play Georgia next week. This rivalry game could very well determine the SEC East division. Certainly it's difficult to imagine one of these teams winning the division if they don't win this game. What's more, the SEC East winner could potentially make the playoff should they win the SEC Championship Game.
While Georgia has been putting up good numbers on offense this year, they hit a wall against LSU and haven't been playing to their full potential due to injuries to left tackle Andrew Thomas and right guard Ben Cleveland, two of their more talented players. It looks like they'll still be a bit dinged up this week against Florida, although the Gators aren't as tough up front as LSU on defense. The Gators are a speedy group on defense and have done their damage with the pass rush of defensive ends Jabari Zuniga and Jachai Polite, who have combined for 11.5 sacks. As you can tell from their S&P splits, their rush defense hasn't been great, but they tackle well, prevent big plays, and keep points off the scoreboard. If they can do that against the pounding Georgia run game, they'll definitely have a chance to dominate the game by rushing quarterback Jake Fromm with their defensive ends.
Georgia's defense is solid but has taken a big step back this year without star linebacker Roquan Smith erasing mistakes and Swiss army knife defensive back Dom Davis playing multiple positions. Their leading tacklers this year have been safeties Richard Lecounte and J.R. Reed, and their pass rush has suffered after graduating both outside linebackers from a year ago, generating only nine sacks in seven games.
Florida will attack them with a steady run game that has put three running backs over 300 yards, and then an equally steady passing attack that has produced 7.7 yards per attempt for quarterback Feleipe Franks. Florida isn't scoring points in bunches, but they have been solid at staying ahead of the chains, spreading the ball around between a cast of solid options, and getting it done on the scoreboard. This has the makings of a game that doesn't resolve until the fourth quarter.
- Can Georgia's beat-up offensive line protect Jake Fromm?
- How will Georgia's safeties handle the balanced Florida offense?
- Who converts red zone opportunities?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Georgia
Iowa at Penn State (-6.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Iowa (6-1)||Penn State (5-2)||F/+||13||12||S&P+ rating||11.8||14.7||Special teams S&P+||25||85||When Iowa has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||49||16||S&P+||73||27||IsoPPP+||49||48||Rushing S&P+||119||52||Passing S&P+||30||20||When Penn State has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||7||32||S&P+||9||18||IsoPPP+||6||26||Rushing S&P+||24||7||Passing S&P+||27||70|
Iowa has been playing something similar to Michigan State-style football this season, combining really good, hard-nosed defense with an offense that will crash into the line of scrimmage unprofitably with their run game but find a way to convert on third down (22nd on passing downs). The keys to their offense are tight ends T.J. Hockenson (25 catches, 424 yards, three touchdowns) and Noah Fant (26 catches, 312 yards, six touchdowns), who are their top two receivers on the year. Having a big receiving tight end is a fantastic third down formula at most levels of the game; having two has made the Hawkeyes pretty potent even as their run game hasn't been as strong as in other seasons.
The Hawkeyes aren't world-beaters, but they are something close to what Wisconsin was a year ago when the Badgers won the Big 10 West with a similar formula. The challenge for Iowa this season is that they lost their head-to-head matchup with Wisconsin, so they can't afford to drop this game to Penn State and still be reasonably positioned to win the West division. Wisconsin is currently tied with them at the top (with a loss to Michigan) and both have yet to play Northwestern (Wisconsin faces them this week) who also has a sole conference loss (again, to Michigan).
Meanwhile, Penn State is already more or less out of the running for the Big 10 East division title with losses to Ohio State and Michigan State on their resume, a looming road trip to play Michigan, and then a home game against Wisconsin in the next two weeks after this game. They desperately need this win as well in order to maintain morale facing down the next two contests. With a senior quarterback at the helm, they'll probably be pretty focused against the Hawkeyes while playing in front of their always raucous home crowd.
At the matchup level, Penn State should be able to cause some problems for the Iowa defense with their spread offensive attack, which forces the safeties in the Hawkeyes' base 4-3 defense to back up off the ball in order to stay on top of the slot receivers. Iowa's two safeties are their first- and third-leading tackler, so getting them out of the picture would be a big win for the Nittany Lions. The Penn State defense is also better equipped than many to face off against the Iowa tight ends with their big, young outside linebackers Cam Brown (6-foot-5, 223 pounds) and Micah Parsons (6-foot-3, 240 pounds) playing in front of an elder pair of safeties in Nick Scott (redshirt senior) and Garrett Taylor (redshirt junior).
- How will Penn State hold up against Iowa's tight ends on big passing downs?
- Can Penn State's spread offense find room to maneuver against Iowa's always fundamentally strong defense?
- Penn State to throw everything at Iowa, needing to find wins amidst a four-game gauntlet of at Michigan State, Iowa, at Michigan, and Wisconsin.
S&P Outright Pick: Penn State
South Florida at Houston (-7.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2)
|Overall||South Florida||Houston||F/+||64||37||S&P+ rating||6.1||9.3||Special teams S&P+||109||73||When South Florida has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||83||67||S&P+||28||84||IsoPPP+||16||104||Rushing S&P+||52||16||Passing S&P+||76||109||When Houston has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||72||13||S&P+||53||8||IsoPPP+||68||5||Rushing S&P+||93||18||Passing S&P+||25||26|
It's our American shootout of the week! South Florida is currently undefeated and in the running for co-national champions in our post-2017 Central Florida world, but the Bulls have several narrow wins on their resume and have not looked like a dominant team that will win out in the American, much less win a presumptive bowl bid if they did win out. Houston has looked very strong this season but took a blowout loss to Texas Tech in their pre-conference slate that rules them out from the co-national championship.
Both teams are in contention for their respective divisions with zero conference losses between them. It's just a matter of which team can put up a bigger number on the scoreboard in this game. Both teams also happen to run "veer and shoot" offenses, with the Bulls coordinated by Sterlin Gilbert, who learned this offense from Art Briles' longtime offensive coordinator Phil Montgomery and from former Briles assistant Dino Babers. And of course Houston's offense is coordinated by Kendall Briles, Art's son.
Houston's offense has been stronger this season with quarterback D'Eriq King currently at 1,984 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He has also added 281 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. The Cougars have been torching opponents this year with the balance they've achieved running the ball with downhill schemes attached to perimeter and vertical pass options for King.
South Florida's version of the offense is led by former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett, who has thrown for 1,810 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions. They have an explosive passing attack, but it's not on Houston's level. But they also have running back Jordan Cronkrite, who has run for 860 yards at 7.8 yards per carry. South Florida head coach Charlie Strong is well acquainted with defending this style of offense. He'll focus on taking away Houston's deep passing game so that they have to run the ball as effectively as South Florida will in order to pull out the win.
Houston's defensive strategy, as it does every week, will depend on starting nose tackle Ed Oliver. Oliver is a 6-foot-3, 291-pound force of nature on the field and arguably the best football player in the country. He has logged 51 tackles this year with 13.5 tackles for loss and three sacks and is relentless in pursuing the ball. He plays with the pace and energy of a middle linebacker, but at 290 pounds and entrenched in the A-gaps, it's really remarkable that Houston isn't better on defense given his weekly impact. If he can kill a few Bulls drives with negative plays, that could put the Cougars over the top.
- Lots of deep shots in the passing game by both teams and up-and-down play.
- Can South Florida force Houston to beat them by outrushing their own star running back Jordan Cronkrite?
- Houston nose tackle Ed Oliver, perhaps college football's best player, and his impact on a likely shootout.
S&P Outright Pick: Houston
Washington State at Stanford (-3) -- 7 p.m. (PAC12)
|Overall||Washington State (6-1)||Stanford (5-2)||F/+||21||38||S&P+ rating||10.1||6.1||Special teams S&P+||56||40||When Washington State has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||4||58||S&P+||16||42||IsoPPP+||37||59||Rushing S&P+||77||80||Passing S&P+||45||80||When Stanford has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||86||50||S&P+||63||52||IsoPPP+||46||3||Rushing S&P+||81||109||Passing S&P+||10||11|
It seems that this year's Washington State defense figured out that there's a bigger advantage for an Air Raid team to have a good pass defense than a good run defense. The fear is always that the opposing offense will run the ball and keep the offense off the field, but the risk is actually greater of being outscored by another potent offense lighting up a helpless and inevitably worn-down pass defense. Of course, against Oregon the other week, Washington State stopped the run and the pass while playing with a lead for the entire game, including 27-0 at the half.
As I noted last week, it has been impressive how well Mike Leach has rebuilt a roster that took a ton of attrition after the 2017 season. Securing the transfer of quarterback Gardner Minshew was a huge factor, but the whole offense has been plugging away at a high level this season. They will be a tough matchup for the Stanford defense, which just doesn't seem to have the caliber of outside linebacker play they had earlier this decade when they fielded some top units. The Cardinal have picked off seven passes and recovered five fumbles this year, but they haven't been getting much pressure on quarterbacks and are ranked 74th in defending passing downs.
Stanford's offense has been really puzzling this year, with Bryce Love largely shut down and contained by opponents and the Cardinal instead leaning on quarterback K.J. Costello throwing to wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, tight end Kaden Smith, or slot Trenton Irwin. The Cougars have been very strong on pass defense, bringing a lot of zone blitzes that have produced 21 sacks in seven games.
The Pac-12 North division is on the line in this game. A win by the Cougars could make the division crown come down to the Washington vs. Washington State rivalry game at the end of the year.
- Can Stanford get pressure on Washington State's Air Raid passing attack?
- Can Stanford get back to running the football or will they have to fling it around with the Cougars?
- Is this game a shootout or will either team manage to find their way on defense?
S&P Outright Pick: Washington State
Texas (-3.5) at Oklahoma State -- 8 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Texas (6-1)||Oklahoma State (4-3)||F/+||32||41||S&P+ rating||6.3||10.6||Special teams S&P+||78||21||When Texas has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||38||100||S&P+||61||64||IsoPPP+||107||81||Rushing S&P+||106||65||Passing S&P+||34||76||When Oklahoma State has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||37||27||S&P+||32||15||IsoPPP+||73||17||Rushing S&P+||30||21||Passing S&P+||67||28|
The adjusted stats don't like Texas near as much as the polls, which currently have Texas ranked No. 6 (AP) or No. 7 (Coaches'), particularly S&P+, which has them as a something of a middling team that has been just lucky or clever enough to pull out victories in six of seven contests. Meanwhile, S&P+ loves Oklahoma State, which has generated a few explosive offensive performances but failed to generate much in the way of wins. This week should clear up the picture and the numbers for both teams about whether Oklahoma State is a good team that has come up short and Texas a solid one that has come up big.
Alternatively, a close look at Texas' games suggests that the Longhorns are indeed a strong team but one that has tended to take their feet on and off the gas pedal. They had Oklahoma down 45-28 late in the third quarter before giving up three consecutive, quick touchdown drives while middling about with penalties and non-aggressive calls while playing offense. Once the game was 45-all, the Longhorns drove down the field and kicked the game-winning field goal. Additionally, Texas dominated much of the Maryland, Tulsa, and Kansas State games while allowing a few bursts from each team that narrowed the margin, or cost them the game in the instance of Maryland. Texas also has a knack for producing needed plays at the right time with a few go-to options like the quarterback run game in short yardage with 6-foot-2, 235-pound Sam Ehlinger or the slant route to 6-foot-6, 215-pound wide receiver Collin Johnson.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has tended to put up big stats in non-crucial drives, often succumbing to pressure on the quarterback or mistakes when the heat is on. The concept of "clutch" performance is pretty controversial, but Texas' ability to execute their go-to plays in crucial situations does seem solidly true. Oklahoma State is coming off a bye week, so they'll be well prepared to test Texas' ability to maintain their efficiency.
This game also has some intrigue as Ehlinger is questionable with a sprained throwing shoulder coming off a bye week, while Oklahoma State may have made a move in their own bye week, like pulling the redshirt off one of their back-up quarterbacks or otherwise cooking up something new for the back half of the schedule.
The matchups of this contest certainly favor the Longhorns. Oklahoma State has struggled with athletic defensive lines less dangerous than this Texas unit, which includes 6-foot-7, 280-pound defensive end Charles Omenihu, who has eight tackles for loss and six sacks on the year. Texas shut down a better Oklahoma State offense a year ago by unveiling a 3-2-6 dime package they named "the lightning package," which this year includes some impact freshman safeties in Caden Sterns (four interceptions) and B.J. Foster (3.5 tackles for loss). It'll be a load for the Cowboys spread offense to handle.
On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma State has certainly struggled to stop the run this season, but they'll have a better chance at doing that and getting successful pressure on the quarterback if Ehlinger isn't able to play. Ehlinger is difficult to tackle, having been sacked only 10 times this year, and has rushed for six touchdowns and several first downs this season.
- Will Sam Ehlinger be healthy to play quarterback for Texas? Will Oklahoma State stick with senior quarterback Taylor Cornelius?
- How will Oklahoma State's spread offense handle their rematch with Texas' dime package?
- Can Texas control the game by running the ball with emerging freshman running back Keaontay Ingram?
- Is Texas a good team that executes in big moments or a lucky team who's luck is about to run out on the road?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Oklahoma State
S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 9
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||S&P+ Pick|| S&P+ pick
against the spread
| Ian's pick
against the spread
|Clemson||17||Florida State||Clemson||Clemson||Florida State|
|Penn State||6.5||Iowa||Penn State||Iowa||Penn State|
|Houston||7.5||South Florida||Houston||South Florida||Houston|
|Stanford||3||Washington State||Washington State||Washington State||Washington State|
|Texas||3.5||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State||Texas|
S&P+ Picks against the spread last week: 4-2
S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 27-21
Ian's Picks against the spread last week: 3-3
Ian's Picks against the spread this year: 29-19