Seventh Day Adventure
Football Outsiders' weekly preview for people who like their football played on Saturdays

Seventh Day Adventure: Week 8

Ohio State Buckeyes WR Chris Olave
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

The big draw of Week 7 was the prime-time battle between Alabama and Georgia, which immediately proved to be the biggest football game of the season. It lived up to the hype for about a half, and then the mighty Crimson Tide machine erased Georgia's 24-20 lead and scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to pull away 41-24.

Alabama might be the most potent team in college football this season by a pretty safe margin, certainly in the SEC. The growth of quarterback Mac Jones is a big factor, the dominant play of their offensive line is another, but both of those simply allow the Tide to maximize their greatest strength, their wide receivers. Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith are averaging a combined 260 receiving yards and two touchdowns every game this season, and that firepower is blowing away the Tide's competition.

The fun part of Week 8 is that the rest of the nation is getting reinforcements in the annual struggle to deny Alabama additional championships. The Big Ten is finally starting up, and the much-hyped Ohio State Buckeyes will open their season with the visiting Nebraska Cornhuskers. Week 8 will also include a big bout between AAC undefeateds Cincinnati and SMU, a few important Big 12 games, and then the Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh game at midday. Things are calmer in the SEC, but more of the rest of college football is now involved.

F/+ and FEI numbers for teams that haven't played this season yet rank the projected numbers against how everyone else has performed through eight weeks of actual play.

All times are listed as Eastern.

Oklahoma (-6.5) at TCU -- 12 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Oklahoma (2-2) TCU (1-2)
F/+ 10 36
FEI 16 33
Special Teams SP+ 44 25
When Oklahoma has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 4 22
SP+ 4 25
IsoPPP+ 29 75
Rushing success rate 36 23
Passing success rate 10 10
When TCU has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 55 55
SP+ 47 86
IsoPPP+ 70 59
Rushing success rate 25 40
Passing success rate 16 39

The hope in Norman is that Oklahoma's strong second half (before the late fourth-quarter collapse) and then overtime scoring against the Texas Longhorns two weeks ago in the Red River Shootout were a turning point for the season. The Sooners were 0-2 in Big 12 play heading into their rivalry game with Texas and early in the game (and very late) appeared to be at risk of falling to 0-3, which would have likely meant the end of the season. Redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler was even benched for a portion of the first half after an interception and fumble.

But the Sooners got their run game rolling and running backs T.J. Pledger and Marcus Major ended up compiling 34 carries for 174 yards at 5.3 yards per carry with three rushing touchdowns. The Sooners uncharacteristically ground down the Longhorns and had them worn out for their overtime possessions, which all went more or less exactly according to plan other than a missed field goal. From there, they had two weeks off to clean up and build momentum for the latter two-thirds of their Big 12 season, which begins with this road trip to TCU. The Horned Frogs are coming off a tough 21-14 loss to Kansas State at home in which quarterback Max Duggan was beat up and sat a few plays out and the defense was once again undone by a few big plays. Gary Patterson's speed-based 4-2-5 is now 75th nationally in IsoPPP+ and has been taken apart by big plays in every game.

That'll be one crucially important matchup in this game: whether or not the Sooners can scheme up some big plays on a Frogs defense that will have spent its extra bye week in preparation for the Sooners' explosive threats. For the last two seasons, the Horned Frogs have gone into this game and attempted to hold up against head coach Lincoln Riley and his big-play offense only to shelve their normal 4-2-5 for Gary Patterson's 3-2-6 "flyover defense" scheme that trades in a defensive tackle for a third deep safety. It's actually curious that this hasn't become TCU's new base defense given their struggles along the defensive line this season and their abundance of quality safeties. The three-down/three-safety configuration makes it easier to avoid one-on-one matchups in the passing game, limit the damage from runs that break through into the open field, get numbers against the option run game, and stop Oklahoma's "leak" concepts in which a receiver feigns a shallow inside route only to run free down the field.

The Frogs switched to the flyover defense down big in 2019 and nearly managed an upset victory by forcing the Sooners to drive the length of the field without big plays and then forcing a pair of turnovers backed up into their own red zone. If they open this game in the scheme that wouldn't be surprising, but the 2020 Sooners have their own wrinkle that could thwart that design. Oklahoma has been strongest this season playing in 21 personnel with hybrids at tight end (leading receiver Austin Stogner) and fullback (Jeremiah Hall). With those two players on the field, the Sooners can get seven big blockers around the box and pound away in the run game, which could be big trouble for a TCU defense that has struggled along the defensive line so badly that their top-notch safeties haven't been able to plug the massive holes opponents have opened up.

On the other side of things, the matchup is clearer and probably worse for the Horned Frogs. TCU's offensive line has been a major weakness this season. They've yielded 10 sacks in three games, including six on Duggan, who's much more elusive than Matthew Downing the backup who went down four times in a single half against Iowa State in their season opener. Oklahoma's pass rush has been very solid this season and powered by jack linebacker Nik Bonitto (two sacks), but regularly involves four- and five-man pressures that use the other linebackers and frees up the defensive line with one-on-one matchups.

Oklahoma's defense is well designed to thwart spread rushing attacks with line stunts and movement while playing tight man coverage outside, which is hard to punish without time in the pocket that TCU has struggled to generate. This game could be the start of a big push by Oklahoma to get back on top of the Big 12 standings.

Watch for:

  • Will Gary Patterson use his "flyover defense" package or try to withstand the Sooners power run game from his struggling 4-2-5 base scheme?
  • Oklahoma's pass rush -- particularly edge-rusher Nik Bonitto -- against the struggling TCU offensive tackles,.
  • Can TCU land shots outside on Oklahoma's smaller cornerbacks and nickel corner?

FEI Outright Pick: Oklahoma by 2.7

Nebraska at Ohio State (-26) -- 12 p.m. (FOX)

Overall Nebraska (0-0) Ohio State (0-0)
F/+ 37 1
FEI 54 2
2019 Special Teams SP+ 124 21
When Nebraska has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 21 3
2019 SP+ 41 2
2019 IsoPPP+ 36 57
2019 Rushing success rate 66 9
2019 Passing success rate 83 1
When Ohio State has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 17 2
2019 SP+ 63 4
2019 IsoPPP+ 40 14
2019 Rushing success rate 94 18
2019 Passing success rate 37 3

Nebraska was filing lawsuits a few months ago against the Big Ten for shutting down the season, and while they ultimately won and got football back for the fall, they were rewarded with a brutal schedule that starts in Columbus.

The Buckeyes are considered playoff contenders, and largely for the same reason that Alabama looks so potent right now: they have a potential NFL draft pick at quarterback in Justin Fields throwing behind a senior left tackle (Thayer Munford) to star receiver Chris Olave (48 catches for 840 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2019) and up-and-comer Garrett Wilson (30 catches for 432 yards and five touchdowns in 2019). Everyone is anticipating that the Buckeyes will retool a more run-heavy offense that was undefeated in the Big Ten a year ago to be more pass-heavy to make the most of this skill talent and experience. If they do so successfully, this is nasty team that will be very hard to defend.

Ohio State had a more frightening defense last year than they appear to be bringing into the 2020 campaign, although that still remains to be seen. They lost cornerbacks Jeffrey Okudah and Damon Arnette to the NFL along with pass-rusher Chase Young (16.5 sacks); all went in the first round with Young and Okudah going No. 2 and No. 3 respectively. All told, seven Ohio State defensive starters were drafted by the NFL in 2020, along with three offensive starters.

For the rebuild on that side of the ball, slot corner Shaun Wade is moving outside to audition for the 2021 draft and the Buckeyes will need to find three more star defensive backs to play alongside him. At defensive end they are looking for one several former blue-chip recruits to emerge as a replacement for Young. That's probably the safer bet; Ohio State's defensive backs may have a tougher time matching their brilliance in man coverage in 2019. While cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs is one of the best in the business, Ohio State is in a tough spot after losing three starters to the NFL and then losing two potential replacements in Amir Riep and Jahsen Wint, who were dismissed from the team after being charged with rape and kidnapping.

Nebraska is in Year 3 now with head coach Scott Frost, whom it was hoped would restore the tradition of excellence that Nebraska enjoyed when Tom Osborne was the head coach and Frost was one of his National Championship quarterbacks in the 1990s. Frost has gone 9-17 thus far in Lincoln and the Cornhuskers are hoping for a breakthrough this season or the next to inspire hope that things are getting back on track at last.

If this season is far more productive, the reason is likely to be improvements across the "infrastructure" positions on offense along the line and at quarterback. Junior Adrian Martinez is listed as the starter for the Ohio State game, but he does have a McCaffrey brother (Luke) breathing over his shoulder should he falter. Running back Dedrick Mills had a strong 2019 season with 143 carries for 745 yards at 5.2 yards per carry with 10 rushing touchdowns and returns behind a line with four returning starters and massive Minnesotan Bryce Benhart (6-foot-9, 330 pounds) stepping in at right tackle.

They'll be working against an Ohio State defense with four new starters along the defensive line but three returning starters at linebacker between Pete Werner and Baron Browning on the outside and Tuf Borland in the middle. Ohio State's preference for man coverage does expose them against the quarterback option run game attached to RPOs because the defensive backs can't support the run when they turn their backs to cover receivers. Mills had 11 carries for 67 yards in this game last year and Martinez had 15 carries for 84 yards, both respectable. What killed the Huskers was that Martinez completed only eight passes to Nebraska receivers for a paltry 47 yards at 2.8 yards per attempt. He also added three completions to Buckeyes defenders.

Nebraska needs to be much more explosive in the run game and competent in the passing game to have a good chance this year. Beyond that, it's about whether or not a Huskers defensive backfield returning five starters can cover up these Buckeyes receivers and whether their new starting outside linebackers can pressure Fields. If Ohio State is scoring 35-plus points, there's little chance Nebraska can stay in this game.

Watch for:

  • How far along have Ohio State's talented young receivers and quarterback come along after a long, strange offseason?
  • Can Nebraska finally bring back the kind of power-option run game that defined the Scott Frost/Tom Osborne era?
  • Nebraska's 3-4 defense trying to cover up the Ohio State spread passing game.

FEI Outright Pick: Ohio State by 30.7

Notre Dame (-10.5) at Pittsburgh -- 2:30 p.m. (NBC)

Overall Notre Dame (4-0) Pittsburgh (3-3)
F/+ 7 47
FEI 8 59
Special Teams SP+ 33 11
When Notre Dame has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 10 33
SP+ 13 17
IsoPPP+ 44 74
Rushing success rate 9 15
Passing success rate 20 12
When Pittsburgh has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 13 98
SP+ 8 90
IsoPPP+ 56 12
Rushing success rate 5 32
Passing success rate 22 40

Pittsburgh has been college football's hardest-working team with six games banked already this season and five games remaining, including this hosting of Notre Dame and then a road trip against Clemson to end the season. The Panthers may finish the year with the toughest strength of schedule in the country, or at least in the top five.

Their team has started to arrive at the preferred model for Pat Narduzzi that he learned at Michigan State when the Spartans were winning Big Ten championships with Mark Dantonio. They are playing good defense this season and have a statistically quirky offense which seems to be a more extreme version of a Dantonio Spartans attack. Lead running back Vincent Davis has 83 carries for 242 yards at 2.9 yards per carry and three touchdowns, which is abysmal. Quarterback Kenny Pickett has thrown 180 passes for 1,389 yards at 7.7 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns and three interceptions, which is solid.

Being so reliant on Pickett landing some big shots is going to play interestingly against the Fighting Irish, who have been tightening up every week on defense and just shut down Louisville last weekend. The Irish did what I projected and kept the Cardinals' wide zone running game hemmed in with outside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and a rotating cast of defensive backs and forced Louisville to turn to the passing game to make any headway. That failed to land any real shots and Malik Cunningham was 16-of-19 but averaged only 6.9 yards per attempt and had a single touchdown pass. Meanwhile Notre Dame's running game continues to be the strength of the team and running back Kyren Williams controlled the contest with 25 carries for 127 yards at 5.1 yards per carry.

Both of these teams are defensively strong units with plodding offenses that try to control contests with the run game. One of them has a run game that can actually consistently make gains in the box (Notre Dame); the other has to turn to their quarterback to bail them out of tight spots (Pitt).

Overall, Notre Dame is the steadier squad. They have a few more reliable chains-moving weapons in the passing game thanks to their collection of tight ends and big outside receiver Ben Skowronek getting involved for the first time last week. If Pitt can't land a few big plays in the passing game, they will simply struggle to score. With that in mind, a major contest in this game is whether or not the Panthers can get receivers open against Notre Dame's secondary, which is stronger now with North Carolina State grad transfer Nick McCloud back in the fold and young Clarence Lewis getting some snaps as well. Pitt needs to continue to find Jordan Addison (38 catches for 444 yards and three scores) and then land a few bombs with D.J. Turner (19 catches for 332 yards and a score). Both of them are smaller, quicker receivers who need some space to work in to thrive. If Notre Dame can deny them that space with bracket coverage and still hold up the Pitt run game, they'll be in great shape. If Notre Dame can play tight man coverage on them then the Panthers may be totally shut down.

The other big matchup in this game is between Pitt's aggressive defensive front and the Notre Dame offensive line. The Panthers have been somewhat similar to the Irish in that they are paced in tackles by safeties Paris Ford, Damar Hamlin, and then safety/linebacker hybrid Phil Campbell. If Narduzzi has things his way, he'll be choking out the Irish run game with edge pressure and shallow safeties that don't allow them to threaten the perimeter well enough to create running room.

If that approach is successful, and it likely will be, then the game moves to the perimeter, with Ian Book looking to find receivers against man coverage outside or hitting tight windows to tight ends in the middle of the field. The Irish have also been experimenting with NFL-type "Y-iso" formations that move a talented flex tight end like young Michael Mayer to outside receiver and then punish defenses for how they try to adjust their matchups. At 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, Mayer might be hard for the Panthers cornerbacks to play in press-man coverage, but then do they adjust their scheme and move a linebacker or safety wide? This hasn't yielded major returns yet for the Irish, but it could be a factor, particularly if this is a low scoring game.

Watch for:

  • Notre Dame's healing secondary against the Pittsburgh slot receivers in the passing game.
  • Can Pitt's aggressive defense shut down Notre Dame's veteran offensive line and sturdy rushing attack?
  • How will the Pitt defense match up on the perimeter against Notre Dame's flex tight ends?

FEI Outright Pick: Notre Dame by 12.0

Iowa State at Oklahoma State (-3.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (FOX)

Overall Iowa State (3-1) Oklahoma State (3-0)
F/+ 26 15
FEI 28 18
Special Teams SP+ 34 12
When Iowa State has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 23 17
SP+ 28 15
IsoPPP+ 48 16
Rushing success rate 6 7
Passing success rate 27 6
When Oklahoma State has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 31 27
SP+ 23 29
IsoPPP+ 36 37
Rushing success rate 19 46
Passing success rate 47 43

Oklahoma State was a very popular pick to compete for the Big 12 championship this season due to their explosive trio of quarterback Spencer Sanders, wide receiver Tylan Wallace, and running back Chuba Hubbard. There were some concerns about whether that would materialize, though, when starting left tackle Dylan Galloway retired for medical reasons before fall camp and then prospective starting guard (or tackle) Bryce Bray and another member of the two-deep were kicked off the team and transferred out. The Oklahoma State offensive line has struggled and had to plug in a pair of walk-ons at left tackle and center to get through their first three games, but not before losing Sanders to an ankle injury.

But head coach Mike Gundy had an ace up his sleeve: the Cowboys defense. They returned up-and-coming pass-rusher Trace Ford and have helped him on passing downs with pass-rushing linebacker Calvin Bundage, who missed 2019 with injury. Up the middle of the defense the Cowboys returned both starting linebackers and two of their three starting safeties while moving another starting safety over to cornerback. Maybe most importantly, senior cornerback Rodarius Williams made a leap in the offseason and has been playing lockdown coverage on the left side and allowing Oklahoma State to devote defenders to bracketing inside receivers, loading the box, or blitzing the passer.

Sanders is supposed to be a full go, although Gundy has been suggesting he may still play or start freshman Shane Illingworth, who has been solid in Sanders' stead. If Sanders is healthy, it's hard to imagine the Cowboys won't turn to him as he adds both experience and a running dimension that Illingworth cannot match. This game is really the first true test for Oklahoma State's defense, their rebuilt offensive line, and the overall situation at quarterback.

Iowa State has rebounded in a big way from their loss to Louisiana, going 3-0 in Big 12 play with a big win at home against Oklahoma and then a pair of reasonably commanding wins over TCU and Texas Tech. The passing game with junior Brock "Pump Fake" Purdy has been slow going, although it's getting stronger since reintegrating star tight end Charlie Kolar, but the team has been carried despite those struggles by running back Breece Hall.

With tight ends such as Kolar, Dylan Soehner, and Chase Allen rotating in, the Cyclones have been able to loose Hall on the perimeter and between the tackles on lead concepts for 531 yards on 93 carries at 5.7 yards per carry and eight touchdowns. Hall has phenomenal vision and quickness both for the purposes of picking up steady gains (check out the Cyclones' success rate in the run game) and for breaking longer runs. The better things go for Iowa State running the ball with Hall, the easier it gets to help a developing wide receiver corps get open for Purdy. Whether or not they can manufacture some matchups with their tight ends against the Oklahoma State defensive front could be the decisive point when Iowa State is on offense.

As for the other side of things, Oklahoma State's big question mark probably isn't even who plays quarterback but how well they hold up along the offensive line against the Cyclones pass rush. Iowa State has been deadly this season rushing three and bringing JaQuan Bailey (3.5 sacks), Will McDonald (4.5 sacks), and Latrell Bankston (1.5 sacks) ahead of a secondary playing Cover-2. On standard downs, the Cyclones are also likely to keep a safety over Tylan Wallace but otherwise crowd the box to limit damage that Oklahoma State can do in the run game.

If Oklahoma State's rebuilt offensive line holds up and Sanders comes back strong, this could be their big "on the scene" game in 2020 that establishes them as Big 12 favorites and possible playoff contenders. If not, then a wild and crazy Big 12 season in which no one is likely to make the playoff will continue to play out.

Watch for:

  • How will Oklahoma State's young and walk-on-dependent offensive line fare against the Iowa State pass rush?
  • Is Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders healthy and ready to help the Cowboys run the ball?
  • Can Iowa State keep using their tight ends to scheme matchup advantages up front to run the ball with Breece Hall?

FEI Outright Pick: Oklahoma State by 7.0

Michigan (-3.5) at Minnesota -- 7:30 p.m. (ABC)

Overall Michigan (0-0) Minnesota (0-0)
Proj. F/+ 9 20
FEI 6 20
Proj. Special Teams SP+ 36 83
When Michigan has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 21 35
2019 SP+ 21 26
2019 IsoPPP+ 84 27
2019 Rushing success rate 63 13
2019 Passing success rate 48 70
When Minnesota has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 5 17
2019 SP+ 11 7
2019 IsoPPP+ 29 62
2019 Rushing success rate 19 52
2019 Passing success rate 23 9

This is our prime-time Big Ten game since Minnesota and Michigan are much more closely matched than the Cornhuskers and Buckeyes. Minnesota broke through under P.J. Fleck last season, going 11-2 but missing out on the Big Ten West title after losing to Iowa and Wisconsin down the stretch. The season highlight was beating Penn State 31-26 at home, but they paid the price for that one when the Nittany Lions' head coach James Franklin came back after the season to steal their offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca.

Despite that loss, and the depletion of their defensive roster from graduation, the Golden Gophers are still in strong shape overall. They return starting quarterback Tanner Morgan, one of their two top receivers in Rashod Bateman, and all five starters along the offensive line. Fleck hired Mike Sanford Jr. from Utah State to coordinate the offense but presumably they won't make too sweeping of changes to an approach that helped Morgan throw for 3,253 yards at 10.3 yards per attempt with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Minnesota offense uses an RPO approach in which the vast majority of the passing comes on slants and crossing patterns attached to their inside and outside zone run schemes. Slot receiver Tyler Johnson was the main cog in that approach and had 86 catches for 1,318 yards and 13 touchdowns and is now gone, but Bateman had 60 for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns and the Gophers have recruited well since Fleck took over.

Minnesota's defense is the bigger concern after losing safety Antoine Winfield (leading tackler and seven interceptions) and pass-rushers Carter Coughlin and Sam Renner. They do have cornerbacks Coney Durr and Benjamin St. Juste returning; the latter of whom transferred from Michigan when he couldn't get medical clearance and had a great 2019 season with 10 pass break-ups.

Michigan could really use St. Juste this season after their star cornerback Ambry Thomas chose to opt out of the 2020 season and focus on the NFL draft. Michigan also lost star receiver Nico Collins for the same reason while quarterback Dylan McCaffrey chose to opt out and transfer, and they nearly lost their only returning starter in offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield until his decision was reversed when the season resumed. Now Mayfield will help anchor an offensive line with four new starters in offensive coordinator Josh Gattis' own RPO spread system.

Big redshirt sophomore quarterback Joe Milton will now take charge on offense for a unit that will have more familiarity with the new system but very little in-game experience amongst the starting lineup. The Wolverines' best bet will be to make the most of a deep running back room and bruising tight end/fullback Ben Mason hammering opponents inside while Milton stretches the field with returning receiver Ronnie Bell and new Gattis recruits such as sophomores Cornelius Johnson and Mike Sainristil.

Michigan's defense had issues a year ago after losing some players to the NFL and then another (former five-star Aubrey Solomon) to transfer to Tennessee. They'll be a year better off here with Carlo Kemp back for his redshirt senior season at defensive tackle and then young former blue chips Chris Hinton and Donovan Jeter emerging inside. The benefit of their emergence will be the Wolverines playing big ends Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye outside ahead of a very experienced group of linebackers and safeties. The only major missing ingredient is at cornerback where the Wolverines lack a press-man, lockdown defender with Thomas' opt out.

New defensive coaches Bob Shoop and Brian Jean-Mary, both former coordinators, were added to the staff to help coordinator Don Brown. It's a fair guess to wonder if they'll utilize more zone coverages this season and aim to keep receivers in front of them rather than playing Brown's normal press-man coverages.

Watch for:

  • How will Michigan's new-look defensive secondary try to cover Minnesota's RPO passing game?
  • Can P.J. Fleck and the Gophers keep up their positive trajectory from their breakthrough 2019 season?
  • How will Michigan's offense look with Joe Milton at quarterback and new starters across the offensive line and wide receiver?

FEI Outright Pick: Michigan by 4.4

Cincinnati at SMU (-2.5) -- 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

Overall Cincinnati (3-0) SMU (5-0)
F/+ 27 38
FEI 40 56
Special Teams SP+ 30 49
When Cincinnati has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 88 60
SP+ 55 59
IsoPPP+ 51 17
Rushing success rate 54 30
Passing success rate 16 13
When SMU has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 10 33
SP+ 5 14
IsoPPP+ 5 8
Rushing success rate 5 24
Passing success rate 9 13

The Bearcats have struggled to get their offense humming after losing a few linemen and star running back Michael Warren II from the 2019 squad. That team won the AAC East division on the strength of their defense and the legs of Warren. The defense is back and strong again -- they've yet to yield more than 20 points in a game and shut down Army and South Florida -- but the offense is still working out their new identity.

Their new lead running back, Gerrid Doaks, is a 230-pound power back who has struggled to find traction. The passing game with returning starting quarterback Desmond Ridder has been inconsistent. He's averaging 7.7 yards per attempt and has six touchdowns to four interceptions; the decision-making isn't always sharp. The Bearcats retooled their passing game for this season with Michigan transfer tackle James Hudson, who has taken over at left tackle, and Notre Dame wide receiver transfer Michael Young. They've been strongest though utilizing multi-tight end sets and throwing to senior Bruno Labelle and sophomore Josh Whyle, who have a combined 12 catches for 135 yards and three touchdowns.

Barring a brilliant defensive performance, which isn't impossible, the Bearcats will need some offensive firepower to come away from Dallas with a win. The Mustangs are 5-0 due to a blistering passing attack keyed by senior quarterback Shane Buechele. The Longhorns transfer has thrown for 1,710 yards at 9.7 yards per attempt with 12 touchdowns to two interceptions this season, making great use of Rashee Rice and Danny Gray as well as returning tight end Kylen Granson. SMU has also maintained balance in their offense with Ulysses Bentley IV at 506 rushing yards at 6.8 yards per carry with eight rushing touchdowns.

Stopping up the SMU offense will require some athleticism on the back end to match up against all of their passing game targets without vacating the box, which the Bearcats may be able to manage. It also requires the ability to heat up Buechele in the pocket; the senior passer has good footwork and can read defenses well but he has a smaller frame and can be effected when teams get hits on him and move him off his spots. Cincinnati hasn't been able to flex their pass-rushing muscle yet this season going up against schools like Army, who hardly threw the ball, or South Florida, who is keen to get the ball out fast. Defensive end Myjai Sanders had a sack in each of the last two games though, and Cincinnati has a pressure package to utilize for this contest.

The Mustangs defense has been improved since 2019, when they were dependent on creating havoc by blitzing nickel linebacker Patrick Nelson, who graduated. They scored a few major additions with Colorado State cornerback transfer Brandon Crossley, who has three interceptions already, and then converted running back and UCLA transfer Brandon Stephens. At 6-foot-0 and 206 pounds Stephens is a big defender with some NFL size that may prove essential for matching up when the Bearcats flex out tight end Josh Whyle, who's 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds.

SMU still depends on their blitz package for pressure, which could theoretically be effective against the occasionally flustered and confused Desmond Ridder, but they'll need to keep tabs on the Bearcats quarterback so that he doesn't scramble for first downs in big spots. This game could foreshadow the AAC title game; SMU still has a long road ahead, but they've been the class of the West division and Cincinnati is atop the East almost by default due to struggles from Temple and Central Florida.

Watch for:

  • Cincinnati's defense and their pressure package against SMU's senior quarterback Shane Buechele.
  • Can SMU's transfer-infused secondary match up against Cincinnati's tight ends in the passing game?
  • The Bearcats want to win by running the football but can they outpace Ulysses Bentley IV and the potent SMU run game?

FEI Outright Pick: Cincinnati by 0.3


FEI PICKS: WEEK 8

Favorite Spread Underdog FEI Pick FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Ian's Pick
Against the Spread
Oklahoma 6.5 at TCU Oklahoma TCU Oklahoma
at Ohio State 26 Nebraska Ohio State Ohio State Nebraska
Notre Dame 10.5 at Pittsburgh Notre Dame Notre Dame Notre Dame
at Oklahoma State 3.5 Iowa State Oklahoma State Oklahoma State Iowa State
Michigan 3.5 at Minnesota Michigan Michigan Minnesota
SMU 2.5 at Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati SMU

FEI picks against the spread in Week 7: 1-4

FEI picks against the spread this year: 19-14-1

Ian's picks against the spread in Week 6: 2-3

Ian's Picks against the spread this year: 18-15-1

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