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Beating the Spread: Picking the Top Matchups in College Football’s Week 8

Sports Illustrated

Week 8 of the 2018 college football season features four matchups between teams ranked in the AP Top 25. Here is a breakdown of the top games, and odds courtesy of Vegas Insider. 

No. 6 Michigan Wolverines (-7) at No. 24 Michigan State Spartans: Mark Dantonio thrives in these types of games: a touchdown underdog, at home, against a bitter rival. His Spartans are riding high following an upset win at Penn State, but do they have enough to knock-off Michigan? The Wolverines have found new life with Shea Patterson since its Week 1 loss to Notre Dame, outscoring opponents 250-84 in the last six weeks. Michigan State will keep this close but ultimately it’s limited offense won’t be able to do much at all against the Wolverines’ thus-far dominant defense. Michigan wins but fails to cover the spread. 

No. 16 NC State Wolfpack at No. 3 Clemson Tigers (-16.5): Up to this point, NC State (5-0) appears to be Clemson’s top challenger in the ACC. But how good are they? The Wolfpack have feasted off average competition such as Virginia and Boston College so this week will be their biggest challenge yet. QB Ryan Finley (69.5 completion percentage, 8.7 YPA, 1,621 passing yards, 10 TDs) has the tools to take advantage of Clemson’s susceptible secondary. However, he will be pressured all game. The Tigers’are in need of a marquee win, and they’ll get it thanks to a balanced offense led by RB Travis Etienne. Clemson wins but fails to cover the spread. 

Colorado Buffaloes at No. 15 Washington Huskies (-15.5): Colorado came back down to earth last week, losing 31-20 at USC. Quarterback Steven Montez was sacked four times and threw for less than 200 yards. Unfortunately for Montez and the Buffaloes, Washington’s defense is superior to the Trojans (17th in total defense). Washington wins and covers the spread. 

No. 22 Mississippi State Bulldogs at No. 5 LSU Tigers (-6.5): LSU is flying high after their blowout win over Georgia last week. No one has put together a better resume than Ed Orgeron’s group, which is running the ball with great efficiency. It’s imperative LSU doesn’t get caught looking ahead with Alabama looming in two weeks. That shouldn’t be a problem, however, because the same Mississippi State team beat the Tigers 37-7 last year. The Bulldogs are averaging only 12 points per game in SEC play so expect a low-scoring affair, only this time in favor of the Bayou Bengals. LSU wins and covers the spread. 

No. 12 Oregon Ducks at No. 25 Washington State Cougars (-3): Mario Cristobal will know a little bit more about his team’s mental toughness this week. Following an emotional overtime victory over arch-rival Washington, his Ducks travel to Pullman and face an up-start Cougars squad. They are coming off a bye and feature a passing attack under QB Gardner Minshew (68.7 completion percentage, 2,422 passing yards, 19 TDs), that should strike fear into Oregon’s inconsistent secondary. However, Oregon has a balanced offense of their own, (30th in passing offense and 31st in rushing offense), plus a pass rush that’s forced 17 sacks. Oregon wins outright. 

Maryland Terps at No. 19 Iowa Hawkeyes (-10): Beware of the Hawkeyes! Iowa (5-1) is gradually moving up the polls thanks to a defense that’s ranked No. 2 in scoring defense and No. 1 in total defense in the Big Ten. Iowa’s opponent, Maryland, features an offense that’s run-heavy. This could become a problem for the Terps given that Iowa allows just 81.5 yards on the ground per game. Iowa wins and covers the spread. 

No. 18 Penn State Nittany Lions (-14.5) at Indiana Hoosiers: Penn State has suffered two heart-breaking losses in three weeks, but, here’s their chance to get back on track. The Nittany Lions have won by scores of 51-6 (at Pittsburgh) and 63-24 (at Illinois) on the road this season. Here’s guessing Trace McSorley, Miles Sanders, and that offense rediscover their groove against the Hoosiers’ 75th-ranked defense. Penn State wins and covers the spread. 

No. 20 Cincinnati Bearcats at Temple Owls (-3): Cincinnati is not only one of eight remaining unbeatens in the nation, but they’ve also won three road games this season. Desmond Ridder’s efficient play at quarterback is the difference in this one coming off a bye. Cincinnati wins outright. 

USC Trojans at Utah Utes (-6.5): Vegas isn’t giving USC a whole lot of respect this week, placing them nearly as a touchdown underdog. Although Trojans’ QB J.T. Daniels is capable of putting together a big game, USC’s inability to run the ball — it ranks 101st nationally in yards per carry, while Utah ranks second against the run — will put too much of a burden on him. Utah wins but fails to cover the spread. 

Auburn Tigers (-3.5) at Ole Miss Rebels: Which Auburn team shows up this week? Will it be the who suffocated top-10 Washington Week 1, or the one who lost to Tennessee and Mississippi State in back-to-back weeks? That’s what Tigers fans want to know. If Auburn wants any chance of securing a road victory against 5-2 Ole Miss, QB Jarrett Stidham and Auburn offense must get going. Considering the Rebels’ shaky defense, I’ll side with Auburn here. Auburn wins and covers the spread. 

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