Noah Gardner gives his Week 8 picks in college football. Follow him on Twitter at @pointguardner.
#23 NC State at #14 North Carolina (-14.5) – 11 a.m. ESPN
Pick: North Carolina
Top-five North Carolina seemed like a stretch, but losing to Florida State seemed even further from the mark. The Tar Heels are still a good football team, and, back at home, they will return to winning ways behind the arm of Sam Howell and the effective passing game. The North Carolina defense is stingier than their Wolfpack counterparts, giving up 26 points per game compared to 31.4.
Auburn (-3) at Ole Miss – 11 a.m. SEC Network
To this point, Ole Miss has exhibited more firepower than Auburn, but the Tigers have untapped potential. At 2-2 overall, it feels like Auburn is a loss away from falling apart. We’ve yet to see that happen in the Gus Malzahn tenure. Like a cat with nine lives, Auburn always seems to find a way to survive. There’s a mismatch between Auburn’s rushing attack, which places at fourth in the SEC in yards per carry (4.64), and Ole Miss’ rush defense (265 rush yards allowed per game) that will prove to be the difference.
Oklahoma (-6.5) at TCU – 11 a.m. ABC
Against Texas, we saw Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler spend some time on the sideline after a shaky start. He re-entered the ball game and led the Sooners to victory. The vibe with Oklahoma is that they are beginning to turn a corner, and the game against TCU can push them back above .500. These teams are heading in opposite directions.
#2 Alabama (-21.5) at Tennessee – 2:30 p.m. CBS
As if things could not get worse for Tennessee after the 34-7 debacle against Kentucky last week, but now, the Vols must play Alabama in their annual “rivalry” game. The Tennessee that looked like it could win the SEC East with a lead over Georgia at halftime is long gone. Tennessee has scored seven points in the last six quarters of football. There are serious problems with this offense, which won’t be able to keep up with Alabama’s torrent pace.
#17 Iowa State at #6 Oklahoma State (-3.5) – 2:30 p.m. FOX
Pick: Oklahoma State
The key to winning football games is still defense and running the football, unless you are Alabama that can score 80 points a game. Oklahoma State does both of those things well with one of the most steady rushing attacks (213 yards per game) and one of the best statistical defenses (9.0 points allowed per game) in the country. This is Oklahoma State’s toughest test to date with both teams undefeated in conference play. The Big 12 race narrows after this game.
Kentucky at Missouri – 3 p.m. SEC Network
After an 0-2 start, Kentucky is on an upward trajectory, walloping Tennessee 34-7 last week. Kentucky’s defense is second in the SEC in interceptions (9). Over the past two weeks, Kentucky has been effective in making opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable, exposing K.J. Costello and Jarrett Guarantano in the process. With a freshman at quarterback, Missouri has a tall task in front of them against the Kentucky pass defense.
South Carolina at LSU (-4.5) – 6 p.m. ESPN
Pick: South Carolina
If LSU quarterback Myles Brennan was playing in this game, I would be fairly confident in LSU’s ability to outscore South Carolina. Now after a week that has featured self-imposed penalties for the Tigers, the distractions at quarterback and surrounding the program will be too much for LSU.
#18 Michigan (-3.5) at #21 Minnesota – 6:30 p.m. ABC
Michigan is breaking in a new starting quarterback and four new starters on the offensive line. Minnesota, on the other hand, is bringing back nine starters on the offensive side of the ball, including 3,200-yard passer Tanner Morgan and 1,200-yard receiver Rashod Bateman. I expect the P.J. Fleck-led Golden Gophers to have a more refined product entering the beginning of the regular season in the Big Ten.
#9 Cincinnati at #16 SMU (-2.5) – 8 p.m. ESPN2
SMU’s prolific offense (42.6 points per game) meets Cincinnati’s staunch defense (12.3 points allowed per game). Neither team has been tested by the best of the American Athletic Conference, but that changes on Saturday night. After watching Alabama overcome Georgia’s defense last Saturday, I’m being snookered into beautiful offensive numbers. Cincinnati has struggled on that side of the ball, scoring 24 against Army and 28 against USF over the last two games. SMU has too many weapons.