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College Football Picks 2017: Week Eight

Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame
College Football Picks 2017: Week Eight
Current Record: 40-16

(6-1) 11 USC Trojans vs. (5-1) 13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
@Notre Dame Stadium (South Bend), 6:30 PM Saturday on NBC

Since we are halfway through this college football season, we have a pretty good idea at how the Playoff picture is shaping up. There are the clear-cut favorites (Alabama, Penn State, Georgia, even Clemson) but there is a longer list of teams on the outside-looking in looking for opportunities to impress the Committee. That is the case for both teams in this one, as this Week Eight rivalry clash is essentially an elimination game in the Playoff chase, as both teams already have one loss. The Trojans may still have the best shot of any Pac-12 team at this point, as they appear to be the clear favorite in the South Division and own a solid non-conference victory over Texas (something Washington nor Washington State can boast). Sam Darnold will once more be behind center, as he hopes to continue to impress onlooking NFL scouts. Darnold has limited his turnovers over the past few weeks and has played very well, but ND's defense may be the most improved unit in the country this season. After the group consistently allowed big play after big play a season ago, new D-coordinator Mike Elko has completely revamped the group. They should be able to apply some pressure on Darnold, especially with USC's offensive line not known for being very good. The Irish rush defense is also terrific, and has only allowed one rushing touchdown all year long. That puts them in great position against a USC ground attack still figuring things out. On the offensive side of the ball, ND will turn to quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who hasn't been 100 percent, but is ultra-talented. Wimbush isn't a terrific passer, but makes up for it with his impressive running ability, which will give this Trojans' defense plenty to think about. Wimbush will be aided by big-play running back Josh Adams, who is averaging a whopping nine yards per carry. Add in possession receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, who can also break things open when he gets in the open field, and the Irish have plenty that can threaten a USC defense that can be susceptible to the big play. This game should be a battle, not only because both are intense rivals, but because it is a game that has so much on the line. For 'SC, a victory not only makes them 7-1, but makes running a table a distinct possibility. For the Irish, a victory gives them important momentum for a tough end-of-the year stretch that includes NC State, Miami and Stanford. I think USC may be the slightly more talented team, but I like Notre Dame in an "upset". Their defense has been impressive all season long, and Wimbush and Adams should be able to make enough plays to get the job done.

The Pick: Notre Dame, 31 USC, 26

(6-0) 2 Penn State Nittany Lions vs. (5-1) 19 Michigan Wolverines
@Beaver Stadium (State College), 6:30 PM Saturday on ABC

It has been a magical first half of the season for Penn State, as the Nittany Lions have jumped out to a 6-0 start and have Heisman favorite Saquon Barkley running all over. But, they've done most of their work against a pretty weak schedule, with their best win to this point being on the road against Iowa, a good, not great team. The Nittany Lions now take on a daunting stretch that includes this game against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. Winning all three would essentially clinch the Big Ten East, but that is much easier said than done. Electrifying quarterback Trace McSorley, Barkley and talented pass-catchers Saeed Blacknall and Mike Gesicki give OC Joe Moorhead tons of firepower to work with, and the unit has been absolutely dominant all season long. However, they didn't play great offensively against Iowa, and you could make the argument that UM's defense is even stronger than the Hawkeyes. The Wolverines have depth and talent everywhere on that side of the ball, particularly up front, where they feature a D-Line composed of future NFL starters, such as Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich and Mo Hurst. Defensive coordinator Don Brown loves to pressure opponents, and he will definitely try and get in McSorley's face and beat him. The bigger question is how Brown and Jim Harbaugh will choose to shut down Barkley, because he is so versatile. If they take away the ground attack, he can catch the ball and break one open. If they shut him down in both, he can still dominate on special teams. That is quite a tall order for Michigan, but they should be up for it. On offense, the Wolverines are still searching for their offense. QB John O'Korn has done an okay job running the offense, but his arm doesn't really scare you on defense. It would not be surprising to see Penn State stack the box, especially with the speed they have in the back, which includes All-Conference defenders such as safety Marcus Allen and linebacker Jason Cabinda. Michigan will lean heavily on their ground game, where youngsters Karan Higdon and Chris Evans have impressed. That may move the ball pretty well, but there is no way Michigan is going to be able to keep up with PSU's offense unless O'Korn can make some big plays through the air. I am not saying that the veteran won't be able to do that, but he just hasn't proven himself enough. I really think this game is going to be similar to the Iowa-PSU one, except the Nittany Lions will have home-field this time around. It shouldn't be a shootout, but more of a classic Big Ten clash, with plenty of big hits and not a ton of offense. Even so, Barkley and the rest of this Penn State offense should still find a way to break through and give the home folks plenty to cheer about.

The Pick: Penn State, 27 Michigan, 17

(5-0) 20 UCF Knights vs. (5-1) Navy Midshipmen
@Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (Annapolis), 2:30 PM on CBSSN

While USC-Notre Dame and PSU-Michigan will garner plenty of attention, if you're looking for a more under-the-radar game that has important implications look no further than this AAC brawl. UCF has been a pleasant surprise early on this season, jumping out to a 5-0 mark under the leadership of coach Scott Frost, who is sure to get plenty of job offers this off-season. They look like perhaps the most complete Group of Five team in the nation, but they still need to overcome 6-0 South Florida in the tough AAC East. For Navy, the Midshipmen continue to be as consistent as ever, getting off to a flawless 5-0 start before their loss this past weekend to Memphis. As usual, Navy will feature their triple-option offense that given more than a few defenses fits. Underrated quarterback Zach Abey has led the offense to near perfection early on, and the Midshipmen always have other runners that can burst things open, which includes Malcolm Perry and Chris High this year. UCF spent the whole week preparing for that triple-option, with Frost even filling in as scout-team quarterback but it is still a tough transition to face Navy going full speed. That could put more pressure on the Knights' offense, but don't expect that to be a huge problem. UCF has been superb offensively all season long, thanks in large part to sophomore QB McKenzie Milton. Milton, a Hawaiian native, is only 5'11" but has a rocket for an arm. He can break open games with that arm, or get out in space and hurt you running the football. Along with Milton, UCF will look for big games from a number of other offensive weapons, which includes running back Adrian Killins Jr., receiver Tre'Quan Smith and the ultra-versatile true freshman Otis Anderson, who does both. The Navy defense is well-coached and disciplined, but it is prone to the big play and doesn't have the speed on that side of the ball that UCF possesses offensively. Another major key for the Midshipmen will be not turning the ball over. If not for their five turnovers against Memphis, there is a very good chance they would have won that game and we'd be talking about a Top 25, undefeated matchup. These are two great programs, with two great head coaches on the sideline and it would not be surprising to see them square off once more in the AAC Championship Game (as of right now, UCF is second in the East, Navy first in the West). It should be exciting and include plenty of fireworks, but I have slightly more confidence in the Knights. Their defense is in for quite the challenge, but their offense should be able to help them secure the victory.

The Pick: UCF, 40 Navy, 31

Other Picks
(#1) Alabama, 49 Tennessee, 14
(#8) Miami, 34 Syracuse, 24
(#9) Oklahoma, 35 Kansas State, 31
(#24) LSU, 27 Ole Miss, 20
(#15) Washington State, 38 Colorado, 23

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