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College Football Picks 2019: Week Eight

Current Picks Record: 39-17 (4-4 Upset)
(#16) Michigan Wolverines @ (#7) Penn State Nittany Lions
Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
Now over halfway into the 2019 season, this Michigan-Penn State duel will be essentially an elimination game for Big Ten East Title contention. To be fair, Penn State is already in a better spot, sitting undefeated overall and flawless in league play up to this point. A team that has long been run by explosive offenses, the Nittany Lions' success this season has actually been on the defensive end, where they are holding opponents to just 8.2 points per game. They're especially strong and physical in the front seven, headlined by defensive linemen Shaka Toney and Yetur Gross-Matos, as well as linebacker Micah Parsons. That athletic, quick defensive front will pose an extremely difficult challenge for a Michigan offense already struggling to find its rhythm. With the exception of a give-me game against Rutgers, the Wolverines have eclipsed 40 points just once. Is this the game where Shea Patterson is finally going to get it going? He is going to need a lot of help from an inconsistent offensive line, as well as his receivers. The weakness for PSU defensively is their secondary, which is solid, but far from elite. If Tarik Black or Nico Collins are able to find some seams, Michigan could finally start making big plays. However, just as confusing for this UM offense has been the overall lack of a run attack. A hallmark of Jim Harbaugh teams for years, the Wolverines leading rusher is true freshman Zach Charbonnet, who has just 376 yards. It may be time for Harbaugh and OC Josh Gattis to start getting creative. Maybe some trick plays or new formations will finally open up this offense once and for all. Defensively, Michigan has been up-and-down for much of the year but showed how dominant they could be in a victory over Iowa a couple weekends ago. Don Brown defenses always know how to get after the quarterback, and this unit is no exception. Brown should blitz especially heavy in this matchup, considering the fact the Penn State O-Line struggled with Iowa last Saturday. In the pocket, Sean Clifford has been solid, but is still a young QB facing perhaps the toughest defense he's seen in his career. He will have the backing of the Penn State crowd behind him, as well as help from do-it-all K.J. Hamler, but Clifford is still going to have to make big throws. At running back, Noah Cain is starting to emerge from this committee as the clear-cut feature back. The Nittany Lions have leaned on him whenever they need their offense to get going, and he has proven he can carry the load. The Wolverines' rush defense could use some work, so I wouldn't be surprised to see this being the coming-out party for Cain. Overall, this all the makings of a low-scoring affair. Both defenses are going to bring the heat, and both offenses just haven't looked consistent this fall. Even so, the smart money has to be on Penn State. Not only are they playing in a raucous home environment, they seem to be entering with significantly more momentum.
The Pick: Penn State, 23 Michigan, 14

(#12) Oregon Ducks @ (#25) Washington Huskies
As the only undefeated team left in Pac-12 action, Oregon sits as the conference's truly last hope to put a team in the College Football Playoff in 2019. Yet, their toughest division test stands in the way, as Washington hopes to get their season back on track in Seattle. Oregon is another team long-known for their offense that has moved to a defense-first mentality so far in '19. New defensive coordinator Andy Avalos has been terrific, dialing up perfectly timed blitzes and running complicated schemes that befuddle opposing offenses. He is going to force Washington to beat them through the air, which puts UW's hopes mainly on QB Jacob Eason's shoulders. Eason has had his moments, but has still been incredibly streaky, and hasn't played well against tough defenses. Aaron Fuller, Hunter Bryant and big-play freshman Puka Nacua will offer plenty of support, but the O-Line has to be able to deal with a ferocious Duck pass rush if Eason is able to come out of this one alive. On the other side of the ball, the Husky defense has fared well despite massive losses over the off-season. Defensive backs Myles Bryant and Cameron Williams have proven they can turn over opposing quarterbacks, and they may need to do just that in order to swing momentum in their favor. However, Justin Herbert has looked like a seasoned pro, tossing 17 TD's to just one INT at this point in the year. He leads an Oregon offense that can hit you in a variety of ways. C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye have proven to be a pretty potent 1-2 punch at running back, while Johnny Johnson and Jaylon Redd can open things up on the outside. Unfortunately, Oregon will not have the luxury of utilizing one of the nation's top tight ends, as Jacob Breeland, the favorite for the John Mackey Award, was recently ruled out for the season. Breeland played a crucial role as Herbert's security blanket in this offense, and it will be interesting to see what type of effect his loss has on this Duck offense. I will say, not only does Washington get this huge Pac-12 North duel at home, but they also seem to have the advantage on the sidelines. Mario Cristobal has done a really job leading this Oregon program back into the national picture, but he simply has not shown he can win big games just that. This is a golden opportunity to prove that storyline wrong.
The Pick: Oregon, 34 Washington, 21

(#17) Arizona State Sun Devils @ (#13) Utah Utes
While Oregon versus Washington will act as a Pac-12 North Championship Game, this matchup between Arizona State and Utah may end up doing much the same in the South Division. Both of these teams have responded well to early-season losses, but only one can improve to a 3-1 conference record. With the exception of their performance in the loss to USC, the Ute offense has played very well this season. Veteran signal-caller Tyler Huntley continues to be one of the most underrated in the entire country, with zero turnovers to this point. Yet, the real strength of the Utah attack hinges on tailback Zack Moss and a powerful rushing attack. Moss is averaging 7.6 yards per carry, and is fresh off a two-touchdown showing in a win over Oregon State. Herm Edwards preaches toughness, and his Arizona State defense has responded, but they just might not have enough to get in the way of this furious ground-and-pound offense. Utah can also hit you with an underrated group of receivers, namely home run threat Bryan Thompson, who is averaging over 28 yards per reception. For the Sun Devils, their offense has been surprisingly efficient, even with a true freshman behind center. That true frosh, Jayden Daniels, is a dual threat who has also done a great job of protecting the football. Daniels has also benefitted from the play of wide out Brandon Aiyuk, who has come out of nowhere to rank second in receiving yardage in the Pac-12. Add in under appreciated running back running back Eno Benjamin and this is an offense with some serious weapons. Don't expect that to intimidate the Utes, however. This is a defense that year-in, year-out gets results, and their 13.2 points allowed per game is ninth nationally. They are incredibly strong against the run, ranking second in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (52.8), only behind Wisconsin. This is a defensive front that fills gaps extremely well and has proven they can tackle in space. If the ASU running game ends up struggling early on, even more pressure is going to be on Daniels to make things happen, which has to play right into Utah's hands. I still think the Sun Devils own defense gives them a fighting chance no matter what happens, but going into Salt Lake City is a lot more difficult than most realize. Doing it with a true freshman leading the way is even harder.
The Pick: Utah, 28 Arizona State, 24

Other Picks
West Virginia @ (#5) Oklahoma: Oklahoma, 45 West Virginia, 27
(#9) Florida @ South Carolina: Florida, 31 South Carolina, 20
Temple @ (#19) SMU: SMU, 28 Temple, 27
(#22) Missouri @ Vanderbilt: Missouri, 41 Vanderbilt, 17
Upset: Oklahoma State, 35 Baylor, 33

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