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College Football Picks 2021: Week Eight


Bryce Young, Alabama

Current Picks Record: 42-21

Upset: 4-3

Superdogs: 6-1

(#8) Oklahoma State Cowboys @ Iowa State Cyclones

Oklahoma State has been one of the nation's biggest surprises, jumping out to a 6-0 mark and Top 10 ranking. They've now beaten three straight ranked foes, but could be in store for their toughest game of the month. They travel to Ames to face an Iowa State team who went through some early struggles, but appears to be finding their momentum in late October.

The Cowboys have been successful this season despite their worst offense of the Mike Gundy era. To be fair, they've dealt with a rash of injuries throughout the offense, most notably at receiver. However, the unit doesn't have the same explosiveness it once did, instead leaning on a steady ground attack and methodical passing game. The ground game is led by Jaylen Warren, a rock-solid tailback who has taken over workhorse duties for the 'Pokes. But, the fact of the matter is that Oklahoma State desperately needs more from QB Spencer Sanders. Sanders has a huge arm and will make one or two throws every game that wow you. Aside from that, he's just not consistent enough to strike fear into opposing defenses on a regular basis, particularly with how beat up the Cowboy receiver corps has been. I don't see any reason why Iowa State doesn't stack the box with an elite front seven and force Sanders to make tough throws. A fully healthy Tay Martin and Brennan Presley give the Cyclones something to think about, but the X-factor is Sanders. 

The good news for Oklahoma State is that their defense is probably the Big 12's best. They're a disciplined group that fills gaps very well, but they also bring more athleticism and speed to the equation than people give them credit for. Does Iowa State have the offensive firepower themselves to put up points? Quarterback Brock Purdy and tailback Breece Hall are two of the most accomplished players in the entire conference and have had quality 2021 seasons. But, the same issue for ISU has remained all season: do they have a game-changer on the perimeter that can stretch defenses vertically? Tight ends Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen are two of the best in the business, but the pass-catchers have been pretty underwhelming beyond them. Senior Xavier Hutchinson is their top receiver on the year, but has disappeared in their two losses as defenses have keyed in on him. Names like Tarique Milton or freshman Jaylin Noel have to give Oklahoma State some reason to worry over-the-top, or they'll pace it in much like the Cyclones. You would also like to see Iowa State's offensive line play better; it's a veteran group that is by no means bad, but will have their hands full working against an athletic Oklahoma State front.

It's interesting how these two programs have evolved over time. In the past, you might expect somewhat of a shootout between these two sides, especially considering they both have veteran quarterbacks. But it's clear this is not going to be a Big 12 game of old; these two are going to play tough defense, ball control, and force the opponent to beat them. I think the Cyclones have the edge at quarterback, but the Cowboy defense is more athletic and agile than the ISU group. It's a tough decision to make, but I lean Cyclones here, only because of the Ames factor. Even though it won't be a night game, there's something about the atmosphere in Jack Trice Stadium that makes it especially worrying for opposing Top 10 teams.

The Pick: Iowa State, 21 Oklahoma State, 17

(#10) Oregon Ducks @ UCLA Bruins

Although there's still lots of football left to be played and you can be certain of nothing in the Pac-12, there's a chance that this could be a Pac-12 Championship Game preview. Oregon hasn't exactly been dominating opponents since their Stanford loss, but they are 5-1 and the prohibitive favorite in the North. UCLA received a lot of attention early after their LSU win, but has lost two games and will have to fend off Utah and Arizona State in the South.

It's hard to know what you're going to get from the Oregon offense at this point in the season. Quarterback Anthony Brown has had some genuinely good moments, but he's been underwhelming since the Ohio State game. There's still questions around the program about whether it might be time for youngsters Ty Thompson or Jay Butterfield, but Brown will run the show for the time being. It doesn't help that Oregon's top running back, C.J. Verdell, is now done for the season. What was once a multi-pronged Duck ground game will be forced to lean heavily on Travis Dye to carry the load, with more of freshman Byron Cardwell sprinkled in (at least until Sean Dollars gets healthy). The receiver corps is talented enough to keep things afloat, even if there's not a clear signature guy. Veteran Johnny Johnson III is their leader in most receiving categories, but Jaylon Redd and Mycah Pittman are able to used in different ways. Then there's the offensive line, which had a tremendous game against Ohio State, but hasn't lived up to expectations since then. The UCLA defensive front isn't full of big names, but it's proven it can be a load to handle when opposing teams aren't prepared. If the Ducks don't block better and open up lanes for Dye, the pressure on Brown continues to build.

UCLA's offense has been slightly more consistent than Oregon's this season, but they're extremely one-dimensional. They rely heavily on a ground game that includes the two-headed monster of Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown. The pair is both averaging 6.4 yards per carry and are former transplants from Power Five making the most of their opportunity in Westwood. But like Oregon, quarterback play is going to be the game-changer for the Bruins. Dorian Thompson-Robinson's entire Bruin career has been a rollercoaster ride. He's had moments where he looks like one of the Pac-12's best and plenty of other times where you wonder why he's the starter. Simply look at this last two games to get an understanding of his streakiness; against a terrible Arizona team he couldn't hit anything, going 8-19 for just 82 yards. A week later against a vastly superior Washington pass defense, he had more zip on his ball and went 21-26 with a pair of touchdowns. Obviously, it's difficult to know which "DTR" is going to show up for this one against a Duck secondary that is extremely talented, but fairly beat up. It would also help if more pieces could step up on the perimeter for UCLA; tight end Greg Dulcich is a stud and Kyle Phillips can make things happen, but there's not a ton of playmaking between those two. It definitely looks like DTR feels like he has to make plays happen at times, which can get him into trouble in a hurry.

With a fairly underwhelming slate of games this week, "College GameDay" is setting up camp between these two Pac-12 programs. While that may add to the excitement, neither team is playing their best football of the season and need a momentum changer to get back on track. Common logic would dictate that Oregon going on the road with their current situation is going to be a tough one, but I'm sticking with the Ducks. I think the offense will eventually right the ship and there's way too much talent on this roster for them to have two losses going into November.

The Pick: Oregon, 28 UCLA, 20

Tennessee Volunteers @ (#4) Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama has won 14 straight games in the "Third Saturday of October" rivalry and enter the game as the heavy home favorite. Yet, this is not the same Tennessee team as past Alabama teams have seen. Josh Heupel has done a real stellar job in Year One considering all the uncertainty still lingering around the program. They have a strong enough offense to give Nick Saban and the Tide a real test, even in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama has still yet to reach their true peak offensively, but Bryce Young has earned himself serious Heisman consideration as a first-year starter. Although his stats aren't necessarily gaudy, he's proven to be incredibly consistent and reliable for someone of his age, and he rarely makes mistakes. He's still waiting on others to emerge in this offense; Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams and John Metchie have been productive, but the ground game is still looking for a real feature guy. Brian Robinson Jr. is their most reliable ground option but don't be surprised if Roydell Williams continues to see his role grow, especially now that Jase McClellan is injured. Williams went for 78 yards against Mississippi State last weekend and is currently averaging 6.4 yards per rush, making him one of the true big play threats on this offense. We will also have to see which version of Alabama's offensive line comes out; this group is incredibly talented and loaded with future NFL linemen, but they were completely outplayed by both Florida and Texas A&M. I suspect they still have the edge in this spot, but this Volunteer pass rush has been much improved in 2021.

Since making the switch from Joe Milton to Hendon Hooker, the Tennessee offense has been incredibly productive. They're currently averaging nearly 40 points per game and went toe-to-toe with one of the SEC's best offenses in Ole Miss last Saturday. Hooker's the type of quarterback that has shown he can give the Tide troubles; he isn't super accurate, but has a rocket of an arm and can make plays with his legs. The Alabama secondary could be susceptible, as we saw with their showing against Zach Calzada and A&M, so I'm curious how aggressive Hooker and the Vols will be down the field. Either way, their ground game is going to provide them the rhythm they need to move the ball against the Tide. It is currently the nation's No. 5 rush offense, totaling nearly 250 yards per game. However, their breakout star on offense, Tiyon Evans, is currently listed as questionable. He missed the Ole Miss game and even if he does come back for this one, you have to wonder how effective he'll be. That puts even more of the playmaking load on Hooker and backup Jabari Small. It's not necessarily a death sentence, but against a defense with the talent of Alabama's, you need all the weapons you can get. In fact, I'm very curious to see how the Tide defense performs here. Going into the season, I thought this had a chance to be the best 'Bama defense since the early Saban days, but they've been a disappointment. If they struggle against Tennessee, there will be a very serious conversation about Pete Goulding and his future as defensive coordinator.

It goes without saying that Alabama has dominated this rivalry since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, but this has a chance to be interesting. This is not a great Tennessee team, but they're fun-to-watch and play with a lot more attitude than past Volunteer groups. They'll keep it close against Alabama, especially if Evans is able to go. The Tide are certainly still the smarter pick, but this team clearly is not invincible, and Tennessee will be motivated.

The Pick: Alabama, 38 Tennessee, 27

Other Picks

(#6) Michigan, 28 Northwestern, 14 -- I like the Wolverines to keep it going as the powerful pass rush overwhelms a struggling Northwestern offense.

Clemson, 27 (#23) Pittsburgh, 24 -- Kenny Pickett's transformation into upper echelon ACC quarterback has been a great story, but people seem to forget how well the defense has played this season. They just need the offense to find some sort of rhythm.

(#5) Ohio State, 37 Indiana, 20 -- Indiana gave Ohio State quite the scare in 2020, but this offense is a shell of what it was a year ago. Ohio State goes into Bloomington and comes away unscathed.

(#12) Ole Miss, 35 LSU, 21 -- How does LSU wrap up the season? The starting lineup is riddled with injuries and it's confirmed Ed Orgeron won't be back. I don't envision them going into Oxford and upsetting the Rebels. 

Upset: Miami, 29 NC State, 21 -- Although the Hurricanes sit at 2-4, their last two losses have come on a combined five points. This is a better football team than they've shown so far this season, even with a true freshman, Tyler Van Dyke, steering the offense. I'll take my chances with the 'Canes down in Coral Gables.

Superdog (covers > spread): UMass (+35.5) vs. Florida State -- UMass is a bad football, but are we so confident Florida State has turned a corner that they beat the Minutemen by more than five scores? That's a large line for a Florida State that has 0-4 two weeks ago.

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