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2022 College Football Picks: Week Eight

Bo Nix, Oregon
Current Picks Record: 37-26

Upset: 4-3

Superdogs: 3-4

Lock: 2-5

(#9) UCLA Bruins @ (#10) Oregon Ducks

Line: Oregon -6.5

O/U: 71

With USC's loss to Utah last weekend, UCLA takes over as the lone undefeated in the Pac-12 and the league's best opportunity to make the College Football Playoff. They get their toughest game of the season in Week Eight, as they travel to Eugene to square off against an Oregon Ducks team that has been fantastic since the season-opening loss to Georgia.

The Bruins have been led by a balanced, productive offense that includes backfield mates Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet. "DTR" has silenced detractors with his play this fall, throwing for 1,510 yards and 15 touchdowns, while adding 231 and four more with his legs. In the past, his play in big games and decision-making were two notable concerns, but that hasn't been the case in 2022. He's taking care of the ball and playing the best in the biggest moments, including going for 299 and four touchdowns against Utah. His dual-threat ability softens up defenses, while Charbonnet pounds away with his bruising rushing ability. The former Michigan transfer has topped 100 yards in three consecutive weeks and is fresh off a dominant showing against the Utes. It will be interesting to see how the pair plays against an Oregon defense that has been terrific since the opening week. Oregon is more athletic than Utah on the back-end, but the key will be in the trenches. UCLA has been surprisingly physical en route to their 6-0 start, typically not a hallmark of Chip Kelly teams. They pounded Utah two weeks ago and while Oregon has plenty of size to counter, it will be the most difficult test they've seen since Georgia.

The Duck offense has been scorching hot the last five games, topping 40 in each contest. Quarterback Bo Nix is a magnet for criticism, but there shouldn't be any denying just how effective he has been in 2022. He's improved as a passer down-the-field, but his rushing ability has helped energize this Oregon offense. He's run all over Stanford and Arizona in consecutive weeks to the tune of five touchdowns, but faces a much more significant challenge in UCLA. Even so, the Bruins are going to have to find a way to not only contain Nix, but also stop the deep stable of backs the Ducks boast. Bucky Irving leads the team in attempts and is their home run threat, but he's far from the only option the Ducks can throw at you. Noah Whittington has offered a nice change-of-pace, as has Sean Dollars. There's also still hope that Byron Cardwell could return from injury this weekend, as he hasn't played since their blowout victory over Eastern Washington. On the perimeter, Troy Franklin and former Bruin Chase Cota offer enough playmaking to keep defenses honest, but the reality is that Oregon will go as the rushing attack goes. The Bruins have done an elite job containing the rush all season, but they haven't faced a running back with the athleticism and depth of the Ducks. Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham is also very creative in getting his running backs out in space in unique ways. This offense uses shifts and different blocking schemes to consistently keep defenses off-balance, and they'll likely be throwing some new things at UCLA in this one.

UCLA has been a great story all season long, but I fear their perfect record won't last into next week. Oregon is the most talented team, top-to-bottom, in the Pac-12 and they've looked unstoppable over the last month. To be fair, the Bruins present a tougher test than who the Ducks have been playing, but Oregon also gets the advantage of getting them in Autzen Stadium. 

The Pick: Oregon, 31 UCLA, 27 (UCLA cover)

(#14) Syracuse Orange @ (#5) Clemson Tigers

Line: Clemson -13.5

O/U: 49.5

Despite building a strong resume over the season's first month-and-a-half, Clemson doesn't seem to be getting quite as much national respect as recent years. Even so, they have an opportunity to essentially lock up the ACC Atlantic in late October as they welcome in their greatest competition in the division, Syracuse.

D.J. Uiagalelei faced an entire offseason hearing whispers of a quarterback competition at Clemson, and has responded with a fantastic 2022. He's looked much more accurate and confident as a passer, but it's his rushing ability that has added an interesting element to this Tiger offense. At 6'4", 235 pounds, he's always been a load to bring down, but he seems to have more burst this year, forcing defenses to key in on the run more than a season ago. It also helps that his receiver corps has been healthier and more consistent this fall, elevating a passing attack that lagged all of 2021. Antonio Williams looks like a lock to be a Freshman All-American, while Beaux Collins and Joseph Ngata can challenge opposing defenses down-the-field. Add in two capable tight ends in Davis Allen and Jake Briningstool and Clemson has no shortage of weapons, which was simply not the case last fall. At running back, Will Shipley continues to be a focal point of the attack, and he got back into a rhythm against Florida State last weekend after two down games. All of these Clemson weapons are rolling right now, but they face arguably their toughest test of the regular season in the Orange defense. This is a well-coached group and one with a lot more athleticism on the back-end than most give them credit for. I wouldn't be surprised if Clemson relies heavily on their ground game once again, as they have for most of the season.

After two down seasons, Syracuse has been the ACC's biggest surprise this fall. Dino Babers' group is not necessarily flashy with anything they do, but they have a very capable offense and take care of the football. Quarterback Garrett Shrader is a bit different than past quarterbacks Babers has had here at Syracuse; he's not much of a gunslinger, but takes his chances when he needs to and does most of his damage with his legs. Shrader is hoping he can get back on track this week after throwing for two interceptions against a ball-hawking NC State defense. At running back, Sean Tucker is potentially the most underrated player in the entire country, a consistent contributor who has been the fuel of the offense the entire season. He's gone for 644 yards and six scores on the year, but has struggled against some of the better defenses on the schedule, most notably Purdue and Virginia. Going up against Clemson will be the ultimate test for the sophomore; the Tigers are allowing just 82.7 yards per game on the ground and are the healthiest they've been all season along the defensive front. Shrader and Tucker simply are not going to have the same opportunities they've had the entire season and the offensive line isn't going to be able to get the same push. That will force play-caller Robert Anae to open up the playbook a bit more in this one. He's known as one of the most innovative minds in college football and should be able to manufacture yards in creative ways, but I don't suspect a shootout in this game. With both defenses, I suspect it's going to more of a field position battle and defensive contest than a game that is lighting up the scoreboard.

Syracuse has played Clemson tough throughout the Babers era, including a shocking upset in 2017. But, this just doesn't have the feel of a game where the Orange are able to go into Death Valley and come away with a decisive victory. The defense will be able to keep things competitive, but I just don't see the offense doing enough to win the game, especially with the Tigers slowly getting healthier on the back-end. 

The Pick: Clemson, 35 Syracuse, 21

(#17) Kansas State Wildcats @ (#8) TCU Horned Frogs

Line: TCU -3.5

O/U: 53

Few teams have had a more difficult October stretch than TCU, who is now playing in their fourth game against a ranked foe. Granted, Oklahoma and Kansas were both a bit overrated, but the Horned Frogs still deserve plenty of credit for getting to Week Eight undefeated. Next up is No. 17 Kansas State, who is tied with the Horned Frogs atop the Big 12 standings at 3-0. 

TCU quarterback Max Duggan has taken advantage of an injury to starter Chandler Morris, putting together his best season since he arrived in Fort Worth. The veteran has always been a tough rusher, which hasn't changed this fall, but his passing ability seems to have been taken up a notch. He's thrown for 1,591 yards and 16 touchdowns up to this point, with just one interception and a 70% completion percentage. He's been arguably the best QB in the Big 12 up to this point and is commanding a fun, productive TCU offense. Joining Duggan is a deep and dynamic running back corps, spearheaded by Kendre Miller. Miller is averaging 6.4 yards per carry despite being the feature back in the offense, while Duggan and Emari Demercado provide complementary playmaking on the ground. Quentin Johnston has been arguably the nation's best receiver over the last several weeks, while versatile Taye Barber can hurt defenses in a wide variety of ways. Overall, it's a fun offense, one that plays a bit different than past Sonny Dykes-coaches teams, but just as effective. They should have an interesting battle against this Kansas State defense, a group that's short on star power but always plays hard. I don't envision quite as many big plays as we've seen in past TCU contests, but for this unit to be more methodical and conservative in how they approach the Wildcats. That doesn't mean they won't put up points, but the game-plan may look a bit different this weekend.

It looked like Kansas State's season might go sideways following an unimpressive 17-10 loss to Tulane in mid-September, but Chris Klieman's team has responded in a big way. They've won three straight and now travel to TCU with a chance at sole possession of first place in the conference. Oft-criticized signal-caller Adrian Martinez has been an excellent addition to the offense. He's still not much of a passer, but his speed and vision in the open-field has still helped open up the Wildcat playbook. He ran all over Oklahoma and Texas Tech in consecutive weeks, then proved he could do it against strong defenses too, by going for 77 yards against Iowa State. TCU has a capable front seven, but finding a way to contain Martinez while demonstrating some respect to the passing game is difficult, especially when you throw in Deuce Vaughn. The 5'6" junior was held in check by the Cyclones a week ago, but remains one of the most exciting players in college football. He truly is the type of player that can break open games anytime he touches the ball and TCU has undoubtedly been game-planning for him the entire week. 

This game feels like a complete coin-flip to me. I've picked TCU the last several weeks and it has paid off, but someone is going to get the Horned Frogs at some point in the near future. Kansas State is a super tough opponent at this point in the season, but they're an extremely one-dimensional team and they have to go into Amon G. Carter Stadium. Even so, I'm actually taking the road underdog to come away with a massive victory. Martinez and Vaughn should be able to carve up a TCU defense that has been mediocre all season, and the disciplined Wildcat defense should slow down Duggan and company enough to secure the win.

The Pick: Kansas State, 24 TCU, 20

Other Picks

Iowa @ (#2) Ohio State -- This has been an opponent that has traditionally played Ohio State tough, but it's hard to believe Iowa has much chance at springing an upset this fall. The defense might be able to contain Ohio State's weapons for a half, but the Buckeyes should run away with it.

The Pick: Ohio State, 38 Iowa, 13

(#24) Mississippi State @ (#6) Alabama -- A very tough opponent for Alabama following their first loss of the season, but Nick Saban should have this Tide team back with a vengeance. Bryce Young is also a week healthier and should be able to do plenty of damage against an inconsistent Bulldog defense.

The Pick: Alabama, 34 Mississippi State, 24

(#20) Texas @ (#11) Oklahoma State -- This game is overshadowed by TCU-Kansas State, but also has crucial implications in the Big 12. The Longhorns messed around last week with Iowa State, but they are still the far and away better team, even in Stillwater.

The Pick: Texas, 30 Oklahoma State, 20

Upset: SMU over (#21) Cincinnati -- Although they remain in the hunt for a New Year's Six Bowl at 5-1, Cincinnati has been very underwhelming at this point in the season. SMU may be maddeningly inconsistent, but I like their upset chances at home.

The Pick: SMU, 28 Cincinnati, 24

Superdog (covers > 21 point spread): UNLV (+27.5) @ Notre Dame -- A clear mismatch in terms of brand reputation, but as far as on-field play goes, I'm a bit surprised at this spread. UNLV has been terrible the last two weeks, but they are hopeful to get QB Doug Brumfield back from a concussion, and Notre Dame's offense continues to be lethargic.

The Pick: Notre Dame, 27 UNLV, 10

Lock of the Week (has to be a favorite): Penn State (-5) vs. Minnesota -- I hate locking up anybody against my Gophers, but the reality is that Minnesota QB Athan Kaliakmanis could be making his first collegiate start in a Penn State "Whiteout" game. Even if Tanner Morgan is able to go, the Gopher offense has lacked the energy needed to go on the road and win in one of college football's harshest environments.

The Pick: Penn State, 31 Minnesota, 21

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