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College Football Picks 2023: Week Eight

Drew Allar, Penn State

Current Picks Record: 44-19

Upsets: 4-3

Superdogs: 5-2

Locks: 6-1

(#7) Penn State Nittany Lions @ (#3) Ohio State Buckeyes

Line: Ohio State -4.5

O/U: 45.5

Three Big Ten East teams currently sit in the top seven nationally, but this weekend will go a long way in telling us how the division race will shake out. Michigan appears to still be the team to beat, but both Ohio State and Penn State remain firmly in the hunt and have an opportunity for a major resume boost on Saturday in Columbus.

We've come to know Ohio State for explosive offenses under Ryan Day, but the 2023 Buckeyes have a different feel to them. The offense has still been good, but not the potent group we've seen in recent years. Instead, it's been an elite defense that has led the way all year long, which could be the case again as Ohio State deals with extensive offensive injuries. They're hoping to have tailbacks TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, along with receiver Emeka Ebguka, back in action, but it's fair to wonder just how many snaps they'll be able to handle. All three play crucial roles; Henderson and Williams are their top two rushers, while Egbuka helps alleviate some of the pressure on Marvin Harrison Jr. out wide. That could put additional pressure on quarterback Kyle McCord, who has an up-and-down first year as starter. It's natural for McCord to have growing pains and he seems to be getting more comfortable, but the reality is that he is no C.J. Stroud, at least not yet. The offense just doesn't have the same bit to it, which is a real concern as they face a hungry Penn State defense. Manny Diaz is never afraid to dial up the pressure, and now he gets an opportunity to show out against a young quarterback? The Buckeye offensive line could be an X-Factor and McCord better be ready. This could be the toughest test he's seen yet, likely even more difficult than a Notre Dame team who held the Buckeyes to a pedestrian 366 yards.

Much like Ohio State, the focus most of the season for Penn State has been on the defensive side of the football. They're allowing just eight points per game, surrendering just 13 total over their last three games, but the offense also appears to be hitting its stride. Again, like the Buckeyes, we knew it was going to take some time for the Nittany Lion to find itself with a young quarterback, but Drew Allar has been as good as advertised. The sophomore hasn't been taking many shots down the field, but he's been remarkably efficient, completing 65% of his passes with zero turnovers. Just as important, there's a certain poise that Allar plays with that seems to permeate itself through the entire offense. That's going to be important against a Buckeye defense with a host of future NFL pieces at every single level. Up front, J.T. Tuimoloau who took over in this game a year ago, while Denzel Burke and others patrol the air waves. It will be important for Allar to develop a ryhthm early on and it would also be nice if the receiver corps could step up beyond KeAndre Lambert-Smith. That includes tight end Theo Johnson, but also wide outs Harrison Wallace III and Dante Cephas, who have been fairly quiet for much of the fall. However, Penn State does retain one significant advantage in this game: their ground attack. Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen are a two-headed monster who have overwhelmed defenses all season long. Even against a stout Buckeye front, they are the type of weapons that can make the ultimate difference in what is sure to be a tight one.

It feels like every Ohio State-Penn State game is a battle and this game should be no different. But, instead of the offenses lighting things up, it may end up being more of a defensive duel, where field position is at a premium. I actually think that type of game favors Penn State, a team with an elite ground and physical defense, but the Buckeyes are tough to pick against. They've owned the series as of late and playing at home, I like them to squeak out a victory.

The Pick: Ohio State, 28 Penn State, 27

(#17) Tennessee Volunteers @ (#11) Alabama Crimson Tide

Line: Alabama -9

O/U: 48

The "Third Saturday in October" is one of my favorite rivalries in college football. Sure, Alabama has dominated the series the last decade-and-a-half, but when both programs are on, it's one of the most intense and passionate rivalries you'll find anywhere in the nation. That appears to be case this season with both teams residing in the Top 20 and in the SEC Title mix, even with the pair suffering through pronounced ups-and-downs.

Certainly this is far from the best Alabama team Nick Saban has fielded in Tuscaloosa, but they've recovered nicely from an early-season defeat to Texas. The Tide have ripped off five straight victories, making them the team to beat in the SEC West. Jalen Milroe has locked down the quarterback position after early-season controversy and despite the growing pains, he looks to be settling in. Milroe remains quite volatile; he'll make one or two plays a series that truly wow you and then follow it up with a head-scratcher, but Alabama seems to have figured out how to live with it. It helps that Milroe can extend things with his dynamic running ability, which has given this offense another way to move the ball. Around Milroe, other pieces also appear to be hitting their stride. The ground attack has been effective, with Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams, while Jermaine Burton and Isaiah Bond give the passing game some bite. But, my main focus is going to be the offensive line, which hasn't played like a typical Alabama group over the course of the 2023 campaign. Tide fans have been spoiled with a run of elite blockers but this unit just hasn't been up to the task. That's a real concern against a team like Tennessee, who blitzes constantly and is going to be extra aggressive. Milroe may have to create out of the pocket more than usual and although it's a strength of his, it also increases the likelihood for turnovers. You also wonder how effective running the ball is going to be when the line isn't up to par. Alabama has made it work but to beat quality teams like Tennessee, they're going to need more up front.

Tennessee's offense has taken an understandable step back, not surprising considering the departures of Hendon Hooker and Jalin Hyatt over the offseason. Quarterback Joe Milton has been effective in Hooker's stead, but simply is not the weapon the departed signal-caller was, and has been maddeningly inconsistent at times. It's a mystery which Milton you're going to get each week, and he doesn't always show up for these types of huge games. The Volunteers have leaned more heavily on their running backs than in the past and Jaylen Wright has shown up in a big way, so that balance will be big. The junior has shown he can do it against elite defenses, too, rushing for 136 yards against Texas A&M a week ago. Expect that ground game to continue to be vital as the Volunteers figure out who their top guys are going to be on the perimeter. They're still reeling from the season-ending injury to Bru McCoy, which has put additional burden on names like Ramel Keyton and Squirrel White. Both bring their own strengths and have been able to produce, but the lack of depth among the receiver corps is concerning. Alabama can choose to hone in on that pair and if they're able to contain them, this offense becomes significantly less intimidating. Neither are Hyatt, either, which should give the Tide solace after they were burned by the wide out in this game last fall.

Last season's Alabama-Tennessee game was arguably the game of the year, with the Vols able to get the monkey off their back and finally secure a series victory. This season will be a tougher challenge; although the Tide are susceptible, the Volunteer offense just doesn't have the same spark, and they will also be playing on the road. Add in the fact this defense has struggled to contain running quarterbacks like Milroe, the Tide are a safe bet to avenge last year's defeat.

The Pick: Alabama, 28 Tennessee, 20

(#16) Duke Blue Devils @ (#4) Florida State Seminoles

Line: Florida State -14

O/U: 49.5

Duke has been one of the best stories in college football over the first month-and-a-half of the season, with a resounding victory over Clemson in the opener setting the stage for a 5-1 start. But now, things get serious - they face Florida State in Tallahassee this weekend and then Louisville, Wake Forest, and North Carolina over the coming weeks. It will tell us a lot about whether this team has legit ACC Title aspirations, or whether they were merely a flash in the pan.

Duke's season trajectory threatened to derail when star quarterback Riley Leonard was injured in the closing minutes of the Notre Dame loss. The dynamic dual-threat is the heart-and-soul of the offense and one of the premier signal-callers in the ACC. Fortunately, what looked like a serious injury at the time turned out to be a high ankle sprain and there's a chance Leonard could play this Saturday, which could end up making all the difference. Leonard is a notoriously difficult QB to game plan against and if he's able to go at all, Duke's chances of pulling out an upset rise exponentially. If he can't go, the Blue Devils instead turn to freshman Henry Belin IV, who started the NC State win. Belin can make things happen with his legs, but his lone start wasn't particularly encouraging, albeit against a strong NC State defense. Duke will also need more from a supporting cast to move the ball against the Seminoles, namely tailback Jordan Waters and wide outs Jalon Calhoun and Jordan Moore. It's not an especially flashy group of playmakers, at least when you compare it to other Top 20 teams, but can be very effective with Leonard at the helm. The offensive line play is also going to be crucial; Jared Verse and the rest of this Florida State defensive front are going to come after the Blue Devils, no matter who's taking snaps under center.

The Seminoles boast one of the most potent offenses anywhere in the nation, a group that's averaging over 42 points per game. Quarterback Jordan Travis doesn't seem to be receiving the Heisman attention that he received early on in the year, but he hasn't slowed down. Against Syracuse and Virginia Tech, the yardage numbers weren't gaudy, but he was in complete command in the pocket and picked apart both defenses. It helps that he has a tremendous 1-2 punch on the outside in Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman, plus do-it-all tight end Jaheim Bell. When you add in tailback Trey Benson running behind a deep and experienced offensive line, it's no wonder Florida State has been in such a groove offensively. Just as important, Mike Norvell has proven himself as one of the elite play-callers in the game. He has a superb understanding of his personnel now at Florida State and is a master tactician. It's going to be a real test for a Duke defense that has put up strong numbers, but simply doesn't have the talent that FSU boasts. Now, that doesn't mean they can't have success - they proved against Clemson that they could make the big plays when necessary and turn the tide of the game. But, Florida State is a better offense and now that we are deep into October, they won't experience the early-season jitters that doomed the Tigers.

All eyes will be on Leonard's status as we count down to kickoff, but even if he does return Duke is fighting an uphill battle. Florida State has been on an absolute tear all season long and seems focused on one goal: a National Title. That doesn't mean they are going to get caught in a trap game, either. Norvell will have his team prepared no matter who the starting QB is on the other side, and they should continue their winning ways.

The Pick: Florida State, 35 Duke, 21

Other Picks

(#14) Utah Utes @ (#18) USC Trojans -- The absolute last thing you want to do after coming off an ugly loss is play the Utah Utes. Few teams are as tough and disciplined as Kyle Whittingham's program and even with their offense struggling, I think they shut down Caleb Williams and company.

The Pick: Utah, 24 USC, 21

(#2) Michigan Wolverines @ Michigan State Spartans -- Despite all the controversy surrounding Michigan following the news that broke earlier in the week, these two teams are far apart from each other on the field.

The Pick: Michigan, 42 Michigan State, 17

Clemson Tigers @ Miami Hurricanes -- What looked like it could be the ACC Championship Game preseason is now relegated to an unranked duel on the ACC Network. Yet, Clemson has been playing well since their slow start and seems to be the more balanced team on both sides.

The Pick: Clemson, 35 Miami, 26

Upset: (#13) Ole Miss Rebels @ Auburn Tigers -- Ole Miss may be 5-1, but no part of me believes this is the 13th best team in the country. They're certainly beatable and despite Auburn's struggles, this is a program always primed for an upset opportunity. 

The Pick: Auburn, 28 Ole Miss, 20

Superdog (covers > 21 point spread): Army (+32) @ LSU Tigers -- A strange matchup for late October, but a great opportunity for LSU to get back on track. With that being said, 32 is a big number and the triple-option's ability to drain the clock makes this pick feasible.

The Pick: LSU, 38 Army, 10

Lock of the Week: Iowa Hawkeyes (-3) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers -- As much as it pains me to lock against my Golden Gophers, Iowa has dominated this series for far too long. In fact, Minnesota hasn't won in Kinnick Stadium since 1999. 

The Pick: Iowa, 14 Minnesota, 10

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