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College Football Picks 2023: Week Seven

Bo Nix, Oregon
Current Picks Record: 37-17

Upsets: 3-3

Superdogs: 5-1

Locks: 5-1

(#8) Oregon Ducks @ (#7) Washington Huskies

Line: Washington -3

O/U: 67

Oregon and Washington have looked like two of the best teams in the country en route to their 5-0 starts, and now resume a fierce rivalry series this weekend in Seattle. The Huskies erased a three-game losing streak in the series and spoiled Oregon's CFB Playoff hopes with an upset last fall, providing additional motivation for a Ducks team with National Championship aspirations.

Michael Penix Jr. enters the weekend as the betting favorite to take home the Heisman Trophy, leading an explosive Washington offense that averages 46 points per game. The veteran has looked in complete control all season long, and it helps that the Huskies feature the best wide receiver trio in the nation with Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan, and Ja'Lynn Polk. Don't expect the Huskies to alter their gameplan much heading into this one; they're going to continue to aggressively attack down the field, and this Duck pass defense has looked susceptible at times this year. With that being said, it does feel like this offense still needs to develop some semblance of balance, particularly as they face down better defenses throughout the meat of their schedule. Dillon Johnson is the team's top rusher and fresh off a two-touchdown showing against Arizona, I expect him to play an outsized role in this one. Washington's offense is unlikely to be able to create as many big plays against the Ducks as they have over the season's first five weeks, so having a short-yardage option like Johnson will be crucial. Just as important will be Washington's offensive line performance, a group facing their toughest test of the fall in this one. Oregon has legit NFL talent throughout the front seven and is going to come after Penix and company. How the Huskies handle the rush could be a deciding factor.

For as impressive as the Washington offense has been this season, Oregon's offense has been even better, currently pacing the country in scoring offense with 51 points per game. Bo Nix remains firmly entrenched in the Heisman mix and is looking for the type of signature showing that can move him up the board. He's joined by an elite cast of characters at the skill positions, both in the backfield and on the outside. The trio of Bucky Irving, Noah Whittington, and Jordan James is a terrifying group to go up against as an opposing defense. All three can bring it to the house each time they touch the ball and Oregon's ability to consistently switch between each of them keeps them fresh deep into games. At receiver, Troy Franklin has been one of the best receivers anywhere in the country so far this fall, with complementary pieces like Gary Bryant and Tez Johnson providing enough to keep opposing secondaries honest. Add in a strong, veteran-laden offensive line, it's no surprise the Ducks have been so effective on this side of the ball this fall, and I think they'll have opportunities to move the ball against the Huskies. Statistically, Washington is putting up good numbers, but their performance against Arizona showed some underlying issues. Do they have the play up front to counter the Huskies for an entire four quarters? There appears to be a clear advantage there for the Ducks.

Although both defenses have been effective so far in 2023, I'm a bit surprised the over/under was set at just 67. Both offenses are going to light things up and are fresh and rested, both coming off respective bye weeks. Yet, I'm slightly more confident in what Oregon has on that side of the ball, and I believe their offensive balance gives them a distinct advantage in big moments. Even on the road, I'm taking the Ducks to avenge last year's defeat and hit the second half of their regular season at a perfect 6-0.

The Pick: Oregon, 38 Washington, 34

(#10) USC Trojans @ (#21) Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Line: Notre Dame -3

O/U: 63

USC enters the weekend a perfect 6-0, but no Top 10 team nationally has as many questions as the Trojans, who have dropped in the polls for three consecutive weeks. Now, they go on the road to face off with a Notre Dame team dealing with a brutal stretch of games, fresh off a loss to Louisville. One team will have to come out on top and hope it's the springboard towards improvements in the second half of 2023.

Offense has not been the issue at USC, as the group averages over 523 yards per game, but this unit is coming off their worst performance of the fall against Arizona. The Trojans still found a way to come out with the victory, but the Wildcats did a superb job slowing down Caleb Williams. The reigning Heisman winner still made the plays when it mattered, but Arizona mixed up packages and didn't let the dynamic signal-caller beat them over the top. Just as important, Arizona slowed down a ground game that's been efficient all season long, containing MarShawn Lloyd and ensuring Williams didn't escape for any huge runs. Now, the Trojans face a Notre Dame defense that's even better, a group with a disciplined and well-coached front seven and proven secondary. It is without a doubt the most difficult test this USC offense has seen all season long and others are going to have to step up alongside Williams. Names like Brenden Rice and Tahj Washington have been great, but Lloyd needs a bounce back, and it would be helpful if some of the supporting characters stepped up. That may include true freshman wunderkind Zachariah Branch, who missed his second straight game against Arizona, but should be back in action for this contest. It's not just offensively where Branch shines, but his ability to bust things open in the return game has put USC in front of the sticks every time he's played. In a game where the margin between the two appears razor thin, having him back could make all the difference.

While USC's triple overtime win over Arizona left plenty to be desired, Notre Dame is coming off a horrific performance against Louisville. The offense managed just 298 yards and finished with five turnovers, effectively dooming any hopes of a late Irish comeback. It was shocking in a multitude of ways; for one, the ultra-efficient Sam Hartman played the worst game of his young ND career, tossing three interceptions. But more shocking was the fact the Irish got pushed around in the trenches essentially the entire night, completely abandoning the ground game later on. We've seen inconsistent Irish offenses, but at the very least they've been able to run the football. That's a real concern for this team as they face down the second half of their schedule. Fortunately, USC's defense is so terrible this year that it's exactly the group you want to face coming off a slump. The Trojans haven't been able to stop anyone all season; the transfers they brought in along the front seven haven't made a difference and this is one of the worst secondaries in college football. Notre Dame is going to have their opportunities to make things happen, as Audric Estime looks capable of getting things rolling again and the receiver corps is getting healthier. That's huge for the Irish, as Jayden Thomas returned last week and will be an X-Factor, while there's a chance Jaden Greathouse could be back this Saturday. If so, Hartman has much-needed playmakers to toy with on the perimeter, increasing the chances the Irish are able to take advantage.

I don't have much confidence with either of these teams, which is amazing considering their Top 25 status. We've seen diminishing returns from Notre Dame just about every week since a hot start, and the Louisville loss was a shock to the system. Meanwhile, USC has looked horrible against Pac-12 bottom-feeders, and it seems like only a matter of time before they suffer the loss. Going on the road across the country to South Bend to face a capable QB? That could be enough to do it.

The Pick: Notre Dame, 41 USC, 35

(#25) Miami Hurricanes @ (#12) North Carolina Tar Heels

Line: North Carolina -3.5

O/U: 57

Mario Cristobal has taken a beating from the college football community over the last week as his decision to not kneel the ball and subsequent fumble led to a thrilling, last-second Georgia Tech upset. Instead of getting a week to get things back on track, the Hurricanes were rewarded with none other than old ACC Coastal foe North Carolina, who is off to a flaming hot 5-0 start.

Cristobal's baffling late-game decision has received plenty of attention, and for good reason, but the reality is that it was not the only reason Miami lost that football game. The offense, despite racking up 453 yards, managed just 20 points against a bad Georgia Tech defense thanks to five turnovers. It felt like an unfortunate symptom of new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson's aggressive offensive scheme, where Tyler Van Dyke is going to take plenty of chances down the field. It's worked out well for most of the year, but can also cost this team in tight games. Van Dyke should be able to respond against a North Carolina defense that's will working out issues of its own, as he has plenty of weapons on the perimeter to work with. Xavier Restrepo has had a redemptive 2023 after missing most of last fall and when you add in Colbie Young and Jacoby George, this Hurricane offense can be quite potent when it's firing on all cylinders. Yet, the unsung hero of the Miami offense so far this season has been an improved offensive line, gifting Van Dyke more time and allowing this ground game to flourish. It's given Miami good balance and flow, which is a real problem for the Tar Heels. They've improved on this side of the ball, but this looks to be their toughest test on the year so far and you can never be too sure what you're getting from this group each and every week. Up front, they have the bodies, but it still feels like the Hurricanes have an opportunity to differentiate themselves in the trenches.

While others have built more impressive resumes than the 5-0 Tar Heels, few teams anywhere are playing as well as this group at this point in the season. Since receiving a scare from Appalachian State at home, the Heels have beat three consecutive Power Five teams by double-digits, including a route last weekend of Syracuse. Drake Maye has built on an impressive 2022 and remains firmly in the Heisman mix, but others have stepped up to provide a strong supporting cast. The success on the ground has been a welcome surprise for the Tar Heels, as Omarion Hampton has had a breakthrough season, while the trio of Nate McCollum, J.J. Jones, and Kobe Paysour has given Maye enough weapons to beat teams over the top. Even better, Tez Walker was just recently ruled eligible after missing the first month of the season, giving North Carolina another dynamic piece to scare opposing defenses. This offense is going to be a real challenge for the Hurricanes, especially on the back-end. Miami may have one of the nation's top safeties in Kamren Kinchens, but how will their corners hold up? Yet, it's the battles along the line of scrimmage that I'm once again curious about it. North Carolina's play up front has been a welcome surprise, but the Hurricanes boast multiple future NFL pass rushers, namely disruptive defensive tackle Leonard Taylor. If the 'Canes are able to get into the backfield and make Maye uncomfortable, we've seen the prized signal-caller be prone to turnovers. It's a simple game-plan, but Miami DC Lance Guidry is going to have to dial things up a notch, as we've seen Maye torch opposing defenses all year long.

Most of the attention in the ACC has been focused on Florida State, a team with two high-profile wins on the season. But North Carolina has been mostly overlooked, and they should jump at the chance to prove themselves on a big stage. They're a more well-rounded team than Miami and with Maye under center, the ingredients are in place for them to come away with a resume-boosting win.

The Pick: North Carolina, 35 Miami, 27

Other Picks

(#18) UCLA Bruins @ (#15) Oregon State Beavers -- It's always a mystery to know which Dante Moore we're getting each week, which is the reality of life as a true freshman quarterback. Oregon State presents him with a real challenge, a physical team that looks to muck it up and make things ugly.

The Pick: Oregon State, 24 UCLA, 21

(#3) Ohio State Buckeyes @ Purdue Boilermakers -- Purdue has been a thorn in the side of Ohio State for some time now, but can Ryan Walters' team pull off the upset in West Lafayette? The defense may be able to make some stops, but it would take a heroic performance from Hudson Card and an offense that has been underwhelming all season.

The Pick: Ohio State, 42 Purdue, 20

Wyoming Cowboys @ Air Force Falcons -- My excitement for this 6 PM CBS Sports Network game between Wyoming and Air Force borders on irrational. But, it's a game with potentially important implications on which team takes home the Group of Five's NY6 berth, as Air Force is undefeated and Wyoming 5-1 (with their lone loss to Texas). The Falcons' triple-option is always a challenge to stop, but Wyoming has been preparing and is used to playing at altitude, so this has a chance to be a thriller.

The Pick: Air Force, 27 Wyoming, 21

Upset: Missouri Tigers @ (#24) Kentucky Wildcats -- Why is Kentucky ranked? Aside from a win over a 4-2 Florida team, the Wildcats have looked mediocre the entire season and I remain a firm believer in the Missouri Tigers.

The Pick: Missouri, 30 Kentucky, 17

Superdog (covers > 21 point spread): UMass Minutemen (+42) @ Penn State Nittany Lions -- With three straight close losses, UMass may be better than their 1-6 record indicates. Plus, what incentive is there for Penn State to play their starters into the second half?

The Pick: Penn State, 45 UMass, 7

Lock of the Week: Troy Trojans (-4) @ Army Black Knights -- Troy looks to be playing like the team that I had ranked in the Top 25 preseason, and they have the defense to shut down the triple-option, even on the road.

The Pick: Troy, 26 Army, 14

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