What to watch: Week 8 college football viewing guide, picks against the spread

Sam Cooper
·10 min read

Every week throughout the season we’ll give you a college football viewing guide by highlighting the five best games of the coming weekend. We will pick those five games against the spread and highlight some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.

Welcome back to the party, Big Ten.

It’s Week 8 of the college football season, but things are just getting started for the Big Ten. After initially postponing its season, the conference will begin its nine-week sprint beginning on Friday night, when No. 14 Wisconsin hosts Illinois. The rest of the Big Ten teams will return to action on Saturday, highlighted by the primetime matchup between No. 18 Michigan and No. 21 Minnesota. The Mountain West is back this week, too, and the return of the Pac-12 and MAC are around the corner.

In addition to the Michigan-Minnesota game, there are three other ranked vs. ranked games on Saturday, plus four ranked teams on the road facing unranked opponents. For the last four weeks, at least one top-10 team has been upset by an unranked team. Will it happen for a fifth straight week?

(Note: All times ET, point spreads/totals from BetMGM)

Nebraska at No. 5 Ohio State

Time: Noon | TV: FOX | Line: Ohio State -26 | Total: 67.5

Nebraska was at the forefront of the outrage surrounding the Big Ten’s decision to postpone the season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of players even sued the conference, so it wasn’t all that surprising to see the Huskers open the season with the Big Ten’s toughest team: Ohio State. Nebraska is entering its third season under Scott Frost, and the expected revitalization of the program has yet to materialize. The Huskers are 9-15 (6-12 Big Ten) under Frost and haven’t had a winning record since 2016.

Ohio State was the other team that was very vocal about wanting a season. It was an understandable position given the level of talent on this team. Last year, in Ryan Day’s first year as the full-time head coach, the Buckeyes cruised through the Big Ten undefeated before losing a heartbreaker to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals. With Heisman finalist Justin Fields back in the fold at quarterback, this is a national championship or bust season for OSU. That starts on Saturday against the Huskers.

Sam Cooper: Nebraska +26, Nick Bromberg: Ohio State -26

Other noon games to watch: No. 23 NC State at No. 14 North Carolina (ESPN), Auburn at Ole Miss (SECN), Oklahoma at TCU (ABC)

No. 17 Iowa State at No. 6 Oklahoma State

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: FOX | Line: Oklahoma State -3 | Total: 51.5

Iowa State and Oklahoma State are two of just three Big 12 teams without a loss in conference play, so this is a big game from a league standings standpoint. And potentially from a College Football Playoff standpoint for Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are the Big 12’s lone unbeaten team, sitting at 3-0 and ranked No. 6 in the nation. But Mike Gundy’s team hasn’t stepped on the field since Oct. 3. OSU had a bye on Oct. 10 and its Oct. 17 game at Baylor was postponed. That time off should open the door for injured QB Spencer Sanders to return to action.

Oklahoma State’s defense has impressed so far this year, allowing a total of 27 points. The Cowboys will face a much tougher challenge against Iowa State. ISU started the year with a 31-14 home loss to Louisiana, but has since reeled off three straight wins. With Breece Hall (531 yards, 8 TDs) leading the way at running back and Brock Purdy providing a steady presence at quarterback, the offense has been playing well. Can they pull off the road upset in Stillwater?

Sam: Oklahoma State -3, Nick: Oklahoma State -3

Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard (30) walks the field during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Stillwater, Okla. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard (30) walks the field during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Stillwater, Okla. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)

No. 8 Penn State at Indiana

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: FS1 | Line: Penn State -6.5 | Total: 59.5

Most expect Penn State to be the top challenger to Ohio State in the Big Ten East. The Nittany Lions return 12 starters, but won’t have two of last year’s stars: LB Micah Parsons (opt out) and RB Journey Brown (undisclosed medical condition). Parsons was an All-American last year, so he’s a big loss. Still, PSU is deep and talented on both sides of the ball. The offense could look a little different with Kirk Ciarrocca coming over from Minnesota to be PSU’s offensive coordinator. Ciarrocca called plays for Minnesota’s breakthrough 2019 season. Will he have a similar effect at PSU?

Indiana, meanwhile, had a breakthrough of its own in 2019. After 11 consecutive losing seasons, the Hoosiers went 8-5 for the program’s first eight-win season since 1993. IU has a deep collection of skill position talent with QB Michael Penix, RB Stevie Scott, TE Peyton Hendershot and receivers Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfogle all back in the fold. On top of that, the defense returns nine starters. IU is going to give a lot of good teams trouble, and it could start on Saturday against the Nittany Lions.

Sam: Penn State -6.5, Nick: Penn State -6.5

Other afternoon games to watch: No. 2 Alabama at Tennessee (CBS), No. 3 Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (ABC), No. 19 Virginia Tech at Wake Forest (ESPN3), Baylor at Texas (ESPN), Iowa at Purdue (BTN)

No. 18 Michigan at No. 21 Minnesota

Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Michigan -3.5 | Total: 54

Jim Harbaugh begins his sixth season as Michigan’s head coach with a tough road matchup. In doing so, Harbaugh will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, likely redshirt sophomore Joe Milton. Milton will be playing behind an offensive line that lost four starters to the NFL and without much experience at receiver. The defense, though, looks like it could be one of the better units in the Big Ten with the pass-rushing duo of Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson leading the way.

Minnesota won 12 games combined in P.J. Fleck’s first two seasons before last year’s 11-2 triumph. The Gophers have QB Tanner Morgan and star receiver Rashod Bateman, as well as seven other starters, back from an offense that averaged 432 yards per game in 2019. There are some questions about the defense, as five of the team’s top six tacklers have moved on. The Big Ten West is wide open, and the Gophers’ quest for a division title could depend on how well the new players on defense perform.

Sam: Minnesota +3.5, Nick: Minnesota +3.5

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh watches against Ohio State in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Jim Harbaugh begins his sixth season as Michigan’s head coach with a tough road matchup at Minnesota, a team coming off an 11-win season. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

No. 9 Cincinnati at No. 16 SMU

Time: 9 p.m. | TV: ESPN2 | Line: SMU -2.5 | Total: 57

The winner of this game will take the early lead in the race for the Group of Five spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game. These two AAC members are the two top-ranked Group of Five teams in the country and are both undefeated. SMU, ranked No. 16, is 5-0 on the year, but its last two victories have been close calls. The Mustangs jumped out to an early 24-3 lead but needed a last-minute field goal to beat Memphis 30-27 on Oct. 3. Last week, SMU needed overtime to beat Tulane.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, had its road game against Tulsa postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the UC program. Bearcats coach Luke Fickell told reporters this week that the school “in some ways maybe panicked a little bit” and perhaps could have played against Tulsa after having no positive tests later in the week. Nonetheless, the Bearcats are now in for their first road game of the year, having beat Austin Peay, Army and South Florida at home. SMU, which boasts the nation’s fourth-best offense, will be a much more difficult opponent.

Sam: Cincinnati +2.5, Nick: SMU -2.5

Other night games to watch: South Carolina at LSU (ESPN), Virginia at Miami (ACCN)

Head-to-head ATS: Sam: 16-13, Nick: 14-15

Week 8’s best bets

Nick Bromberg: (Last week: 2-1, Overall: 10-7)

Mercer at Army: I am going to keep going with the under in Army games until it starts losing. Black Knights games have hit the under five times this season and with an FCS opponent coming into town I think this will be an easy win. 42-3 feels about right. Pick: Under 50.5

No. 20 Kansas State at Kansas: The Wildcats are going with freshman Will Howard at QB for his second start after Skylar Thompson’s injury. And yet KSU is still nearly a three-TD favorite. Kansas is now missing its best player in RB Pooka Williams and hadn't covered a spread all season until he ran a kick back late in the fourth quarter for a score. This is easy. Pick: Kansas State -20

No. 19 Virginia Tech at Wake Forest: How much do I trust the Hokies? Virginia Tech dominated Boston College last week while Wake Forest scored a big win over Virginia. Virginia Tech runs the ball nearly 70 percent of the time and is averaging almost seven yards a carry. Wake gives up over five yards a carry. I think that’s a recipe for a comfortable VT win. Pick: Virginia Tech -8.5

Sam Cooper (Last week: 2-1, Overall: 14-9)

Oklahoma at TCU: At first glance, I thought this total was too low. The trends back that up. In TCU’s last six Big 12 games as a single-digit home underdog, the over is 5-1. In Oklahoma’s last 10 Big 12 games as a single-digit road favorite, the over is 9-1. On top of that, the last three times OU and TCU played in Fort Worth, the game went over the total by an average of 20.8 points. Pick: Over 59

Auburn at Ole Miss: Auburn was too pass happy in its loss to South Carolina last week. Bo Nix threw 47 times and barely completed half of his attempts. He also threw three costly interceptions. Look for Auburn to get the run game going with Tank Bigsby against Ole Miss and its SEC-worst rush defense. Gus Malzahn is going to want to keep the explosive Ole Miss offense off the field as much as he can. Because of all of that, I think the total of 71 is too high. In Malzahn’s tenure, the under is 18-8-1 in games that follow an Auburn loss. Pick: Under 70.5

No. 17 Iowa State at No. 6 Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State is going to be a lot more dynamic with Spencer Sanders back in the fold at quarterback. With Sanders out, Oklahoma State’s defense has played surprisingly well, but it did so against three bad offenses. Brock Purdy and Iowa State will present a much tougher test and shouldn’t have trouble scoring a decent amount of points. Pick: Over 51.5

For other Week 8 picks from Sam Cooper, click here.

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