College Football Week 8 Best Bets: Expert Picks & Predictions For Penn St vs Ohio St, Alabama vs Tennessee, & More
Get college football best bets for the Saturday 10/21/23 slate. This article features an analysis of Penn State vs. Ohio State, Utah vs. USC, UCLA vs. Stanford, Tennessee vs. Alabama, Indiana vs. Rutgers, and Michigan vs. Michigan State.
College Football Week 8 Best Bets – Saturday Slate (10/21/23)
We’re onto Week 8 of the college football season, and our staff has you covered with our favorite bets of the day on Saturday. Check out the Lineups YouTube page for further discussion of these games and all of the biggest matchups offered by the Week 8 slate. Let’s get to work.
Jacob Wayne’s Record: 14-19-1 (-5.1 units)
Kody Malstrom’s Record: 9-7 (+1.3 units)
Will Schwartz’s Record: 14-4-1 (+9.6 units)
Note: Due to concerns about heavy wind in the game between South Carolina and Missouri, the over in that game was scrapped from the best bets article. Monitor the wind conditions in Columbia before placing that wager.
Penn State Nittany Lions at Ohio State Buckeyes
The Ohio State offense still doesn’t look right, and there are a few reasons why. The offensive line lost both starting tackles and center from last year, and the new group hasn’t looked cohesive to this point. The losses of quarterback C.J. Stroud and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson have been more impactful than most expected, as well.
However, the most troublesome piece of all of this has been the lack of a consistent run game – Ohio State ranks 100th in rushing success rate. That’s especially problematic now that they are facing a Penn State defensive front that has allowed the lowest rushing success rate in the country.
If the Buckeyes can’t run the ball on early downs, Kyle McCord will be under pressure on passing downs against a lights out Penn State pass rush that led the FBS in pressure rate last season. Look for Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac, and Dani Dennis-Sutton to make a huge impact, especially on third downs.
I’m still not fully sold on Penn State quarterback Drew Allar, and this road test against a much improved Ohio State defense won’t be easy. However, he only has one turnover-worthy play all season, and I trust him and the coaching staff to avoid putting the ball in harm’s way. That’s important after Sean Clifford threw three interceptions against OSU last year.
I have lingering questions about the pass catchers for Penn State, but the Nittany Lions have a tremendous backfield duo in sophomores Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen who can take this game over. Behind those two, Penn State ranks top 30 in rushing EPA and success rate, which is in stark contrast to Ohio State.
Ultimately, I expect this to be a physical, low-scoring grudge match decided by a few key plays. While Ohio State has homefield advantage, I believe Penn State has the edge in the trenches on both sides of the ball. This spread should be sitting at around 3 points, and I’ll take the value with the road team here.
Best Bet: Penn State +4.5
Utah Utes at USC Trojans
I’ve written all season about my lack of belief in this USC team, and it all came to fruition last week in an embarrassing 48-20 loss to Notre Dame. However, I believe that sets up for a nice buy low spot against a Utah team dealing with a lot of issues right now.
The Utes’ offense has completely fallen apart without quarterback Cam Rising, and they rank 126th in EPA per play overall. They have no viable passing threat, so defenses can stack the box. It also doesn’t help that both quarterbacks Nate Johnson and Bryson Barnes have been under pressure on over 44% of their dropbacks.
USC’s defense remains a weakness, and it will hurt them against the top teams in this conference. However, I don’t believe Utah has enough firepower to hurt them. That’s especially true as running back Ja’Quinden Jackson works through an injury and Micah Bernard is out for the year.
Safety Sione Vaki, who leads the team with 32 tackles, had 15 carries for 158 yards and two scores against Cal last week, but the Utes will need him more at safety this week. That’s especially true as starting safety Cole Bishop, who has been excellent in coverage, will miss the first half of this game after a targeting call last week.
Utah’s defense grades out very well across the board, but they haven’t played a quarterback close to the caliber of Caleb Williams. They’ve faced two backups, a true freshman making his first road start, and two maligned passers D.J. Uiagalelei and Graham Mertz.
Williams had success against this defense last season, and he threw for 381 yards and five touchdowns at Rice Eccles. He was on his way to another big game in the Pac 12 championship before an unfortunate injury left him hobbled in the second half.
All of the headlines across the country this week are about how Lincoln Riley is a fraud and Caleb Williams isn’t as good as we thought. While my take that USC isn’t a true contender this year has been affirmed, they should be able to handle this limited Utah team at home with relative ease.
Best Bet: USC -6.5
UCLA Bruins at Stanford Cardinal
The Chip Kelly era at UCLA has been defined by high-flying offense and inconsistent defense. That’s been completely flipped this season. UCLA’s defense has been downright dominant, ranking fifth in EPA per play allowed overall, and the addition of defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn has been a game changer for the Bruins.
UCLA particularly has an outstanding defensive line led by Laiatu Latu, PFF’s highest graded defender in the country. Latu’s 23.3% pass rush win rate ranks fourth among all qualified Power Five edges. That’s problematic for a Stanford offensive line that ranks 117th in PFF’s pass blocking grades.
Stanford is coming off an impressive come-from-behind overtime win over Colorado, but I expect UCLA to be dialed into coverage on Elic Ayomanor, who had nearly 300 receiving yards on essentially the same play over and over again. Colorado’s defense was disorganized and disinterested for most of the second half.
UCLA’s offense hasn’t impressed me as they rank outside the top 100 in EPA per play. Dante Moore has shown flashes of his five-star talent at times, but with pick sixes in three straight games, we could see the Bruins dial back their pass play frequency, particularly against a vulnerable Stanford run defense.
The Bruins can get out of Palo Alto with a win on the back of their defense and run game led by Carson Steele, who averages over 4 yards after contact. I expect the clock to be churning when UCLA has the ball and Stanford’s offense to gain little traction. Bet the under in what I project as a very low scoring game.
Best Bet: Under 53.5 Points
Tennessee Volunteers at Alabama Crimson Tide
It’s no secret that I hate Tennessee with a burning passion but I got to give credit where credit is due. They are playing above preseason expectations, especially on defense. A sneaky great defensive unit, ranking well above average in advanced metrics and a group that is more than capable of taking advantage of Alabama’s offensive inefficiencies.
As a whole, Tennessee ranks fourth in Def Success Rate, 17th in Def Points per Opportunity, and 21st in Havoc. Their only true weakness comes from defending Explosiveness, especially on the ground where they rank a lowly 121st in Def Rush Explosiveness.
Lucky for the Volunteers, Alabama poses no threat to exploiting their weak Def Rush Explosiveness metric as the Crimson Tide rank 80th in that regard on offense. A mixture of a poor offensive line that struggles to downfield block as well as giving opposing defenses the ability to stack the box have rendered this ground game near useless.
That’s in large part to Jalen Milroe struggling to find any sort of consistency through the air, grading at 73rd in Pass Success Rate. Inaccurate, folding under pressure, and making poor decisions has drastically halted Alabama’s down field progression at times. Especially when they are forced to convert farther distances to gain on later downs when Milroe fails to slash the distance to gain in half.
The one lone bright spot that Milroe has got going for him is his ability to connect on the deep ball. His rocket arm has led to an impressive sixth ranked Pass Explosiveness metric, taking advantage of his wideouts elite speed and skill against inferior secondaries. The issue for him this time around is that the Volunteers excel at keeping playmakers in front of them, ranking 38th in Def Pass Explosiveness.
With the pass game neutralized by Tennessee’s elite second level, expect a heavy dose of the run on the Tide’s end while the Volunteers call a similar game plan. Tennessee’s Jaylen Wright is one of the best backs in the league and serves as their best option in an effort to crack the Tide defense.
Factor in a bleeding clock running at a consistent rate with the new clock rules and this has all the makings for a beautiful under. Especially with both defenses playing at an elite rate, both being more than able to limit each other’s progression and keep points off the board.
Best Bet: Under 49
Utah Utes at USC Trojans
It was an absolute smash spot for Notre Dame last week as their advantages in the trenches proved to be too formidable for USC to overcome. Especially when coupling Notre Dame’s ground game being in a position to run over the USC defense, cruising to a comfortable victory in a get right spot.
While USC’s defense has been a constant thorn in their own side and has held the Trojans back from being a true contender, they actually strung together some impressive defensive stands throughout the contest. Especially when starting off in a standard drive and not a Caleb Williams field flipping turnover, holding the Fighting Irish to numerous punts and stalled out drives.
That same defense now gets the benefit of holding one of the worst offenses in football as Utah is sorely missing Cam Rising and his elite arm. Without Rising, Utah currently ranks 128th in Pass PPA, 110th in Pass Success Rate, and 123rd in Pass Explosiveness. All putrid marks, forcing them to turn towards a heavier dose of the run.
The issue is that Utah doesn’t necessarily thrive on the ground either. The Utes rank 90th in Rush PPA and 101st in Rush Success Rate while calling the run at the seventh heaviest rate in the nation. Their poor marks can be pointed towards opposing defenses getting the ability to stack the box at a heavy rate, daring Utah to beat them over the top.
This plays right into USC’s defenses hands as they grade out well below average in defending the run. By being able to stack the box and throw pressure into the running lanes, USC will be in a great position to negate their own issues and limit the Utah offense at a high rate.
On the other end it’s business as usual for Utah’s defense as their front seven serves as one of the better units in the nation and will send relentless pressure at Caleb Williams. That pressure will be vital in an attempt to limit the damage done against their weak Def Pass Explosiveness metric, limiting playmakers in front of them with their elite Def Success Rate marks.
While Caleb Williams may find success throughout the contest, it wont come at a consistent rate and that is all we ask for when taking an under involving USC. Utah’s offense has proven to be underwhelming and gives me no conviction they can suddenly turn into a high powered unit as a one dimensional rush heavy unit.
Best Bet: Under 56
Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Indiana Hoosiers
Tell your friends, tell your Mom, tell Kyle Flood, Rutgers football is officially back! The Scarlet Knights are 5-2, and looking to secure bowl eligibility as early as this week against Indiana. It would be a great accomplishment for Greg Schiano’s squad to wrap up a .500 season before their week nine bye, after being saddled with a preseason win total of around four depending on your sportsbook of choice.
The Knights have only lost to Michigan, perhaps the best team in the country, and Wisconsin at a very rowdy Camp Randall Stadium. They started the year off with a statement win in which they completely clamped Northwestern, closely followed by a nice non-conference triumph over Virginia Tech, and now they’re coming off of an electric comeback victory over Michigan State.
The Rutgers defense once again led the way in that win, as they held the Spartans to just 239 total yards of offense. That’s been the theme this season; the unit actually ranks 15th in the country in terms of EPA per play, and they’re allowing 16 points per game after a figure of 29.3 last year. Their yardage allowed per game is also down from 349.8 last year to 276.6 this season. Yes, they still have yet to play Ohio State and Penn State, but they more or less weathered the storm from Michigan, easily the best offense in the country. This Rutgers team is legit, and they will be a handful for an absolutely abysmal Indiana team.
Yes, this is a road spot for the Knights, but the mismatch is astronomical. That vaunted Rutgers defense will be facing an Indiana offense that ranks outside of the top-100 in EPA per play, and they have perfect counters for the Hoosiers’ relative strengths. For instance, Indiana’s pass offense is just about average, contrary to their bottom-20 ground game, but Rutgers is 7th in defensive pass EPA. Rutgers’ offense under Gavin Wimsatt is far from a juggernaut through the air, but Indiana’s air defense is 114th by EPA, and Kyle Monangai and the ground game have enough juice to get through Indiana’s essentially average run defense.
I’d be worried about a lookahead to that Ohio State game, but with the bye coming up, the Knights can fully hone in on Indiana and still have two weeks to prep for the Buckeyes. Schiano knows just how tough the finishing schedule is for his team, and will be looking to bank wins and boost morale; this one is a no-contest. This team will be sitting at 6-2 and putting contenders on upset alert; get ready for a ranked week 10 matchup in Piscataway when the Buckeyes come to town.
Best Bet: Rutgers -4.5
Michigan Wolverines at Michigan State Spartans
Just about every week, there’s a number or two on the board that will make me wonder out loud how it exists. You see it in this publication more often than not, and here it is again; I have absolutely no clue who approved this number. I could’ve almost understood 9.5, but expecting the Spartans to be the first team to score over 10 on this absolute brick wall of a Michigan defense is an absolute fool’s errand.
The Wolverines have only allowed 10 points once, and it took an absolute miracle from Minnesota, a gorgeous deep ball that currently registers as Athan Kaliakmanis’s only big time throw of the year out of about 140 tosses. Every other game has involved just one field goal or touchdown for the opposing team, and with motivation levels finally high for the Wolverines in this rivalry game, this just might be the shutout that has eluded them. Michigan’s average of 6.7 points allowed per game is the best figure in the nation, and with a mark of 233.1, they’re second in yardage allowed per game.
They’re also second in the country in defensive EPA per play, with an absolutely stacked unit from the d-line to the secondary; Mason Graham is wreaking havoc on the d-line, Michael Barrett and Junior Colson form one of the best linebacker duos in the country, and the secondary headlined by corners Will Johnson and Mike Sainristil has consistently showed up in enormous moments over the past couple of seasons.
You can rightfully argue that Michigan has only played terrible offenses so far, so these numbers are inflated, and you wouldn’t exactly be wrong, but for our purposes that doesn’t exactly matter. This Michigan State offense is just about the worst one they’ve seen yet, ranking 123rd in EPA per play, with no semblance of an attack through either the air or ground. The team hasn’t won a game since the dismissal of Mel Tucker, and they’ll be starting Katin Houser, who threw for 133 yards in his lone start against Rutgers.
Of course, this is a rivalry game, and I truly believe that these hard-fought Midwestern rivalries fought over amusing trophies are one of the key times where we have to look past the analytics to a degree, and remember the human element of football. The Spartans will be highly motivated against their archrivals, playing in front of a raucous home crowd, but I see this mostly having an impact on the defensive side of the ball for the Spartans.
Crowd noise is much more of an inhibiting factor for road offenses than defenses, and Jim Harbaugh has been known this year not to open up the playbook until necessary, so that’s why we aren’t on the spread here, but Michigan’s elite defense should be able to more or less live on cruise control and absolutely squash the Spartans and head into their bye week, ahead of the team’s first true tests of the season.
Best Bet: Michigan State Team Total Under 10.5