College Essentials – Week 8

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It looks unlikely that the Pac-12 will be able to secure a spot in college football's national semifinals, which means this will be one of their final chances to truly captivate the nation's attention since they've got a number of attractive matchups on tap to strengthen Satruday's card. The following are the best games on the slate.

Oregon at Washington State (-3/68), 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX: Both Washington schools, Stanford and Oregon have each lost only once in Pac-12 play and harbor realistic hopes of reaching the conference title game. The Cougs have had dream seasons before, but this would be an unlikely one given the graduation of Luke Falk, the most prolific quarterback in conference history. ECU transfer Gardner Hinshew has stepped in and made the Cougs his team, making the most of a tremendous receiving corps that the Ducks will have to stay in front of. Tay Martin, Dezmon Patmon and Easop Winston will have to win individual battles against a Ducks secondary to help the Cougs hold serve as a home favorite in order to maintain a perfect record against the spread.

Dillon Mitchell is the main cog in the Ducks’ receiving corps and should draw extra attention to make life easier for Justin Herbert, who is picking up steam as the likely first QB taken in the next NFL draft so long as he stays healthy. Weather in Pullman should be perfect, so don’t rule out a shootout here. Washington State has won three straight meetings against Oregon for the first time since the early 1980s, rising up after years of mostly being the conference doormat. The Cougs are hoping that hosting College Gameday won’t be the lone highlight of a potentially special weekend.

Michigan (-7.5/40.5) at Michigan State, 12 p.m. ET, FOX: If you long for the days of old school Big Ten football, the kind with the three yards and a cloud of dust, the universe has your back with this one. Although last year’s game was over the top in that regard due to monsoon-like conditions, this year’s edition should feature milder rain and challenging winds. Mix in the heated rivalry as the Spartans now seek out this upset to highlight a disappointing season and you should see why this isn’t expected to be a cakewalk for the Wolverines. A victory for Michigan would ensure that the most promising run of the Jim Harbaugh era since it would take them into its bye with a single loss and a seven-game win streak entering Ohio State week.

Defensive end Rashan Gary, one of the top players in the country, will be a game-time decision for the Wolverines. Rumors had him following Ohio State’s Nick Bosa lead in hanging up the college jersey early to prepare for the pros, but he’s now likely to play in this one after sitting out the Wisconsin win with a shoulder injury. WR Tarik Black has been out all season but is expected to be one of QB Shea Patterson’s top targets. The Ole Miss transfer is also a go despite a hand injury. Counterpart Brian Lewerke comes off throwing two touchdowns in a 21-17 upset of Penn State and has experience in this rivalry game, running for a score and remaining turnover-free in last year’s 14-10 upset as a 10-point underdog. In order to win their first game over the Wolverines in East Lansing since 2014, the Spartans have to overcome injuries to guards David Beedle and Kevin Jarvis, both of whom are out. Corner Josiah Scott won’t play, RB L.J. Scott is a huge question mark and WRs Darrell Stewart, Jalen Nailor and Cam Chambers will likely be game-time decisions.

USC at Utah (-6.5/48), 8 p.m. ET, Pac-12: The Trojans failed to cover the number in any of their first four games but have cashed in holding serve against Arizona and Colorado in their last two contests. USC is 0-2 in an underdog role, being outscored 54-17 by Stanford and Texas in September. It went 0-2 when catching points last season, falling to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl and at Notre Dame by a combined margin of 73-21, so the last time it came through with a genuine upset came back at Washington in Nov. 2016. The Trojans have lost in their last two trips to Salt Lake City, last winning in 2014. They’re 7-16 on the road against the number under Clay Helton and are 1-10 SU/ATS getting points on the road. USC must overcome the absence of top pass rusher Porter Gustin, who was disruptive before suffering an ankle injury against the Buffs.

The Utes own the nation’s fourth-ranked run defense, so they’ll force true freshman J.T. Daniels to grow up in his fourth true road game, having finally won his last one in Tucson. He again demonstrated maturity in overcoming two early picks, throwing three touchdowns to drop Colorado and connecting with deep threat Michael Pittman, Jr., whose emergence makes him one to watch here. Utah won last season’s game 29-27 on a TD run in the final minute and have seen QB Tyler Huntley come into his own of late, becoming the first player since 2000 to throw for over 200 yards while running and receiving for over 50 yards each. Keep an eye out for trick plays. The Utes threw to the quarterback in last years’s win in L.A. too, so expect to see a full playbook as they seek out a huge win on Homecoming.

Oklahoma (7.5/62) at TCU, 12 p.m. ET, ABC: The Sooners had a scheduled week off after the Red River Showdown, so they’ve hit the reset button following a disappointing upset loss to the Longhorns in a shootout at the Cotton Bowl. OU is back in the DFW area for the first of three challenging road games they must now play in order to try and get another crack at Texas in the Big 12 Championship. Kyler Murray is playing out his final football season before reporting to the Oakland A’s to begin his baseball career, so it’s vital to keep him engaged. With veteran defensive coordinator Mike Stoops replaced by Ruffin McNeill, changes are expected on that side of the ball that the Horned Frogs will have identify in-game. Oklahoma hasn’t lost consecutive regular-season games since 1999 and owns a national-best 17-game road winning streak.

TCU had a few extra days off itself after losing 17-14 to Texas Tech on Nov. 11. QB Shawn Robinson and RB Darius Anderson each were banged up, so they’re expected to be healthier here as they seek out their first upset of Oklahoma since 2015 in order to improve to 2-6 against the Sooners since joining the Big 12. Free safety Niko Small is a game-time decision while the offensive line continues to be shuffled around, so the Frogs will have their hands full as they look to avoid falling under .500 for the season. Their defensive front will have to get to the elusive Murray, who ranks second in the country in passing efficiency and fourth in total offense. OU has won 27 of its last 29 conference games but must still play at Texas Tech and West Virginia as it looks to recover and not waste a promising season.

Colorado at Washington (-17.5/50), 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX: The Buffs lost standout WR Laviska Shenault to a toe injury last week, falling from the ranks of the undefeated in demoralizing fashion at the hands of USC at the Coliseum. With WR Juwann Winfree unable to go and another key wideout, Jay McIntyre, sidelined by a head injury, QB Steven Montez ran out of quality targets. Shenault leads the country in receptions and receiving yards per game, so if he’s unable to play against Washington, Colorado is likely to lose to the Huskies for the 10th straight time. Washington has won all six Pac-12 matchups by 15 or more points. RB Travon McMillan will play despite nursing a thigh injury. No rain is expected in Seattle, so if Colorado does get its key personnel back, it should have a chance to move the football against U-Dub’s stingy defense, giving them a fighting chance at snapping a 28-game road losing streak against ranked opponents.

Washington is hoping both of its running backs, Myles Gaskin (shoulder) and Salvon Ahmed (knee) will be healthy enough to play, but a number of top defensive players may not be so lucky. Linebacker DJ Beavers is expected to be out, while NT Shane Bowman (foot) remains out. Senior DT Jaylen Johnson is out for the first half due to targeting and pass-rusher Amandre Williams elected to transfer this week, so the Huskies will probably look to keep the defense off the field wherever possible.

N.C. State at Clemson (-17/58), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: Freshman QB Trevor Lawrence had his first bye week to help prepare for a challenging second half of the season that begins with the only other unbeaten team in the ACC’s Atlantic Division coming through town. Visits to Florida State and Boston College are also on the schedule over the next month, so the work Dabo Swinney got accomplished with Lawrence and the offense while they were on the mend should be invaluable. Clemson is as healthy as it has been all season but didn’t get the services of former starter Kelly Bryant back as a safety net for Wallace. He’s visiting Arkansas this weekend.

The Wolfpack must find a way to protect QB Ryan Finley, who can beat you with downfield passes if he gets the time to throw and has receivers like Kelvin Harmon and Jacobi Meyers who are capable of making inroads against the Tigers secondary. RB Reggie Gallaspy has proven to be quite the find and calls himself the “Bus,” so you can imagine what his running style is like if you haven’t seen him. There’s no doubt N.C. State feels it can pull off this upset, having come within a touchdown of Clemson in each of the past two seasons after scoring 41 points in the 2015 matchup. If they can get speedy freshman Ricky Person, Jr. to find some room in complementing Gallaspy to anchor the ground game, N.C. State can possess the ball and keep its defense fresh and off the field. The Pack has covered three of the last five meetings between the schools.

Mississippi State at LSU (-6/46), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Rain is likely to stay away in Baton Rouge, so at least the Bulldogs aren’t expected to have to deal with the elements in addition to a fierce Tigers defense on the road in Death Valley. Mississippi State comes off a revitalizing 23-9 upset of Auburn on the heels of scoring a combined 13 points over back-to-back weeks in losses to Kentucky and Florida. Nick Fitzgerald beat LSU 37-7 last season and nearly led a comeback from a 23-3 deficit last time MSU came to town, falling a field goal short. Coming off a bye week following its win over Auburn’s Tigers, Mississippi State’s group will be playing only its second road game since early September and will need the defense to lead the charge again by keeping the LSU offense at bay behind DT Jeffery Simmons and edge rusher Montez Sweat up front. Sophomore RB Kylin Hill will try and help Fitzgerald play keep-away in addition to limiting opportunities for miscues since the Bulldogs aren’t likely to put the ball in the air much.

LSU will happily ride its run game and sturdy defense as well, so points may be difficult to come by. MSU’s desire to do its damage on the ground may limit the impact standout Tigers corner Greedy Williams can have, but linebacker Devin White should be a force. Coming off a 20-point blowout home win over Georgia to get over an upset loss at Florida, the Tigers will be counting on a lubed up Homecoming crowd to provide an advantage as they look to bounce back from last year’s blowout loss that saw them outgained 465-270 in a complete annihilation. LSU converted all four of its fourth-down conversion attempts last week, so look for that trend to continue in a game where maintaining possession should play a huge role.

Ohio State (-13/69) at Purdue, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC: The Buckeyes have only been favored by fewer points than they are tonight in West Lafayette against Penn State, so keep that in mind as you look to wager on this one. Add in the fact that Purdue senior QB David Blough has had a tremendous season, demostrating tremendous growth, and the potential for an upset is certainly there if he continues to make plays in order to take advantage of an injury-filled secondary. True freshman Rondale Moore has the speed to easily get away from the Ohio State defense, so count on him commanding extra attention. That could really benefit WR Issac Zico, who has stood out in taking advantage of the attention Moore receives over the past few wins. Ohio State has surrendered 22 plays of 30 yards or more, sixth-most in FBS, so it is certainly susceptible to giving up big plays.

The Buckeyes can score in the blink of an eye themselves and knows it likely needs to score points to get awya unscathed, so count on aggressive playcalling. QB Dwayne Haskins has a number of fantastic receiving options who all block for each other well, contributing to him leading the Big Ten in passing yards per game (333) completion percentage (72.3, third in nation) and a national-best 28 touchdown tosses. Wind gusts of over 30 miles per hour could be a factor here, so don't dismiss an upset despite the fact they fell 56-0 the last time the Buckeyes visited.

Others to watch:Memphis at Missouri, Houston at Navy, Penn State at Indiana, Auburn at Ole Miss, Alabama at Tennessee, Cincinnati at Temple, Virginia at Duke, North Carolina at Syracuse, Minnesota at Nebraska, Maryland at Iowa, Buffalo at Toledo, Wake Forest at Florida State, Arizona at UCLA, Nevada at Hawai'i

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