John Mitchell: We are moving at a rapid pace this season. We have completed seven weeks, and are rolling right along into the eighth week of the season. Zach Bigalke and Matt Strobl are here to break down all the action with me. Through seven weeks we still have ten teams without a blemish on their resume, and we could be heading for some BCS chaos. How many of the last ten undefeated teams do you see entering bowl season without a loss?
Zach Bigalke: Great question to lead things off. First of all, the two teams left in the hunt to be the next BCS Buster are both alive. And barring an upset along the way, Boise State should be 12-0 and Houston should be 13-0 by the time bowl season rolls around. Wisconsin should be able to survive the rest of the Big Ten slate, and honestly I’m getting more confidence in Clemson with each passing week I pick them. Only one team at most will emerge undefeated from the SEC’s sole powerhouses of 2011, and it’s likely that just one will emerge from the unblemished triumvirate in the Big XII. Stanford is the most intriguing of the group — other than Washington and Oregon, who can really beat them in the Pac-12? Of course, either or both of those teams could tarnish that loss column for the Cardinal. If I had to be conservative, I’d say six — Wisconsin, Clemson, LSU/Bama, one of the Oklahomas, Boise and Houston.
Matt Strobl: Some of these will necessarily be weeded out at they face off against one another. The winner of LSU-Alabama will have the inside track on a title berth while the loser will have to claw its way back to the top of the 1-loss pile. Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State all play one another, making it likely that no more than one (and possibly none) will emerge undefeated. Stanford will have a tough time beating Oregon and Clemson’s defense leaves the Tigers prone to a bad result or two. I think, at most, five teams survive the regular season without a loss. For argument’s sake those could be OU, Alabama, Wisconsin, Houston, and Boise State. And a couple will probably stumble along the way. I’m guessing that Alabama, Boise, and Houston finish with perfect records.
Mitchell: When all is said and done, I think we will have four undefeated teams in college football. A lot of people are expecting BCS chaos, but I don’t really see it happening. I think two BCS teams will emerge unscathed, and in my opinion I think it will be Alabama and Wisconsin. Non-AQ Boise State and Houston should also run through their regular season schedules without a loss, with Boise getting a berth into a BCS bowl game, and Houston being left out in the cold due to their strength of schedule. I don’t see Oklahoma or Oklahoma State running the table, I just feel like both of those teams will slip up somewhere. Clemson is still Clemson, and I would be shocked if they didn’t suffer a set back somewhere or another. I think LSU loses to Bama on November 5th, but that’s my personal opinion. The winner of that game will go undefeated and win the SEC Championship Game. Stanford could go all the way, but I still feel that Oregon is the better overall team and will win their matchup later in the season. I expect us to avoid BCS chaos with only two teams emerging without a loss from the BCS, and then the BCS Busters also finishing perfect.
Moving right along, what team are you putting on upset alert in week 8?
Strobl: Florida Statehad a predictable win over Duke in Week 7, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the Seminoles are now problem-free. Facing a Maryland team that put Clemson through the wringer, the FSU offense is going to have to step up to avoid falling below .500. The Terps have found a dual-threat talent in sophomore QB C.J. Brown; in his debut start he rushed for 162 yards against the Tigers, adding another 177 through the air. if Maryland can put up 45 points on Clemson, it can do something similar to an overrated ‘Noles team.
Mitchell: After an emotional win over Texas last week, Oklahoma State better not look past Missouri on the road this Saturday. It’s easy to dismiss the Tigers and their .500 record, but keep in mind that their three losses came against good football teams in Arizona State, Oklahoma, and Kansas State. Their combined margin of defeat in those three games was a mere 24 points, and they went to Norman and gave the Sooners all the could handle before falling 38-28. I really like this Oklahoma State team, but they have shown signs of weakness this season. The struggled much more than they should have last week against Texas, and Mike Gundy’s high-octane offense will be going up against a solid Missouri defense. This has all the makings of a trap game for the Cowboys, so don’t be surprised if the Tigers pull off the upset at Faurot Field.
Bigalke: Penn State, you are on alert. I know your defense is great… hell, you held mighty Alabama to their lowest point total of the season to date. You rank among the top ten defenses in the country right now, but what does it really mean? What does 6-1 really mean? You’ve played an FCS team, two MAC schools (narrowly escaping one), and three games among the fair (Iowa) to middling (Purdue) to abysmal (Indiana) of the conference. This week Northwestern hosts your team under the lights. They’ve lost their last three night games, dating back to last year’s October upset at home to Purdue, and the Wildcats will be fired up to keep the streak from climbing to four.
What team is in most need of a statement win this week?
Mitchell: Stanford is a perfect 6-0, but sit just 8th in the initial BCS Standings. The Cardinal have yet to face a true test, racking up their six wins against San Jose State, Duke, Arizona, UCLA, Colorado, and Washington State. None of those teams have a winning record at this point, and only one of those teams, Washington State, currently sits at .500. That changes on Saturday night in Palo Alto as they take on a 5-1 Washington team that’s only blemish came in a road defeat against Nebraska. The Huskies are off to a 3-0 start in the Pac-12 led by quarterback Keith Price, and they should give Andrew Luck and Stanford a tough game. The Cardinal have a shot at submitting themselves as a legitimate contender in the National Title race with a win over Washington.
Bigalke: The most disrespected undefeated team this side of Houston has to be Kansas State. The BCS computers love them, giving them an aggregate score that ranks them 7th in the nation. The humans haven’t been so kind, with the Harris pollsters ranking them 12th and the coaches dropping them to 16th. They’ve knocked off Miami, Baylor, Missouri and Texas Tech in that span, but still can’t get any love for their case. Their in-state battle against Kansas should be an easy win for them, which they’ll need to keep pace and set up an undefeated showdown against Oklahoma in two weeks.
Strobl: The initial BCS Standings had Wisconsin ranked sixth, giving a clear indication that the computers don’t like the Badgers’ strength of schedule. Of course, that’s about to change. Heading to East Lansing for a date with one of the nation’s premier defenses, Wisconsin has the chance to not only distance itself from Big Ten competition, but also to show the computers just how wrong they were. Of course, if the Badgers stumble or win with an unconvincing performance, they’ll be lending credence to the belief that they’re a step below the truly elite teams.
What player do you see being the biggest game changer in week 8?
Bigalke: It is a game that is on few people’s radars, but the showdown between the Mustangs and the Golden Eagles will showcase the skills of SMU’s J.J. McDermott. Before the season started, McDermott was a backup to incumbent QB starter Kyle Padron. By the end of the Texas A&M season opener, McDermott had earned the spot under center and has yet to relinquish it. Leader of the nation’s 10th-best passing attack, McDermott will be tested by a Southern Miss defense ranked 16th in the country in opponents’ passing efficiency. But expect the senior from Katy, Texas to rise to the occasion, finding receivers Cole Beasley and Darius Johnson early and often in this C-USA battle of 5-1 teams.
Strobl: Staying with the Big Ten tilt of the week, I’m going with MSU’s Kirk Cousins. The senior quarterback was just good enough against Michigan, but completed a season low 54.2% of his passes. His longest throw went for a gain of 16. In every other game this year, Cousins found a way to make big plays, and Michigan isn’t known for its D. What happens when he’s faced with a Wisconsin team that looks like an easy favorite to get to the Rose Bowl or beyond? Michigan State will live or die on its defensive production. And its ground game remains the primary offensive weapon. But if the Spartans are going to hang with the Badgers, Cousins has to step it up. One way or another, his day will go a long way toward deciding this one.
Mitchell: Michigan State is giving up just 67 yards a game on the ground this season, and they are playing a team that depends heavily on their running game in Wisconsin. The Badgers are racking up over 257 yards a game on the ground. It will be up to Wisconsin’s Montee Ball to lead the charge running the football for the Badgers against the Spartans. Ball shouldered the load a few weeks ago against Nebraska, carrying the ball 30 times for 151 yards while punching in four touchdowns. If the Badgers are to maintain balance offensively, and not force Russell Wilson to air it out too much, they will need Ball to run the ball effectively. If the Spartans shut down Ball and the Wisconsin running game, then they will have an excellent shot at pulling the upset.
What positional matchup is most intriguing to you?
Strobl: For the second consecutive week, Seth Doege and Texas Tech lost a tough conference game by single-digits in Lubbock. This is a good Red Raiders team, but not quite good enough to make any headway in the Big XII South. Doege had a very rough day against Kansas State, tossing three picks that helped the Wildcats to victory, and things won’t get any easier against Oklahoma. However, there’s another way to look at this week’s matchup in Norman. TTU isn’t expected to win. Oklahoma is favored by nearly 30 points, so the oddsmakers clearly expect this to be a cakewalk. It’s the perfect opportunity for Doege to have a bounce-back game against the Sooners’ secondary. If he can, then this one might be closer than anticipated.
Mitchell: I’m intrigued to see how Penn State’s secondary performs against Dan Persa and the Northwestern aerial attack. This is a must-win game for Northwestern as they currently sit just 2-4 after losing four consecutive games. The Wildcats haven’t been getting blown out, and the team is seemingly better than they were a few weeks ago with the return of Dan Persa. But, even with Persa Northwestern hasn’t managed to win a game. Penn State’s offense has been sluggish all season long, but their defense has been stout. They are in the top 10 ni the nation against the pass, and the Wildcats figure to have to throw the ball to defeat the Nittany Lions. If Penn State can prevent Persa from throwing all over them, then they should get the road victory and earn their seventh win of the season.
Bigalke: Wisconsin, led by tailbacks Montee Ball and James White, is ranked 7th nationally in rushing offense. Michigan State, led by a rebuilt front seven that hasn’t missed a beat, is ranked third nationally in rushing defense. This Big Ten showcase of the week is a battle of teams for whom there is no love lost. And the game will be won and lost in the trenches. Can Wisconsin’s offensive line pave the way against the Spartans and prevent a loss in East Lansing for the second straight season?
Time to move on to the Week Eight pick-em. First, let’s take a look first at how we each have done to this point:
- Strobl: 6-2 last week, 40-16 overall
- Mitchell: 6-2 last week, 36-20 overall
- Bigalke: 3-5 last week, 35-21 overall
Early on Saturday, we’ll see what should be a very good matchup in the Big East. Cincinnati at 5-1 seems to be the top challenger to West Virginia in the conference. They go on the road on Saturday to take on a South Florida team that lost their first two games in the Big East. Will Cincinnati continue its strong season, or will South Florida notch its first Big East win of 2011?
Mitchell: This is a must-win for South Florida. A third Big East loss would pretty much end their slim hopes of capturing a Big East title in Skip Holtz’s second season with the team. After opening up the season with four straight out of conference victories, highlighted by the season opening win over Notre Dame, the Bulls have lost back-to-back games to Big East foes Pittsburgh and Connecticut on the road. Turning the ball over killed them in both losses, as they gave it away six times in the two matchups. Their defense will have to be better against the run this week than it has been the last two, but it won’t be easy against a Cincinnati team that ranks near the top of the conference in rushing led by Isaiah Pead and Zach Collaros. A return to Raymond James Stadium only helps the Bulls, and I think they play the game like it’s a must-win. I think South Florida narrowly eeks out a win over the Bearcats. PICK: South Florida
Bigalke: The oddsmakers like South Florida by a field goal or less. That isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for a team ranked in the top 40 in most offensive and defensive categories. But they’re playing a team that both scores more and allows fewer points to opponents. South Florida needs this game to get out of the Big East cellar… the Bearcats need a win to keep pace with Rutgers and West Virginia at the top. Both defenses are among the best in the FBS at getting behind the offensive line to bring down players for a loss. Neither team is great at holding possession, but Isaiah Pead should prove the difference this week. PICK: Cincinnati
Strobl: Changing from Jim Leavitt to Skip Holtz hasn’t done much for the Bulls. They started strong, including an upset win over Notre Dame, only to flop badly as the season progressed. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is having a bit of a revival after an ugly 2010, although the Bearcats looked fairly awful in their lone loss at Tennessee. Which Cincy team will we see this week? The one that was overwhelmed in Knoxville, or the one that smashed NC State at Nippert Stadium? For their part, the Bulls have had two bad games in a row, losing to Pitt and UConn on the road. Their return to Tampa presents a virtual must-win. PICK: South Florida
Oklahoma is rolling merrily along at 6-0 as they continue their quest toward New Orleans on Saturday in Norman against a Texas Tech team that has lost consecutive heart breakers to Texas A&M and Kansas State. Will the Sooners stay unbeaten, or will the Red Raiders pull the big upset?
Bigalke: Look, I love Seth Doege… but the real problem for the Red Raiders is going to be the fact that they are merely mediocre at running the ball (54th nationally at 161.5 YPG), and now are without running back Eric Stephens. Worse, though, is the fact that they’re even worse at stopping opponents’ running attacks than they are at executing their own. Look for Dominique Whaley and the other Sooners running backs to have a big day. PICK: Oklahoma
Strobl: As I mentioned, Seth Doege has a golden opportunity to get himself some positive exposure. He’s already an accomplished passer, and on a big stage could do some damage. But if Texas Tech can’t stop K-State or Texas A&M, they can’t stop the Sooners. PICK: Oklahoma
Mitchell: I think a 29.5 point spread is a bit much, but Texas Tech has not fared well in recent years in Norman against the Sooners. They’ve been outscored 110-28 their last two road games against Oklahoma. That should give Tuberville’s crew some bulletin-board material to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Seth Doege has been brilliant at quarterback for the Red Raiders, but it hasn’t been enough the last two weeks as they fell short against Texas A&M and Kansas State. Oklahoma on the other hand, has been rolling merrily along the last few weeks. The Sooners have combined a dynamic offense with a better than advertised defense to roll out to the 6-0 start. Look for Tech to hang around for a while behind the arm of Doege, but Oklahoma should put them away in the second half for a comfortable win. PICK: Oklahoma
USC and Notre Dame renew their rivalry on Saturday night in South Bend as both teams look to get a statement victory. Will the Trojans emerge victorious on the road, or will the Fighting Irish earn their fifth straight win?
Strobl: This is a tough call, and with a nine-point spread, I’d be willing to bet on USC to cover. But in terms of winning on the field, the edge has to be with the Irish. They’re at home, and they also have the best win of the year for either team, a 31-13 beatdown of a good Michigan State team. Last week Notre Dame dropped 59 points on Air Force. This is a team that, when running on all cylinders, has a dangerous offense. Granted, Notre Dame seems to frequently forget how to play football, but maybe that little problem has been hashed out by now. USC has been winning, but the only good team they played (Arizona State) walloped them by three touchdowns. PICK: Notre Dame
Mitchell: Don’t let USC’s shiny 5-1 record fool you. This is not a very good football team. Their five wins came against Minnesota, Utah, Syracuse, Arizona, and California. Like Matt said, the only good team they faced was Arizona State and they were manhandled. Matt Barkley and Robert Woods form one of the better QB-to-WR tandems in the country, and they should be able to throw the ball on the Irish. But, they won’t be able to do much else. USC hasn’t established a running game much this year, and Notre Dame’s offensive balance should overwhelm the Trojans defense. USC has been good against the run, but they’ve been abysmal against the pass. Tommy Rees should have a field day against the weak secondary, while the running back tandem of Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray should wear them down in the fourth quarter. PICK: Notre Dame
Bigalke: Notre Dame is one of those teams that I’ve had a hard time getting a read on all year long. Then again, the Trojans have been a lot easier to read — despite being 5-1, they have yet to achieve anything of substance and are pretty much a middle-of-the-road squad. The Irish have a legitimate chance at getting back to the BCS given the advantages they enjoy in the system. But first they have to beat USC to set up a season-finale showdown with Stanford that could ultimately decide which one gets in. Here’s guessing they’re not looking too far ahead. PICK: Notre Dame
Georgia Tech saw their perfect season come to an end in a upset loss to Virginia last week, and they will look to rebound in Coral Gables against a Miami team that is looking better each week. Will the Yellow Jackets rebound, or will Miami hand them their second straight defeat?
Mitchell: Don’t look now, but Jacory Harris has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation this season. He seems to have cured his problem with interceptions, throwing only three this season, and he hasn’t been picked off since the end of September. Virginia exposed some of Georgia Tech’s faults last week, namely them being incapable of stopping the run. Led by Lamar Miller, the Hurricanes should be able to run the ball effectively against the Yellow Jackets. I don’t expect Miami to stop the Georgia Tech triple-option all that much, and am expecting a high-scoring game. But, Miami seems to be getting better and better each week, and I think they are good enough to top the Jackets. PICK: Miami
Bigalke: Just because they lost to Virginia last weekend doesn’t mean the Yellow Jackets have forgotten how to run the football. And the problem for Miami isn’t so much in their offense but in their defense. I fully expect Tevin Washington to get the better of that Hurricanes defense, executing the triple-option with Orwin Smith and David Sims to perfection. Jacory Harris will find the yardage hard to come by against a top-25 defense against the pass, and the ACC picture will become just a little clearer in the Coastal Division. PICK: Georgia Tech
Strobl: Miami is almost impossible to pin down. When you think the ‘Canes are going to come out swinging, they flop. When you think they’re done, they storm back and win. QB Jacory Harris is a microcosm of the team, and his inconsistent play over the years has made for roller-coaster seasons. Miami ranks 94th in the nation against the run, and guess what Georgia Tech does especially well? The Yellow Jackets are also tops in the ACC in pass efficiency defense and second in passing yards allowed. So on paper, the numbers appear to favor GT. However, games aren’t played on paper, and the Jackets have looked awful in each of their last two games while Miami has stood toe-to-toe with two of the league’s better teams. PICK: Miami
Oklahoma State is coming off an emotional win over Texas last week, and now they head to Columbia for what has the feel of a trap game against Missouri. Will Oklahoma State move to 6-0, or will Missouri finally get a statement win?
Bigalke: Looking at the Tigers, it is hard to fathom that they’ve played out their season to just a 3-3 start at the midway point. They’re balanced offensively, they’re not great against the pass but at least strong overall defensively, and yet they sit merely at .500 so far. Unfortunately for them, their greatest deficiency as a team — their passing defense — is exactly what they need to shore up before the Cowboys come to town. Weeden and Blackmon and Cooper have been carving up opponents through the air all season long, and this game should be more of the same as the Pokes stay undefeated another week. PICK: Oklahoma State
Strobl: With losses to the Sooners and Wildcats still fresh, Mizzou has a stretch of five games that is downright brutal. Oklahoma State this week followed by A&M, Baylor, Texas, and Texas Tech. Character is born through adversity, but this might be overkill. While the Big XII might not match the SEC in terms of top end talent, it has more than its share of solid teams. The good news for the Tigers is that Oklahoma State has a lousy defense. There’s really no other way to say it. The Cowboys are weak against the run and the pass, and Missouri should be leverage its ground game with good results. The bad news is that OSU scores nearly 50 points per game. And that may prove to be too many. PICK: Oklahoma State
Mitchell: Call me crazy, but I’m sticking with my upset pick here. After an emotional victory over Texas last week, the Cowboys are due for a let down on the road against Missouri. The Tigers are a much better team than their 3-3 record shows. Their three losses came to teams with a combined record of 17-2. I’m high on Oklahoma State this year, and fully expect them to a factor in the Big XII title race, but I think their perfect season comes to an end this weekend. Oklahoma State has been putrid against the run, giving up over 176 yards per game on the ground. That just so happens to be the strength of the Missouri offense. Missouri should ride the legs of Henry Josey and James Franklin as they slow the game down and keep the ball out of Brandon Weeden’s hands. PICK: Missouri
Top-ranked LSU will be without a few key players this weekend, namely Tyrann Mathieu as they host Auburn in Baton Rouge. Can the Bengal Tigers survive without those players, or will Auburn end LSU’s perfect season?
Strobl: Auburn still lacks a good solution at quarterback and its defense is coughing up more the 400 yards per game. Missing some key players might make things a little trickier, and a point spread of more than three touchdowns might be a bit much, but LSU shouldn’t have much trouble remaining undefeated. PICK: LSU
Mitchell: The losses of Tyrann Mathieu, Spencer Ware, and Tharold Simon will be tough to overcome, but fortunately for the Bengal Tigers, they have enough dept to overcome it, specifically in the defensive backfield. Mathieu has been a monster this season, but don’t forget about Morris Claiborne, who many expected to be the top defensive back on the LSU roster in 2011. The loss of Ware in the backfield means LSU will have to rely a lot more on Michael Ford and Alfred Blue. LSU’s offense should run smoothly without Ware against Auburn’s beleaguered defense. Auburn’s offense has been pretty anemic the last few weeks, and it’s unlikely that Clint Mosley, making his first career start, will be able to take advantage of LSU’s secondary sans Mathieu and Simon. Auburn’s offensive strength is their ground game, but unfortunately for them they are facing a defense that gives up only 75 yards a game on the ground. LSU should continue their quest of a National Championship with only a minor speed bump this week. PICK: LSU
Bigalke: Exactly, Matt. LSU didn’t lose enough talent to suspension for them to overcome it against a green team like Auburn. The Tigers from the Plains have been better than I certainly gave them credit for in the preseason, but ultimately the Tigers from the Bayou are sporting a deeper, more experienced team. Their defense is as stout as any other in the nation, their offense can do more than enough damage against a mediocre Auburn D, and Les Miles is bound to pull a little more magic out from under that hat. PICK: LSU
Stanford is another team without a blemish on their resume, but they have yet to be truly challenged through the season’s first month and a half. That changes on Saturday when Washington comes to town. Both teams enter the game without a conference loss, but which team will leave Palo Alto still undefeated in the Pac-12?
Mitchell: Washington has been a much better team than most expected after losing Jake Locker. To be perfectly honest, Keith Price has been better than Locker ever was this season. The bad news for the Huskies is they are 116th in the nation against the pass, and are going up against the best quarterback in college football. Andrew Luck should pick apart the Washington secondary with relative ease. I think the Huskies can cover the spread, and are likely to keep the game semi-close at least for a while, but the Cardinal are the better football team and should move to 7-0. PICK: Stanford
Bigalke: Washington has been playing lights-out football this year, with Keith Price looking far better in Steve Sarkisian’s system than Jake Locker ever did. Of course, Andrew Luck is still with the Cardinal, and until some team figures out a way to shut him down his team has to be considered a favorite. Are they 20-point-favorite worthy? Probably not… but ultimately the home team will win this one. PICK: Stanford
Strobl: Like Auburn-LSU, this game may be a good opportunity to take the underdog against the spread, but don’t expect Washington to go as far as earning the upset win. Stanford will probably hit a roadblock or two before the season is out, but while the Huskies are improving, the offense isn’t yet at the point where it can handle the Cardinal attack. Pick: Stanford
The game of the night pits undefeated Wisconsin on the road in East Lansing against a Michigan State team that ended Michigan’s perfect run last week. Will Wisconsin keep their National Title hopes alive, or will Michigan State beat their second straight highly ranked opponent?
Bigalke: As I said earlier, this is the matchup of strengths that really has me intrigued this week. The Badgers churn up yardage on the ground as well as any other team in the country. The Spartans stop the run as well as any other team in the country. Something has to give… and ultimately it is going to come down to the team with the best overall player, and in this case that honor has to go to Badgers QB Russell Wilson. Since coming from NC State over the summer, Wilson has shown tremendous growth in his passing prowess as well as keeping enough in the tank to bust off long runs when necessary. Here’s guessing he does both this weekend. Hell, maybe Montee Ball will even throw him another touchdown reception. PICK: Wisconsin
Strobl: Down in my neck of the woods, the buzz over Wilson’s performance is bittersweet. He’s still in red, but the uniform is of a different stripe, and folks are sorry to see him gone from NC State. However, Wilson deserved a better team around him, and he’s proving that with each quality performance. Michigan State will give the Badgers a good game defensively, and Wisconsin fans shouldn’t expect the usual 50-point outburst. But in the end, the Badgers are simply too good at too many positions. Pick: Wisconsin
Mitchell: Wisconsin wants to me considered one of the top few teams in the nation, well they get their chance to prove that in East Lansing on Saturday. The Badgers are averaging over 50-points per game offensively, but they haven’t faced a defense like Michigan State’s yet. The Spartans statistically have the second best defense in the land behind Alabama. The problem for the Spartans is that they haven’t seen an offense with this much firepower either. Wisconsin has a very balanced attack led by Russell Wilson at quarterback and running backs Montee Ball and James White. Michigan State will play Wisconsin closer than anybody has at this point, but in what could be a Big Ten Championship preview, I expect the Badgers to come out on top. PICK: Wisconsin