At long last, Big Ten (and Mountain West) football is BACK. This weekend, opportunities to see sensational NFL prospects like Justin Fields, Pat Freiermuth, and Rashod Bateman will be littered across the television guide. If there was ever a Saturday to schedule a date with your couch and television, this might be the one.
Week Seven brought a disappointing 1-2 record. Temple overcame a slow start to hold off South Florida, but not by the margin that we needed, and Boston College faltered badly in primetime against Virginia Tech. Luckily, Western Kentucky and UAB nearly crossed the over in the first-half to notch our only win of last week. The season-long record is now 10-8, as we hope to end the two-week slide this week.
Week Eight's slate includes a few exciting games for teams making their season debuts. Here are some betting picks to follow along with as you enjoy another college football Saturday.
Rutgers at Michigan State (-13.5)
Piscataway, New Jersey , has become the laughingstock of the Big Ten. Rutgers, losers of 21 straight conference games, made a big move this offseason by bringing back the program's most successful coach of all-time in Greg Schiano to lead the program once more. Schiano immediately hit the transfer portal to pick up players that could contribute right away such as 2nd team all-Big Ten returner and receiver Aron Cruickshank (Wisconsin), tight end Jovani Haskins (West Virginia) and five defensive linemen from Power 5 schools. Nearly 40% of the players on the 2020 roster are newcomers, and Schiano is beginning to generate a buzz. This infusion of talent will not turn Rutgers into a contender overnight, but it will give 2018 starting quarterback Artur Sitkowski, who took a redshirt year in 2019 to focus on his development, more weapons than any Rutgers quarterback has had since the program's days as a member of the Big East Conference.
The 2020 offseason was tumultuous in East Lansing. After Coach Mark Dantonio resigned, while the program was allegedly under investigation, the team's desperate coaching search for his successor had little success. With top options like Luke Fickell and Pat Narduzzi opting to stay with Cincinnati and Pitt, respectively, the Spartans took an unconventional and unusually late route hiring Mel Tucker away from Colorado in mid-February. The 48-year old Tucker had just wrapped up a 5-7 year in his first and only campaign in Boulder, but brings a strong defensive pedigree with NFL experience and collegiate experience as an understudy to Nick Saban and as Kirby Smart's defensive coordinator at Georgia. 2020 marks the start of a rebuild, replacing 14 starters from a year ago - a 7-6 team that had one of the least productive offenses in college football. Without the benefit of spring practice, and with position battles still ongoing through game week (Michigan State's quarterback race was still unsettled with four contenders), expectations may be at an all-time low for this program.
The Scarlet Knights have been beaten by the Spartans in their last six matchups, but this year's matchup between a pair of new coaches feels different. Sitkowski was a highly sought after quarterback recruit who has never had many weapons at his disposal, but has shown glimpses including a strong performance against Boston College last season. The speedy Cruickshank was underutilized at Wisconsin and should become the go-to option early on. Looking down the road, this game may be each team's most winnable game on the schedule, an opportunity that Coach Schiano will seek to maximize.
Pick: Rutgers +13.5
#3 Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (-13.5)
The Fighting Irish overcame a mini-scare to hold off Louisville last week and preserve their spotless 4-0 record. The passing game still has some flaws, but the rushing attack has powered Notre Dame thus far. Sophomore Kyren Williams and freshman Chris Tyree lead the way as a fearsome duo of running backs that led an Irish rushing attack bulldozing Florida State to the tune of 353 rushing yards. The youngsters' success is made possible by the best offensive line in football, featuring at least five legitimate NFL draft prospects with multiple years of starting experience. Before last week's lackluster 12-7 win, the offense had seemingly been able to do as it pleased with comfortable wins over Duke, South Florida and Florida State. Senior quarterback Ian Book should be expected to bounce back from his poor performance last week to help the Irish passing attack compliment the elite rushing offense.
Pitt found out the hard way last week how difficult life could be without their star quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pickett, who was on his way to a campaign worthy of discussions in the Heisman race, was replaced by redshirt freshman Joey Yellen, a talented four-star transfer from Arizona State. Yellen looked nervous and floated a few throws in the first half, but settled in and seemingly became comfortable behind solid pass protection versus a staunch Miami defense. The Panthers' leading receiver is freshman sensation Jordan Addison, who is a threat to take any play to the house with his speed. The problem for Pitt, offensively, has been running the ball. Pickett had been arguably the team's biggest rushing threat up until his ankle injury, which is expected to keep him out of this week's contest. At one point, Pitt had five running backs designated as co-starters on its depth chart, to no success. In order to have a chance of upsetting the Irish, Pitt will need to develop some sort of threat on the ground to open up the passing game for Yellen.
The defenses for both teams, while rightly praised, have been torched for big plays quite a bit more than one would expect so far. Pitt, for instance, has the nation's leader in sacks (Patrick Jones II) and one of the most talented defensive lines in college football, but continually plays man-to-man press coverage on the outside with the undersized, but talented, 5-foot-8 cornerback Marquis Williams. If Coach Pat Narduzzi sticks to his stubborn defensive philosophy, Notre Dame will follow the blueprint set in their last three losses to North Carolina State, Boston College, and Miami, by attacking Williams and his fellow cornerback Jason Pinnock over and over again until they break a big play.
Pick: Over 44.5
Texas State at Brigham Young (BYU) (-28.5)
Coach Jake Spavital, in his 2nd year commanding the Texas State Bobcats, is one of the youngest coaches in football at age 35. Spavital brought the air raid concept to San Marcos, which he embraced as Dana Holgorsen's offensive coordinator for two seasons at West Virginia. So far, the Bobcats' offense has had its fair share of success through the air, but the defense is ultimately holding the team back from winning more games. At quarterback, Brady McBride gives Coach Spavital the prototypical gunslinger that he's looking for his system, and McBride has done a good job of spreading the targets to senior receiver Jeremiah Haydel and five other pass-catchers with double digits receptions this year. On defense, the Bobcats allow nearly 450 yards of offense per game, and might need a miracle to keep BYU under their season average of 43 points per game.
Junior quarterback Zach Wilson and the BYU Cougars are playing inspired football and are off to the first 5-0 start for the program since 2008. Head coach Kelani Sitake's team is firing on all cylinders, with a strong offense averaging over 43 points per game, and a solid defense pulling its weight in recent weeks with a convincing 43-26 win on the road at Houston. The offense, which is averaging a staggering 541 yards per game, should score at will in yet another favorable matchup against a lousy defense.
Another week, another large BYU spread. The Cougars are starting to garner College Football Playoff conversation, and for good reason. The team has convincingly dispatched of its opponents thus far in impressive fashion, and has shaped up the narrative for a second half push. The second half of the Cougars schedule, which features marquee games versus Boise State and San Diego State, will put their playoff resume to the test. Winning games like this in convincing fashion will be necessary if BYU wants to earn a spot in the prestigious playoff.
Pick: Over 61.5