by Rafid Farjo (Twitter: @rafid_313)
The dust has begun to settle. Two big time head coaches have seen their fate set as Clay Helton of USC has already been let go and Ed Orgeron has agreed to part ways with LSU at the end of the season. Despite losses, Alabama and Ohio State have already made their way back to the top 5, and despite showing early promise Iowa has already been removed from the Top 10. 26 ranked teams have already lost so far, and that number is all but guaranteed to grow, previewed by (14) Coastal Carolina’s upset loss Wednesday night to Appalachian State. Coming into Week 8, we give our best predictions for some of the week’s best matchups using lines and odds from Barstool Sportsbook.
The Game: LSU @ (12) Ole Miss
The Play: Over 75 total points (-109)
Why: Both LSU and Ole Miss enter this week coming off emotional victories, but for dramatically different reasons. When LSU upset Florida last week, there was some hope they could save Head Coach Ed Orgeron’s job, but even with the win their efforts were deemed fruitless, as the school announced Sunday that they would part ways with Orgeron at the end of the season. Ole Miss on the other hand, comes into the week after being pelted by trash and harassed in a narrow victory over Tennessee.
The Rebels rank 4th in offensive EPA/play, 8th in rushing and 14th in passing. While there may be some concern for the Rebels offense as Heisman candidate QB Matt Corral was listed on the injury report, it is extremely likely that he plays in a game of this magnitude. The Tigers are also strong on offense with an EPA/play of .235. They rank 11th in EPA/passing play and while they are much lower in rushing EPA, they have shown a new commitment to the running game. Last week against Florida LSU RB Ty Davis-Price set a school rushing record with 287 yards on 36 carries for 3 TD (8 YPC). This was a dramatic flip in game script for the Tigers, as Davis-Price only averaged 13.5 carries/game in the prior 2 weeks. Both teams also possess their relative weakness on the defensive side of the ball. Ole Miss ranks 117th in defensive EPA at 0.224 while LSU is 99th at .168. Bill Connely’s S&P+ index also slightly supports this decision, projecting 76.7 total points. The number is high, but the relative strength of each offensive is apparent.
The Game: (24) San Diego St. @ Air Force
The Play: Air Force -3 (-116)
Why: Points may be at a premium for both teams, but with such a low number at 39, taking the Falcons is a better play. San Diego State is 6-0, but has escaped many games by one possession, including overtime games against Utah and San Jose State. The Aztecs possess a rather anemic offense, 116th in offensive EPA/play, and are even worse passing the ball, ranking 128 out of 130 FBS teams. To make matters worse for San Diego State, they will be without starting QB Jordon Brookshire. Air Force ranks 26th in overall EPA, 24th in offensive EPA at .187 and has a defensive EPA of .067, which is 53rd. The Falcons excel against the pass though, with an EPA of .043, and should be able to force San Diego State to be one-dimensional in running the ball when coupled with the Aztecs passing struggles. Against a physical Air Force defense that has allowed just 79 YPG against the rush over the last 3 weeks, rushing the ball may not come much easier. With San Diego State struggling to move the ball and Air Force bringing in a unique style of offense in the triple option that can both surprise opponents and dominate possession, they should be able to wear out the Aztecs.
The Game: (5)Ohio St. @ Indiana
The Play: Ohio St. -20.5 (-118)
Why: Unfortunately, Ohio State may be better than most people think. Coming off of their Week 2 loss to Oregon, the Buckeyes have rebounded strong, defeating their last 3 opponents by an average margin of 46.7 PPG. ESPN FPI has Ohio State ranked 2nd, and rapidly approaching number 1 Georgia, only behind by an estimated point spread of 0.3 points on a neutral field. They also rank 2nd in overall EPA/play at .233. While this is bolstered by their offense which is (again) 2nd in EPA/play behind star RB TreVeyon Henderson and a loaded WR room, their often-maligned defense has shown improvement. After allowing 6.9 yards/play against Oregon, they have risen to a defensive EPA of -.007, ranking 29th. They are a motivated team as they know they must beat up on weaker opponents by large margins to remain in playoff contention, and Indiana should be the perfect prey. The Hoosiers came into 2021 with high expectations, but have since faltered, albeit against high quality competition. They are 2-4, but rank 2nd in strength of schedule, with all their losses coming against top 11 teams. In part due to this brutal schedule, Indiana ranks 115th in EPA/play and have struggled specifically on offense, ranking 125th in EPA/play. The Hoosiers will be without star QB Michael Penix Jr. and against ranked teams have only been able to muster 11.25 PPG. With Ohio State’s defense on the rise and the Buckeyes offensive prowess facing a middling Indiana defense, this game could get ugly fast. S&P+ also sees some value in this line, projecting an Ohio State win by 21.6 points.
The Game: West Virginia @ TCU
The Play: TCU -4 (-117)
Why: Most metrics are not terribly high on TCU (relative to my personal belief), but it is clear they think much worse of West Virginia. TCU ranks 5th in offensive EPA at .266 and have demonstrated strength in the passing game with a passing EPA/play of .416. The Horned Frogs have been led by QB Max Duggan who boasts a 6.5:1 TD/Int ratio, and running back Zach Evans who has rushed the ball for 7.9 YPC this season. Both may continue their hot starts to the season against 2-4 West Virginia that has a defense ranking 80th with an EPA/play of .108. The Mountaineers secondary allows .272 EPA/play passing and opponents have been able to put up nearly 250 YPG against them through the air. The Horned Frogs defense has been poor this season, ranking 77th in S&P, but the Mountaineers may not pose too significant of a threat as they rank 62nd in S&P. West Virginia has shown an inept rushing attack, only surpassing 4 YPC in a game once thus far and the Horned Frogs will aim to key in on this weakness. TCU should move the ball at will on offense and although weak on defense, should handle West Virginia.