News & Analysis

College Football Week 8 Preview: Players to watch and expert predictions

PFF provides every fan with the right information to best prepare for Week 7 of the 2019 NCAA season. We offer advanced stats and grades on key players to watch and expert predictions for a handful of noteworthy NCAA games on the schedule for this week.

Thursday, October 17

UCLA @ Stanford

Players to Watch:
This matchup features an interesting tale of teams who are fighting for different things. Stanford has a chance to still make some noise in the Pac-12 North, not being mathematically eliminated yet while UCLA is one game shy of their best record finishing at .500 this year. Dorian Thompson-Robinson has underwhelmed in all but one game this year while K.J. Costello has completely been relegated to the bench and the team may have to go to their third option at quarterback if Davis Mills can't suit up. Mills has been great in relief of Costello, much better than the season's opening starter, completing 22-of-44 passes for 450 yards on throws targeted at least 10 yards downfield. He's an interesting case to watch if he goes as he'd go against the Pac-12's lowest-graded coverage unit this season.

Expert Prediction:
Stanford has stymied even the best of offenses (Washington) this season so there is no reason to think the Bruins can move the ball with much success against them. Cameron Scarlett again comes up with a big game and no matter the quarterback, the Cardinal get a big win, cover and keep pace in a convoluted Pac-12.

Friday, October 18

Ohio State @ Northwestern

Players to Watch:
The Buckeyes have a Friday night national showdown with the Wildcats and their three Heisman contenders should have a big stage to show up on. Justin Fields has completed 41-of-68 passes for 857 yards on throws targeted at least 10 yards downfield as he's currently the third highest-graded passer on such attempts. The Wildcats have given up just 19 completions on such passes this year, the fifth-fewest among all FBS defenses as this will arguably be Fields' stiffest defensive test to date. J.K. Dobbins is averaging 7.1 yards per attempt while forcing 30 missed tackles, and similarly to Fields, will face a defense that has missed just 23 tackles against the run, the 10th-fewest in the country. One thing that is certainly a favorable matchup, Chase Young — who is winning 36.7% of his pass-rushing snaps — should be able to get home with multiple pressures as the Wildcats offensive line is just the 99th-ranked pass-blocking unit in football.

Expert Prediction:
As favorable as those matchups sound for Northwestern, this one isn't even close. Ohio State proves on the national stage that they're in the discussion for the best team in the country and win as such. OSU for the win, OSU for the cover if their defense stays strong through all four quarters.

Saturday, October 19

Iowa State @ Texas Tech

Players to Watch:
Brock Purdy is the player to watch in this one as the true sophomore has come into his own as of late and is putting forth elite grades once again this season. He's the owner of the nation's highest-graded game as a passer (against UL-Monroe) and against the Texas Tech pass defense that ranks 98th in coverage grade, should have quite the afternoon. The Red Raiders can score with the best of them but it will take a few more big-time catches from star receiver T.J. Vasher to do such a thing against the Iowa State secondary.

Expert Prediction:
Iowa State is the better team and needs a win to stay in the hunt for a Big 12 title appearance. With the Oklahoma schools on the horizon, the Cyclones come out shaky but right the ship in the second half and cruise with another dominant game from Purdy.

Purdue @ Iowa

Players to Watch:
Iowa's offense has scored all of 15 points the past two outings but against a porous Purdue defense that ranks 110th in overall grade this year, QB Nate Stanley may get it together for the first time in what seems like 2019. Stanley has had big games through the air before and while he may not put up great PFF grades, he still can throw multiple touchdowns and big air yards if he's on his A-game. The Hawkeyes defense should stymie Jack Plummer at quarterback for the Boilermakers as well and as it doesn't seem Rondale Moore will be back for this one, Purdue is left without too many playmakers on offense who could make noise against a stellar Iowa defense. The Iowa linebackers could have a big game in the middle of the field against the Purdue short-area passing attack.

Expert Prediction:
Stanley puts forth one of those games that make believers out of him and the Hawkeyes and Iowa's defense limits too many yards and points from this one. Iowa wins but this one sweats out an over/under line from just Hawkeye points.

TCU @ Kansas State

Players to Watch:
Skylar Thompson was the nation's highest-graded quarterback during the first three weeks of action but as he's been forced to put the ball in the air more, he's fallen back down to more of an above-average guy through seven weeks. Still, he's doing a lot of things very well but without Malik Knowles again, he will have to count on some other playmakers against a talented TCU defense including safety Trevon Moehrig. Jalen Reagor always draws a mismatch as he's beyond talented at the wide receiver position but his quarterback play has been shaky for seemingly his entire career. Still, Reagor should have a heavily-favorable matchup against the Kansas State secondary that doesn't possess a cornerback with a coverage grade above 62.7 and have allowed 34 receptions for 478 yards this year.

Expert Prediction:
This is a classic Big 12 matchup with some stout players at various spots but no real clear-cut favorite entering the matchup. Lean on the better quarterback to make enough plays to win this one as Thompson leads a last-minute drive to win if the field goal goes. If you can find it, take Kansas State +3.5 all day.

Temple @ SMU

Players to Watch:
Led by Texas-transfer QB Shane Buechele, the SMU Mustangs are a perfect 6-0 for the first time since 1982 and have their sights set on a conference title. Standing in their way is arguably their toughest test to date in the Temple defense led by edge defender Quincy Roche who is second in the nation with 37 total QB pressures. He may not have the sack totals that some of the others do — with just three so far — but Roche is as havoc-creating as anyone in the country. He should certainly be a game-changer if he can get pressure on Buechele, who sees a sharp decline when under pressure, dropping his overall grade and passer rating by some margin as opposed to when he's kept clean. Look for James Proche and Reggie Roberson as quick outlets in this game as they should eat up targets and receptions.

Expert Prediction:
This is the best pass-rushing team SMU has faced so far, by some distance as their pass-blocking grade of 66.9 as a team ranks 4th in the conference. Jaylon Thomas and Beau Morris will have to be on their A-game at the tackle spots to keep Buechele clean, something they do just enough of as Buechele has to come from behind in the second half. He does just that but the Mustangs don't cover. SMU gets to 7-0, by three.

LSU @ Mississippi State

Players to Watch:
We've spoken about Joe Burrow until we've become LSU purple in the face. Time to look elsewhere as we know who Joe B is at this point in the season. Burrow should be able to find his star playmakers outside the numbers and well down the field in this one as no Mississippi State defender has more than 11 total pressures this year. Burrow is the nation's leader in grade from a clean pocket and his receivers have been on the receiving end of 18 touchdowns when he's been kept clean. Burrow to Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson should be quite the combination in this one.

Expert Prediction:
LSU suffers not from their hard-fought battle with Florida and comes out firing against the Bulldogs. Burrow gets the job done and they roll on awaiting their Week 11 showdown with Alabama. LSU wins but be wary of the sneaky backdoor cover by Mississippi State late.

Oregon @ Washington

Players to Watch:
This matchup, while great from a quarterback perspective, actually features two of the nation's top defenses. In a true separation Saturday, the Ducks and Huskies will fight for Pac-12 North supremacy as Oregon features arguably one of the nation's best secondaries. Deommodore Lenoir was a Midseason All-American while his cohorts in Jevon Holland, Nick Pickett, Brady Breeze and Thomas Graham Jr. are all playing at high levels. Myles Bryant for Washington anchors their secondary which features the likes of Elijah Molden, Trent Mcduffie and Cameron Williams who have all had their respective moments this year as well. As good as the quarterbacks are in this one, the defensive secondaries should have the biggest impact and you can bet on one of those aforementioned players having a big-time play or two.

Expert Prediction:
Justin Herbert and Jacob Eason are two very skilled quarterbacks and they've thrown the same amount of turnover-worthy plays this year. Washington gets the home-field advantage in this one but Oregon edges out the win on the backs of just a bit better secondary that causes one more mistake from Eason.

North Carolina @ Virginia Tech

Players to Watch:
True freshman quarterback Sam Howell has the Tar Heels looking primed for the future as he's led them to a 3-3 record under head coach Mack Brown. Virginia Tech has been an up-and-down team but the future for this team is also their quarterback in Hendon Hooker. Hooker is undefeated as the team's starter (2-0) as he's secured the Hokies' lone conference win. He's been efficient with the ball while averaging 9.2 yards per attempt with six scores against no interceptions. Surprisingly, Tech nor UNC are out of the ACC Coastal race and each quarterback can make a statement moment with a win as Howell gets his first taste of ‘Enter Sandman' when they head to Blacksburg.

Expert Prediction:
Howell rebounded nicely after a tough loss to Clemson and he continues that trend with a dramatic victory over the Hokies. Side with the better quarterback but go with the over as both quarterbacks have proven to be able to put points on the board.

Baylor @ Oklahoma State

Players to Watch:
Charlie Brewer and the Baylor Bears head to Stillwater as road underdogs despite their undefeated record so far this year. Their defense is strong enough to carry them to a victory while Brewer to Denzel Mims is a good enough connection to put points on the board against any defense, just ask Texas Tech. They'll have to contend with the nation's top running back in total rushing yards when they go up against Chuba Hubbard but when Spencer Sanders drops back to pass, he'll have to watch out for James Lynch and James Lockhart off the edge as the former leads the nation in total pressures.

Expert Prediction:
Brewer and the Bears come out firing on all cylinders and in order to cap the ‘upset' on the road, will have to ride their defense to stop the Cowboys offensive attack. Bears keep this one interesting all game and if they want a chance at winning, the under will certainly hit. Baylor covers, to say the least.

Michigan @ Penn State

Players to Watch:
Everyone's game of the week will pit the Nittany Lions hosting the Wolverines and we'll get to see a talented secondary go up against arguably one of the nation's top playmakers in KJ Hamler. Riding his prowess in the slot, Hamler is averaging 8.9 yards after the catch this year, gaining 231 of his 455 yards after hauling in the pass. He's scored five touchdowns and hauled in 12 more first downs on his 26 catches and he'll put to test any of the defensive backs Michigan puts in the slot to attempt to cover him. One thing is for sure — if you're looking forward points to be scored — look elsewhere than in the passing game as the Wolverines trio of starting cornerbacks in Lavert Hill, Ambry Thomas and Vincent Gray have given up just one touchdown this year while making four interceptions and a handful of pass breakups.

Expert Prediction:
The Wolverines keep this one a tight-scoring contest but a late run by Noah Cain gives Penn State the win. Penn State wins but not by 9 points as Michigan just doesn't have the offensive horses to go against the Penn State all-around defense.

Arizona State @ Utah

Players to Watch:
Brandon Aiyuk is the offensive player to watch for the Sun Devils as the wide out is second nationally in yards after the catch. The Utes were able to successfully slow down Isaiah Hodgins last week at Oregon State, nullifying their top threat but they'll have their hands full with Aiyuk. Utah should get a big game from RB Zack Moss who looked like his former self a week ago, needing just five carries to topple 100 yards on the ground in his return from injury. Moss is a tackle-breaking machine and a truly talented running back that Arizona State will have a tough time containing.

Expert Prediction:
The Utes are getting a lot of love as the home favorite as they're arguably the best team in the conference. Tyler Huntley is in line for the conference's top quarterback honor if he continues to throw the ball downfield as well as he has and the ASU secondary has been very susceptible to the deep pass. Utah wins big. Take the Utes -13.5. Take the over.

Arizona @ USC

Players to Watch:
Another potential shootout, the Trojans have missed 67 tackles this year as a team. Gary Brightwell and Khalil Tate have combined to break 23 tackles themselves this year and the Wildcats rushing attack should be able to find some lanes. Unfortunately for Arizona fans, they may not have the players in the secondary to match up with Michael Pittman Jr., Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown at USC. The trio of wide receivers is as talented as they come and have each totaled at least 350 yards, three scores and over 100 yards after the catch this year. One of those three is bound to break loose against a team that has allowed 13 passing touchdowns.

Expert Prediction:
It doesn't matter who is slinging the ball for the Trojans, the receivers are going to put up big numbers. This is the same team that dismantled the Utah defense over the top so USC should be able to do some similar damage against Arizona. The trouble is, Tate can score through the air or on the ground as the Wildcats will likely need both to cover +9.5. Trojans win but not by two possessions.

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