Week 8 College Football Betting Odds, Predictions: Collin Wilson’s 3 Top Picks, Including Notre Dame vs. USC (October 23)
Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Notre Dame Fighting Irish football helmet.
- It's a college football Saturday, which means Collin Wilson is ready to lay some money down.
- He breaks down three of Saturday's biggest games below, including Cincinnati vs. Navy, Oregon vs. UCLA, and USC vs. Notre Dame.
- Check out Wilson's full breakdowns and betting picks for all three games below.
The college football season is flying by, as Week 8 is already upon us.
While this week lacks the top-tier matchups with College Football playoff implications that we have seen in previous weeks, there are still some interesting matchups from a storyline and betting perspective in a number of conferences across the board.
That starts and ends with Cincinnati. The Bearcats travel to Annapolis, Maryland, to take on Navy as the second-ranked team in the country. Luke Fickell’s team is in the business of running up the score now, so the question remains when garbage time will start against the Midshipmen.
Then, arguably the best game of the day kicks off in Westwood later in the afternoon in a Pac-12 contest between Chip Kelly’s UCLA Bruins and his former Oregon Ducks team. This matchup will focus on the run game of both teams, as UCLA can capitalize with a one-two punch at running back and the dual-threat ability of Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
To wrap things up at night, USC heads to South Bend, Indiana, to take on Notre Dame in one of college football’s premier rivalries that features plenty of changes on both sides of the ball.
All three games represent matchups in which there is betting value, and I jumped on all three.
Check out the games I’m betting below, and don’t forget to follow me in the Action Network app ahead of game day to see all of the bets I make.
My Week 8 College Football Betting Card
Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific game on my Week 8 college football betting card.
Specific bet recommendations come via the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.
#2 Cincinnati vs. Navy
There are no questions surrounding Cincinnati from a top-25 perspective, but some of the biggest questions from a College Football Playoff perspective still fall on the Bearcats.
Will Cincinnati continue to shred conference play ranked as the second-best team in the nation? The Bearcats will take their undefeated mark on the road looking to win their 16th straight regular-season game against a service academy team looking for an identity.
Long gone are the days of the Midshipmen running the triple option with Keenan Reynolds or Malcolm Perry. Navy has lost 10 of its last 11 games but had covered three straight until a loss to Memphis in Week 7.
This is the first time Navy has hosted a top-five opponent since 1984, an upset of South Carolina.
The Bearcats have the inside track to land in the top four of the first College Football rankings set to debut in two weeks.
Not only are the wins piling up, but Cincinnati is also defeating opponents by an average margin of 29 points. That number is even more impressive considering Indiana and Notre Dame were on the schedule.
The offense starts with a top-15 rank in standard downs Success Rate and explosiveness. Luke Fickell’s offense has run 157 more plays in standard downs than passing downs, indicating the offense does not get behind schedule.
Jerome Ford has become a bigger part of the offense since the 2020 season. The running back has created 34 missed tackles and averages 3.6 yards after contact. Stopping the Cincinnati offense begins with Ford and quarterback Desmond Ridder in early downs.
When opposing defenses have pushed Cincinnati into third downs, Ridder has an even split between plays for Ford or targeting one of two tight ends in Leonard Taylor and Josh Whyle.
The Bearcats are currently top-15 in Rushing Success Rate and Offensive Finishing Drives. Opposing defenses must be equipped in the trench to keep Cincinnati from putting points on the board.
Fickell returned almost every player on a defense that gave JT Daniels and the Georgia offense fits in last year’s Peach Bowl.
Cincinnati could be faulted for the schedule of offenses played to date, as Notre Dame and Indiana are a shell of their 2020 versions.
The defense has ranked top-20 in almost every statistical category with a top-10 rank in standard downs Success Rate and Finishing Drives, which has been problematic for opposing offenses.
Lord have mercy. The Bearcats defense is impenetrable. pic.twitter.com/2T595I1ka6
— Justin Hiles (@justhiles_) October 16, 2021
There are issues across the board for the triple-option offense and the 3-4 defense. Quarterback is the most important position for a team that depends on fullback dive, attacking the edge or making a pitch to a skill position player.
When Navy fields an elite runner at the quarterback position, the Midshipmen are capable of running through the conference. Since Perry’s departure after the 2019 season, Navy has been one of the worst offenses in college football.
The goal is always the same: ask defenses to load the box for every down before a rare shot downfield.
Out of 14 plays on the Navy TD drive, they rushed it 13 times. The one pass was for a TD. Tai Lavatai finds Mychal Cooper for the score.
— CFB Blitz (@BlitzCfb) October 15, 2021
Quarterback Tai Lavatai has been under center for most of the season, but a head injury kept the signal caller from playing the second half against Memphis.
The offense struggled without Lavatai, as backup quarterbacks Chance Warren and Xavier Arline combined for seven rushing attempts and four yards.
Lavatai is considered questionable and will be a game-time decision.
Although linebacker Diego Fagot is one of the leading tacklers in the nation, the Navy defense has struggled in all facets. The Midshipmen rank in the bottom-five of all FBS teams in pass rush and coverage.
Opponents are averaging 6.1 yards per play and have above the national average in Success Rate from any down and distance.
The rush defense has a rank of 28th in Line Yards, but the secondary has been wide open for explosive plays all season. The Midshipmen have allowed 32 passes over 15 yards so far this season, but the real issue is when the rush defense gets the job done in standard downs. Navy is dead last in Defensive Passing Downs Success Rate with a rank of 114th against the explosive pass.
Cincinnati vs. Navy Betting Pick
There is no statistical advantage for Navy in this game against Cincinnati.
The Midshipmen will continue to run the triple option no matter the health of Lavatai but may save the quarterback with a short week ahead, getting just six days to prepare for a road trip to Tulsa in Week 9.
The real question remains how quickly Cincinnati gets into garbage time and if the starters stay in the game.
Desmond Ridder just got crACked 🤭pic.twitter.com/RGLxyAILGu
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 16, 2021
Ridder has led the charge in scoring 108 points in two previous games against Central Florida and Temple, but a late hit up 28 points may change the direction of garbage time.
While the offense looks to get as many points on the board as possible, the defense has been hard at work preparing for the triple option. There is reason to believe the Midshipmen will have issues getting points on the board, especially if Lavatai is inactive.
The Action Network projection places the side at Cincinnati -25.5 and a total of 50, both with slim margins against the market.
Fickell has thrown 50 on two previous opponents but may take a different route with three road games scheduled in a 20-day stint. A live second-half under would be considered a best bet, but for pregame a bet on Cincinnati, getting their points is recommended.
Pick: Cincinnati 1H Team Total Over 21 or Better
#10 Oregon vs. UCLA
The long history of Chip Kelly and Oregon football will write another chapter in Week 8. The former Oregon head coach led the Ducks to the 2010 BCS Championship game in a loss to a Cam Newton-led Auburn squad.
Kelly would go on to win a Rose and Fiesta Bowl before leaving for an NFL position with the Philadelphia Eagles. Sanctions on the Oregon program were rumored to be the reason for his departure from college football, but a short NFL tenure placed the coach back into the Pac-12 with UCLA in 2018.
Oregon has beaten UCLA twice during the Kelly campaign in Westwood.
The Ducks were on track to make the College Football Playoff with a road victory over Ohio State in Week 2. Blowouts of Stony Brook and Arizona disguised areas of the defense that Stanford looked to exploit, though.
The Cardinal defense limited the Ducks in scoring position while finding massive success in moving the chains. Stanford had two-plus first downs on 7-of-13 possessions and nearly doubled the national average in methodical drives, defined as a possession that is 10 or more plays.
Kelly will look to implement a game plan that includes dominating the trenches on both sides of the ball.
The best weapon for the Ducks’ offense is finally back on the field.
Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has been cleared to be on the sideline after missing the Stanford game with a non-COVID-19 emergency procedure. The offensive coordinator was kept in the press box against Cal.
Oregon ran a pace of 24 seconds per play through the first four games of the season, but without Moorhead on the sidelines, it ran a tempo of 22 seconds per play.
While the total on this game continues to tick up over 60, the market is reacting to Moorhead’s return but ignoring that the tempo may fall back to September numbers.
Oregon will look to establish the run with quarterback Anthony Brown and a number of running backs.
Head coach Mario Cristobal mentioned Trey Benson would be in the rotation and receive rushing attempts after getting only three touches this season.
Without CJ Verdell and a handful of offensive linemen looking to get full health, owning the trench is the biggest handicap of the Oregon offense.
— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTBVids_YT) October 16, 2021
The defense has struggled to produce in all facets except pass rush.
Graded in the top 35 per PFF, edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux ranks as the 14th-best individual defensive player in college football in terms of pass-rush productivity.
There’s plenty of expectation that the Oregon defensive end will be the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Kayvon Thibodeaux is so quick off the ball pic.twitter.com/Ai25fIK6SQ
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) October 16, 2021
The issues begin when an offensive line is able to suppress the pass rush. The Oregon defense is outside the top 100 in tackling, Havoc and pass coverage.
Cristobal mentioned the complexities of the UCLA offense, from unbalanced sets and the mobility of the quarterback.
The biggest concern may be Stuff Rate and Line Yards, both areas in which the Oregon defense falls outside of the top 65. If UCLA wants to the lineup and run the ball, the Oregon defense may provide no resistance.
The Bruins have one of the more dynamic sets of players at the skill positions in terms of the run game.
Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet is ranked seventh of all halfbacks in run grading, per PFF. Of all running backs in college football with a minimum of 70 rushing attempts, Brittain Brown is top-15 in yards after contact.
Brittain Brown Touchdown Run and UCLA should run away with this game pic.twitter.com/A1PSVYxijo
— The Transfer Portal CFB (@TPortalCFB) October 10, 2021
If the Ducks can stop the one-two punch of Charbonnet and Brown on the ground, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has the sixth-most scramble yards in the FBS.
Stuff Rate — a statistic that measures how often a rushing attempt is stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage — may be the most important statistic in this game, as the Bruins rank third in the nation in that area.
Oregon might have a long night in the rush defense category, as it ranks 72nd in Stuff Rate and 82nd in defending rush explosiveness. Oregon also owns a tackling grade outside the top 100, so there’s no doubt UCLA will bust big runs against the Ducks.
As for the defense, defending the run is equally as important. The Ducks run at a 60% clip and will not veer from the game plan despite injuries to running backs and offensive linemen.
Oregon found plenty of success on the ground in a narrow win over Cal, but the Bears’ rush defense is outside the top 90 in Success Rate. Meanwhile, UCLA lines up a top-10 defense in Line Yards and 57th in Rushing Success Rate.
The Bruins are certainly not the 1985 Chicago Bears, but the defense will be able to get stops against the Ducks.
Oregon vs. UCLA Betting Pick
The Oregon defense must keep its head on a swivel against a tenacious ground attack from UCLA.
Kelly has implemented an offense that has run 10 different personnels this season. Although the bulk has been in one- and two-back sets, the Bruins have flashed plays with three running backs and two tight ends, all the way to an empty set.
Making matters even more complicated is the 50% splits in pre-snap motion, huddle versus no-huddle, and the distribution of shotgun versus pistol. In 13 third-down plays against LSU, Kelly ran nine different formations.
The handicap in this game is how successful Oregon will be in passing downs, as the UCLA defense is outside the top 100 when an opposing offense gets behind schedule.
On the season, Oregon is 7% better than the national average in Success Rate on passing downs, averaging 6.1 yards per play. The UCLA defense is 93rd in opponent third-down conversion rate, indicating the Ducks will have success getting into scoring position if the offensive line and running backs can create yards after contact.
The Action Network projection has UCLA as a 2-point favorite with a total of 57.
The move on the total in the market is due to an expected efficiency increase with Moorhead back on the sideline, a valid scenario that means Oregon will be able to change directions on offense if the first quarter does not play out as scripted.
In a game where two teams will look to out-physical one another in the trenches and allow the running game to control the clock, UCLA is the more dominant team.
Moorhead will find ways to get the ball downfield on a suspect UCLA secondary, but Thompson-Robinson’s scramble ability is the difference-maker.
The quarterback has thrown just two interceptions on the season and has not fumbled over the past two games. Invest in the quarterback that has seen positive improvement in turnover-worthy plays after previously logging 23 fumbles and 20 interceptions before 2021.
Pick: UCLA -2 or Better
USC vs. #13 Notre Dame
Notre Dame and USC first met in 1926, and the matchup has become one of the premier college football rivalries for nearly a century.
With almost two dozen National Championships between the two programs, this game draws interest no matter what the records indicate.
Notre Dame is 5-1 and in the hunt for the College Football Playoff once again. The Irish have a half-dozen games against non-ranked teams to make a case for the committee after just a single loss to Cincinnati.
As for USC, head coach Clay Helton was fired earlier this season, leaving Donte Williams as the interim for a now 3-3 Trojans team. Williams’ career has predominately been on the West Coast with various teams, serving as a cornerback coach to a passing game coordinator for the USC offense.
Mike Bohn, USC Athletic Director, stated that Williams would take over as interim coach because of his strong recruiting ties and leadership attributes. Graham Harrell and Todd Orlando still hold the coordinator positions, but there have been changes to the scheme in the wake of Helton’s departure.
A win over the Irish would knock Notre Dame out of CFP contention and potentially boost Williams’ profile as a head coach.
Williams has been preparing for the trip to South Bend, pumping Irish band music during practice while changing practice times to prepare the Southern California roster for expected 40-degree temperatures.
The Trojans are coming off a bye week, assisting a number of injured players on both sides of the ball before the trip out east.
USC spent the bye working on fundamentals and technique, specifically for a defense that ranks 105th in tackling and 126th in Finishing Drives. Williams is working to correct a team that is bottom-10 in penalties per game and penalty yards per game.
Of all the advanced statistics dragging on the defensive side of the ball, the pass rush is not one of them. The Trojans own a top-35 rank, led by edge rusher Drake Jackson’s 16 total pressures.
Drake Jackson – quick and twitchy
Thought his game against Colorado last weekend was the best version we've seen of him pic.twitter.com/4Ctu7N4HUT
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) October 7, 2021
Kedon Slovis suffered an injury in the trip to Washington State but returned to have his best passing performances of the season against Colorado and Utah before the bye week. In the previous two USC games, Slovis increased his average depth of target from seven yards to 10 with five big-time throws and just two turnover-worthy plays.
Since the firing of Helton, USC has gone from a pass-heavy team in the Air Raid to a deep-threat offense at any down and distance.
The USC offense has become a deep threat on almost any play but has exceeded in scoring opportunities. The Trojans are 10th in the country in Finishing Drives with an average of 4.1 points per trip inside the 40-yard line.
Over half of the third-down targets go to wide receiver Drake London, who has 20 on the season.
While the defense gets back to basics in tackling and fundamentals, the USC offense is generating plenty of air yards in the wake of Helton’s firing.
The Irish also come off a bye week looking to have better performances after the first half of the season. A 5-1 record is respectable, but three wins by three points apiece over Florida State, Toledo and Virginia Tech have investors skeptical.
There are injuries hampering the team, but head coach Brian Kelly expects tight end Michael Mayer to be a full go against USC. That’s great news, as Mayer is second on the team in third-down targets and the remaining tight ends on the depth chart may all be out with injury for the Trojans.
Jack Coan threads the needle to Michael Mayer on 4th down sheesh pic.twitter.com/UGXQJnD9gD
— The Transfer Portal CFB (@TPortalCFB) October 2, 2021
Jack Coan will remain the starter at quarterback for the Irish, but Kelly made it clear that Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne would see time.
There was mention over the bye week that a plan was put in place for down and distances that benefit Buchner’s ability to escape the pocket and Coan’s ability to thread the needle in the pocket.
For all the mention of Coan’s mobility issues, the quarterback had his best game of the season against Virginia Tech and has committed just one turnover-worthy play on 65 pressured dropbacks this season.
The defense has recovered in the advanced analytics after being torched with explosive plays in the opener against Florida State.
The real question is whether this game is a resume builder for defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to be the next USC head coach. Freeman does not have ties to the West Coast but consistently ranks in the top three of all recruiters in the nation, along with the current USC interim coach.
The Notre Dame defense has improved to 11th in the nation in Rushing Success Rate, but the focus of the USC game will be on coverage and pass rush.
The Irish have held all opponents to below the national average in Success Rate in passing plays but have allowed big plays in key situations with a rank of 61st in defending explosive plays in passing downs.
This may be attributed to the aggressiveness of Freeman’s blitz calling.
Notre Dame sends blitz in 41% of snaps out of its base 4-3 formation. That number takes a titanic leap to 63% on second down when the distance is greater than seven yards, the definition of a passing down.
Slovis and the USC offense can expect blitz after any unsuccessful first-down play.
USC vs. Notre Dame Betting Pick
There are plenty of known variables coming into the South Bend showdown.
The Trojans offense remains pass-heavy, but the depth of target has undergone a rapid increase over the past three games.
The Irish offense has become more efficient in the use of each quarterback depending on down and distance, along with the portion of the game where the pass rush may not be as effective.
One attribute that both teams share is that the defenses are allowing yards, points and explosive plays.
Both USC and Notre Dame are allowing well above the national average in explosive drives by opponents. Both teams are outside the top 115 in defending rush explosiveness, but the passing game of both offenses will dictate the winner.
Freeman sends blitz with just four rushers at a 60% clip and rarely chooses fewer defenders to get to the quarterback. If Notre Dame sends four or five defenders, which has been the case in 80% of blitz attempts, there will be pockets for Slovis to find success.
As for the USC defense, there were many areas to address heading into the bye week. Not only are the Trojans one of the most penalized teams in the nation, but the defense is also bottom -ive in several categories, including Passing Success Rate and Finishing Drives.
The lack of a head coach has shown in “Middle 8” ranks, a stat that looks at point differential the last four minutes of the second quarter and first four minutes of the third quarter. USC ranks 127th in the Middle 8, a sign that clock management and halftime adjustments are not working for the Trojans.
The Action Network projection is Notre Dame -6.5 and a total of 54. No value exists on the market with the Irish favored by a touchdown, but the total is worth consideration.
Despite Freeman’s aggressive blitz, Notre Dame’s defense is fifth in expected points against the pass and ninth in Standard Downs Success Rate. USC will find passing sowns early and often, an area in whicg Slovis has excelled. The Trojans are 11th in passing downs Success Rate but 122nd in explosiveness.
Look for the Air Raid to take a few series to get rhythm back after the bye week, especially against a Notre Dame defense that does not allow explosive passing.
Conversely, the Irish have no rush explosiveness and will focus on passing to the tight end, as Mayer leads the team in targets with an average of seven yards per pass.
Notre Dame is 91st in Offensive Finishing Drives and 10th in Defensive Finishing Drives, suggesting the under has value down to key numbers of 58 and 55.