2016 College Football Picks: Week Eight
|Kerryon Johnson, Auburn|
Current Record: 41-15
1 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. 6 Texas A&M Aggies
Ever since Johnny Manziel led Texas A&M to a crazy, impressive upset over Alabama en route to his Heisman campaign, the rivalry between the two has been all Crimson Tide, including a dominating showing last season. This season, however, the two appear closer matched. Yes, Alabama has come out and looked terrific as usual, but the Aggies are firmly in not only the SEC Championship mix but the National Championship conversation. Alabama will be led by their offense, which has evolved even more under third-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin this season. The Tide have always been able to out-physical opponents in the trenches, but the ability of quarterback Jalen Hurts to run and open things up makes things even harder on defenses. Hurts is joined by a strong cast of weapons, from backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough to receiver Calvin Ridley and their brutish offensive line. Even though 'Bama has adopted more spread principles under Kiffin offensively, this is still a group that can run it down your throats and beat you down. That is how they have won the last two meetings between these teams, and the Aggies have to prove they can stop it. Texas A&M's defense has taken huge leaps this season, and includes plenty of star power, namely defensive end Myles Garrett and safety Armani Watts. However, the group struggled against Tennessee two weeks ago, and the Tide will feature the most versatile and talented offense they've seen. If they can't force some turnovers or simply stop the Tide, any chances of winning go out the window. The good news for Texas A&M is that they can certainly counter with a potentially potent offense of their own. QB Trevor Knight knows what needs to be done to beat Alabama, as he beat the Tide in the 2014 Sugar Bowl while at Oklahoma. Knight won't put up crazy numbers, but he is a smart, efficient signal-caller that will make the right moves. Against a swarming defense like Alabama's, that will be key. A&M has brought some balance to the table on offense this season, as back Trayveon Williams has broken out. 'Bama has always been great at stopping the run, but the Aggies will still try to get Williams out in the open field and let him make plays. The Aggies also bring Josh Reynolds and Christian Kirk, two dangerous receivers that will test the dominant Alabama secondary. So far Alabama has looked downright scary, performing perhaps better than their 2015-2016 National Title counterpart. But, expecting Alabama to coast to a victory, even at home is unrealistic. Texas A&M will put up a great fight and knows how to take down the Tide in front of their home folks. Yet, I'm not confident enough in their abilities to stop the Tide to pick them to win.
Alabama, 35 Texas A&M, 27
17 Arkansas Razorbacks vs. 21 Auburn Tigers
Entering the season, Gus Malzahn had one of the hottest seats in FBS football head coaching. Malzahn's Auburn teams had slipped from a magical 12-2 2013-2014 to subsequent 8-5 and 7-6 marks, and the '16-'17 season didn't look overly promising. Now deep into the season, Malzahn appears to have worked his way off that hot seat. Auburn is 4-2 and still improving, but they own impressive wins against LSU and Mississippi State and are not completely dead in the SEC West race. Now, they will have to prove they truly are a contender in the conference by beating 5-2 Arkansas. The Razorbacks looked flat against Alabama a few weeks ago, but has looked strong beyond that. Quarterback Austin Allen has led a rejuvenated passing game that has been very surprising, considering head coach Bret Bielema's adoration of the ground game. That doesn't mean Arkansas will completely abandon a rushing attack that has three very good running backs, especially against an inconsistent Auburn rush defense. A major component to watch in this one will be Arkansas' line play in this one. The Razorbacks are a physical team that relies heavily on their O-Line, but the group hasn't played to their potential so far in 2016. Facing an Auburn front seven that includes future NFL contributors Carl Lawson (six sacks) and Montravious Adams (17 tackles, four for loss), will be a major test. Auburn has looked very good offensively lately, as the group has seemingly hit their stride. The main reason for that has been the play of sophomore quarterback Sean White, who is completing nearly 70 percent of his throws. He will be aided by backs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway, who have excelled in Malzahn's read-option scheme. Johnson is still questionable for this one as he is nursing an ankle injury, but the Tigers expect the talented veteran to play. Another player to watch is John Franklin III, a former Florida State transfer who arrived at Auburn after spending time in the junior college ranks. Franklin III is a dangerous runner, and his ability to open things up with his legs in certain quarterback situations will give Arkansas' defense plenty of issues. Arkansas has been solid defensively for much of the year, but they've struggled to contain running quarterbacks, and that is what Franklin is. Coming off a bye week, and riding a huge wave of momentum, it is hard not to pick Auburn in this one, especially considering they will be playing in Jordan-Hare.
Auburn, 30 Arkansas, 21
23 Ole Miss Rebels vs. 25 LSU Tigers
After falling to Arkansas this past week, Ole Miss is now 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the conference. A preseason Top 10 team, the Rebels could be in serious danger of missing a bowl game if they lose this weekend to a suddenly hot LSU squad. The issue for Ole Miss has not been their passing game as senior quarterback Chad Kelly has played very well, despite some second half struggles. Kelly has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards already on the year and his connection with tight end Evan Engram and some dangerous weapons at receiver have helped Ole Miss earn a Top 15 passing offense. That will make this LSU matchup very interesting, as the Tigers are stacked in their defensive backfield. Safety Jamal Adams is a superstar, and LSU also brings two shutdown corners in Tre'Davious White and Kevin Toliver. Kelly is a special talent but he too often tries to throw the ball into tight windows and doesn't read defenses as well as he should, which could spell doom for the Rebels agains this ball-hawking group. While Ole Miss has a Top 15 passing offense, their ground attack is ranked 85th, and the running back group has struggled mightily. Against a vaunted LSU front seven, it is hard to know if Ole Miss will be able to do anything in that part of the game, which kills any balance they might be able to establish. For LSU, the Tigers have won two straight under new interim head coach Ed Orgeron, while averaging 550 yards per game during that span. What is even more impressive about that is that they have done it with star back Leonard Fournette injured. Backup Derrius Guice has slashed through a number of defenses this season, and he could have another big game, but the Tigers are hopeful Fournette will be back. While Fournette has not been his usual self this season, he could still wreak havoc on a poor Rebels' rush defense. LSU is hoping they can find some much-needed success through the air. Purdue transfer Danny Etling replaced Brandon Harris earlier in the year, but the aerial attack still has not improved. With dangerous Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural on the perimeter, the Tigers have the chance to find some success. While the Rebels appear to be trending down, Orgeron (former head coach at Ole Miss) has LSU flaming hot one week before their battle with Alabama. Unless Kelly can work some magic, Ole Miss could fall to under .500.
LSU, 28 Ole Miss, 23
2 Ohio State, 37 Penn State, 24
10 Wisconsin, 24 Iowa, 16
12 West Virginia, 34 TCU, 33
3 Michigan, 43 Illinois, 17
5 Washington, 38 Oregon State, 24