In a normal year, this would have been the midpoint of the college football season, but of course, this is not a normal year. We would have had 14 weeks plus a 15th week for Army-Navy if the original 2020 schedule had remained intact, making Week 8 the halfway mark of the season for most teams. Yet, in this adjusted season with reworked schedules, Saturday becomes opening day in two conferences: the Big Ten and Mountain West. Selected games from those conferences are worth highlighting on the schedule for Week 8, plus a few other notable games elsewhere around the country.
Penn State at Indiana
NCAAF Odds: Penn State -6.5
Indiana won eight games last season, marking the first time in roughly a quarter of a century the Hoosiers had done that well. Indiana is a basketball school, but last year, it was a football school. Coach Tom Allen, a former defensive coordinator at IU who was promoted to head coach, has done an excellent job. His big challenge is maintaining the productivity of the offense despite the fact that offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer left to take the open head coaching job at Fresno State. In a year when offenses have been ahead of the defenses in the early part of the season, due to defenses not having sufficient practice or preparation time during the pandemic, Indiana might lose crucial ground due to its coordinator change.
This is viewed as one of the more interesting and consequential games in Week 1 of the Big Ten season, so while there might be questions about Penn State as well, the uncertainties involving Indiana might prove decisive. The Hoosiers need their skill-position players, specifically quarterback Michael Penix Jr., to display their natural talent and make improvisational plays to overcome any early-season structural limitations. While Penix could perform brilliantly and reduce the worries about Indiana’s offense, the Hoosiers’ margin for error remains small, and Penn State – a Big Ten title contender – is likely to take advantage.
Cincinnati Bearcats at SMU Mustangs Game
Odds: SMU -2.5
This is a showcase game, because the winner will be the leader in the American Athletic Conference while also remaining unbeaten. In the Group of Five race for a New Year’s Six bowl berth, Cincinnati is considered by many the favorite. If the Bearcats can win on the road, they would affirm their status as the favorite and would deal SMU a devastating (though not fatal) blow. The loser won’t be eliminated from the Group of Five championship chase, but it would have to run the table in its remaining games.
The big clash is Cincinnati’s defense and SMU’s offense. Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman is a rising star in the coaching world. Everyone in the business thinks he will get a head coaching job before long. Freeman will devise a scheme to try to stop SMU’s high-powered passing offense, led by Texas transfer Shane Buechele, who has been superb in leading the Ponies under passing guru Sonny Dykes. That battle – Freeman versus Buechele – will likely decide the game. If that matchup is a draw, the attention turns to UC quarterback Desmond Ridder against the decent-but-not-great SMU defense.
Iowa State at Oklahoma State
Odds: Oklahoma State -3.5
When the season began, few people anticipated this as a game in which both teams would be unbeaten in the Big 12 standings (Iowa State lost a nonconference game), with the winner having the inside track to the Big 12 Championship Game. Yet, that’s where we are. The winner here joins Kansas State as having a good chance to play for the Big 12 title since normal favorites Oklahoma and Texas already have two losses apiece in conference play. This is a massive opportunity for both Iowa State and Oklahoma State. The key competition within the larger game is Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy against a stingy Oklahoma State defense, which has carried the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State – with all of the offseason controversy – is the favorite in the sportsbook.
Utah State at Boise State
Odds: Boise State -16.5
The return of Mountain West football brings this showcase in Boise. The Boise State Broncos are once again the favorite to win the Mountain West. In recent years, Utah State has been one of their foremost rivals. Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier was good last season when healthy but he didn’t play that often. He missed several games due to injury, taking lots of hits behind an inconsistent offensive line.
A healthy Bachmeier makes Boise State’s offense hum with efficiency. If he is given a clean pocket, it will be very hard for Utah State’s linebackers and defensive backs to keep up with the Broncos’ backs and receivers. Cincinnati might be the favorite in the Group of Five race, but Boise State figures to enter that race. If Cincinnati or the AAC champion (it might be SMU or Memphis) loses twice, Boise State could certainly sneak in and win the Group of Five despite playing fewer games than the AAC this season.
Michigan at Minnesota
Odds: Michigan -3
Michigan begins another season in which the Wolverines are expected to finish behind Ohio State and Penn State in the Big Ten East Division. Moreover, Michigan in 2020 has to face West Division powerhouse Wisconsin. The Big Ten schedule is difficult for Michigan, and since the Wolverines have had a tough time rising to the top of the conference over the past decade and a half — they haven’t won a conference championship since 2004 — it is hard to place a lot of faith in Michigan’s ability to win the Big Ten. If Jim Harbaugh is to have any chance of winning the conference, he must win this game. It’s non-negotiable.
Michigan can’t immediately lose and expect to have all the other dominoes fall in its favor the rest of the way. The Wolverines need to win their first several games. They might lose one game late in the season, but they can’t lose early. Minnesota had a great 2019 season and will immediately find out if it is still a contender in the Big Ten West, or if it is going to regress and discover that one good season doesn’t necessarily mean the Gophers have transformed themselves completely. The Wolverines are favored on the online betting odds here.