There are very few things better than midweek college football, and on Thursday, we’ll see four games. Queue up the LeBron James GIF. Not one. Not two. Not three. Four.
The action starts with three showdowns at 7:30 p.m. ET and includes SMU vs. Tulane, Florida Atlantic vs. Charlotte, and Louisiana vs. Arkansas State. Then, San Jose State and UNLV will close out the slate with some late-night action.
Our college football experts came prepared for this very moment, breaking down all four games along the way.
Check out all four picks, complete with full breakdowns for every game, below.
Week 8 College Football Picks for Thursday, Oct. 21
Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific betting preview for Friday evening’s Week 8 college football slate.
Specific bet recommendations come from 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.
Photos via Getty Images.
By Kody Malstrom
Call me Andy Williams because I am here to proclaim that it is the most wonderful time of the year. Football is in full swing, MLB playoffs, NHL, and the return of basketball. Sports everywhere, bets to be placed, and money to be made.
So, with nearly every sport in effect, where should your attention go? If you ask me, midweek football gets my eyes 11 times out of 10. We have an AAC showdown on Wednesday as Tulane travels to SMU.
Tulane started off the season by giving potential playoff team Oklahoma a scare, losing 35-40. After dismantling Morgan State the following week, Tulane has found itself on a losing streak, as it dropped the next four.
SMU, meanwhile, has come out of the gates strong, standing at a perfect 6-0. Possessing one of the best passing attacks in the nation, it will look to once again show out on a national broadcast.
Can Tulane slow down SMU’s buzzsaw of an offense? Let’s find out.
Tulane came into this season looking like it could match up with the best of them. That’s looking more like a fluke result as it has not been pretty since then, and the metrics show it.
The passing game is practically nonexistent, ranking mid-80s in both Pass Success and pass blocking. On the rare occasion quarterback Michael Pratt gets time in the pocket, he’s been decent.
Throwing for 1,364 yards, 13 touchdowns, and five interceptions thus far, Tulane will look to attack an SMU defense that struggles against the pass.
Turnovers and disruptions have been an Achilles heel for the Green Wave, ranking near the bottom of the nation in Havoc. If they can avoid the mistakes, and move the ball past the 40, they actually pose a threat to put up points. Tulane’s also a top-20 team in Finishing Drives.
The Tulane defense looks to have a long night ahead of it. Not only is the Green Wave defense really poor, especially in the passing department, but the SMU offense is also very good.
Tulane ranks 115th in Def. Pass Success, which could be a problem against an SMU offense that tops the nation in that metric.
The Tulane defensive line also struggles to get to the quarterback. Ranking 109th in Def. Pass Rush, SMU will look to exploit this all-around bad unit.
Expect yards to come in bunches for SMU, as this secondary is constantly getting torched. It has a Def. Big Play rating of 111th, a product of poor tackling, quarterbacks getting time in the pocket to develop plays, and a bad secondary.
SMU’s offense is sneakily one of the best units in the nation.
It excels everywhere for the most part, but especially in passing. Quarterback Tanner Mordecai has led this passing unit to rank No. 1 in Pass Success. He’s been slinging it all over the field, throwing for 1,893 yards, 26 touchdowns, and seven interceptions.
SMU limits mistakes, and the offensive line gives Mordecai plenty of time and protection in the pocket — recipe for great success, and it shows.
The Mustangs will look to constantly torch the Tulane secondary by converting big play after big play. Tulane can’t stop a nosebleed, so good luck stopping SMU.
While SMU’s Finishing Drives rate isn’t the best, it’s still above average and a metric it will look to improve on. This is something the Mustangs will need to figure out if they want a chance to upset Cincinnati down the road for the AAC crown.
While the SMU offense is one of the best in the nation, the defense leaves much to be desired. Not all hope is lost, though, as it does excel in some areas.
While the Def. Pass Success is 74th, the Def Rush Success is actually top-20 in the nation. Tulane is as balanced as it gets, rushing at a 50% clip. SMU will have to continue its defensive rush dominance if it wants to avoid the upset.
The secondary has question marks, but SMU’s defensive front does its part to help it out as much as possible. The Mustangs are very successful at getting to the quarterback, with a top-10 ranking in Def. Pass Rush.
SMU will need to rely on generating pressure in the backfield and keeping gains to a minimum, as it cannot tackle in the open field. It possesses a PFF Tackling rank of 126th, one of the worst in the nation.
Tulane vs. SMU Betting Pick
Tulane’s defense looks to be in for a long night.
SMU’s offense will put up video game numbers by the end of this one. Tulane ranks bottom-100 in all defensive passing metrics, an area that SMU is best in the nation. Mordecai is drooling at the thought of what he is going to throw for.
I simply do not see how Tulane will stop SMU every time the Mustang offense takes the field. Better yet, SMU is more than capable of stopping Tulane. This is shaping up to be a serious mismatch in strengths.
If SMU can consistently generate a pass rush like it’s shown, this will ease the burden on its secondary.
We project this as SMU -16, showing value to -13.5. It’s always great to grab the football number for the favorite, and I’d play this up to -14.
The lack of tackling on both defensive units also piques my interest in a live play. If either team starts off slow, I may look to take a live over, knowing that a big play can happen at any moment.
Pick: SMU -13.5
By Darin Gardner
Entering Thursday night, Charlotte sits at the top of the Conference USA East standings with a 2-0 record in conference play. The 49ers have bounced back from a disappointing 2-4 finish in 2020 and have utilized an efficient passing game to sport a 4-2 record.
Meanwhile, Florida Atlantic enters the contest at 3-3 after some bad losses to Air Force and UAB over its past three games.
To date, the Owls haven’t really played in a competitive contest. Its three losses have come by an average of more than 20 points per game, while its three wins have come by 32, 31, and 37 points.
It’s probably not the start that FAU fans were hoping for after ranking in the top five in preseason conference championship odds, but a win here would put the Owls right back at the top of the divisional standings.
Both teams have shown their fair share of definite strengths and significant weaknesses in 2021. With that in mind, who is best set up to capitalize in this matchup?
Florida Atlantic Offense
The FAU offense hasn’t been anything special this year, but it has definitely improved from a horrendous 2020 performance.
Miami transfer quarterback N’Kosi Perry has elevated FAU’s play at the position, and he currently ranks just outside the top 40 quarterbacks in adjusted yards per attempt.
However, the surrounding parts aren’t making Perry’s job any easier. The offensive line ranks 115th in pressure rate allowed, and the receiving corps’ PFF grade of 62 ranks outside the top 100 as well. Perry has played fine individually, but the passing game hasn’t been great overall because of those other factors.
The ground game has been better, ranking 41st in Expected Points Added (EPA) per rush. Running back Johnny Ford has arguably been the biggest bright spot on offense and leads the Conference USA in missed tackles forced per attempt, per PFF.
Florida Atlantic Defense
So far, the FAU defense has outpaced the offense.
The highlight of the defense has been the secondary, which is good news when considering where the strength of Charlotte’s offense is.
The leader of the back end has been safety Teja Young, who has allowed just eight catches for 72 yards on 182 coverage snaps, per PFF. As of now, his 89.4 coverage grade ranks fourth in the nation among safeties, and Young has been a major part of a defense that ranks 16th in Passing Success Rate Allowed.
To date, the Owls haven’t allowed a single opponent to pass for eight yards or more per attempt.
While the secondary is easily one of the best in the conference, FAU’s front seven hasn’t been particularly effective in terms of raw numbers.
The Owls rank 51st in Rushing Success Rate Allowed, due largely to some rough games against two very efficient rushing attacks in Florida and Air Force.
While those games were bad for the run defense, FAU has completely stifled its four other opponents on the ground, so there is definitely room for optimism despite an unspectacular ranking.
Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds has been the highlight for the 49ers in his fourth year as a starter, as he ranks 22nd in adjusted yards per attempt on the year.
Reynolds has two effective weapons on the outside in Grant DuBose and Victor Tucker, who have combined for 892 yards in two games and have generated 68% of the team’s total receiving yards.
In terms of PFF receiving grade, each ranks in the top 10 at their position in the conference, and are heavy contributors to a passing attack that ranks 25th in EPA per throw.
One clear weakness of this group is the offensive line. It ranks 106th in pass-blocking grade and 87th in run-blocking grade, per PFF. The ground game has been impacted by the weak line more than the passing attack has, as Charlotte sits 73rd in EPA per carry.
Overall, this is a top-40 offense in terms of Success Rate. While it has been productive in total, it has done so against the 105th-ranked offensive strength of schedule, per my numbers.
The Owls, especially in the secondary, will be a step up in competition from most of the defenses Charlotte has played so far.
There aren’t many good things to say about the 49ers’ defense. In terms of EPA, Charlotte ranks outside the top 100 against the pass and the run. Outside of Week 2 against FCS Gardner Webb, Charlotte’s defense hasn’t really had a solid performance all year.
It seems like Charlotte’s defense gets abused in one facet in every game, including the wins.
It was absolutely gashed on the ground by the likes of Duke and Illinois and then was chasing its tail in the passing game against Florida International and Middle Tennessee, despite coming away with wins in both of those games.
Markees Watts has been a bright spot for this team on the edge with 5.5 tackles for loss. He’s also generated four of Charlotte’s 10 sacks on the year. Additionally, he’s second on the team in tackles and has even added a pass breakup. There aren’t a ton of pieces in this group, but Watts has definitely been the highlight.
Florida Atlantic vs. Charlotte Betting Pick
It’s scary to say this with how Charlotte’s defense has performed this season, but the under is definitely worth a look here.
One big factor in that reasoning is pace, especially on Charlotte’s side of the ball. The 49ers rank 128th in seconds per play on offense and 114th in drives per game. While Florida Atlantic ranks in the middle of the pack in seconds per play, it joins Charlotte in ranking outside the top 100 in possessions per game.
I’m projecting just under 23 total possessions in this matchup, nearly two possessions lower than the national average.
This total opened at 54.5 on Sunday but shot up to 57 by Monday afternoon. Compared to my projection of 51.3, the over steam has turned this total into one of my bigger edges on the board.
It’s key to remember to always respect the market and understand that there’s usually good reason for line movement, but I do like the under at this price based on my projections.
A very strong FAU secondary could cause problems for an offense that has picked on a terrible schedule of opposing defenses so far, and the overall pace could limit possessions on both sides.
Pick: Under 57
Few things make me happier than Sun Belt football — one of them being midweek Sun Belt football.
On Thursday night, the red-hot Ragin’ Cajuns will head to Jonesboro, Arkansas, to square off against the Red Wolves in this matchup of best vs. worst in the Sun Belt’s West Division.
Louisiana is coming off of a blowout win over App State in which it led by double digits from the end of the first quarter on. Since losing their first game of the season, the Ragin’ Cajuns have won five games in a row but have only covered the spread in two of the five.
Arkansas State has gone in the opposite direction, though. After winning its first outing, it has lost every game since and only covered the spread in two of those five losses.
Can Louisiana keep its streak alive on the road this week? Or will the Red Wolves find a way to get their season back on track?
More importantly, after opening at 15.5 and still climbing past 17.5, is this spread going to be too large for a Ragin’ Cajuns team that is 0-3 ATS on the road this year?
Senior quarterback Levi Lewis has led a balanced Louisiana attack that averages 30.5 points and 405 yards per game.
So far this year, Lewis has completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 1,305 yards while only throwing two interceptions and accounting for six touchdowns. Lewis also has an elite group of receivers, which makes his life even easier.
A huge benefit for Lewis has been a veteran offensive line that has been solid in pass protection, allowing only nine sacks in six games. And while it’s not the bulk of their offense the Ragin’ Cajuns’ rushing attack can be dangerous, with talent all the way down the depth chart.
Four players alone have collectively accounted for 1,062 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground in six games
On the opposite side of the ball, Louisiana defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill leads the Ragin’ Cajuns in sacks and tackles for a loss.
The Red Wolves’ high-powered passing attack will be put to the test against a veteran Louisiana defense that allows just 347 yards on 20 points per game.
Louisiana ranks in the top 50 in points per game, yards per play and is fourth in the nation at converting fourth downs. The defense ranks almost 100 spots higher than Arkansas State in rushing yards allowed and points per game.
Billy Napier hopes to improve his career record against divisional foes to a perfect 14-0 with a win on Thursday night. Napier also will be in search of his 12th straight regular-season road win against Sun Belt competition.
The Ragin’ Cajuns have at points seemed unstoppable, most recently last week against App State. They limited the Mountaineers’ offense to just 211 yards and capitalized on four turnovers in the 41-13 victory.
Arkansas State Offense
The Red Wolves are very good offensively, averaging 440.2 yards on 30 points per game. Nearly all of their offense has come through a passing attack that ranks No. 1 in the Sun Belt.
The Red Wolves average 358.3 passing yards per game.
Unfortunately, they will be without five-game starter James Blackman (shoulder injury) at quarterback on Thursday night.
Layne Hatcher, who has been splitting time under center and has had success, will be in his place. So far this year, Hatcher has connected on 57.4 percent of his passes for 806 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions.
Arkansas State Defense
There is no team worse in all of D-I college football defensively overall than the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
They rank last in the FBS in yards allowed per game (584 per game), scoring defense (46.7 points per game), rushing yards allowed per carry (6.94) and yards allowed per pass attempt (10.3).
As a result, they have surrendered 18 touchdowns on the ground and 18 additional scores through the air.
Louisiana vs. Arkansas State Betting Pick
Louisiana leads the all-time series against Arkansas State, 26-20-1.
The Ragin’ Cajuns have won each of the last three meetings in the series, including a 27-20 victory over the Red Wolves last season in Lafayette.
The over is 4-0 in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ last four road games vs. a team with a losing home record.
The over is also 4-1 in the Red Wolves’ last five games after allowing more than 450 total yards in their previous game.
Arkansas State should be able to put some points on the scoreboard with its explosive passing game. But Louisiana will likely score points at will against the worst defense in the nation.
Because of that, I’m taking the over at 70, and I would take it up to 71.5
Pick: Over 70 (Play to 71.5)
By Kyle Remillard
The San Jose State Spartans travel to the Sin City to take on the UNLV Rebels at Allegiant Stadium on Friday night.
Repeating as Mountain West champions may be out of contention for San Jose State after starting the season 3-4 (1-2 in conference).
Losing starting quarterback Nick Starkel a month ago didn’t help the Spartans’ chances. But this is a big game for the program to keep their hopes of going to bowl season alive.
UNLV hasn’t tasted victory over an FBS opponent in over 700 days. The Rebels have been on the cusp of pulling an upset on multiple occasions over the last month.
The program suffered a one-score loss as 30-point underdogs to Fresno State. They followed that performance with a 24-17 defeat as a three-touchdown underdog to No. 24 ranked UTSA. And last time out, they let a win slip away in the final possession losing 28-24 to Utah State.
Will homecoming weekend at Allegiant Stadium be enough to propel the Rebels to their first FBS victory in over two years?
San Jose State Offense
The San Jose State offense has lost its mojo from last season as the group ranks 115th in Rushing and Passing Success Rates.
Starkel’s availability is unlikely after missing the last three games with an arm injury. Nick Nash is slated to make his fourth-career start after averaging 7.7 yards per passing attempt while tossing five touchdowns to two interceptions.
The rushing game has been a non-factor, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry as a team.
The offense has totaled 27 points in their last two games, including a double-overtime loss to San Diego State.
In that game, the Spartans’ only touchdown came in overtime and they failed to move the chains, completing just 5-of-18 third-down attempts.
San Jose State Defense
The San Jose State defense has put up similar numbers to what they saw last season. The Spartans have allowed just over 23 points per game and 5.0 yards per play, but it hasn’t been enough to make up for the offensive woes.
The unit has been solid in slowing down passing attacks, as they rank 57th in Success Rate. But the Spartans haven’t been able to force turnovers, as they have just one interception on the season.
The run defense will be crucial in this matchup and it has been a mixed bag for San Jose State. They were gashed for 217 yards on the ground two weeks ago against Colorado State while they held San Diego State to just 1.9 yards per carry last week.
The defense will need to slow down Charles Williams and the UNLV rushing attack if they want to escape Sin City with a victory.
Williams has been the steadiest source of offense for the Rebels this season.
He’s averaging over 100 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry to go along with his two six touchdowns. Last time out against Utah State he rushed for 221 yards and three touchdowns.
The quarterback carrousel once again is dominating headlines for the Rebels.
Presumptive starter Doug Brumfield is still day-to-day after missing the last two games with a back injury. His replacement Cameron Friel left the Utah State game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and is also limited at practice.
If Friel can’t go, that leaves head coach Marcus Arroyo with either Week 1 starter Justin Rogers or the Miami transfer Tate Martell.
Regardless of who is under center, the Rebels’ offense has looked rejuvenated, maybe in part to everyone wanting a pull on the new slot machine after a touchdown.
The UNLV defense has had a brutal schedule that includes four teams which have been ranked inside the AP Top-25 at one point this season.
UNLV has had the 29th toughest strength of schedule through the first six games this season, according to PFF.
The Rebels showed improvement off their bye week, identifying areas that needed improvement. They ranked among the bottom of the nation in tackles for loss and last week, they came up with 11 of them against Utah State.
UNLV has been strong at controlling the line of scrimmage of late and slowing down opponents’ rushing attack. They have really struggled against the pass, where they’ve allowed 8.8 yards per pass attempt against FBS opponents.
Opponents complete on average 73% of their pass attempts, which has the Rebels’ defense ranked in the bottom of the nation.
San Jose State vs. UNLV Betting Pick
There are still a lot of question marks up in the air entering this matchup, specifically around the quarterback situation.
The Rebels have been playing better football the last month and the fan base looks to be revitalized after playing their first home game at Allegiant Stadium. UNLV has been an underdog in all six of its matchups this year but covered the spread in five of them.
Williams is poised for another big game on the ground, which will open opportunities in the passing game.
San Jose State has been floundering as of late with the offense showing little signs of putting together scoring drives.
Over the last two games with Nash under center, the Spartans have had 27 offensive drives with only three resulting in touchdowns. Another two of those drives ended with field goals, with the remainder resulting in no points.
The Rebels are due for a victory and what better time than homecoming at the new Allegiant Stadium while playing against a San Jose State team that has been trending in the wrong direction.
Pick: UNLV +5 (Play to +3.5)