USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down the latest Amway Coaches Poll.
Surprise performances and unexpected outcomes are anticipated each weekend in the wild world of college football. Even if everyone knows they are coming, guessing when and where they will happen is difficult.
The USA TODAY Sports college football staff — Jace Evans, Paul Myerberg, Brent Schrotenboer, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus and Dan Wolken — weigh in with some bold predictions for Week 8 of the season:
Few schools made more noise about the prospect of not playing football in 2020 than Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers finally get their chance to get on the field. They don’t have to go all the way to Uzbekistan, as coach Scott Frost said his team would be willing to do. They do have to go to Ohio Stadium, which won’t be particularly fun. Indeed, Ohio State was perhaps the other Big Ten program most vocal about wanting to play, though the Buckeyes’ desire to get on the field this fall is easily explainable: With Justin Fields, this team is talented enough to win the national title. I said last year in this space that Ohio State would score 50 on Nebraska; that prediction fell short by two points. It won’t this year, as the Buckeyes – looking to make a statement – will get to 50 and beat the ‘Huskers by at least 40.
IMPACT EXPECTED: Five games with College Football Playoff implications
BIG TEN’S BACK: Ranking all seven games for Week 1 of the Big Ten season
After three consecutive losses, Pittsburgh shocks Notre Dame in one of the biggest upsets of the season. It’s make-or-break time for the Panthers, who started 3-0 but have since lost to N.C. State (30-29), Boston College (31-30) and Miami (31-19). With a chance to salvage its season, which began with hopes of cracking the Top 25, Pitt gets the biggest win of coach Pat Narduzzi’s tenure.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, center, runs onto the field with his players before the Camping World Bowl against Iowa State in Orlando, Florida. (Photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack, AP)
Michigan fans are accustomed to letdowns. After waiting forever for this season to start, they soon will be reminded again about the difference between high expectations and reality during the battle for the Little Brown Jug at Minnesota. Veteran Golden Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan and star receiver Rashod Bateman will test Michigan cornerback Vincent Gray, who has one game of starting experience. Minnesota has won only two games in this series since 1986, but this year is one of their best chances yet and they take it.
There will be upsets. Like death and taxes, college football surprises are another constant of life. So where does it happen this week?
No. 7 Penn State faces a tricky visit to Indiana for its opener. The Hoosiers, who went 8-5 last season, return most of their key contributors and are going to surprise some better-known teams. The Nittany Lions might be one of them, especially if they are peeking ahead to next week’s showdown with Ohio State. It’s a nail-biter for sure and possible major shock to kick off the Big Ten season with some fireworks.
The arrival of the Big Ten on the college football scene will get most of the attention this weekend. But the other ‘Big’ conference has some important contests as well.
There remains but one unbeaten team in the Big 12 entering Saturday. By day’s end, there will be none.
Yes, Oklahoma State is at home, and the Cowboys might also have their starting quarterback Spencer Sanders back.
But Iowa State comes into Stillwater on a roll after shaking off that opening loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, much of which was due to breakdowns on special teams. The Cyclones are still good enough to win the Big 12, and they’ll prove it with a big win on the road.
There’s a lot of hope around Michigan that Joe Milton will finally be the long-term answer at quarterback, which has basically been a band-aid position for the Wolverines since Jim Harbaugh took the job. Maybe that will turn out to be the case. But Minnesota’s identity, its style of play and its spirit is well-established by now, and the Gophers are going to be well-positioned to open the season with a big win because of their experience and consistency. Without a warmup game to get his feet underneath him a bit, I expect Milton to struggle while Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan was primed for a huge season before the pandemic hit. Minnesota wins convincingly here and brings a new round of angst about whether Harbuagh will ever win a Big Ten title.