College Football: B/R Experts Answer Biggest Questions for Week 9
Survival is the operative word for the Week 9 slate in college football.
Around the nation, no FBS program can guarantee any level of postseason success with a victory. Several teams, especially the underdogs in this weekend's three Top 25 matchups, are on the brink of exiting the races for a conference title, though.
As always, the danger of an upset also lurks in rivalry games. Among the marquee games in that category, top-ranked Georgia clashes with Florida and No. 4 Michigan hosts Michigan State.
In the words of the late Al Davis: Just win, baby.
The members of B/R's expert panel—Max Escarpio, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—are looking ahead to the final weekend before the first College Football Playoff rankings are unveiled.
What Storyline Matters Most for the Regular Season?
I don’t necessarily love this answer, but it has to be the College Football Playoff. Specifically, it feels like we have some intrigue and drama surrounding the bracket and the teams ultimately chosen to fill it.
The reason I don’t love this answer is simple: College Football Playoff obsession is exhausting. We are all guilty of it, yet I cannot help but embrace the movement.
This year’s situation is particularly intriguing for a few reasons. For starters, the SEC is a glorious, jumbled mess. Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee will likely figure much of this out on the field, although the conversations regarding the inclusion of a team—or perhaps two teams—to not win the conference will be robust.
I am also very much intrigued to see how the Big 12 and Pac-12 make a push for a spot. TCU is unbeaten and will find a home in the CFP if it stays that way. Oregon is on fire and has reentered this picture as well. Oklahoma State, USC and UCLA could have a say in this as well. Oh, and we also have Ohio State, Michigan in the Big Ten and Clemson—fresh off a solid scare—in the ACC.
I have wanted the selection committee to struggle with a decision. Right now, it feels like we might reach that point.
I think the current scenarios in play will push the committee to expedite expanding the CFP to 12 teams.
As it stands now, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia are still very much in the playoff hunt. Alabama can't afford another loss, but if Tennessee and Georgia drop a game, both could still have strong enough resumes to make the CFP.
Four spots aren't enough if you have an unbeaten Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan or TCU, either. Then, if you open the door to a one-loss Tennessee or Alabama, what's stopping the likes of a one-loss Oregon or USC from making it in?
Since the CFP began in 2014, the final four teams have generally worked themselves out. When it seemed like there were a lot of potential teams that could make it in, most of them ended up with two or more losses. That could happen again this year, but I have a feeling that multiple teams worthy of a spot will get left out.
That could help the 12-team playoff arrive sooner than 2026.
Two votes for the macro, so let's highlight a micro topic.
Clemson's quarterback non-competition is teetering on the edge of becoming one. Dabo Swinney pulled DJ Uiagalelei last week, and star freshman Cade Klubnik played decently well in his place. After the game, Swinney did not entertain the possibility of a switch.
But Clemson is idle in Week 9, preparing for next Saturday's trip to Notre Dame. What if Uiagalelei struggles again? Clemson must be ready for that possibility.
Swinney isn't scared of midseason quarterback changes, either. The 2018 switch from Kelly Bryant to Trevor Lawrence helped the Tigers win a national championship.
My quick thoughts? Lawrence played meaningful reps early and often in 2018, unlike Klubnik and his scattered snaps this season. Clemson should be Uiagalelei-or-bust in 2022.
Either way, the Tigers have the most uncertain quarterback situation among the biggest CFP contenders. It's a massive topic to monitor in the final month, particularly given the strong likelihood Clemson ends the regular season undefeated and wins the ACC.
What's the Best Matchup Outside the Top 25?
With an honorable mention to East Carolina trying to become bowl-eligible on Friday on the road against a BYU defense that can't stop anything this season, the correct answer is a toss-up between the two unranked clashes in the Big 12.
In the early one, Oklahoma travels to Iowa State for the latest edition of a rivalry in which each of the last seven games has been decided by 10 points or fewer.
The Cyclones are 0-4 in league play, but those four losses were by a combined total of 14 points. They've had a stout defense which is, uh, not true of Oklahoma. The Sooners are allowing 46.8 points per Big 12 game, but at least the offense has been potent when Dillon Gabriel is on the field. This should be a fun 31-28 type of contest.
Later on, 4-3 Baylor visits 4-3 Texas Tech in a game where the loser faces quite the uphill battle to bowl eligibility.
If the Bears fall to 4-4, they'll be in real danger of finishing with seven or more losses, as their remaining games are at Oklahoma, at Texas and at home against ranked TCU and Kansas State. It could be a tough fall from grace for the preseason AP No. 10 team.
But, hey, if things get bad enough, at least Matt Rhule is available again.
Baylor and Texas Tech should have our attention.
Both teams are 4-3 and 2-2 in the Big 12. Just when the Bears were left for dead a week ago, they pulled out a good home win against Kansas to temporarily right the ship.
Are they going to repeat as conference champions? No. But there is still plenty of pride on the line.
The Red Raiders, on the other hand, are having a better-than-expected season under first-year head coach Joey McGuire. He presumably would love nothing more than to beat his old boss, Dave Aranda.
Texas Tech winning would help further advance McGuire’s program and continue to build his recruiting brand. Baylor, meanwhile, needs a victory to keep turning its season around.
Which Top 25 Team Is on the Highest Upset Alert?
I’m not going to deliver a boring answer. UCF over Cincinnati is possible. Notre Dame, despite its issues, could take down Syracuse. Oh, and Texas A&M might topple Ole Miss if it can manufacture any offense at all. That part is very much TBD.
The game I am most intrigued by, however, is Louisville taking on No. 10 Wake Forest.
Since being blown out by Syracuse in the opener, the Cardinals are 4-2. Their two losses over that stretch came by a combined five points. They’re also coming off a dominating win over Pitt last weekend.
Wake Forest has a wealth of talent. Heck, the Demon Deacons are an overtime loss away against Clemson from being unbeaten. They’ve also played only two road games, and the first came against Vanderbilt.
If Louisville can muster up enough offense, it has the potential to stay in this game and possibly win it outright. At the very least, I expect it to be close.
I'm taking Wake Forest, too. The Demon Deacons are going on the road to face a 4-3 Louisville team that recently beat Virginia and Pitt. Although Wake's lone loss was to Clemson in double overtime, the Demon Deacons are only 3.5-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Louisville's defense has been much improved over the last two weeks, giving up only 13.5 points per game after allowing 23.4 over its first five games. In last week's 24-10 victory over Pitt, the Cardinals held the Panthers to their lowest yardage output (326) of the season.
If Louisville's defense can keep that up, this might be one of the toughest units Wake has seen so far. Wake Forest averages 41.4 points per game, so Louisville's defense will still have its work cut out for it regardless.
Last year, Wake escaped with a 37-34 victory over Louisville. If the Cardinals can pull off the upset, they might effectively ruin Wake's chances at a New Year's Six bowl this year.
Which Under-the-Radar Game Is Most Impactful?
There isn’t much hype around Ole Miss and Texas A&M, since the Aggies have been dreadful to watch. They can’t afford a fourth straight loss, so head coach Jimbo Fisher and the coaching staff should be pulling out all the stops to get back in the win column.
Ole Miss has one of the best rushing attacks in the nation and has topped the 40-point mark four times this season. The "12th Man" should be the biggest aid to Texas A&M, assuming enough fans still cheer on a team with such high expectations and little production.
On paper, there aren’t many reasons to pick the Aggies. But there’s no way Fisher will go down without a fight.
Texas A&M will come out on top at home. It won’t be a pretty win for the Aggies, but it’ll sure be a necessary one.
Have to go with Ole Miss-Texas A&M here as well.
Texas A&M is now in grave danger of missing out on a bowl game this season. The Aggies dropped to 3-4 with last week's 30-24 loss to South Carolina. That puts Fisher, who would be owed nearly $86 million if he were to be fired after this season, squarely on the hot seat.
Texas A&M is currently a 1.5-point underdog, per DraftKings Sportsbook, and the Rebels knocked off the Aggies 29-19 last season. If TAMU were to drop Saturday night's game, that would leave little opportunity to reach the six wins needed for a bowl.
Texas A&M still has to play Florida, at Auburn, UMass and LSU before the regular season is over. Only the UMass game looks like a guaranteed victory for the Aggies.
If A&M loses this game badly, expect more noise to come out of College Station regarding Fisher's future. But this game is big for Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss, too.
The Rebels are now in third place in the SEC West after losing 45-20 to LSU last week. Ole Miss' chances to stay in the divisional hunt will depend on Alabama beating LSU on Nov. 5. That would also make the Alabama-Ole Miss game on Nov. 12 look even bigger.
But losing to A&M would take the Rebels out of the SEC West race entirely. That would make Kiffin's third year look pretty disappointing.
Will No. 13 Penn State Keep It Close With No. 2 Ohio State?
With the help of Penn State defensive stars Abdul Carter and Ji’Ayir Brown, the game will be relatively close in the first half, but Ohio State is too talented. This is a perfect chance for the Buckeyes to show the CFP selection committee just how dominant they are as they face a Top 15 team for only the second time this season.
Both teams have quality defenses, but quarterback C.J. Stroud leads a Buckeyes offense that is averaging nearly 50 points and more than 500 total yards. Ohio State is also one of the best teams in the Big Ten at defending the run, which should be a nightmare for a Penn State offense that feeds off big drives from the ground.
The Nittany Lions ultimately won’t keep the game close. It’s going to be difficult to stop Stroud from leading the offense to 40-plus points, and Penn State doesn’t have the firepower to match that. PSU’s only chance will be a season-best performance from its defense, earning multiple short fields for the offense or putting points on the board to pressure the Buckeyes.
I want this to be a great game. Not because I have a rooting interest in either team, but because I have a rooting interest in great weekends of college football. And if this game is a dud, we're likely to end up with a bunch of blowouts by teams ranked in the AP Top Eight.
But while it might just be wishful thinking, I do see a great game here.
Ohio State has won five straight in this Big Ten East rivalry, but the Buckeyes' average margin of victory in those games is only seven points. And, to put it lightly, Penn State is tough to beat in Happy Valley.
Things went all sorts of sideways on the Nittany Lions in 2020. But take out that fanless pandemic season, and they are 36-4 at home dating back to 2016, with each of the four losses coming by a margin of four points or fewer.
It's a shame this is a noon ET game instead of a prime-time showdown, but both Penn State and its boisterous fanbase will be ready to bring the noise in this one.
Ultimately, I expect Ohio State to win. The Buckeyes are the best team in the nation (at least in my eyes), and they have too much offensive firepower to lose to a team that managed just 17 points in back-to-back games against Northwestern and Michigan earlier this month. But it will be a competitive game, at least into the third quarter, if not until the final whistle.
No. 9 Oklahoma State at No. 22 Kansas State: Who You Got?
Weird things sometimes happen in the Little Apple. With games against Oklahoma State and Texas over the next two weeks at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, expect there to be fireworks.
But the Wildcats have too many injuries right now. While they have confidence in backup Will Howard if starting quarterback Adrian Martinez can’t play, Oklahoma State is just too good on both sides of the ball.
The Cowboys defense played exceptionally well in the second half of last week's comeback win over Texas, and a game like that builds confidence.
This is a game that could go either way—especially in Manhattan—but I’ll go with Spencer Sanders making big plays and Oklahoma State escaping with a pivotal win to stick close to TCU in the Big 12 race.
There are plenty of moments where I'm glad to be wrong.
Last weekend, Sanders gritted out a shoulder injury to help Oklahoma State earn a comeback win over Texas. I balked at picking OSU because of how secretive head coach Mike Gundy had stayed about Sanders' health, which is both understandable and rarely a good thing.
But, hey, Sanders merely put up 400-plus offensive yards and quieted the hesitant crowd.
This is, in turn, a classic moment for an analyst's unnecessary apology to look ridiculous by next week. Kansas State is a thorn, no matter who is or isn't available—which, this week, might include quarterback Adrian Martinez.
I'd feel better about this result if Oklahoma State was at home. Nevertheless, I won't pick against Sanders again.
Any Real Chance No. 19 Kentucky Stuns No. 3 Tennessee?
Is there a chance? Absolutely. The way Mark Stoops has built a woebegone program from essentially nothing in a basketball-centric environment is remarkable, and the Wildcats have a strong defense and running game again this year.
But they aren’t going to beat the Volunteers in Neyland Stadium in front of a sold-out crowd.
The Vols are 38-5 in their last 43 matchups against the Wildcats, owning them the way Alabama and Florida have owned the Vols until this season. Tennessee typically finds a way to win this border rivalry, and it is just too explosive on offense for Kentucky to keep up.
Wildcats offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said this week that the methodical UK offense isn’t going to score 50 points per game. That’s exactly what the Vols are averaging this year.
The Wildcats will try to slow the game down considerably, but Tennessee is going to pull away in the second half and win 38-23.
Unless the Vols are 2019 LSU, some defense will slow them down eventually.
At this point, it wouldn't be surprising if Hendon Hooker and Jalin Wyatt tear through every secondary. Still, I'm excited to watch Tennessee's offense over the next two weeks. Kentucky is tied for 12th nationally in yards allowed per pass attempt, and Georgia is fourth.
That isn't to say that Tennessee hasn't faced strong competition. Alabama is eighth in that category, and Pitt is tied for 19th. But this is a massive back-to-back for the Vols.
Anyway, UT wins because of what Brad mentioned, too. Kentucky's offense is not built to match the scoring pace the Vols have showed all season.
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