B/R Experts Answer Biggest CFB Questions for Week 9

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystOctober 24, 2019

B/R Experts Answer Biggest CFB Questions for Week 9

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    Auburn QB Bo Nix
    Auburn QB Bo NixJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    After Georgia's Week 7 loss and Wisconsin's Week 8 loss, the biggest unknown hanging over this weekend of college football is: Who's next?

    Sure, the Top 10 showdown between Auburn and LSU is a can't-miss affair at 3:30 p.m. ET. Ohio State hosting Michigan at noon and Notre Dame playing at Michigan at 7:30 ensures there will be an excellent "Main TV" option for the entire day.

    But where should we expect the unexpected? Both No. 5 Oklahoma (at Kansas State) and No. 6 Penn State (at Michigan State) have to go on the road this weekend. No. 1 Alabama (vs. Arkansas) needs to play without injured quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Maybe No. 4 Clemson could be headed for another unlikely scare this week at home against Boston College?

    We aren't anticipating any of those upsets, but you never know in this sport. Following six weeks of no chaos, it's striking with a vengeance these days.

    To help you figure out what to expect in Week 9, David Kenyon, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton joined forces to offer predictions on the hottest questions, such as:

    • Who wins each of the three ranked-against-ranked showdowns this week?
    • Will any of the undefeated teams go down?
    • How many touchdowns for Jalen Hurts against Kansas State?
    • And how mercilessly is Najee Harris going to trounce Arkansas?

    Our experts are on the case.

No. 9 Auburn or No. 2 LSU: Who You Got?

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    LSU QB Joe Burrow
    LSU QB Joe BurrowGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    LSU. This is an enormous burden to place on Bo Nix. Freshman quarterback, on the road, in Death Valley. That was already a challenging enough task before LSU developed a nuclear offense, and now the Tigers can hang 40 points on just about anyone.

            

    Kerry Miller

    This feels a little bizarre to say out loud, but I'm getting a 2017-18 Oklahoma Sooners or a 2018 Kansas City Chiefs vibe from LSU these days. It doesn't seem like any defense is going to be capable of keeping the Tigers from scoring 28 points, but I can envision a scenario in which a team with an elite offense and a better-than-decent defense can beat them in a 38-34 type of game.

    Despite scoring at least seven touchdowns in three of its last five games, I'm not convinced that Auburn has the offense necessary to fulfill those criteria. In all four games against remotely respectable defenses, the Tigers were held to 28 points or fewer. That won't be enough in the Bayou. LSU wins 38-27.

            

    Brad Shepard

    This is going to be a good, close game in Baton Rouge, and I love the clash of styles between Auburn's defense and LSU's high-octane offense. But I still like Ed Orgeron's Bayou Bengals. Auburn will take them out of their comfort zone a bit, but Burrow is going to make enough plays through the air to pull out a win. It's going to be something like 27-21, and I've already changed my mind on that once this week. It really could go either way.

            

    Ian Wharton

    LSU. I'm all aboard the Joe Burrow train. This LSU offense is so fast and talented, I don't think Auburn will be able to keep up as the scoring ensues.

Lost Some Luster Thanks to Illinois But...No. 13 Wisconsin or No. 3 Ohio State?

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    Ohio State QB Justin Fields
    Ohio State QB Justin FieldsCharles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    I would've picked Ohio State anyway, but what a horrible loss for Wisconsin. Illinois had given up nearly 1,000 rushing yards in three Big Ten games, yet the Badgers couldn't even hit 200 with Jonathan Taylor. They aren't likely to have a more productive day against a terrific Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes tend to start slowly, but they'll be winning comfortably by the third quarter.

            

    Kerry Miller

    When Ohio State has the ball, it'll be the ol' "unstoppable force vs. immovable object" debate. Despite the minor-but-significant hiccup against Illinois, Wisconsin is leading the nation in yards allowed per game (193.9), but Ohio State has both rushed and passed for at least 200 yards in every game this season. I expect the Badgers to supply more resistance than the Buckeyes have faced thus far, but they're still going to score at least 28 points.

    When Wisconsin has the ball, it's more of an immovable object against a one-trick pony. Ohio State is No. 2 in yards allowed per game at 229.0, and Wisconsin's passing game is not a serious threat. Jonathan Taylor is amazing, but Wisconsin's "Taylor or Bust" approach will result in the latter here. The only previous time he faced Ohio State, he was held to a career-worst 15 carries for 41 yards. Even if he goes for 200 yards, it might not be enough to keep pace. Ohio State rolls 35-17.

            

    Brad Shepard

    Last week was a debacle, no two ways about it. But I haven't lost faith in this Wisconsin team. Head coach Paul Chryst will have the Badgers ready to play, and I believe they can generate enough in the passing game and get Jonathan Taylor going well enough to...cover the spread.

    Wait, you thought I was picking the Badgers to win? No way. Everybody is eager to see the Buckeyes finally play a real opponent, but they're looking like one of the two best teams in the country. Ohio State will win.

            

    Ian Wharton

    Ohio State in a beatdown. This is a good version of Wisconsin's usual archetype, but quarterback Jack Coan will need to go up two levels to make this a game. These Buckeyes are arguably the best team in the nation, and Wisconsin's lack of explosiveness will be exposed.

Big Showdown #3: Does No. 8 Notre Dame Stay in Playoff Hunt at No. 19 Michigan?

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    Notre Dame RB Tony Jones Jr.
    Notre Dame RB Tony Jones Jr.Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    While I've been extremely hard on Michigan this season, the Wolverines are typically better at home and have mostly played outstanding defense lately. Even though Penn State won last week, Michigan actually fought to the finish. That's an encouraging change for Jim Harbaugh's team. I'll take the Wolverines.

            

    Kerry Miller

    This should be a fun battle between the only two teams who have managed to gain some respect in the process of a loss. Notre Dame's 23-17 close call at Georgia in Week 4 was a wake-up call that the Irish might not lose again, and Michigan coming back from a 21-0 deficit to nearly win at Penn State last weekend was easily its most impressive showing of the season.

    With that said, I like Notre Dame as a slight underdog. The extra week to prepare and running back Tony Jones Jr. becoming a revelation over the past three games will make the difference in a 27-23 gem. (Bonus prediction: The "It's time for Michigan to part ways with Jim Harbaugh" articles will be both out of control and completely justified next week.)

            

    Brad Shepard

    So, my "Wolverines in the CFP" pick hasn't aged well, has it? On the other hand, Notre Dame has shown it is one of the top teams on college football's second tier this year behind Alabama, LSU, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma. If you have questions about Jim Harbaugh, join the club. The offense hasn't been able to generate enough this year to keep the Wolverines in big games, and the defense hasn't been that impressive in big showdowns, either. Take the Irish.

            

    Ian Wharton

    Yes, Notre Dame will pull out a win this week. Michigan has been improving since its terrible start, but the offense is still lacking consistency at quarterback as well as on the offensive line. Notre Dame is more trustworthy in both aspects.

How Many Undefeated Teams Will Still Be Standing on Nov. 1?

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    SMU QB Shane Buechele
    SMU QB Shane BuecheleSam Hodde/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    All of them! How boring of me. Illinois' upset of Wisconsin is a perfect reminder that nothing is guaranteed, but none of the undefeated teams are favored by less than 10 points this week for a reason. The two marquee games have clear favorites who are playing at home. Yes, surprises happen. They're called surprises for a reason. But I'm not particularly concerned about chaos in Week 9.

            

    Kerry Miller

    It has probably been many years since we last made it into November with a double-digit number of undefeated teams, but I think it happens. That feels foolish given the Georgia, Wisconsin and Boise State upsets in the past two weeks, but I don't see anyone going down. Among the four "least legitimate" undefeated teamsSMU, Baylor, Minnesota and Appalachian Statethe only projected bowl team coming up is App State's home game against 3-3 Georgia Southern on Halloween, and I'm not worried about the Mountaineers in that one.

            

    Brad Shepard

    Every single one of them. The only team I think could lose is LSU against Auburn, but I'm already on record as picking LSU. Ohio State is too balanced offensively and talented defensively to lose to Wisconsin, although the Badgers will be ready to play. I guess Houston conceivably could beat SMU, but I wouldn't pick it. Alabama has to face Arkansas without Tua Tagovailoa, but Kentucky did so and won with a receiver at quarterback. You get the picture. I'm guaranteeing all survive at least another week.

            

    Ian Wharton

    We'll see some of this undefeated clutter cleared out by then. SMU is the only team I'm predicting to fall in the next two weeks despite Ohio State facing a tough matchup this week and Appalachian State facing one next Thursday.

The Most Entertaining Game Not Involving a Ranked Team Will Be...?

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    Nebraska head coach Scott Frost
    Nebraska head coach Scott FrostNati Harnik/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    It's probably pretty mean to say Liberty at Rutgers. Seriously, though, losing to Liberty should be grounds for removal from the Big Ten, and there is a realistic chance of that happening. What a disaster. Anyway, my polite answer is UCF at Temple. The team that drops that contest will no longer be an AAC contender.

            

    Kerry Miller

    Indiana at Nebraska. The 5-2 Hoosiers have quietly scored at least 30 points in every game against opponents not named Ohio State, and they might be headed for at least eight regular-season wins for the first time in a quarter-century. And while the Cornhuskers have been a mess on offense over the past three games, this is a make-or-break game for them. I'm not saying head coach Scott Frost is in any danger of approaching the hot seat, but falling to 4-4 with home games against Iowa and Wisconsin and road games against Maryland and Purdue would have "no bowl game" written all over it. Far cry from preseason expectations, to say the least.

            

    Brad Shepard

    I'll go with Tennessee-South Carolina. The Gamecocks have played well in splitting the Georgia-Florida gantlet the past two weeks, but they are still only 3-4. Tennessee also played much better in beating Mississippi State and losing at Alabama, but the Vols are 2-5 with quarterback injury issues. Will Muschamp owns UT, having never lost to the Vols as a head coach. Both teams still have bowl aspirations, too, with the schedules lightening up considerably for each (aside from Carolina's tilt with Clemson). This could be both fun and critical for bowl qualification.

            

    Ian Wharton

    Texas Tech and Kansas is probably an unexpected pick, but the recipe for excitement is perfect. Pooka Williams is one of the most underrated running backs in the country, and he should continue rolling against the Red Raiders. But Texas Tech quarterback Jett Duffey is also an entertaining playmaker, while T.J. Vasher is one of the better receivers as well. This should be a classic Big 12 shootout.

Does Jalen Hurts Score at Least 4 Touchdowns for a 6th Consecutive Game?

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    Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts
    Oklahoma QB Jalen HurtsAlonzo Adams/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Please watch this video of Kansas State showing zero desire to tackle TCU quarterback Max Duggan. Got that? So, yes, Hurts will be responsible for 44 touchdowns. Oh, you said four? Well, that's a definite yes.

            

    Kerry Miller

    Kansas State's secondary is no joke. The Wildcats have not allowed multiple passing touchdowns in a game this season, and that includes losses to Baylor and Oklahoma State. But their rushing defense is a disaster, allowing a third-worst-in-the-nation mark of 5.8 yards per carry. That's where Hurts is going to destroy them. He throws for two, runs for two and racks up 400 combined yards in yet another 45-14 type of blowout.

            

    Brad Shepard

    Yes, he does. Kansas State was a nice story three games into the season as we all caught glimpses of just how well Chris Klieman can coach, but reality is a tough pill to swallow. The Wildcats simply don't have enough talent to compete in the Big 12 each week. It'll be especially painful this week. Hurts is on another level right now, and he has the chance to become the favorite to win the Heisman. Look for that to happen.

            

    Ian Wharton

    Yes. He's done better than anyone could have predicted as the conductor of this offense. The spacing and playmaking around him is conducive to absurd production, and he's taking full advantage. Kansas State is a pesky, quality team, but it lacks the speed to prevent Hurts from finding his way into scoring situations. 

Over/Under 26.5 Points for Winner of California at No. 12 Utah?

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    Utah RB Zack Moss
    Utah RB Zack MossRick Bowmer/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Under. Cal's defense is outstanding. The unit hasn't allowed more than 24 points all season. However, the offense has been terrible since quarterback Chase Garbers' injury, and Utah's defense is similarly terrific. Not much scoring in Salt Lake City, but a Utah win.

            

    Kerry Miller

    Under. There's no way Californiawhich hasn't topped 28 in a game yet this season and which has been held below 305 yards in five of seven gamesis going to suddenly light up the scoreboard against this Utes defense. But the Golden Bears have not yet allowed 25 points in a game, either, and I suspect that front seven is going to cause some problems for Utah. It'll be a repeat of Utah's 21-3 win over Arizona State last week.

            

    Brad Shepard

    Without a doubt, under. This is going to be a good, old-fashioned rugged showdown, reminiscent of a typical Big Ten football game. The Bears have fallen on hard times recently, so I think Utah is going to handle business. But the Utes aren't worried about style points. It's going to wind up being something like 24-10.

            

    Ian Wharton

    Under. These two defenses are fierce and disciplined. Utah has the better chance of hitting the over, but Evan Weaver and this Cal defense will keep the Utes in check. I expect Utah to win a 17-13 type of game.  

With Tua Tagovailoa Out, Over/Under 249.5 Yards for Najee Harris vs. Arkansas?

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    Alabama RB Najee Harris
    Alabama RB Najee HarrisVasha Hunt/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Under, but Harris is headed for a massive performance. Given the struggles of Arkansas' defense, Alabama has little reason to make backup quarterback Mac Jones shoulder a heavy burden. Let the offensive line control the game, feed Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. and head into November as healthy as possible.

            

    Kerry Miller

    This game is going to tell us more about the severity of Tagovailoa's ankle injury than Alabama head coach Nick Saban will. If Jones attempts more than 15 passes, Saban is legitimately concerned that Tua won't be available for the LSU game. Even if he does throw a fair amount, he'll be checking it down to Harris on a fairly regular basis, as was the case in his relief appearance against Tennessee, when two of his six completions went to the running back. And Arkansas's rush defense hasn't exactly improved since allowing 246 yards to Alabama last year. Still, I'm going slightly under. Harris finishes somewhere in the vicinity of 160 rushing yards and 70 receiving yards.

            

    Brad Shepard

    I'm going to go with the under. The Hogs are pitiful, but they'll gear up to stop the run. Plus, it isn't like Harris is the only Crimson Tide running back. Brian Robinson Jr. and perhaps even Keilan Robinson will get carries against Arkansas, and they'll produce. You may even see Alabama throw some wrinkles in there with receivers getting swing passes and reverses to generate short yardage. Harris is going to have a huge game, eclipsing 200 yards, but 250 is a bit too high.

            

    Ian Wharton

    I'm confidently taking the under. The Alabama offensive line has not been nearly as dominant this year, despite Tua's greatness in the passing game to help them get downhill on run plays. Harris will eclipse 150, but I expect the Crimson Tide to rotate their backs to stay healthy for the big game against LSU on Nov. 9.