Like we’ve done in years past, every week throughout the season we’ll be highlighting the best games of the coming weekend. We’ll be doing it a little differently this year, however. We’ll rank the top five games we’re most intrigued by while also providing some insight on other games that will be worth your time.
Oh my god, you guys, have you seen the Week 9 schedule, especially the 3:30 time slot? It’s beautiful. So, so beautiful. Three games with ranked teams — TCU-Iowa State, NC State-Notre Dame and Penn State-Ohio State — will all be happening at the same time. I hope you have multiple televisions.
And before that madness begins, we can get warmed up with another ranked game between two Big 12 teams with high-powered offenses. And there’s plenty more to watch throughout the day.
Starting with the five best games, we broke down this week’s slate for you:
5. No. 15 Washington State (7-1, 4-1) at Arizona (5-2, 3-1) — 9:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network:Wazzu bounced back from the disastrous performance at Cal with a shutout victory over Colorado last week. The Cougars’ defense has a much more difficult task dealing with Arizona’s Khalil Tate. Since becoming the Arizona’s starting QB, Tate has rushed for 694 yards and seven touchdowns in three games — all wins. But Tate, who has averaged 387 total yards per game as a starter, hasn’t faced a defense like Washington State’s. The Cougars are seventh nationally in total defense and allow only 274 yards per game.
Washington State needs to win the game to keep pace with Stanford, which barely beat Oregon State Thursday night, in the Pac-12 North while the Wildcats can remain in the thick of things in the South. WSU demolished the Wildcats 69-7 last fall in Pullman, so you know Arizona wants some redemption for that performance.
4. No. 11 Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1) at No. 22 West Virginia (5-2, 3-1) — Noon, ABC: After barely escaping Austin with a win last week, Oklahoma State needs this one in Morgantown to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive. The Cowboys have a three-game stretch with Oklahoma and Iowa State around the corner that will make or break their chance to play for the national title. On top of that, every game matters with the Big 12 standings so crowded and undefeated TCU leading the way. West Virginia, despite its loss to TCU, is still in the mix with the return of the Big 12 title game.
This game features two of the league’s most explosive offenses. For the Mountaineers, QB Will Grier has lived up to the hype and formed incredible chemistry with wideout David Sills, who leads the nation with 15 touchdown catches. OSU also has one of the country’s top receivers in James Washington, who is second nationally in receiving yards (914) despite being 47th in receptions (38).
3. No. 4 TCU at No. 25 Iowa State — 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2: Who would have thought Iowa State would be ranked entering Week 9? The Cyclones, in just their second season under Matt Campbell, have reeled off three straight wins and have looked dominant in recent weeks after upsetting Oklahoma in Norman. On Saturday, ISU welcomes the Big 12’s only undefeated team, TCU, to Ames.
The Horned Frogs have played stellar defense (No. 11 in total defense) while using a really effective offensive formula, relying on the run while quarterback Kenny Hill completes over 70 percent of his passes. Hill has also cut down on turnovers considerably. TCU needs to keep that trend going to come out of Ames with a win and debut in the top four of the first College Football Playoff rankings.
2. No. 14 NC State (6-1, 4-0) at No. 9 Notre Dame (6-1): 3:30 p.m., NBC: Notre Dame proved it is for real by blowing out USC last weekend in South Bend. The Irish have another big home challenge on Saturday with NC State coming to town. The ascent of both teams has been somewhat surprising and both can establish themselves as legitimate College Football Playoff contenders with a win.
NC State, the only ACC Atlantic team without a league loss, dropped its opener to South Carolina but has won every game since. The Wolfpack, coming off a bye, have an underrated offense with QB Ryan Finley, RB Nyheim Hines and the versatile Jaylen Samuels while boasting the sixth-best rush defense in the country. The defense, led by DE Bradley Chubb, has a huge task dealing with Notre Dame’s rushing attack, which averages 317.9 yards per game behind Heisman candidate Josh Adams (967 yards, 8 TDs) and QB Brandon Wimbush (508 yards, 10 TDs).
1. No. 2 Penn State (7-0, 4-0) at No. 6 Ohio State (6-1, 4-0) — 3:30 p.m., FOX: It’s hard to find a more important game so far this season than this one. The winner will get a leg up in the race to represent the Big Ten East in the conference title game while also dramatically boosting its chances to reach the College Football Playoff.
Penn State started its three-game run through the East’s top teams by destroying Michigan last week. A trip to Columbus is a much tougher test for Saquon Barkley and high-powered PSU offense. While Penn State’s offense is playing really well, the Nittany Lions’ defense is No. 1 in scoring defense, allowing only 9.6 points per game.
Penn State upset Ohio State in State College last fall, and OSU hasn’t shied away from the role revenge can play in this game. The Buckeyes still managed to reach the CFP after the loss (while PSU finished No. 5) but they don’t have that luxury this year (a two-loss team has never reached the Playoff). Penn State may not be able to afford a loss, either. Michigan, now unranked, is by far PSU’s best win.
Keep an eye on…
Louisville (5-3, 2-3) at Wake Forest (4-3, 1-3) — 12:20 p.m., ACC Network: Louisville and Wake Forest will square off for the first time since one of the weirdest scandals in college football history: “WakeyLeaks.” In case you forgot, former Wake assistant Tommy Elrod, then working as the team’s radio broadcaster, was secretly passing on information about the team’s gameplan to opposing coaches. Elrod’s conduct was discovered after Wake’s 44-12 loss to Louisville last fall and an investigation found it wasn’t the first time he’d done it.
Mississippi State (5-2, 2-2) at Texas A&M (5-2, 3-1) — 7:15 p.m., ESPN: This is the best SEC game of the weekend, and it’s not particularly close. A&M has won five of six since the season-opening debacle at UCLA, and its only loss is an eight-point decision to No. 1 Alabama. The Aggies are much-improved on defense, but have to deal with Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald torched the Aggies for 391 total yards and four touchdowns in Starkville. A night game at Kyle Field will be a much tougher environment for Fitzgerald and the Bulldogs.
Georgia Tech (4-2, 3-1) at No. 7 Clemson (6-1, 4-1) — 8 p.m., ABC/ESPN2: Coming off its shocking loss at Syracuse, Clemson has had two weeks to prepare for Georgia Tech’s tricky option offense and explosive QB TaQuon Marshall. Speaking of quarterbacks, Clemson is expected to have Kelly Bryant back after he sustained a concussion on a scary play against the Orange.
No. 21 USC (6-2, 4-1) at Arizona State (4-3, 3-1) — 10:45 p.m., ESPN: Like Arizona, Arizona State has been a surprise team in the Pac-12, winning three of its first four league games, including an upset over Washington. A Sun Devils win over USC, which was blown out at Notre Dame last week, plus an Arizona loss would give ASU sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South. If USC wins, it will maintain its position atop the division.
Channel surf through…
Florida State (2-4, 2-3) at Boston College (4-4, 2-3) — Friday, 8 p.m., ESPN: Florida State has to win four of its last five games just to reach a bowl game. Boston College has impressed, especially on offense, in back-to-back wins over Louisville and Virginia.
No. 3 Georgia (7-0, 4-0) vs. Florida (3-3, 3-2) — 3:30 p.m., CBS: Florida had a bye to regroup from two straight losses — but so did undefeated Georgia. Jim McElwain’s hot seat is going to get hotter if the Gators can’t keep this one close.
No. 16 Michigan State (6-1, 4-0) at Northwestern (4-3, 2-2) — 3:30 p.m., ESPN: While its offense has been up and down, it feels like Northwestern’s defense is rounding into form. Michigan State has won five straight in Evanston.
UCLA (4-3, 2-2) at No. 12 Washington (6-1, 3-1) — 3:30 p.m., ESPN2/ABC: Washington had a bye week to solve some of the offensive woes that contributed to the loss at Arizona State. Facing the porous UCLA defense could prove to the perfect medicine for those struggles.
Upset watch (Last week: 3-1; 16-12-3 overall)
Cal (+3.5) at Colorado — 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network: Cal (4-4, 1-4), coming off an overtime loss to Arizona, has played almost everybody tough to this point in the season. You can’t say the same for Colorado, which was blown out last weekend by Washington State and has lost four of its last five.
San Jose State (+13) at BYU — 3 p.m., ESPN3: These are two of the worst teams in the country, but San Jose State (1-7) is coming off a bye and at least showed a pulse offensively in its last game, a 37-26 road loss at Hawaii. Oh, and BYU (1-7) hasn’t covered the spread a single time this season.
Tennessee (+4.5) at Kentucky — 7 p.m., SECN: Tennessee (3-4, 0-4) will play this one without its best offensive player, RB John Kelly, due to suspension. Even without Kelly, I think the Vols can get some things going offensively against Kentucky (5-2, 2-2), which was blown out by Mississippi State last week and showed how fraudulent that 5-1 start was.
Texas Tech (+20) at No. 10 Oklahoma — 8 p.m., ABC/ESPN2: Texas Tech (4-3, 1-3) was ranked two weeks ago before blowing a big lead at West Virginia and getting beat up by Iowa State. I don’t see the Red Raiders coming too close to beating Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1), but I think they’ll put up enough points to cover the 20-point spread. Oklahoma’s defense is not very good.
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