With the 2016 season having crossed the halfway point, each week is becoming more and more important as the College Football Playoff eventually takes shape.
While Week 8 didn’t feature a high volume of upsets, it produced arguably the single biggest surprise of the season so far—the Penn State Nittany Lions’ 24-21 win over the previously unbeaten Ohio State Buckeyes.
Week 9 features a number of intriguing matchups that will almost certainly have playoff implications down the road. This weekend will also be an opportunity for many teams hoping to stand out from the crowd.
Below is a look at the Top 25 teams in action this week, along with previews and predictions for Week 9’s most important games.
AP Top 25 Poll
Week 9 Schedule
Week 9 Schedule
Day Time (ET) Away Home TV Info Odds ATS Pick Thursday 7 p.m. No. 25 Virginia Tech Pittsburgh ESPN Va. Tech (-4) Virginia Tech Friday 7 p.m. No. 22 Navy South Florida ESPN2 N/A N/A Saturday 12 p.m. No. 10 West Virginia Oklahoma State Fox WVU (-3) West Virginia Saturday 12 p.m. No. 2 Michigan Michigan State ESPN Mich. (-21) Michigan Saturday 12 p.m. No. 24 Penn State Purdue ABC/ESPN2 PSU (-10.5) Penn State Saturday 12 p.m. No. 5 Louisville Virginia ABC/ESPN2 L’VILLE (-27) Louisville Saturday 3:30 p.m. Northwestern No. 6 Ohio State ESPN OSU (-24) Ohio State Saturday 3:30 p.m. No. 4 Washington No. 17 Utah FS1 Wash. (-11.5) Utah Saturday 3:30 p.m. No. 8 Baylor Texas ABC Bay. (-3.5) Texas Saturday 3:30 p.m. No. 14 Florida Georgia CBS UF (-7.5) Georgia Saturday 7 p.m. No. 13 Boise State Wyoming CBSSN Boise (-12.5) Boise State Saturday 7 p.m. Kansas No. 16 Oklahoma FS1 Okla (-38) Kansas Saturday 7 p.m. No. 7 Nebraska No. 11 Wisconsin ESPN Wisc. (-7.5) Wisconsin Saturday 7:15 p.m. No. 15 Auburn Ole Miss SECN Auburn (-2) Auburn Saturday 7:15 p.m. No. 18 Tennessee South Carolina ESPN2 Tenn. (-14) Tennessee Saturday 7:30 p.m. New Mexico State No. 9 Texas A&M ESPNU A&M (-43.5) NMSU Saturday 8 p.m. No. 3 Clemson No. 12 Florida State ABC Clem. (-3) Clemson
Games to Watch
No. 4 Washington at No. 17 Utah
So far, the Washington Huskies have more than met the massive expectations thrust upon them before the season. While their 44-6 win over the Stanford Cardinal is looking worse in retrospect, the Huskies’ seven wins have come by an average of 33.7 points.
In Week 9, Washington faces its toughest game of the year to date when it hits to road to meet the 7-1 Utah Utes.
Every year, Utah is good to deliver at least one big victory in Rice-Eccles Stadium. Last year, the Utes handed the then-No. 23 California Golden Bears their first loss, and they beat a Michigan Wolverines team that wound up 10-3. In 2014, they upset the No. 8 UCLA Bruins and No. 20 USC Trojans to claim football dominion over Los Angeles.
Utah beating Washington would be an upset but not altogether unexpected.
One big concern for the Utes, however, will be the Huskies’ pass rush. Washington is tied for first with Michigan in sacks per game (four). Utah has also yet to face an offense as potent as Washington’s.
Huskies quarterback Jake Browning is building a strong Heisman Trophy candidacy. The team shared highlights from Browning’s six-touchdown game against the Oregon Ducks on Oct. 8:
Remember when Jake Browning set a new Washington record with six touchdown passes? Us too.#TBT #PurpleReign pic.twitter.com/xfCspFmaTc
— UW Football (@UW_Football) October 21, 2016
This game will be close, with Washington narrowly clearing its biggest remaining hurdle in the regular season.
Prediction: Washington 24, Utah 20
No. 7 Nebraska at No. 11 Wisconsin
The Nebraska Cornhuskers aren’t a bad team, but this is the week they’re exposed as a Top 20 unit rather than one deserving of Top 10 status. RedditCFB found the best way to describe Nebraska:
As College Football Talk’s Bryan Fischer tweeted, things are about to get difficult for Mike Riley’s team:
Toughest remaining schedules:
1. LSU (22-5 opponent record)
2. Iowa (20-7)
3. Nebraska (24-9)
4. Ohio St (23-9)
5. Syracuse (17-7)
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 23, 2016
The Wisconsin Badgers’ two losses were by seven points apiece to Michigan and Ohio State—the latter of which came in overtime.
Although Wisconsin’s offense is an obvious issue so far this year, that may be turning around if Corey Clement’s last two weeks are any indication. The senior running back ran for 298 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Ohio State and a 17-9 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The Cornhuskers are 43rd defensively against the run (141.2 YPG), so the opportunity will be there for the Badgers to move the ball on the ground. And as long as Clement can pose a consistent threat, their uneven quarterback play won’t be a major problem.
Playing in Camp Randall Stadium will be a boost for Wisconsin as well.
Perhaps Nebraska isn’t getting the respect it deserves, but the Cornhuskers’ biggest win came by three points over the worst Oregon Ducks team of the last 20 years.
Wisconsin will pick up a big win as it looks to climb up the Big Ten West standings.
Prediction: Wisconsin 28, Nebraska 10
No. 3 Clemson at No. 12 Florida State
On Oct. 19, Florida State Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher said sophomore safety Derwin James remains a doubt for this week’s massive clash against the Clemson Tigers.
"I wish and I hope so, but if I had to say, it would be a little bit early," Fisher said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat’s Wayne E. McGahee III. "I bet he’s healed enough, but I don’t know if they’re going to let him. He’s walking around pretty good, but I wouldn’t expect so."
James’ absence has been a major blow for Florida State, which is 75th in passing defense (233.4 YPG) and 89th in passing efficiency defense (137.49).
The Seminoles have also allowed an inordinate amount of big plays for a team of their caliber. According to CFBStats.com, they’ve surrendered 43 plays of 20-plus yards (tied for 113th) and 23 plays of 30-plus yards (tied for 118th).
The Tigers can take the Doak Campbell Stadium crowd out of Saturday’s game with a couple of quick scores early in the game.
Deshaun Watson had a somewhat shaky start to the year but has since rediscovered last year’s form. In his last three games, the junior quarterback threw for 954 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. If he continues to play like that this weekend, then Clemson will move to 8-0.
Prediction: Clemson 31, Florida State 27
Note: Spreads for every game are courtesy of Odds Shark.