Spread picks for college football's biggest Week 9 games
Ohio State fell from the ranks of the unbeaten last week, leaving just nine undefeated teams. Three of them are on the road this week against ranked opponents, with Washington and Nebraska in particular facing their first real challenges of the season. No. 10 West Virginia also has a tough road test this week, as the Mountaineers travel east to take on Oklahoma State, a team that is likely to get back into the top 25 should it win Saturday’s matchup.
No. 4 Washington at No. 17 Utah
Line: Washington, -10
The matchup to watch here is Utah DE Hunter Dimick against Washington LT Trey Adams. Dimick is fresh off 12 pressures and five total stops against UCLA, while Adams has not yielded a sack or hit since week two. While Dimick, who leads all EDGE players with 50 total pressures, is likely to get his, Huskies QB Jake Browning has a QB rating of 113.5 under pressure and is going to get his regardless. If there are still pundits out there who don’t fully believe in Washington, they will after this week.
Prediction: Washington 34, Utah 20
No. 3 Clemson at No. 12 Florida State
Line: Clemson, -4.5
With RB Wayne Gallman out of Clemson’s week seven matchup with N.C. State after just two carries due to a brain injury, the Tiger run game completely stalled. QB Deshaun Watson and RBs C.J. Fuller and Adam Choice averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and forced just four missed tackles on 30 designed runs. Gallman had been on fire, as in the two games prior he had racked up 219 yards and forced nine missed tackles. He is now back and taking full reps with the starters at practice this week, and his availability and performance level is critical to Clemson’s success this week. If he were out this week I would be in favor of picking Florida State to score the upset victory at home, but with Gallman expected to start and the entire team fresh off a bye, the Seminoles will have to settle for a cover.
Prediction: Clemson 34, Florida State 30
No. 7 Nebraska at No. 11 Wisconsin
Line: Wisconsin, -9
The Badgers have lost ILB Jack Cichy for the season due to a torn pectoral muscle, and his shoes will be difficult to fill considering he leads Wisconsin in solo tackles and defensive stops, both by large margins. Nebraska has the rushing attack to take advantage as both QB Tommy Armstrong and RB Terrell Newby are averaging over 5.0 yards per designed rush, and have forced a total of 27 missed tackles. Wisconsin still has the horses to rush the passer, which will be critical to their success considering Armstrong is completing just 45.5 percent of his passes when under pressure. Wisconsin has a significant advantage with this being a home night game, but expecting them to cover this spread optimistic.
Prediction: Wisconsin 17, Nebraska 13
No. 25 Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh
Line: Virginia Tech, -3.5
The Virginia Tech defense’s gauntlet of facing strong quarterbacks continues, as Pitt’s Nathan Peterman has our tenth-highest passing grade. Peterman hasn’t posted a passer rating under 100 since Week 4 against North Carolina (his rating was 99.1), but he hasn’t faced a team the caliber of Virginia Tech. This should be an entertaining primetime game on Thursday night, but with the spread so low, the Hokies are the better bet, despite being on the road.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Pittsburgh 30
No. 22 Navy at South Florida
Line: South Florida, -7.5
This is the kind of spread that makes me curious as to what Vegas knows that I don’t. Yes, USF is at home and has played well in friendly confines this year, but they’re fresh off a 46-30 whooping by a Temple team that had otherwise been underwhelming this season. The Bulls have missed 91 tackles this season, which does not bode well for a game against a triple-option offense as polished as Navy’s that makes it difficult to quickly located the ball carrier.
Prediction: Navy 33, USF 28
No. 10 West Virginia at Oklahoma State
Line: West Virginia, -3.5
This is just the second road contest for the Mountaineers in 2016, the first being their dominant 48-17 win over Texas Tech two weeks ago. The intriguing matchup in this week’s game will be West Virginia’s coverage between the numbers versus the Cowboys’ passing game. This year on throws to the middle of the field past the line of scrimmage, Oklahoma State QB has completed 68 of 105 tosses for 1029 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception. The Mountaineers, on the other hand, love to rush three defenders and flood the middle of the field. This has led to them giving up just a 54 percent completion percentage on the same category of throws (58 of 107) for 762 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. I like West Virginia to slow down the aerial attack of Oklahoma State and remain undefeated.
Prediction: West Virginia 34, Oklahoma State 27
No. 2 Michigan at Michigan State
Line: Michigan, -23.5
Putting the rivalry aside (as well as recent history), this is a matchup between two completely uneven teams. Nothing exemplifies that better than Michigan State’s intermediate-to-deep passing during its five-game losing streak; on perimeter passes of at least 10 yards through the air, Spartan QBs during the streak have completed just 14 of 38 attempts for just 260 yards. On the other hand, Michigan star CB Jourdan Lewis has given up just two receptions for seven yards on 10 targets, and holds a QB rating against of 0.0. His counterpart Channing Stribling has been just as dominant, as he has yielded just nine catches on 30 targets with a QB rating against of 4.7. Michigan keeps it rolling with another lopsided victory.
Prediction: Michigan 34, Michigan State 6
No. 16 Tennessee at South Carolina
Line: Tennessee, -13.5
The Gamecocks have three conference losses, but none by more than the spread of this game. This being said, Tennessee is coming off a bye week, looking to beat up on someone after two-straight losses against the best of the SEC. Look for Tennessee’s Derek Barnett to be in the South Carolina backfield early and often, as Gamecocks’ LT Mason Zandi has had major struggles in the past against edge players from Mississippi State and Texas A&M.
Prediction: Tennessee 31, South Carolina 14
No. 24 Penn State at Purdue
Line: Penn State, -11.5
I’m always intrigued by how teams do the week following a huge upset victory, as often times they seem as primed for a hangover as they do a changed course of season. As much as I remain unconvinced that Penn State can run the table even after it’s victory over Ohio State, Purdue is one of the worst teams in the Power Five. I like Penn State’s passing offense to continue an upward trajectory, as Purdue’s only high-performing secondary player, CB Da’Wan Hunte (four catches yielded on 15 targets in Big Ten play), is at 5-feet-9 and 175 lbs. a big physical mismatch against Penn State’s Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton.
Prediction: Penn State 31, Purdue 17
No. 5 Louisville at Virginia
Line: Louisville, -31.5
Ohio State’s loss is Louisville’s gain, as the Cardinals are clearly back in the playoff hunt. After another huge outing last week, QB Lamar Jackson appears to be in the driver’s seat for this year’s Heisman trophy. Virginia has four defensive starters with at least seven missed tackles this season and no defensive lineman with more than one sack. This spread seems a bit rich for a road conference game, but the Cardinals should have no problems dispatching the Cavaliers.
Prediction: Louisville 48, Virginia 20
Northwestern at No. 6 Ohio State
Line: Ohio State, -26.5
With a host of defenders like LBs Anthony Walker and Jaylen Prater and S Godwin Igwebuike, all among the Big Ten’s top ten run defenders at their respective positions, the Wildcats have enough defensive strength to limit Ohio State’s rushing attack. That leads to the Buckeye passing game, where DE Ifeadi Odenigbo and his Big Ten-leading eight sacks (29 total pressures) should be able to take advantage of an offensive line that was exploited as very vulnerable last week. Yes, Ohio State should be able to limit Northwestern enough offensively to come away with a comfortable win, but this year’s version of the Buckeyes just isn’t the juggernaut it’s been in past years and doesn’t appear capable of completely blowing the doors off mid-level Big Ten teams.
Prediction: Ohio State 28, Northwestern 13
No. 8 Baylor at Texas
Line: Baylor, -3
Nothing about the play of Texas recently suggests the Longhorns are capable of stopping Baylor’s offensive assault, especially considering Baylor is working off a bye. RBs Terence Williams and Shock Linwood have forced a combined 39 missed tackles on 155 carries, and this number will continue to climb this week.
Prediction: Baylor 44, Texas 27
No. 14 Florida vs. Georgia
Line: Florida, -7.5
Florida’s defense has been excellent this year, as it has not given up more than 14 points to opponents not named Tennessee. The offense, however, has still been an issue. While Luke Del Rio is a clear upgrade over other recent Gator QBs, has certainly had his struggles as well. In particular, on pressured drop-backs he is completing just 38.8 percent of his passes and has a QB rating of 42.3. Lucky for him, the Bulldogs are one of the few SEC teams without an elite pass rusher, thus he should be able to move the ball through the air enough to push Florida’s win streak to three.
Prediction: Florida 23, Georgia 20
No. 13 Boise State at Wyoming
Line: Boise State, -13.5
This line actually opened at -17.5 on some books, but quickly (and rightfully) fell below the two touchdown barrier. Wyoming has actually put together a solid season thus far, but with an appropriate line they can still be taken advantage of. Presumably, Boise State’s star WR Thomas Sperbeck will be matched up opposite the 5-10 188 lbs. Antonio Hull for most of the night, who has given up over 80 yards receiving in three-straight games to opponents far inferior to Sperbeck. Sperbeck caught nine of 12 targets for 111 yards against BYU last week, and should put up a comparable line this week against the Cowboys.
Prediction: Boise State 31, Wyoming 17
Kansas at No. 16 Oklahoma
Line: Oklahoma, -40
After last week’s wild game against Texas Tech, expect a bit of a hangover against a tough Kansas defense that is certain to be more challenging than the Red Raiders considering the Jayhawks own the fourth-highest graded pass rush. This being said, Kansas is clearly in no position to compete offensively. Thus, while covering this monster spread will be an almost impossible chore, the game itself will be over before halftime.
Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Kansas 13
No. 15 Auburn at Ole Miss
Line: Auburn, -4
Auburn’s offense has been on fire recently, and has six players with at least 20 carries on the season earning more than 5.0 yards per touch. Mississippi hasn’t held a Power Five opponent under 34 points this season, and isn’t likely to do so this week either. Last week I talked about how strong Auburn CBs Carlton Davis and Johnathan Ford have been this season, and the combined to give up just four catches on 11 targets for 28 yards against Arkansas. If they put up similar numbers this week, this game could get ugly quickly.
Prediction: Auburn 38, Mississippi 21
New Mexico State at Texas A&M
Line: Texas A&M, -43.5
New Mexico State already has SEC experience under its belt this year, but it isn’t good experience. Back in week three, the Aggies gave up 62 points to Kentucky, which is a tremendous amount of points considering the Wildcats’ trumped-up offense managed to trickle in just 43 points in four SEC contests before last week. The home team should have the stamina needed to attack this spread.
Prediction: Texas A&M 56, New Mexico State 10