There is always a lot going on in college football, and while Week 9 may not offer a ton of intrigue upon first glance, there is more going on than meets the eye.
The three obvious big ranked-versus-ranked games everyone is focused on are huge storylines we’ll dive into here. But what else is piquing our interest?
These are the 10 biggest things we’ll be paying attention to during college football Week 9.
Mustangs looking to stay perfect
Southern Methodist University has quite a football team this year, and entering Week 9 it’s ranked No. 16 in the nation. The Mustangs are extremely potent offensively. Led by former Texas star Shane Buechele, they can beat you on the ground or through the air and average 44.3 points per contest.
College football fans who haven’t yet seen this team in action can tune into ESPN Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET). The Mustangs are on the road this week going against a Houston program, led by Dana Holorsen, that is ripe for destruction. Look for a big offensive showing from SMU in this one as they attempt to stay undefeated and stay alive for a New Year’s Six bowl.
All the pressure is on Ohio State
After getting stunned by Illinois, No. 13 Wisconsin has nothing to lose the rest of the season and everything to gain. The Badgers will be playing with their backs against the wall the rest of the way and should come out fighting mad.
The No. 3-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, however, very much do have something to lose with multiple undefeated teams underneath them in the rankings, and with two monster games against Big Ten rivals yet to come at the end of the season.
On paper, the Buckeyes should win at home Saturday afternoon. They feature a dominant defensive front and one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. Though, if Wisconsin’s defense of two weeks ago shows up, it could lead to an epic strength-versus-strength matchup unfolding.
Can Oklahoma leapfrog Clemson in the rankings?
Heading into Week 9, there isn’t a lot separating No. 4 Clemson from No. 5 Oklahoma. The Tigers have often looked like a team that doesn’t belong in the top four this season, while Oklahoma most certainly has.
Both teams are facing opponents they should beat soundly in Week 9. The Sooners are on the road taking on Kansas State, and Clemson will host Boston College. If sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence continues to struggle like he has, and if Jalen Hurts puts on another Heisman-type performance on the road, then it will be interesting to see if the Sooners get the nod over Clemson as the No. 4 team in the nation. For what it’s worth, I think Oklahoma would win a head-to-head battle right now.
LSU should establish itself as nation’s top team
If it were up to me, LSU would already be the No. 1 team in college football heading into Week 9. The Tigers have already beaten two top-10 teams this season, while ‘Bama has only faced one team ranked in the top-25 (Texas A&M, which was No. 24).
LSU is hosting No. 9 Auburn this weekend. Should Ed Orgeron and Co. once more beat a top-10 team, then there should be no doubt that the Tigers deserve the No. 1 seed heading into Week 10.
As an aside, with Tua Tagovailoa temporarily out of commission, the Heisman Trophy is now Joe Burrow’s to lose. Another stellar performance from the LSU quarterback against a top team should easily make him the favorite down the stretch.
Minnesota with real chance to seize B1G West
The Golden Gophers already hold a one-game lead over Wisconsin heading into Week 9, and assuming the Badgers fall to Ohio State, Minnesota can enter Week 10 with a commanding two-game lead in the Big Ten West.
Not surprisingly, the Golden Gophers are heavily favored (-17) over Maryland, which has hit a brutal skid since starting the season hot — losing four of five with its only win coming against Rutgers. With that in mind, we fully expect Minnesota to keep rowing the boat this weekend, with its biggest tests (Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin) yet to come.
Track meet in Ames?
One of the more underrated games this weekend that could provide big fireworks for fans watching is Oklahoma State visiting Iowa State.
Chuba Hubbard is the nation’s most electrifying running back. Every time he touches the ball, you hold your breath to see if he’ll take it all the way for six. Hubbard leads college football in rushing yards by nearly 300 yards, and he’s scored 15 touchdowns already this season.
On the other side, Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy averages 312 passing yards per game and leads an offense that features multiple receivers who can score on any given play.
It’s Mac Jones’ time for Alabama
The good news for Alabama is that it’s at home this weekend and that Arkansas is on the other sideline. The Crimson Tide could probably not even bother throwing one single pass and still walk out of Bryant-Denny Stadium with a blowout win.
On the other hand, this will be the first start of sophomore Mac Jones’ career, and that’s no small thing. Nick Saban has said he’s hopeful that Tagovailoa will only miss a week or two, but the Heisman candidate did have a procedure done on his ankle that some experts believe needs more time than that to heal properly.
The LSU game is looming. After Arkansas, the Crimson Tide have a week off for a bye, and then it’s the big showdown after the break. So, Mac Jones needs to get some experience in, fast, just in case he’s the guy under center against the Tigers in Week 11.
Can Harbaugh salvage his season?
Three big games against top teams. Two big losses for Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines. The narrative surrounding this program isn’t positive for Harbaugh, whose track record against top-10 teams is downright atrocious.
Enter No. 8 Notre Dame, which will be at the Big House for a Saturday night showdown against Michigan, which is coming off a gut-wrenching loss to Penn State last Saturday night. The Wolverines absolutely have to win this game to maintain any semblance of being a powerhouse. If they lose, then Michigan will be one step closer to replacing Harbaugh.
Battle of the dual-threats in Pasadena
A game that doesn’t really mean much on a national level, Saturday night’s matchup between No. 24 Arizona State and UCLA could nevertheless be one of the more entertaining games in Week 9.
The reason for this is that both teams feature young quarterbacks who are capable of making jaw-dropping plays. For UCLA, Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a raw, yet dynamic dual-threat quarterback who has already wowed once this year against Washington State. For Arizona State, freshman phenom Jayden Daniels is a must-see, up-and-coming star who already has one legendary moment on his resume this season.
The Ducks can’t let up
With one loss against Auburn (No. 9 heading into Week 9) in Week 1 of this season, Oregon is the last remaining Pac-12 team with a realistic chance of sneaking into the playoff at the end of the season. The only way that happens is by the Ducks staying undefeated the rest of the way, and by winning big in the process.
Coming off an impressive victory over Washington in Seattle, Oregon is back at home in Week 9 against Washington State. The Cougars can put up offensive production in their sleep, but their defense is highly suspect. This is a game the ducks should win by a lot. It’s imperative that Justin Herbert and Co. keep their foot on the accelerator this weekend, and the rest of the season.