It’s been a few weeks since Thursday and Friday night gave fans any real intrigue on a national scale, but that’s changing in college football Week 9.
From Thursday to Saturday, this weekend’s slate of games promises to provide us with plenty to get excited about.
These are the biggest storylines to keep an eye on.
Will Grier, Mountaineers look to get back on track
The last time we saw West Virginia, it was absolutely trounced in Ames by the Iowa State Hawkeyes. The Mountaineers were dominated in every conceivable way two weekends ago, suffering their first loss of the season.
Will Grier, who’s been one of the most prolific passers in the nation the past couple of seasons, attempted just 15 passes and had his lone touchdown negated by a bad interception.
Now the Mountaineers are back at home for a date with a dangerous Baylor team that gave Texas a hard time last Saturday and has the ability to keep defenses off balance with a solid overall offensive approach. With a week off to prepare, West Virginia should have the edge at home. But given the recent rash of upsets we’re taking nothing for granted.
Appalachian State with huge test after making history
After rattling off their fifth straight win last Saturday against Louisiana, the Appalachian State Mountaineers find themselves among the top-25 nationally for the first time in program history. It’s kind of a big deal.
Yet the time for celebration is not yet upon this program, which now hits the road to face Sun Belt rival Georgia Southern. The Eagles are tied with Appalachian State atop the Sun Belt East with an undefeated 3-0 conference record. This is a must-watch nationally televised game on Thursday night, for those who have ESPN U.
Both teams are fond of pounding the rock, and they both feature excellent defenses. So it could be quite a slug fest. However, the Mounaineers have a huge edge when it comes to offensive firepower, so it’ll take nothing less than a perfect defensive effort by the Eagles to pull off the upset.
Malik Rosier back as starter in pivotal road game for Miami
Mark Richt made a bad move last Saturday, pulling freshman quarterback N’Kosi Perry after two interceptions in favor of Malik Rosier. Rosier is a known quantity, and it’s not a positive situation to have him under center. It was hardly shocking that, not only did Miami fail to beat Virginia, but Rosier was awful as well.
Compounding matters, Richt has stubbornly decided that Rosier — the guy he benched a few weeks back in favor of the freshman, who has infinitely better tools — will be the starter going forward. Making this decision even more confusing is the fact that Miami has no shot at going to the playoff, and that it’s highly unlikely the Hurricanes will not have a shot at the ACC championship.
Yet here we are. Rosier will be under center when Miami plays Boston College on Friday night. The Eagles are a strong opponent. They recently gave NC State a run for its money before destroying Louisville. If Rosier is the catalyst and Miami beats them on Friday night, it will be a huge surprise.
Can suddenly-hot Bruins knock of the Utes?
Chip Kelly’s UCLA Bruins will play host to No. 23 Utah late on Friday night, and they enter the contest on a two-game wining streak. This is especially notable because the Bruins opened the season with five straight losses.
It looks like Michigan transfer Wilton Speight could be the starter. He subbed in for an injured Dorian Thompson-Robinson last Saturday against Arizona and led the Bruins to a 31-30 win, throwing two touchdowns along the way.
The Utes present a much more formidable challenge. They feature one of the nation’s best run defenses and allow under 18 points per game. Needless to say, it’s going to take every bit of Kelly’s offensive prowess, a sharp game from whomever is under center, and a bit of luck to pull off the upset.
FSU looking to play spoiler at home against Clemson
For all intents and purposes, Saturday’s road game in Tallahassee represents the biggest remaining test for Clemson until the ACC Championship Game. Last weekend, the Tigers laid waste to their top challenger within the conference, destroying NC State 41-7.
The Seminoles have certainly come a long way since being embarrassed by Syracuse a few weekends ago. They nearly beat Miami but ultimately collapsed down the stretch, and pulled away from Wake Forest in their last game as Deondre Francois found his stride.
Anything can happen on any given Saturday. But all things considered, Clemson will probably romp. The Tigers bring a devastating rushing attack, a top-end quarterback and a defense that allows less than two touchdowns per game. It’s looking more and more like they will finish the season ranked No. 2 behind Alabama, or atop the heap altogether.
Pivotal conference showdown between Wisconsin and Northwestern
Funny story: Northwestern sits atop the B1G West with a 4-1 conference record, yet overall the Wildcats are 4-3 on the season. Somehow, they keep knocking off their conference rivals, and they’ll have another shot to do it on Sunday afternoon in Evanston as they host Wisconsin.
The Badgers rebounded nicely last Saturday by annihilating Illinois, but it was just two weekends ago that they were embarrassed by Michigan.
The Wildcats feature a dominant run defense that will give Wisconsin’s run game a stiff test. Quarterback Clayton Thorson is a gamer who has a knack for coming through in big moments.
On the other side, Alex Hornibrook has regressed into his turnover-prone ways with four interceptions in his last two contests. If he can’t take care of the ball again this weekend he’ll open the door for another upset loss.
Monumentally important top-10 battle in Jacksonville
Barring some craziness atop the rankings in the final weeks of this season, it’s almost a certainty that two losses will keep the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs out of the College Football Playoff this year.
One of these teams will exit college football Week 9 with two losses — no pressure, right?
Georgia is coming off a brutal blowout loss at the hands of LSU two Saturdays ago, but the Bulldogs have had time to lick their wounds and come up with a winning game plan. They feature a slightly more explosive offense overall. However, that offense was stifled in a big way by the defensive-minded Tigers and could be once again against Florida.
The two teams are evenly matched across the board for the most part. Georgia is favored to win by a touchdown, but really this could go either way and nobody should be surprised if the Gators continue to stay hot in an upset win.
Can Alex Barnes carry Kansas State to victory over Oklahoma?
Coming off a bye last Saturday, the Sooners avenged their narrow loss to Texas with a brutally efficient display of offensive prowess in a blowout over TCU. It’s hardly surprising that they are favored to beat Kansas State by 25 points.
The only realistic chance the Wildcats have of pulling off a huge upset is if running back Alex Barnes has a monster day — not a crazy proposition considering Oklahoma’s leaky run defense. The junior running back comes into the game ranked 13th nationally with 788 rushing yards, along with nine touchdowns.
Should Barnes consistently find creases and make plays on the ground, then maybe he keeps Kyler Murray off the field just long enough to give his team a shot.
Iowa rising, with a chance at revenge against Penn State
Last year, Iowa nearly upset Penn State at home. Then, on the final play of the game Trace McSorley ripped the heart out of everyone in that stadium with a touchdown to win the game in dramatic fashion.
Saturday offers the Hawkeyes a chance at some revenge. They’ll be in Happy Valley and are coming off three straight impressive victories with a chance to deal a death blow to Penn State’s hopes at salvaging what could quickly turn into a lost season.
The Nittany Lions have lost two of their last three and barely squeaked past Indiana last Saturday. With upcoming games against Michigan and Wisconsin following this weekend’s contest, it could get real ugly, real fast.
McSorley will have to be sharp, as Iowa’s defense is stout against the run and could take Miles Sanders out of the equation early.
Bulls on upset alert in Houston
South Florida remains undefeated heading into college football Week 9, but the past two wins have been nail-biters against teams the Bulls should have beaten soundly.
Houston is red hot offensively coming into Saturday’s game. During their current four-game winning streak, the Cougars have averaged more than 50 points per game. This is a recipe for disaster for USF, which has started out extremely slow the past two games.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Bulls have won their last five games by an average margin of just over a touchdown per game against teams of a much lower quality than Houston. Charlie Strong’s program is officially on upset alert.
Personality clash as Kentucky attempts to stay nationally relevant
Kentucky and Missouri couldn’t be more different.
The Wildcats have more ugly wins this year than pretty much any other team in the nation, leaning almost exclusively on their running game and stifling defense to get the job done. Meanwhile, the Tigers don’t play much defense and sling the ball around like crazy through the air with quarterback Drew Lock.
Saturday’s matchup between these two SEC schools sets up as an epic clash of personalities. The Tigers are at home and favored to win by nearly a touchdown. But if Benny Snell Jr. gets going on the ground early, and if the defense forces some turnovers, the Wildcats have a legitimate shot at coming out of Columbia with their seventh win of the season.
Huskies can’t get caught looking ahead
With an upcoming game against Stanford next Saturday, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see Washington fall into a bit of a trap in Week 9. The Huskies are on the road against a limping Cal Bears team that lost three straight before pummeling Oregon State last weekend.
Jake Browning doesn’t inspire much confidence from week to week. He’s thrown an interception per game in his last three and seven total this year. It wouldn’t be terribly shocking if he had a sloppy game.
Considering that, and the fact that Washington’s defense is susceptible to getting gashed on the ground, it wouldn’t be overly surprising if the Huskies got caught looking ahead and were upset this weekend.
Cougs must keep pedal to the metal in road test against Stanford
Last weekend’s thrilling and somewhat dominating win over Oregon positioned Washington State as a fringe playoff contender. They have just one loss on record and would have an outside shot of getting in by running the table — needing some outside help, of course.
All that is moot, however, if the Cougars don’t get past Stanford, which is favored to win by a field goal at home. The best way to do that is by continuing what they’ve been doing the past two games with a fast-and-furious offensive approach.
Look for quarterback Gardner Minshew to have another big game against a Stanford defense that isn’t as stout as fans have grown to expect in recent years. Provided he doesn’t morph into a turnover machine, and that Mike Leach doesn’t do something unfathomably stupid late in the game, the Cougars have plenty of firepower to move to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the conference.
Is it finally Keytaon Thompson time for Mississippi State?
With a 1-3 record in the SEC and 4-3 overall, the Bulldogs have no reason to continue pounding the same broken anvil that is quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. It has to be Keytaon Thompson time — any other outcome is pure madness.
Thankfully, head coach Joe Moorehead seems to be open to that idea.
If Fitzgerald does start, then one would fully expect the dynamic Texas A&M front seven to feast.
If Thompson starts, then the Aggies could be in for a world of confusion. His ability to actually move the ball through the air would add an entirely new element to the Bulldogs’ offense and potentially lead to a big-time win.
After blowout loss to Clemson, NC State could be in trouble again
The Wolfpack entered Week 8 as one of the remaining undefeated teams in college football. Then they met the brick wall that is Clemson’s juggernaut and were smashed to bits attempting to breach it.
Things don’t get a heck of a lot easier this weekend, either. While Syracuse isn’t on the same level as Clemson, the Orange are formidable enough to have pushed the same Tigers to the limit a few weekends ago.
NC State quarterback Ryan Finley has struggled the past two games, throwing four interceptions. Another poor outing will almost certainly result in a second straight loss for this program.
Notre Dame rested and ready for playoff push
The Fighting Irish were the No. 5 team a couple of Saturdays ago when they eked out a win over Pitt. While they rested up on a bye, they moved up two spots as Ohio State and Georgia both suffered big losses.
On paper, Navy shouldn’t provide much more than a rigorous practice session for Notre Dame. The Midshipmen are awful on defense, and their offense is as one-dimensional as it comes in college football.
Notre Dame should win handily as it plows toward what, at this point, feels like an inevitable playoff berth.
Cowboys look to herd Longhorns into a trap
Texas has risen up the national rankings in a hurry. The Longhorns were No. 19 heading into the Red River Shootout win over Oklahoma. They rose up 10 spots after that game to No. 9, then beat Baylor to continue their climb up the rankings.
Now the No. 6 team in the nation, Texas’ road to the playoff remains difficult. In two weekends, the Longhorns will host West Virginia. After that, they’ll hit the road for a date with Texas Tech, then back home for Iowa State.
Before all that happens, however, the Longhorns will be taking on Oklahoma State at Boone Pickens Stadium, and they cannot afford to get caught looking ahead. Yes, the Cowboys have dropped two straight and three of their last four, but this offense is still capable of putting up points in a hurry.
Thankfully, Texas is expecting Sam Ehlinger to be back in action for this coming game, and he has been outstanding this year leading the offense.
Pac-12 After Dark special in the desert
After all the dust settles late Saturday evening, fans who are still eager for more action should tune in to ESPN for a Pac-12 After Dark special between the Oregon Ducks and Arizona Wildcats.
Both teams are loaded with some exciting young talent. Before the season began, Khalil Tate was considered by many to be a dark horse Heisman candidate. He’s struggled but is still extremely fun to watch. His counterpart, Justin Herbert, is always a blast as he slings the ball around the field like a pro.
Both the Ducks and Wildcats have outstanding running backs as well, and one would expect these two teams to assemble quite a rousing highlight package before the night is done in Tucson.