Undefeated underdog teams West Virginia and Nebraska will put their records to the test in key road games this weekend, Florida State and Clemson will renew their ACC rivalry, the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party is in Jacksonville as Florida battles Georgia, and Washington and Utah will battle for PAC-12 supremacy in college football this Saturday. Our experts Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, and Mike Loveall are on hand to offer previews and predictions of all the key games.
Tailgate Pick ‘Em Week 9 College Football Predictions Including Clemson-Florida State
#10 West Virginia at Oklahoma State (Saturday 12:00 P.M.)
Line: West Virginia by 3.5
Steen: With a 5-2 record I think it’s clear OK State is good, but not great, while West Virginia continues to grow and prosper thanks to their balance, something many Big 12 teams lack. The Mountaineers are outsiders, but deserved favorites in this road game. I expect it to be another fun Big 12 outing, and OK State will hang around. West Virginia 44, Oklahoma State 38
Yesh: I’ve been wrong all season on West Virginia, and I still don’t have a good read on Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have an offense that probably can challenge this Mountaineer defense, but I don’t think the Cowboys will really get that many stops against an offense that’s getting better and better. West Virginia 35, Oklahoma State 32
John: West Virginia comes into this game as perhaps the most surprising unbeaten team in college football. The Mountaineers were unranked to start the season but now find themselves in the top ten. And it’s not like they’ve played a bunch of cupcakes. Two of their non-conference wins came against Missouri and BYU.
In a conference that’s gaining a reputation as being defensively challenged, WVU is one of the few exceptions. Two weeks ago, they held Texas Tech to 17 points. You know, that same Texas Tech team that scored 59 and had 854 yards of total offense in a loss to Oklahoma last week.
Both teams boast hugely efficient quarterbacks, with Skyler Howard and Mason Rudolph top 20 nationally in quarterback rating. Ultimately, it may come down to turnovers. And with Oklahoma State having one of the nation’s best turnover margins (+7), they may have a chance at pulling the upset. Oklahoma State 31, West Virginia 27
Mike: I’ve doubted West Virginia all season; no more. The Mountaineers seem to be getting better. I still don’t think they’re a legitimate CFP contender, but they have something no other Big 12 team has: a defense. In their last two games, they’ve held Kansas State to 16 points, Texas Tech to 17, and TCU to 10. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is a team still trying to find an identity. The Cowboys haven’t had a game with good rhythm since their opening win against Southeast Louisiana. Mountaineers continue to execute well. West Virginia 31, Oklahoma State 23
#14 Florida at Georgia (Saturday 3:30 P.M.)
Line: Florida by 8
Steen: Florida lost to Tennessee and looked bad against Vandy, still the Gators have a shot at winning an abysmal SEC East, and still have an outside shot at the CFB playoff to boot. The season has not gone how Georgia wanted, after a good start the Bulldogs have dropped three of their last four and have gone from SEC contenders to pretenders. Georgia’s inconsistency this season has been their downfall, and the offense in particular has sputtered at times with a true freshman QB. Still, Florida doesn’t have a great offense either, and these teams will get up for their biggest game of the season. I’m going with Georgia in a defensive struggle. Should the Bulldogs win Kentucky(!) and Tennessee would be back in the discussion for the SEC East title. Georgia 14, Florida 10
Yesh: The Gators are one of the teams in the country that we know the least about. The defense was amazing against a lot of really bad offenses but wasn’t particularly great against Tennessee, the only decent team the Gators have faced. Then again, Georgia couldn’t put together three touchdowns against Vanderbilt, so I’m not sure if that offense will be enough to beat Florida. If the Georgia team that played Tennessee shows up, though, the Bulldogs should be able to win this. Georgia 31, Florida 21
Mike: I think this is a big line for a rivalry game with two teams that still have a lot of questions half way through the season. Georgia is coming off a poor performance in a loss to Vanderbilt. But they’ve shown promise in a close loss against Tennessee and a solid win against North Carolina to start the season. Florida only has one loss, but they still have LSU and Arkansas – in addition to Georgia – standing between them and Atlanta. And of course you cannot discount the value of the rivalry aspect of this game. Remember Georgia getting the penalty for the entire team celebrating the first touchdown a few years ago? Remember, too, that Florida has only played one game in the last three weeks. They are rusty. Georgia is hungry. A defensive and running struggle will keep this one low. Georgia 20, Florida 17
John: It’s rare that both Florida and Georgia both come off a bye heading into their annual neutral site showdown in Jacksonville. This year will be just the fifth time in the history of the series dating back to 1904 that it’s happened.
The Gators will be expected to prevail. Florida is coming off a dominant 40-14 win over Missouri. Meanwhile, Georgia lost to Vanderbilt for just the third time in the last 20 years in their last outing.
Both teams’ running games should be on full display. The Bulldogs boast a bell cow back in Nick Chubb while the Gators’ two-pronged attack of Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine hope to pound it down the throat of their intra-state rival. Ultimately, UF will be out for revenge after getting blown out 27-3 last year. Florida 28, Georgia 13
#4 Washington at #17 Utah (Saturday 3:30 P.M.)
Line: Washington by 10* (lines as of Tuesday afternoon)
Steen: The winner of this game will be the PAC-12’s only shot at reaching the CFB playoff, and the conference is rooting for Washington to win out. Utah is under the radar though and after wins against both LA PAC-12 schools, the Utes have their own sights set on a conference title. Washington has been dominating weak competition, while Utah has suffered injuries and had a running back come out of retirement and rush for a career best last week. Joe Williams is the heart and soul of this Utah team, and symbolizes where they are coming from as underdogs. I still think Jake Browning and company will be too much for Utah though. Salt Lake isn’t an easy place to play, but the Huskies are for real. Washington 45, Utah 31
Yesh: This is the real question of what Chris Petersen has done at Washington. We thought the Stanford game would be this test, but Stanford has proven itself to not be a great competitor this season. Long story short, I think Washington is the real deal. Washington 42, Utah 17
John: This might not be the last time the Huskies and Utes clash in 2016. Both teams lead their respective divisions in the Pac-12 and could easily face off once again for the conference title. But the focus this week will be on Saturday’s showdown in Salt Lake City.
Chris Petersen clearly has the Washington program heading in the right direction three years into his tenure. The Huskies are nationally relevant for the first time since the early 1990s. You can expect them to be in the College Football Playoff if they run the table.
But first comes arguably the toughest test of the year on the road against an upset minded Utah squad. The Utes have a strong defense that can force turnovers. But so do the Huskies. And ultimately UW quarterback Jake Browning, who has thrown 26 touchdowns to just two interceptions, proves to be the deciding factor. Washington 34, Utah 27
Mike: The Husky defense has been in the shadows of Washington’s success this season. The Huskies have only given up 17+ points twice (21 and 28) in an offense-heavy Pac-12. Utah’s defense has also played well this season, averaging 26 ppg against Power 5 opponents. All the metrics say this game will be closer than 10 points, but I believe Chris Petersen has Washington as mentally prepared as they are physically prepared. Look for the Husky offense to wear down the Utes defense later in the game. Washington 38, Utah 24
#7 Nebraska at #11 Wisconsin (Saturday 7:00 P.M.)
Line: Wisconsin by 9
Steen: Nebraska is undefeated, but their best opponent thus far was probably Wyoming. This game should decide one half of the Big 10 championship game, as the Cornhuskers are making a bid for national relevance once again. Wisconsin went on the road and beat Iowa in a tough game last week, and have been in tough games for what will be the fourth week in a row. Nebraska is good, but considering SOS I don’t think they are the 7th best team in America overall, and I’m going with Wisconsin at home to move one game closer to a rematch against Michigan or Ohio State in the Big 10 title. The Badgers have a great defense. Wisconsin 24, Nebraska 14
Yesh: Wisconsin is one of the best teams in the country this season. The defense is brutal and the secondary has surprising speed. Nebraska is also the real deal, though the ‘Huskers have a ton of close shaves against not great teams. Wisconsin’s only problem is that the offense isn’t consistent enough to put games out of reach. Wisconsin 24, Nebraska 17
John: Much like West Virginia, not many expected to see Nebraska unbeaten at this point. But here they are at 7-0 and seventh in the LWOS CFB poll. Mike Riley clearly has the Huskers playing well in his second season as head coach.
That said, in week nine comes what will be the most difficult test of the year on the road against Wisconsin. It marks the fifth game against a team ranked in the top ten at the time for the Badgers. Two weeks ago, they gave Ohio State all they could handle despite losing 30-23 in overtime.
The Huskers were flat out embarrassed the last time they played at Camp Randall, losing 59-24 back in 2014. They gave up a then NCAA record 408 rushing yards to Melvin Gordon. Expect this game to be a bit closer with the Badgers defense and run game handing Nebraska their first loss of the year. Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 17
Mike: Wisconsin might be one of the ten best teams in the nation, yet they already have a two game deficit in the Big Ten West. If they want another shot at Michigan or Ohio State, they’ll have to win in Camp Randall this Saturday. A win against Iowa kept Wisconsin in the Big Ten West picture, and with Nebraska’s schedule getting much tougher in the second half, here is where the Badgers must make their stand. Nebraska brings an undefeated record, albeit with unconvincing wins against Indiana and Purdue the last two weeks, into Madison this weekend. This will only be Nebraska’s second road game of the season, and they didn’t play particular well at Northwestern or Indiana. The Badgers are a little dinged up, and I think they handle the Cornhuskers at home, but not by a lot. Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 20
#3 Clemson at #12 Florida State (Saturday 8:00 P.M.)
Line: Clemson by 4.5
Steen: After an awful start to the season defensively, the FSU defense has recovered to hold Miami and Wake under 3 scores in their last two games. As a result of an improved defense, the Noles stopped the bleeding and moved to 5-2 after losses to Louisville and North Carolina. Clemson meanwhile is chugging along and survived NC State in overtime last week. The Tigers got the big win against Louisville and a win over FSU would almost assure their spot in the ACC title game as they would have beaten the best two teams in the Atlantic division. Neither Clemson nor FSU are quite as good as last season, but there is still a clear gap between the Tigers and Seminoles right now. Florida State will likely put on a better outing than they did against Louisville, but I still don’t feel they are up to par against Clemson. Clemson 38, Florida State 27
Yesh: Clemson is a very good team this year, though a few struggles are a little disconcerting. Florida State was exposed against Louisville. DeShaun Watson doesn’t quite have Lamar Jackson’s speed, but he’s close enough. Clemson 41, Florida State 21
John: Four of our five games this week involve road favorites. Clemson is another one heading into Doak Campbell Stadium to take on Florida State. The Seminoles gave the Tigers one of their toughest games of the regular season last year with the game tied 13-13 in the fourth quarter before Clemson scored ten unanswered to win.
Both teams are coming off byes. Last time out, Clemson somehow avoided an upset against NC State, surviving 24-17 in overtime. FSU, meanwhile, got 238 yards receiving out of Travis Rudolph in a 17-6 win over Wake Forest.
Clemson hasn’t won in Tallahassee since 2006 and the Noles as rare home dogs look primed to pull off an upset. Jimbo Fisher should certainly have a motivated team for this one. Expect FSU running back Dalvin Cook to have his best outing of the season after a slow start. Florida State 31, Clemson 28
Mike: What to make of either of these teams? Clemson has talent all over the field, but had to squeak out an overtime win against NC State two weeks ago. Florida State has an offensive line with 70+ career starts and returned almost the entire offense and defense, yet has dropped two games already this season including an absolute destruction at the hands of Louisville. The Tigers are still clinging to their CFP hopes, while Florida State looks to play spoiler and keep their slim CFP hopes alive. The Seminoles have played on the edge all season, with two losses and two close wins the last two weeks against Miami and Wake Forest. In the end, I think DeShaun Watson rises to the occasion again and leads Clemson to another big win. Clemson 34, Florida State 24