Week 9 in college football features two clashes of the titans as Penn State takes on Ohio State in a likely playoff elimination match, and NC State takes on Notre Dame with similar stakes on the line. Arizona hopes to knock off Washington State, while Iowa State and Georgia Tech will be gunning for TCU and Clemson respectively, both top ranked teams can’t afford an upset loss. Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, Brett Margolies and Mike Loveall take you through each matchup and offer their predictions.
#2 Penn State at #6 Ohio State (Saturday at 3:30 P.M. in Columbus, OH)
Line: Ohio State by 6.5
Steen: Ohio State isn’t a bad team by any measure but Penn State has passed every test and is a great team on both sides of the ball. Ohio State has a good defense but I’m not sold on their offense, and even at home their resume just doesn’t stack up. Look for Penn State to continue their march to the playoff. Penn State 31, Ohio State 21
Yesh: The more I think about this game, the more iffy I am about picking Ohio State. The Buckeyes are more talented, sure. But Gesicki presents a huge matchup problems, and Penn State has the best defense that OSU has faced all year. We saw Oklahoma shut down J.T. Barrett and co. back in Week 2. Has he really progressed? We’ll find out. Ohio State 31, Penn State 24
Mike: After a week 2 loss to Oklahoma, Ohio State has gotten things going – especially on offense. J.T. Barrett has quietly worked his way into the Heisman conversation. And their offense is very balanced, averaging 326 in the air and 250 on the ground. Penn State’s defense – allowing less than 10 points per game this season – will be tested for the first significant time this season. Penn State has momentum, but Ohio State has motivation. Penn State has the perfect record, but Ohio State has more talent. This should be a great game, and I think home field advantage decides it. Ohio State 28, Penn State 27
John: The Horseshoe will be a cauldron on Saturday as Ohio State welcomes number two Penn State to Columbus. Revenge will certainly be on the mind of the Buckeyes after their CFP hopes nearly ended with a 24-21 loss to the Nittany Lions last year. Two Heisman front-runners will be on full display with Saquon Barkley and J.T. Barrett hoping to lead their respective team to victory.
Despite the myriad weapons these teams have on offense, they’re also as good as it gets on the other side of the ball. Penn State is the only team in FBS giving up fewer than ten points per game. Ohio State isn’t far behind at 15.4 points allowed per game which ranks tenth nationally. Both run games could have issues moving the football with the teams one-two among Big Ten teams in tackles for loss. Ohio State 23, Penn State 17
Brett: Penn State is coming in full of confidence after their blowout win over Michigan. Only problem is Ohio State is on a whole other level. The buckeyes are going to be fresh after the bye week last week, and most of the time Urban Meyer with a lot of time to prepare turns out to be a win. Expect Saquon Barkley to once again put up heisman numbers, but OSU just has too much talent. Ohio State 34, Penn State 24
#4 TCU at #25 Iowa State (Saturday at 3:30 P.M. in Ames, IA)
Line: TCU by 6.5
Steen: Iowa State is much improved but TCU has been remarkable this year. I don’t see the Horned Frogs sleeping on a tough road opponent with a chip on its shoulder and nothing to lose. This game should be fun with TCU winning in the end. TCU 42, Iowa State 35
Yesh: TCU is coming off an easy win over Kansas and is ready to face the other team that has been a Big 12 doormat this decade. But this isn’t a Paul Rhoads Iowa State team. Matt Campbell has these players excelling and playing strong two-way football. TCU will have its hands full in Ames, as Iowa State is improving every week. Iowa State 31, TCU 30
Mike: This is the second time in three weeks (Kansas State, +6) where TCU was a laughably low favorite. Iowa State has had their one big win of the year. It’s sustained success that eludes teams like the Cyclones. And what better preparation film for Gary Patterson than showing his team Iowa State’s upset of Oklahoma and their subsequent Top 25 ranking. Iowa State will have TCU’s full attention. And speaking of consistency, TCU is getting that from Kenny Hill. Hill’s maturation is clear in 2017. He’s put up solid numbers in the air (146-208, 70.1%, 1728 yds, 15 TDs, and 3 INT) while still being able to make plays on the ground. TCU is one of the most balanced teams in the nation. TCU, easy. TCU 38, Iowa State 17
John: Saturday’s game between TCU and Iowa State is the first in Ames between two Top 25 teams in 15 years. The Horned Frogs are clearly in the CFP conversation if they can run the table. Meanwhile, the Cyclones are in the AP poll for the first time since week four of the 2005 season and boast a three-game winning streak that began with a huge upset of Oklahoma on the road.
In a conference not known for its stellar defenses, these two teams are the exception. They’re currently one-two among Big 12 teams in total defense, with the Horned Frogs ranked 11th nationally. Both quarterbacks, TCU’s Kenny Hill and Iowa State’s Kyle Kempt, don’t make many mistakes. But that will be put to the test this weekend with both teams top four in the conference in takeaways. TCU 31, Iowa State 24
Brett: I thought Iowa State’s win at Oklahoma was kind of a fluke, but they backed it up nicely last week with an impressive road win at Texas Tech last week. TCU is coming in as Iowa State’s homecoming game which isn’t the smartest idea for the cyclones. Look for TCU and Kenny Hill to continue what he’s done all year long. TCU 30, Iowa State 17
#14 NC State at #9 Notre Dame (Saturday at 3:30 P.M. in South Bend, IN)
Line: Notre Dame by 7.5
Steen: NC State has made a solid season for themselves but Notre Dame has slipped into the top 10 under the radar and looks really good right now. The Irish could be tripped up but at home they should perform close to their best and get a comfortable win. Notre Dame 35, NC State 21
Yesh: So call me crazy, but I’m not at all sold on N.C. State. The Wolf Pack’s big wins over Florida State and Louisville really don’t look so big right now. This team is talented, but it also lost to South Carolina. Notre Dame, meanwhile, just pounded the stuffing out of USC and has been impressive all season. The Irish’s only loss was by one point, to a team that looks like it might be the best in the country. Notre Dame 45, N.C. State 21
Mike: While Notre Dame’s dismantling of USC last week was probably more about the terrible play of USC, the Fighting Irish still capitalized every time they had the chance. And with a one-point loss to undefeated Georgia, Notre Dame probably has the best resume of any one-loss team. There’s still some “probably” about this team, but they’ve proven themselves this season. These two teams are more similar than they are alike. Offenses that can put up yards and defenses that still need some development. But Notre Dame is at home, and is more talented. Unlike previous Irish teams in recent memory, this team is still playing for something important entering the home stretch. Notre Dame 35, NC State 24
John: You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who predicted that this would be a matchup between top 15 teams when the season started. Yet, here they are. The Irish are coming off their most dominant performance against rival USC in 51 years. And they host a Wolfpack team who’ve won six in a row after dropping their season-opener, boasting their highest ranking since 2003.
Saturday’s showdown in South Bend will feature strength upon strength. Notre Dame comes into this game averaging 7.06 yards per carry, the second best mark in FBS. Running back Josh Adams is one of eight running backs who’ve already eclipsed 900 rushing yards this year. But NC State is stout against the run, with only five FBS teams averaging fewer rushing yards conceded per game. Notre Dame 38, NC State 24
Brett: NC State has looked great after an opening week loss to South Carolina. This might be an even bigger test for Notre Dame than last week’s game against USC. Even though Notre Dame has to be full of confidence after the big win last week, I like NC State’s chances to pull off the big upset on the road. NC State 34, Notre Dame 30
Georgia Tech at #7 Clemson (Saturday at 8:00 P.M. in Clemson, SC)
Line: Clemson by 14
Steen: This is not an easy game for Clemson and they will have to fight, especially after giving up so much offense to Syracuse. That said, if Kelly Bryant is healthy the Tigers are still the better team and can put up points in bunches if need be. At home Clemson should win but not by the projected spread. Clemson 35, Georgia Tech 28
Yesh: Georgia Tech is a bit of an enigma this year. The Yellow Jackets were impressive against Miami and Wake Forest, but that season opener against Tennessee suddenly has me questioning this team. Either way, I think the option can do enough to keep this game within two scores. Clemson 31, Georgia Tech 21
Mike: The bad news for Clemson? No one enjoys playing a talented triple-option offense in the middle of the season. The good news? They had a bye week to prepare and they have an incredibly talented and athletic defensive line. Time and talent up front are the two most important factors for defenses against the run-heavy attack. Expect the Tigers to disrupt the Rambling Wreck’s timing and execution. Meanwhile, with a week to get healthy, we should expect to see Clemson’s offense get back in rhythm. Clemson is coming off a shocking loss to Syracuse. If Dabo Swinney truly does have the Clemson program near the level of Alabama, then they will come out with a strong linger of distaste remaining from that game and make a statement against Georgia Tech. Clemson 41, Georgia Tech 23
John: This is Clemson’s first game since their shock 27-24 loss to Syracuse on October 13th. Putting together a bounce back performance will be a challenge against Georgia Tech’s vaunted triple option. But the trend is on the Tigers’ side. Their last two-game losing streak came late in the 2011 season. Still, GT is close to being undefeated with both of their losses coming by a point.
Slowing down Yellow Jackets quarterback TaQuon Marshall is arguably the biggest task for Clemson on defense, particularly his ability to gash teams with his feet. Only four FBS quarterbacks have more rushing yards and his 11 rushing touchdowns is bested by just six players total. Fortunately for the Tigers, they rank second in the ACC in rush defense and have given up just two touchdowns on the ground all year. Clemson 37, Georgia Tech 30
Brett: Georgia Tech historically gives Clemson problems. Having quarterback Kelly Bryant back will be big for Clemson after their upset loss to Syracuse. I think we’ll see more of what we saw the first 6 games of the year from Clemson, and having the extra week to prepare for the Georgia Tech offense will be beneficial in getting a win on Saturday. Clemson 35, Georgia Tech 14
#15 Washington State at Arizona (Saturday at 9:30 P.M. in Tucson, AZ)
Line: Washington State by 3
Steen: Washington State has had a great season but Arizona is at home, with a ton of momentum and a superstar QB in Khalil Tate. The Wildcats are one of the sleeper teams of the season and unless Washington State’s offense suddenly wakes up they are going to get knocked off. Arizona 42, Washington State 28
Yesh: Khalil Tate is a human highlight reel. Seriously, he’s like a better version of last year’s Lama Jackson. People are saying he might save Rich Rodriguez’s job, but to me it just raises the issue of why he wasn’t the starter in the first place. Either way, his biggest test of the season will come against a very underrated Washington State defense. He’ll make some plays, but I don’t think it will be enough. Washington State 41, Arizona 31
Mike: A match up of two teams seemingly going in opposite directions. After a strong start to the season, Washington State was blown out by Cal 37-3 two weeks ago. The offense continued to struggle last week, so much so that coach Mike Leach had the offense doing up-and-downs on the sideline. Meanwhile, in the desert, the Wildcats are one of the surprise teams of the season. Led by quarterback Khalil Tate, the Wildcats are averaging 342 yards of rushing offense a game. While Tate hasn’t proved to be deadly through the air, he’s incredibly efficient. In his last three games, Tate’s completion percentages are 92.3%, 69.2%, and 66.7%. Arizona has played well at home, and the Cougars haven’t been consistent, especially on the road this season. While I’m very suspect of Arizona’s defense, I think they sell out against Washington State’s passing attack. Arizona 31, Washington State 30
John: This matchup will showcase as glaring a contrast of styles on offense as you’re going to see all year. Washington State ranks second among Pac-12 teams in passing yards but is dead last running the football. On the other hand, Arizona is tops in the conference running the football but is dead last in passing yards. As they say, something’s gotta give right?
The Cougs may have the weapons on defense to neutralize Arizona’s run game that includes dynamic dual threat quarterback Khalil Tate. It comes in the form of junior defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa who leads the Pac-12 in both sacks and tackles for loss. But the Wildcats have a bevy of playmakers on defense as evidenced by their ten interceptions on the year. Luke Falk’s already thrown seven picks so far this season. Might that be the formula for an upset special? Arizona 30, Washington State 27
Brett: This game has big implications for the PAC-12 title game as each team is coming in with one conference loss. Washington State got back on track on Saturday after their bizarre loss to Cal where the high powered offense only put up 3 points. I like their chances to carry the momentum from last week, and look more like the team everyone thought they would be heading in to the season. Washington State 35, Arizona 31