We’ve made it to what normally feels like the opening week of the college football season. Now, with the PAC 12 and MAC joining the 2020 party all of the FBS will now be playing football. With such an occurrence, we felt it appropriate to bring the College Football watch guide a few days early. There will be wall to wall action beginning tonight with the MAC, followed by Mountain West action on Thursday. Friday, we have top 25 action in the Mountain West and the ACC and then a full slate of Saturday games. We’ll have four ranked versus ranked matchups and two top 10 matchups as well. Now, let’s get into it as we look at the best matchups in college football with our week 9 college football watch guide.
Note: All game times are in central standard time
Week 9 College Football Watch Guide
Buffalo comes into this matchup with possibly the best 1-2 punch in the country at running back. Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks combined for nearly 2,800 yards in 2009. That along with the best returning defense has the Bulls as the prohibitive favorite in the MAC. Northern Illinois comes off a 5-7 campaign in 2019 and lost their starting quarterback and running back. However, California transfer Ross Bowers could be exactly what they need to make this game competitive.
This has the makings of a great MAC opener. For Ohio, they must replace multi-year starter Nathan Rourke and three offensive linemen. Luckily, they landed UNLV transfer Armani Rogers and return everyone who caught a pass last year. For the Chippewas, second-year head coach Jim McElwain returns after taking Central Michigan to the MAC title game in 2019. They will need to have a quarterback settle in, but if that happens they have the talent to get back to the championship game.
This is a battle of two teams heading in opposite directions. Nevada has started strong going 2-0, including an upset victory over Wyoming in week one. That has been in big part to sophomore quarterback Carson Strong. Strong has completed 76% of his passes with six touchdowns in no interceptions. Conversely, Utah State has been non-competitive against the Mountain West’s top teams losing by 29 and 31 to Boise State and San Diego State. Utah transfer Jason Shelley will need to become much more efficient.
The Cowboys rebounded well after the opening week loss at Nevada by dominating Hawaii on Saturday by 24 points. Wyoming will likely go as far as running back Xazavian Valladay can take them. He ran for 163 yards and two scores against Hawaii. It could be a game-time decision to see who starts at quarterback for the Rams. Todd Centeio started against Fresno State but was largely ineffective. However, Patrick O’Brien completed seven of 10 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown in less than a quarter of play.
Despite the offense sputtering somewhat over the last couple of games, the Hurricanes are sitting in a good position in the ACC standings right behind Clemson and Notre Dame. Miami has three of their remaining five games on the road as well as a home game against North Carolina to close out the season. A slip up here could be damaging to their championship game aspirations. For the Wolfpack, they have been a little up and down have winnable games against Florida State, Liberty, Syracuse, and Georgia Tech remaining. The winner here will put themselves in a good position.
This could be one of the most entertaining games of the weekend. This is likely going to be the only opportunity for BYU against a top 25 opponent to impress voters and the College Football Playoff committee. As it stands, they are one of the best non-power five teams this year and have a legitimate Heisman candidate in Zach Wilson. Comparatively, Boise State has been impressive early on particularly on the offensive side of the ball. They have a couple of quarterbacks who are equally up to the task in leading the team with Jack Sears and Hank Bachmeier. This game promises to be a back and forth high scoring affair.
We get to start our Saturday morning with breakfast with the service academies. Army has been solid this year starting at 6-1 with the lone loss a two-touchdown defeat to Cincinnati. Quarterback Jemel Jones has been getting more playing time and overall the Black Knights have run for over 2,500 yards this season. After a dominating opening win over Navy, Air Force has struggled in back-to-back losses to San Jose State and Boise State. The Falcons did run for over 400 yards last week against the Broncos. This should be the quickest game in the country this weekend.
The early wake-up call for both the Trojans and Sun Devils will kick off the PAC 12 season. We will see a pair of offenses that should be able to score at will on the opposition. Kedon Slovis and Jayden Daniels both had excellent seasons and will look to capitalize on that momentum this season. But, can their defense get any stops? Southern Cal returns basically everyone from one of the worst defenses in Trojan history. It remains to be seen as to whether that can be a positive this season.
One team looks like the second-best team in the Big 10 and the other team is just fighting for relevancy in the conference race. Who knew the former would be Indiana? Michael Penix Jr has been solid for the Hoosiers with four touchdowns and just one interception. But, the running game will need to improve from the 2.3 yards per carry average through two games. However, all of the pressure has to be on the Wolverines. The natives are becoming very restless with Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor with another underwhelming performance last week against Michigan State. Is this a must-win for Michigan to save Harbaugh’s job this season?
We all thought Liberty would be the team ranked coming into this game right? Hugh Freeze has his ballclub humming at 6-0 on the season. However, the schedule has been fairly week up to this point. But, Auburn transfer Malik Willis has been very good this year. He has over 1,100 yards passing with nine touchdowns and only one interception. He’s also the leading rusher with 495 yards and six more scores. Trying to stop him will be a Virginia Tech defense that has been inconsistent. They gave up 56 and 35 points to North Carolina and Louisville respectively. The Hokies are a 14 point favorite in this game but depending on what team shows up for Virginia Tech it could be much closer than the experts think.
We have one of our two top 10 matchups of the day as Florida and Georgia tussle in Jacksonville. Georgia has dominated the series as of late and comes in this year as a three-point favorite. The winner of this game is almost assured of going to Atlanta to face Alabama. This will be an interesting matchup of strength versus strength in the Florida offense against the Georgia defense and weakness against weakness with the Georgia offense against the Florida defense. This game likely will sit on the right arm of Stetson Bennett. He has struggled in his last two games barely hitting over 50% of his passes while tossing five interceptions. If he struggles early, look for Kirby Smart to have a tight leash on the Bulldog quarterback.
Utah is the prohibitive favorite here. But, they have lost tons of talent on both sides of the ball. However, the offensive line should be outstanding for the Utes so whoever lines up under center and starts at the running back position should have the transition eased just a little bit. For Arizona, the same cannot be said on the offensive line as that was a sore spot for the Wildcats last year. But, a fresh start to the season could provide some consistency for Grant Gunnell at quarterback and Gary Brightwell at running back.
The Cowboys have to be kicking themselves this week. They thoroughly dominated Texas in every place but the scoreboard. Even with the playoffs being a distant memory, the Big 12 title game is still well within reach. But, quarterback Spencer Sanders will have to take care of the ball which he has not been able to do thus far. Like, Oklahoma State, Kansas State suffered their first Big 12 loss on Saturday. Their issues are greater, however, as they were dominated by West Virginia 37-10. The Wildcats only had 225 yards of offense and committed three turnovers. With the best defense in the Big 12 coming to town, they will need to get better in a hurry.
The Aggies have rebounded quite well after being pummeled by Alabama a few weeks ago. The combination of Kellen Mond and Isaiah Spiller at running back has been very efficient for the Texas A&M offensive attack. If they run the table, the Aggies could make a playoff argument without making it to the conference title game. But, standing in their way is South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been a little inconsistent but have played well at home. Kevin Harris and Shi Smith are electric at the running back and wide receiver position. If Collin Hill can be efficient in the passing game, the Gamecocks could pull off the upset.
This could be the most competitive PAC 12 game of the weekend. The biggest question will be how much has the UCLA defense improved. Well, it couldn’t be much worse than the 113th ranking of last year. But, they do return 10 of the top 13 players to provide some consistency. On offense, Dorian Thompson-Robinson is now a veteran for the Bruins. The skill position players should be solid if the offensive line can hold up. A familiar face will be roaming the Buffalo sidelines with Karl Dorrell the new head coach at Colorado. The Buffaloes have won three straight at home over UCLA. Can they make it four?
Our premier game of the day has a top-five matchup with Clemson and Notre Dame. The Tigers avoided disaster after a 28-10 deficit turned into a 34-28 win. How impactful will a second straight missed game by Trevor Lawrence be for the Tigers? D.J. Uiagalelei was superb for Clemson throwing for 342 yards and two touchdowns through the air and one on the ground. But, it will be the defense that must step up against the best offensive team they will face all year in Notre Dame. Ian Book is a veteran in the system and has thrown for over 1,200 yards and tossed seven touchdowns with just one interception. But, this game likely hinges on the Fighting Irish’s ability to stop the high-powered Tiger offense.
From talent alone, Oregon comes into this game as the clear leader of the PAC 12 this season. However, the Ducks have had some pretty significant opt-outs. But, the running backs and receiving corps is outstanding. And, Tyler Shough is in the Justin Herbert mold if he is indeed the starter on Saturday for Oregon. Comparatively, Stanford had a rare bad season under David Shaw. Don’t expect that to happen for the second season in a row. Stanford should have one of the best offensive lines in football which would allow them to return to their ground and pound game.
Finally, it feels like a college football season now that we have PAC 12 after dark. And this will be a good one as both of these teams are extremely evenly matched. Washington and California likely bolster the best two defenses in the conference, especially within the secondary. With all due respect to USC and Oregon, the winner of this game has every opportunity to challenge for the PAC 12 crown. Cal gets the edge in experience at the quarterback position. But, this will be a game worth staying up for.