Every week throughout the season we’ll give you a college football viewing guide by highlighting the five best games of the coming weekend. We will pick those five games against the spread and highlight some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
Welcome to Week 9.
Not only are conference title races beginning to materialize, the first College Football Playoff rankings are on tap for next week. There are plenty of games this weekend that can have a big effect on the rankings.
The Michigan vs. Michigan State battle in East Lansing is the headliner, but there are also a few other ranked vs. ranked matchups and the potential for several other ranked teams to be upset.
(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM)
Time: Noon | TV: Fox | Line: UM -4 | Total: 50.5
For the first time since 1964, Michigan and Michigan State will face off with both teams ranked in the top 10. Neither were expected to reach this point. Entering 2021, Michigan was coming off the worst season of the Jim Harbaugh era while MSU was going into the second season of a rebuild under Mel Tucker. Just a few months later, both teams are legitimate CFP contenders at 7-0.
To get here, Michigan — which is 2-12 vs. top 10 opponents under Harbaugh — has leaned heavily on its rushing attack while MSU has been more reliant on explosive plays. For the Wolverines, Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins have combined for 1,331 yards and 20 touchdowns. On the MSU side, Kenneth Walker III is second in the nation with 997 rushing yards. The Spartans also have a stellar receiving duo of Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor, who are collectively averaging just under 20 yards per reception.
Sam: Michigan -4, Nick: Michigan -4
Time: Noon | TV: ABC | Line: Baylor -3 | Total: 61
If Texas (4-3) wants to remain a contender to reach the Big 12 title game, it needs to win this game. The Longhorns have dropped back-to-back games to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, blowing double-digit second-half leads in both games. In addition to OU and OSU, Baylor and Iowa State are also ahead of Texas in the Big 12 standings. If Texas can rebound with wins over Baylor this week and Iowa State next week, it has a chance.
Speaking of the Big 12 title race, Baylor has had one of the biggest turnarounds in the country. The Bears went 2-7 in 2020, their first year under Dave Aranda. Ahead of the 2021 season, Aranda brought in Jeff Grimes from BYU to run the offense. It has paid off wonderfully as Baylor currently leads the Big 12 in total offense and is third in scoring offense. The Bears are 6-1, have a big win over Iowa State, a loss to Oklahoma State and a visit from Oklahoma remaining on the schedule.
Sam: Baylor -3, Nick: Texas +3
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: UGA -14 | Total: 50
Georgia has been the best team in the country to this point in the season and is riding high into Jacksonville for the annual Cocktail Party. The 7-0 Bulldogs have been incredible on defense, allowing just 208.3 yards and a measly 6.6 points per game. Georgia won three straight over Florida from 2017-19, but lost 44-28 last year in a top 10 matchup. Don’t think the Bulldogs forgot about that.
Florida is in a different space than it was a year ago. UF started the 2020 season with an 8-1 record, only to lose its final three games, including the SEC title game to Alabama. The Gators went 3-1 to open 2021 with a near upset of Alabama. Since then, the Gators have suffered ugly losses to Kentucky and LSU and are now a disappointing 4-3 on the year. There’s now heat on Dan Mullen in Gainesville. You know what would change that? An upset over the No. 1 team in the country.
Sam: UGA -14, Nick: UGA -14
Time: 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Auburn -2 | Total: 66
Though Alabama is clearly the favorite, the SEC West race has the chance to get pretty interesting. Alabama, Ole Miss and Auburn all have one SEC loss, while Texas A&M is 3-2 with that win over Bama in its back pocket. Ole Miss (6-1) lost to Alabama but has knocked off Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU in consecutive weeks. While QB Matt Corral gets the headlines, the Rebels have an excellent trio of running backs that will have a tough test vs. the Auburn defense.
Auburn (5-2), in its first season under Bryan Harsin, already has solid wins over LSU and Arkansas under its belt this season. Coming off a bye, the Tigers now get a primetime matchup with Ole Miss. The win over Arkansas featured one of the best performances of Bo Nix’s career. He’ll need to keep that going to keep Auburn’s SEC West chances alive. After the Ole Miss game, the Tigers will travel to Texas A&M with the Iron Bowl looming.
Sam: Auburn -2, Nick: Ole Miss +2
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: OSU -18.5 | Total: 60
Penn State is coming off a really bad loss. With Sean Clifford still hobbled from the injury he suffered against Iowa, the Nittany Lions just could not get anything going offensively and ended up losing to Illinois, one of the Big Ten’s worst teams, in a crazy 9OT game. How will PSU respond? Earlier this month, PSU was undefeated and ranked in the top 10. Can that version of the Nittany Lions reappear and put up a good fight in Columbus?
Ohio State, meanwhile, has been just destroying teams since its surprising Week 2 loss to Oregon. In its three Big Ten games in the month of October, OSU has outscored its opponents 172-37. After some shaky moments early in the year, first-year starter CJ Stroud has been lighting up opposing defenses with the receiving trio of Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba looking like the best in the nation. Are the Buckeyes on the fast track to another Big Ten East title?
Sam: OSU -18.5, Nick: PSU +18.5
Head-to-head ATS: Sam: 22-18, Nick: 20-20
Week 9 best bets
Nick Bromberg (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 13-11)
Purdue at Nebraska (-7.5): The Boilermakers were tied 13-13 at halftime with Wisconsin before turnovers in the second half turned that game into a relative blowout. I can’t trust Nebraska at all and Purdue is 7-2 against the spread as a road underdog under Jeff Brohm. It’s too many points to give up for the Huskers. Pick: Purdue +7.5
No. 10 Ole Miss at No. 18 Auburn (-2): It feels like bettors got a little too excited about all the points that Ole Miss could put up this season. The under is 4-3 in Ole Miss games this year and the Rebels have scored 31 points in each of their last two games. Auburn’s defense is better than its offense and I think this is a third consecutive under for the Rebels. Pick: Under 66
Washington at Stanford (-2.5): The Huskies are averaging just 23 points per game and sit outside of the top 100 in scoring offense. Stanford’s Tanner McKee has quietly been a solid passer — he’s thrown 14 TDs and is averaging eight yards an attempt — but Washington’s defense has been very good in 2021. Throw in two teams that don’t push the pace on offense, and I think this game ends up in the neighborhood of 24-17. Pick: Under 48
Sam Cooper (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 11-13)
Miami at No. 17 Pittsburgh (-9.5): Miami's offense has looked a lot better the past few weeks and should be able to move the ball against Pitt. The Panthers, with Heisman candidate Kenny Pickett, will put up plenty of points, too. Pick: Over 61
No. 22 Iowa State (-7) at West Virginia: Iowa State is hitting its stride and wants to get back to the Big 12 title game. West Virginia is fighting just to get to a bowl game. Pick: Iowa State -7
Hawaii at Utah State (-5.5): Hawaii is averaging 18.8 points per game against teams not named Portland State and New Mexico State (which it played twice). Utah State moves the ball but routinely fails in the red zone. Pick: Under 65
For other Week 9 picks from Sam Cooper, click here.
For Week 9 picks from Dan Wetzel, Pete Thamel and Pat Forde, subscribe to the College Football Enquirer podcast.