It’s possible Week 9 of the college football season is the calm before the storm.
There aren’t any true headliner games on the docket this week, at least not going in. The closest to that would be No. 2 Ohio State’s trip to No. 13 Penn State, and that indeed will be our featured game this week. But the Buckeyes have won their past six games by an average of 38.7 points and are big favorites in this one, too.
Of course, it’s also possible that chaos ensues this week. Besides Ohio State, top 10 teams like TCU and Oklahoma State face road tests. Tennessee has a tough game with Kentucky. Could Michigan State come up with some rivalry magic against No. 4 Michigan?
In short, college football has a way of making the weeks you think will be a bit slow turn into magical season turning points. So stay tuned.
As for the picks, we’ve dipped below .500 against the spread after a couple of tough breaks last week. No time like the present for a turnaround.
(Lines from Caesars Sportsbook as of Wednesday)
Game of the Week
No. 2 OHIO STATE at No. 13 PENN STATE, Noon ET, FOX: I clearly undervalued Penn State last week when picking Minnesota, as the Nittany Lions racked up more than 7 yards per play and made a pretty good Gophers team look pedestrian.
Of course, Ohio State has been making good teams look terrible all season. The Buckeyes look amazing, and their statistical prowess is almost more impressive than the eye test. They’re No. 4 in the nation in total offense and No. 2 in total defense.
Here’s a list of the teams that have been top 5 in both over a whole season since 2009: 2010 Boise State, 2018 Clemson, 2019 Ohio State, 2022 Ohio State and 2022 Georgia.
However, if you make it top five in yards per play — a truer measure of strength — the list shrinks to just three: 2010 Boise State, 2018 Clemson and these Buckeyes.
So yes, Ohio State has been tremendous. But what gives me pause on this size of a spread is how the Buckeyes did against Notre Dame, a team very similar in style to Penn State. That and a Beaver Stadium home-field advantage makes me think the Nits can stay close throughout the first half and be the rare team to cover against OSU.
The pick: Ohio State 35, Penn State 24
NORTHWESTERN at IOWA (-11), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2: On the losing half of Ohio State’s latest beatdown were the Hawkeyes, whose offense has become a running internet joke that seems to get better and better every week. It went so far this week as to make Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz belittle reporters about their line of questioning, an episode that made a longtime coach look like a kindergartner in a lunch line:
Reporter: Coach, why do you continue to try the same things that aren’t working on offense?
Ferentz: I know you are, but what am I?!
Regardless, as bad as it’s been for Iowa lately, Ferentz always seems to be able to get his teams to rebound. And Northwestern might provide the perfect antidote.
The only unit in this game that’s even slightly above average is the Iowa defense, which is still elite. And when an elite defense goes up against a bad offense, blowouts happen, no matter how many jokes are written about the other side of the ball.
I don’t recommend watching this game from start to finish — wouldn’t want to be you, Kirk! — but I think you can safely bet on it.
The pick: Iowa 27, Northwestern 7
TEMPLE (+14) at NAVY, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN: Admittedly, we’re going way down the board here, but the bets pay off the same. The Owls have been among the country’s worst teams, to be sure, but the Midshipmen haven’t been a whole lot better.
You’re going to hear a lot of that in this handicap: Yes, Temple is bad at X, but Navy is also not good at Y. Temple gave up 70 to UCF, but Navy has only scored more than 20 in regulation twice — and one was buoyed by four takeaways.
Temple can’t stop the pass, but Navy can’t pass. Temple can’t really move the ball, but Navy can’t stop anyone.
Temple won’t win, but there’s no sense in laying this many points with Navy.
The pick: Navy 31, Temple 24
MISSOURI at No. 25 SOUTH CAROLINA (-4), 4 p.m. ET, SEC Network: I’m not going to touch Georgia -22 against Florida in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, but there are a couple of other SEC games I like quite a bit on a light week.
In this one, South Carolina has fallen from -6 to -4, but this is one occasion I won’t go with the sharp money and instead take the extra points. You can say the Gamecocks have been fortunate to win four straight, getting Kentucky when Will Levis was injured and taking advantage of a bunch of Texas A&M mistakes, and those things are true.
But what’s also true is that Missouri has made plenty of game-changing mistakes. What makes us think that Shane Beamer — offspring of Frank Beamer and Beamer-Ball — won’t find a way to design another game-changing special teams play?
The Tigers’ defense has kept them in every game they’ve played, even against No. 1 Georgia, and that likely will be the case here. But they’ve also made several game-changing mistakes, even nearly blowing a 17-point lead against Vanderbilt last week, and that will cost them on the road.
The pick: South Carolina 27, Missouri 14
No. 12 KENTUCKY (+12½) at No. 3 TENNESSEE, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: A magical season continues for the Volunteers, who need one more win to set up a showdown with Georgia that would supplant the victory over Alabama as the biggest for Tennessee since losing to LSU in the 2001 SEC championship game.
Don’t look past that point: Tennessee has Georgia on deck, and any sort of looking ahead could be costly against a solid Kentucky team. The Wildcats lost in the final minute at Ole Miss and without Will Levis against South Carolina; there’s a good case to be made for UK as the fourth- or at least fifth-best team in the SEC.
The matchup isn’t great for UT, either. Kentucky was able to contain mobile Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson to just 4 yards on 6 carries. If they can do that against Hendon Hooker, the Volunteers’ offense becomes not so impossible to defend. In any case, I think Kentucky has a chance of taking this one down to the wire, so the points are very enticing, even if Tennessee’s magical season will continue.
The pick: Tennessee 33, Kentucky 27
No. 10 USC (-15½) at ARIZONA, 7 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network: I’ve faded USC several times already this year, and the Trojans have proven hard to nail down.
But this is a good spot for the Trojans, who lost a nail-biter last time out to Utah, then had a week off and get a weak defense to take out some frustrations. Caleb Williams also will want to show that he’s not done as a Heisman candidate, either.
Arizona can score, but the Wildcats are also mistake-prone and likely will gift USC some field position more than once in this game.
The pick: USC 49, Arizona 21
LAST WEEK: 4-2 straight up, 2-4 against the spread
THIS YEAR: 33-15 straight up, 23-24-1 ATS