If Week 9 were going to have an official hashtag it would be something like, #dontscrewitup.
This is the week when many of the teams that have scratched and crawled their way into the rankings play opponents they should beat…the downtrodden, unranked squads that look harmless on the surface.
Even though 2014 has been pockmarked with huge upsets, Week 9 sets up to be another weekend of terror for the top-ranked.
On national TV, things get started with solid offerings on Thursday and Friday, the best coming last when No. 6 Oregon and Cal square off at 10:00PM ET on Friday night for what ought to be the most entertaining game of the entire weekend.
On Saturday, the No. 11, No. 16, No. 1, No. 8, No. 10 and No. 22 ranked teams all face unranked challengers before 7:15PM EST when No. 3 Ole Miss clashes with No. 24 LSU under the lights in Baton Rouge.
The fun continues in primetime with the No. 4 and No. 13 teams squaring off with unranked opponents and wraps up late with No. 20 USC at No. 19 Utah followed by No. 14 Arizona State taking on unranked Washington.
Thursday, Oct. 23
7:00PM ET, ESPNU: UCONN (1-5) at No. 18 EAST CAROLINA (5-1): First-ever meeting between the two, UConn’s only win this season came over FCS Stony Brook, while ECU’s only loss came at No. 21 South Carolina. The Huskies have one of worst offenses in the nation—scoring 12.8 points per game, second to last in the FBS—but lay claim to a defense that is No. 28 vs. the rush and No. 31 vs. the pass. This might keep things interesting against ECU’s No. 12-ranked scoring offense, averaging a whopping 41 points per game. The Pirates’ attack is anchored by a No. 4-ranked passing offense, led by quarterback Shane Carden, No. 5 in the FBS in yards per game.
8:00PM ET, ESPN: MIAMI FLA. (4-3) at VIRGINIA TECH (4-3): Tune in to see these two ACC Coastal teams—both 1-2 in league play—square off for a must win in a dicey divisional race. Virginia Tech has the No. 20-ranked scoring D in the nation and will tasked with containing a Hurricane offense that continues to gain momentum. Check out true-freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, who won the Miami starting job just before the season started, he’s No. 16 in the FBS in passer rating. The other key matchup is the Hurricanes’ No. 10-ranked pass D squaring off with Hokie quarterback Michael Brewer and company. Miami is 17-3 all-time in Thursday night action on ESPN, two of the three losses came in road games.
Friday, Oct. 24
7:00PM ET, ESPN2: USF (3-4) at CINCINNATI (3-3): These two programs have shared membership in Conference USA, the Big East and now the American Athletic. Cincinnati is one of the only two teams the Bulls beat last season on their way to a 2-10 mark, their worst finish since 2001. USF is averaging only 21.7 points per game this season (No. 108) but will be facing a Bearcat D that is giving up 34.5 (No. 103). What’s even more interesting is how USF’s rising defense will fare against Cincinnati’s No. 12-ranked passing attack. This is the same Bulls’ unit that held East Carolina—a team averaging 371 yards through the air—to only 250 in its narrow 28-17 loss two weeks ago.
9:00PM ET, ESPN: BYU (4-3) at BOISE STATE (5-2): Last year BYU won 37-20, the Cougars’ first win over the Broncos in the four-game history of the series. BYU has dropped three straight since quarterback Taysom Hill broke his leg in the first half of the Week 6 loss to Utah State. To have a chance against Boise State, the Cougars will have to shore up their No. 120-ranked pass defense, giving up 291 yards per game. Keep an eye on Bronco quarterback Grant Hedrick, who has an opportunity to shine in this game. While he has completed 71.9 percent of his passes this season (No. 2 in the FBS), he’s also thrown 10 interceptions vs. only eight touchdowns.
10:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: No. 6 OREGON (6-1) at CAL (4-3) (at Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.): This game is a Friday night treat and should be one of the most entertaining contests of Week 9. It’s a battle of two dominant passing attacks against generous defenses: Oregon is No. 15 in the nation in passing yards and will be taking on Cal’s No. 128-ranked pass defense, the worst unit in the country. On the flip side, it’s the Golden Bears’ No. 3-ranked passing attack vs. the Ducks’ No. 110-ranked pass defense. If you like yards and points, and lots of them, this is for you. These two haven’t met at a neutral site since 1970 when the Ducks won 31-24 in Portland, Ore. Oregon has won the last five consecutive meetings, taking the last three by an average of 36 points per game.
Saturday, Oct. 25
12:00PM ET, ESPN: TEXAS (3-4) at No. 11 KANSAS STATE (5-1): The second of the Longhorns’ three isolated trips outside of the state of Texas this season, K-State dropped last year’s game 31-21 in Austin, but before that won five straight vs. UT. The intriguing matchup in this one is Texas’ No. 5-ranked pass defense squaring off with the Wildcats’ No. 14-ranked scoring offense. Though the Longhorns are only scoring 24 points per game, their defense has held five of its seven opponents to under 200 yards passing. Of course, last week they coughed up 345 to Iowa State, but this is still a stingy group. Check out Texas senior linebacker Jordan Hicks, No. 4 in the FBS in total tackles with 85 and tied for No. 8 in solo tackles with 46. Could K-State be suffering from a hangover after edging No. 11 Oklahoma 31-30 in Norman last weekend?
12:00PM ET, ESPN2: RUTGERS (5-2) at No. 16 NEBRASKA (6-1): These two have only met once previously, in 1920 when the Cornhuskers blasted Rutgers 28-0 in New York City. The key to beating Nebraska is shutting down running back Ameer Abdullah (third in the FBS in yards per game) and the No. 7-ranked rushing offense in the FBS. Michigan State held the Huskers—averaging 294 ground yards per game this season—to 47 in its 27-22 win. Rutgers gave up an average of 134 yards rushing to its first six opponents, but then coughed up 324 to Ohio State in last week’s 56-17 blowout loss.
12:00PM ET, ESPNU: MINNESOTA (6-1) at ILLINIOS (3-4): Tune in to see Minnesota try and hit 7-1 for the first time since 2008. Illinois, on the other hand, has dropped 12 straight Big Ten home games, last winning vs. Northwestern on Oct. 1, 2011. For the Illini to have a chance it will have to contain Minnesota’s rushing attack, anchored by running back David Cobb who has rushed for 180-yards plus four times this season. Illinois ranks No. 125 vs. the run and has given up an average of 403 ground yards in its last three outings, all losses. Minnesota has won seven of its last nine vs. the Illini, last dropping a game in 2009 and last losing in Champaign in 2001.
3:30PM ET, CBS: No. 1 MISSISSIPPI STATE (6-0) at KENTUCKY (5-2): Undefeated Mississippi State has one major statistical flaw this season: A pass defense that ranks No. 124 out of the 128 FBS teams, giving up an average of 308 yards per game. In Week 9, they’ll square off with a Wildcat aerial attack led by sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles, averaging 241 yards per game. On the flip side, the Bulldogs’ No. 13-ranked rushing attack will have an opportunity to blow up Kentucky’s No. 79 ranked rushing defense, a unit that gave up an average of 274 ground yards to Florida, South Carolina and LSU. The Bulldogs are on a 5-0 run vs. Kentucky, last losing in 2008 but, keep in mind that the average margin of victory across the streak is only nine points.
3:30PM ET, ABC: MICHIGAN (3-4) at No. 8 MICHIGAN STATE (6-1): The 107th meeting between the Wolverines and Spartans, Michigan has only won once in the last six tries and hasn’t won in East Lansing since 2007. Though the Wolverines have struggled epically on offense this season, they do have the No. 31-ranked scoring defense in college football and are No. 4 vs. the run. This sets up an intriguing matchup with Michigan State, an offense that is averaging 47 points per game (No. 3), more so by rushing (No. 15) than passing (No. 42). The real key to Michigan having a chance of pulling an upset is turnover margin: The Wolverines rank dead last in the FBS, forcing only five turnovers vs. coughing up 16 for a -13 margin. Michigan’s 18-13 win over Penn State last Saturday is the only game in 2014 that it didn’t lose the turnover battle.
3:30PM ET, FOX: TEXAS TECH (3-4) at No. 10 TCU (5-1): These two have only met four times since the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1996 and TCU is yet to beat Tech in Big 12 play. The Horned Frogs’ No. 5-ranked scoring offense ought to pound the Red Raiders’ No. 116-ranked scoring defense. The only ray of hope for Tech fans is TCU’s pass defense, the same unit that gave up 510 yards to Baylor two weeks ago. Could Texas Tech upset the Toads through the air? Well, not unless it can begin to limit its mistakes: Tech ranks No. 120 in turnover margin and No. 127 in penalty yards. The Red Raiders haven’t beaten a ranked team in the regular season since winning 20-10 over the No. 24 Horned Frogs early last year.
3:30PM ET, ESPN: No. 22 WEST VIRIGINIA (5-2) at OKLAHOMA STATE (5-2): Not only are both these two 5-2, they are also 3-1 in Big 12 play, making this is a key game in the still wide-open race to the conference title. Oklahoma State and West Virginia both share similar DNA: Pass happy offenses coupled with defenses that sometimes manage enough stops to win games. This year, the Mountaineers have been more successful in both areas than their younger Cowboy counterparts. West Virginia’s No. 6-ranked passing attack ought to have a field day with Oklahoma State’s No. 119-ranked pass defense and then the Mountaineers’ No. 44-ranked secondary should be able to manage against the Cowboys’ No. 54-ranked pass attack. West Virginia is 1-1 all-time in Stillwater, the last win coming via a 9-6 thriller 85-years ago in 1929.
3:30PM ET, ESPN2: OREGON STATE (4-2) at STANFORD (4-3): Stanford is unranked for the first time since the 2010 season opener, but still has the No. 2 ranked scoring defense in college football, giving up a mere 12.3 points per game. The Cardinal ought to shut down Oregon State’s offense, but may have trouble scoring through the air as the Beavers rank No. 11 against the pass. Look for this one to be low scoring and an excellent opportunity for Stanford to rebound after losing to Arizona State. Keep in mind that the five shared losses between the two programs all came against ranked teams, meaning that one of the two will fall to an unranked opponent for the first time in 2014. The Cardinal have won four straight and five of the last six, last falling to the Beavers in 2009 in Stanford.
7:15PM ET, ESPN: No. 3 OLE MISS (7-0) at No. 24 LSU (6-2): These two have split the last six games, but Ole Miss hasn’t won in Baton Rouge since 2008. The last two have been decided by an average of 4.5 points. The Rebels’ No. 1-ranked scoring defense ought to shut down LSU’s young offense but scoring points will be interesting, as pass-dominant Ole Miss will be up against the No. 4-ranked pass defense in the land. If Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace is worthy of Heisman consideration, this is his opportunity to shine. LSU last beat a team ranked in the top three in 2012 when it edged No. 3 South Carolina 23-21 in Baton Rouge. This may be the best matchup in Week 9, don’t miss it.
7:30PM ET, ESPN2: No. 4 ALABAMA (6-1) at TENNESSEE (3-4): Alabama hasn’t lost to Tennessee since 2006, when it fell 16-13 in Knoxville. The Tide have won the last four games by an average of 32 points. The Volunteers have struggled epically to score points in 2014, a problem that shouldn’t improve vs. Alabama’s No. 3-ranked scoring defense. If this game is close, it will be Tennessee’s defense that keeps it hanging around, the Vols are No. 6 vs. the pass and No. 30 in scoring. Whichever team can pound away on the ground will win. Keep an eye out for Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett, a true freshman with nine-and-a-half tackles for a loss (No. 10 in the FBS), three sacks and 25 solo tackles this season.
8:00PM ET, ABC: No. 13 OHIO STATE (5-1) at PENN STATE (4-2): Though this primetime clash isn’t as sexy as others we’ve been treated to this season, don’t be fooled by its old-school cover. Though Penn State is another team that hasn’t scored many points this season (No. 111 in the FBS), it is has lit it up on defense, ranking No. 6 in scoring and No. 1 vs. the run. Though Ohio State’s offense ranks No. 4 in scoring and No. 17 in rushing yards, it has yet to see a defense like Penn State’s this season. This is a classic strength vs. strength matchup featuring too fired-up head coaches. Don’t miss the opportunity to watch Nittany Lions’ first-year head coach James Franklin (the same guy who led Vanderbilt to back-to-back nine win seasons for the first time in school history) in the biggest home game thus far in his career. Ohio State has won six of the last eight vs. Penn State and hasn’t dropped a game in State College since losing 17-10 in 2005.
10:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: No. 20 USC (5-2) at No. 19 UTAH (5-1): One of two legit Pac-12 games in the late time slot, the Utes have never bested the Trojans in Pac-12 play and have never won a regular-season meeting. Utah’s only win vs. USC (1-7 all-time) came in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl, a 10-6 barnburner. The Utes are off to a 5-1 start by virtue of an effective running game coupled with a defense that can stop the run. What it hasn’t been able to do is establish a passing game or stop the pass. If USC can burn Utah’s No. 104-ranked pass defense, it will win this game. The Trojans’ aerial attack is anchored by quarterback Cody Kessler, ranked No. 10 in the FBS in passer rating.
10:45PM ET, ESPN: No. 14 ARIZONA STATE (5-1) at WASHINGTON (5-2): The Sun Devils are on an 8-0 run against the Huskies, last losing in Seattle in 1997. What could get ugly in this late-night meeting is the Huskies’ No. 115-ranked pass defense squaring off with Arizona State’s No. 11-ranked pass attack. The Sun Devils hung up 488 yards on UCLA and 510 on USC, both with back-up quarterback Mike Bercovici under center in relief of Taylor Kelly, who is expected back this week. On the other side of the ball, check out Washington senior linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, leading the nation in sacks (12.5) and tackles for a loss (15.5) and is tied for the third most forced fumbles (two). If a defender could win the Heisman, this guy would be a frontrunner 2014.