There are only three games between Top 25 teams in Week 9, but they are doozies, as contenders in three Power 5 leagues get the chance to send one another to the brink of irrelevance as far as the conference title race is concerned. Georgia and Florida both arrive in Jacksonville as top-10 teams, with the upper hand in the SEC East on the line (while Kentucky watches from afar). Washington State is the new hot team in the Pac-12, but Stanford has a chance to remind everyone it’s still completely capable of making noise in the North division. And Iowa and Penn State appear to be headed in different directions in their respective division races, but the Nittany Lions won’t go quietly in State College.
And elsewhere, will we see another stunner on the level of last week’s Purdue–Ohio State blowout? Below, our writers and editors take turns defending their straight-up picks for the biggest games of the Week 9 slate.
Ross Dellenger: 67–28 (70.5%)
Scooby Axson: 66–29 (69.5%)
Molly Geary: 65–30 (68.4%)
Max Meyer: 62–34 (64.2%)
Joan Niesen: 60–35 (63.2%)
Laken Litman: 58–37 (61.1%)
Andy Staples: 58–37 (61.1%)
Eric Single: 54–41 (56.8%)
Miami at Boston College (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Scooby Axson picks Boston College: The Hurricanes have been known for dropping conference road games that they are favored in (Virginia this season and Pittsburgh in 2017), and their quarterback situation is far from settled. This is the definition of a trap game, especially with Eagles running back AJ Dillion set to return from a two-game absence due to an ankle injury.
Clemson at Florida State (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC)
Ross Dellenger picks Clemson: If anyone had doubts about Clemson after its struggles against Syracuse and Texas A&M, those have been put to rest the last two weeks in routs of Wake Forest and previously unbeaten NC State. Freshman Trevor Lawrence set a career high against the Wolfpack with 308 yards passing, but he enters possibly his most hostile environment yet as the Tigers’ starter with a trip to Doak Campbell Stadium.
Wisconsin at Northwestern (Noon ET, FOX)
Joan Niesen picks Wisconsin: This is going to be a close one, and as much as I want to pick Northwestern in a home upset, I just don’t think the offense has enough to put up points against the Badgers. Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson has been turnover-happy of late, and I expect Wisconsin to take advantage.
Texas Tech at Iowa State (Noon ET, ESPN2)
Eric Single picks Texas Tech: Matt Campbell has owned Kliff Kingsbury in his first two years at Iowa State: The Cyclones beat Texas Tech 66–10 in Ames two years ago and rolled to a 31–13 win in Lubbock last year. These Red Raiders feel a little different, having turned in excellent defensive performances in their first two Big 12 road games of the year. Freshman quarterback Alan Bowman showed no ill effects of a collapsed lung in his return to action against Kansas, and T.J. Vasher’s ongoing return to 100% from knee and back injuries should take some defensive attention away from leading receiver Antoine Wesley, who sits third in the country with 858 receiving yards through seven games.
Purdue at Michigan State (Noon ET, ESPN)
Laken Litman picks Purdue: Purdue is fresh off the biggest upset of the season after a 49–20 knockout win over Ohio State. After starting the season 0–3, the Boilermakers are now 4–3 with two Top 25 wins over Boston College and Ohio State. Can they keep this hot streak going? They might be catching the Spartans at the right time. Quarterback Brian Lewerke has a banged-up throwing shoulder (he played hurt in Michigan State’s 21–7 loss to Michigan last week) and receiver Felton Davis III, who scored the game-winning touchdown against Penn State, is out for the season with a torn Achilles.
Florida vs. Georgia (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Andy Staples picks Georgia: This game is very tough to predict because we don’t yet know what Georgia is.The Bulldogs looked awful at LSU (a team Florida has already beaten). But Georgia has better talent than everyone else in the SEC East. Will we see more Justin Fields this week? Or does Georgia stick with Jake Fromm to prove his worst game was the anomaly? If the Bulldogs can’t protect whoever plays QB from Jachai Polite and company, Florida will win. But if the QBs stay upright, the Bulldogs should be able to take control of the East.
Iowa at Penn State (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Molly Geary picks Iowa: While slowing down the Nittany Lions’ offense is no easy task, the Hawkeyes’ defense is even better by S&P+ rating than the Michigan State one that held Penn State to 17 points. Iowa is one of the very best teams in the country at not giving up explosive plays, which will come in handy against Trace McSorley—who ranks sixth among all QBs in yards per carry—and running back Miles Sanders, who ranks 22nd among all players. Penn State is always tough at home, and this should be a close one.
South Florida at Houston (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)
Laken Litman picks South Florida: There’s a chance that Houston’s star defensive end Ed Oliver, who could be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft, will not play against South Florida. He suffered a bone bruise in last week’s win over Navy and his status is questionable. If that’s the case, the undefeated Bulls and their young offensive line will catch a huge break on the road.
Arizona State at USC (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)
Max Meyer picks USC: Trojans quarterback JT Daniels is in the concussion protocol, and backup QB Matt Fink is dealing with broken ribs, so it'll likely be third-string signal-caller Jack Sears under center. But the Law of Clay Helton still applies here: Thou shall pick USC to win when the Trojans are a home favorite (USC is currently -6.5). What’s interesting to me is that Arizona State has actually outscored its competition in Pac-12 play despite a 1–3 record, while 3–2 USC has been outscored. So expect a close game where USC barely ekes out a win because the Trojans still have the talent advantage. It’s the Helton way.
Texas A&M at Mississippi State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Ross Dellenger picks Texas A&M: The Bulldogs are seriously hurting on offense. They’ve scored a combined 39 points in Joe Moorhead’s first four SEC games, and a team that many picked to win eight or nine games is en route to barely qualifying for bowl eligibility. Jimbo Fisher, meanwhile, has the Aggies rolling, with dual-threat QB Kellen Mond leading the way. As a reminder, A&M has lost to only two teams: No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson.
Washington State at Stanford (7 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)
Max Meyer picks Stanford: The Pac-12 seemingly always cannibalizes itself: As soon as a team picks up a monumental win, it falls flat on its face the next game. After Stanford beat Oregon, the Cardinal lost to Notre Dame and Utah. After Oregon beat Washington, the Ducks lost to Washington State. Washington State is admittedly the better team, but the game is in Palo Alto and the Cougars are coming off an enormous victory over Oregon, so this feels like a classic Pac-12 letdown spot.
Texas at Oklahoma State (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
Scooby Axson picks Texas: Oklahoma State is wearing their 1988 throwback uniforms for the game, and unless Barry Sanders is coming out of retirement to help, the Cowboys will be staring at their third home loss this season. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger should be good to go after a shoulder injury, but if not, Shane Buechele and a stout defense should be enough to keep Texas in thick of the Big 12 race.