College Football Staff Picks Against the Spread, Best Bets for Week 9 Games

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There are some very intriguing games on the slate in Week 9, including three clashes between ranked teams.

Below, our staff's writers and editors make their picks against the spread for Week 9, along with their best bet out of the games below.

Season-long standings:

Laken Litman: 57-36-3

Max Meyer: 46-47-3

Molly Geary: 45-48-3

Ross Dellenger: 44-49-3

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Mississippi State (+10.5) at Texas A&M

It's been a tough stretch for the Bulldogs—they've lost three straight—but they showed life against LSU. Meanwhile, the Aggies are 4-3 and despite a tough schedule, they've struggled against the bottom of the league. They needed escapes to beat Ole Miss and Arkansas, for instance. If you're keeping track at home, our Best Bets so far this season are... 4-4. Not great, but not bad! Trust the process! —Ross Dellenger

No. 8 Notre Dame (-1) at No. 19 Michigan

Michigan is 1-12 against top-10 opponents under Jim Harbaugh, with the record taking a hit after last week’s road loss to No. 6 Penn State. No. 8 Notre Dame, which is coming off a bye, presents the Wolverines with another opportunity this week in Ann Arbor. Despite its loss in Happy Valley, though, Michigan arguably had its best game of the season. QB Shea Patterson looked more confident, even though his stats didn’t show it. He threw for 276 yards with one interception and no touchdowns, but he made plays with his arm and his legs, and nearly led a massive comeback in the second half. The running game showed promise too, going for 141 yards against Penn State’s top-ranked rush defense. Zach Charbonnet had 15 carries for 81 yards and two touchdowns and Hassan Haskins had 13 touches for 28 yards.

Can Harbaugh’s offense continue that momentum? It will need to in order to salvage this season. It will also, most importantly, need to protect the football. Michigan has given up the ball 14 times this season, among the most in the country, while Notre Dame boasts the No. 1 turnover margin (+1.67). The Fighting Irish are in a good spot at 5-1 with the lone loss coming at Georgia. But they need to win the rest of their games in order to have the slimmest of shots of making the College Football Playoff. It doesn’t help that UGA was stunned by South Carolina, and USC and Stanford are having down years. The Irish hope Oklahoma, Ohio State or Clemson lose at least once and Oregon somehow gets its second loss. None of that matters though if Notre Dame can’t beat rival Michigan for a second year in a row.

This could be anybody’s game, but with the way Michigan has been trending, favor the Irish and their turnover game by a slim margin on the road. —Laken Litman

No. 6 Penn State at Michigan State (+6)

It feels weird not to have a Pac-12 game in this space. Alas, let's venture to the Big Ten.

Michigan State has lost its last two games by a combined score of 72-10 at the hands of Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Spartans are now 4-3, a disappointing mark given their preseason expectations. Now Michigan State is coming off a bye and hosts undefeated Penn State in a chance to salvage its season. And it has a bye after facing the Nittany Lions as well, a bizarre schedule quirk.

On the other side, you have a young Penn State team that is exceeding expectations this season and is coming off two close statement wins over Iowa and Michigan over the past couple weeks. It’s tough to expect college kids to be able to get up for every game week after week, especially with three marquee clashes in consecutive weeks. Also, are we overrating Penn State after the Iowa and Michigan victories? The Nittany Lions were outgained in those games in total yardage 773 to 577 and in yards per play 4.99 to 4.40.

While Michigan State did get its butt kicked in its last two games, both came on the road against arguably the two best teams in the conference. Now it gets to return home to East Lansing in a game sandwiched between two byes. There is no excuse given Michigan State’s current standing to not get a focused and max effort game here.

The Spartans were supposed to have one of the best defenses in the country this season, but they rank 28th in yards per carry allowed (3.36) and 26th in yards per passing attempt allowed (6.3). That’s good for 27th overall in yards per play allowed (4.74). So solid, but not the level we were expecting. If you take out the Ohio State game, though, Michigan State is at 4.28 YPP allowed, which would be tied for seventh in the nation. While it’s tough to say “if this game didn’t happen” when it happened, Ohio State’s offense is in a class of its own compared to the other teams on Michigan State’s schedule, including Penn State. The Spartans even held Jonathan Taylor to just 80 yards on 26 carries (3.1 YPC), by far his worst output of the season.

Penn State’s offense ranks 26th in yards per play at 6.45, but that number the last two games against Iowa and Michigan has been 3.8 and 5.2 respectively (or 4.4 if you combine the two games). The Nittany Lions have a total gamebreaker at wideout in KJ Hamler, however the offense as a whole has struggled with inconsistency against good teams. The Spartans are tied for fifth in 30-plus yard passes allowed this season (four), and you can be assured stopping him is the No. 1 priority of Sparty’s defensive gameplan. Hamler was held to 66 yards on five catches last season against Michigan State.

Michigan State’s struggling offense has a tough assignment in this contest going up against a stingy Penn State defense. Sparty quarterback Brian Lewerke may have 11 touchdown throws versus only three interceptions, but he’s tied for 74th in yards per attempt (7.0) and tied for 86th in completion percentage (57.5%). He does have weapons, though, including redshirt freshman tailback Elijah Collins, who is averaging 5.0 yards per carry this season. In the end, though, I’m going to trust a senior quarterback at home most of the time over a sophomore in Sean Clifford in a hostile road environment.

So yeah, give me a desperate Michigan State and the points in an ideal spot over a Penn State team that I think is overvalued in the market. —Max Meyer

Virginia (-3.5) at Louisville

I like this matchup for the Cavaliers, who can use their defense as a strength against a Louisville offense that has been its bright spot in 2019. Cardinals running back Javian Hawkins is dangerous—and just ran for 129 yards against Clemson—but UVA's run D is staunch, ranking ninth nationally with just 2.79 yards per attempt allowed. Louisville has one of the more explosive rushing offenses in the country, but Virginia ranks 21st in rushing plays of 10 or more yards given up. Defensively, the Cards have been a bit of a mess, ranking 100th in S&P+ and giving up 39 (Boston College), 59 (Wake Forest) and 45 (Clemson) points in their last three games. Despite scoring 48 points on Duke last week, it wasn't the Hoos' sharpest offensive outing (the UVA defense forced five turnovers in the win), but QB Bryce Perkins and RB Wayne Taulapapa should find success on the road at Louisville. —Molly Geary

Season record: 19-19