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What to watch: Week 9 college football viewing guide, picks against the spread

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.

While this weekend may not feature the marquee top-10 matchups that we’ve been lucky to watch in recent weeks, there is still a collection of impactful games on the schedule as conference races heat up.

Some of these races have transpired as many expected, but there are several others that are wide open, especially in the Big 12 and Pac-12. And with the first College Football Playoff rankings on tap for next week, there are plenty of games with upset potential that can have a major effect on the CFP selection committee’s first Top 25.

(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM)

No. 2 Ohio State at No. 13 Penn State

Time: Noon | TV: Fox | Line: OSU -15.5 | Total: 61

It looks like Ohio State and Michigan are once again on a collision course in the Big Ten East, but Penn State is hoping to shake things up. PSU was trounced by Michigan in Ann Arbor two weeks ago but bounced back with a blowout win over Minnesota last Saturday at home. Now the Nittany Lions, who are 6-1 overall and 3-1 in Big Ten play, will welcome the Buckeyes to Beaver Stadium. PSU has played OSU pretty competitively, but has not won a game in the series since its run to the Big Ten title in 2016. In the five meetings since, OSU has won by an average margin of seven points.

While Penn State has played some tough games so far, this has a chance to be Ohio State’s most significant test of the season. All but one of Ohio State's games this season have been played at home and the 7-0 Buckeyes have had only one game decided by fewer than two touchdowns. And that came in Week 1. Since then, OSU is averaging a remarkable 54.3 points per game in its past six contests. Leading the way is quarterback C.J. Stroud, who is currently the betting favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Will he be challenged by the Nittany Lions’ defense?

Nick Bromberg: OSU -15.5, Sam Cooper: PSU +15.5

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud is the betting favorite to win the Heisman this year, and he takes his talents on the road to face Penn State this weekend. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud is the betting favorite to win the Heisman this year, and he takes his talents on the road to face Penn State this weekend. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Florida vs. No. 1 Georgia

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: UGA -22.5 | Total: 56.5

The reigning national champions haven’t faced much resistance this season. Georgia had a close call on the road against Missouri on Oct. 1 but won its next two games by a combined margin of 97-10. At 7-0, Georgia had a bye week to prepare for the stretch run of the season with a huge home game against No. 5 Tennessee looming next week. But before a visit from the Vols, UGA needs to take care of business against an inconsistent Florida team in one of the SEC’s top rivalries.

Like Georgia, Florida is also coming off a bye. The Gators (4-3, 1-3 SEC) are in their first season under head coach Billy Napier and there have been ups and downs to get to this point. Florida opened the year with a marquee win over Utah and got Napier’s first SEC win over Missouri a few weeks back. The Gators also have close losses to Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as a close call against USF. And in the Gators’ most recent outing, they got destroyed defensively by LSU in a 45-35 loss. Will Anthony Richardson and the Gators regroup and put the top-ranked Bulldogs on upset watch in Jacksonville?

Nick: UGA -22.5, Sam: UGA -22.5

No. 9 Oklahoma State at No. 22 Kansas State

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: Fox | Line: KSU -1.5 | Total: 56.5

From top to bottom, the Big 12 has been the most competitive conference in the country. While TCU sits alone in first place ahead of a potentially tricky road game vs. West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Kansas State are tied for second and jockeying for position in the race to get to the conference title game.

Oklahoma State and Kansas State each have one loss in Big 12 play. Coincidentally, both have a loss to TCU. And both teams blew halftime leads in the process. This week, the Cowboys and Wildcats will meet in Manhattan and the injury statuses of many key players loom in the background. That includes Kansas State QB Adrian Martinez, who played just one series vs. TCU before exiting with an injury. Will Howard, Martinez’s backup, is also banged up, as are several key K-State defenders and multiple Oklahoma State offensive linemen.

While K-State lost last week to TCU, Oklahoma State gutted out a 41-34 win over Texas. After playing so many tight games, will the Cowboys be able to bring forth that same type of effort on the road at Bill Snyder Family Stadium?

Nick: OSU +1.5, Sam: KSU -1.5

Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders (3) runs for a touchdown against TCU in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)
Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders (3) runs for a touchdown against TCU in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

No. 20 Cincinnati at UCF

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: UCF -1 | Total: 56

Like the Big 12, the AAC race is wide open. Tulane and Cincinnati are both unbeaten in conference play with UCF (2-1), Houston (2-1) and East Carolina (3-2) also still in striking distance. With that said, Saturday’s game between UCF and Cincinnati could prove to be very impactful in the AAC race.

Cincinnati went to the College Football Playoff last year but has not been playing anywhere near that level despite a 6-1 record. UC lost its opener at Arkansas and has since reeled off six straight wins. Those victories came against lackluster competition, several by a small margin. Included in that bunch are a 28-24 win over USF and a 29-27 win over SMU.

UCF, meanwhile, is coming off an ugly 34-13 loss to East Carolina. The Knights had won four straight going into that matchup, but were doomed by four turnovers in the loss. Can UCF bounce back?

Nick: UCF -1, Sam: UCF -1

No. 19 Kentucky at No. 3 Tennessee

Time: 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: UT -12.5 | Total: 62.5

The emergence of Tennessee has been one of the biggest stories of the season. The Vols are 7-0 with impressive wins over Alabama and LSU on their résumé already. They’ll face two more ranked teams in the coming weeks, including a highly anticipated trip to Georgia. Before that matchup, which could ultimately decide the SEC East title, the Vols have to host a feisty Kentucky team coming off a bye.

Kentucky opened the month with back-to-back losses to Ole Miss and South Carolina. In the South Carolina game, star quarterback Will Levis was out with an injury and the offense looked completely lost. He returned a week later and the Wildcats were impressive in a 27-17 home win over Mississippi State, which was ranked No. 16 at that point. With Levis healthy and RB Chris Rodriguez back on the field after an early season suspension, the Kentucky offense looks much better. But can UK do enough to keep up with Tennessee, which ranks No. 1 in the country in total offense?

Nick: UT -12.5, Sam: UK +12.5

Head-to-head ATS: Nick: 23-17, Sam: 23-17

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) throws to a receiver during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker leads the nation's best offense. (AP Photo/Wade Payne) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Week 9 best bets

Nick Bromberg (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 13-11)

No. 7 TCU (-7.5) at West Virginia: TCU is a very good football team and is a deserved favorite at this point in the season to make the Big 12 title game. But it’s indisputable that TCU has caught a little quarterback injury luck over the past few weeks and the Horned Frogs can’t keep digging themselves early deficits to overcome either. With an early kickoff in Morgantown, the Mountaineers will keep this one within a touchdown and I wouldn’t be surprised if they win it outright. Pick: West Virginia +7.5

Northwestern at Iowa (-11.5): The Wildcats finally scored more than 14 points in a game for the first time since their third game of the season in a 31-24 loss to Maryland a week ago. And we all know how terrible the Iowa offense is. That’s why the total here is at 37.5. And while I lean toward the under at such a low number, I also think Northwestern can keep this one relatively close thanks to the Iowa offense’s ineptness. Pick: Northwestern +11.5

Pitt at No. 20 North Carolina (-3): The Tar Heels are on a three-game win streak since losing to Notre Dame and their last two wins have been on the road. This is UNC’s only home game in the middle of a five-game stretch and Pitt lost 24-10 to Louisville in its only ACC road game of the year so far. QB Drake Maye has been phenomenal for UNC and the Tar Heels have plenty of offense to win by a TD or more. Pick: North Carolina -3

Sam Cooper (Last week: 2-1, Overall: 14-10)

Rutgers at Minnesota (-14.5): I trust the Rutgers defense and I think the Minnesota defense is a bit overrated. With this total at 40.5, I figure I need only somewhere in the 10-14 point range from the Scarlet Knights to cover this spread. I think they can do it. RU Rah Rah! Pick: Rutgers +14.5

No. 20 Cincinnati at UCF (-1): UCF shot itself in the foot with four turnovers in opponent territory last week. Returning home to face mighty Cincinnati after a performance like that, I think UCF will be very motivated to play a crisp game. I’ll take UCF. Pick: UCF -1

Missouri at No. 25 South Carolina (-4): Two bad offenses. Two good defenses. South Carolina opened as a 5.5-point favorite, but that’s down to four. Bettors realize that the Gamecocks aren’t as good as their record and ranking may indicate, but I prefer this total over trusting Brady Cook and the Tigers to keep this within the number. Pick: Under 47

For other Week 9 picks from Sam Cooper, click here.

For Week 9 picks from Dan Wetzel, Pat Forde and Ross Dellenger, subscribe to the College Football Enquirer.