2023 NCAAF: Week 9 Preview

October 26, 2023

For the first time in almost four years, Around The Corn will feature a guest making prognostications for the week’s top college football games to watch.

My buddy Matt has been holding things down in the New England area for over a year now, doing his best to remind folks there that the professional sports leagues aren’t the only ones that offer a high entertainment value. That’s not always an easy task, but Rutgers qualifying for a bowl game with several games to spare certainly doesn’t hurt the cause.

This week, Matt’s thoughts will be broadcast for the entire internet to enjoy.

But before we look ahead to the upcoming weekend, let’s take a moment to digest the previous week.

3 Things We Learned in Week 8

New year, same story in Happy Valley

Penn State fans were convinced that this was the year that their team would finally break though and beat Ohio State while simultaneously competing for a national championship. Marvin Harrison Jr. and the Buckeyes defense had other plans.

On defense, Penn State had no answer for Harrison Jr., whom the Nittany Lions decided to place single-man coverage on during many of the crucial third down plays in the second half that served as the breaking point last weekend. On offense, saying that Drew Allar was humbled may be the understatement of the season. Prior to a last drive when the game was nearly out of reach, Penn State had accumulated a total of 6 yards in the second half, and finished the game 1 for 16 on third down conversions. The how has been a little different over the years, but the what has been the same – Ohio State has Penn States’s number.

Utah could wreak havoc on the Pac-12’s Playoff plans

Things were a little shaky for a few weeks, but it appears Utah has its answer at quarterback for as long as Cam Rising is out of commission. Bryson Barnes embodies the general spirit of how Utah wants to play and gives the Utes enough of an offensive presence to stand a chance at beating anyone in the Pac-12. Things are right back on track, even without Rising.

When all is said and done, Utah will be one of the most battled tested teams in the entire country, with nearly half of its schedule consisting of ranked opponents. The Utes have already beaten two of them and get the opportunity this coming weekend to add to the list. Just like last year, Utah is positioning itself to play spoiler in the Pac-12, even a Playoff bid isn’t in the cards.

Florida State is back

And college football better off for it. Granted, Duke limped (literally) to the finish line, but the Seminoles overwhelmed a Blue Devils squad that when healthy may be the second best team in the ACC. Mike Norvell’s squad is strong on both sides of the ball and in particular possesses leadership (quarterback) and raw talent (wide receiver) in the right areas that rivals that of any team in the country.

The Seminoles will be a heavy favorite to win all of their remaining regular season contests. Seemingly, the only thing that would prevent Florida State from entering the ACC title game unbeaten is itself.

5 Games You Need to Watch This Weekend

#1 Georgia vs. Florida [game in Jacksonville, FL] (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – CBS)

Inconsistency has been the hallmark of the Florida Gators on both sides of the football this season, so there is a possibility that this game could get ugly. But strange things can happen at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (Around The Corn isn’t afraid to continue utilizing this term).

Following its loss to Kentucky in which the Gators allowed nearly 330 yards rushing, Florida has clamped down defensively against the run. However, that has come at the expense of the pass defense, which has allowed at least 280 yards in the previous two contests (one against Vanderbilt). Even without Brock Bowers, the Georgia offense should be alright moving the ball against Florida.

My Pick: 34-19 Georgia (covers -14.5 spread)

Matt’s Take:

Let’s face it – the SEC isn’t what it used to be. In the past this matchup may pose some sort of concern for Georgia. On the road, missing its best player in Brock Bowers, with a first year QB, but this won’t be the case. I see Georgia rolling in this game, given all those factors. It could be a game at halftime, but I am predicting Georgia will pull away in the second half.

Georgia 31 Florida 17

#8 Oregon at #13 Utah (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – FOX)

The game of the week is again taking place out West, with Utah welcoming Oregon into an environment that is difficult for visitors whether the lights are on or not. The Utes may have found new life offensively behind quarterback Bryson Barnes. The junior, a former walk-on, embodied the spirit of such with a gritty performance against Southern Cal last weekend that got even Kyle Whittingham to smile (235 yards passing, 57 yards rushing and four total touchdowns). Utah earned its last second victory and in the process renewed confidence that it is a legitimate Pac-12 title contender.

The Ducks will be an even bigger challenge for Whittingham’s squad than the Trojans were last weekend. Unlike Southern Cal, Oregon plays defense (17 PPG allowed) as well as offense (Pac-12 leading 47 PPG). Bo Nix has been excellent this season and even if Utah makes some plays against him, fans can feel confident that the defense won’t give up anything easily.

My Pick: 31-24 Oregon (covers -6.5 spread)

Matt’s Take:

This is probably the best matchup of the weekend. I still think Oregon has a chance at the College football Playoff if it wins out and a few things go its way. A few things about Oregon and this game intrigue me. The first is that Bo Nix is still playing college football. I swear, that guy was playing like six years ago. What is going on with him? With that experience, I think Oregon gets the job done. The Utes will dissolve in the same fashion that the Utah shaped salt ornament from my recent trip to Salt Lake City did in my washing machine.

Oregon 38 Utah 27.

#20 Duke at #18 Louisville (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – ESPN)

Let’s get this in writing – Duke is a good football team. The problem is, they’ve had a lot of trouble staying healthy. Quarterback Riley Leonard came into the Florida State game less than 100 percent and ended up getting knocked out in the second half, reaggravating his ankle. What happened on offense for the Blue Devils following that wasn’t pretty. If he’s unable to play, it could be a long afternoon for Mike Elko’s squad.

On the other side, Louisville is dealing significant question marks of its own. Leading running back Jawhar Jordan is questionable and his presence on the field has allowed Louisville to employ a very balanced offensive attack this season. Duke may rely heavily on its defense to limit the passing game as much as possible, especially if the offense is significantly compromised without Leonard on the field. Injuries are unfortunately a reality of the game, and they will likely play a major part in dictating the outcome of this one.

My Pick: 24-14 Louisville (covers -4.5 spread)

Matt’s Take:

Let’s be honest: we all wish this matchup was for college basketball.

Duke 27 Louisville 21

#21 Tennessee at Kentucky (Saturday, 7 PM ET – ESPN)

If the game of football didn’t have two halves, we’d be looking at Tennessee very differently this week. Unfortunately for the Volunteers, their second half against Alabama was as bad as the first half was good. Kentucky hasn’t exactly lit up the scoreboard in the previous two weeks, either. Following the definitive victory over Florida at the end of September, the Wildcats has had their defense exposed in consecutive contests.

Tennessee’s offense is good enough to do what Georgia and Missouri did to Kentucky in its past two games. The question is, “will the Volunteers be motivated to do so?” Josh Heupel’s squad is teetering on the brink of a ‘lost season’ considering the high expectations that it came into the season with, and this game feels like a must-win to avoid that. With more left to play for (including a date with Georgia next month), Tennessee should be in the right mindset to take care of business.

My Pick: 31-26 Tennessee (covers -3.5 spread)

Matt’s Take:

Tennessee 31 Kentucky 34

#3 Ohio State at Wisconsin (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – NBC)

Luke Fickell welcomes his alma mater to Madison in the first game of what should be a very entertaining series as long as Fickell is at Wisconsin. Coming into the season, it was clear that the Badgers would be employing a new offensive approach (read: more passing), and thus far it has garnered mixed results. Fickell seems to be the right guy to bring Wisconsin back, but the personnel may be a year away from being able to win a game like this.

After several weeks of injuries at the running back position, that unit should be at full strength for the Buckeyes in this one. This is a case of the rich getting richer, as Ohio State proved that even one of the best defenses in the country was no match for Marvin Harrison Jr. Camp Randall Stadium is no easy place to play under the lights, but Ohio State simply has too much for Fickell & Co. to pull off the upset. Fans in Columbus shouldn’t get too comfortable, though, because that won’t be the case for long.

My Pick: 34-17 Ohio State (covers -14.5 spread)

Matt’s Take:

As much as they won’t admit it, the Buckeyes are now in coasting mode until the Michigan game. The objective: just win games and don’t have any key injuries. I see this as a little bit of a trap game for the Buckeyes. Camp Randall is not an easy place to play, especially at night. The Buckeyes defense should do their thing, but I still think the offense is going to need more time to fully click. I expect a lower scoring game that could be within striking distance for the Badgers in the fourth quarter. Ohio State will pull away in the final possession or two.

Ohio State 24 Wisconsin 15

5 Games to Keep an Eye On This Weekend

#6 Oklahoma at Kansas (Saturday, 12 PM ET – FOX)

If Jaylon Daniels was healthy, this game would have had ‘5 Games to Watch’ potential. Instead, the Jayhawks will hope that a strong rushing attack will be enough to keep Oklahoma’s offense off the field and racking up points.

Miami (OH) at Ohio (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – CBS Sports Network)

A tremendous regional rivalry is also a battle for the MAC East Division lead. The Bobcats have not lost at home this season and will likely enjoy the benefit of a raucous crowd for this one.

Troy at Texas State (Saturday, 7 PM ET – ESPN+)

One of these teams was expected to contend for the Sun Belt title this year, and it wasn’t Texas State. The Bobcats will look to keep a dream season going, already having eclipsed the program’s 2022 win total.

#11 Oregon State at Arizona (Saturday, 10:30 PM ET – ESPN)

The Wildcats have been close to upsetting a Top 25 opponent a couple of times already this season. Could the third time be a charm for Jedd Fisch’s squad?

UNLV at Fresno State (Saturday, 10:30 PM ET – FS1)

While it feels like everyone is chasing Air Force in the Mountain West, there still needs to be an opponent to face the Falcons in the conference title game. Surprisingly, the Rebels are currently in the best position to do so, but the Bulldogs can change that with a win this weekend.

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