College football Week 9 primer: Heisman Watch, upset picks, predictions and more

Week 9 is the final week of the regular season before the first College Football Playoff rankings are released on Tuesday, Oct. 30.

Four top-10 teams are on a bye this week, but there are a few pivotal matchups that will affect those rankings. The 3:30 p.m. ET time slot features two big-time matchups. No. 7 Georgia takes on No. 9 Georgia in a SEC East showdown, and No. 18 Iowa travels to No. 17 Penn State in the latest Big Ten eliminator stage. No. 14 Washington State travels to No. 24 Stanford for the next Pac-12 North showdown at 7 p.m.

WEEK 9 PICKS: Straight up | Against the spread 

It’s not a blockbuster Saturday, but that’s coming next weekend.

With that in mind, here’s a look at this week’s Heisman watch, coach on the spot, upset alert and what else to look forward to heading into Week 9.

Heisman Watch

Houston’s Ed Oliver still ranks among the Heisman Trophy candidates and is generally considered a good bet to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Oliver has the numbers this season — he ranks third in the FBS with 13.5 tackles for loss and has three sacks — and that landed him on just about every midseason All-American team.

Now, Oliver gets a little bit of the spotlight. Houston (6-1, 3-0 American), which leads the American Athletic Conference West Division, has a chance to knock South Florida (7-0, 3-0 AAC) from the ranks of the unbeaten on Saturday. Houston also could be the team that faces UCF at the end of the road in the conference championship game.

Those are big opportunities for Oliver to make an imprint on the national consciousness — like he did on the Thursday night game against Louisville in 2016.

Coach on the spot

Two weeks ago, Georgia was No. 2 in the FBS and on track to reach the SEC championship game for the second straight season. Kirby Smart’s program was being compared to the early stages of Nick Saban’s dynasty at Alabama.

Now, the Bulldogs are coming off a bye week after a 36-16 loss to LSU, and a loss to Florida would knock Georgia down a peg in the SEC East race and likely out of the College Football Playoff debate. Throw in the rivalry factor with the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” and there’s just as much on the line — and perhaps more pressure — on the Bulldogs in Jacksonville.

Georgia has four running backs averaging more than 5.0 yards per carry in D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield, Brian Herrien and James Cook. The Bulldogs compiled 292 rushing yards in a 42-7 victory against the Gators last season. If the ground game is clicking early, then Georgia should be fine.

MORE: Week 9 Playoff picture

Upset alert

There might not be that out-of-this-world upset on the board this week, but there are five games involving top 25 teams with single-digit spreads that could have trickle-down effect on the College Football Playoff race.

While none of these games might be a huge “upset,” they are the games you want to keep a close watch on this weekend. Among those games:

No. 22. N.C. State (Pick) at Syracuse. Both teams lost to Clemson, but the Wolfpack still have a shot at a New Year’s Day Six bowl.

No. 16 Texas A&M at Mississippi State (-3). The Aggies still have a stake in the SEC West race with a game against LSU later. They have to win as a road underdog against the Bulldogs first.

No. 14 Washington State at No. 24 Stanford (-3.5). The Cougars are the only one-loss Pac-12 team left, and they’ll need to take care of business on the road.

No. 12 Kentucky at Missouri (-7). Why are the Wildcats an underdog here? A victory here could set up an unbelievable matchup in Lexington against Georgia.

No. 18 Iowa at No. 17 Penn State (-5). The Hawkeyes need this one if they want to have a chance in the Big Ten West, and the Nittany Lions still have long-shot hopes in the Big Ten East with Michigan on deck.

No. 20 Wisconsin at Northwestern (-6). The Wildcats are on top of the Big Ten West. If the Badgers want to make a third straight trip to Indianapolis, they’ll need to change that in Evanston.

Among this six-pack, we picked the Aggies, Cougars and Wildcats to pull upsets.

MORE: Week 9 bowl projections

Think about it

If there’s a team that can make the biggest statement this weekend, then it’s Clemson. Here’s why.

Since the 27-23 scare against Syracuse on Sept. 29, the Tigers have outscored Wake Forest and N.C. State 104-10 in two explosive victories that have given the Tigers control of the ACC Atlantic. The Tigers outgained the Demon Deacons and Wolfpack by an average of 585-275 in those victories.

Now, Clemson travels to Tallahassee to face rival Florida State. The Tigers have split the last two meetings at Doak Campbell Stadium, winning the last meeting there by a field goal. Win big here, and it won’t just serve notice to the rest of the regular-season schedule — which features Louisville, Boston College, Duke and South Carolina — it will affirm once more that Clemson is the best bet to challenge Alabama in the College Football Playoff (if LSU can’t win next week in Baton Rouge).

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