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 also pick those five games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
Through eight weeks of the season, the races for College Football Playoff berths and conference crowns continue to take shape. As Illinois’ shocking upset over then-No. 6 Wisconsin showed us last weekend, major changes to the trajectory of the season can come from anywhere and help us figure out which teams are true contenders, and which teams are pretenders.
Like Week 8, Week 9 has just three ranked vs. ranked games, but there is plenty of potential for upsets around the country with seven ranked teams heading on the road to face unranked opponents.
Where will this weekend’s surprise come from?
(Note: All times ET, point spreads from FanDuel Sportsbook)
5. Washington State at No. 11 Oregon
Time: 10:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Oregon -14
No. 11 Oregon should not be excluded from the College Football Playoff conversation. The Ducks lost in the final seconds in Week 1 to Auburn and have reeled off six straight wins since. Last week’s come-from-behind victory on the road over Washington was the best yet. The Ducks trailed 31-21 late in the third quarter but stormed back to win 35-31 in Seattle. Undefeated in conference play, Oregon (6-1, 4-0) has a commanding lead in the Pac-12 North. But the program’s sights should still be higher.
The Ducks obviously have no margin for error, but they would have a heck of a CFP argument if they made it through conference play unscathed and beat a team like Utah for the conference crown. The march through the remainder of the conference schedule continues Saturday night against Washington State (4-3, 1-3). The Cougars snapped a three-game losing streak by trouncing Colorado 41-10 at home. Mike Leach teams can always put up points, but WSU will have a much tougher challenge against Oregon. Oregon’s defense allowed a combined 25 points in its previous five games before giving up 31 last week to the Huskies.
Picks: Sam Cooper: Oregon -14, Nick Bromberg: Oregon -14
4. No. 6 Penn State at Michigan State
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Penn State -6.5
Penn State is cruising, but this weekend’s trip to East Lansing could be tricky. The Nittany Lions improved to 7-0 (4-0 Big Ten) with a 28-21 win over Michigan last weekend behind a big effort from speedy wide receiver K.J. Hamler. Hamler caught six passes for 108 yards and two scores, including a 53-yard bomb in the third quarter that proved to be the game-winner. But beyond that deep ball to Hamler, the PSU offense really scuffled in the second half. PSU jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the game, but the Wolverines nearly stormed all the way back and tied the score at 21 in the final minutes. Thanks to a fourth-down drop in the end zone, however, PSU was able to hang on.
The win over Michigan was the second straight physical, down-to-the-wire game for the Nittany Lions (PSU beat Iowa 17-12 on the road). Those wins vaulted PSU to No. 6 in the rankings. To keep pace with No. 3 Ohio State in the Big Ten East, PSU can’t afford any slip-ups. But Michigan State (4-3, 2-2) has been a tricky opponent for PSU. MSU has won two straight in the series by a combined seven points. This year’s MSU team, however, appears to have taken a step back, having lost games to Ohio State and Wisconsin by a combined score of 72-10. The Spartans have been miserable offensively, but are coming off a bye and will be playing at home for the first time in a month. This is a dangerous spot for PSU.
Picks: Sam: Michigan State +6.5, Nick: Penn State -6.5
3. No. 8 Notre Dame at No. 19 Michigan
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Notre Dame -1
Notre Dame (5-1) is still lurking under the radar in the College Football Playoff conversation. A win over Michigan was the start of an undefeated regular season that culminated in a CFP berth for the Irish in 2018. This year, the Irish already have a loss: a 21-17 defeat at the hands of Georgia in Week 4. Without a conference championship to play for, Notre Dame needs some chaos from the teams above it in the rankings to jump back in the mix. Georgia’s recent performances, including a loss to South Carolina, are not helping the Irish’s cause. But Notre Dame has won three straight since the loss in Athens, and can make it four straight on Saturday night in Ann Arbor.
Michigan (5-2, 3-2) has underperformed yet again. The Wolverines are the clear third team in the Big Ten East pecking order behind Ohio State and Penn State, and Jim Harbaugh is already refuting rumors about his future with the program. But that should not distract from some of the strides the Wolverines appeared to make against Penn State last week. Yes, it was another loss in a big game, but UM’s offense finally showed signs of life in the second half against a stout PSU defense. We were promised an overhauled offense under new coordinator Josh Gattis, and that seemed to finally come to fruition. Can those positive signs carry over against Notre Dame?
Picks: Sam: Michigan +1, Nick: Notre Dame -1
2. No. 13 Wisconsin at No. 3 Ohio State
Time: Noon | TV: Fox | Line: Ohio State -14
This game lost a lot of its luster thanks to an upset a week ago in Champaign. Wisconsin (6-1, 3-1) was expected to destroy an overmatched Illinois team. Instead, the Badgers were doomed by two late turnovers from Jonathan Taylor and Jack Coan and a last-second field goal in a 24-23 loss. Can the Badgers bounce back in Columbus? Their hopes of a Big Ten West title may depend on it. A second Big Ten loss could be crushing, especially with undefeated Minnesota likely improving to 8-0 (5-0) this weekend against Maryland. But the Gophers still have No. 6 Penn State, No. 20 Iowa and the Badgers remaining on their schedule, so UW’s division title (and now-distant CFP) hopes aren’t completely dependent on an upset win over the Buckeyes.
Ohio State has not been challenged yet this season as it looks primed to march to the playoff, but that figures to change against Wisconsin — if we consider the loss to Illinois an anomaly and not a blueprint for beating the Badgers. Before last week, Wisconsin was thought to be OSU’s top challenger in the Big Ten — especially after it registered its fourth shutout of the season. But if Illinois can score 24, how many will the Buckeyes put up? Ohio State destroyed Northwestern 52-3 last week to improve to 7-0 (4-0) on the year and increase its average margin of victory from 40.5 to 41.7 for the year. Can the Badgers give OSU more of a fight?
Picks: Sam: Ohio State -14, Nick: Ohio State -14
1. No. 9 Auburn at No. 2 LSU
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: LSU -10.5
If Auburn wants to have a say in the SEC West divisional race, it’s going to need to pull off a big upset in Baton Rouge. Thanks to a loss to Florida a few weeks ago, Auburn sits behind Alabama and LSU in the West’s pecking order. Freshman quarterback Bo Nix struggled mightily in Gainesville, tossing three interceptions and completing only 11 of his 27 passing attempts. After a bye, Nix played much better in last week’s blowout win over Arkansas. But that’s Arkansas, and this is LSU. And Death Valley will be the toughest road environment Nix has faced in his young career.
Meanwhile, LSU and its high-powered offense hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. The Tigers improved to 7-0 (3-0) with a 36-13 win over Mississippi State last weekend in Starkville, overcoming some early red-zone struggles with four straight touchdowns that turned a 9-7 lead into 36-7. Joe Burrow, the current Heisman favorite, threw four touchdowns in the win, increasing his total to 29 to go along with 2,484 yards and a 79.4 completion percentage. LSU has won two straight in this series. But just because there’s a bye week coming before the much-anticipated showdown doesn’t mean LSU will overlook Auburn. The last three games in the series have been decided by a total of 10 points.
Picks: Sam: LSU -10.5, Nick: Auburn +10.5
Records ATS to date: Sam: 22-21, Nick: 18-25
Week 9’s best bets
Nick Bromberg (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 11-13)
Texas Tech at Kansas (+4): Yes, this is a real line. Kansas is only getting four points. That’s what happens when you look really competitive at Texas. I’m not picking the Jayhawks, however. Texas Tech has been a weird team this season and I think the good version of the Red Raiders shows up. Pick: Texas Tech -4
Texas at TCU (+1.5): This is a line that immediately jumps out to me, so maybe you should fade me. TCU’s offense has sputtered at times in 2019 because of a lack of passing production. The Horned Frogs threw 31 passes in Week 8 to gain 138 yards. TCU had more yards per carry than per pass. Texas, meanwhile, has an offense that should easily survive a potential shootout. It’s just a matter of if Gary Patterson’s defense can contain Sam Ehlinger and company. Pick: Texas -1.5
UCF at Temple (+10.5): Is UCF going to really rue that early-season loss to Pitt at the end of November? The Knights could finish the season undefeated and miss out on a New Year’s Six spot because of the two losses sustained in the first half of the season. Temple got blown out at SMU in Week 8, but I think the Owls bounce back here. Maybe not a win straight up but certainly enough to cover the number. Pick: Temple +10.5
Sam Cooper (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 12-11-1)
Illinois at Purdue (-9.5): Illinois is riding high off the upset of the year over Wisconsin, but Purdue has rounded back into competitive form over the last few weeks. The Boilermakers trounced Maryland a few weeks ago and only lost by six at Iowa last weekend. I think Purdue will win this one fairly comfortably in this spot. Pick: Purdue -9.5
South Carolina at Tennessee (+4.5): The effort South Carolina exhibited in a near-upset over Florida last week reinforced what we saw in its big win over Georgia. This is an improving team that I think can handle Tennessee, especially without Brian Maurer and despite the Vols’ improvement against Alabama. Pick: South Carolina -4.5
Arizona State at UCLA (+3.5): Arizona State got pushed around in a tough environment in Salt Lake City last weekend. UCLA is not a tough road environment. The Bruins will keep this one fairly competitive but Arizona State should be favored by more than 3.5. I’ll take Herm Edwards’ team at that number all day. Pick: Arizona State -3.5
For Week 9 picks from Pat Forde, Pete Thamel and Dan Wetzel, subscribe to the Yahoo Sports College Podcast.
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