Week 9 is now in the books and the Big Ten race is underway. Michigan State rebounded in a major way with an upset victory in Ann Arbor over the Wolverines. The Spartans managed to hold up against the power-spread fusion offense that had torched Minnesota and held Michigan quarterback Joe Milton to 5.9 yards per attempt and zero touchdowns on 52 passing attempts. Their own offense erased the seven turnovers that had crushed them in their season opener against Rutgers and quarterback Rocky Lombardi threw for 323 yards at 10.1 yards per attempt with three touchdowns to zero interceptions.
The biggest Big Ten takeaway from Week 9 was the continued dominance by Ohio State. The Buckeyes defeated Penn State 38-25 with Justin Fields throwing for 318 yards at 9.4 yards per attempt with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. The combination of the blue-chip quarterback throwing to receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson while mixing in the scramble is now arguably the most potent offensive force in the country with Jaylen Waddle lost to Alabama. Penn State had few answers and yielded 10-of-18 third downs and 526 total yards.
Elsewhere around the country, Texas pulled off a big win on the road at Oklahoma State in overtime despite being outgained 530 yards to 287. The difference was four turnovers by Oklahoma State, a kickoff return touchdown, and zero turnovers by the Longhorns' own plodding offense. That win makes for another crazy turn in the Big 12 race, which is likely to come down to some of the final games of the season and still includes Texas as a player.
This week we'll add some Pac-12 games to the action and craziness of the year and get some major heavyweight bouts like "the world's largest outdoor cocktail party" between Florida and Georgia and then Clemson's trip to Notre Dame.
All times are listed as Eastern.
BYU (-3) at Boise State -- Friday 9:45 p.m. (FS1)
|Overall||BYU (7-0)||Boise State (2-0)|
|When BYU has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|Rushing success rate||28||95|
|Passing success rate||5||1|
|When Boise State has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|Rushing success rate||1||1|
|Passing success rate||35||1|
It has been a phenomenal year for BYU, who are now 7-0 with one big challenge out of the way after beating Houston on the road 43-26. Quarterback Zach Wilson is having a phenomenal year that could take him to New York as a Heisman finalist. Currently the Cougars signal-caller has 2,152 passing yards at 11.2 yards per attempt with 19 touchdowns to two interceptions and then another 150 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns.
The BYU defense has done their part as well. They have been sturdy up the middle with big nose tackle Khyiris Tonga backed by leading tackler and inside linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi. BYU's defensive strategy has centered around being able to control the middle of the field with those physical warriors so they can play drop-eight coverages and "bend don't break" on the perimeter and down the field. They'll dare teams by alignment to try and beat them by powering the ball between the tackles into Tonga and Kaufusi, which is a tall order for everyone and certainly for the Group of Five teams on their schedule. A possible exception? Boise State.
There's some drama and intrigue around this game on the Boise side. After sophomore and returning starter Hank Bachmeier guided the Broncos to a big win over Utah State in the season opener, he was held out of the second game for unstated reasons (potentially COVID, obviously) and USC transfer Jack Sears came in and played similarly well in a 49-30 win over Air Force. It's not clear if Bachmeier will be cleared to practice or available for the game. It may not matter though; the Broncos cruised along with Sears at the helm against Air Force, partly because of the surrounding cast.
Tight end John Bates has 10 receptions for 84 yards this season while outside receiver Khalil Shakir is at 13 for 234 yards. With those two experienced targets on the field, the Broncos passing game has a lot of weapons for attacking down the field. Their run game has included both Andrew Van Buren and George Holani thus far and they have a combined 35 carries for 196 yards at 5.6 yards per carry with four touchdowns. The Boise offensive line has been in good shape early this season and they have their normal run game/play-action system in place and slot receiver C.T. Thomas demonstrated some major potency running adjustable vertical routes in the seams in those concepts against Air Force.
It'll come down to how well the Boise State interior line can move Tonga and Kaufusi out of the A-gaps in order to force BYU safeties to start creeping toward the line rather than playing back and over the top against Thomas and Bates. Boise will open things up on offense in a big way if they can start to get those two open in the middle of the field on play-action but if they have to plunge ahead for small gains in the run game against off coverage it'll be hard to score regularly.
Boise State's defense may be the stiffest test yet for Wilson and the Cougars offense, but we don't know a great deal about the Broncos on this side of the ball yet. Their numbers above, in which they prevent big plays and passes but can be gashed for regular gains in the running game, are largely an artifact of having played so many snaps against triple-option Air Force and so few snaps against anyone else. Returning cornerbacks Jalen Walker and Avery Williams are veterans though, and Boise State can throw edge rushers Demetri Washington and Shane Irwin at the Cougars in hopes of moving Wilson off his spots in the passing game.
If the Broncos can't contain Wilson's scramble-drill plays, that could easily be the difference in this contest. Both of these teams have similar talent levels and it may well come down to whether Wilson can continue to be a difference-maker for BYU.
- Boise State's inside running game against BYU's stout defensive front of Khyiris Tonga and Isaiah Kaufusi.
- Will USC transfer Jack Sears get the start again for Boise State?
- BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, a potential Heisman candidate playing on the road in what might be BYU's biggest game of the season.
FEI Outright Pick: BYU by 3.7
Michigan (-3.5) at Indiana -- Saturday 12 p.m. (FS1)
|Overall||Michigan (1-1)||Indiana (2-0)|
|When Michigan has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|Rushing success rate||12||36|
|Passing success rate||35||12|
|When Indiana has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|Rushing success rate||24||90|
|Passing success rate||68||75|
Michigan's start to the season was so promising when they were gashing Minnesota with their run game but things went insanely sideways when Michigan State took them down at home in their second week. Whether or not Indiana can match Michigan State's success is less certain, and a big test this weekend for the Michigan season. The Spartans' solution involved man coverage outside that allowed the Spartans to keep defenders in the box and rely on senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons' ability to sniff out the Wolverines run game. He finished with 11 tackles in that game and two pass deflections while Joe Milton proved unable to beat man coverage outside with consistently accurate throws.
This is virtually always the test for a young offense and quarterback that rely on the run game. Eventually a defense will counter with man coverage and a loaded box and dare the quarterback to repeatedly find passing windows in tight windows and under duress after stopping runs and forcing repeated passing downs. Indiana's approach is a touch different -- they won't man up the Wolverines outside in the same way but they will park the safeties flat-footed on the hashmarks to sit on Michigan's quick passes and runs in the middle of the field. Essentially they'll try to stop the run in that way and dare Michigan to complete successful drives with 3- to 5-yard runs and quick throws outside underneath coverage.
That's a less aggressive strategy than Michigan State's, but it's also more easily replicable by the rest of the conference. Playing bend-don't-break outside and using safeties to help outnumber the run game and limit gains is a more common strategy that many a Big Ten squad can employ. If Michigan's success against Minnesota proves a mirage, that could be made evident by a very solid Indiana defense.
The other crack in Michigan's armor that Michigan State revealed was their cornerback play, which simply wasn't up for matching the Spartans receivers. Michigan State landed several deep shots down the sideline and a few over the middle as well working against the Wolverines linebackers. The Hoosiers don't have the same caliber of skill at quarterback and receiver as Michigan State -- quarterback Michael Penix has thrown for 408 yards at 6.6 yards per attempt this year with four touchdowns to a single interception. Their top receiver is the smaller Whop Philyor, with 10 catches for 173 yards and a score. He tends to work in the slot where Michigan is stronger in the secondary thanks to star safety Daxton Hill, who's faster than any of their starting cornerbacks this season.
On the perimeter the Hoosiers rely more on Ty Fryfogle, a bigger chains-moving target, or they work inside to tight end Peyton Hendershot. The Wolverines have big defenders to match up with these guys at cornerback, safety, or linebacker, and aren't as vulnerable to getting boxed out for passes. What Indiana needs is to get Philyor working vertically against non-Daxton Hill Wolverines so they can land some big shots that lead to points. Michigan State utilized freshman Ricky White, who burned Michigan with eight catches for 196 yards and a score. That's the weak spot on this unit.
Without an ability to really get after the Michigan cornerbacks, this game could be a slog in which the Wolverines prevail with their pounding run game barring turnovers or special teams miscues. Jim Harbaugh needs his team to make some strides and rebuild confidence on the offense with a diversified portfolio of run schemes and smart quarterback play so that a future opponent that matches up up a little better can't deal them another crushing loss.
- Can Michigan rebound on offense after being made one-dimensional and struggling to throw efficiently against rival Michigan State?
- How well can Indiana attack the Michigan cornerbacks that the Spartans attacked so effectively?
- Michigan safety Daxton Hill and whether Indiana can free up star slot receiver Whop Philyor to work against less athletic defensive backs.
FEI Outright Pick: Michigan by 5.9
West Virginia at Texas (-6.5) -- 12 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Texas (4-2)||West Virginia (4-2)|
|When Texas has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|Rushing success rate||41||15|
|Passing success rate||57||8|
|When West Virginia has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|Rushing success rate||28||81|
|Passing success rate||84||50|
This is a huge game for Tom Herman's Texas football program. After beating Oklahoma State on the road last weekend, the Longhorns are now firmly in the Big 12 race in a make-or-break season for their head coach. Now they have to do something they have not done as well in the Herman era and show up as the favorites in crucial Big 12 games, starting with West Virginia in Austin at noon. Texas' senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger helped them grit out the win in Stillwater; he threw for 159 yards at just 5 yards per attempt but had three touchdown passes with zero turnovers while obviously slowing down over the course of the game as the Cowboys landed multiple hits on him.
Texas needs to shore up their pass protection, particularly on the right side where miscues and tough matchups lead to some matador moments that foiled Longhorns passing designs and led to big hits on the quarterback. That'll be ground zero in this contest against West Virginia, whose defense has 20 sacks on the year in just six games thanks to a fantastic defensive tackle tandem of Darius and Dante Stills surrounded by solid pass-rushers at defensive end and linebacker. In addition to beating West Virginia and positioning themselves to finish down the stretch against Iowa State and Kansas State, Texas needs to survive that pass rush so they can get Ehlinger to the bye week on November 15 to heal up for that stretch run. A victory over the Mountaineers won't save them if it costs them their quarterback.
West Virginia also still has a path to a Big 12 title if they can get this win and then later beat Oklahoma at home on November 28 and Iowa State in Ames on December 5. That's a tough road and they haven't really seemed up for it, but everything opens up if they can beat Texas in this game. Their fortunes from week to week tend to hinge on whether they can involve outside receivers such as Sam James in their play-action and RPO game. Without that dimension to their offense, they lack firepower and struggle to open lanes for running back Leddie Brown, a big power back with 695 rushing yards at 5.5 yards per carry with eight rushing touchdowns.
Texas is a tough matchup for the West Virginia offense, having just won in Stillwater by stifling Chuba Hubbard and the Oklahoma State running game while playing man coverage outside on the Cowboys' star receiver Tylan Wallace. The West Virginia offensive line is in better health and shape than Oklahoma State's unit but still not particularly well equipped to handle players such as Texas nose tackle Keondre Coburn (6-foot-2, 348 pounds) and edge rusher Joseph Ossai (12 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks, and a forced fumble against Oklahoma State).
Assuming neither offensive line is able to have a great day against the NFL prospect-rich defensive fronts both programs will bring into this game, things instead come down to special teams and which offense is able to finish scoring opportunities and avoid turnovers. These are all factors where Texas has sizable advantages over many teams due to having a senior quarterback, but West Virginia's man Jarrett Doege has also protected the ball this season with only three interceptions to Ehlinger's five.
This game should be narrow and worth a watch for fans of noon football. A loss for Texas would certainly dampen the enthusiasm after the Oklahoma State win and reheat the seat under Herman with big speculation about his future going into the bye week.
- Can Texas protect battered senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger from West Virginia's potent pass rush?
- How will West Virginia handle Texas' cornerbacks outside? Can they land shots or will they be bogged down by man coverage?
- In a potentially close fought game, special teams and turnovers were the difference for Texas a week ago and something they'll count on again.
FEI Outright Pick: Texas by 9.1
Florida vs. Georgia (-3.5) at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
|Overall||Florida (3-1)||Georgia (4-1)|
|When Florida has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|Rushing success rate||29||26|
|Passing success rate||6||16|
|When Georgia has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|Rushing success rate||97||14|
|Passing success rate||78||59|
The "world's largest outdoor cocktail party" is back in 2020. There will be reduced capacity, much like the Red River Shootout between Texas and Oklahoma, but it'll still be a big atmosphere. Both teams are coming off interesting battles with other SEC East division opponents and have some obvious cracks in the armor in this contest. Florida had an encouraging win over Missouri, winning 41-17 while holding the Tigers run game to 40 yards on 23 carries.
That's the biggest concern for Florida this season and a major reason for the defeat against Texas A&M. The Gators have struggled on run defense for the last few years and have posted poor numbers this season, up until they locked down the Missouri offense last Saturday. One big ingredient was the return of defensive linemen Kyree Campbell, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound tackle who was able to help them hold the point of attack in the middle of the field and make the most of their speed in the defensive backfield. Campbell had missed the first three games of the season.
The Gators otherwise looked pretty normal against Missouri, blasting the Tigers with their passing game as quarterback Kyle Trask threw for 345 yards at 9.6 yards per attempt with four touchdowns to one interception. Tight end Kyle Pitts has continued to be a menace for the Gators that they can move around to hunt matchups or to create imbalance and stress that generates openings for other receivers. Georgia's defensive solution will almost definitely be to maintain bracket coverage on Pitts while leaning on a deep and talented secondary to hold up elsewhere one-on-one. It's a big game for Florida's Kadarius Toney, their No. 2 receiver, who will need to produce a big day working against the Georgia cornerbacks when isolated in man coverage.
Georgia struggled to put away Kentucky in their game last Saturday, winning 14-3 but struggling in the passing game. Quarterback Stetson Bennett was 9-of-13 for 131 yards at 10.1 yards per attempt but with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. With the uncertainty created by those turnovers, the Bulldogs focused on their run game and ran the ball 43 times for 215 yards at 5 yards per carry with two rushing touchdowns. Lead running back Zamir White and this powerful young Georgia offensive line have looked stronger every week and are supplying the main identity for the team this season.
That makes the return of Campbell and the play of Florida against the Georgia run game a massive factor for this game. The Gators can be run on some -- Kentucky gave up over 200 rushing and still held Georgia to just 14 points -- but they can't be eviscerated like they have been in some other recent cocktail party games against the Kirby Smart Bulldogs. In 2017 the Bulldogs ran for 292 yards at 8.3 yards per carry in a big win; in 2018 that slipped to 189 yards at 4.6 yards per carry and a narrower margin; in 2019 it was a single-possession win for Georgia when they ran for just 119 yards at 3.2 yards per carry. With Bennett at quarterback, the Bulldogs need to be running for 200-plus yards again to generate the offense to get this one.
Another big factor in this game is the improved Georgia pass rush this season going up against Florida's offensive line. Outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari has paced Georgia with 4.5 sacks and will be the tip of the spear for their attempts to pressure Trask and prevent him from recognizing when Pitts is being taken away so he can find the open man elsewhere on the field. Georgia's defense is very fast and experienced on the back end, especially with new star weakside linebacker Nakobe Dean in the mix, and they will force Trask to hold the ball at times. If Florida can't give him that time, it'll be a struggle to score early and put pressure on Georgia to move away from the run game and ask Bennett to start making throws.
- Has the return of nose tackle Kyree Campbell allowed Florida to shore up their run defense enough to withstand Georgia?
- Florida moving star tight end Kyle Pitts around to try and create matchups and clear up the picture for quarterback Kyle Trask to find openings against the Georgia defense.
- Can Florida protect the quarterback well enough to get through progressions?
FEI Outright Pick: Georgia by 4.5
Clemson (-5.5) at Notre Dame -- 7:30 p.m. (NBC)
|Overall||Clemson (7-0)||Notre Dame (6-0)|
|When Clemson has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|Rushing success rate||32||7|
|Passing success rate||12||11|
|When Notre Dame has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|Rushing success rate||6||16|
|Passing success rate||4||29|
At one point in time this was expected to be the biggest game of the season, a game that would determine Notre Dame's playoff chances and/or potentially be the cornerstone in a Trevor Lawrence Heisman campaign. Instead, Lawrence got COVID-19 and while he'll be able to be on the sideline for this game he won't be cleared in time to actually play, which is all kinds of bizarre. The upshot is that this becomes almost a throwaway game for Clemson -- they can excuse a loss due to the absence of Lawrence so long as they finish strong in the rest of their season.
Notre Dame will now seriously struggle to excuse a loss. They need to win at home in this game to have an impregnable resume for the playoff committee to investigate at season's end. They'll need to generate that victory against Clemson's new former five-star quarterback: D.J. Uiagalelei, who completed 30 of 41 passes against Boston College for 342 yards at 8.3 yards per attempt with two touchdowns, no interceptions, and then a rushing touchdown to boot. At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Uiagalelei is a huge quarterback with a cannon arm that can spit out lasers from multiple platforms. Boston College was able to pressure him some and get him down, but he can also seem to be on the verge of being taken down only to fire off a laser that travels further than your typical human could expect to reach without a clean platform to throw from.
Uiagalelei did most of his work throwing to veteran outside receiver Cornell Powell and then veteran slot Amari Rodgers, whom Notre Dame will want to check with their top cover defenders (or some shaded help) in hopes of taking away the youngster's security blankets. The Fighting Irish choked out the Georgia Tech passing game last week and have been gaining strength with safeties Kyle Hamilton and Shaun Crawford cleared to play in recent weeks. The Irish have also been finding more pass rush on their roster; defensive end Daelin Hayes ended his sack drought last week with a pair of them against Georgia Tech and some of the younger Irish pass-rushers have gotten into the mix in other games.
The Irish need to nail their formula on defense for stopping Uiagalelei and the Tigers offense because that's where their biggest opportunities exist in this game. The Clemson defense is good, again. Their pass rush has come from a combination of high-level defensive line talent and then effective blitzing from linebackers. Baylon Spector and Jake Venables have a combined 4.5 sacks and defensive end Myles Murphy has another 3.5. Their pressure packages can win quickly and the secondary has experienced Nolan Turner patrolling the back end while returning cornerback Derion Kendrick and fellow former five-star Andrew Booth play man coverage on the outside. Both of those cornerbacks have some decent size at around 6-foot-0 and 190 pounds apiece and the Tigers will match Notre Dame's tight ends with outside linebacker Mike Jones (6-foot-0, 225 pounds) and strong safety Lannden Sanders.
Notre Dame has primarily moved the ball this season with their run game, working the ball in a wide variety of run schemes to Kyren Williams for 600 rushing yards at 5.7 yards per carry with seven rushing touchdowns. Tight ends Tommy Tremble and Michael Mayer have a combined 27 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns while Irish quarterback Ian Book has otherwise spread the ball around without a clear No. 1 receiver. If Notre Dame can't control the game by running the ball they are moved outside their comfort zone, although Book has managed games well with seven touchdowns to just one interception this year.
An ideal game for the Irish would be to confuse and hurry Uiagalelei and control the game with effective drives running the football and playing for field position. If Clemson's defense can deny their rushing attack and make them one-dimensional, than this game could instead come down to which team produces the most explosive, game-changing plays. In that event Notre Dame is at a major disadvantage going against the team with Travis Etienne, who has 606 rushing yards, 434 receiving yards, and 11 total touchdowns this season.
- Clemson freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei facing a very good Notre Dame defense on the road in prime time.
- Will Notre Dame be able to run the football and control the game or will Clemson force them to win throwing the ball against their blitz package?
- Can Clemson get the ball to running back Travis Etienne enough via the run or the pass to allow him to carry them to victory without Trevor Lawrence?
FEI Outright Pick: Clemson by 2.6
Stanford at Oregon (-11) -- 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Stanford (0-0)||Oregon (0-0)|
|When Stanford has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2019 Rushing success rate||115||52|
|2019 Passing success rate||43||20|
|When Oregon has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2019 Rushing success rate||115||44|
|2019 Passing success rate||122||34|
It's hard to know what to make of this Pac-12 season, which will include about six games per team and seems mostly an attempt to recuperate the complete loss of a season rather than to really be big players. If Oregon is undefeated in five or six games, will they be eligible to play in the playoff or a bowl game? On the other hand, presumably they'll still award a Pac-12 Championship this season, and there are a lot of good players taking the field for these teams.
Oregon will be without one of those players: left tackle Penei Sewell, who's a possible top-10 draft pick and the only returning starter from the Pac-12 champion 2019 team. Sewell opted out, leaving the Ducks without a first-round talent and a big piece to their power run game. Head coach Mario Cristobal has clear intentionality to build his Oregon program around the offensive line and his retooling of the unit from the group he inherited to one of his own creation effectively begins this season. The new right side is indicative of the sort of unit he intends to build, featuring JUCO transfer Maleasala Aumuvae-Iaulu (6-foot-6, 325 pounds) at right guard and Steven Jones (6-foot-7, 349 pounds) at right tackle. For their first challenge we'll see whether or not they can make headway against Stanford's normally stout defensive front.
Elsewhere around the offense the Ducks have lost NFL draft pick quarterback Justin Herbert and are still sorting out whether he'll be replaced by senior Boston College transfer Anthony Brown or redshirt sophomore Tyler Shough. Whoever gets the nod will still have running back C.J. Verdell, a collection of solid returning tight ends, and playmaking receivers Jaylon Redd (seven touchdowns in 2019) and Johnny Johnson (57 catches, 836 yards, seven touchdowns in 2019).
The Stanford defense has a few key players back up front in their always-stout 3-4 defense, headlined by linebacker Curtis Robinson and defensive end Thomas Booker. It isn't a movement heavy three-down defense, fortunately for the young Ducks offensive front, but they are strong and physical and will test Cristobal's desire to have the toughest team in the trenches in the Pac-12.
Oregon's breakthroughs in 2019 were as much about their defense as they were the offense. Their own three-down defense was multiple and utilized multiple linebackers on the edges to control opposing rushing attacks, pressure quarterbacks, and force teams to beat them throwing the ball into single-high coverage with zone blitzes. Their unit looks more imposing this season with former five-star Kayvon Thibodeaux back as a sophomore along with returning linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia and incoming five-star freshman Noah Sewell.
The Cardinal will have to block them with an offensive line that includes three second-year players, including the left-side pairing of Walter Rouse and Barrett Miller, a tough order in your first week. Quarterback Davis Mills returns after a solid 2019 season with 1,960 passing yards at 8.1 yards per attempt with 11 touchdowns to five interceptions. He has three receivers back from 2019 that had at least 500 receiving yards between Conor Wedington, Simi Fehoko, and Michael Wilson. The Cardinal really want to be able to run the football and win games that way, but it hasn't been working out in recent seasons. They'll now turn to sophomore Austin Jones, who doesn't appear at first blush to be the next Bryce Love or Christian McCaffrey that can hit home runs with breakaway runs or completions.
If Stanford can evolve to be more of a pro-spread passing team, that'd be their best chance to keep the David Shaw machine humming, but Oregon will be a tough team to do that against in their first week.
- How does Oregon's offense look with an all-new offensive line and quarterback?
- Can Stanford's young offensive line handle Kayvon Thibodeaux and the Oregon pressure package?
- How will Stanford's offense evolve with multiple returning receivers but no clear star at running back?
FEI Outright Pick: Oregon by 12.6
FEI PICKS: WEEK 10
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||FEI Pick||FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Against the Spread
|BYU||3||at Boise State||BYU||BYU||BYU|
|at Texas||6.5||West Virginia||Texas||Texas||West Virginia|
|Clemson||5.5||at Notre Dame||Clemson||Notre Dame||Notre Dame|
FEI picks against the spread in Week 8: 3-3
FEI picks against the spread this year: 26-19-1
Ian's picks against the spread in Week 8: 3-3
Ian's Picks against the spread this year: 24-21-1