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2014 season preview: Five games to watch in week 9

The college football offseason is long and arduous, but its end is almost in sight. We’re going to take a look at five games you have to look forward to for every weekend of the season. (This is also a handy guide to decide how to RSVP for any autumn weddings.)

All times are Eastern and all games are played on Saturday unless otherwise noted.

These games take place the weekend of October 25. This is also not a particularly compelling week, so if you need a Saturday off, perhaps consider this one.

 Previously: Week One (August 30) ~ Week Two (September 6) ~ Week Three (September 13) ~ Week Four (September 20) ~ Week Five (September 27) ~ Week Six (October 4) ~ Week Seven (October 11) ~ Week Eight (October 18)

Michigan at Michigan State (TBD)

Despite their supposed “little brother” standing in this rivalry, Sparty has won five of the last six and completed a near-perfect immolation of the Wolverine offense last year, sacking them seven times and holding them to -48 (yes, that’s negative 48) yards rushing in a 29-6 victory. Due in no small part to that game, Michigan has swapped out offensive coordinators, bringing Doug Nussmeier in from Alabama to replace Al Borges’. (Nussmeier was also quarterback coach for Michigan State from 2003 to 2005.) Michigan loses top receiver Jeremy Gallon but brings in five-star freshman Drake Harris at wideout, and with the Michigan State defense losing six starters (including stars Denicos Allen, Max Bullough and Darqueze Dennard) there might be some holes to exploit. The imperative word there is “might,” as defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has put together a system that plugs in three and four-star talent and churns out five-star results (top-six defensive efficiency the last three years). This is the first in a Michigan/Michigan State/Ohio State round robin to decide the fate of the Big Ten East. It might not be pretty but it will be fun.

Ole Miss at LSU (TBD)

We’ve talked a bit in this series about teams who look good in a vacuum until you see the schedule they have to play. The Rebels are one of those teams, but they’re blessed with relatively light crossover games (they play Vanderbilt and Tennessee from the East, missing Georgia and South Carolina) and home games against Alabama and Auburn. This is their most formidable road test, a possible night game in Death Valley against an LSU team that will have likely found a quarterback (sophomores Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris were neck-and-neck throughout the spring) to go with its veteran offensive line and deep well of talent at tailback. Hugh Freeze has collected talent and wins, but he’ll need to put some sort of dent into the Alabama/Auburn/LSU triumvirate if he wants a shot at the division crown.

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Auburn receiver D'haquille Williams. (John Reed/USA TODAY Sports)

Auburn receiver D'haquille Williams. (John Reed/USA TODAY Sports)

South Carolina at Auburn (TBD)

The SEC East may be decided by how the two top contenders fare against the Tigers, who travel to Georgia in November after this date with the Gamecocks. Auburn has won seven in a row in the series, including Cam Newton’s 56-17 drubbing in the 2010 SEC title game. In his coaching history, this will be the first time Gus Malzahn returns his starting quarterback, allowing him to teach Nick Marshall even more wrinkles in his spread attack. Another benefit for Marshall will be the addition of JUCO transfer D’Haquille Williams, a 6’2”, 216-pound wide receiver who played very well in the spring. South Carolina is riding three consecutive 11-2 seasons, but is dealing with issues in getting their latest recruiting class into the fold. South Carolina will be coming off a bye and a home date with Fuman while Auburn is coming off a bye.

Miami (FL) at Virginia Tech (7:30 p.m., Thursday)

The media voted the Hurricanes as the Coastal favorite, but Virginia Tech has represented that division in five of the nine ACC title games. Also working against Al Golden and Miami is the fact they’ve never won the division and need to find a quarterback after fifth-year senior Ryan Williams went down with an ACL injury in April. (Williams is planning on a late September return, but that seems like a best-case scenario.) Other options include BYU transfer Jake Heaps (the former five-star recruit and early favorite), redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen (who started the spring game), sophomore Gray Crow (who backed him up) and true freshman Brad Kaaya. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer is the likely replacement for departed Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas, but Brendan Motley had a strong spring and senior Mark Leal was the backup last season. They’ve alternated victories the last three years, all coming by double digits, including Virginia Tech’s 42-24 win in south Florida last year.

Arizona State at Washington

Two teams projected to be in the second tiers of their respective divisions, neither capable of affording a loss here if they want to compete with the favorites. While Todd Graham returns Taylor Kelly to orchestrate his offense, the Huskies have to replace Keith Price, the second-leading passer in school history. They have a pretty solid option to go with in sophomore Cyler Miles, one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in his class. (Miles was suspended for the spring after a fight, but has been reinstated.) The PAC-12 is just unrelentingly brutal this season with too many good coaches and too much talent. In all likelihood there won’t be a conference champion as much as a conference survivor.

Other games to consider:

Arkansas State at LA-Lafayette (8:00 p.m., Tuesday)

Weeknight Sun Belt action! The Ragin’ Cajuns are your preseason conference favorite coming off a 9-4 season, league title and New Orleans Bowl win. Arkansas State – runner-up last season after consecutive titles in 2011 and 2012 – moves on to former North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson to run the show, their fifth head coach in as many seasons (Steve Roberts, Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin, previously).

BYU at Boise State (9:00 p.m., Friday)

When BYU went independent in football, they needed a few big name schools to step up and stabilize the schedule. The Broncos obliged, and the two teams will play through 2023. The first game in their series was a profoundly weird 7-6 Boise win in 2012, while the Cougars took round two 37-20 last season.

Maryland at Wisconsin (12:00 p.m.)

Maryland’s been devastated by injuries the last two years, but those tribulations have allowed them to establish some nice depth in addition to their seven returning starters. Wisconsin is a conference favorite, coming off a bye and playing on homecoming, but as I’ve said in previous Terp discussions, they have a thrower’s chance.

Oregon at Cal (in Santa Clara, 10:00 p.m., Friday)

Following a 15-13 escape in 2010, Oregon has averaged 52.3 points per game in their last three against the Bears. The game is being played at Levi’s Stadium, new home of the 49ers and PAC-12 championship game.

USC at Utah (TBD)

A bit of a trap game for the Trojans. The Utes took down Stanford at home last year and return their leading passer, rusher and receiver. USC won 19-3 last year in the Coliseum.

Ohio State at Penn State (8:00 p.m.)

The Buckeyes cruised 63-14 last year, but it’s a night game at Beaver Stadium and if nothing else you can expect lots of fans, white shirts and “Zombie Nation.”

Texas at Kansas State (TBD)

Two teams projected in the center of the Big 12, this comes in the middle of a brutal stretch for the Wildcats (at Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, at TCU). The Horns won last year, but Kansas State has dominated this series since the late 90s, winning seven of ten since the two became conference mates.

Oregon State at Stanford (TBD)

The Cardinal needed a goal line stand to escape Corvallis with a win last year and had to come back from a 23-14 second half deficit to prevail 27-23 two years ago. This is homecoming for Stanford, a brief home respite between trips to Arizona State and Oregon.

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