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 pick those five games against the spread and highlight some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
The return of the Big Ten brought plenty of excitement and drama, and the conference again will be on center stage in Week 9.
When the Big Ten’s schedule was released, Ohio State’s trip to Penn State was quickly circled as one of the most-anticipated games of the year. But it lost a lot of its luster last weekend when Penn State was upset by Indiana in a wild game that featured a controversial ending.
PSU dropped from No. 8 to No. 18 in the rankings, but the Nittany Lions have consistently been the Buckeyes’ top challenger in the Big Ten East since James Franklin arrived. Despite it being played in an empty Beaver Stadium, this game should still be one of the day’s best.
But what about the rest of Week 9? Let’s dive in.
(Note: All times ET, point spreads/totals from BetMGM)
Memphis at No. 7 Cincinnati
Time: Noon | TV: ESPN | Line: Cincinnati -6.5 | Total: 55.5
Cincinnati is sitting in the best position to represent the Group of Five conferences in a New Year’s Six bowl game. The Bearcats crushed No. 16 SMU on the road last week to improve to 4-0, but there’s still a long way to go in the American Athletic Conference. Along with UC, two other teams are 2-0 in AAC play: Houston and Tulsa.
On top of that, three other teams have just one conference loss. That includes Memphis, which has had an up-and-down start to the year. The Tigers dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak and have had a few player defections, but have managed to amass a 3-1 record. The 50-49 come-from-behind win over UCF was a wild game, and the Tigers had to overcome a halftime deficit last week to beat Temple. To knock off Cincinnati, Memphis will need to play a much cleaner game.
Sam Cooper: Cincinnati -6.5, Nick Bromberg: Memphis +6.5
No. 16 Kansas State at West Virginia
Time: Noon | TV: ESPN2 | Line: West Virginia -3.5 | Total: 46.5
Saturday could be a significant day of movement in the Big 12 standings. Kansas State is one of two Big 12 teams without a loss in league play. The Wildcats lost their opener to Arkansas State but have since gone 4-0 against Big 12 teams. K-State lost starting quarterback Skylar Thompson but has kept on winning with true freshman backup Will Howard running the offense. Another true freshman, 5-foot-5 running back Deuce Vaughn, has emerged as one of the Big 12’s most exciting players.
This weekend, the Wildcats travel to West Virginia to go up against one of the nation’s top defenses — from a statistical perspective, at least. WVU hasn’t played very many strong offenses, but still deserves credit for allowing only 261.8 yards per game. That figure is tops in the country for teams that have played more than one game. WVU dropped to 3-2 (2-2 Big 12) last week by losing on the road to Texas Tech.
Sam: Kansas State +3.5, Nick: Kansas State +3.5
Other noon games to watch: Boston College at No. 1 Clemson (ABC), No. 5 Georgia at Kentucky (SECN), Michigan State at No. 13 Michigan (FOX)
LSU at Auburn
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: LSU -3 | Total: 64.5
A few months ago, it would have been hard to envision both of these teams being unranked entering this game, but that’s where we are in this bizarre 2020 season. LSU, the defending national champions, opened the season by losing to Mississippi State, a team that hasn’t won since. LSU also lost to Missouri when it was stuffed four times at the goal line in the final minute. Last week, Ed Orgeron’s group beat South Carolina 52-24 behind a strong effort from freshman QB TJ Finley. Finley started in place of the injured Myles Brennan and appears in line to play again on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Auburn is off to a 3-2 start, having knocked off Kentucky, Arkansas and Ole Miss and lost to Georgia and South Carolina. The South Carolina loss looked pretty deflating, but the Auburn offense bounced back with a balanced approach last week in Oxford. Bo Nix, after throwing three INTs vs. South Carolina, played one of the most efficient games of his career while running backs Tank Bigsby and Shaun Shivers combined for 189 yards on 35 carries.
Sam: Auburn +3, Nick: LSU -3
Texas at No. 6 Oklahoma State
Time: 4 p.m. | TV: FOX | Line: Oklahoma State -3.5 | Total: 58.5
The other undefeated Big 12 team is Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are 4-0 overall and 3-0 in conference play after an impressive win over Iowa State last week. Oklahoma State has long been known for a high-flying offense and a porous defense. This year, the defense looks really strong while the offense is getting into a groove. The Cowboys got starting QB Spencer Sanders back, and if he plays up to his potential alongside Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace, OSU has a chance to compete for a playoff berth.
On the other side, Texas entered a bye week on a two-game losing streak but got back in the win column by beating Baylor 27-16 last week. The win got Tom Herman’s team back above .500 for the year at 3-2. Herman’s Texas teams have typically been pretty strong as an underdog, and Saturday’s game will be a nice chance for the Longhorns to reverse the trajectory of what has the looks of another mediocre season.
Sam: Oklahoma State -3.5, Nick: Oklahoma State -3.5
Other afternoon games to watch: UCF at Houston (ESPN+), No. 17 Indiana at Rutgers (BTN), Northwestern at Iowa (ESPN), TCU at Baylor (ESPN2), Virginia Tech at Louisville (ACCN)
No. 3 Ohio State at No. 18 Penn State
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Ohio State -11.5 | Total: 62.5
After a controversial loss to Indiana, Penn State is staring at a potential 0-2 start. The Nittany Lions out-gained Indiana 488 yards to 211, but were doomed by three first-half turnovers, two missed field goals and an accidental touchdown. And that series of events only got the game to overtime. Michael Penix’s much-debated two-point conversion followed, handing a brutal loss to PSU. How will James Franklin’s group be able to turn the page, especially with Big Ten favorite Ohio State coming to town?
OSU opened its season with a pretty routine win over Nebraska. The Huskers made things interesting early and the game was tied 14-14 late in the second quarter. But OSU scored 10 points in the final three minutes of the first half and added two touchdowns early in the third quarter, effectively removing all hope from the Nebraska side. Heisman candidate Justin Fields had a sterling 2020 debut, throwing for 274 yards, rushing for 54 yards and scoring three touchdowns while tossing only one incomplete pass. He’ll face a tougher test from the PSU defense.
Sam: Ohio State -11.5, Nick: Ohio State -11.5
Other night games to watch: Mississippi State at No. 2 Alabama (ESPN), Arkansas at No, 8 Texas A&M (SECN), Missouri at No. 10 Florida (SECN Alt), No. 24 Oklahoma at Texas Tech (FOX)
Head-to-head ATS: Sam: 17-17, Nick: 15-19
Week 9’s best bets
Nick Bromberg (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 11-9)
Purdue at Illinois: There’s a good chance that Purdue will be without Rondale Moore again this week but Moore’s absence didn’t slow the Boilermakers down against Iowa. Meanwhile, Illinois struggled mightily on both sides of the ball against Wisconsin. I don’t think the Illini are as bad as they showed in their first game but I also think Purdue is significantly better. Pick: Purdue -7
No. 17 Indiana at Rutgers: Is the Indiana team we saw against Penn State real? Is the Rutgers team we saw against Michigan State real? I’m going with Indiana. I don’t think the Scarlet Knights are going to get the turnover luck that they did against an awful Michigan State team. Pick: Indiana -11
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt: Another road favorite? Why not. Vanderbilt has looked like the clear worst team in the SEC and has struggled with a COVID-19 outbreak among players. Ole Miss is the SEC’s chaos team but I think the Rebels offense is due for a huge day. Pick: Ole Miss -16.5
Sam Cooper (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 15-11)
No. 5 Georgia at Kentucky: Kentucky has lost its last 10 games against Georgia, including all seven matchups during Mark Stoops’ tenure in Lexington. The only time UK has covered the spread vs. Georgia under Stoops was last year … when Kentucky lost 21-0 as 24-point underdogs. Georgia is itching to get back on the field after the loss to Alabama and then a bye week. Under Kirby Smart, UGA is 7-3 ATS after a loss and 5-2 ATS after a bye. I think the Bulldogs roll. Pick: Georgia -16.5
Northwestern at Iowa: After 12 seasons of Mick McCall, Northwestern finally revamped its offense. The new OC, Mike Bajakian, had a strong debut in last weekend’s 43-3 win over Maryland. Maryland is not a good team, but I was very encouraged by the Wildcats’ use of tempo with new QB Peyton Ramsey leading the way. Iowa lost its opener to Purdue despite putting up 460 yards of offense. This will be more high-scoring than your usual Big Ten West game. Pick: Over 46.5
LSU at Auburn: Auburn is 8-2 against the spread as a home underdog under Gus Malzahn and Kevin Steele gets to game-plan for a true freshman QB making his second career start in LSU’s TJ Finley. I think the score of LSU’s win over South Carolina, 52-24, was a bit misleading. LSU scored two non-offensive TDs and allowed USC RBs to put up more than nine yards per rush. Auburn has a really good RB duo in Tank Bigsby and Shaun Shivers, plus the downfield passing combo of Bo Nix and Seth Williams. The wrong team is favored. Pick: Auburn +3
For other Week 9 picks from Sam Cooper, click here.
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