College Football Week 9 Preview: Are Road Upsets On Deck?
With 14 ranked teams going on the road this weekend, this could finally be the upset-filled shakeup Saturday we've waited for all season. Here are some of the big questions going into Week 9 in college football.
Can Washington Keep Its Title Hopes Alive?
Washington coach Chris Petersen says this week's matchup at No. 17 Utah is the Huskies' "toughest test so far." That may well be the case, particularly as this is No. 4 Washington's toughest road test of the season. They'll also have the additional burden of having a Top 5 target on their back as they enjoy their highest ranking since 2000.
Husky quarterback Jake Browning has worked his way into the Heisman discussion after completing more than two-thirds of his passes and a 26/2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He will face an interesting challenge this week against a Utah defense that ranks 85th nationally in pass defense but simultaneously leads the nation in interceptions (14). On the other side of the ball, Utah quarterback Troy Williams began his college career at Washington, but left after a falling out with Petersen. While Williams has publicly downplayed any talk of payback, ending the Huskies' playoff run would no doubt make a Utah upset extra sweet.
Both teams currently lead their respective divisions and it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a rematch in the Pac-12 title game.
Can Clemson Lock Up the ACC Atlantic?
At 4-0 in conference and holding the tiebreaker over Louisville, No. 3 Clemson can put a stranglehold on the ACC Atlantic division and a fast track to the CFB playoff with a win over No. 12 Florida State. But the Seminoles can throw a wrench in the works and keep their own slim conference hopes alive by holding serve at home.
After a slow start, Florida State's star running back Dalvin Cook has emerged in the last month, rushing for 672 yards and five touchdowns in his last four games. But he'll face his toughest test of the year against a Tiger defense that has held all but one opponent to 155 or fewer rushing yards.
We know that Deshaun Watson and Clemson can put up points (30+ in five of seven games this year). So FSU will need to take advantage when it can. Clemson's defense gives up a lot of yards (63rd nationally) but buckles down in the red zone (ninth nationally in scoring). The Seminoles will likely be able to move the ball, so they will need to take advantage of the scoring opportunities that present themselves.
Is Nebraska For Real?
Nebraska is 7-0 for the first time since 2001, but does anybody really know how good they are? Thus far, the Cornhuskers haven't gotten to the meat of the Big 10 schedule and their Week 3 win over Oregon looks less impressive every week. But that's not to say Nebraska hasn't played well. The Huskers boast one of the nation's most balanced offenses, a top 15 scoring defense (all but one opponent has been held to less than 23 points) and are +5 in turnover margin after years of losing that battle dramatically.
But we're about to find out if Nebraska is a legitimate Big Ten contender in back-to-back road trips to No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 6 Ohio State. With a win over the Badgers this week, the Cornhuskers can all but lock up the Big Ten West. But going 0-2 the next two weeks could begin a late-season slide as the Huskers' last five opponents have a combined record of 26-10.
Is Nebraska really the seventh best team in the country? Probably not. But are they improved over last season? Unquestionably. These next two games will tell us just how much better.
Is West Virginia a Playoff Contender?
Who would have guessed a Dana Holgorsen-coached team would become a playoff contender on the strength of its defense? But that's exactly what has happened as No. 10 West Virginia has rocketed up in the rankings after holding Texas Tech and TCU to a combined 27 points the last two weeks. This week, the Mountaineers will have another chance to impress pollsters with a road win at Oklahoma State, which has put up 30+ points in all but one game this season.
West Virginia is the oddest team in the Big 12--not only are they playing a little bit of defense but they actually scheduled some big-name nonconference opponents (Missouri and BYU). To be sure, the Mountaineers still have a long ways to go to make the playoff (road trips to Oklahoma State and Texas along with home tilts against No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 8 Baylor). But after Baylor's off-season struggles and Oklahoma's September collapse, not many figured the Big 12 would still be a playoff contender this late in the season. West Virginia gives the beleaguered conference a glimmer of hope.
Somebody Has to Win, Right?
A year ago, Oregon and Arizona State treated us to one of the most exciting games of the season, a 61-55 triple overtime thriller. This year's matchup, however, will likely be very different as the two teams come in as the walking
Oregon is riding a five-game losing streak while the Sun Devils have lost three of their last four. Both teams will need their star running backs to snap out of disappointing funks. Oregon's Royce Freeman was supposed to be the Ducks' next great back, but he has rushed for 100+ yards just twice and been held scoreless three times. He had just 15 yards on ten carries in last week's loss to Cal. The Sun Devils' Kalyn Ballage was an overnight Heisman contender in the second game of the season when he scored eight touchdowns against Texas Tech. But since then, he has netted just 213 yards and two scores in six games.
What Will Lamar Jackson Do This Week?
Although Louisville no longer controls its own destiny in the ACC, quarterback Lamar Jackson is still very much in the driver's seat in the Heisman race. He should be able to have another big day against a Virginia defense that ranks 108th nationally in total defense and 100th in scoring. The Cavaliers have given up 35+ points five times this season and there's no reason to think Jackson won't make it six. The sophomore leads the nation in scoring, is seventh in rushing and ranks second in total offense. While a blowout win over a 2-5 Virginia squad won't cement his Heisman chances, the numbers Jackson could put up certainly won't hurt.