We’re getting deeper into the college football season, which means we’re going to see more and more rivalry games. The lead-up to a rivalry game can be a good spot to go against a team, but keep an eye on that game right after, especially if the rivalry game ended in emotional heartbreak or jubilant triumph.
Some of those make the cut this week, but a lot of other games hold interest from a situational standpoint in Week 9. You may also want to start paying attention to the standings to see what teams’ bowl prospects look like. That was a contributing factor in mentioning Middle Tennessee in a bit of a strange spot last week. Some games amount to must-wins in hopes of going to a bowl, and all these kids want a chance in that postseason spotlight.
Here are some situational spots for Week 9.
Navy at Tulsa (-11, 47)
The odyssey of this year’s Navy team has been quite a tale. After scoring seven points against Marshall and three against Air Force to open the season, athletic director Chet Gladchuk went over the head of Ken Niumatalolo and fired longtime offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper. After some lobbying from Niumatalolo, Jasper was reinstated as the quarterbacks coach.
Since then Navy has gone just 1-4 but was extremely competitive in losses to ranked SMU and Cincinnati. With a big game against Notre Dame in Week 9 and the de-facto bowl game with Army vs. Navy, what do we get from the Middies here after that close loss to Cincinnati?
Tulsa, meanwhile, has had 13 days to prep for the Navy triple option. Cincinnati is on deck, but Tulsa shouldn’t have any delusions of grandeur about that game to the point of looking ahead. Covering 11 points in a game with limited possessions should be tough, but the spot very clearly favors Tulsa.
UNLV at Nevada (-20.5, 58)
The last time these teams met in Reno, the road team came away with a 33-30 win. It was the first time since 2003-04 that UNLV won back-to-back games in the Battle of Nevada. The Wolf Pack won back the Fremont Cannon last year and will try to retain it here.
As my father has always said, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” UNLV has been close to winning the last four weeks but has fallen short. Beating the team from Reno would be a season saver, given that UNLV can no longer reach a bowl. Nevada suffered a big setback last week with a close loss to Fresno State that really hurts its chances of going to the Mountain West Conference championship game.
This is a big spread in a rivalry game. From a power ratings standpoint, it isn’t hard to see that big a gap between these teams. UNLV plays hard, though, and Nevada has bigger goals than this game. The Rebels do not.
The spot favors UNLV, but I will add that the Rebels are a pure fade next week against New Mexico, so look for that game in next week’s report.
No. 6 Michigan (-4.5, 51) at No. 8 Michigan State
It has been a long time since winning the Paul Bunyan Trophy mattered this much. Michigan was a 21.5-point favorite and lost this game last year in Ann Arbor, so revenge is on the mind of the better team and the road favorite. This is the first time since 1964 that both teams have been ranked in the Top 10 when they met.
This game represents a step up in class for both teams. As we head into Week 9, Michigan has played three teams with winning records — Wisconsin and MAC teams Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. Michigan State has not played a team with a winning record at present but is off a bye with more time to prepare.
When two quality teams run into each other after playing a lot of lesser competition, my mind gravitates toward the Under, and I think that’s the way to look here with a total of 51.
No. 22 Iowa State (-7, 47.5) at West Virginia
This is a pretty standard situational spot in conference play, especially when it comes to the Big 12. Some mainstream media outlets would have you believe that Iowa State upset Oklahoma State last week because the Cyclones were unranked, but that was hardly the case as a 7-point favorite.
Iowa State is now on the road in Morgantown. The Cyclones catch a bit of a break that this isn’t a noon ET kickoff, but the trip to upstate West Virginia is still the most difficult geographic location in the conference. The Cyclones won 24-21 last week and had a rather questionable stand defensively on Oklahoma State’s final possession, as 2021 technology apparently wasn’t good enough to get a definitive look at the spot on fourth down.
West Virginia, meanwhile, looked like the team I expected this season with an impressive road win at TCU. Iowa State survived, while West Virginia thrived. Now the Mountaineers are getting 7 at home against a team off a really emotional game to vault back into the Top 25. The spot pretty clearly favors the Mountaineers. We’ll see if they can take advantage.
Texas Tech at No. 4 Oklahoma (-20, 66.5)
This is quite the fascinating game both ways. Texas Tech parted ways with coach Matt Wells on Monday, signaling yet another step back for the program. As regular VSiN guest Brad Powers noted, the Red Raiders are en route to a 12th straight losing season in Big 12 play. They’ll likely fall to 2-4 here.
The first game after a coach gets fired is always a point of contention. The Red Raiders are 5-3, so you could argue that Wells had basically coached to expectation, but that wasn’t good enough. The players may be quite surprised by this decision, and it could show Saturday. On the other hand, we often see teams rally in that first game after a coach is dismissed.
Oklahoma avoided embarrassment last week as a huge favorite at Kansas. This game is the last one that looks easy, with Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State left on the schedule, including trips to Waco and Stillwater. Some definite lookahead factors here affect the Sooners, but maybe last week’s reality check serves as a reminder that you truly cannot overlook anybody in college football.
I’m not entirely sure about this spot and whom it favors, but we should find out pretty quickly in the first quarter.
Virginia at No. 25 BYU (-2.5, 64)
Bronco Mendenhall returns to Provo for the first time as the coach of the Virginia Cavaliers for Saturday’s matchup against BYU. This will be Virginia’s first road game since Oct. 9 and the first trip west of the Mississippi for the program since Sept. 22, 2017, against Boise State. It is the team’s first game outside of the Eastern time zone since then.
The Cavaliers will also play at altitude for the first time. A guy like Mendenhall, and a BYU-heavy coaching staff, should know how to prepare players for the elevation, but altitude masks and other training methods can do only so much. It is also a subtle, highly scientific kind of thing that is well above my pay grade, but you do have to wonder what the elevation and thin air might do to Virginia’s pass-happy offense and the flight of the football for Brennan Armstrong. Virginia is second in the nation in pass attempts with 382, accounting for nearly 62 percent of its offensive plays.
This is the start of a big stretch for Virginia with three straight ranked opponents, including Pitt, the current leader in the ACC Coastal. This is a really weird spot with back-to-back nonconference games as well. The Cavaliers play BYU, have a bye and then play Notre Dame.
The spot certainly seems to favor the host Cougars, but BYU is not playing particularly well and has struggled with Power 5 competition.