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College football capsules: Week 9

By VSiN Staff  ( 

October 26, 2021 07:23 PM



For the first time since 1964, Michigan and Michigan State will meet for the Paul Bunyan Trophy with both teams ranked in the Top 10. No. 6 Michigan avoided the trap game off its bye week Saturday by defeating Northwestern 33-7 and covering as a 23.5-point favorite. The Wolverines’ fifth-ranked rushing attack plowed over Northwestern for 294 yards, nearly doubled the Wildcats in total yardage 457-233 and had a 28-10 advantage in first downs. Michigan pulled away by keeping the ball for nearly 40 minutes and converting 12 of 20 third downs. No. 8 Michigan State had a much-needed bye to regroup from a 20-15 victory at Indiana. That sounds absurd on the surface, but the undefeated Spartans were very fortunate to get out of Bloomington with a win, held to 241 yards of total offense and committing 12 penalties for 134 yards. While you never apologize for victories, Michigan State seems to have a lot to prove, and the Spartans will step up in class to face Michigan’s No. 2 scoring defense (14.3 ppg). But Michigan also still has a bit to prove. The Wolverines have shown they can run the ball, but can Cade McNamara make big passing plays in a big-game situation? He did it at Wisconsin and Nebraska, but can he do it against stiffer competition in the back half of the season against Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State? Last season was rough in East Lansing during the first year under Mel Tucker. However, the bright spot of the 2-5 campaign was going to Ann Arbor and defeating Michigan as a 22-point underdog. Those Spartans were devoid of the usual talent as the program failed to have a player taken in the NFL draft for the first time since 1940. Tucker had to hit the transfer portal hard and it has paid off, especially with graduate transfer running back Kenneth Walker III coming from Wake Forest and turning into a Heisman Trophy candidate. Jim Harbaugh already has defeated Wisconsin on the Wolverines’ revenge tour this season and certainly did not take kindly to Tucker coming into the Big House and beating him in his first season. Michigan opened as a 4-point favorite, and early action has driven it up to -4.5. While Harbaugh is 0-5 against Ohio State, he is also just 3-3 against Michigan State. This is a big game for him as he is 1-9 on the road against ranked opponents as Michigan’s coach. 

— Wes Reynolds




Penn State was coming off a bye week after it all fell apart in Iowa City. Quarterback Sean Clifford, who was knocked out of the loss at Iowa, was cleared to start against Illinois, but he never looked 100 percent as the Nittany Lions could generate only 227 yards of total offense against seven-man fronts as the Illini dared Penn State to beat them through the air. Penn State was fortunate to even force overtime as Illinois ran for 357 yards as the teams played the first 9-OT game in NCAA history. Illinois, as a 24-point underdog, prevailed in the two-point-conversion shootout format 20-18. Before James Franklin, a rumored candidate for the USC job, can start looking for Southern California beachfront property, he must get his club off the mat and travel to Columbus to face No. 5 Ohio State after the Nittany Lions plunged from seventh to 20th in the polls. The Buckeyes are clearly hitting their stride after their early September home loss to Oregon. Ohio State is averaging slightly more than 54 ppg over its last five games. The Buckeyes met that average Saturday in a 54-7 win at Indiana as the offense tallied a 539-128 yardage edge and a 31-10 first-downs advantage. Coach Ryan Day let his foot off the gas late in the third quarter or it could have been much more lopsided. Penn State has covered four of the last six meetings, but its lone outright victory in that stretch came in 2016. Before last weekend’s results, the lookahead line was around Ohio State -11.5/-12. The spread reopened Ohio State -15, and it has been one-way traffic with the Buckeyes now up to -18.5. Penn State did not deal with adversity very well last season after its opening loss to Indiana. In fact, the Nittany Lions started on an 0-5 run before winning their last four games. Can Franklin keep his club together after this two-game losing streak? Ohio State is starting to look like a juggernaut again, and early bettors were more than willing to lay a lower number than they might get on game day. With the line moving one way, it is difficult to determine what the buyback spot would be. Perhaps if it reaches 20 or 21, some support for the Nittany Lions will show.  

— Wes Reynolds




No. 9 Iowa returns from a bye after a disappointing 24-7 home loss to Purdue. The Hawkeyes were ranked No. 2 with realistic College Football Playoff hopes. Those hopes are now hanging by a thread, but Iowa still largely controls its own destiny in the Big Ten West. It could win out to force a likely matchup with Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, and it is hard to see the Big Ten champ being left out of the top four. The first step involves a trip to Madison and a showdown with the resurgent Badgers, who have won three in a row. Wisconsin defeated 25th-ranked Purdue 30-13 on the road last weekend and easily covered as a 3.5-point favorite. Beginning with the game at Illinois three weeks ago, Wisconsin started to get back to its roots: run the ball, stop the run and force turnovers. The Badgers ran 51 times for 290 yards against the Boilermakers. Quarterback Graham Mertz threw only eight times for 52 yards. Wisconsin’s No. 1 rushing defense and No. 2 total defense made Purdue one-dimensional by holding the Boilermakers to -13 yards rushing due to registering six sacks and 10 tackles for loss. The Badgers also gained five takeaways (+ 3 turnover margin) after coming up with only four in their first six games. So essentially Wisconsin took a page out of Iowa’s playbook. The Hawkeyes are second in the FBS with 20 forced turnovers and third with a + 11 turnover margin. Wisconsin has forced its will in the running game over the last three games, but Iowa will be a challenge as the Hawkeyes rank seventh nationally in rushing defense at 89.7 ypg. But Iowa is still searching for its offensive identity, ranking 13th of 14 Big Ten teams in total offense at just 310.9 ypg. The Hawkeyes broke a four-year losing streak against Wisconsin with a 28-7 victory last year, bu the Badgers have won seven of the last nine meetings. Wisconsin opened as a 3-point favorite, once again an unranked favorite over a ranked team. Early action pushed Wisconsin up to 4, but buyback has come with Iowa at 3.5 and 4, with the line moving back to the original 3. With both schools ranking in the top 10 percent nationally in total defense, the total opened at a minuscule 36.5. 

— Wes Reynolds



Carson Strong continues to improve his position as a top NFL quarterback prospect, but in his most impressive performance of the season, Nevada suffered its second loss. Strong completed 49 of 61 passes for 476 yards and four touchdowns in the Wolf Pack’s 34-32 setback Saturday at Fresno State. He directed a 90-yard touchdown drive in 51 seconds — with no timeouts — to pull Nevada within two points with two seconds left, but his two-point conversion pass failed. The late score delivered a bad beat to Fresno -3 bettors. The Wolf Pack’s Romeo Doubs finished with 19 receptions for 203 yards and a touchdown, and Cole Turner had eight catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Strong has 20 touchdown passes this year, and Nevada has averaged 40.5 points in its last four games. Strong’s high-powered offense will be too much for UNLV to handle. The Rebels have shown recent improvement, covering three of their last four games, but they continue to find ways to fail in the fourth quarter. Coach Marcus Arroyo is 0-13 in two years, and the team’s misery has much to do with his game-management and play-calling mistakes. The Rebels have used four quarterbacks, but only Cameron Friel and Doug Brumfield can move the offense, and Brumfield’s status is questionable this week. UNLV was a 14-point dog in a 37-19 loss to Nevada last year, and the result should be similar in Reno. The line is right with Nevada laying 20.5 to 21 points.

— Matt Youmans



It’s awkward and painful to watch, but when Chip Kelly dances he takes one step forward followed by one step back. That has been the UCLA coach’s lame dance routine this season. Just when it appears the Bruins are ready to rise in the Pac-12 standings, they fall flat. UCLA blew a 14-0 lead in a 34-31 loss to Oregon that killed most of the momentum Kelly had seemingly built. The Bruins dropped their third consecutive home game after being upset by Arizona State and Fresno State. Four years into his program rebuild, Kelly’s offense is inconsistent, and the Bruins’ defense remains an embarrassment. Monitor the status of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who left Saturday’s game with an injury late in the fourth quarter. His replacement, Ethan Garbers, played well before throwing the game-ending interception. The good news for the Bruins, who are 3-0 on the road, is they play in Salt Lake City this weekend. After a 42-34 loss at Oregon State, Utah slipped into a tie with Arizona State for first place in the South Division. Utes quarterback Cameron Rising passed for 267 yards and two touchdowns while taking his first loss in four starts this season. The Utah defense was a big disappointment, allowing the Beavers to rush for 260 yards, 132 more than the Utes’ season average on the ground. The Bruins are 2-0 as dogs, so maybe this is their preferred role on the road. It’s a guess which UCLA team shows up, but the Bruins have lost by more than three points only once, so they might be worth a shot getting 5.5 points.

— Matt Youmans



Is it unfair to ask Cincinnati to win by a large margin each week? Of course, but that’s the nature of the College Football Playoff system. The Bearcats need to blow away inferior opponents, and they failed to do so last weekend as 28-point favorites in a 27-20 win at Navy. Desmond Ridder passed for 176 yards and two touchdowns in a pedestrian performance. After road wins against Indiana and Notre Dame, the Bearcats took care of business by bulldozing Temple 52-3 and Central Florida 56-21. The sluggish showing against the Midshipmen will be used as ammunition by Cincinnati's detractors, but the truth is no team other than Georgia has been on top of its game every week. Expect coach Luke Fickell to get the Bearcats to return to dominant form against a Tulane team that has fallen apart. The Green Wave took Oklahoma to the wire in a 40-35 season-opening loss before the ride crashed and turned into a wipeout. Tulane is 0-5 straight up and ATS since Sept. 18 and reeling from a 29-point blowout at SMU. Cincinnati opened as a 24.5-point favorite, and that number may rise if the betting public stays on the Bearcats’ bandwagon for another week. Fickell is no fool and is fully aware that style points matter.

— Matt Youmans



This is not the season North Carolina coach Mack Brown and quarterback Sam Howell envisioned. In August, the Tar Heels were considered national title contenders, and Howell was among the Heisman Trophy favorites. But Howell played poorly in a Sept. 3 loss at Virginia Tech, and it has been mostly downhill since. North Carolina was favored by 14 in a 45-22 loss at Georgia Tech and favored by 17.5 in a 35-25 loss to Florida State. The Tar Heels are off a bye and ready to face three ranked opponents in a row, with Wake Forest and Pittsburgh on deck after this trip to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish won last year’s meeting 31-17. Notre Dame still could sneak into the College Football Playoff conversation if Cincinnati and a few other Top 10 teams get upset down the stretch, though it’s clear this is not a special Irish team. While the defense is showing decent progress, the offense runs hot and cold as coach Brian Kelly continues to rotate quarterbacks. Jack Coan played most of Notre Dame’s 31-16 victory over USC and figures to remain the starter the rest of the way. Coan finished 20-for-28 for 189 yards against the Trojans. The star was Kyren Williams, who carried the ball 25 times for 138 yards, and Williams will be the biggest threat to a weak North Carolina defense. The Irish opened -3.5 — and the lookahead line was 5.5 — so the betting market respects the Heels’ chances in this spot.

 — Matt Youmans



Few teams are tougher to handicap than San Diego State, a Top 25 team that does only one thing spectacularly yet continues to grind out ugly wins. The Aztecs dominated Air Force on the road despite another dismal offensive performance. Lucas Johnson, who took over the starting quarterback job from Jordon Brookshire, passed for just 72 yards against the Falcons, who trailed 20-0 in the third quarter and rallied late to narrow the final score to 20-14. The Aztecs prevailed mostly due to their defense. The Falcons entered the game ranked No. 1 in rushing offense at 336 yards per game but were limited to 192 yards on the ground. San Diego State’s most valuable player might be kicker Matt Araiza, who had an 81-yard punt and a 51-yard field goal last week. Araiza has been spectacular all season. Is this when the Aztecs’ undefeated run ends? Fresno State’s Jake Haener will be the best quarterback San Diego State has faced. Haener, who threw for 256 yards in a 34-32 victory over Nevada, has 22 touchdown passes this season. Ronnie Rivers, who had a 64-yard touchdown run against the Wolf Pack, and Jordan Mims make defenses respect the run and pass. The unranked Bulldogs are 1-point road underdogs in a Mountain West matchup with a lot on the line. It’s tempting to side with Fresno and its far superior offense.

— Matt Youmans


Fans stormed the field in Ames last week after Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, though it must have been those who didn’t lay the 7 or so points with the Cyclones, who didn’t even cover. Whatever, it kept Matt Campbell’s team in the real race to watch in the Big 12 — to see which team gets a second crack at Oklahoma in the conference title game. The matchup against West Virginia has tilted toward the Cyclones lately, with ISU scoring heavy wins and covers in the last three meetings. Most recently came a 42-6 beatdown in Ames in December when the Cyclones tuned up for the Big 12 title game in style. QB Brock Purdy completed 20 of 23 passes for 247 and three TDS as ISU rolled up 483 yards against the conference’s top defense in 2020. The Mountaineers have been held under 300 yards of offense in each of the last three meetings. However, no favorites covered spreads in the Big 12 last weekend, perhaps boding well for West Virginia, which played arguably its best game of the season and broke a three-game skid in a 29-17 win over TCU at Fort Worth. The Mounties got RB Leddie Brown going for the first time in a month with 111 yards rushing last week. But to outscore Iowa State, Neal Brown will probably need a few more big plays from QB Jarret Doege, who has tossed a mere two TD passes in the last four games.  

— Bruce Marshall



With Sidney Crosby injured, Ben Roethlisberger’s career winding down and the Pirates being, well, the Pirates, the new Steel City hero is Pitt QB Kenny Pickett. His stats are starting to get locals thinking their first Heisman Trophy winner since Tony Dorsett in 1976 might be playing in town. With 23 TD passes and just one pick, Pickett is getting into Dan Marino 1981 territory, when he threw 37 touchdown passes. The Panthers are two lengths clear in the ACC Coastal, but neither Pickett nor Pitt is a secret anymore, and oddsmakers are attaching a premium to the new darlings of the sportsbook crowd. They might have gone a bit overboard this week as Pitt faces a desperate Miami team that seems to be circling the wagons for under-fire coach Manny Diaz. Scrappy freshman QB Tyler Van Dyke is doing about as much as could be expected in place of injured D’Eriq King by giving the Hurricanes a chance every week. He has shown improving numbers like last week’s 325 yards passing and four TDs in a rousing win over NC State after dramatic comeback bids against Virginia and North Carolina fell just short. With the marketplace jumping aboard the overflowing Panthers bandwagon and perhaps forgetting about Miami, it risks overlooking recent trends that include three straight Hurricanes wins in this series.

— Bruce Marshall



Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has thrown only four touchdown passes past the halfway point of the season, with no time to throw or running game to lean. That has eroded his confidence to such a degree that Dabo Swinney pulled a temporary QB switch to sophomore Taisun Phommachanh in last week’s loss at Pitt after Uiagalelei’s ghastly pick-six put the Panthers on cruise control in the third quarter. While Scrabble players have fun with the names of the Tigers’ QBs, Swinney’s offense is rubbing shoulders with Rice and Bowling Green in national stats, ranking 117th in total offense and 115th in scoring. Eight straight spread losses stretching to the last Sugar Bowl make it awfully risky to consider laying any points with Clemson until further notice. This week that would mean a walk on the wild side with Florida State, which has preceded the Tigers into irrelevance by a couple of years but has stirred a bit lately with three straight wins behind sophomore QB Jordan Travis. He has done a bit of a Charlie Ward imitation with his arm and legs and threw three TD passes in a 35-25 upset win Oct. 9 at North Carolina. The Seminoles were perking up offensively with Travis even before last week’s 59-3 rout of UMass and have scored almost 43 ppg in the winning streak. As badly as Clemson is going now, we can’t dismiss the Seminoles scoring their first series win since 2014. Totals alert: Swinney’s only Over this season needed OT help at NC State, so bettors might look a bit at the Tigers’ recent 6-1 Under trend.

— Bruce Marshall



It’s a homecoming of sorts for Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall, who spent 11 seasons in Provo before leaving BYU for Charlottesville in 2015. It has worked well for Mendenhall with the Cavaliers, who look bowl-bound again and still might have a shot at the ACC Coastal if someone can beat Pitt (Mendenhall gets his chance Nov. 20). In the meantime, in the mold of Taysom Hill and Bryce Perkins, lefty Brennan Armstrong has become the latest Mendenhall do-it-all QB, ranking behind only Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe in total offense at 424 ypg as he shreds ACC defenses with his arm and legs. It is creating a faster tempo than Mendenhall might like, as the Cavs seemed to tire late last week against Georgia Tech and allowed the Jackets to get closer than they should. But Virginia is humming with four straight wins and covers since losing to Wake Forest. It has become apparent that Kalani Sitake, who succeeded Mendenhall in Provo, does not have another Zach Wilson at QB. The Cougars lost a bit of momentum in October after a 5-0 start, dropping verdicts at home against Boise and at Baylor, and are now on a three-game spread skid after failing to cover in last week’s close win at Washington State. The matchup of concern for Sitake is a pass defense allowing more than 70 percent completions against Power 5 foes trying to slow the whirlwind Armstrong. If the Cougars can’t, it’s not clear they have enough offense to trade points in what will surely be an intense effort by the Cavs, who will no doubt sense what this game means to their coach.   

— Bruce Marshall



If that was a chess match between Kentucky and Mississippi State last year in Lexington, then Mark Stoops was Bobby Fischer and Mike Leach was Boris Spassky as the Wildcats completely confounded Leach’s QBs in a grinding 24-2 win. So flustered were Leach’s quarterbacks that KJ Costello, who was really never the same thereafter and soon out of the lineup, and freshman Will Rogers combined for six interceptions, including a back-breaking pick-six in the fourth quarter. It will be no surprise if Mississippi State puts the ball in the air 70 times as it did last season, though Rogers might soon be carrying a Max Scherzer-like tired arm after averaging 60 tosses per game in his last five outings. Leach’s reluctance to bother with establishing a running game could once again play into the hands of the ballhawks on Stoops’ nationally ranked defense. Penn State transfer Will Levis provides Kentucky a bit more of an aerial threat than did Terry Wilson last year, and the Wildcats have a dynamite ground-game diversion in slashing Chris Rodriguez, who has rushed for 775 yards and is rated by some as the best running back in the SEC. Mostly because Kentucky has been such a positive point-spread force this season, going 6-1 vs. line, a case can be made to overlook the series trend that the host team has won and covered six straight matchups.

— Bruce Marshall



Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt parted ways Monday with coach Matt Wells, just 13-17 since 2019 after a grating one-point loss at home to Kansas State. Moving up in the interim will be offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who, sources say, will have a legit audition the rest of the season to keep the job on a full-time basis. The attack-minded Cumbie doesn’t figure to change some of the wild series trends in an annual matchup that will surely be missed in a few years when the Sooners leave the Big 12 for the SEC. Matchups in the last decade have featured a truckload of points, scored mostly by Oklahoma, which has generated a mind-numbing 346 in the last six meetings. After its unexpected scare at Kansas last week, OU should also benefit from playing at home, with the home team covering seven of the last eight in the series. That close call in Lawrence ought to awaken the Sooners, who have made it to the Final Four three times in the Lincoln Riley era but never as unbeatens, so OU is plowing new territory. Riley’s midstream switch to freshman QB Caleb Williams is also one of the storylines of the season, with preseason Heisman favorite Spencer Rattler forced to the bench. But Wiiliams has deserved the promotion after sparking a dramatic comeback against Texas and using his improvisational skills to help stave off the upset-minded Jayhawks. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders have been without Oregon transfer QB Tyler Shough since late September, though holdover Henry Colombi has been a serviceable replacement. Oklahoma has handled big prices at home against this foe for most of the last decade, though the question is how Tech reacts to the midseason coaching change.

— Bruce Marshall



These programs have displayed some hostilities in the past, such as when Auburn stole coach Tommy Tuberville from Ole Miss after the 1998 season, creating some bad blood that boiled for several years. More recently, a very curious trend of visitor success has developed, with the road team covering a stunning seven straight times. Gus Malzahn went out a winner with the Tigers against the Rebels last season by winning at Vaught-Hemingway when the good Bo Nix showed up with 238 yards passing and 52 more on the ground. Therein always lies the key with Auburn, however, as Nix has continued his Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde pattern — bad enough to get pulled by Bryan Harsin in a desperate game against Georgia State but good enough to go into Baton Rouge and take out LSU the next week. Which Nix will show up this week? At least we have a better idea about Lane Kiffin’s QB, Matt Corral, still hanging around in the Heisman Trophy discussion and capable of producing much more than his 185 yards passing and 34 yards rushing in a rather subdued win over LSU last week. The difference between Corral 2020 and Corral 2021 is the reduction of mistakes. That often proved a killer when throwing 14 picks a year ago as opposed to only one this year. We don’t want to reduce this to a Corral-vs.-Nix argument, but that might be a legit case to make. So would that curious series road trend, and it would be no surprise to see that extend another year.

— Bruce Marshall



It is not lost on the Georgia support base that the landmark game of the Bulldogs’ last national title season in 1980 was at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. They still talk about that 26-21 win in Athens, but we suspect it might not be as dramatic this week. It’s also a revenge game for Kirby Smart, who hasn’t lost since the 44-28 beating the Gators laid on him at last year’s cocktail party, and QB Stetson Bennett, who endured a rough afternoon when completing just 5 of 16 passes and separating his shoulder on his best play of the day, a 32-yard TD pass. Dan Mullen, however, is not getting the same production at QB he was at this time last year from the departed Kyle Trask. Controversy is boiling again after Emory Jones was pulled at LSU for Anthony Richardson in a hard-to-digest 49-42 loss before last week’s bye. But the inconsistencies of each only figure to be exacerbated by the Bulldogs’ raucous, top-ranked defense, which has been wrecking opposing offenses since the Clemson opener. Meanwhile, quarterback JT Daniels could be available from his lat injury for the first time in a month. But it’s apparent that Smart’s offense works just as smoothly with Bennett, who would also seem to have a bit of a score to settle Saturday.   

— Bruce Marshall

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