The Week 9 edition of college football picks against the spread is highlighted by an intriguing matchup in the ACC as underrated Georgia Tech makes the trip to Clemson to face the defending national champs. Elsewhere, surging Arizona hosts Washington State, Ohio State and Penn State clash in Columbus, and Michigan State takes its undefeated Big Ten record to Evanston, Ill., to take on Northwestern. Here are 10 predictions for games against the spread:
Georgia Tech (+14.5) over Clemson
Clemson is back in action for the first time since its shocking loss at Syracuse on Oct. 13. With only one loss and wins over Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech, the Tigers remain very much alive in the race for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Kelly Bryant has been slowed by an ankle injury but is expected to play. Georgia Tech has lost two games, each by one point (to Tennessee and Miami). The Yellow Jackets have scored at least 33 points in all but one game (they scored 24 at Miami in the rain.) They’ve also been solid on defense, allowing only 313.8 yards per game and 4.6 yards per play in ACC action — down from 401.6 and 5.8 a year ago. This team is underrated nationally.
Clemson 31, Georgia Tech 27
Arizona (-3) over Washington State
The emergence of Khalil Tate (above, right) as one of the nation's elite offensive players is one of the most surprising developments of the season. In the last three games, the Wildcats’ quarterback has completed 31-of-41 passes for 468 yards (11.4 yards per attempt) while rushing for 694 yards on a 15.0-yard average. Tate’s rise to the top spot of the depth chart has coincided with Arizona’s emergence as a legitimate threat in the Pac-12 South. The Wildcats, picked by most to finish sixth in the division, are 3–1 in the league and tied with USC and Arizona State for first in the loss column. Washington State is fresh off a rare shutout (28–0 over Colorado), a nice bounce back after the 37–3 loss at Cal. In their three Pac-12 wins, the Cougars are allowing only 12.3 points per game — a surprisingly low number given the recent history of the program.
Arizona 34, Washington State 30
Toledo (-26) over Ball State
Toledo’s schedule will prevent it from any serious consideration for a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl, but the Rockets might be one of the top Group of 5 teams in the country. They are 6–1 overall, with a 52–30 loss at Miami (Fla.) as the only setback. Quarterback Logan Woodside has thrown 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions, and tailback Terry Swanson is averaging over 100 yards rushing per game. The outlook isn’t nearly as promising at Ball State. The Cardinals have lost their three MAC games by a combined score of 142–9.
Toledo 55, Ball State 3
San Jose State (+13.5) over BYU
After last week’s 33–17 loss at East Carolina, BYU has scored a total of nine offensive touchdowns in seven games and ranks 128th in the nation in scoring offense (12.1 ppg). A program that has won at least eight games in six straight seasons is in the midst of a seven-game losing streak and is staring at a potential one- or two-win season. San Jose is having its own struggles. The Spartans are 0–7 against FBS opponents and had scored 16 points or fewer in five straight games before “breaking out” with 26 in last week’s 11-point loss at Hawaii. Bottom line: Both teams are really bad. And even though BYU is probably better, it’s tough to envision the Cougars beating any FBS team by more than 10 points.
BYU 14, San Jose State 10
Penn State (+7) over Ohio State
Two of the four remaining 4–0 Big Ten teams meet on Saturday in Columbus in one of the biggest games of the college football season. We think Ohio State has made dramatic improvements on offense after its loss at home to Oklahoma, but the Buckeyes have been posting gaudy numbers against the likes of UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska. Penn State, obviously, will provide the biggest test of the season — much bigger than even Oklahoma. The Nittany Lions lead the nation in scoring defense (9.6 ppg) and rank third in the nation in yards allowed per play (3.98). In five games against Power 5 opponents, they have given up 14, 19, 14, 7 and 13 points.
Ohio State 24, Penn State 20
Louisiana Tech (-13) over Rice
Louisiana Tech, 19–5 in Conference USA from 2014-16, is 1–2 in the league after losing consecutive games to UAB and Southern Miss. The Bulldogs should have no trouble getting back to .500 with Rice next up on the schedule. The Owls have been one of the worst offensive teams in the nation in 2017, having scored more than 12 points only one time (against UTEP). This is a really bad team that will have trouble scoring enough to cover the 13-point spread.
Louisiana Tech 38, Rice 12
FAU (-7.5) over Western Kentucky
In last week’s 69–31 win over North Texas, Florida Atlantic became the 14th team since the year 2000 to record more than 800 yards of offense in a single game. After a sluggish start, Lane Kiffin has the Owls rolling; they have rushed for at least 250 yards in five straight games, including 400-plus on the ground in each of the last two. Western Kentucky is perhaps the least impressive five-win team in the nation. The Hilltoppers have wins over Eastern Kentucky, Ball State, UTEP, Charlotte and Old Dominion — each ranked 117th or worse in the latest Athlon Sports 130 rankings (with the exception of Eastern Kentucky, which is an FCS school).
FAU 38, Western Kentucky 28
Missouri (-12.5) over UConn
Missouri’s record is not good; the Tigers are 2–5 overall, with its wins coming against Missouri State in Week 1 and Idaho last Saturday. But this is a team with some very capable offensive players who have made a habit of exploiting matchups with inferior opponents in the past two seasons. In five previous games against non-Power 5 foes in the Barry Odom/Josh Heupel era, Missouri has scored 61 points (Eastern Michigan), 79 (Delaware State), 45 (Middle Tennessee), 72 (Missouri State) and 68 (Idaho). This UConn team is probably better than any of those teams except Middle Tennessee, but Missouri should still score a bunch of points.
Missouri 41, UConn 14
Fresno State (-20.5) over UNLV
Fresno State’s unlikely ascension to the top of the West Division of the Mountain West continues. The Bulldogs won at San Diego State 27–3 on Saturday and are now two games up on the Aztecs in the standings (and they own the tiebreaker). And there is nothing fluky about this team; Fresno’s four wins against FBS opponents have come by an average of 24.8 points. UNLV has failed to take a step forward in Tony Sanchez’s third season. The Rebels are 2–5 overall and are coming off of a 52–38 loss at home to Utah State.
Fresno State 41, UNLV 10
Northwestern (+1.5) over Michigan State
Michigan State is 4–0 in the Big Ten, with each of the four wins coming by eight points or fewer (and the final margin in the Indiana game only ballooned to eight after the Hoosiers let Michigan State score in the final minutes). There is something to be said for finding ways to win, but at some point the Spartans’ magic will run out. Northwestern is playing better of late, stringing together back-to-back Big Ten wins (at Maryland, vs. Iowa) after opening the league season with a nine-point loss at Wisconsin and a 24-point loss at home to Penn State. The Wildcats haven’t been a threat in Big Ten West (as we predicted in Athlon Sports), but this is still a solid team.
Northwestern 21, Michigan State 20
Last Week: 6-4