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Tunney: Top five games of CFB Week 9

Another week of college football brings another slate of games, each with unique stories, traditions and players. In the words of famous sportscaster Brad Nessler, “you can go to every stadium in the country, and never see the same thing twice.”

5. Michigan State @  No. 4 Michigan, 7:30 p.m., ABC, (Michigan -22.5)

This iconic battle is waged for the 115th time this Saturday, as two teams with divergent seasons clash in a rivalry matchup. Michigan is 7-0 and has looked the part of a team willing to challenge Ohio State again for Big Ten supremacy. The Wolverine offensive attack possesses a talented group of wide receivers and strong backfield led by running back Blake Corum. Corum has received some Heisman trophy hype, the prognosticators currently project him with the fourth-best odds to win the award. 

After a good deal of preseason fanfare, Michigan State has had a rocky season, going 3-4. Their offense hasn’t gotten over the loss of NFL running back Kenneth Walker III, although the team still has playmakers. Wide Receiver Jaylen Reed had a game-winning catch against Wisconsin last week. Defensive end Jacoby Windmon has won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week twice. The Wolverines may be the better team talent-wise, but to achieve their goals they’ll have to get past a team that has been their kryptonite. Jim Harbaugh is 0-2 against Spartan head coach Mel Tucker, and the Wolverines are 4-10 in the last 14 matchups. 

4. Notre Dame @ No. 16 Syracuse, Noon, ABC, (Syracuse -2.5)

After an up and down month, the Irish travel east to central New York to play a surprisingly good Syracuse team. The Irish had the benefit of a get-right game last weekend, beating an inferior UNLV squad 44-21. Throughout the year, tight end Michael Mayer has looked like the real deal; he’s the leading receiver on an Irish team that needs more playmakers to emerge. Running back Audric Estime has run well at times but has struggled with ball security, fumbling three times in his past four games. If the Irish want to upset Syracuse, they will need to take care of the ball. Syracuse is 6-1, coming off of a tight loss to fifth-ranked Clemson. Running back Sean Tucker has been the best player for the Orange this year, which makes head coach Dino Babers’ decision to largely exclude him from the game plan against Clemson all the more confusing. Tucker only carried the ball five times for 54 yards. Quarterback Garrett Shrader has had a good year for the Orange, and if they want to stay in contention for a New Year’s Six Bowl Game, they will need this win. 

3. No. 9 Oklahoma State @ No. 22 Kansas State, 3:30 p.m., FOX, (Kansas State -1)

The Big 12 plays host to another important battle, a dogfight that could potentially decide the second spot in the Big 12 Championship Game. Both teams have lost to TCU, who has taken charge as the best team in the Big 12 thus far. Oklahoma State responded from their double overtime loss to TCU two weeks ago (their only loss of the season) with a huge win over Texas. Quarterback Spencer Sanders is dealing with undisclosed injuries, but he fought through to give the Cowboys an important win. Sanders threw for 391 yards and 2 touchdowns last week.

Kansas State has lost two games, to TCU and a ranked Tulane team, and have shown flashes of being a conference contender. The Wildcats were up 28-10 on TCU at one point before collapsing and allowing a comeback. Kansas State also barely avoided an upset against Iowa State. Quarterback Adrian Martinez also was injured against TCU, and although backup Will Howard filled in admirably, the starter’s health is a paramount concern. Both teams need the game to stay in the battle for the Big 12 Championship. 

2.  No. 19 Kentucky @ No. 3 Tennessee, 7:00 p.m., ESPN, (Tennessee -12.5)

This showdown between two ranked SEC teams has potential to be a classic. Quarterbacks Hendon Hooker and Will Levis are two of the most talented in the country for their respective teams, and their showdown on Saturday night is going to be fun. Hooker has been the man behind the reins of an insanely talented offensive attack, and his connection with wide receiver Jalin Hyatt might end up leading the Volunteers to the SEC Championship and beyond. The Volunteers are playing their first conference game since their biggest win in years, a 52-49 win over Alabama. Fans stormed the field, uprooting the goal posts and transporting them out of the stadium into the nearby river. Last weekend, the Volunteers put up 65 points on a hapless UT Martin squad. Kentucky is coming off of their bye week, which allowed their star quarterback to get healthy. Two weeks ago, they earned a key win against a ranked Mississippi State, stopping a losing streak of two games. Kentucky’s philosophy is built on running the football and playing strong defense. If they can somehow get defensive stops this Kentucky team could turn Tennessee’s championship dreams into a nightmare.

1. No. 2 Ohio State @ No. 13 Penn State, Noon, FOX, (Ohio State -15.5)

Ohio State is undefeated and has a claim as the best team in the country. Quarterback CJ Stroud has been scary good, with 28 touchdowns compared to just four interceptions. Ohio State has made their living off of having the best wide receiver rooms in the country over the past few seasons and this year is no different. Emeka Egbuka, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Julian Fleming have more than stepped up in the absence of the crown jewel, Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Head coach Ryan Day is hopeful that Smith-Njigba can return for his first game since his injury against Notre Dame. 

Last week, the Buckeyes obliterated an Iowa defense that some called the best in the Big Ten, overcoming a flat start to put up 54 points. Penn State is coming off of a big win against Minnesota that keeps them in the Big Ten Championship race (for the time being). That contention is dependent on a win this weekend. If Penn State loses on Saturday, the Nittany Lions and head coach James Franklin will be effectively out of the running. Franklin’s team has talent, and have played the Buckeyes close in recent years. 

Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney@nd.edu.

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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