The ninth week of the college football campaign signals the beginning of closing time for true national championship contenders.
With only four or five games left on the docket for most AP Top-25 ranked teams, the pressure is mounting to finish off solid seasons with winning streaks. And for the nine unbeaten teams remaining, securing a spot in the four-team playoff that caps the year could be just a few more wins away.
America’s best college football teams will face a reprieve this week too, as top-ranked Alabama (8-0) is guaranteed to stay out of the win column for once. That’s because the defending national champs are on their bye week, but for contending programs looking to gain ground, the Crimson Tide taking a Saturday off from their typical dominance is surely a sight for sore eyes.
As for the second-ranked team in the land, that position within the AP’s rankings has a new owner after head coach Jim Harbaugh led Michigan (7-0) to yet another blowout performance. Last week’s 41-8 demolition of Illinois was the Wolverines’ fifth victory by more than 30 points this season, a run of pure mastery on both sides of the ball that has propelled Michigan to the second overall ranking.
This Saturday the Wolverines make the short hour-long trip from Ann Arbor to East Lansing, where they’ll play Michigan State (2-5) in the latest battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. The Spartans usually give their cross-state rivals stiff competition in this rivalry game – winning seven of the last eight contests in fact – but this year’s squad has lost five straight games after opening the year 2-0.
The bookmakers at online sportsbook Bovada don’t believe an upset is in the works this time around, and they have Michigan as heavy 24-point road favorites.
Third-ranked Clemson (7-0) returns from its bye week to take on 12th-ranked Florida State (5-2) in a clash of ACC powerhouses.
The Tigers are rolling towards another playoff berth, following last year’s undefeated regular season and narrow loss to Alabama in the title game. The Seminoles, meanwhile, are hoping to return to the postseason’s promised land after 2013’s title run and a bitter playoff loss the following year.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is enjoying a Heisman candidacy season on the strength of his dual aerial and ground attack, while his counterpart Deondre Francois is putting up similar numbers for the Seminoles.
The game will be played in Florida, but Clemson is the favorite by a 5-point margin according to Bovada.
Fourth-ranked Washington (7-0) also hits the road to play a ranked team, facing 17th-ranked Utah (7-1) in a Pac-12 tilt. Both teams have exceeded preseason expectations by a mile, and a victory in this game would go a long way toward sending a second Pac-12 team to the playoff after Oregon broke through back in 2014.
Even as the road team, the Huskies and their high-flying offense – which is scoring 48.3 points per game for the fourth-most prolific output in the nation – may be too much for Utah’s 60th-ranked offense (30.6 points per game) to keep up with. The oddsmakers at Bovada agree, and they’ve installed Washington as big 10-point road favorites.
Other matchups involving unbeaten teams include the following:
No. 5 Nebraska (7-0) vs. No. 11 Wisconsin (5-2) | Wisconsin (-8.5)
No. 8 Baylor (6-0) vs. Texas (3-4) | Baylor (-3.5)
No. 10 West Virginia (6-0) vs. Oklahoma State (5-2) | West Virginia (-4)
No. 13 Boise State (7-0) vs. Wyoming (5-2) | Boise State (-14)