Week 9 games to watch center on Big Ten East clashes

October 30, 2021
Michigan State players celebrate after Saturday's win over Indiana.

The college football lineup for October’s final Saturday offers plenty of treats. There could be a few tricks as well, though we can’t really predict those in advance – they’re tricks, after all.

For your Halloween weekend viewing pleasure, we recommend eight contests that could be worth a look. As always, more are possible, and some of these might not live up to expectations. But we like this lineup that will take you from noon well past midnight in the Eastern Time Zone, representing six conferences and featuring three Top 25 matchups. We’ll begin with a battle of unbeatens in the Great Lake State.

No. 6 Michigan at No. 7 Michigan State

Noon ET, Fox

Why watch: The crowded Big Ten East field will finally begin to sort itself out as this weekend kicks off the all-important stretch drive. The Wolverines and Spartans have taken similar paths to 7-0, with the closest call for both teams coming in three-point decisions against Nebraska. The Spartans have the nation’s rushing leader, RB Kenneth Walker III, averaging 142.4 yards a game. The Wolverines have a strong ground attack themselves, with RBs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins combining for over 190 per contest. Both teams also have top-20 scoring defenses, with playmakers like Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson and Spartans’ S Xavier Henderson. The home team has a bit more punch in the passing game thanks to QB Peyton Thorne, but Wolverines’ QB Cade McNamara is steady and keeps the chains moving with a 46.5% conversion rate on third down.

Why it could disappoint: This isn’t likely to be a blowout either way. The intensity level should be at maximum, but that might not translate into a ton of big plays.

No. 9 Mississippi at No. 21 Auburn

7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Why watch: These SEC West contenders need a little help in the form of another Alabama loss in order to win the division. Unfortunately for the Rebels, they’ve already had their chance. Auburn will get its shot in the season-ending Iron Bowl, of course, but the Tigers can’t have any more ‘L’s on their record before they get there. After surviving a couple of nail biters, the Rebels were happy to build an early lead in last week’s triumph against LSU. QB Matt Corral and Co. are probably in for another shootout this time, as Auburn QB Bo Nix has been playing very well.

Why it could disappoint: It probably won’t. Neither team commits many turnovers, so it’s unlikely either will build an insurmountable lead. The game could slow down if Auburn emphasizes the run to control the clock, but the Rebels’ ability to answer via the quick strike could make that difficult.

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Texas at No. 18 Baylor

Noon ET, ABC

Why watch: Meanwhile in the Big 12, the picture is quite muddled. Oklahoma is alone at the top, but several challengers including Baylor are lined up behind the Sooners and will get a shot at overtaking them next month. The Longhorns, with two league losses, will need a whole lot of chaos to finish in the top two but have a chance to start creating some here. Bears’ QB Gerry Bohannon is quietly having a superb season with 12 TD passes and just one pick. Texas will counter with RB Bijan Robinson, who has a lofty 1,131 total yards from scrimmage and 13 TDs.

Why it could disappoint: Robinson, however, seemed curiously underutilized late in the Longhorns’ last two outings, both losses. If the Bears can keep him in check long enough to build a sizable cushion, the Longhorns could again struggle to close.

No. 16 Southern Methodist at Houston

7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Why watch: Cincinnati has rightly been getting most of the publicity from the American Athletic Conference, but there are a couple of other contenders still unscathed in league play. Unfortunately for the Mustangs and Cougars, that will no longer be the case after this key contest that will determine the Bearcats’ primary challenger going forward. SMU is also looking to protect its unblemished record, of course, but Houston has rattled off six wins since an opening-week loss to Texas Tech. Mustangs’ QB Tanner Mordecai enters the game with 29 scoring passes, tied for first in the nation. Cougars’ QB Clayton Tune isn’t quite as prolific but has a healthy 69.1% completion rate.

Why it could disappoint: As mentioned, Houston hasn’t lost since visiting Texas Tech, but hasn’t seen an offense of that caliber since then, either. If the Mustangs do make it a track meet, the Cougars might not have the fire power to keep up.

No. 9 Iowa at Wisconsin


Why watch: We’ll return to the Big Ten East in a moment, but this clash in the West needs attention. The division looked settled just a couple of weeks ago with the Hawkeyes flying high. But Iowa’s home loss to Purdue left the door open, and the Badgers, winners of three in a row after a tough 1-3 start, could be ready to take advantage. Wisconsin’s most recent conquest came against that same Purdue squad, powered by RBs Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen. The Badgers also have the nation’s second-ranked defense, which could make life difficult for Iowa QB Spencer Petras and RB Tyler Goodson. The Hawkeyes, however, have a pretty stout defense as well. Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz is mistake prone, particularly when pressed into comeback mode.

Why it could disappoint: Teams that are already somewhat offensively challenged up against stiff defenses could easily lead to a painful viewing experience – unless you really like punts. A multiple-score edge either way will be hard to overcome.

No. 17 Penn State at No. 5 Ohio State

7:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Why watch: Expected to be the week’s second top-10 showdown in the Big Ten East, this matchup lost a lot of its luster when the Nittany Lions dropped a nine-OT marathon to Illinois last week. The fact that Penn State QB Sean Clifford was playing through an injury didn’t help matters, though Lions’ coach James Franklin said Clifford will be closer to 100% for this date with the surging Buckeyes. QB C.J. Stroud and RB TreVeyon Henderson have had the Ohio State offense humming to the tune of 49.3 points a game.

Why it could disappoint: The Nittany Lions’ defense has played extremely well, but it can’t hold up for 60 minutes. If the Penn State offense bogs down again, it could be a long night in Columbus.

No. 1 Georgia vs. Florida in Jacksonville

3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Why watch: This heated annual showdown would ordinarily be much higher on the list, as it often is for all the marbles in the SEC East. That really isn’t the case this year as the Bulldogs have things all but sewn up. However, as mentioned, it’s a rivalry game, so don’t expect the Gators to just fold the tent. Both teams have utilized two QBs over the course of the season. Florida’s Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson have combined for 15 TD passes but also 12 interceptions. Georgia’s offense has been in steadier hands with Stetson Bennett stepping in effectively for J.T. Daniels, who has battled an injury for much of the year.

Why it could disappoint: Daniels is likely to take the field this week, but even if he can’t, there’s still a significant talent gap along the line of scrimmage. The Bulldogs have dominated on both sides thanks to guys like DT Jordan Davis and OT Jamaree Salyer, while the Gators have been pushed around at times. Yes, strange things can happen when archrivals collide, but the Bulldogs could and should have this one put away quickly.

Fresno State at No. 21 San Diego State

10:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN

Why watch: If you’re still awake, this Mountain West clash could provide an entertaining nightcap. The Aztecs managed to escape Air Force unscathed last week. They put their perfect record on the line again, this time facing an opponent with a very different style. The Bulldogs had a narrow escape themselves last Saturday, stopping a two-point attempt in the final seconds to outlast Nevada. But a win here would give Fresno a share of the lead in the league’s West Division. Bulldogs’ QB Jake Haener has 22 TD throws through eight games, but SDSU has a stingy defense that has snagged nine interceptions. The Aztecs’ offense is far less flashy, but RB Greg Bell is averaging a shade under 5.0 yards per carry.

Why it could disappoint: The Aztecs can be a challenge to watch, though it might be close if you can make it to the end – their last two wins were each by a mere six points. But their struggles in the passing game could prove costly if the Bulldogs can pull ahead.

Follow colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus

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