College football best bets for Week 9
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In a conference full of quarterbacks who are Heisman Trophy candidates and NFL prospects, Bryson Barnes is different. He grew up on his family’s pig farm and is a former walk-on, and that’s why Barnes is a perfect fit for the Utah football program.
The Utes are tough in the trenches, using their strength on the defensive and offensive lines to break down and overpower most opponents, and winning the line-of-scrimmage battle is the first step to winning games. The tone is set by coach Kyle Whittingham, a former linebacker who could pass for an arm-wrestling champion.
Aside from the Pac-12 hardware in the trophy case, there’s not much flash to Utah football. Still, when the game was on the line at the Los Angeles Coliseum last week, the pig farmer raced 26 yards through the USC defense to set up the winning field goal as time expired. Barnes finished with 292 total yards (235 passing, 57 rushing) and four touchdowns to outduel Caleb Williams, the Trojans’ former Heisman winner.
Oregon quarterback Bo Nix, still in the Heisman hunt, has 19 touchdown passes and leads the nation in completion percentage (78.4). Nix has thrown one interception while getting sacked only four times in seven games.
The Ducks are faster, flashier, more explosive offensively and deserve to be favored against the Utes on Saturday in Salt Lake City. The line is 6.5 across the board, so wait to see if +7 shows before kickoff. I rarely recommend buying the half-point, but I would in this case.
Whittingham, who has talked about how much he loves the underdog role, is a home ‘dog for the first time in five years. Utah has won 18 in a row and 29 of its past 30 at home.
Pick: Utah +7 (-130)
Last week’s plays in this column went 4-2. The season record (20-23-3) still needs some work. I dropped Colorado +17 from this playlist after the line dipped to 15 on Friday morning, so I’ll go with eight more bets for Week 9 (home team in CAPS):
The Volunteers are 5-0 at home and 0-2 on the road, with both losses by double digits. In a 34-20 loss at Alabama a week ago, Tennessee was outscored 27-0 in the second half, and there likely will be an emotional and physical hangover from the trip to Tuscaloosa. This can be a get-right game for Wildcats coach Mark Stoops and quarterback Devin Leary. Look for Ray Davis, who rushed for 280 yards against Florida, to carry Kentucky to the cover.
Graham Mertz, a Wisconsin transfer, has been surprisingly good for the Gators with 12 touchdown passes and two interceptions. He’s also supported by a solid running attack. The Bulldogs, who have not been great against a soft schedule, go to Jacksonville with an offense that must find a new way to thrive without injured tight end Brock Bowers.
It appears Jason Bean, not Jalon Daniels, will be the Jayhawks’ starting quarterback again this week, but that’s OK because Bean has big-game experience. Kansas coach Lance Leipold is better as an underdog and he’s 4-0 at home this season, including a 51-22 victory over Central Florida on Oct. 7. The Sooners, who barely got by UCF 31-29 last week, are in the middle of the toughest stretch of their schedule and have Oklahoma State on deck.
After back-to-back losses, the Trojans’ character and toughness will be tested. USC coach Lincoln Riley missed practices with the flu this week while his quarterback, Caleb Williams, played courtside celebrity at the Lakers’ game Thursday night and did not seem laser-focused on the Golden Bears. USC allowed 164 points in its past four games.
The Sun Devils are due for a breakthrough following narrow losses to Washington, Colorado, Cal and USC. The switch to quarterback Trenton Bourguet has helped the Arizona State offense. It’s tough to figure out what has gone wrong with the Cougars, who have dropped three straight games and were blown out 44-6 by Arizona.
Maybe the bye came at a bad time for the Wildcats, who stunningly blew out Washington State on Oct. 14, but let’s hope not. Arizona coach Jedd Fisch has a hot offense and a much-improved defense that is capable of controlling Beavers running back Damien Martinez. The Cats should be live ‘dogs in this late-night game in Tucson.
Injuries to quarterback Tanner Mordecai and running back Chez Mellusi have considerably weakened the Wisconsin offense. The Badgers will need their defense, running back Braelon Allen, who has 333 yards in the past three games, and some nighttime magic at Camp Randall Stadium to stay in this game. Star wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. will probably bail out the Ohio State offense. The Buckeyes get the win against their former interim coach, Luke Fickell, but this game of Fickell-ball should be low-scoring and ugly.
For those who want action on the last game of the night, bet on scoring and don’t hope for something positive from the crippled home ‘dog in Honolulu. The Hawaii defense surrendered 42 points to New Mexico a week ago. Warriors quarterback Brayden Schager likes to take deep shots and has passed for 772 yards in the past two games. The Spartans averaged 47 points in their past two games, and their quarterback, Chevan Cordeiro, will be motivated to put on a show as a former transfer from Hawaii.