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College Football Picks 2018: Week Nine

Feleipe Franks, Florida
(#9) Florida Gators vs. (#7) Georgia Bulldogs (neutral site)
Its been awhile since the Florida-Georgia annual rivalry had serious national implications, but here we are, with both teams entering the game with serious Playoff aspirations. The Bulldogs have played superb football outside of a weak showing against LSU on the road, putting some pressure to prove they still have what it takes to hold onto the improved SEC East. The offense still remains under the guidance of sophomore Jake Fromm, but for how much longer? True freshman Justin Fields has impressed in short spurts, and adds a dynamic element as a dual threat. Might Kirby Smart turn to him to switch up this physical Florida defense? Either way, UGA is still going to lean on their ground game, led by Elijah Holyfield and D'Andre Swift. The 1-2 punch have had their moments, but will need to perform over all sixty minutes if the Bulldogs are to come out on top. Georgia would also love wide receiver Mecole Hardman to regain his early-season form. After a dominant first couple of weeks, he has slowed down significantly. When Hardman is making big-time plays on the outside, this offense really opens up. Florida features a defense that is aggressive and deep, although the secondary has been hit by some injuries. The pass rush has been ferocious all season long, and will give UGA's O-Line plenty of problems, as Jachai Polite (seven sacks on the year) and Jabari Zuniga (4.5) know how to create chaos in opposing backfields. The main reason for the Gators' improvement from 2017 has been the offense, as new had man Dan Mullen has made it much more explosive and consistent. Quarterback Feleipe Franks has taken big leaps forward, but he does face a Georgia defense led by corner Deandre Baker and a number of superb linebackers. Franks wasn't able to make the big throws UF needed last season, but has that changed? He has a plethora of running backs that can take pressure off his shoulders and an improved receivers corps, with the most dangerous being Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson. Mullen will be creative in attacking this Georgia defense, but he also needs his skill position players to prove themselves. Another interesting factor to watch will be the special teams duel. Georgia tends to struggle when their special teams is off (just watch the LSU game) but Rodrigo Blankenship's big leg could give them an advantage over the Gators here. This rivalry is going to the most exciting and hard-fought it has been in some time, and neutral sites always add more intrigue. Despite the fact their loss to LSU exposed some of the big issues with this team, I like Georgia to hold on here. The offense is a little bit more proven, and I'm just not sure Franks is ready to go out and win this one for the Gators in a tough environment.
The Pick: Georgia, 30 Florida, 24

(#18) Iowa Hawkeyes @ (#17) Penn State Nittany Lions
Two classic Big Ten squads clash on Saturday at Happy Valley, both with different things on the line. Iowa is looking to take control of the Big Ten West with Wisconsin's recent struggles, while Penn State is just trying to keep pace out East with Ohio State and Michigan. Iowa has been using a familiar formula to jump to a 6-1 start, running the ball behind a physical offensive front and making smart, short throws. Quarterback Nate Stanley has had a very fine 2018, and he has two of the best tight ends in the entire country in Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. Both are nightmare matchups for defenders because of their mix of speed and size, and it will be interesting to watch how Penn State chooses to defend the pairing. On the ground, running back Toren Young isn't super explosive, but he has great vision and finds ways to move the chains. The Nittany Lions have had some issues defensively this season, which was to be expected. Their numbers aren't terrible, but their inexperience in the secondary has left them prone to the big play, which could haunt them in this game. PSU can counter with their own offense, which is also led by a veteran quarterback in Trace McSorley. McSorley has had a strong senior season, but he has to be more efficient, particularly later in games. He will be aided by plenty of other offensive playmakers, namely running back Miles Sanders and wide out K.J. Hamler. Sanders has done a fine job replacing the departed Saquon Barkley, but he does face an Iowa defense that has a stingy rush defense. Containing Hamler and Juwan Johnson should be the ultimate goal for this Hawkeyes defense. If they are able to limit PSU's big plays and possibly create some turnovers, they should be able to keep pace. The most important part of this game for the Nittany Lions will be maintaining throughout the entire game. Against both Ohio State and Michigan State, their two losses, they started off hot only to take their foot off the gas pedal, resulting in losses. They need to get out fast and continue to attack for all four quarters if they are to fend off Iowa. The Hawkeyes are playing great football, and they have an extremely balanced lineup on both sides of the ball. With that being said, going into Happy Valley and coming out victorious is an awfully tough task, and PSU should be motivated. I like the Nittany Lions to come out on top in a good one.
The Pick: Penn State, 35 Iowa, 28

(#14) Washington State Cougars @ (#24) Stanford Cardinal
Following their dismantling of Oregon last Saturday, Washington State now appears to be not only the favorite in the North Division, but likely the conference as a whole. Their 6-1 start has been surprising considering their losses suffered this off-season, but the formula has been the same: passing the ball early and often. East Carolina transfer Gardner Minshew has been a revelation at quarterback; he has showcased a massive arm that can make all the throws, but he has limited turnovers. On the outside, a trio of receivers, Davontavean Martin, Dezmon Patmon and Easop Winston have given defenses absolute fits. This high-octane offense will face an intriguing test in Stanford's defense. The Cardinal aren't the shutdown defense they once were, but they have a good amount of experience on the back-end, and David Shaw has seen this offense enough times to know how to stop it. The Cardinal will need their offense to keep pace, even if they're able to slow down Minshew and company. In order to do that, they'll need their rushing attack to finally get things going, namely last year's Heisman runner-up Bryce Love. Love hasn't had 100 yards since the second week of the season against USC (he had over 100 yards twelve times in 2017). The Cougars defense has played well so far this season, but Stanford has the capability to have success on the ground. They'll also need quarterback K.J. Costello to make some big throws in order to stretch the defense. Costello has made serious strides in his development so far in 2018, but he still struggles with turnovers, which is worrying against this aggressive WSU secondary. On the outside, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has proven himself as a dangerous deep threat, already managing nine touchdowns on the season. He'll have to produce here, as do other Stanford receivers, namely ultra-reliable Trent Irwin and speedy freshman Osiris St. Brown. I'm still not completely sure how I feel about either one of these teams; the Cougars might need another big victory or two to really lock down this division, while the Cardinal have the talent to be much better than 24th in the country. I think there is a strong chance this is a hangover game for Washington State following their big win over Oregon while hosting College GameDay. If Love can regain some of his 2017 form, I like the Cardinal to squeeze out a win here.
The Pick: Stanford, 31 Washington State, 28

Other Picks
(#6) Texas @ Oklahoma State: Texas, 42 Oklahoma State, 30
Kansas State @ (#8) Oklahoma: Oklahoma, 49 Kansas State, 27
(#2) Clemson @ Florida State: Clemson, 34 Florida State, 17
(#3) Notre Dame vs. Navy (neutral site): Notre Dame, 24 Navy, 20
(#16) Texas A&M @ Mississippi State: Mississippi State, 27 Texas A&M, 21

Current Picks Record: 50-14

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