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2022 College Football Picks: Week Nine

Miyan Williams, Ohio State
Current Picks Record: 44-28

Upset: 4-4

Superdogs: 4-4

Locks: 3-5

(#2) Ohio State Buckeyes @ (#13) Penn State Nittany Lions

Line: Ohio State -15

O/U: 61.5

Ohio State has arguably been the nation's dominant team over the first eight weeks of the season, but now they get their first true test in the form of Penn State. The Nittany Lions' loss to Michigan derailed their CFB Playoff hopes, but they blew out Minnesota last weekend and could get right back into the mix by upsetting the Buckeyes, a team they've traditionally played tough under James Franklin.

Even though the Ohio State offense has struggled with injuries all season, they're still averaging nearly 50 points per game. Quarterback C.J. Stroud has been the catalyst and remains a Heisman frontrunner, but it's his supporting cast that has to be truly terrifying to opponents. This is the deepest collection of skill position talent in the country and I'm not sure it's particularly close. Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson are an overpowering 1-2 punch at tailback and both are fully healthy, then there's the receiver corps. Emeka Egbuka has stepped up to the leading receiver, but there's also Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming, and now Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Smith-Njigba, many people's Biletnikoff Award favorite entering 2022, has been beat up all season but returned against Iowa last week and is expected to start this game. He may be on a plays limit, but the Buckeyes become even more potent with him on the field. Even guys like tight end Cade Stover can hurt you, taking advantage of the focus opponents pay to the Ohio State receivers. It's a mighty challenge even for elite defenses, and I'm still not entirely sure how good Penn State's defense is. They've been statistically strong for nearly the entire season, but allowed over 400 rushing yards to Michigan and don't quite have the athletes on the line of scrimmage they've had in the past. Corner Joey Porter Jr. is an All-American talent, but PSU doesn't have two or three of him, putting them at a distinct disadvantage on the perimeter.

It's the same old story for Penn State offensively: they will go as quarterback Sean Clifford goes. Overall, the veteran signal-caller has had a fine campaign, but it's anybody's guess what he's going to do in big games. He played one of the worst games of his career in the Michigan loss, but responded by throwing for four touchdowns against Minnesota. He has not played well against Ohio State in the past and faces down a much improved Buckeye defense, but could this be the game he puts it all together? Clifford has been helped by the fact the Nittany Lion ground game has found some playmaking, as true frosh Nick Singleton may be the best freshman in the nation. His explosiveness should add some intrigue to this game, but it's fair to wonder how many opportunities he's going to get. Ohio State has really improved up front and have been more physical than in year's past. They'll have an advantage along the line of scrimmage and will force Clifford to beat them with his arm. Clifford does have the luxury of Parker Washington, Mitchell Tinsley, and Brenton Strange as pass-catchers, but whether he's upright enough to get the ball to them will be the question.

It's never easy to go into Happy Valley and escape with a win, and Penn State has given Ohio State real difficulties in recent years. Even so, I just can't bring myself to take the Nittany Lions in the upset, particularly with the Buckeyes healthier than they've been in recent weeks. There's just too many weapons to contend with and the defense should stymie Clifford and the rest of this PSU offense. 

The Pick: Ohio State, 42 Penn State, 24

(#19) Kentucky Wildcats @ (#3) Tennessee Volunteers

Line: Tennessee -12.5

0/U: 63.5

Sitting at 7-0 and with their biggest game in years next week against Georgia, the excitement around Tennessee is palpable. However, they have to avoid a look-ahead letdown as they welcome 19th-ranked Kentucky to Lexington. The Wildcats don't have the flash or high-scoring offense of the Volunteers, but they're a tough opponent who can give any team fits.

There's nothing particularly exciting about what Kentucky does offensively, and they haven't reached the 30-point threshold in several weeks. With that being said, quarterback Will Levis is still a player with a lot of physical gifts who can make some truly impressive throws, and he has a proven tailback with him in Christopher Rodriguez Jr. After missing the first several games of the year due to suspension, Rodriguez has ran for over 100 yards in two of his last three starts, including 197 and two scores against Mississippi State. Kentucky also boasts a fun collection of receivers, even if this isn't an offense that necessarily airs the ball out, as Tayvion Robinson, Barion Brown, and Dane Key have all had superb seasons. However, the Wildcats' offensive line is the big question mark and they face a Tennessee defense that loves to blitz. I suspect Tennessee will be very aggressive in this one, and there's hope that defensive back Jaylen McCollough could return from his suspension this week, potentially providing another disruptor on the back-end.

There's not a more thrilling offense in college than in Knoxville, where the Volunteers are averaging over 50 points per game. Former Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker is my midseason Heisman winner after what he and star wide out Jalin Hyatt did to Alabama. We always knew Hooker had a great deep ball and could make things happen with his legs, but his decision-making has made this Tennessee team so scary. Despite 194 attempts through the air, he has just one interception, and looks in complete command of everything that's happening on offense. With Hyatt and Bru McCoy terrorizing defenses on the outside, things open up for Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright underneath, a fun 1-2 combo that remains an underrated element of this offense. There's also hope that another Volunteer could be returning offensively as well, in the form of Cedric Tillman. Tillman has missed nearly the entire season, but it sounds like he's progressing well and could return this weekend. If so, that gives Tennessee another weapon for Hooker, and a dangerous one at that. Prior to his injury, Tillman entered the fall as the team's top receiver, before Hyatt's breakout campaign. Does Kentucky have any shot at containing this offense? They'll try and manufacture some pressure and hope to create turnovers, but it's hard to see them having much success. It's not just the tempo of the Tennessee offense that makes them so overwhelming, they play so crisp and in control. It's a lot like what Baylor did in the peak Art Briles days, but even more effective because of Hooker's decision-making and rushing ability. 

The hope for Kentucky is that they can slow down the pace and muck up the game. It's certainly not a bad strategy and this has been a physical team throughout the Mark Stoops era. They are well-rested coming off a bye, but have to go to Neyland Stadium to attempt to spring an upset. I don't think Tennessee will be caught looking ahead, the energy in the program just feels different this year.

The Pick: Tennessee, 45 Kentucky, 30

Michigan State Spartans @ (#4) Michigan Wolverines

Line: Michigan -22

O/U: 54.5

Michigan-Michigan State was one of the games of the year in 2021 and we now get the 2022 edition, albeit with vastly different circumstances. Michigan is once again in the thick of the CFB Playoff race and looks arguably better than the 2021 team, while Michigan State sits 3-4 and is just battling to make a bowl. Yet, rivalry games can always get a bit weird, and the Spartans are hoping to to get their season back-on-track by beating Jim Harbaugh for the third straight season.

It's never easy to bench a quarterback who led you to a College Football Playoff appearance, but that's exactly what Jim Harbaugh did when he named J.J. McCarthy the starter over Cade McNamara. The decision has paid off, as McCarthy's big arm and dynamic rushing ability has opened up this offense in a variety of ways. However, this remains an offense that is led by its rushing attack, with my midseason Doak Walker Award winner, Blake Corum. Corum has been unstoppable this fall, totaling 901 yards and 13 touchdowns, and has hit the century mark in yardage in four straight games. He has to be thrilled to go up against a Michigan State defense that has struggled all season long. Neither the pass defense nor rush defense has been able to string together consecutive weeks of strong play and even with an All-American talent in Jacoby Windmon, the Spartan defensive front is at a severe mismatch. The Wolverines can also keep Corum fresh by leaning on Donovan Edwards, a nice change-of-pace weapon. Although, Edwards was involved in controversy earlier in the week, you would assume he will be playing this Saturday. Add in Ronnie Bell on the perimeter and I have no doubt Michigan will have success moving the football, particularly as they come off a bye.

If Michigan State is to spring an upset, they need more from this offense. The defensive struggles have been frustrating but somewhat expected, but the offensive woes are the real surprise. It's clear that Kenneth Walker III's worth to this offense went far beyond is stat-line, and the Spartans have struggled to find playmakers to replace him. QB Payton Thorne has been a major disappointment, due in large to turnover issues. It certainly looks like Thorne is feeling the pressure of the team's struggles and pressing to try and make things happen, which will not bode well against this opportunistic Wolverine defense. It would help if his receiver corps could develop more consistency, and there appears to be good news on that front. Keon Coleman popped off early before some struggles, but hauled in two touchdown passes against Wisconsin, while Jayden Reed is healthy and playing well. Those two should be able to provide pressure down-the-field, but the Spartans also need a rush offense to keep this Michigan defense honest. Jalen Berger had a huge two-game stretch to open 2022, but has been held in check since, and none of the other pieces on this roster have stepped up. It's a tough matchup against a Wolverine defense that remains one of the best in the nation, despite the turnover they faced this offseason. There is no Aidan Hutchinson on this year's defense, but the defensive front is still physical and well-coached, and the back-end has been led by converted receiver Mike Sanristil. It will take some creativity to move the ball against this unit, and that's not something Michigan State OC Jay Johnson is necessarily known for. 

Rivalry games can get wacky, but it remains difficult to find a reason to take Michigan State in an upset. They got back on track by beating Wisconsin, but this remains one of the nation's most disappointing teams and they have to go to Ann Arbor. Perhaps the offense can match Michigan blow-for-blow for a little, but in the end it will be the Wolverines on top.

The Pick: Michigan, 34 Michigan State, 17 (Michigan State cover)

Other Picks

(#9) Oklahoma State @ (#22) Kansas State -- Manhattan is a more difficult place to play than most give it credit for, but Adrian Martinez is beat up and Oklahoma State is the better team top-to-bottom.

The Pick: Oklahoma State, 28 Kansas State, 20

Florida @ (#1) Georgia -- The latest iteration of the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" could be interesting if the Gator defense can find a way to slow down Stetson Bennett and company, but Florida's maddeningly inconsistent offense makes it difficult to pick an upset.

The Pick: Georgia, 35 Florida, 22

(#17) Illinois @ Nebraska -- Illinois is already firmly in the driver's seat in the Big Ten West, but they could move to 4-1 in the league with a win. The 'Huskers have shown more fight under Mickey Joseph, but the defense simply doesn't have the pieces to slow down Chase Brown and company.

The Pick: Illinois, 27 Nebraska, 14

Upset: Texas A&M over (#15) Ole Miss -- Things are looking dire at A&M right now as they sit at 3-4, but this is still an incredibly talented team that always fights hard at Kyle Field. Plus, I'm still not convinced Ole Miss is a Top 15 nationally, especially with the defense struggling over the last several weeks.

The Pick: Texas A&M, 30 Ole Miss, 27

Superdog (covers > 21 point spread): Georgia Tech (+25) @ Florida State -- I'm a bit surprised at this line. Florida State has lost three straight, albeit all against ranked foes, but it's Georgia Tech that is the real story, as they've looked like a completely different team under interim head coach Brent Key. To be fair, the health of Jeff Sims is a major factor, as he remains day-to-day.

The Pick: Florida State, 33 Georgia Tech, 14

Lock of the Week (has to be a favorite): Wake Forest (-3) @ Louisville -- Vegas seems to like the chance of a potential upset, but the Demon Deacons and Sam Hartman should be able to shred a porous Louisville defense.

The Pick: Wake Forest, 38 Louisville, 27

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