We're onto Week 9 of the 2020 college football season, and between the Florida Gators‘ return, Penn State‘s fight to keep Justin Fields and the Ohio State Buckeyes at bay and Oklahoma State‘s battle to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive, there’s a lot to keep an eye on.
With the help of PFF grades and advanced statistics — which are now available to PFF's CFB Premium Stats+ Subscribers — we can give you everything you need to know ahead of this week's top college football matchups. Please note that any picks and predictions made here are not reflective of PFF Greenline or our expert betting analysts. For this week's college football betting advice, click here!
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BOSTON COLLEGE @ NO. 1 CLEMSON
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ABC
Clemson’s star quarterback Trevor Lawrence has unfortunately been ruled out of this one due to a positive COVID-19 test, meaning true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei — a former five-star recruit — will now be under center for the Tigers.
We have seen Uiagalelei attempt 19 passes in mop-up duty this season, though he's still managed to record more negatively graded throws than positively graded ones, earning a 55.1 PFF grade in the process.
Uiagalelei will have to go up against a Boston College defense that has actually been pretty solid in coverage this year. The Eagles' coverage unit currently ranks 17th in the FBS in team coverage grade, but they’ve defended the deep ball better than any secondary in the country — they actually jump to a No. 1 ranking in team coverage grade when defending passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield. On such plays, The Eagles have allowed just five catches on 30 targets, with 19 total plays made on the ball.
Boston College's Achilles' heel has been defending underneath, as the defense ranks dead last in the ACC in EPA per target allowed on underneath targets so far. It may be best for Clemson's true freshman to attack this weakness rather than test this defense downfield.
Quarterback Phil Jurkovec is leading the best Boston College passing offense we've seen in years. Entering the season, the Eagles had failed to generate positive expected points added (EPA) per play in each season since 2014. This season, however, Jurkovec has sparked an offense that has generated 0.16 EPA per pass so far, 34th of the 101 FBS teams that have played.
Week 9 presents an important litmus test for this new-look offense, as it will have to face a Clemson coverage unit that has allowed -0.34 EPA per pass play this season, the best figure among FBS teams with multiple games played in 2020.
Treash’s prediction: Clemson, but it’s going to be a lot closer than we once thought. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s within 10 points or so.
Seth’s prediction: Clemson, though we're going to have to see DJU be pinpoint accurate against a Boston College team set up to play a lot of man coverage.
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 12:00 p.m. ET, SECN
This game features one of the week's best player matchups, as Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari is set to face off against Kentucky tackles Landon Young and Darrian Kinnard.
Ojulari has exploded out of the gate and is currently the third-highest-graded edge defender in college football at 89.4. He has recorded a pressure rate above 15% in each of his four games played, which have come against Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee and Alabama.
The Georgia pass-rusher will likely see the majority of his reps against Young at left tackle, arguably his toughest test in the SEC. Young is currently the highest-graded SEC tackle in pass protection, and he's the third-highest-graded tackle in the entire FBS. He has allowed just two total pressures in his five games this year.
Ojulari will probably see a few rushes against Kinnard, too, and while the right tackle hasn't reached the same highs as his left-sided counterpart, he has improved a whole lot since last season. After posting a 69.1 pass-blocking grade in 2019, Kinnard has earned an 81.1 pass-blocking grade through five games in 2020, with just two pressures allowed.
Kirby Smart has had this Georgia pass rush feasting this season, ranking third in the SEC in pressure rate at 34.5%. As I write this, it’s still unknown whether Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson will be a go in this one, but it could get ugly against this menacing pass rush if he does suit up. Wilson ranked 129th of 130 FBS quarterbacks in pressured-passing grade back in 2018 when he was the starter, and that poor play under duress has continued in 2020, as he currently ranks fourth-to-last in the FBS in that same metric.
Treash’s prediction: It's going to be a big day for the Dawgs' defense. Georgia.
Seth’s prediction: UGA. I thought Kentucky had something about them, but it turns out that they really just can't throw the ball.
MEMPHIS @ NO. 7 CINCINNATI
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
After dismantling the SMU Mustangs 42-13 in Week 8, the Cincinnati Bearcats are onto the second of their three big tests on the 2020 schedule.
Cincy's greatest strength has been its defense. The Bearcats rank first in the FBS in team defense grade, team run-defense grade and team coverage grade, and they come in second in team pass-rush grade.
Sure, offense wins championships, but until they play a team like Clemson or Alabama, this defense can lead them to wins. They have a top-20-graded player at every single position on the defensive side of the ball.
Edge rushers Elijah Ponder and Myjai Sanders are leading the way at the position, ranking first and second in the FBS in PFF grade, respectively, but the star of the defense is cornerback Ahmad Gardner. The true sophomore corner has put the clamps on his opponent this season, allowing 30 or fewer yards in all four of his games played, giving up a 7.9 passer rating in coverage in the process.
It’ll be a strength-vs-strength battle between Cincinnati’s defense and Memphis’ passing attack, as the Tigers rank eighth in the FBS in EPA per pass play generated so far.
Treash’s prediction: Cincinnati.
Seth’s prediction: Cincinnati! I picked against them last week, and I'm not doing it again.
MICHIGAN STATE @ NO. 13 MICHIGAN
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 12:00 p.m. ET, FOX
It’s going to be a rough year for Sparty, who will likely be in the running for last place in the Big Ten. The offense looked brutal in the opening game against Rutgers and was the sixth-worst of the week in terms of EPA per play generated.
Quarterback Rocky Lombardi hit the short and intermediate throws but struggled with his deep ball. He went 0-for-8 on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield and got picked off three times.
There are a few bright spots on their defense, such as edge rusher Drew Beesley, who earned an 89.4 pass-rush grade that day and looks set up for a breakout year in 2020. But none of that will matter if the offense can't pick itself up.
Michigan went up against Minnesota last week, and the defense had quarterback Tanner Morgan all out of sync — he was the fourth-lowest-graded FBS quarterback of Week 8 at 28.4, and the Gophers had the least efficient passing offense in the Big Ten. As broken down by PFF’s Seth Galina, Michigan’s defense gave their RPO offense fits all game long, and Morgan could do little about it.
The Michigan offense then gave Joe Milton a boatload of schemed throws (i.e., play-action, RPOs, screens, etc.), and he executed them to perfection. He left the game having completed 15 of his 22 attempts for 228 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions, all good for a 71.8 passing grade. It was an all-around solid outing.
Treash’s prediction: Michigan.
Seth’s prediction: Michigan. I'm still not entirely sold entirely on them overall, but they are still clearly the better team here.
NO. 16 KANSAS STATE @ WEST VIRGINIA
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The early signs weren't good for this Kansas State offense with Will Howard under center, as the freshman earned a very underwhelming 54.3 passing grade over his first two games, and the Wildcats' passing efficiency took a massive step back.
Howard then rebounded against a really bad Kansas defense in Week 8, posting an 85.4 passing grade and tossing two big-time throws on their patented play-action deep shot.
As easy as it would be to get carried away, we must take his most recent performance with a grain of salt because … well … it’s Kansas. This week, he’ll go from playing against one of the worst defenses in college football to playing one of the best.
West Virginia’s defense is currently the third-highest-graded unit in the FBS, behind Cincinnati and Clemson. It has allowed successful plays (plays that generate positive EPA) at the nation's second-best rate so far. The Mountaineers have also defended the play-action game as well as any defense in the country, which will surely add to the pressure on Will Howard's shoulders.
Treash’s prediction: WVU.
Seth’s prediction: KSU. I love Doege, but I'm rooting for a Big 12 title game that doesn't involve Texas or Oklahoma, so KSU has to win.
No. 20 COASTAL CAROLINA @ GEORGIA STATE
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Coastal Carolina was without starting quarterback Grayson McCall in Week 8, but they still managed to get the W against Georgia Southern with Fred Payton leading the way.
They entered that Week 8 game as the most efficient passing offense in the country and fell to fourth without their starter. It’s unknown whether McCall, who has earned an 86.0 PFF grade this year, will be able to go on Saturday, but the Chanticleers will need him in this one — Georgia State’s defense is a lot better than Georgia Southern’s. Georgia State ranks 16th among FBS teams with multiple games played in EPA per play allowed, and the team ranks 15th in team defense grade.
Treash’s prediction: Coastal Carolina.
Seth’s prediction: Coastal Carolina — my new favorite team.
NO. 23 IOWA STATE @ KANSAS
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 12:00 p.m. ET, FS1
If Brock Purdy can’t get back on track against this defense, I would lose hope of him ever getting back. Kansas ranks fifth-to-last in team coverage grade this season and has been getting peppered downfield. The Jayhawks have given up a 125.4 passer rating on passes thrown over 10 yards downfield this season, the seventh-worst rating in the FBS. Purdy has generated just a 75.1 passer rating on such throws this year, which ranks in the bottom 20.
Purdy has always been a quarterback who tries to do a little too much, and that hasn’t changed in 2020. He leads the FBS in turnover-worthy plays when under pressure, with nine, and that's a big reason why he's currently the not-so-proud owner of the eighth-worst pressured passing grade in the country.
Purdy’s biggest strength in 2018 and 2019 was his in-rhythm passing, and that’s been far from a strength this year. He ranks 75th in the FBS in passing grade when in rhythm; he has nearly doubled his negatively graded throw rate on those throws while cutting his positively graded throw rate in half.
Treash’s prediction: Iowa State.
Seth’s prediction: ISU. The Cyclones are not that good, I don't think, but neither is Kansas.
NO. 4 NOTRE DAME @ GEORGIA TECH
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
This game is all about Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book showing that he can produce at an elite level before he faces Clemson in Week 9. Book has earned a disappointing 57.6 passing grade through five games this season, ranking 71st of 90 qualifying FBS quarterbacks. This week, he will get to tee off against the worst defense he'll play in 2020.
Georgia Tech ranks dead last in the ACC in team coverage grade and has given up a conference-high 41 explosive pass plays of 15 or more yards this season. If Book can’t pick apart this defense, then the Irish have no shot at taking down Goliath in Week 10.
Treash’s prediction: Notre Dame.
Seth’s prediction: Notre Dame. This could be a big blowout if Book plays well.
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
Indiana may have upset Penn State in their 2020 opener, but their offense struggled for the majority of the game.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was hot and cold all game long — one throw would be a perfectly placed ball, then the next would be flat-out uncatchable. Leading up to the final drive of the fourth quarter, Penix had led Indiana to -0.58 EPA per pass and had as many quarterback-fault incompletions as completions beyond the line of scrimmage (eight). But in that final drive and overtime, Penix improved his EPA per pass mark to 0.68 and put up a 90.2 PFF grade, eventually leading his team to the comeback W. He was pinpoint accurate and rifled in several perfectly placed passes into tight coverage. That’s the Penix we saw in 2019, and that's who the Hoosiers need in 2020.
After suffering some of the worst quarterback play in college football over the last few years, Rutgers finally has a quarterback who can deliver an accurate ball. Nebraska transfer Noah Vedral threw 70% of his passes against Michigan State perfectly, per PFF's ball location data — more than double the rate of the next best quarterback in Week 8. Overall, he threw just one uncatchable pass in the game to give him a 4% uncatchable-pass rate, and that’s over 10 percentage points better than any Rutgers quarterback managed in a single game between 2018 and 2019.
The Rutgers defense looked immensely better, as well — they held Michigan State to -0.36 EPA per play, which smashed their previous record against a Power Five opponent in the PFF College era (-0.2 in Week 13 2018 at Michigan State).
Treash’s prediction: Indiana. I’m expecting a big bounce-back from this Hoosiers O.
Seth’s prediction: IU — this is the biggest game in the Big Ten this week.
TEXAS @ NO. 6 OKLAHOMA STATE
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 4:00 p.m. ET, FOX
This is a big game for the Oklahoma State Cowboys — it’s one of the games that stands between them and a spot in the College Football Playoff. If they lose, the Big 12’s hopes of sending a team to the CFP are pretty much dead.
The good news for Oklahoma State is that Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger is struggling this season, despite facing a slate of defenses that haven't been nearly as good as Oklahoma State's. The key for the Cowboys will be for them to pressure Ehlinger and force him to create off-structure. That’s what has killed his 2020 campaign — Ehlinger ranks third-to-last in the FBS in passing grade outside of the pocket.
Oklahoma State ranks ninth among FBS teams with multiple games played this year in EPA per pass allowed. Their outside corner duo of Rodarius Williams and Jarrick Bernard-Converse have been the anchors of this unit and are bound to make life difficult on Ehlinger and his middling receiving corps. Those two combined have the second-best coverage grade among outside tandems in college football, behind Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and Josh Jobe. In four games, they have allowed just three first downs in coverage while forcing six incompletions.
Treash’s prediction: Oklahoma State, but I’m still #TeamIllingworth.
Seth’s prediction: Oklahoma State for the same reasons I mentioned about Kansas State.
No. 25 BOISE STATE @ AIR FORCE
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 6:00 p.m. ET, CBSSN
After blowing out Navy in their first game of the season, Air Force faced an actual defense this past week and got shut down. They finished Week 8 ranked 73rd among 91 FBS teams in EPA per rush play, and Haaziq Daniels dropped back to pass 19 times and put up just a 27.2 passing grade, the worst of the week.
Now, they face an even tougher defense with Boise State coming to town. The Broncos went up against Utah State in their debut last week and earned the fifth-highest team coverage grade of the week; they made as many plays on the ball as the number of first downs allowed (six).
Treash’s prediction: Boise State.
Seth’s prediction: Boise State. Air Force could have made it interesting this season if Donald Hammond was playing, but I don't see it without him.
MISSISSIPPI STATE @ NO. 2 ALABAMA
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing wideout Jaylen Waddle take the field for Alabama this Saturday. However, we still get arguably the best wide receiver in college football, DeVonta Smith, and a rising star at the position, John Metchie III.
Smith is currently the second-highest-graded wide receiver in the FBS and has been smoking single coverage just as he did in 2019. He has generated 10 explosive plays of 15 or more yards against single coverage, the most in the Power Five. Meanwhile, Metchie has emerged as a big-time vertical threat, catching all seven of his vertical-route targets for 338 yards and three touchdowns. When you pair those two with a Heisman front-runner, you have yourself the best offense in college football.
We can’t say quite as much for Mississippi State. Teams have caught on to this offense in the weeks since their record-setting upset win against LSU. Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas A&M all put an emphasis on dropping eight and playing zone, and they all locked up the Bulldogs offense. This Mississippi State offense ranks second-to-last in EPA per pass play generated since Week 5, just ahead of Kansas.
Treash’s prediction: Bama forever and always.
Seth’s prediction: Bama.
No. 3 OHIO STATE @ NO. 18 PENN STATE
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Ohio State’s offense looked even better than anticipated in the season opener. They generated positive EPA on 76.5% of their pass plays, ranking first in the FBS by 4.5 percentage points.
Justin Fields played a near-impeccable game, as he threw 90% of his passes accurately, according to our ball-charting process, the second-highest rate in a single game this season. And while the Buckeyes defense got off to a bit of a slow start by allowing 0.27 EPA per play, they seemed to figure things out in the second half and improved that mark to -0.43.
Penn State will be looking for a bounce-back game here to avoid an 0-2 start after their crushing loss to Indiana last week. Quarterback Sean Clifford can’t afford to make the same bad decisions he did last week, and the Buckeyes surely aren’t going to allow him to find as much success with his legs as he did last week, when he averaged 8.7 yards per carry and earned an 83.6 rushing grade.
Treash’s prediction: Ohio State by 20. I don’t think Penn State’s offense can put up enough points.
Seth’s prediction: Ohio State. Penn State held OSU to its lowest offensive efficiency marks of the season last year but still lost. Again, I don't see the PSU O scoring enough.
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Razorbacks quarterback Feleipe Franks has been a pleasant surprise this season. His deep ball wasn’t bad at Florida, but his downfield passing has been great for Arkansas — on passes thrown 10 or more yards downfield, Franks has posted a 93.6 passing grade that ranks sixth in the FBS.
A lot of this success has been aided by the team's use of play-action — no Power Five team has used a play action more than Arkansas (56%). As for Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond, he’s been Franks' polar opposite on downfield throws — his 57.2 passing grade on 10-plus-yard passes is the worst in the SEC.
Arkansas’ defense ranks first in the SEC this year in team coverage grade and EPA per pass allowed. And it’s not like their outing against Ole Miss — when they intercepted Matt Corral six times — has buoyed that ranking, as they're still at the top of the SEC when you take that game out.
Treash’s prediction: Arkansas. I think the Aggies are overhyped.
Seth’s prediction: Arkansas. Texas A&M is probably not that good. They're still better than Arkansas and will probably win, but Woo Pig and all that.
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 7:30 p.m. ET, SECN ALT
Florida is back after a two-week hiatus due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the team, and they’ll be looking to sustain the elite-level offensive production they had before the break.
The Gators have fielded the second-most-efficient passing offense in the FBS behind only the Alabama Crimson Tide. Quarterback Kyle Trask has two of the best playmakers in the SEC at his disposal with wide receiver Kadarious Toney and tight end Kyle Pitts. Toney has earned an 84.1 PFF grade this season, and that trails only DeVonta Smith and Terrace Marshall Jr. for the best in the SEC. Pitts, on the other hand, is second to nobody — his 95.5 PFF grade is eight grading points higher than any other FBS player at the position.
Missouri was expected to have one of the worst quarterback situations in the country, but Connor Bazelak has surprised us all and gives the Tigers an actual passing attack. Bazelak is the third-highest-graded passer in the SEC and has led Mizzou to 0.18 EPA per pass play, fourth in the conference.
Treash’s prediction: I think this will be a high-scoring affair and comes down to the wire. Florida.
Seth’s prediction: Florida. It could be another LSU-Mizzou-type shootout that comes down to the final possession, and then it's anyone's game.
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
SMU is coming off a nightmare game against the Cincinnati Bearcats. They entered the week with the sixth-most-efficient passing attack in the FBS, and Cincy proceeded to shut them down, limiting them to just -0.22 EPA per pass — 74th in the FBS in Week 8.
Shane Buechele & Co. were fine without Reggie Roberson against Tulane in Week 7, but they had no shot without him on the field against Cincinnati. But the good news for SMU is that Navy’s defense is not that good. The Midshipmen have posted a team defense grade of 36.7 so far this season — the worst grade in the FBS by over five grading points.
Treash’s prediction: SMU.
Seth’s prediction: SMU. Navy isn't that good this year.
No. 15 NORTH CAROLINA @ VIRGINIA
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 8:00 p.m. ET, ACCN
Virginia got starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong back last week after missing a chunk of time due to injury. Armstrong played pretty well, and he earned an 87.1 PFF grade, but he got virtually no help from his receiving unit. Just 70% of his catchable passes were caught, and 22% of those passes were dropped. Those were bottom-five marks among qualifying FBS teams in Week 8.
The coverage unit also had a day to forget. The Cavaliers now rank 80th among 101 FBS teams in coverage grade and have given up the seventh-most explosive pass plays of 15 or more yards in the FBS (38).
Sam Howell should enjoy this one. Sure, he did get off to a bit of a slow start, but his downfield passing has been rolling these last few weeks, and the playcalling has been a little bit more aggressive since that poor first half against Florida State. Since Week 6, Howell ranks first in the FBS in deep (20-plus-yard throws) passing grade, completions (11) and touchdowns (six).
Treash’s prediction: Tar Heels. The world starts to see that UNC is better than that Florida State L suggests.
Seth’s prediction: UNC. I think they are easily a top-10 team.
No. 24 OKLAHOMA @ TEXAS TECH
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 8:00 p.m. ET, FOX
Say what you want about Spencer Rattler’s game-ending interceptions against Kansas State and Iowa State, he’s still a top-five quarterback. He has earned the third-best passing grade in the FBS at 92.0, posting top-10 marks in both positively and negatively graded throw rate.
The arm talent is there for the redshirt freshman, and he has been the key reason the Sooners have maintained their spot as the Big 12’s most efficient passing offense.
Rattler will get to face one of the worst defenses in the Power Five this week. Texas Tech ranks dead last in the Big 12 in EPA per pass — yes, they're even worse than Kansas — and they have posted a team coverage grade of 39.7, ranking seventh-to-last in the FBS.
Treash’s prediction: Oklahoma by three scores.
Seth’s prediction: OU. The Sooners are still the best team in the Big 12.
WESTERN KENTUCKY @ NO. 11 BYU
Saturday, Oct. 31 — 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Another week, another must-win game for Zach Wilson and the BYU Cougars. They are favored in this one by four scores and will need to win by that much to continue convincing the college football world and CFP committee that they are a legit team.
So far, Wilson has given us no indication that he won’t lead BYU to said blowout. He’s posted the highest passing grade we have ever recorded through a player’s first six games at 94.0 while ranking third in both negatively graded and positively graded throw rate. That’s helped give the Cougars the fifth-most-efficient passing offense in the FBS.
Treash’s prediction: BYU. Wilson throws for 400 and five touchdowns, and the Cougars put up a 50 burger.
Seth’s prediction: BYU — the death machine rolls on.