College Football Week 9 Preview: Storylines, matchups and predictions for the five biggest games

2T1673K Georgia quarterback Carson Beck throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint to take a 7-0 lead over Kentucky during the first quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in Athens. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

• No. 8 Oregon-No. 13 Utah: The Utes will try to end another Pac-12 contender's playoff dreams after vanquishing USC’s a week ago.

• No. 20 Duke-No. 18 Louisville: The winner could become the favorite to join Florida State in the ACC Championship game.

• No. 1 Georgia-Florida: The Bulldogs will look to survive their first game without Brock Bowers against a bitter rival.

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

While our streak of five consecutive weekends with at least four college football games between ranked teams has come to an end, there are still plenty of juicy matchups to get excited about this weekend.

Here are the storylines to know, matchups to watch and predictions for the five biggest games of Week 9.

No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners at Kansas Jayhawks (12 P.M. EST on FOX)

Storyline to know: How will Oklahoma respond to a scare?

The Sooners have been walking on a tightrope as of late, winning their two most recent outings by a combined six points. One was a four-point victory over then-No. 3 Texas, in what some may argue was the best win of the season for any team. The other was a 31-29 escape over a now-3-4 UCF squad.

Oklahoma must now recover from its hangover against a 5-2 Kansas team that was ranked just two weeks ago.

Matchup to watch: Jason Bean and the passing game

The Jayhawks are expected to be without starting quarterback Jalon Daniels for the fourth straight game as he deals with a nagging back injury. Jason Bean will likely start and has just a 67.9 grade this season, tied for 96th among FBS quarterbacks.

Kansas has relied on running back Devin Neal to pick up the offensive slack in Daniels’ absence. The junior’s 265 rushing yards in the three games without Daniels rank 13th among Power Five running backs. However, Oklahoma has 72 tackles for loss or no gain this season, 12 more than the second-ranked school.

If Kansas is to have any chance at an upset, Bean will have to play his best game of the season.

Prediction: Oklahoma 38, Kansas 30

Kansas generates some offensive success — but not enough to spoil Oklahoma’s undefeated season.

No. 8 Oregon Ducks at No. 13 Utah Utes (3:30 P.M. EST on FOX)

Storyline to know: Will Utah ruin the dreams of another Pac-12 playoff contender?

For the second straight season, Utah ended USC’s College Football Playoff aspirations. The Utes in Week 8 handed the Trojans their second defeat of the season, 34-32, and no two-loss team has made the playoff in its nine-year history.

Utah can do the same to Oregon this Saturday while keeping its playoff hopes alive. The Utes have won 18 straight at home — a streak that dates back to the 2020 season.

Matchup to watch: Can Utah make this game ugly?

A low-scoring would favor Utah. The Utes’ offense is among the 20 worst in the country in passing grade, receiving grade and pass-blocking grade. While Utah scored 34 points on USC, that is more of an indictment of the Trojans’ defense than anything else.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s offense ranks second in the nation in expected points added per play. Utah’s defense places 16th in the same metric. Kyle Whittingham needs to pitch another defensive masterclass for the Utes to come out on top.

Prediction: Oregon 28, Utah 21

The Ducks do just enough offensively to stay alive in the College Football Playoff race and snap Utah’s home win streak.

No. 20 Duke Blue Devils at No. 18 Louisville Cardinals (3:30 P.M. EST on ESPN)

Storyline to know: Will Riley Leonard be able to go?

After missing the North Carolina State game with an ankle injury, Duke quarterback Riley Leonard surprisingly returned last week in a loss to fourth-ranked Florida State. It was short-lived, though, as he reinjured his right ankle in the third quarter and did not return.

If PFF’s No. 32 prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft is unable to play, Henry Belin IV will start. The redshirt freshman currently has more turnover-worthy plays (two) than big-time throws (one) this season. Duke’s chances at securing a road victory could ultimately hinge on its star quarterback’s availability.

Matchup to watch: Can Duke slow down Jawhar Jordan?

Slowing down star running back Jawhar Jordan is the first step in stopping Louisville’s offense. His 7.4 yards per carry average ranks third among all running backs this season. An average of 3.6 of those yards come before contact, the most in college football. He won’t break too many tackles at just 185 pounds but uses his elite speed and agility to beat defenses. However, he is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury.

Duke’s defense possesses the seventh-best coverage grade in the FBS (92.3), placing even more pressure on Jordan to succeed. Luckily for him, the Blue Devils’ biggest weakness is in run defense. Duke’s 69.3 run-defense grade ranks just 97th in the nation, allowing 4.59 yards per attempt. Jordan needs to take advantage of the Blue Devils’ vulnerable run defense or it could be a long day for the Cardinals' offensive.

Prediction: Duke 24, Louisville 23

The Blue Devils squeak one out on the road and keep their hopes of an ACC Championship game appearance alive.

No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs vs. Florida Gators (3:30 P.M. EST on CBS)

Storyline to know: Georgia begins its most difficult stretch without star TE Brock Bowers

Georgia was dealt a devastating blow when it was reported that superstar tight end Brock Bowers will miss four to six weeks with surgery on his injured ankle.

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse stretch for the Bulldogs. The back-to-back national champions have four consecutive games against top-30 teams in PFF’s power rankings: Florida, No. 16 Missouri, No. 12 Ole Miss and No. 21 Tennessee. How Georgia responds to the adversity will prove whether the team is worthy of the “No. 1” accompanying its name.

Matchup to watch: Who steps up in Brock Bowers’ absence?

Not only is Bowers one of the greatest tight ends college football has ever seen, but he’s also the only one holding up an otherwise average Georgia receiving corps. The junior has 237 more receiving yards than the next-closest receiver on the team. The Bulldogs also go from the nation’s 19th-best receiving grade with Bowers to just 65th when looking only at the wide receivers.

While Carson Beck has impressed as Georgia’s quarterback this year, he’ll now need to spread the ball around more without his superstar tight end. Expect Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint to emerge as the junior’s new favorite target.

Prediction: Georgia 31, Florida 17

Even without Bowers, the Bulldogs emerge victorious for a third straight time in the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”

BYU Cougars at No. 7 Texas Longhorns (3:30 P.M. EST on ABC)

Storyline to know: Texas without Quinn Ewers

For the second straight season, Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers will miss time with a shoulder injury. This year, it’s a Grade 2 AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder, suffered in the Longhorns' 31-24 win over Houston this past Saturday.

Starting in his absence will likely be redshirt freshman Maalik Murphy, who has earned a 50.3 grade on 33 snaps this year. However, head coach Steve Sarkisian did note that Arch Manning, the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2023 class, will get some first-team reps in practice.

Regardless of who plays, the Longhorns' new quarterback will face immense pressure in their first career start. A loss all but eliminates Texas from the College Football Playoff race, and BYU is currently 5-2 and a top-50 team in PFF’s power rankings.

Matchup to watch: Texas’ run game vs. BYU’s run defense

Whoever starts under center for the Longhorns should be able to rely on one of the top running backs in college football. Jonathon Brooks ranks third among Power Five backs in rushing yards (821) and forced missed tackles (46).

BYU’s run defense is just average, placing 66th nationally with 4.42 yards allowed per attempt. The Cougars should commit to using more defenders in the box to take away the Longhorns’ ground game and force Murphy or Manning to beat them through the air.

Prediction: Texas 27, BYU 17

It won’t be pretty, but Texas survives its first game without Quinn Ewers.

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