College football picks, Week 9: Florida-Georgia could decide SEC East champion

College football’s Week 9 may have three games between top-25 opponents, but there’s no doubt what the headliner this weekend will be: The potential SEC East-deciding matchup between No. 9 Florida and No. 7 Georgia.

The Gators have won thee of the last four, but a 42-7 drubbing by the Bulldogs last year prompted Florida to fire coach Jim McElwain in just his third season. Now, a year later, both teams meet with just one loss and the SEC East title on the line.

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In other action, you have No. 14 Washington State at No. 24 Stanford in a game with big Pac-12 North implications and No. 18 Iowa at No. 17 Penn State. An ACC matchup between No. 2 Clemson and Florida State shouldn’t be overlooked, either. 

Sporting News is 44-20 in its picks this season after going 6-2 last week. With that said, here are our Week 9 picks (lines reflect Consensus picks from as of Monday):

No. 2 Clemson (-14) at Florida State

Clemson will be heavily favored here, especially after beating previously unbeaten N.C. State 41-7. That said, the Tigers have split their last two trips to Doak Campbell Stadium and only escaped with a 37-34 victory in 2016. Willie Taggart has overcome a bad start to get his team playing winning football, but this will be his biggest test of the season by far. We think Clemson’s defensive front is too much to overcome, though the Seminoles do make a game of it. Clemson 35, Florida State 20

No. 21 South Florida at Houston (-7.5)

South Florida is undefeated, but has played close games against inferior competition in its last two outings (a 25-24 win at Tulsa and 38-30 win vs. Connecticut). One-loss Houston, meanwhile, averages 48.7 points a game, second nationally only to Alabama. Quarterback D’Eriq King has 23 passing touchdowns to three interceptions this year, not to mention nine rushing touchdowns. He should lead Houston to a win. And don’t forget Ed Oliver, a consensus top-five draft pick, anchors the Cougars’ defense. Houston 42, USF 28

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No. 12 Kentucky at Missouri (-7)

Kentucky is coming off a hard-fought, 14-7 win against Vanderbilt. Missouri put up 65 points in a win over Memphis. It’s a clash of styles, one that will center around Wildcats running back Benny Snell Jr. and Tigers quarterback Drew Lock. Missouri ranks 35th nationally in rush defense, giving up 131.6 yards a game. Kentucky ranks 29th in pass defense (189.9 ypg) and has seven interceptions on the year. It’s a close call, but we think Kentucky pulls the upset, setting up another big SEC East clash against Georgia the following week. Kentucky 28, Missouri 27

No. 16 Texas A&M at Mississippi State (-3)

Mississippi State struggled mightily in a 19-3 loss to LSU, so look for Joe Moorhead and the offense to make it a personal challenge to score points this week. That said, Texas A&M has played fairly well on defense this year, ranking in the top 30 in total defense (320 ypg) and scoring defense (20.6 ppg). The Aggies also rank second nationally in rush defense (78.4 ypg), which doesn’t bode well for quarterback Nick Fitzgerald’s run-first style of play. The Bulldogs will no doubt have the cowbells rattling in Starkville, but Jimbo Fisher and Co. get a big win heading into the final stretch of their season. Texas A&M 31, Mississippi State 24

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No. 6 Texas (-2.5) at Oklahoma State

Texas may be in the driver’s seat in the Big 12, but the Longhorns can’t overlook the always-dangerous Cowboys and their potent offense. Texas is coming off a bye, which will help, but it’ll need to put up a much better performance than the one it gave against Baylor, which nearly beat the Longhorns in a 23-17 loss two weeks ago. The challenge for Oklahoma State will be whether it can stop Sam Ehlinger and Co. after giving up a combined 79 points in its last two games, both losses. OSU’s offense keeps them in the game, but Texas finds a way to stay ahead of the Cowboys long enough for a win. Texas 45, Oklahoma State 42

No. 14 Washington State at No. 24 Stanford (-3)

Can Washington State keep the Pac-12’s slim College Football Playoff hopes alive? We’ll find out when Mike Leach, Gardner Minshew and Co. travel to Palo Alto to take on No. 24 Stanford, which earlier this season held aloft the conference’s Playoff aspirations. Fortunately for Wazzu and its top-ranked pass offense (400.7 ypg), Stanford is tied for 98th among all FBS programs in pass defense, giving up 252.1 yards a game. Compare that to Washington State’s surprisingly strong defense, which ranks 18th nationally, and it points to the Wildcats coming away with a win. Washington State 38, Stanford 24

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No. 18 Iowa at No. 17 Penn State (-5)

Who would have thought Iowa would have more to lose than Penn State in this game before the season? But that’s the exact scenario we’re looking at as the one-loss Hawkeyes travel to Happy Valley to face the two-loss Nittany Lions in a revenge game after last year’s heart-stopping finish in Kinnick Stadium. Iowa, it seems, is playing better football than Penn State (the teams won 23-0 and 33-23, respectively, in Week 8) but you can never count out the quarterback prowess of Trace McSorley. Iowa has the hot hand for sure, but we don’t seen Penn State dropping a third Big Ten game in Beaver Stadium. Penn State 31, Iowa 28

No. 7 Georgia (-7) vs. No. 9 Florida

It has been a long time since “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” had this much on the line. This is the first time since 2012 these teams meet as ranked opponents, and the first time since 2008 they meet as top-10 teams. Both the Gators and Bulldogs are coming off a bye week to prepare for this potential SEC East-deciding game, and both teams rank in the top 25 in total yardage allowed, passing yards allowed and points allowed. That said, expect it to be a low-scoring affair. This game ultimately will come down to which team makes the biggest play on offense. In that vein, Georgia simply has more players to utilize than Florida, which only has one recruiting cycle under Dan Mullen. We’ll go with the Bulldogs in a close one. Georgia 27, Florida 20

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