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College Football Week 9 Preview: Three Ranked Matchups With Playoff Implications

After Texas A&M and Ohio State suffered their first defeats of the season on the road last weekend, more undefeated teams face tough road tests this week.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

*All rankings taken from Coaches Poll

#9 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, noon on FOX

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys have a pair of losses on the year, dropping one at Baylor after their controversial second week defeat to Central Michigan. The Cowboy offense has been as strong as usual. With Mason Rudolph pulling the trigger of Mike Gundy’s air raid, the Cowboys have scored at least 38 points their last three games. Rudolph has not thrown an interception since September 24 and his favorite target, WR James Washington, has 740 yards and six touchdowns on the year. The Cowboys have also found a running back in freshman Justice Hill. Hill has 476 yards rushing and four touchdowns the last four games.

West Virginia has been led by a stellar defense this season. They are currently only giving up 14 points per game in conference play. In their last win, QB Skyler Howard had his best game against an FBS team this season. Howard threw for four touchdowns against TCU, while his defense forced three turnovers. With no conference championship, the Mountaineers’ best hope, without help, to make the playoff is finishing 12-0 with a win over 11-0 Baylor on the final day of the season. Baylor is on the road at Texas this week.

#4 Washington at #16 Utah, 3:30pm, FS1

NCAA Football: Utah at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In what could be a preview of the Pac-12 title game - both teams are in first place of their division and would still control their fate to the championship game with a defeat - the Huskies travel to Salt Lake City to square off against the Utes. Utah has one defeat on the year, when they were stopped on the one yard-line on the final three plays of a 28-23 loss at California. Since that defeat, the Utes have received a boost from RB Joe Williams’ change of heart after retiring from football. Williams ran for 179 yards and a touchdown his first game back against Oregon State before lighting up UCLA for 332 yards and four scores in Los Angeles last week, leading Utah to a 52-45 win over the Bruins.

Washington has been in cruise control as of late. After an overtime win in Arizona last month, the Huskies have beaten Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State by an average margin of 37 points. They have benefited from a softer schedule. Stanford is their only win against a team over .500, but the Huskies have won big almost every game. To complement a talented defense, the Huskies have gotten Heisman-caliber QB play from Jake Browning (26 touchdowns, two interceptions thus far in 2016). RB Myles Gaskin has also gotten hot with three straight 100-yard plus games. A defeat for the Huskies makes it tougher to get into the playoff, but they would still be in a decent position with the loss. Barring a heap of defeats around the nation in the next six weeks, this is Utah’s last stand if they want to make the playoff.

#6 Nebraska at #11 Wisconsin, 7pm, ESPN

NCAA Football: Purdue at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Is Nebraska for real? That question will certainly be answered this week as they travel to Wisconsin. The Huskers are 7-0 on the year, but Wyoming and Northwestern are the only two teams above .500 they have beaten. They certainly have chances to improve on that with Wisconsin this week and a potential Big Ten title game on the horizon. If they go 13-0, they most definitely will be deserving of their spot in the playoff. One thing the Huskers don’t want to continue if they are to win in Madison is Tommy Armstrong interceptions. Armstrong has struggled with turnovers throughout his whole Husker career: after throwing only one pick over the first four games, he has an INT in three straight contests.

For the Badgers, sitting at 5-2, this will be the fourth game they have played this year against a top010 team. After beating LSU in the opener, they lost at Michigan by a touchdown and at home to Ohio State in overtime. Their playoff hopes are not dead yet, though. If they get the win this weekend and win out to get to 10-2, they’ll need another Nebraska loss to get into the Big Ten title game. If they manage to get to the Big Ten championship and knock off Michigan or Ohio State, an 11-2 mark with five games against top 10 opponents and a Big Ten championship would make them the best of the two-loss teams and may put them over a one loss Big 12 champ.

#3 Clemson at #14 Florida State, 8pm, ABC

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Florida State Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

After surviving an overtime scare at home two weeks ago against NC State, Clemson travels to Florida State looking for their first win in Tallahassee since 2006. Clemson’s position for the College Football Playoff has not changed since the beginning. Even with home scares against Troy, Louisville and NC State, the Tigers are the ACC favorites to make it to the playoff. Even with a defeat to Florida State, Clemson still controls their path to the ACC title game and likely a spot in a semifinal. They certainly do need to improve, but much like Ohio State last week, their season is not necessarily on the line in Tallahassee.

Florida State has won two straight after losing at home to North Carolina. The defense has made improvements, only giving up a combined 25 points to Miami and Wake Forest over the past two weeks. The key matchup in this one will be the Clemson defense against RB Dalvin Cook, who has run for more than one hundred yards four weeks in a row and six total touchdowns.

Others To Watch

#2 Michigan at Michigan State, noon, ESPN

#12 Florida at Georgia, 3:30pm, CBS

Northwestern at #8 Ohio State, 3:30pm, ESPN

#6 Baylor at Texas, 3:30pm, ABC

#17 Auburn at Ole Miss, 7:15pm, SEC Network