Essentials – Week 9

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It isn't a huge day for battles between ranked teams outside of the top game on this list, which carries enormous national consequences. It's weekends like this one that typically produce their share of surprises since you don't see the carnage coming. Here are the week's top matchups:

Georgia at Florida, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: New head coach Dan Mullen has reiinvigorated the Gators, which few saw coming after Kentucky ended more than three decades of futility against them in the second game of the season. Florida hasn't lost since, riding an improved Feleipe Franks, who will be looking for retribution after getting overwhelmend by the 'Dawgs in last year's rivalry game. Franks threw for 30 yards on 7-for-19 passing before he was benched and will have to try and navigate against man coverage with the nation's top corner, DeAndre Baker, attempting to render one side of the field a no-fly zone.

Mullen lost to Kirby Smart-coached Georgia 31-3 in the lone meeting between the two as head coaches, but Smart presided over a defense that consistently baffled Mississippi State when he was at Alabama. The Bulldogs lost every year from '08 to '15, getting outscored 231-67, scoring more than 10 points only once. We'll see if improved talent yields different results, but it should be pointed out that Dak Prescott lineup under center for Mullen in a couple of those losses. The Cocktail Party atmosphere in Jacksonville is always, um, interesting, but today's weather should be ideal. There will be some wind, but nothing too intrusive. Injury-wise, Florida looks relatively clean while Georgia will have DT Devonte Wyatt but will be without DaQuan Hawkins-Muncie. RB D'Andre Swift's ankle isn't expected to be an issue. The Gators had won three straight before last season's loss.

Texas at Oklahoma State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC: Getting Sam Ehlinger cleared was the primary objective in Austin this week, but even with the sophomore a go, uncertainty remains. It's hard to forecast whether his shoulder will hold up for four quarters, so we'll see if he can make all the throws he's usually able to sling. On the road, the decision may have been made that he's too valuable as a game manager not to have out there. In any case, backup Shane Buechele could be called upon at any moment .

Oklahoma State has disappointed most of the season, which has led to QB Taylor Cornelius getting the bulk of the criticism since he drove away one of the program's top receivers and has lost three of the last four, including two listless performances. Head coach Mike Gundy is sticking by him despite cries to pull the plug and try someone else, so the danger exists that the home crowd turns on the Pokes if things don't go well early. Oklahoma State has won six of eight in the series.

Washington State at Stanford, 7 p.m. ET, Pac-12: The Cougs look to continue what may be a special season after holding serve last week against Oregon but still have a lot of work to do considering this trip to Palo Alto is one of three where they're expected to be underdogs since a visit to Colorado and a season-ending home game against Washington must still be played. Washington State won last week despite missing corner Sean Harper Jr., but it would be nice to have him back here against Stanford's big receivers since he's the most physically imposing of Washington State's defensive backs.

You can't talk Stanford football in 2018 without discussing Bryce Love's availability. He's seemingly been limited by ankle issues all season as the decision not to turn pro hasn't gone as planned, but it's hard to imagine him missing a home game if he can go since those are dwindling. QB K.J. Costello has had an issue with his right throwing hand but is expected to start. Linebacker Joey Alfieri has joined safety Ben Sanders as a major loss for the Cardinal defense. Washington State has a great chance to beat Stanford for a third straight time after losing eight consecutive meetings.

Iowa at Penn State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Nittany Lions have been reduced to playing spoiler and need to hold serve at home just to avoid slipping under .500 in Big Ten play. Considering they were a few plays away from taking down Ohio State and barely won at Indiana last week, it's hard to know what to expect from Penn State. Top WR KJ Hamler is healthy, but counterpart Juwan Johnson has been limited by an ankle injury. He's still expected to suit up, which would be a boost.

The Hawkeyes haven't surrendered a rushing touchdown this season as they look to keep Miles Sanders and Trace McSorley from breaking that run. Substantial rain is expected in State College, so Iowa may get to perform in weather perfectly suited for its style as it comes off a 23-0 shutout in similar circumstance against Maryland. LB Jack Hockaday and RB Toren Young should both play. Iowa has lost four straight in the series and hasn't lost five in a row since the early 1970s. If it pulls off this upset, Iowa is likely to be favored in all its remaining games.

Arizona State at USC, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC: The Trojans are expected to be without starting QB JT Daniels, who suffered a concussion and may not clear protocol in time to even suit up. Third-stringer Jack Sears will start since backup Matt Fink suffered a rib injury, so it's no surprise to see this line has dipped. USC will also be without many of its top defensive players due to injuries.

The Sun Devils have had an up-and-down first season under Herm Edwards but have been extremely competitive, losing all four of their games by seven points. QB Manny Wilkins has dealt with some physical challenges in his senior season but has proven reliable and will be looking for his first win against USC, which has won the last three meetings by 21 or more points each time.

Clemson at Florida State, 12 p.m. ET, ABC: Freshman QB Trevor Lawrence has made the departure of predecessor Kelly Bryant an afterthought with his solid play. As long as he stays healthy, the Tigers will be fine, but depth behind him is dicey. Fortunately, RB Travis Etienne has stepped up, benefiting from opponents having to respect Lawrence's arm and no longer being able to stack the box. He's scored three touchdowns in three straight games.

Willie Taggart's first season started terribly, so there was nowhere to go but up. Still, FSU has demonstrated improvement and comes off its best win, an impressive rout of Wake Forest after falling behind 10-0. The key to the 'Noles hanging around at home will be their porous offensive line. If they can give Deondre Francois time to make plays by holding off the nation's most talented defensive front, FSU has enough playmakers to make this interesting at home. It would be great to see how Lawrence holds up in a hostile atmosphere.

Wisconsin at Northwestern, 12 p.m. ET, FOX: The Badgers haven't been as consistent or as explosive as they were expected to be up front given all the talent they returned along the offensive line, but that hasn't prevented national rushing leader Jonathan Taylor from topping the 100-yard mark in eight straight games. He'll take aim at a typically stingy Northwestern defense.

The Wildcats can surprisingly take control of the Big Ten West entering November games against Notre Dame and fellow division frontrunner Iowa and may not have to face QB Alex Hornibrook, who may be sidelined with a concussion. Jack Coan would get his first career start if Hornibrook can't go.

Navy vs. Notre Dame, 8 p.m. ET, CBS: The Fighting Irish will have to navigate this potential pothole in the form of an offense they only run into once a year and a "neutral" environment in a big Navy city like San Diego. Fortunately, they did enjoy a bye week to aid in preparation, but there's a divide whether significant practice time against the triple option actually makes a substantial difference since it is so difficult to replicate and practice against. Cut blocks and varying formations make it a challenge that makes the spread here a bit of a stretch.

Since Ian Book took over for senior Brandon Wimbush at QB, Notre Dame's offense has averaged just short of 40 points per game to run the table and put it in the national playoff conversation. Games against Northwestern, FSU, Syracuse and USC remain after this one, but all of them are winnable so long as they can get out of this one unscathed, both on the scoreboard and in terms of injuries. These institutions have played annually since 1927 and Navy has typically been crushed. They did win in a neutral site in 2016.

Others to watch: Purdue at Michigan State, N.C. State at Syracuse, San Diego State at Nevada, Texas Tech at Iowa State, Washington at Cal, Texas A&M at Mississippi State, Oregon at Arizona, Kansas State at Oklahoma, North Carolina at Virginia, Duke at Pittsburgh, Northern Illinois at BYU, Boise State at Air Force, Tennessee at South Carolina

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