Notre Dame was one of the biggest winners from Week 8, but could the Fighting Irish be Week 9's biggest loser? The college football season, with respects to the playoff race, can change in an instant.
Notre Dame is rewarded for its big win over USC with a tough home game against NC State -- a team that could give the Irish many of the same problems Georgia did earlier in the season. If Notre Dame wants to build its resume, it needs a signature win over the Wolfpack.
Meanwhile, Ohio State can get back on top of the Big Ten East division and jump back into the top four with a win over Penn State. The Nittany Lions were also major victors in Week 8, but find themselves as a touchdown road underdog going into Columbus. Because of these factors, the Buckeyes and Irish find themselves on upset alert for Week 9.
They're not the only ones. Each week, we give you the top five upset alert games based on matchups, injuries/suspensions and other factors. As an extra challenge, we try to avoid games whose lines are well within a touchdown with exceptions being made for cases that warrant them.
No. 11 Oklahoma State at No. 22 West Virginia
When: Saturday, noon ET | Where: Morgantown, West Virginia | Opening line: Oklahoma State -6
Why it's listed: Oklahoma State is on upset alert for the second week in a row mostly because of the line. West Virginia has an exciting offense that features quarterback Will Grier, who leads the nation in touchdown passes, and receiver David Sills V, who leads in touchdown receptions. The Mountaineers are also 2-0 at home against the spread. Since the line opened at about a touchdown, recent history says West Virginia should keep it close. And if it's close, that's a tough assignment for a team making its second straight road trip (and third in four games).
West Virginia wins if: It goes +2 in turnover margin. West Virginia's defense gives up a lot of yards, doesn't get great push along the line and gets beat on big plays. Oklahoma State should theoretically have little problem driving the field. West Virginia's counter to that is creating/capitalizing on takeaways. The Cowboys can get all the yards they want, but if this gets into a shootout, even a few stops could make the difference.
Oklahoma State wins if: It fixes its red zone offense. The Cowboys were 1-of-5 on red zone trips in scoring touchdowns against Texas. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers rank first in the Big 12 in red zone touchdown percentage (although their two worst performances in that part of the field came against Virginia Tech and TCU). The long story short is no one in this game wants to be exchanging touchdowns for field goals when given a short field. This is definitely true for Oklahoma State, which has had its share of kicking problems.
Texas at Baylor
When: Saturday, Noon ET | Where: Waco, Texas | Opening line: Texas -10
Why it's listed: I'll almost always pass on games where the favorite has a 3-4 record, but this is Texas and Baylor has a real shot of ending its streak as the Power Five's only winless team. The Bears aren't good, but they have enough talent to not be winless. This is a group that gave West Virginia and Oklahoma fits. It's only a matter of time before Baylor gets that first win. And with both Texas quarterbacks facing health problems -- Sam Ehlinger is dealing with concussion symptoms and Shane Buechele has a lingering ankle injury -- Baylor is catching the Longhorns at the right time.
Baylor wins if: It can score at least three touchdowns. The over/under opened at 60 and has already shrunk. The under looks ultra appealing. Baylor's defense has been dealing with growing pains, but with all the questions at quarterback for Texas, it might not be asked to defend all that it normally would. The first one to 27 or 28 might win.
Texas wins if: It can grind out a victory with defense and the ground game. The defense part seems easy enough. The Longhorns gave up 13 points to Oklahoma State -- with a little help from the Cowboys, but still -- and is playing its best on that side of the ball. However, the running game is a concern. The Longhorns have not been able to run the ball consistently all season. The good news is running back Kyle Porter is expected to play Saturday after missing the Oklahoma State game with an injury and the Bears have the Big 12's worst run defense. Texas should win if it dictates the line of scrimmage and crams the ball down Baylor's throat.
No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET | Where: Columbus, Ohio | Opening line: Ohio State -7
Why it's listed: Here we have the rare higher-ranked road dog -- and by a touchdown, no less! This is a clear choice even if the line shrinks some as we get closer to game time. Still, there's a reason the line is what it is. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has a crazy good record with extra time to prepare. As noted by Eleven Warriors, Meyer is 21-1 record coming off an in-season bye.
Penn State wins if: It continues to find different ways for running back Saquon Barkley to get the ball early. Penn State is outscoring opponents 90-0 in the first quarter. Yes, you read that correctly. Ninety to zero. It's not always easy to get off to good starts consistently, but Penn State does it better than any team in the country. Part of that is because of how the Nittany Lions get Barkley the ball. The junior has 15 first-quarter receptions; not only is that more than any other quarter, it represents about 47 percent of his 32 catches on the year. Feeding Barkley in a variety of ways not only makes the most complete running back in college football hard to defend, it could force Ohio State to play from behind.
Ohio State wins if: The improvement in the passing game is as advertised. Since losing to Oklahoma, Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett has thrown for 1,351 yards, 18 touchdowns and zero picks. He has the highest passer rating in the Big Ten. While Ohio State has also played an easy schedule, this is a different challenge. Can Barrett connect with Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill enough to open up the ground game? Penn State has the best passing defense in the conference in yards per attempt allowed (5.2) and opposing QB rating (94.02).
No. 14 NC State at No. 9 Notre Dame
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET | Where: South Bend, Indiana | Opening line: Notre Dame -7.5
Why it's listed: Notre Dame is the playoff darling after crushing USC. Certainly, that game marked the first of six tough games in the second half of the season. But NC State should be a more difficult matchup than the Trojans. In fact, there's an argument that NC State will actually pose the biggest threat to the Fighting Irish since their early-season loss to Georgia. Why? The Wolfpack have a stout defensive line and ... well ...
Brian Kelly says N.C. State’s defensive front comparable to Georgia.— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) October 24, 2017
NC State wins if: It can slow the run on first and second down. That's what NC State is known for, but it's also what forces Notre Dame's hand. The Irish run the ball 72 percent of the time on first down and nearly two-thirds of the time on second down. In fact, the Irish are so good at running the ball early that they face manageable third-down situations (six yards or fewer) about 52 percent of the time. But when tasked with third-and-long scenarios, they've had minimal success moving the chains through the air (five first downs on 19 attempts). The combination of running back Josh Adams and quarterback Brandon Wimbush makes stuffing the run difficult, but Georgia had success limiting the ground game to 1.5 yards per attempt.
Notre Dame wins if: The offensive line wins the day. This is important not only in the ground game where the O-line ranks well by Football Outsiders, but for the times Notre Dame needs to pass protect, where it ranks less favorably. For as good as NC State's D-line is, its pass defense has been more vulnerable. The Wolfpack rank near the bottom of the ACC in yards per pass attempt allowed and rate as average to below average in passing situations.
Georgia Tech at No. 7 Clemson
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Clemson, South Carolina | Opening line: Clemson -15.5
Why it's listed: I talked myself out of putting Clemson on upset alert at Syracuse two weeks ago and instantly regretted it. Quarterback Kelly Bryant wasn't 100 percent (or close to it), it was a road game on a short week and a tough matchup against an up-tempo offense. Though Bryant has been cleared to resume practice after sustaining a concussion against Syracuse, his health is still a concern. Being cleared after a concussion and being back to normal after a concussion are two different things. There's also Kelly's ankle injury, which has been bothering him for weeks. That affects his throwing and running, and Bryant is the offense's leading rusher in attempts. Without Bryant, or with him at less than 100 percent, Clemson's offense just isn't the same.
Georgia Tech wins if: It excels in its #brand of slow, miserable death by triple option. The Yellow Jackets run about 10-11 plays more per game than their opponent and lead the ACC in time of possession. Their defense is good enough to win games, but the real gameplan is to limit an opponent's opportunity to be on the field. Playing against Clemson's defensive front will be tough, especially since the Tigers are coming off a bye, but Georgia Tech has a chance to win by keeping its offense on the field and Clemson's offense on the sidelines.
Clemson wins if: It can get its running game going without Bryant. Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster have big-play ability, but -- and excuse the terrible, overused pun -- they've been somewhat feast or famine. The explosive runs of 10 and 20 yards or more are there, but they haven't been factors in third-down situations. Bryant is a patient and speedy runner, and with 101 attempts, he is also the bell-cow back. Etienne and Feaster need to be a bigger part of the attack and the offensive line needs to do a better job of clearing the paths for them to get to the second level of the defense where their athleticism can take over.