College football storylines, Week 9: Loaded afternoon includes Michigan on upset alert

We found out again this week money doesn't necessarily buy happiness.

USA Today released its annual coaches' salary database. Besides being the platform for thousands of spin-off blogs -- All But One Power Five Coach Makes More Than Brian Kelly! -- the information provides one heck of a window into the game.

There are a ton of underpaid coaches. But the public's attention tends to be fixed on the bloated salaries of those at the top. Jim Harbaugh ($9 million) leads a group of six coaches at the top who are paid at least the NFL coaches' average ($5.2 million).

Pressure to win? It's ramped up a lot when Michigan's coach is making more than the entire Nicholls State program is worth. That leads us to a different way of looking at the week's biggest games, ranking them by coaches' income.

  • Clearly, then, the showdown between No. 1 Michigan (based on Harbaugh's salary) and No. 14 Michigan State (Mark Dantonio's rank) is the most compelling, $-wise.
  • No. 5 Florida State (Jimbo Fisher, $5.25 million) hosts No. 12 Clemson (Dabo, 4.4 million).
  • Don't forget No. 15 Florida (Jim McElwain) at No. 23 Georgia (Kirby Smart) in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
  • A showdown in the Pac-12 barely makes the top 25 --- Washington (Chris Petersen at No. 25) at Utah (Kyle Whittingham at No. 24).

Those also happen to be arguably the four biggest games of the day. While money may not buy happiness, big-time coaches -- their antics, their teams and their salaries - sure as hell equal interest.

1. Afternoon delight: Please, no more bleating about East Coast Bias or Pac-12 After Dark. A 3:30 p.m. ET start for Washington-Utah qualifies as prime time. This quite possibly is the conference's game of the year and a Pac-12 title game preview. Also, a lot of folks will be awake to watch it.

Kyle Whittingham has typically assembled a squad that will leave you bloodied and beaten no matter what the result. That physical play may have cost Utah its best player before Joe Williams recently returned.

Washington can't complain about lack of attention. Jake Browning is near the top of most Heisman Trophy finalist lists. The Huskies' No. 4 ranking is the highest since the Don James era.

But it's stunning to realize they are about to play their second ranked team of the season -- first on the road. Their first was Stanford, one of the season's biggest disappointments at 4-3. Be prepared U-Dub to be bloodied and beaten.

2. ACC game of the year: Well, Clemson-Florida State certainly looked that way this summer when we started to look ahead to the season.

FSU's had issues, most of them since safety Derwin James was injured in the season's second week. Clemson has yet to measure up offensively to last season. The return of running back Wayne Gallman should help Saturday.

Louisville (at Virginia) actually has the league's best player, more swag and possibly LSU's next coach (Bobby Petrino) going for it.

A Seminole win doesn't really change things in the division. The Tigers would still have the tiebreaker over the Cardinals. But it could impact the ACC's chances in the College Football Playoff. The league would be left without an undefeated team with five weeks to go.

3. Vintage Dantonio: Las Vegas, the voters and even the CFP tends to fall in love with name brands. Example: Michigan being a 24.5-point favorite at Michigan State is just plain stupid.

Spartans-Wolverines has quickly become one of my must-see games each season. The hate is palpable whether it's Mark Dantonio running it up or an American punt-block specialist overwhelming an Australian punter.

The Spartans will play the Wolverines off their feet mostly because they usually do, having won seven of the last eight in the series.

I've picked Michigan State outright not because of any animosity toward Michigan, it's because the Spartans' coach takes this game personally.

"Ever since I've come here I've never shied away from this football game," Dantonio said. "I've always maintained that the focus needs to be on that game a little bit more than usual. That's never going to change."

Give me a helmet, damn it.

4. Shoutout to the Big Ten: If Michigan-Michigan State is good, Nebraska-Wisconsin just might be better. The Huskers (7-0) have turned into this year's (more offensively entertaining) version of Iowa. That would be, a team that is the sum of its parts making a Big Ten run.

Wisconsin (5-2) began two weeks ago exposing the flaws in Ohio State. The main question is whether Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong can hold up on the road. Underrated receiver Jordan Westerkamp returns from the hospital.

I've been rating the Power Five conferences each week on CBS Sports' College Football Rundown. It has become a weekly battle (inside my brain) to choose between the SEC and Big Ten at No. 1. Two years ago, that would have been laughable.

Then Michigan hired Harbaugh. Then Urban Meyer won a national championship at Ohio State. Then Iowa came within 27 seconds of going to the playoff. Then Nebraska started 7-0. Then Jabrill Peppers became the thinking man's Heisman candidate.

Then I thought of this heading into Week 9: Aside from Alabama, what team in the SEC couldn't Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State -- and probably Penn State -- beat?

5. The Cocktail Party: Kirby Smart is having the rookie season in the SEC that Jim McElwain never had. That would be, mediocre at best. Georgia has already lost three SEC games, including at home to Vanderbilt. (C'mon.)

Smart is bound for great success at Georgia, but there won't be much on Saturday in Jacksonville. The Gators, which went 7-1 in SEC play under Jim McElwain in his 2015 debut, take a giant step toward the East title with a win against the Dawgs.

While we're on the East, is there any reason South Carolina can't beat Tennessee in Columbia? The Vols do get their offensive line back intact for the first time in a while. No. 2 running back Alvin Kamara, though, is out. Senior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin's season is over after shoulder surgery last week. The Gamecocks, though, are 1-4 in SEC play.

6. Radio silence: Urban Meyer didn't take any calls this week on his call-in show. That's one way to turn down the volume after a shocking loss to Penn State. The network's executive producer explained to the Columbus Dispatch that the decision was his alone based on the quality of the queries of those on hold.

A censored Buckeye Nation suggests an angry Buckeye Nation. Try keeping them quiet if Ohio State loses at home to Northwestern (4-3 and losers of 29 of the last 30 in the series).

7. Pullman Power: Does anyone else realize that Washington State may control the Pac-12's playoff fate? Mike Leach's Cougars (5-2 overall) have quietly moved to 4-0 atop the Pac-12 North, tied with No. 4 Washington. While the Huskies are engaged with Utah, Wazzu heads to Oregon State.

If both teams win out, the North Division, the Pac-12 race and perhaps the conference's playoff hopes would be coming down to the Apple Cup Nov. 25 in Pullman.

Raise your hand if you've already thought of the selection committee having to decide between a one-loss Pac-12 champion (Washington) and a one-loss ACC Atlantic runner-up (Louisville).

8. Big 12 big ones: In The Conference That Defense Forgot, it's time for West Virginia and Baylor get proper recognition heading into November.

WVU's Dana Holgorsen could solidify his conference coach of the year credentials with a win at Oklahoma State. Baylor (6-0) has gotten this far with 70 scholarships players (probably less by now considering attrition).

It should be more about the Bears and their playoff chances heading to Texas rather than Charlie Strong's job security. It probably won't be. Meanwhile, the Big Ten is the only other Power Five conference with two undefeated teams.

9. Goodbye October, hello College Football Playoff: This weekend's games are the last before the CFP Selection Committee convenes next week to decide what it all really means.

We know for sure after Saturday the committee will be sifting through a maximum of nine undefeated teams. That compares to 11 at this point in 2015 and three in 2014.

Get ready for the usual consternation. Who's in the top four? Who's left out? Who the heck cares at this point? The CFP Rankings have quickly evolved into the most over-inflated TV experience since ESPN's last over-inflated TV experience. Reminder: Only three of the eight teams in the top four of the first two CFP Rankings have made the playoff.

Keeping with the overhype spirit, then, if the favorites all win Saturday, here's an educated guess on the top four:

  1. Alabama
  2. Washington
  3. Clemson
  4. Michigan

But bring Tums to Tuesday's CFP debut. History has taught us November upsets are the norm.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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