College football picks against the spread: Stewart Mandel’s Week 9 picks

Last week was not my finest hour. Did I really pick Iowa to cover against Ohio State?

I feel much more confident this week. Really. I do.

Last week: 5-6 against the spread

Season: 44-43-1 against the spread

(All point spreads come from BetMGM, click here for live odds, all kickoff times Eastern.)

Syracuse lost a heartbreaker at Clemson but gained a lot of respect nonetheless. QB Garrett Shrader is a gamer, and the defense got after Tigers QB DJ Uiagalelei. Clemson ultimately gashed the Orange on the ground. Notre Dame aspires to have that kind of rushing attack but it has been inconsistent for much of the season.

Syracuse 27, Notre Dame 20
Pick: Syracuse -2.5

No. 2 Ohio State (-15.5) at No. 13 Penn State, Noon, Fox

Penn State’s secondary, led by CB Joey Porter Jr., has helped Penn State rank No. 5 nationally in pass efficiency defense and gives the Nittany Lions hope of at least slowing down Buckeyes star C.J. Stroud and his receivers. It’s just hard to imagine Sean Clifford and Penn State’s offense will be able to keep up for four quarters.

Ohio State 35, Penn State 24
Pick: Penn State +15.5

No. 7 TCU (-7.5) at West Virginia, Noon, ESPN

TCU is going to lose at some point, and a trip to Morgantown on the heels of facing four straight Top 25 opponents has all the makings of a trap. But Max Duggan and the Horned Frogs love to take shots, and West Virginia’s defense largely fails to stop them. The Mountaineers rank 108th nationally in 20+ yard plays allowed (39).

TCU 38, West Virginia 28
Pick: TCU -7.5

No. 20 Cincinnati at UCF (-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPN

UCF has been all over the map this season. In their last two games, the Knights put up 70 points on Temple, then got blown out 34-13 at East Carolina. QB John Rhys Plumlee threw three picks and was sacked four times by the Pirates. Luke Fickell’s defense, led by LB Ivan Pace Jr., will come after him.

Cincinnati 21, UCF 16
Pick: Cincinnati +1

No. 1 Georgia (-22.5) vs. Florida, 3:30 p.m., CBS

Florida QB Anthony Richardson had a miserable first career start against the Dawgs last season. He’s going to need to ball out for the Gators to have any chance in this one. Florida’s defense is just horrendous (105th nationally), and Georgia’s offense is particularly problematic thanks to matchup nightmares like TE Brock Bowers.

Georgia 44, Florida 20
Pick: Georgia -22.5

It’s Oklahoma State’s third straight game against a ranked opponent, and the first two — a 43-40 overtime loss to TCU and a 41-34 comeback win over Texas — were both nailbiters. While QB Adrian Martinez’s uncertain status makes it difficult to handicap K-State, it seems like the Wildcats could catch the Cowboys when they’re a tad worn out.

Kansas State 33, Oklahoma State 30
Pick: Kansas State -1.5

No. 19 Kentucky at No. 3 Tennessee (-12.5), 7 p.m., ESPN

Kentucky QB Will Levis is the more highly regarded NFL draft prospect, yet I have considerably more confidence in Vols star Hendon Hooker. Levis effectively spelled out at a news conference that the Wildcats’ plan is to string out long drives to keep the ball away from Tennessee’s offense, but the Vols score so quickly I’m not sure that matters.

Tennessee 41, Kentucky 27
Pick: Tennessee -12.5

Mel Tucker is 2-0 against Michigan, and the Spartans have won 10 of the last 14 editions of this rivalry — which seems like a setup for the Wolverines to take out a whole lot of frustration in this one. State’s offense is a shell of last year’s Kenneth Walker III-led version and its defense is 105th nationally. Whereas Michigan is good at everything.

Michigan 42, Michigan State 14
Pick: Michigan -22.5

No. 15 Ole Miss (-2.5) at Texas A&M, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network

This line is just begging us to take the 3-4 Aggies at home, and you know Jimbo wants this one badly after some of Lane Kiffin’s potshots. But I’ve watched too much of that dreadful offense and I can’t unsee it. The Aggies don’t have a dynamic quarterback like LSU’s Jayden Daniels, who exposed the flaws of Ole Miss’ previously untested offense.

Ole Miss 24, Texas A&M 20
Pick: Ole Miss -2.5

Pitt at No. 21 North Carolina (-3), 8 p.m., ACC Network

I’ve been saying for weeks that UNC is not as good as its record (6-1) and ranking. Vegas seems to agree with me given the Tar Heels are only three-point home favorites over a 4-3 Pitt team with losses to Georgia Tech and Louisville. But Panthers QB Kedon Slovis has not looked capable of exploiting UNC’s biggest weakness, its pass defense.

North Carolina 34, Pitt 27
Pick: North Carolina -3

Upset Special: UAB (-5.5) at FAU, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network

I don’t have any Xs and Os insight on this one. I just saw that FAU is advertising this game as “The Biggest Halloween Party in Boca Raton,” and that sounds like a scary place to be if you’re 5.5-point favorite UAB.

FAU 26, UAB 20
Pick: FAU +5.5

(Photo: Rick Osentoski / USA Today)

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