Conference play continues to ramp up in Week 5 of the college football season with several intriguing battles that could have a big impact on the rankings.
In a sport where one loss can change a season, several College Football Playoff contenders will be on high alert with tough matchups throughout the upcoming weekend. Even the games that don't feature two ranked teams could create some major surprises.
Here are predictions from the top games of the week.
No. 5 USC at No. 16 Washington State
In this quarterback battle, the less famous starter could be the key to victory.
NFL draft fans know all about USC's Sam Darnold, who Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recently called his top quarterback in the 2018 class:
Matt Miller @nfldraftscout
There's a new QB1 and his name is Sam Darnold. Here are my thoughts on him from last week's @sticktofootball podcast. https://t.co/fZT1nVl2FV2017-9-21 21:09:47
Unfortunately, he has struggled with consistency this season and has just nine touchdowns with seven interceptions. His wild play led to close calls against Texas and California, with the offense getting off to slow starts each time.
Meanwhile, Luke Falk has thrived in the pass-heavy offense at Washington State, already throwing for 1,378 yards, 14 touchdowns with one interception this season. He now has 103 touchdowns in his college career.
Although Darnold might remain a better long-term prospect, Falk has been nearly flawless when on the field, and he could cause problems for a Trojans defense that has relied on turnovers so far this season.
Even if Washington State's defense is suspect, it can help complete the upset if it can force Darnold into some mistakes.
Prediction: Washington State 41, USC 38
No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has been blowing teams out this year, and the squad is especially dangerous at Lane Stadium. However, the team hasn't faced anyone anywhere near as good as Clemson.
Even with a lot of offensive changes from last year's championship team, the Tigers defense remains one of the best in the country with a front-seven that doesn't give up much yardage against anyone. Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant and others will help shut down the run game while putting pressure on freshman quarterback Josh Jackson all night long.
There are playmakers on the Hokies roster, including Cam Phillips, but it will be difficult to put up points in this matchup.
On the other side of the ball, Kelly Bryant has been doing more than enough to lead Clemson offensively, even if his passing numbers aren't always eye-popping. The junior is a dangerous runner and is one of three players on the team with over 200 rushing yards already.
After showing he can win in a tough environment at Louisville, Bryant should have no problem replicating the feat at Virginia Tech.
Prediction: Clemson 34, Virginia Tech 17
No. 24 Mississippi State at No. 13 Auburn
Mississippi State figured out a way to stay ranked in the two major polls despite a 31-3 loss to Georgia last week.
"I don't think we executed at a real high level today in any of three phases, to be honest with you," head coach Dan Mullen said after the loss, per Bob Carskadon of HailState.com.
The Bulldogs have an impressive win over LSU on their resume, and Georgia has proved to be an elite squad, but this didn't seem like a team you can trust. Playing a second straight game on the road against a ranked team also isn't ideal.
Auburn hasn't allowed more than 14 points in a game this season and is only giving up 11.3 points per game, including a narrow loss to Clemson.
Although the offense has been inconsistent, Jarrett Stidham is coming off his best all-around game of the season, and he should be able to lead the Tigers to another win.
Prediction: Auburn 24, Mississippi State 7
Full Week 5 Schedule and Picks (Spread info courtesy of OddsShark)
Friday, Sept. 29
7 p.m. ET: No. 14 Miami at Duke (Duke +5.5)
10:30 p.m. ET: No. 5 USC at No. 16 Washington State (WSU +4.5)
Saturday, Sept. 30
12 p.m. ET: Northwestern at No. 10 Wisconsin (WISC -14)
12 p.m. ET: No. 18 South Florida at East Carolina (ECU +24.5)
12 p.m. ET: Vanderbilt at No. 21 Florida (VAN +10)
3:30 p.m. ET: Indiana at No. 4 Penn State (PSU -16.5)
3:30 p.m. ET: No. 7 Georgia at Tennessee (UGA -7)
3:30 p.m. ET: Murray State at No. 17 Louisville (N/A)
5 p.m. ET: Miami (OH) at No. 22 Notre Dame (MIA +23)
6 p.m. ET: No. 24 Mississippi State at No. 13 Auburn (AUB -9.5)
7 p.m. ET: Troy at No. 25 LSU (TROY +19.5)
7:30 p.m. ET: No. 11 Ohio State at Rutgers (OSU -28.5)
8 p.m. ET: No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech (CLEM -6.5)
8 p.m. ET: No. 6 Washington at Oregon State (UW -27)
8 p.m. ET: No. 15 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech (OKST -11)
9 p.m. ET: Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama (BAMA -28)
10:30 p.m. ET: Northern Illinois at No. 19 San Diego State (NIU +12)