With the end of September comes the meat of conference play in college football.
Of the 20 ranked teams taking the field in Week 5, just three are facing non-conference patsies—and that includes the No. 22 Notre Dame, which doesn't belong to a conference and will take on Miami (OH) on Saturday.
As such, all the marquee matchups on the docket belong not to powerhouse programs that wouldn't normally play each other but rather to familiar foes facing off with stakes beyond what the College Football Playoff might think.
AP Top 25
1. Alabama, 4-0 (52)
2. Clemson, 4-0 (8)
3. Oklahoma, 4-0 (1)
4. Penn State, 4-0
5. USC, 4-1
6. Washington, 4-0
7. Georgia, 4-0
8. Michigan, 4-0
9. TCU, 4-0
10. Wisconsin, 3-0
11. Ohio State, 3-1
12. Virginia Tech, 4-0
13. Auburn, 3-1
14. Miami (FL), 3-0
15. Oklahoma State, 3-1
16. Washington State, 5-0
17. Louisville, 3-1
18. South Florida, 4-0
19. San Diego State, 4-0
20. Utah, 4-0
21. Florida, 2-1
22. Notre Dame, 3-1
23. West Virginia, 3-1
24. Mississippi State, 3-1
25. LSU, 3-1
Numbers in parentheses indicate first-place votes.
One of the biggest games of the gameweek has already been settled. No. 5 USC, after escaping shaky outings against Texas and Cal, finally fell off the wagon with a 30-27 loss at No. 16 Washington State on Friday.
Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold looked like anything but a Heisman darling up in Pullman, Washington. The redshirt sophomore set a new career-low for passing yards in a start, with 164 yards and one interception on 15 of 29 attempts.
Some kudos is due to the Cougars defense, which held the Trojans to 10 second-half points and pressured Darnold into a fumble on Southern Cal's final drive of the game.
Meanwhile, Wazzu's Luke Falk looked like a potential trophy contender. The senior quarterback from Logan, Utah, threw just his second pick of the 2017 season, albeit while throwing for his 15th and 16th touchdowns and passing for 340 yards.
The stunning upset should move Mike Leach's squad squarely into the College Football Playoff conversation. The Cougars, though, will have to earn their keep. They play five of their seven remaining Pac-12 games outside the Palouse, starting with Week 6's trip to Eugene to play Oregon and ending at No. 20 Utah and No. 6 Washington.
West Coast excitement aside, the most consequential contest on the Week 5 docket figures to be No. 2 Clemson's trip to take on No. 12 Virginia Tech.
The Hokies haven't made many waves nationally since 2011 and practically fell off the map after longtime head coach Frank Beamer retired in 2015. But Justin Fuente, Beamer's successor, has VA Tech in prime position to make a statement on the big stage.
Fuente's Hokies haven't played much Beamer Ball this season—they've scored just one touchdown on special teams and none off their defense—but their overall tenacity and physicality would make his predecessor proud. The team ranks sixth in the country in points allowed per game (10.3) and features a balanced offensive attack that figures among the top 25 nationally in total passing and rushing yards.
The catch? Since upending West Virginia in the season opener, Virginia Tech has taken down a trio of cupcakes, including Delaware and Old Dominion.
The Tigers, on the other hand, have been busy strutting their stuff in every phase against quality competition. Saturday's showdown at Lane Stadium will be Clemson's third against a ranked opponent this season.
Dabo Swinney's squad has managed to subdue all comers despite losing a slew of stars to the NFL after last season's national championship. Quarterback Kelly Bryant has done a more than admirable job imitating Deshaun Watson, racking up 873 yards and two touchdowns through the air and another 268 yards and seven scores on the ground.
For all of Clemson's offensive flash, though, it's the defense that will be the difference in its title defense in Week 5 and beyond. The Tigers have allowed the third-fewest yards (227 per game) and points (9.3 per game) in the nation, thanks in no small part to a front that has picked up 17 sacks—second in the NCAA, behind only Michigan's 18.
Another win would be nothing new for Clemson. The Tigers have won nine consecutive games overall and four straight opposite Virginia Tech, including a 42-35 thriller in last year's ACC Championship Game.