College Football Rankings: Top 25 Previews, Predictions
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Now we can get down to business.
The college football season is four weeks old. Some teams have already had their national title hopes dashed, while others have emerged from relative obscurity to become serious contenders. We are all starting to get a better understanding of the quality teams and players.
Best of all, however, is that conference play is about to begin nationwide. Yes, there have been a few ACC, SEC and Pac-12 games, but now 13 of the 18 Top 25 games are conference matchups.
Teams that have struggled have a fresh start. Teams that have excelled need to continue to perform. Let's take a quick, early look at the Week 5 slate of games.
No. 16 South Florida (-2) at Pittsburgh—8 p.m. EDT, Thursday Night
Todd Graham is looking for more consistency from his Panthers
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Skip Holtz has his South Florida Bulls 4-0 for the first time since 2009. One of the main problems with this is that the Bulls haven't played a quality opponent since Notre Dame in Week 1.
USF is quietly taking care of business against Ball State, Florida A&M and UTEP. It has a balanced offense that ranks 23rd in the nation in passing and 20th in rushing.
What concerns me about USF is the defense. It allowed 24 points to a poor UTEP team last week. Although it held the Irish to just 20 points, it allowed 508 yards.
Pitt is a disappointing 2-2. It led Iowa 24-3 late in the third quarter and led 27-10 in the fourth before losing 31-27. The defense played a bit better last week against Notre Dame but let the Irish go on a long, 85-yard drive when the game mattered most.
Todd Graham's high-powered offense hasn't translated smoothly from Tulsa to Pitt. It's only putting up 27 points per game (73rd in nation) and is averaging a pedestrian 370 yards per game.
I feel that Pitt's offense is about ready to click. It has a great opportunity to do so this week against South Florida. The defense continues to improve and gives USF its toughest challenge since the Irish.
Pitt 27, USF 21
Minnesota (+20.5) at No. 19 Michigan—12 p.m. EDT
Hoke is enjoying success in his first year in Ann Arbor
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Minnesota is off to an awful start, and its coach is in worse condition.
Jerry Kill suffered a seizure against New Mexico State Sept. 10 and has apparently suffered several more since then.
After opening up with a close two-point loss in the Coliseum, Minnesota has lost to New Mexico State and FBS North Dakota State. Somehow, it beat Miami (Ohio) in between.
Michigan, on the other hand, is emerging as a serious threat to win the Big Ten. Everyone knows about Denard Robinson, but it's the emergence of running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Vincent Smith that gives the team a more balanced attack and a suffocating defense that makes the Wolverines so dangerous.
Michigan's defense has rebounded nicely from a poor effort against ND. It has allowed only 10 points in the past two weeks combined. Michigan has started fast in recent years but faltered once it began Big Ten play. A solid defense can be the difference between this year and years previous.
A trip to the Big House is not what Minnesota needed to turn things around. It struggles, and Michigan keeps improving.
Michigan 38, Minnesota 13
Northwestern (+7.5) at No. 24 Illinois—12 p.m. EDT
The Zooker has Illinois 4-0 for first time in 60 years
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Illinois has surprised many, winning its first four games, including a win over No. 25 Arizona State. Northwestern has struggled without Dan Persa and lost last week to Army.
Illinois is winning the close games—the last two coming by three points each. Nathan Scheelhaase has managed the game well, completing 71 percent of his passes. Troy Pollard and Donovonn Young have emerged to complement Jason Ford in the backfield, and A.J. Jenkins has become a threat in the passing game.
Defensively, the Illini have gotten to the quarterback often, forcing 13 sacks and intercepting six passes.
Northwestern has been unimpressive offensively. It averages only 169 yards through the air and is only putting up 26 points per game.
Last week the Wildcats never got anything going. They held the ball for only 19:41, and QB Kain Colter averaged only 3.9 yards per completion.
There's no reason to think the Illinois defense wouldn't be able to manage the underwhelming Wildcats attack. If it can continue to run the ball well (last year against Northwestern it rushed for 519 yards), it should win easily.
Illinois 27, Northwestern 14
Kentucky (+30) at No. 1 LSU—12 p.m. EDT
Mathieu is the latest in the great lineage of LSU defensive backs
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LSU has run a gauntlet of Oregon, Mississippi State in Starkville and West Virginia in Morgantown.
The Tigers win in every facet of the game. They run the ball. They complete timely passes. They play great special teams. And they have the best defense.
Now they come home to see Kentucky, a team that has struggled against just about everybody.
After narrowly escaping against Western Kentucky in the first week, the Wildcats have fallen to Louisville and Florida at home. The trip to Death Valley will be their first road game.
Only way this game is close is if LSU comes out complacent and unfocused. Otherwise, expect a rout.
LSU 42, Kentucky 7
Nevada (+28) at No. 4 Boise State—2:30 p.m. EDT
Kellen Moore is dominating again.
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A rematch from last year's WAC thriller shouldn't be as close this time. Theoretically, it wasn't supposed to be close last year either, though.
Boise State is up to its usual tricks. Kellen Moore has been great, and the Broncos have handled everything thrown at them so far. They're in a new conference but play a familiar foe in Nevada.
Nevada had to replace Colin Kaepernick but is running the ball well again. It moved the ball all over Texas Tech in Lubbock but came up just short in a heartbreaker.
The defense has struggled at times. It couldn't stop Oregon in its season opener. It couldn't stop Texas Tech last week. Seeing Moore and the Broncos won't be a sight for sore eyes.
Nevada's ability to stay competitive will of course be contingent on its ability to run the ball. I think it does run well enough, but Boise State has too much firepower to be caught at home.
Boise State 48, Nevada 24
Bowling Green (+18.5) at No. 22 West Virginia—3:30 p.m. EDT
Geno Smith is putting up huge numbers
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West Virginia played one of its biggest home games of all time and came up well short.
WVU was able to move the ball on LSU, but four turnovers led to a lopsided score. Hey, that's what LSU does. It doesn't change that at times WVU showed signs of offensive potency.
WVU is now third in the nation in passing yards but only 115th in rushing. Geno Smith is flinging the ball all over the field, and Dana Holgorsen has WVU looking like Oklahoma State.
Bowling Green is a quiet 3-1, with its only loss being a one-point defeat to Wyoming (in which a Bowling Green extra point was blocked with three seconds left). Bowling Green can move the ball itself. QB Matt Schilz has already thrown for 1,169 yards and 14 touchdowns.
WVU hasn't really been gangbusters on defense. It gave up 47 to LSU, 31 to Maryland and 13 to Marshall in a rain-shortened game.
I think a combination of Bowling Green's ability to move the ball and West Virginia being a bit hungover leads this game to be close for a while.
West Virginia 41, Bowling Green 21
No. 15 Baylor (-4) at Kansas State—3:30 p.m. EDT
Bill Snyder is working magic again in Manhattan
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Baylor is averaging a whopping 51 points per game. That includes its opening-week shootout to TCU and last week's win over Rice. Robert Griffin III has the Bears clicking on all cylinders, as he's completed 70 out of 82 passes—that's 85.3 percent!
For all intents and purposes, Kansas State has been equally impressive. It's doing it on the ground, though, as Collin Klein and John Hubert have combined for 596 yards in three games. The Wildcats are coming off a trip to Miami where they handled the Canes.
This should be a fun game and is certainly one of the more underrated games of the weekend. Both feature dual-threat QBs. Both teams are 3-0. The secret is that Kansas State's defense is better than Baylor's—a lot better. The Wildcats have only allowed 10.3 points per game (admittedly, they haven't played a team like Baylor yet). Still, it's the difference in this game.
Kansas State 35, Baylor 31
No. 2 Alabama (-4) at No. 12 Florida—3:30 p.m. EDT
Richardson leads a dominant rushing attack
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Game of the Week
Through four games, Alabama is who we thought it was: dominant defense (8.0 points allowed per game), impressive rushing attack (230 yards per game)—all in all, a talented, physical, dominant football team.
But it is Florida who is the surprise. A new coach and new coordinators don't seem to bother the Gators much, as they have used their talent to skyrocket up to No. 13 in the polls.
They've done it impressively as well. They handled a dangerous Tennessee team at home and followed that up with a thrashing against Kentucky.
Florida rushes for 259 yards per game and is only allowing nine points per game. Chris Rainey is emerging as one of the more talented players in the nation, rushing for 411 yards and catching for 214. The much-maligned John Brantley is turning into a serviceable quarterback as well.
Florida might not have been on people's radars at the start of the season, but it certainly should be now. If you want to see speed and talent in the college game, look no further than Gainesville on Saturday. The home field, the talented defense and a powerful rushing game makes this an upset special.
Florida 23, Alabama 20
No. 21 Georgia Tech (-12) at North Carolina State—3:30 p.m. EDT
Tevin Washington can throw in addition to his running game
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Last week, Georgia Tech looked very impressive in its morning win over the Tar Heels. Conversely, North Carolina State looked like a team without a paddle in Cincinnati.
Georgia Tech has the No. 1 offense in the nation. It still runs the triple option but has developed the ability to throw the ball as well. QB Tevin Washington has thrown for 821 yards and eight scores.
The defense played great on Saturday, holding the Tar Heels to 332 yards, approximately 90 of which came on two plays. They also forced two turnovers and controlled the ball.
North Carolina State was overwhelmed against Cincy. From the start, it was apparent it had no chance in a game it eventually lost 44-14. It couldn't run the ball (minus-26 yards), it turned it over and, worst of all, it didn't come close to stopping Cincy.
Several players on the NC State defense were missing due to injury, but the defense was awful. It gave up 500-plus yards and 44 points and had trouble tackling all night.
Don't expect NC State to be as bad as it was last Thursday. Getting some players on defense back can go a long way, but probably not all the way.
Georgia Tech 35, NC State 17
SMU (+12) at No. 20 TCU—3:30 p.m. EDT
Patterson has regrouped after opening loss
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This game features two teams that lost their openers but have responded with three straight wins.
TCU has righted its ship after an opening loss to Baylor. First, the Horned Frogs impressively handled Air Force on the road. Then they took care of business against two weaker opponents.
SMU has three straight wins against inferior competition. J.J. McDermott has taken over full quarterback duties and is putting up quality numbers in June Jones' system.
The Mustangs are tough to gauge due to their opponents. Against the one quality team they played, A&M, they were handled. TCU, on the other hand, is going to play better defense, run the ball well and should be able to put up big points against a porous SMU defense.
TCU 38, SMU 21
No. 14 Texas A&M (-3) vs No. 18 Arkansas—3:30 p.m. EDT
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Texas A&M missed a golden opportunity. It blew a 17-point halftime lead and missed out on beating a Top 10 team at home.
Arkansas was outclassed and outplayed against Alabama. It was never able to get anything going and folded in the third quarter.
A&M showed last week that it is susceptible to giving up big numbers through the air. I don't believe Arkansas is as potent as Oklahoma State, but it's no slouch either.
Arkansas has the weapons to move the ball effectively against A&M. A bigger issue is the rush defense. It gave up 197 on the ground against Alabama last week, and A&M features a great rushing attack.
If A&M can run the ball and control the game, it can beat its future conference mates. I think this happens, and even with Arkansas making some plays in the passing game, A&M plays a full 60 minutes and outscores the Hogs.
Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 32
No. 13 Clemson (+6.5) at No. 11 Virginia Tech—6 p.m. EDT
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Make no mistake about it: Clemson has a tremendous amount of talent.
Sammy Watkins and Dwayne Allen have been productive targets for Tajh Boyd, who is emerging as a very accurate passer. Watkins is used in a variety of ways and is one of the quicker players in the nation.
Virginia Tech is quietly going about its business. It's a boring 4-0 that struggled in Greenville against ECU and un-impressively handled Arkansas State and Marshall.
Still, it's at home and, as usual, has a formidable defense.
The Hokies are only giving up 10 points per game. They've already tallied 14 sacks, and they have seven interceptions.
The Hokies haven't played a team like Clemson yet, and Clemson hasn't played anyone as tough on the road yet (or anyone, period).
Clemson is emerging as one of my favorite teams, and I'd love to pick it. Still, it is going away from Death Valley for the first time this year. Virginia Tech is still a solid squad that can run the ball. I'd love to see Clemson win and take control of the ACC, but I think Virginia Tech makes the game boring and squeaks one out.
Virginia Tech 24, Clemson 17
Ball State (+38) at No. 2 Oklahoma—7 p.m. EDT
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Ball State is 3-1 with wins over Army and Indiana. Its lone loss was its only road game, a 37-7 defeat to South Florida.
That doesn't bode well for the Cardinals as they head into Norman.
Quarterback Keith Wenning hasn't turned the ball over yet, and the Cardinals are running the ball fairly well. Still, as we all know, OU isn't Indiana or Buffalo.
Oklahoma hasn't exactly looked invincible the past few weeks, though. Ryan Broyles is dominating games, but the Sooners haven't been able to get a running game going at all. Their defense looked good against FSU but susceptible to Missouri.
Oklahoma has won 38 in a row at home, and it won't change this week. How close will it be? I'd like to see Ball State put some points up, but we all know Oklahoma is a front-runner, and Bob Stoops won't be ashamed to earn style points this week.
Oklahoma 55, Ball State 13
Auburn (+10.5) at No. 10 South Carolina—7 p.m. EDT
Lattimore could be in store for a big game Saturday
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For all the talent South Carolina has on offense, it hasn't been able to turn it into big points.
Stephen Garcia struggled against Vanderbilt and was benched (shocking, I know). Marcus Lattimore is a Heisman candidate, but he was relatively silent versus Vanderbilt, while Alshon Jeffery has been virtually nonexistent this season.
However, it was the defense that came up big against Vanderbilt. It forced three turnovers and held the Commodores to 77 yards. It was a relief to see this just two weeks after SC won a shootout against Georgia.
Auburn has struggled so far this season. Its late-game heroics helped the Tigers escape against Utah State. They came out with a blast against Clemson but were eventually held to just three points over the last two-and-a-half quarters. Worse yet, their defense has been really bad—especially the rush defense.
That's why there is no reason to think it will be anything other than Lattimore left, Lattimore right, Lattimore up the middle on Saturday. If the Gamecocks can play defense the way they did last Saturday, this one could get ugly.
South Carolina 38, Auburn 17
No. 17 Texas (-10) vs. Iowa State—7 p.m. EDT
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Texas is flying under the radar to a certain degree. After demolishing UCLA in the Rose Bowl, it has had the week to rest up and get ready to head to Ames.
Iowa State is 3-0 itself. In addition to beating hated rival Iowa, the Cyclones handled UConn on the road last Friday night. The latter win came despite QB Steele Jantz throwing three interceptions in the first quarter.
The defenses are the strengths of both teams. Texas' defense kept the Longhorns in the game against BYU three weeks ago, as they rallied to win, 17-16. Then, two weeks ago, they forced three Kevin Prince interceptions in the first quarter and jumped out to an early 21-0 lead.
Iowa State allowing 41 points to Iowa is misleading, as the game went to three overtimes. Against UConn, the Cyclones forced three turnovers and held the Huskies to 20 points.
Both teams feature a run-first type offense. Texas has an edge on this side of the ball, as freshman Malcolm Brown is living up to his hype.
If Texas keeps it simple and is able to run the ball, it should be able to play good enough defense to win in Ames. If it gets fancy and turns it over, it could be closer.
Texas 24, Iowa State 13
No. 8 Nebraska (+9.5) at No. 7 Wisconsin—8 p.m. EDT
Montee Ball doesn't make deals, he just runs the ball well
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Nebraska might be on its way to getting a rude welcome to Big Ten football.
The Huskers are 4-0 but have looked less than stellar. A crazy game in Lincoln saw them escape 51-38 against Washington. Before that came an unimpressive 42-29 win over Fresno State. The defense isn't living up to Bo Pelini or anyone else's standards.
Wisconsin is taking care of business as usual. It's shown it can run it. It can throw it. It plays great defense. It takes care of the ball. What more do you want? It's as good as any team I've seen.
A balanced attack from Wisconsin should be enough to put big points up on Nebraska. Conversely, Nebraska has been able to run the ball so far, but it hasn't played a defense like Wisconsin's yet. If Taylor Martinez gets rattled early, it could be a long night for the Huskers.
Wisconsin 28, Nebraska 17
UCLA (+21.5) at No. 6 Stanford—10 p.m. EDT
Luck continues to go about his business
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Stanford gets no respect, yet its quarterback, Andrew Luck, gets all the respect in the world. It makes no sense. Forget all that, though—the Cardinal are good.
They are one of the few marquee teams who have played more road games than home games. Fine with them—they're 3-0. They've easily handled everyone in their path.
Losing linebacker Shayne Skov for the season hurts. It's hard to measure the impact that will have. Figure Stanford to still play good defense and still have an efficient offense.
UCLA may have lost the season with its quarterback roulette. Richard Brehaut was finally given the keys to the offense last week, and the Bruins prevailed in Corvallis, 27-19. Still, it isn't the 2-2 record that is so disappointing for the Bruins but the way in which they've earned it.
The defense has been putrid. Teams have been able to throw all over the Bruins (which doesn't bode well for Saturday). They have given up an average of 31 points per game.
If there is one silver lining, it is that they can run the ball pretty well. And they may have finally found and settled on a quarterback. Maybe.
Stanford 42, UCLA 17
Oregon State (+17) at No. 25 Arizona State—10:30 p.m. EDT
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Arizona State rebounded after its disappointing loss in Champaign to beat the Trojans Saturday night in the desert. It was the first time in 11 years that the Devils beat the Trojans. All of a sudden, the Sun Devils are ranked again and in the driver's seat in the Pac-12 South.
ASU still gave up big rushing plays, but it limited its own penalties and did something odd for the team: It won the turnover battle. Big. It won that battle 4-0. ASU also held the Trojans to 1-of-9 on third downs.
Oregon State is looking for anything positive. The Beavers lost to an FCS team. They were shut out against Wisconsin. They lost at home against UCLA—a missed opportunity to turn the season around. Now, they're 0-3—0-1 in the Pac-12—and have to travel to the desert.
OSU has been able to throw the ball, but it certainly hasn't translated into points. The Beavers average 259 yards per game in the air but are 112th in scoring.
ASU has built a solid, talented, well-rounded team. The Sun Devils should be favored in the rest of their home games. Still, they are a team that needs to avoid shooting itself in the foot with penalties and turnovers. They did this Saturday night and showed what can be accomplished when they do.
Arizona State 31, Oregon State 17