College Football: B/R Experts Answer Biggest Questions for Week 5
September brought plenty of fun matchups around college football, but the first weekend of October is loaded with critical games.
Every single power conference has a marquee tilt on the Week 5 slate. Among the notable clashes, the SEC has a pair of Top 25 matchups with Kentucky at Ole Miss and Alabama at Arkansas. Both the Big Ten and Big 12 have conference title rematches in Michigan at Iowa and Oklahoma State at Baylor, respectively.
The list goes on, but we won't spoil everything that B/R's experts—Max Escarpio, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—are about to cover.
Also, rank Kansas.
Note: All odds references from DraftKings.
Which Early Undefeated Team Falls the Hardest in October?
Penn State has an extremely difficult schedule in October, facing three ranked opponents. The Nittany Lions aren't likely to leave the month undefeated, not when they’re playing No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan. They’ll start this weekend by hosting Northwestern, a team that they should definitely beat.
The Nittany Lions are likely to finish the month with at least two losses on their resume. The Northwestern game will help give them a confidence boost, but a loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor should follow. Then, they have a toss-up against No. 21 Minnesota before welcoming OSU to town.
Other teams considered were ACC leaders Clemson, NC State and Florida State, since they’re all preparing to face one another in conference play. While two of those three teams will end the month with a loss, Penn State has a legitimate chance of falling deep in the rankings.
Love this question, because there are a lot of undefeated teams left heading into October, including the likes of Kansas, TCU, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Tennessee.
Although it's cool to see some traditional basketball powerhouses like Kansas and Syracuse undefeated through September, I think the Orange fall the hardest. It's mainly because Syracuse has a brutal stretch beginning the second week of October.
The Orange will have no problems against Wagner this Saturday. Syracuse then has an idle weekend before a home game against NC State, which is also 4-0 through September. The week after, Syracuse goes on the road to face No. 5 Clemson before a home game against Notre Dame.
None of those games look like easy wins for Syracuse, especially considering the Orange needed five field goals to get past Virginia last Friday, only making it into the end zone once.
Maybe the Orange will prove me wrong.
What's the Best Matchup Outside the Top 25?
The Top 25 is actually loaded with meaningful games this week, although there is always plenty of intrigue across the CFB landscape.
While this answer would have sounded downright absurd a month ago, give me Kansas-Iowa State.
Yes, that Kansas. In football.
Only a week ago, the Cyclones were favored against Baylor, last year’s Big 12 champion, at home. While Iowa State came up short of the win, Matt Campbell’s team played tough. A week later, the Cyclones are a small favorite against Kansas—one of the darlings of the young season.
As fun as the rise of Kansas has been, this team is legit. The oddsmakers certainly think so, and they know more about this sport than most.
KU quarterback Jalon Daniels has scored 15 touchdowns and thrown only one interception. He’s entered the Heisman discussion, whether you’re ready to have it or not.
While much is still to be sorted in the Big 12, this game will have an enormous impact on the conference. Am I surprised that I'm telling you this? Yes. But it’s the right answer.
How are the Kansas Jayhawks still not ranked?
That will change with a home win this weekend against a strong Iowa State team that lost its first game a week ago in a showdown against Baylor.
Because of that intriguing storyline, this game edges Auburn-LSU, Michigan State-Maryland and Cal-Washington State.
Lance Leipold’s team has been the talk of college football so far, surprising everybody with a spotless start that only gained clout following last week’s win over fellow basketball powerhouse Duke. People are loving some football these days in Lawrence, and with Iowa State coming to town, there’s a lot at stake.
If Daniels and Co. can keep the offensive fireworks going and win this game, there’s no question the Jayhawks will crack the Top 25. Let the fun continue, please!
O/U 2.5 Losses for Top 25 Teams Against Unranked Foes?
Give me the under, but I certainly won't pretend to be surprised if it ends up going over.
The only unranked-over-ranked upset that I'm picking is Mississippi State over No. 17 Texas A&M. With Aggies WR Ainias Smith out for the year, Texas A&M—which already wasn't anything special on offense—figures to have trouble moving the ball on the road against a pretty good Bulldogs defense. It'll be a low-scoring game, but Mississippi State gets it done.
(Side note: It is going to be all sorts of hideous fun when we end up with 8-4 Iowa vs. 7-5 Texas A&M in a Music City Bowl with an over/under of like 31.5 points.)
There are a bunch of other potential upsets on the Week 5 docket, though.
No. 15 Washington at UCLA and No. 18 Oklahoma at TCU are the big ones, as both of those home teams are undefeated. No. 4 Michigan at Iowa could also get weird. And neither No. 25 Kansas State (vs. Texas Tech) nor No. 12 Utah (vs. Oregon State) are anything close to guarantees to win at home against 3-1 foes. At least one of those games will go sideways for the ranked team, but my guess is we only see two ranked teams lose to unranked teams.
Kerry mentioned all the major possibilities, and I'm inclined to agree with Mississippi State. The strength of Texas A&M's defense is the secondary, but MSU's quick-hitting passing attack can neutralize some of that effectiveness and take advantage of a susceptible A&M group up front.
I'll also throw in Texas Tech, which meets Kansas State in a battle of teams coming off schadenfreude-filled upsets. They knocked out soon-to-be-departing Big 12 adversaries Texas and Oklahoma last week, respectively.
First-year Texas Tech head coach Joey McGuire acted as though he had absolutely nothing to lose, attempting what felt like 18 fourth-down conversions in the overtime win. That aggressive mentality can be crushing to a K-State squad that is content to lean heavily on the running game, slow the clock and limit possessions.
Besides, how perfectly Kansas State would it be for the Wildcats to sandwich a win at Oklahoma between losses to Tulane and Tech?
Are You Buying Minnesota as a Threat to Ohio State, Big Ten?
Three teams in the Big Ten—Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State—are one tier higher than the rest of the programs. The third-ranked Buckeyes, who are currently 4-0, don’t have a terribly strenuous schedule left. Their toughest remaining games be visiting Penn State in a hostile environment and hosting Michigan at the end of the season.
Minnesota has an easier road, but it is nowhere near as talented as Ohio State. However, running back Mohamed Ibrahim and the Gophers offense have shown tremendous improvement and skill throughout the season. This is a well-rounded team with a quality defense that hasn’t allowed over 10 points in a game, so the race toward the top of the Big Ten may include Minnesota.
The Gophers can be competitive in the conference and keep their name in the Top 25, but they should be considered the third- or fourth-best team in the Big Ten. There’s too much talent at the top of the league for Minnesota to barge in as conference title contenders.
This is an intriguing one. At the moment, "not yet" comes to mind, although I think it's certainly a discussion worth having.
Ohio State might be the best team in college football. Time will tell. At the very least, the Buckeyes’ complete domination of Wisconsin on Saturday was likely a sign of things to come.
The offense, which has been without star wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba for essentially the entire year, is thriving. The defense, which looks much improved behind the influence of new coordinator Jim Knowles, is playing better than it has in some time.
Ohio State is the team to beat in the Big Ten, and it would be surprising if the Buckeyes were dethroned anytime soon.
Still, Minnesota is a problem. The Gophers currently have the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense, albeit against a favorable schedule. Ibrahim, the team’s star running back, is second in the nation in rushing.
Minnesota has the pieces to make any team in the conference uncomfortable, including Ohio State and Michigan. We just need to see more of it. The Gophers still have games at Penn State and Wisconsin this year, and those games will tell us plenty. If all goes well, they’ll get a crack at Ohio State or Michigan in December.
I love what I’ve seen from P.J. Fleck’s group. This team is talented. It’s just not at the level of Ohio State—at least not yet.
Will No. 4 Michigan End the Kinnick Stadium Skid?
Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium is a veritable house of horrors for anybody. The Hawkeyes—no matter how good or bad—always find a way to look strong and are extremely upset-minded in front of the home folks. As a matter of fact, they’re 5-1 at Kinnick in their last six games against Top Five opponents.
None of that is going to matter Saturday. Why? The Wolverines have been impressive much of the season and passed a big test last week against a better-than-expected Maryland team. Defense is Michigan’s strong suit again, and Iowa is dead last nationally in total offense.
The only hope Iowa has of keeping things close is to dirty up the game, keep the ball away from the Wolverines and try to win ugly. Oddsmakers expect this to be a low-scoring game, but Michigan is also a double-digit favorite. The Wolverines will cover the 10.5-point spread and win something like 27-10 going away.
It isn't profound to say Iowa's offense has trouble doing the thing it's supposed to do: score points.
Iowa's defense put up the first two touchdowns against Rutgers last week. At that moment, the unit had accounted for as many scoring plays (two touchdowns, two safeties) as the offense had touchdowns (four).
Nevertheless, we have to consider Iowa an upset candidate because, as Brad said, Kinnick is a house of horrors. One defensive score, and the Hawkeyes are suddenly a major threat despite their limitations on offense.
But that's the long way of saying Michigan basically just needs to hit 20 points. Do that, and the Wolverines shouldn't be in danger. They might even cover that double-digit spread. Iowa just has nothing dangerous to throw at U-M if the defense doesn't score.
No. 9 Oklahoma State or No. 16 Baylor in Big 12 Title Game Rematch?
This is a classic "stay away" game that I've gone back and forth on a few dozen times in the past several days.
Oklahoma State can clearly move the ball. The competition hasn't been good, but the Cowboys are leading the nation in scoring (51.7 PPG) and racking up over 500 yards per game. Fourth-year quarterback Spencer Sanders has been stellar and should be a Heisman candidate as long as he stays healthy.
How's the defense, though?
It was rock-solid last year, but giving up 44 points to Central Michigan in the opener was pretty rough. Even Arizona State—which fired its head coach a week later—was able to gain 354 yards against a defense that held opponents to 298 on average last year.
If the Cowboys are nothing special on defense—especially if they are mediocre or worse against the run—Baylor should be able to win this home game. The Bears are darn good on offense as well, and they have at least shown the ability to get defensive stops against respectable competition (BYU and Iowa State).
Baylor is favored by 2.5, which feels about right. The Bears get this win, Oklahoma wins at TCU, and Kansas enters Week 6 as the only undefeated team left in the Big 12. Just like we all predicted a month ago.
Since 2018, Baylor is 21-5 at home. That home-field advantage is incredible, so, naturally, Oklahoma State ripped off a 39-point victory against the Bears in Waco a few years ago to counteract that point.
I am inclined to trust the trend, though.
Besides, the Bears have a knack for making Sanders' life absolutely miserable. Although the teams split their two matchups last year, he tossed three interceptions in Oklahoma State's regular-season victory and four during the Big 12 Championship Game that Baylor won by literal inches.
I would love if Sanders proved me wrong. He's been a quality quarterback for a long time, but he hasn't consistently fared well against the best competition. I hope he's the 2022 version of Pitt breakout star Kenny Pickett, who's now expected to be a long-term starter in the NFL.
But I'll be a late arrival to the party if Sanders makes that happen. Baylor wins by a touchdown.
Will No. 10 NC State Take Down No. 5 Clemson Again?
Both Clemson and NC State enter with 4-0 records and are set to play in arguably the biggest conference game of the year. The Wolfpack haven’t secured a victory in "Death Valley" since 2002, which speaks more to Clemson’s dominance than NC State’s mediocrity. The Tigers hold the longest active FBS streak with 36 straight home wins, so the Pack are looking to complete a task that hasn’t been done since 2016.
NC State has faced a relatively undemanding schedule before this matchup, but this date has been marked on the calendar in Raleigh for quite some time. While the Wolfpack aren’t the explosive team that many thought heading into the 2022 season, they’re talented and experienced. Their best chance of breaking Clemson's streak will be attacking a weak secondary and making sure their offense takes advantage of its chances to put the ball in the end zone.
This is Clemson’s game to lose. After the Tigers' big win against Wake Forest and pride in protecting their home grounds, a win won’t come easy for NC State. But this is the week that the streak falls. NC State quarterback Devin Leary will lead the Wolfpack with an exceptional offensive showing and travel back to Raleigh with a 5-0 record.
The juxtaposition of this matchup is fascinating.
Leary hasn't matched early expectations, but neither has Clemson's secondary. Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has far exceeded what was anticipated, and NC State's defense—which already was a well-respected group—has looked every bit like an elite unit.
If I were a Clemson fan, I would not be comfortable here. If the Tigers top 24 points, that's most likely an impressive day. That isn't leaving the ACC favorite much of a margin for error.
However, I'm not bailing on Clemson's defense after one shaky day. Wake Forest's slow-mesh offense is notoriously difficult to figure out, and NC State's attack isn't as complicated.
Clemson wins, but NC State covers.
Who Wins the Showdowns in the SEC?
We've got a pair of great games this weekend in the SEC, including No. 7 Kentucky traveling to take on No. 14 Ole Miss and No. 2 Alabama traveling to take on No. 20 Arkansas.
We'll start with the matchup in Oxford, where Kentucky's offense will take on the sixth-best scoring defense in the country. Quarterback Will Levis, who has thrown for 1,185 yards and 10 touchdowns, has been a bit turnover-prone early this year. He's tossed four interceptions through the first four weeks of the season.
Ole Miss has four picks so far this season, so it'll be important for Levis to take care of the football on Saturday. Kentucky will have running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., who was suspended for UK's first four games, back for this one.
Ole Miss' offense is averaging 41 points per game, led by quarterback Jaxson Dart and true freshman running back Quinshon Judkins. But since Kentucky's defense has allowed only 272 yards per game, this might be a low-scoring affair.
I do think this one will be close, but I like Ole Miss at home because I think the Rebels' offense will be a bit more balanced. NIU put up 327 total yards of offense against UK's defense last week and nearly upset the Wildcats at home. I think Kentucky covers the seven-point spread, but Ole Miss pulls this out.
Meanwhile, Alabama-Arkansas looked a lot more intriguing before the Razorbacks lost to Texas A&M last week. Still, Arkansas should put up a good fight against the Tide. The Hogs' 42-35 loss in Tuscaloosa last season was their closest defeat against Alabama since a 14-13 setback in Fayetteville in 2014.
But I do think KJ Jefferson and this Arkansas offense can expose some vulnerability in this Bama defense. Not to mention, Alabama nearly lost to Texas on the road in Week 2.
Arkansas hasn't beaten Alabama since 2006. This is probably the Razorbacks' best shot to break that streak. I think this one will be close for most of it and Arkansas covers 17.5 points, but Bama pulls away late in the fourth quarter.
Let’s start with Alabama and Arkansas, a game that had a lot more luster before the Hogs clanked a game-winning field-goal attempt off the top of the upright against A&M.
Still, the Hogs could be the second-best team in the SEC West, even with the loss. This is the ideal chance to showcase if they are in a huge game against Alabama.
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the Crimson Tide rediscovered bludgeon ball again last week against Vanderbilt. Maybe that was the confidence-builder Bama needed to remember who it is.
This one will be close for three quarters, but the Tide will pull away in the end.
The other matchup is a little more difficult to predict. Many national pundits believe the Wildcats are for real, and UK is ranked in the top 10. Getting Rodriguez back will be massive for a Kentucky team that has been awful running the ball this year.
I’m not a believer in the 'Cats. Ole Miss looks more talented and balanced, and if the Rebels get good quarterback play from Dart, they’ll win a close one at home.
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