Bleacher Report Expert Predictions for Week 5 in College Football
Week 5 of the 2018 college football season will feature five showdowns between ranked teams, and Bleacher Report's college football experts are here to let you know who will win those contests.
Not only are there five games in which both teams are currently in the AP Top 25, but two of them—Ohio State at Penn State, and Stanford at Oregon—are Top 10 clashes with College Football Playoff implications.
The point here is that this is one of those weekends when you're going to want to use up one of your excuses to do nothing but watch football from College GameDay straight through #Pac12AfterDark.
In addition to picking the winners in each of the marquee games, we also asked our college football experts—Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton—whether Syracuse could upset Clemson once again, if there will be any upsets on par with last week's Virginia Tech disaster and to pick sides in a fun little over/under game involving a pair of Group of Five studs.
Who Wins the Gigantic Big Ten Showdown: No. 4 Ohio State or No. 9 Penn State?
Matt Hayes (Twitter: @MattHayesCFB)
These are the games that make careers and Heisman Trophy campaigns. Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley has been surgical in these games over the previous two seasons, and playing at home will be a huge factor.
But it's hard to overlook what Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins has accomplished in just four starts. Regardless of who you're playing, if you're completing 75 percent of your passes and have 16 TDs to one INT, you're doing just about everything right. Though this is also the type of game where Ohio State will miss wrecking-ball DE Nick Bosa the most, Haskins will have the ball last in the fourth quarter and find a way to win.
David Kenyon (Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR)
It would make sense for this to be Ohio State's pitfall, right? During the last two seasons, the biggest blemishes happened on the road at Penn State and Iowa. Haskins is simply performing at a different level, though. Even though the Buckeyes aren't actively calling more downfield shots, his accuracy and timing have positioned the playmakers to generate more explosive gains after the catch. That's a winning strategy and one that results in a road victory.
Adam Kramer (Twitter: @KegsnEggs)
I'll take Ohio State in what could be one of the best games of the year. Two great offenses, two defenses that are by no means finished products and two fabulous quarterbacks. This is why we love college football.
No, I don't see Haskins throwing for his typical 700 yards and 11 touchdowns (numbers approximated). But he'll find enough success to give Ohio State the edge. The concern in picking the Buckeyes here is knowing that McSorley will probably be brilliant, as he has been all season long. The question is: Will it be enough? I say Penn State falls just short, although a mild upset wouldn't be shocking in the least.
Kerry Miller (Twitter: @kerrancejames)
As was the case before the season began, my concern with Penn State is the defense. Sure, the Nittany Lions shut down Kent State, but both Appalachian State and Illinois had little trouble moving the ball against them. And if you can't slow down M.J. Rivers II, how am I supposed to believe you can stifle Haskins and J.K. Dobbins?
Moreover, this is by far the best defense Penn State has faced thus far, and McSorley has quietly been shaky, completing just 54.2 percent of his passes. I'm not saying there's no chance the Nittany Lions win, but it does feel like they'll need to be almost perfect to get it done. I'll take Ohio State 41-28.
Brad Shepard (Twitter: @Brad_Shepard)
Nope. Ohio State is not only the best team in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes—for right now, at least—are the only team that has looked potent enough to compete with Alabama. That isn't to say that Georgia's can't get there or that Clemson won't catch fire with Trevor Lawrence at the helm, but the Buckeyes are dynamic with Haskins. He can do things on that offense that J.T. Barrett never could. The loss of Bosa for nobody-knows-how-long hurts immensely, but this Penn State team is just a few weeks removed from nearly losing to Appalachian State. It isn't in OSU's league.
Ian Wharton (Twitter: @NFLFilmStudy)
This game has become a must-watch affair after the last two iterations. Penn State has the huge home-field presence, and that's enough to rattle any team. The Buckeyes must overcome a young defense that's been prone to big running plays, and Miles Sanders is an explosive playmaker who can gash them. Haskins and McSorley will each be fighting for an early Heisman moment in addition to what's at stake for their teams. But I think Ohio State has just enough star power to overcome it for a crucial win.
No. 7 Stanford at No. 8 Notre Dame: Who You Got?
Notre Dame. A schedule that at one time looked so daunting might actually come down to one game for the Irish. But Stanford has been able to bully Notre Dame so often in recent years, you can't expect anything different this time around.
Here's what we know about Irish coach Brian Kelly's change at quarterback: ND is now more of a downfield passing team with Ian Book instead of a QB run/pass team with Brandon Wimbush. That means the Irish must protect against a strong Stanford front seven to get to the remaining—and suddenly much easier—schedule to reach the CFP.
My big question is Book. Last week, he looked sensational during a rout of Wake Forest. But compare that to last year at Miami, where he seemed overwhelmed against a top-tier defense. So the truth is probably in the middle. If that's the case, all the numbers I could bring up are relatively even or slightly favor Notre Dame, so I'm inclined to take the Irish. Either way, I'm eager to see whether Book will produce on his biggest stage yet.
I honestly don't know how good either of these teams is. Both have good players and quality wins. But given Notre Dame's change at quarterback and Stanford's shocking come-from-behind win over Oregon, this feels a truly difficult game to forecast.
Bryce Love, to me, still doesn't look like his old self. And while I'm still trying to figure out what Notre Dame has at QB with Book, Stanford's cross-country voyage one week after playing at Oregon is a lot to ask. I'll take the Irish in a close one.
What a difference one week makes. When Wimbush was at QB for the Fighting Irish, I would have doubted their ability to score a single offensive touchdown against Stanford. But with Book behind center, I love their chances of winning at home against the Cardinal—who have scored just seven first-quarter points through four games. Notre Dame wins by 10.
Bonus prediction: If Notre Dame wins this game, it will go to the College Football Playoff. In the preseason, it seemed like the Irish's schedule was far too difficult to run the table. But, man, those upcoming games against Virginia Tech, Florida State and USC aren't packing much of a punch anymore.
Stanford should have lost last week. Oregon handed the Cardinal the game on a Nike platter. But it's Notre Dame that won't stay unbeaten for much longer. The Fighting Irish are better than they've played recently, but Stanford is more balanced. Neither of these teams look like threats to finish in the Top Five at the end of the year, but I'll take David Shaw scheming up Brian Kelly all day, every day.
Neither Stanford nor Notre Dame has been especially impressive thus far. Stanford needed several gaffes by Oregon to win, although its offense had no issues moving the ball and converting in the red zone. Meanwhile, Notre Dame looked like a completely different offense with Book and has held opposing offenses to a mere 3.5 yards per rush.
The Fighting Irish have what it takes to win, but Book is being asked to overcome a lack of experience on a huge stage. I think Stanford wins in a close game as K.J. Costello continues to carry the offense with Love struggling.
Can No. 20 BYU Stun the World Again, This Time Against No. 11 Washington?
While Washington isn't as strong as many thought at the beginning of the season, the Huskies have too much speed on both sides of the ball. BYU beat Wisconsin because the Cougars matched up with the Badgers and frankly because Wisconsin played a horrible game and wasn't prepared for the physicality from BYU. (Can't say that about Wisconsin very often.)
One hope for BYU: Huskies QB Jake Browning—despite his strong game last week versus Arizona State—has had rough spots in the first month of the season.
This feels like a back-to-reality game for BYU. Tanner Mangum has managed only 5.3 yards per pass attempt, and Washington has prevented its last three opponents from even reaching 4.0 in that category. BYU's running game thrived at Wisconsin, but it has otherwise struggled. Are the Cougars really going to move the ball successfully against another top-10 team, and an even stingier defense? I don't anticipate this game being close, honestly.
No. I don't see it. BYU has had a marvelous season, but this feels like a significant step up in class. Washington hasn't exactly been unbelievable since that opening loss to Auburn, but the Huskies are still a more talented team than BYU at just about every position.
This game will be close for a while. Probably pretty ugly and filled with defense. But while BYU has thrived playing this kind of ball, it's also a place Washington is plenty comfortable. The two are similar in many ways, but the Huskies are simply a better version.
These teams may be close in the AP poll, but they aren't close in terms of talent or production. Washington has one of the stingiest defenses in the country, and BYU's offense doesn't move the ball well at all. Granted, it was a similar story when the Cougars shocked Wisconsin, but I trust Jake Browning much more than Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook. Washington wins by three touchdowns.
Yes. I was a big believer in Washington early in the season, and though I thought the Huskies would lose to Auburn (they did), I thought they'd emerge from the Pac-12. After watching Jake Browning, who looks like he's taken another step backward this year, I no longer feel that way. You've got to love the way coach Kalani Sitake has his team playing, and this type of low-scoring, white-knuckle game plays right into the Cougars' hands. I like BYU to get yet another upset.
Not this time. The difference between Wisconsin and Washington is sizable, and BYU won't be able to win if Tanner Mangum replicates the 89-yard passing performance he had against the Badgers. Washington's roster is deeper and more explosive than Wisconsin's, and BYU doesn't have the ability to match their athletes. BYU is a good team that can knock off most others, but Washington is just a little too far out of the Cougars' league this year.
How Many Combined Passing Yards for No. 12 West Virginia and No. 25 Texas Tech?
West Virginia wins the game, and Will Grier and Alan Bowman will combine for more than 900 yards of passing. This lock of a win for the Mountaineers, though, looks more difficult after Texas Tech's rebound from an awful look in a season-opening loss to Ole Miss. If this game in Lubbock was at night, it would be a brutal experience for WVU. A noon kickoff is a big advantage.
Since I'm told eleventy-four isn't actually a number, I'll give you a window between 750 and 800. West Virginia would be smart to lean on its rushing attack as much as possible without sacrificing Grier's arm. Texas Tech will shred any opponent through the air, given enough chances. But the Mountaineers can intentionally work to reduce the number of possessions in a high-scoring game, and that'll provide a significant edge to WVU.
Lots. No, wait. MORE. ALL OF THE PASSING YARDS.
This might sound like a lot, but it would not shock me if this game finished with 800 yards passing. Bowman and Grier have combined to throw for almost 2,700 yards in seven games. They've also collectively thrown for 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
To put an actual number on it, I'll say the two combine to throw for a cool 769 yards. And while I think Texas Tech will put up a fight, I feel like West Virginia is the better overall team right now. West Virginia 55, Texas Tech 48. Game time: four hours and 29 minutes.
Get your popcorn and your calculators ready. Bowman and Grier rank first and third nationally in passing yards per game, and neither of these secondaries are elite. They'll combine for 831 passing yards and eight touchdowns, and Grier gets the lion's share of those numbers in a 49-41 road win for the Mountaineers.
Texas Tech came out of nowhere last weekend, upsetting Oklahoma State. But the Red Raiders are about to run into a different kind of team with one of the purest passers in the nation. West Virginia is Oklahoma's biggest competition in the Big 12. The Mountaineers can run a little and play defense, too. But this will come down to Grier torching the Red Raiders secondary. While TTU will be able to put up points, it won't be enough.
Give me 700 total passing yards and a West Virginia win. These two teams put on an offensive show last year, as West Virginia pulled out a 22-point fourth quarter to win. Their combined passing total in 2017 was 675 yards, and a slight uptick seems reasonable.
This year, Bowman has shocked everyone by claiming the job and posting absurd passing numbers despite being a true freshman. But the Mountaineers are arguably the best team in the second tier of contenders thanks to their relentless offense. Grier and Co. will pull this one out in a two-score victory.
Does Newly Ranked No. 24 California Score a Home Win over No. 19 Oregon?
For all the good we've seen from Oregon—even in last week's loss to Stanford that the Ducks should've won—none of it has been accomplished away from Eugene. So now what happens when the Ducks go on the road for the first time and play a stingy Cal defense? The counterargument: Cal has played no one, and the unbeaten record is built on wins over unimpressive opponents in North Carolina, BYU and Idaho State. I'm taking the Ducks with just enough offense.
While Cal has quietly rattled off an undefeated start, this is a defense-first team compared to past seasons of try-to-outscore-you offense with Jared Goff or Davis Webb. Efficiency is great, but only if the defense consistently performs at a high level. We're about to find out whether the Golden Bears' 10th-ranked secondary (in yards per pass attempt) is capable of containing Oregon's fast-paced, efficient passing game. I'm not expecting that to happen, so give me the Ducks.
I believe Cal will win, in part because it is probably the most underrated football program in the country right now and in part because the ending of that Oregon-Stanford game, with the Ducks seemingly ready for the victory formation, might linger for a while.
This is a brutal situation for a team to get off the mat. Having Justin Herbert at quarterback helps, although I still could see this being a major challenge. Cal doesn't have a collection of stat monsters on offense. But it's amazing to me how much better the defense has become in such a short period of time. Give me the Golden Bears by four.
Despite losing in historically boneheaded fashion, Oregon impressed against Stanford. I wasn't sure what to make of this team after a pathetic nonconference schedule, but 524 total yards against the Cardinal defense was remarkable. And Cal hasn't shown enough for me to believe it can keep pace with the Ducks. Anything is possible when the #Pac12AfterDark kicks in, but Oregon should win by at least two touchdowns.
On the one hand, it has to be difficult and deflating for Oregon to rebound after having that Stanford game in hand a week ago and losing. But the Ducks seemed to regroup after the game, and this team looks like it has taken on the tough mentality of head coach Mario Cristobal. What Justin Wilcox has been able to do at Cal in one year is strong, but the Ducks have better athletes and they'll win this one.
The Oregon Ducks have been tortured over the last decade with back-breaking losses and missed opportunities, like their Week 4 loss against Stanford. This matchup with Cal is going to be a major test of their fortitude, but I think they finally respond positively to one of these situations. Cal doesn't have the same explosive offense of the Sonny Dykes era, which is what it would need it to hang with Herbert's passing attack. Cal is a quality team, but its narrow victories highlight a team that's not quite ready for this moment.
Will Syracuse Ruin Clemson's Quest for Perfection for a 2nd Consecutive Year?
Not a chance. The only mistake Dabo Swinney made last season was playing Zerrick Cooper instead of then-freshman Hunter Johnson when Kelly Bryant was injured against Syracuse. This is freshman QB Trevor Lawrence's first official start, and it's in front of a home crowd and with the backdrop of a team out for revenge from last year's loss. Expect a big win for Clemson and another big step for Lawrence.
No, not two years in a row. Clemson has handed the keys to Lawrence, and he'll steadily pick apart an opportunistic-but-average secondary. Still, this Syracuse squad is intriguing. The scoring attack is finally meeting Dino Babers' standards, and there's legitimate 10-win potential from the Orange. That can only happen if their point-stopping unit continues thriving on third down, which would be the path to an upset Saturday. It's not happening, though.
I don't see it. I like what Syracuse has done. I also love listening to Babers' locker-room speeches. But playing this game on the road, for starters, is a major difference from last season. As is the fact that Lawrence will start at quarterback for Clemson, which will ultimately be a brilliant decision.
The Tigers have sort of sleepwalked through much of the first month, which is mildly concerning. But the decision at quarterback should provide a jolt. Lawrence's play should provide another. I could see Clemson winning this game by four touchdowns.
Is Clemson's entire schedule just against dual-threat quarterbacks? The Tigers struggled with Kellen Mond in Week 2, but they suffocated both Shai Werts and TaQuon Marshall in the past two games. Expect something in the middle with Eric Dungey coming to town, but also expect Clemson's offense to devour Syracuse's defense. The Tigers will cruise to a second consecutive 49-21 victory.
Syracuse's spotless record is one of the nation's biggest surprises. But the Orange haven't played anybody like Clemson yet. The Tigers may take some lumps initially with Lawrence at the helm, but they'll ultimately score enough points to beat Syracuse. Clemson's defense is too strong to lose this game, but it will be closer than most think. Babers is building his program the right way, but it isn't ready to knock off one of the nation's top five teams on the road.
Let's have some fun and say yes. Clemson rightfully named Lawrence their starting quarterback, but now the pressure is all on him to perform as Kelly Bryant plans to transfer. The Tigers haven't been that impressive this year, despite their incredible talent on both sides of the ball. That leaves the window open for an experienced offense like Syracuse's to squeeze through with a surprising win. Dungey has been phenomenal this year, and Syracuse's ninth-ranked rushing offense will bleed the clock and limit possessions.
Any Unranked-over-Ranked Upsets This Week?
There are three possibilities: No. 18 Texas at Kansas State, Florida at No. 23 Mississippi State, South Carolina at No. 17 Kentucky. The best chance is South Carolina going into Lexington and beating the surging Wildcats.
The other two are intriguing for two teams trying to find an identity. After an ugly loss to Maryland (again) to begin the season, Texas has two impressive wins over USC and TCU at home. Can that continue? Meanwhile, there is Mississippi State, which had dreams of knocking the SEC West race sideways with an upset or two of the division's elite. Now, they need to dispose of Florida to right the ship.
After seeing a winless Old Dominion team put together that upset over Virginia Tech, it was a good reminder that no team except for Alabama is ever safe in these matchups. However, four of those upsets happened on the road. Other than Texas' trip to Kansas State, every Top 25 team facing an unranked opponent is at home this week. I'll take the easy route of South Carolina over a slightly favored Kentucky and look forward to being wrong somewhere.
The obvious choice here would be South Carolina over Kentucky, although we have to qualify the "upset." Although Kentucky is ranked, the game could be considered a toss-up. But I love what I've seen from the Wildcats, and I'll say they rip off another win, favored or not.
Instead, I'll target Florida over Mississippi State. After the loss to Kentucky, we had a good laugh and tossed the Gators aside. Turns out, it might not be a bad loss at all. Mississippi State, meanwhile, just had its own issues with Kentucky last weekend. Dan Mullen is silently working his magic, and I think it shows up in a big way this weekend against his former club.
While everyone else in the group will probably cherry-pick games involving teams in the Nos. 16-25 range, my prediction is that there is only one upset...and it's a doozy. Someone get Bugs Bunny on the phone while I rationalize picking a CFP contender to lose at home.
We're rapidly running out of time for LSU's annual September disaster, but Ole Miss is going to deliver a near-fatal blow to the Tigers' College Football Playoff dream. The Rebels are the best offense that No. 5 LSU has faced yet, and this is where Joe Burrow's 49.1 percent completion rate becomes an insurmountable problem for the offense. Two weeks removed from getting destroyed by Alabama, Ole Miss will score the upset of the week, 28-23.
I don't know that it's going to be considered an upset, but Virginia Tech will rebound and beat No. 22 Duke. David Cutcliffe's team isn't going to be able to hang with an angry Hokies bunch. I also think South Carolina is going to stay hot and end Kentucky's early-season unbeaten streak.
I'll be watching for Kansas State to upset Texas as well as South Carolina over Kentucky. I don't think either of the underdogs are better than their ranked foes, but they have at least a puncher's chance.
Texas looks like a much-improved team since Week 1, but it also shouldn't surprise anyone if the Longhorns have a letdown game against a Bill Snyder-coached team. Snyder is good for one shocking win per year, and this may be his best shot. Meanwhile, Kentucky is really good, but so is South Carolina's defense. Georgia's dismantling of the Gamecocks has skewed our perception of this team, but that could change this week.
Group of Five O/Us: 199.5 Darrell Henderson Rushing Yards; 5.5 Cole McDonald TDs
I'm going with the under on both. Two bad defenses—Tulane is 115th in the nation in total defense, and San Jose State is 126th—but they're playing at home, and those are big stat projections for road teams. We're not talking about Alabama here.
Under for Darrell Henderson, though I believe his otherworldly efficiency continues. I'll say 150 yards and two scores in a blowout win for Memphis. Meanwhile, Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald has a favorable clash with San Jose State, and he should breeze past the 300-yard mark for the fifth time in 2018. He'll also hit the under, but I wouldn't call five touchdowns a failure.
I love this question. There are some incredible things taking place outside of major conferences, and I encourage everyone to dive in every so often.
First, Henderson will be running against the nation's No. 96 rush defense. Still, 199.5 is a massive, fair number. I'll say he goes just under, finishing the game with 191 yards. Not bad.
As for McDonald, I'll go under as well. It's not that he can't go over the number—he nearly did it last week and he threw for six touchdowns against Navy earlier in the year. It's just hard to fathom another video game-like week, even against a team like San Jose State. Still, the man has scored 22 touchdowns in five football games. I'll say he only scores four touchdowns this week—"only" four—below his season average.
I'll take the under on Henderson. Tulane has only allowed two rushes of 20 or more yards this season, and the Memphis stud doesn't get enough carries to reach 200 yards without a couple of huge runs. But give me the over on McDonald. San Jose State ranks dead last in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (391.7), and Hawaii has made no effort to get a second-string QB involved in games. The Warriors want McDonald to put up absurd numbers, and he'll throw for six or even seven touchdowns in this one.
San Jose State's pass defense is horrible. McDonald will throw for four, and he'll also run for a couple more. I'm also going with the over for Henderson, simply because he's the most dynamic player in college football not named Tua Tagovailoa. Yes, I know Tulane is a good team with a decent defense, but that means Mike Norvell will probably give his bell-cow running back the ball even more than usual. He will respond.
I'll say over for Henderson against Tulane, although the Green Wave were stout against Ohio State's punishing run game last week. Henderson is simply too fun to bet against. I'll also say over for McDonald's aggressive 5.5-touchdown line. San Jose State has been whacked in all three of its games, and McDonald is the puppet master of one of the nation's most dynamic passing attacks. He'll continue to bolster his 20-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio this week with a cool six passing scores.