Athlon previews the Week 5 college football action.
The final weekend of college football action in September certainly won't win many awards for the best slate of games. The Week 5 schedule features some intriguing games (Ohio State-Michigan State), but nothing like college football fans experienced last Saturday with Clemson-Florida State, Kansas State-Oklahoma and Notre Dame-Michigan. However, it's the weeks we least expect to be exciting that end up producing several upsets and close calls among teams ranked in the top 25.
Top Storylines to Watch in Week 5
1. Big Ten Showdown: Ohio State vs. Michigan State
It’s been a difficult first four weeks of the season for the Big Ten. With no marquee non-conference win and no team ranked inside of the top 10, the conference is desperately looking for some good news. Saturday’s Week 5 action should help erase some of the bad memories of non-conference play, especially due to the Ohio State-Michigan State match-up. The Buckeyes appear to be the Big Ten’s No. 1 team but struggled to beat UAB last week. Quarterback Braxton Miller is one of the Heisman frontrunners and takes on a Spartan defense ranked sixth nationally in yards allowed. The Buckeyes want to reduce the pressure on Miller, but the supporting cast needs to step up. Michigan State’s offense has been stuck in neutral for most of the year, with running back Le’Veon Bell averaging 152.5 yards per game despite a lackluster passing attack. Although Ohio State doesn’t want Miller to record 17-20 carries, it may be unavoidable against Michigan State. This one will be close because of the defenses, but Miller should be the difference in this game.
2. Is Texas the Big 12’s frontrunner?
Kansas State’s win over Oklahoma last Saturday shook up the Big 12 pecking order. The Sooners were thought to be the frontrunner, but the door is open for Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State to win the conference title. The Longhorns are off to a solid 3-0 start, with their offense averaging 49.3 points a game. Of course, the competition hasn’t been spectacular, but quarterback David Ash is showing signs of progress. The Cowboys enter Saturday's contest with uncertainty under center. Starter Wes Lunt suffered a knee injury against Louisiana-Lafayette and may not be able to play against Texas. If he can’t go, redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh will get the start. Oklahoma State has won the last two games in this series, but the momentum seems to be shifting back to Texas – especially if Ash continues to take care of the ball, and the defense cuts down on the yards and points allowed.
3. A Big (12) Welcome in Morgantown
West Virginia officially joined the Big 12 on July 1, but reality will sink in on Saturday afternoon. The Mountaineers kick off their first season in the Big 12 with a home date against Baylor. And if you like offense, this is definitely one of the weekend’s must-watch games. West Virginia is averaging 47.3 points a game, while Baylor ranks fifth nationally with an average of 51.3 points a game. Although the Mountaineers are stepping into a new conference and a schedule full of different opponents, this offense should feel right at home in the Big 12. Quarterback Geno Smith should have an opportunity to pad his Heisman resume against a Baylor secondary allowing 315 yards per game, while West Virginia’s new 3-4 scheme will get a test from the Bears’ offense. With a road date at Texas next week, this will provide the Mountaineers a barometer of just how their offense and defense stacks up in their new conference.
4. No letdown for Florida State
Let's go ahead and say it: The Seminoles are back. It’s early, so a lot can change in the national title race, but Florida State announced its presence as a BCS Championship contender with a convincing win over Clemson. Now comes the hard part for the Seminoles – avoiding a letdown. South Florida beat Florida State in its only previous match-up in 2009, but this is a case of programs headed in opposite directions. The Bulls are 19-19 since defeating the Seminoles and are off to a disappointing 2-2 start this season. Although Florida State is coming off of a huge victory, there’s not much to suggest South Florida can hang around in this game. The Bulls rank 64th nationally in total defense, and quarterback B.J. Daniels has been inconsistent. The Seminoles may have a sluggish start, but expect them to pull away from South Florida in the second half.
5. Big Ten Championship Game Preview?
As mentioned previously with Ohio State-Michigan State, the race to win the Big Ten is wide open. With the Buckeyes banned from the postseason, Wisconsin appears to be the frontrunner to claim the Leaders Division title, but the Badgers haven’t looked like a championship team this year. Joel Stave replaced Danny O’Brien as Wisconsin’s starting quarterback and completed 12 of 17 passes for 210 yards against UTEP. Stave’s performance should give the Badgers some confidence on offense, especially as it appears running back Montee Ball will return from the concussion he suffered against the Miners. Nebraska’s defense has struggled to stop the run this year (177 yards per game), but its offense leads the Big Ten in scoring, total and rushing offense. The Badgers got the best of Nebraska last season, but beating the Cornhuskers in Lincoln won’t be easy. Considering both teams will be in the mix to win the Big Ten title, this could be an early preview of the conference title game in Indianapolis in early December.
6. Georgia on upset alert?
The Bulldogs passed their biggest test so far this year, beating Missouri 41-20 in Week 2. Georgia has the pieces to contend for a national title, but this team will be tested over the next couple of weeks with road games at South Carolina and a neutral site meeting with Florida. The Bulldogs are expected to have some reinforcements this week, as safety Baccari Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree are expected to return from a four-game suspension. Rambo’s return to the lineup is huge, especially against a Tennessee offense that leads the SEC in passing yards per game. Although the Volunteers might be able to hang around with their offense, the defense ranks near the bottom of the conference in points and yards allowed, which is bad news against Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and freshman running back Todd Gurley. This still doesn't mean the Volunteers aren't a dangerous opponent for the Bulldogs, especially with next week’s SEC East showdown against South Carolina looming large.
Under the Radar Match-ups
Western Kentucky at Arkansas State – Louisiana-Lafayette and FIU should both be a factor, but Western Kentucky and Arkansas State are the favorites to win the Sun Belt title. The Red Wolves have been tested in road trips to Nebraska and Oregon, while the Hilltoppers have wins over Kentucky and Southern Miss. Even though this match-up may not have top 25 implications, these two teams are two of the best from the non-BCS ranks.
Louisiana Tech at Virginia – After demolishing Illinois last week, Louisiana Tech is favored to beat Virginia. The Bulldogs lost running back Tevin King with a knee injury in last week’s game, but this offense is loaded with weapons, including receiver Quinton Patton and quarterback Colby Cameron. The Cavaliers have struggled to find their rhythm on offense and can’t afford to fall behind against one of the nation’s top offenses.
Texas Tech at Iowa State – Oklahoma State at Texas and Baylor at West Virginia will draw more national interest, but this match-up could be one of the most intriguing games in Week 5. The Red Raiders lead the nation in total defense and rank second nationally in total offense. However, this will be Texas Tech’s toughest challenge this year, and the Cyclones have beat the Red Raiders two consecutive seasons.
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech (Landover, Md.) – FedEx Field will host its second college football game this year, as the Hokies and Bearcats meet in Landover, Md. Virginia Tech’s offense ranks 10th in the ACC with 366.3 yards per game, while the Bearcats rank third nationally by allowing only 8.5 points per contest. Tech has struggled to get its rushing game on track, and Cincinnati’s active front seven won’t make it any easier for the Hokies to establish the ground game.
NC State at Miami – With Clemson-Florida State taking center stage in the ACC last week, the Hurricanes’ victory over Georgia Tech was overlooked. Miami is still a young team with a lot of personnel issues. However, if the Hurricanes knock off NC State, it might be time to consider this team as the biggest threat to Virginia Tech in the Coastal title race.
Are These Teams for Real?
Baylor (3-0) – The Bears will get a rude welcome to Morgantown, as West Virginia is ready for its Big 12 debut. Baylor needed strong second halves to put away Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe, but there is still plenty of firepower on offense, led by senior quarterback Nick Florence.
Duke (3-1) – Is this the year the Blue Devils get back to a bowl game? Duke is off to a 3-1 start for the first time since 2008 and this appears to be David Cutcliffe’s best team since he arrived in Durham. A win over Wake Forest this Saturday would put Duke within two wins of getting to a bowl game.
Minnesota (4-0) – The Golden Gophers are off to a good start in coach Jerry Kill’s second season, but they are largely untested. A road trip to Iowa should give us a better gauge of where Minnesota fits into the Big Ten bowl picture.
Five Quarterbacks Under Pressure
David Ash, Texas – Ash is off to a solid start but Saturday’s match-up against Oklahoma State will be his toughest yet.
Tyler Bray, Tennessee – Saturday’s match-up against Georgia is a good barometer test for Tennessee. The Volunteers fell apart in the second half against Florida, but hanging tough against Georgia would be a good sign for Derek Dooley. Bray has thrown 12 touchdowns so far but had his worst game overall against the Gators.
Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State – If the Spartans want to have any shot at beating Ohio State, Maxwell has to play much better than he has through the first four games.
Zach Mettenberger, LSU – Towson won’t give LSU much of a struggle, but it’s important for Mettenberger to build some confidence with a road date at Florida next Saturday.
Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois – Scheelhaase has been dealing with an ankle injury since the season opener and left last week’s loss against Louisiana Tech early. If the Fighting Illini want to win the Leaders Division, Scheelhaase needs to stay healthy and be a difference maker on offense.
Teams Looking to Bounce Back
Arizona – It wasn’t a surprise Arizona lost to Oregon, but the Wildcats had several chances to score and came up empty-handed, losing 49-0 to the Ducks. Arizona hosts rising Oregon State this Saturday, with the Beavers coming off of an impressive win at UCLA in Week 4.
Clemson – The Tigers were unable to capitalize on their halftime lead against Florida State, eventually losing 49-37. If Clemson wants to have any shot at winning the ACC Atlantic, it needs some help in the form of a few losses from the Seminoles in ACC play, but also needs to take care of business on the road against Boston College.
Georgia Tech – The Yellow Jackets’ blew a 36-19 lead last week against Miami, which dropped Georgia Tech’s ACC record to 1-2 and likely ends any hope it had of winning the Coastal. The Yellow Jackets should get back into the win column with MTSU visiting Atlanta this Saturday.
UCLA – The Bruins suffered their first defeat of 2012, losing 27-20 to Oregon State last Saturday. UCLA shouldn’t have much trouble getting back into the win column this week, as the Bruins will travel to Boulder to take on Colorado.
Desperate for a Victory
Arkansas – Can the Razorbacks stop the downward spiral? Arkansas is in the midst of a three-game losing streak and faces a tough road trip to Texas A&M. The Razorbacks have won the last three match-ups against the Aggies, but have not played in College Station since 1991.
California – A 1-3 start with a lackluster win over Southern Utah has Jeff Tedford squarely on the hot seat. However, the Golden Bears can get things going back in the right direction with a win over Arizona State this Saturday.
Iowa – Last week’s loss to Central Michigan isn’t sitting well in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes already have a loss to rival Iowa State this season, and the offense ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring. If Iowa loses to Minnesota this Saturday, Kirk Ferentz’s seat is only going to approach scalding hot levels.
Kentucky – After last week’s performance against Florida, do the Wildcats have any fight left? The good news is quarterback Maxwell Smith should start, even though he is dealing with a separated shoulder. The bad news? Kentucky is a heavy underdog and is playing a top-10 team in South Carolina.
Missouri – The Tigers are in a different situation than most of the teams in this category, but Saturday’s game at UCF is a big one for Missouri. The Tigers were easily handled in a road loss against South Carolina last week and need to build some confidence before getting back into SEC play.
Five Upsets to Watch
Marshall (+17) at Purdue
Here’s a stat that may surprise you: Marshall leads the nation in passing offense with 383.5 yards per game. The Thundering Herd has struggled on defense, but their offense is capable of putting a scare into Purdue. The Boilermakers are 2-1, but the victories have been against Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan.
Prediction: Purdue 31-27
Minnesota (+7) at Iowa
Even though the Golden Gophers are 4-0, there are some doubts about this team, especially with a schedule featuring games against UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse. However, Iowa’s offense is struggling under new coordinator Greg Davis, and the Hawkeyes are coming off of a disappointing loss to Central Michigan. The Golden Gophers have beat Iowa two years in a row, but have not won in Iowa City since 1999.
Prediction: Iowa 27-24
Missouri (+3) at UCF
It’s a little surprising to see Missouri as an underdog, but UCF is a dangerous team. The Knights destroyed Boston College in Orlando last season and hung tough against Ohio State in Columbus earlier this year. The Tigers need to jumpstart their offense, as they managed just 10 points in a loss to South Carolina last week.
Prediction: Missouri 27-24
NC State (+3.5) at Miami
The Wolfpack have flown under the radar since losing to Tennessee in Week 1, and quarterback Mike Glennon will give a porous Miami defense all it can handle. The Hurricanes should score on NC State’s defense, but the edge goes to the team with the better quarterback (Glennon).
Prediction: NC State 27-24
Arizona State (+2) at California
The Sun Devils are a slight underdog for Saturday’s match-up against the Golden Bears, as they have not won at California since 1997. California’s offensive line is giving up four sacks a game, which is bad news against an aggressive Arizona State defense.
Prediction: Arizona State 31-27
Bye Week Regrouping
Auburn (1-3) – The Tigers played LSU tough, but moral victories won’t get it done for Auburn. Expect Gene Chizik and his staff to evaluate and tweak the offense, starting wtih quarterback Kiehl Frazier.
Florida (4-0) – So far, so good for the Gators. Florida has emerged as one of the teams to beat in the SEC East and host LSU on Oct 6.
Michigan (2-2) – Despite their lackluster performances against Alabama and Notre Dame, the Wolverines still remain one of the favorites to win the Big Ten title.
Oklahoma (2-1) – Last week’s loss to Kansas State likely knocks Oklahoma out of the national title race, but the Sooners are still in the mix for the Big 12 title.
Rutgers (4-0) – Starting 4-0 wasn’t an unrealistic expectation in the preseason, but not many predicted Rutgers would win at South Florida and Arkansas. The Scarlet Knights are one of the top contenders for the Big East crown and return to action against Connecticut on Oct. 6.
USC (3-1) – Although Lane Kiffin doesn’t say much about injuries, the off date comes at a good time for the Trojans. Center Khaled Holmes will have nearly two weeks to get healthy, while USC can use the practice time to work on its rushing game.
Utah (2-2) – The Utes are reeling after last week’s loss against Arizona State and host USC next Thursday night. The bye week comes at a good time, especially as Utah looks to get running back John White back to full strength from an ankle injury.
Vanderbilt (1-3) – The Commodores can still reach a bowl game, but the offense needs a spark from Jordan Rodgers or Austyn Carta-Samuels at quarterback.
Injuries to Monitor
Alex Carder, QB, Western Michigan – Carder is one of the MAC’s top quarterbacks, but he will be sidelined indefinitely with a hand injury. Western Michigan takes on Toledo in a critical MAC West game this Saturday.
MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota – A high ankle sprain sidelined Gray against Syracuse, and he’s unlikely to play this Saturday against Iowa. Backup Max Shortell fared well in his absence, so Minnesota’s offense should not suffer much of a drop in production.
Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State – Lunt’s status has been up in the air since he left the Week 3 game against Louisiana-Lafayette with a knee injury. Although the injury isn’t as bad as initially feared, Lunt may not be able to start this week.
Maxwell Smith, QB, Kentucky – Smith was sorely missed in last week’s loss to Florida, but an injured throwing shoulder was simply too much to overcome. The sophomore is expected to return to the lineup against South Carolina this week. However, if he can’t start, Kentucky will have to lean on true freshman Jalen Whitlow under center.
Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio – Tettleton sat out last week’s win over Norfolk State due to a hand injury. Although he won’t be needed much for Ohio to beat UMass, Tettleton is expected to return to the lineup.
Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss – Whether or not Ole Miss has Wallace under center really won’t matter against Alabama. However, the junior college recruit ranks 34th nationally in passing efficiency and averages 224 yards per game. Despite a shoulder injury, Wallace is expected to play.
Shawne Alston, RB, West Virginia – A thigh bruise limited Alston in last week’s game against Maryland, but he is expected to play in West Virginia’s Big 12 opener this Saturday.
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin – Ball suffered a concussion in last week’s win over UTEP but is cleared to play for Saturday’s game against Nebraska.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson - Watkins was ruled out for Saturday's game against Boston College due to an abdominal virus.
Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas - The Razorbacks' 2012 season only got worse last week, as Gragg suffered a knee injury against Rutgers and did not return. He won't play in Saturday's game at Texas A&M.
Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas – The Longhorns could be without one of their top defensive players this Saturday, as Hicks is nursing a hip injury and is questionable to play.
Games to Avoid
Ole Miss at Alabama
The Rebels’ last victory in this series came in 2003 and the last three match-ups between these two teams haven’t been close. Alabama rolled 52-7 in Oxford last year, and it would be a surprise to see Ole Miss keep this one within 25 points. With a bye week coming up, expect Alabama coach Nick Saban to work out all of the kinks before emptying the bench in the fourth quarter.
Towson at LSU
Considering last week’s close call at Auburn, Towson is the perfect Week 5 opponent for LSU. The Tigers should be able to use this game as a tune-up, especially with match-ups against Florida and South Carolina coming up in the next two weeks.
South Carolina at Kentucky
This is a classic case of two programs headed in opposite directions. The Gamecocks could win the SEC title this year, while Kentucky will struggle just to win a game in SEC play. After last week’s dismal showing in the Swamp, the Wildcats need some early momentum in this one – or it could get really ugly.
UCLA at Colorado
Even though the Buffaloes cracked the win column with an upset win over Washington State, they are still one of the worst BCS teams. UCLA suffered its first defeat of the season against Oregon State but should have no trouble putting away Colorado early.
Oregon at Washington State
On paper, this matchup between two of college football’s brightest offensive minds – Washington State’s Mike Leach and Oregon’s Chip Kelly – would figure to provide some fireworks. However, those fireworks may only be from Oregon, as the Ducks pitched a shutout against Arizona last week, while the Cougars are coming off of a disappointing loss to Colorado. This Pac-12 North match-up should get better in the coming seasons, but Oregon simply has too much firepower for Washington State in 2012.
by Steven Lassan
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