Picks for college football's biggest Week 5 games
With three matchups between top-10 opponents, this is one of the most important weekends of the regular season in college football. Here are our picks for all of the biggest matchups of the week:
No. 3 Louisville at No. 5 Clemson
Line: Louisville, -2
This game is appropriately slotted for primetime on Saturday night, as it is a potential “game of the year” candidate, as well as a national playoff elimination game. While much of the focus is going to be rightfully on the quarterbacks, I like to look for big mismatches at the line of scrimmage when predicting outcomes of big games, and this game appears to have a doozy.
While considerably improved over last season, Louisville center Tobijah Hughley is still not in the top 100 of our overall center grades or our run grades, and Clemson happens to have one of the best freshmen in the country to match up against Hughley. DT Dexter Lawrence, all 6-feet-5 and 340 lbs. of him, has been a dominant force against the run this season, grading among the top 10 DTs in the entire country on both overall and run blocking grades. Through four games he has 10 total run stops, and is averaging one out of better than every eight run snaps played, a ridiculous rate of production. 83 percent of Lawrence’s snaps have come either at nose tackle at the left defensive tackle position, gaps that Louisville has scorched this season at over 10 yards per carry.
If Lawrence is able to control this matchup, as he did all September against better talent, then Louisville will be forced into focusing on outside zone runs. The Tigers will have a better shot at being able to utilize their outstanding athletes to contain what has been a wide-open and unpredictable offense.
Prediction: Clemson 38, Louisville 33
No. 8 Wisconsin at No. 4 Michigan
Line: Michigan, -10.5
While Wisconsin should be able to keep the Michigan offense in relative check — at least in comparison to the Wolverines’ first four opponents — their power game on offense plays right into the hands of Michigan’s elite defense. The Badgers have scored 85 of their 113 non-garbage time points (better than 75 percent) via long, grinding drives lasting at least six plays, while Michigan’s defense has yielded just 10 points on drives of that length. Without the threat of being able to explosively move the ball downfield against Michigan’s elite corners, Wisconsin will be forced to rely on something that simply hasn’t been done against Michigan this year.
Prediction: Michigan 34, Wisconsin 3
No. 7 Stanford at No. 10 Washington
Line: Washington, -3
Short weeks often mean one or both teams will be without the services of key players due to injury and the lack of recovery time, and such is the case for the Cardinal this Friday, as Stanford will be without both starting CBs Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder. QBs throwing at Meeks this year have had a QB rating of 27.1, while targeting Holder has yielded only slightly better results at 46.6. This is terrible timing, as the Huskies’ sensational sophomore signal caller Jake Browning has completed 26 of his 38 passes outside the hashes for 466 yards and six scores. Stanford’s stud defensive interior player, Solomon Thomas, is currently third in the country in pass rush productivity (17 total pressures on 96 rushes), and will need to continue his torrid pace in order for Stanford to pull out the win. While I think he’ll get his, it won’t be enough to prevent Washington from prevailing at home in a primetime game that is the program’s most in important one in years.
Prediction: Washington 27, Stanford 21
No. 11 Tennessee at No. 25 Georgia
Line: Tennessee, -3.5
Bettors are loving the Georgia Bulldogs right now, as Vegas is giving them a second-straight freebee. Favored by just seven last week, Mississippi smashed Georgia 45-14. While Tennessee presents a different type of challenge offensively, its run game finally got going last week against a strong Florida defense, posting 182 yards on 44 carries, 136 coming after contact. Georgia QB Jacob Eason completed just 44.4 percent of his passes for 137 yards — embarrassing figures considering how critical the passing game was with the Bulldogs falling behind 31-0 by halftime. With star RB Nick Chubb looking unlikely to play this week, Georgia won’t keep pace again, despite playing this one at home.
Prediction: Tennessee 27, Georgia 13
Connecticut at No. 6 Houston
Line: Houston, -28
Connecticut RB Arkeel Newsome’s 15-carry, 40-yard performance (in which he did manage to break four tackles) is the only RB performance for the Huskies thus far over 70.0 (he squeaked over at 70.5), and no QB performance this season has yet to break the 70.0 (or average) plateau. This is a significant issue, as the road trip to Houston will not be kind on the defense. Take advantage of this spread while it stays right at four touchdowns.
Prediction: Houston 42, Connecticut 13
No. 23 Florida at Vanderbilt
Line: Florida, 10
Vanderbilt in recent years has been able to keep games close with strong defense play, but certainly has not gotten that the past three weeks. The Commodores have given up more than six yards per carry each of the last two weeks, and more than five-per-tote against Middle Tennessee State in week two. ILB Zach Cunningham was supposed to breakout this season as one of the best in the country at his position, but instead is third among power five linebackers with eight missed tackles. While Florida is likely still licking its wounds after blowing the huge lead last week, they should still be able to move the ball on the ground enough to win this game comfortably.
Prediction: Florida 27, Vanderbilt 10
No. 13 Baylor at Iowa State
Line: Baylor, -16.5
The Cyclones own the fifth-lowest graded run defense in FBS this year, while Baylor is averaging over five yards per-carry on the ground this season. Fresh off their best game of the season, this looks like an easy cover for the Bears.
Prediction: Baylor 48, Iowa State 13
No. 22 Texas at Oklahoma State
Line: Oklahoma State, -2.5
The shine from Texas’ opening weekend triumph over Notre Dame sure lost its luster quickly, didn’t it? Against the Irish, the Longhorns front seven has just two sacks and four hits, while against Pitt and Baylor the past two weeks, defenders have gotten their hands on Cowboys’ QB Mason Rudolph just six out of 111 drop backs. Considering Texas is coming off the bye and Oklahoma State another disappointing loss, the temptation is to gleefully put money straight up on the Longhorns, but Vegas has this one right. Even if you’re still weary of Oklahoma State not only winning but covering, at least make sure you take advantage this game by hitting the over, which could be reached by the third quarter.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 44, Texas 38
Rutgers at No. 2 Ohio State
Line: Ohio State, -38.5
WR and return specialist Janarion Grant –Rutgers’ only true offensive weapon — sadly will miss the remainder of the season after injuring his ankle last week against Iowa. One of the best players in the country in the open field, Grant forced 10 missed tackles on 20 receptions this year, and was averaging 16.3 yards per punt return and 32.5 yards per kickoff return (he had six total return touchdowns in his college career) on the year before going down last week. Without him in the lineup against the rested Buckeyes, the only question is whether Ohio State can score enough to hit the over.
Prediction: Ohio State 48, Rutgers 10
No. 14 Miami (FL) at Georgia Tech
Line: Miami, -7
Yes, Miami has yet to be tested after winning all three games this year by at least four touchdowns, but smashing Appalachian State 45-10 on the road should still open some eyes, especially considering how much Tennessee struggled with its trip to Boone in Week 1. The defensive line has yet to miss a tackle this season — an obviously critical stat when facing a triple option attack like Georgia Tech’s.
Prediction: Miami 42, Georgia Tech 10
North Carolina at No. 12 Florida State
Line: Florida State, -11
USF’s front seven missed seven tackles against Florida State last week (the secondary missed a whopping 11), while the Tarheel front seven has missed just 11 through four games. After posting way too low a spread last week for the Seminoles, this week’s line is simply too much against a North Carolina team capable of putting up points on the board with anybody.
Prediction: Florida State 37, North Carolina 28
Illinois at No. 15 Nebraska
Line: Nebraska, -21
Prediction: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 13
Illinois’ one unit of strength is the defensive line, which has posted 40 total pressures through three games (despite the slow start of potential first-round draft pick Dawuane Smoot). Unfortunately for them, Nebraska’s experienced offensive line has been outstanding this season, as the starters have given up just one sack and four hits through four games. The Cornhuskers will take care of business on Saturday, and with Wisconsin’s first loss expected and Iowa struck by the injury bug on offense, they’ll take over as the favorites to take the Big Ten west division.
No. 9 Texas A&M at South Carolina
Line: Texas A&M, -17.5
If Myles Garrett is to truly be in the running for the Heisman trophy this year, he’ll need to take advantage of matchups like this weekend’s and post several more monster games. The Gamecocks’ offensive line is on average giving up 8.5 pressures per game, a total Garrett easily surpassed against UCLA this year and should be able to do so again this Saturday.
Prediction: Texas A&M 37, South Carolina 10
Oklahoma at No. 21 TCU
Line: TCU, -3.5
While TCU has gotten solid QB play from Kenny Hill, his receivers have dropped a disturbing 17 balls this season. Oklahoma heads into conference play licking its wounds, but TCU is nowhere near the caliber of team this year it has been in recent years, and nowhere near the caliber of opponent Oklahoma has faced in Houston or Ohio State.
Prediction: Oklahoma 36, TCU 28
No. 18 Utah at Cal
Line: Cal, -2
Always pick the strong defense facing the strong offense. This rings especially true when the team boasting the explosive offense has a defense that has yet to give up less than 31 points and has missed 51 tackles.
Prediction: Utah 38, Cal 31
Memphis at No. 16 Ole Miss
Line: Ole Miss, -14.5
Memphis is coming off blowout wins against possibly the two worst teams in FBS (Kansas and Bowling Green), while no one has been able to stop Mississippi’s passing attack, including the likes of Florida State and Alabama. Ole Miss signal caller Chad Kelly has a 135.6 QB rating when not faced with pressure, and the Memphis defensive line has accumulated just two hits and two sacks against three vastly inferior teams.
Prediction: Mississippi 45, Memphis 24
Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama
Speaking of performing under pressure, Kentucky QB Stephen Johnson’s QB rating when threatened by the rush is 41.7 this year. Alabama’s defense is averaging 20 pressures per game in 2016.
Prediction: Alabama 56, Kentucky 3
No. 19 San Diego State at South Alabama
Line: San Diego State, -19
San Diego State star RB Donnel Pumphrey has forced 12 missed tackles this season on 48 carries, ranking him fourth in our elusive rating. This could be a slight issue for the Jaguars, as they’ve already whiffed 47 times this year.
Prediction: San Diego State 42, South Alabama 20
No. 17 Michigan State at Indiana
Line: Michigan State, -7.5
If Wake Forest’s backup QB can lead his team to 33 points at Indiana, so can the Spartans’ Tyler O’Connor, despite him only completing nine of 22 throws this year outside the hashes and at least 10 yards from the line of scrimmage.
Prediction: Michigan State 33, Indiana 20
Utah State at No. 24 Boise State
Line: Boise State, -20
Utah State forced eight turnovers in last year’s 52-26 dismantling of the Broncos, but don’t expect a repeat performance this year on the Smurf Turf. The Aggies have averaged 6.9 yards per carry when rushing either edge, but Boise State has limited teams on outside runs to almost half of that, at 3.5 yards per carry.
Prediction: Boise State 41, Utah State 20