Picks for the biggest Week 5 games
Wes Huber previews and offers up picks for Saturday's biggest matchups.
Picks for the biggest Week 5 games
No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 25 Florida
Line: Ole Miss -7.5
We begin with a matchup of undefeated teams coming off of close back-to-back victories over SEC opponents. On paper, these teams actually present a much closer matchup than many would imagine. Ole Miss is averaging an impressive 54.8 points per game (PPG) behind the vertical prowess of QB Chad Kelly. Kelly leads the nation’s 12th-ranked passing offense averaging 15.84 yards per completion (YPC). The Rebels defense started strong facing overmatched opponents, but potential weaknesses were discovered after giving up 37 points to Alabama, and in allowing Vanderbilt to effectively move the ball toward accumulating 21 first downs.
The Florida offense has been unable to consistently reach the endzone, but the passing offense has begun to emerge after deciding on Will Grier as the quarterback to lead the team. The Gators have risen to the nation’s 47th-ranking in passing offense behind Grier’s 264 yards per game (YPG) average over the last two games. Florida’s defense has provided the offense with the invaluable time to develop and could present real problems to the Rebels desire to throw deep due to the Gators air-tight coverage in the secondary.
Prediction: In order for Florida to pull off an upset, they will need more consistent production from the pass rush, far better results from punter Johnny Townsend (37.8 net yard average), and a healthy Vernon Hargreaves III. Should any one of these factors fail to materialize, Ole Miss will leave the Swamp with its fifth victory. Since the Rebels pass rush and special teams have also been a weakness and Hargreaves is expected to be 100 percent, the Gators will undoubtedly beat the spread, but also send the Rebels home with their first defeat … Florida 28, Ole Miss 25.
Texas Tech at No. 5 Baylor
Line: Baylor -17.0
The Baylor offense has generated nearly identical averages in passing and rushing YPG (387.3 and 379.7, respectively) and will face a Texas Tech defense that is ranked in the bottom-ten in both rushing (301.5) and passing YPG allowed (254.8). While the 90.5 over/under assures an exciting scoring display, the health of Red Raiders QB Patrick Mahomes II stands as the team’s only chance of walking away without an embarrassing defeat.
Prediction: The Texas Tech special teams unit has been one of the countries best, but that is the only advantage they will have over the Bears. With the Texas Tech defense permitting more than two yards per play more than Baylor’s, Mahomes must be on the field to recreate last weeks’ heroics displayed against TCU. You may be wondering why this game is even mentioned on this list with Baylor predicted to take a 17-point victory and that, in and of itself, is the answer. If Mahomes can overcome his leg injury to drive the attack, look for Texas Tech to beat the spread, and easily top the record-breaking over/under … Baylor 64, Texas Tech 53.
No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 12 Clemson
It comes as very little surprise that betters have pushed the line even after Clemson held the one-point advantage over the past week. This game will prove to be decided by a coin-flip, with the victor taking home a substantial step toward a playoff berth.
Very few, if any, teams can match the early-season strength of opposition faced by the Fighting Irish. That said, its destruction of a pre-Jerrod Heard Texas and hapless UMass aside, Notre Dame barely defeated Virginia, and nearly blew a 23-point lead over Georgia Tech in the fourth quarter. The Irish run (46th) and pass defense (55th) are susceptible and the teams success has been entirely reliant on massive gains by WR Will Fuller and otherworldly production out of RB C.J. Prosise.
Much has been made of the early season “struggles” of Clemson and much of that criticism is unfounded. The Tigers defense is one of the best in the country, allowing only a pair of rushing TDs, and a pedestrian 3.93 yards per play. Consideration must be made for the early schedule Clemson has played, seeing very little resistance from Wofford, and facing a highly-motivated Louisville squad. Slapping 41 points on the nation’s fifth-ranked total defense (Appalachian State) was very impressive and proves this offense is still extremely lethal.
Prediction: One diminished factor that can be quantified from the Clemson offense, QB Deshaun Watson has seen his passing YPA drop from a 2014-average of 10.70 down to 8.32. The loss of WR Mike Williams is the obvious culprit to that loss in production, but that will not be enough for the Irish to overcome their defense allowing 5.10 yards per play … Clemson 29, Notre Dame 28.
No. 13 Alabama at No. 8 Georgia
Line: Georgia -2.0
Another school that has suffered significant criticism in the early-going, the Crimson Tide left Oxford with a heart-breaking defeat, and doubts aplenty. Despite Alabama nearly leading a comeback and only losing by six, many have written them off entirely. Georgia will be hard-pressed to even approach their 257.8 rushing YPG average against an Alabama defense allowing less than 60 YPG on the ground.
While enticing and anticipated, this contest will be a hard-fought grind between top-20 defenses and could ultimately be resolved by the efficiency of the special teams. That area is a great strength for the Crimson Tide behind the booming leg of punter J.K. Scott.
Prediction: For the same reasons that Ole Miss’ passing attack centrally exploited ‘Bama’s defensive Achilles heel, the Tides’ third-ranked rushing defense is simply a horrible matchup for the run-heavy Georgia offense. The Bulldogs success will fall into the hands of QB Greyson Lambert and his dink-and-dunk arsenal (only two-of-42 completions at 20-plus yards) will not be enough to hand Alabama a second defeat … Alabama 23, Georgia 17.
No. 21 Mississippi State at No. 14 Texas A&M
Line: Texas A&M -6.5
Let’s take a closer look into the numbers and you’ll most likely be shocked by how seemingly identical these two teams have performed over the first four weeks of the season.
|Run defense rank||80th||81st|
|Pass defense rank||26th||29th|
|Passing YPG allowed||170.3||187.8|
|Passing YPC allowed||10.01||10.29|
|Yards per play allowed||4.9||5.1|
|Passing offensive rank||24th||32nd|
|Rushing TDs scored||7||7|
|Points scored per game||33.0||41.5|
Prediction: While the difference in scoring average would seem to justify the 6.5 points given to Texas A&M, the numbers unmistakably depict Mississippi State as an even match. While the victor will be difficult to predict with more than 50 percent confidence, the provided spread offers significant opportunity for profit. As for the result, the teams will evenly split the scoring before a late field goal decides the outcome in favor of the host … Texas A&M 30, Mississippi State 29.
No. 23 West Virginia at No. 15 Oklahoma
Line: Oklahoma -7.0
West Virginia was seemingly left for dead following significant losses from their 2014 offense, but that hasn’t stopped them from averaging nearly 550 yards of offense, and 43.3 points per game. QB Skyler Howard has discovered a pair of receiving threats in Shelton Gibson and Jovon Durante, and HB Wendell Smallwood provides a balance to the attack. The most surprising factor has been the Mountaineers defense, allowing only a single rushing TD and breakout LB Shaq Petteway leads a fierce pass rush.
The Sooners will enter the Norman-based matchup with star RB Samaje Perine finally at 100 percent health. During his recovery from some minor damage to his MCL, QB Baker Mayfield aptly propelled the offense to averaging the eighth-most passing YPG (371.0), and a healthy 41.3 PPG. Less encouraging, the defense was tested in an overtime victory over Tennessee and in winning a shootout over Tulsa.
Prediction: Another unjustifiable TD-advantage by the predicted spread, the West Virginia defense has been far superior to that displayed by Oklahoma, and home field advantage will not be enough to keep the Mountaineers out of the endzone … West Virginia 37, Oklahoma 29.
Washington State at No. 24 California
Line: California -19.0
The Golden Bears finally find recognition from the voters and join the top 25 teams just in time for a matchup of powerhouse Pac-12 offenses. True to expectation, the Cougars have generated a top-ten passing, and bottom-ten rushing offense. Also in line with 2014 results for California, QB Jared Goff has also led his passing offense to a place within the nations ten-best.
Prediction: The Golden Bears rushing offense has been surprisingly formidable in averaging 192.0 YPG and eating up real estate on the ground will be the decisive factor in the game. That said, both teams allow ~5.50 yards per play and the games conclusion will result in a deficit much closer than the odds-makers have predicted. In what makes for Saturdays juiciest opportunity for wagering, head coach Mike Leach’s offensive fireworks will allow Washington State to keep pace with the Bear Raid scoring … California 45, Washington State 35.
East Carolina at SMU
Line: East Carolina -5.5
Take a quick glance over the results and defensive rankings for SMU and you will likely be left with a more-than solidified opinion toward the expectations of this matchup. The Mustangs find themselves at the very bottom of the country in rushing defense (279.5 YPG), passing defense (17.49 YPC), yards per play allowed (8.26), and the recipient of a defeat last week to James Madison 48-45. That is, until you consider that SMU has faced Baylor, TCU, and that James Madison is actually one of the top-five schools in the FCS.
Prediction: One other stat to look into: SMU has produced a top-30 rushing offense (220.5 YPG), and East Carolina ranks in the bottom-ten in run defense. Playing at home and coming off an emotional loss to the Dukes, look for QB Matt Davis to score an upset over the Pirates in another game featuring an offensive outburst … SMU 37, East Carolina 35.
Georgia Southern at Louisiana-Monroe
Line: Georgia Southern -6.0
While many other games within the Power-5 conferences will provide far greater appeal, the return-on-investment opportunity here should not be overlooked. UL Monroe has faced an overwhelming pair of opponents in Alabama and Georgia and they have actually performed reasonably well. LB David Griffith bolsters a solid pass rushing defense and the offensive line has been a pleasant surprise.
Prediction: Where this matchup becomes extremely interesting is behind the rushing attack of Georgia Southern led by QB Kevin Ellison and RB Matt Breida. The duo has combined to generate the fourth-ranked ground game in the country that averages 358.0 YPG and has scored 16 rushing TDs. The Louisiana Monroe run defense has been a glaring weakness in allowing 179.7 YPG and will be unable to keep the score within an under-predicted spread … Georgia Southern 44, UL Monroe 26.
Houston at Tulsa
Line: Houston -7.0
Last but not least, college football has gifted fans with an extremely promising pairing of high-powered offenses, and bottom-ranked pass coverage. An 81.5 over/under will allow the passing prowess of HC Tom Herman’s Cougars and HC Phil Montgomery’s Golden Hurricane spread-option offenses. Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. may be the most underrated player in the NCAA and the Tulsa receiving trio of Keevan Lucas, Keyarris Garrett, and Joshua Atkinson could be the best in the nation outside of Waco, Texas.
Prediction: While a TD-advantage for Houston may seem reasonable, playing against the spread on this matchup is not recommended. The exploitable area of this matchup is the 81.5 over/under that is likely to fall. The two teams combine to average 90 PPG, furnishing total YPG averages approaching 600 for both programs, and allowing greater than 300 passing YPG … Houston 49, Tulsa 46.
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Wes Huber | Analyst
Wes is an analyst and fantasy correspondent at Pro Football Focus. He's been with the company since 2014, and his work has been featured on DraftKings Playbook and FantasyPros.