Perhaps it’s the changing of the calendar to October. Perhaps it is just that September games in college football are mostly filled with uninspiring non-conference matchups. Either way, it is hard to argue Week 5 doesn’t represent a turning point to the season with league play in full swing.
There are five games matching ranked opponents and several other intriguing clashes that will help tell us more about which teams are conference or playoff contenders.
The biggest matchup to watch is from the ACC with No. 5 Clemson hosting No. 10 North Carolina State. The Tigers beat Wake Forest last week, so a win Saturday would put them in the Atlantic’s driver seat. And the Wolfpack, who beat them last year, represent their biggest challenging remaining on their schedule. Wake Forest doesn’t get a rest this week as the 21st-ranked Demon Deacons visit No. 22 Florida State.
The SEC’s biggest showdown sees No. 11 Mississippi host No. 8 Kentucky in a cross-division meeting of two teams needing a victory to keep pace with respective favorites in the West and East. One of those favorites is No. 2 Alabama,, which heads to No. 20 Arkansas. The Razorbacks are off a disappointing loss to Texas A&M and will be looking to rebound against the Crimson Tide, who they gave fits to last season.
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In the Big 12, No. 7 Oklahoma State travels to No. 14 Baylor in a rematch of last year’s conference championship game. The winner will get take a huge step forward in what should be one of the best league races this season.
And if that’s not enough, keep an eye on No. 4 Michigan heading to Iowa, No. 17 Texas A&M facing a road trip to Mississippi State and a pair of Pac-12 clashes – No. 11 Utah hosting Oregon State and No. 18 Washington traveling to UCLA. It’s enough to keep you busy from noon to well after midnight.
An intriguing matchup out West in this week’s focus, but do we really know anything about Washington and UCLA, who meet in a #Pac-12afterdark matchup on Friday? Washington has dispatched each of their four opponents easily, including a fraudulent Michigan State squad, while UCLA is averaging 41.8 points a game while also going 4-0. Both teams are trying to keep the integrity of the conference intact and it will be Washington who come through victorious and could be 8-0 by the time they meet the Oregon schools in back-to-back weeks in November.
No team in the Top 25 is a bigger fraud than Texas A&M. Yes, the No. 17 Aggies are 3-1, but an examination of their schedule reveals an unimpressive team that is frankly lucky to sport that record. Following an ugly 17-14 home loss to Appalachian State in which they were thoroughly outplayed, the Aggies managed to keep a number next to their name with a 17-9 win over a ranked Miami team. Last week, Texas A&M needed incredible luck to beat a top-10 Arkansas team: The Aggies had a fumble return touchdown and Arkansas hit the literal top of the upright on what could have been the game-winning field goal attempt. The Aggies are on the road this week, and I don’t think it’s going to go well for them. Mississippi State will take down Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher will have some questions to answer about another subpar offensive performance.
Iowa takes down another top-five opponent at home and beats No. 4 Michigan in an ugly, sloppy, classic Big Ten matchup. (As if the Hawkeyes play any other style.) Doing so would require getting a handle on Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy and getting more from a sputtering passing game. Overall, Iowa ranks dead last in the Power Five in yards gained per play. But the Hawkeyes have won five of six at home against teams ranked in the top five. There’s a reason why Jim Harbaugh called Kinnick Stadium “where top-five teams go to die.”
Kansas football has been one of the best stories of the first month of the season. Unfortunately, this story is going to get an unhappy ending, starting this week when Iowa State comes to town. While the Jayhawks may have caught some teams looking at the name of the front of their jersey and taking them lightly, that won’t be the case with the Cyclones. The run of four consecutive wins for Lance Leipold’s team ends, but bowl eligibility remains a realistic goal.
A couple of weeks ago, I was all set to say that Alabama’s upcoming visit to Arkansas would be the first ‘L’ of the season for the Crimson Tide. Alabama had looked quite ordinary in its escape from Texas in its first true road test, and predictably putting up big points against Louisiana-Monroe and Vanderbilt doesn’t really address concerns about facing a quality opponent away from home.
But I just can’t do it. The Razorbacks are coming off the emotionally draining loss to Texas A&M, a game that in all honesty Arkansas should have won. The Hogs will be ready, and they still have a formidable pass rush that will cause problems for Alabama. But Bryce Young’s improvisational talents and a couple of critical mistakes by Arkansas will allow the Tide to get out with the win. Yeah, picking Alabama might not seem terribly bold, but there you are.
Not enough attention has been paid to how mediocre Wisconsin is at the moment. We are used to the Badgers being a Top 25 mainstay, finishing the year ranked 13 times in a 15-season stretch under four different coaches. But there has been a noticeable dip in Wisconsin’s level of play since the COVID-19 pandemic, and it looks like this season might be the first major fall-off. Wisconsin just can’t score, and I think people are going to start to notice that after they lose at home to Illinois this weekend,. Don’t be surprised if some hot seat talk starts to surround Paul Chryst soon.