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Top storylines heading into college football Week 5

Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson college football

A quarter of the way through the 2017 college football season, fans have been treated to some pretty amazing games. There’s plenty more where that came from. Starting Thursday night and running all the way through until late Saturday, college football Week 5 is loaded with intriguing matchups.

As we saw last weekend, it doesn’t take a truckload of highly ranked matchups on the schedule to equate to amazing finishes and upsets. There is too much uncertainty every week to assume anything in college football. Unless you’re assuming Alabama will roll. In that case, you’re almost always going to be right.

These are the top storylines we’re looking forward to this upcoming weekend.

Longhorns no lock to get back to .500 against Iowa State

We have to hand it to Tom Herman. After a disastrous first game as the head coach of the Longhorns, he rallied his team to blow out San Jose State before nearly pulling off the upset two weekends ago against USC. After taking a week off, Texas will be on the road Thursday night for a date with the Cyclones in Ames, Iowa. It’s the only game on tap and it’ll be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

Texas is favored to win, but Iowa State matches up pretty well and could easily pull off the upset at home. The Cyclones sure gave Iowa a run for its money a few weeks back, taking their in-state rivals to overtime while making huge plays against the Hawkeyes’ vaunted defense. Defense isn’t exactly the strength of Herman’s team, meaning we could be in for a barn burner that isn’t decided until the final whistle.

Miami better not take Duke lightly

This is an intriguing matchup. Miami has played just two games due to Hurricane Irma but hasn’t lost. Duke comes into the game as the host and with an undefeated record of its own. This game will come down to which defense can hold up the best against the run. The two offenses are both running the ball extremely well, averaging well over 200 yards per game. So far, Duke’s defense has been stellar, holding opposing offenses to just 63 yards on average per contest. You could argue that the Blue Devils deserve to be ranked after the start they’ve had. If they can pull off the upset they surely will next week.

Sam Darnold vs. Luke Falk should be spectacular

Luke Falk of Washington State

The second of two games on ESPN Friday night, this Pac-12 after dark special should be a treat for fans who stay up late enough to enjoy it. USC’s Sam Darnold and Washington State’s Luke Falk are two of the best pure passers in the nation, and both teams come into the game undefeated.

The Trojans have had some close calls against Western Michigan and Texas, while the Cougars nearly lost to Boise State. So it’s hard to know exactly what to expect. The one thing we know for sure is that big plays should occur in abundance. And that one of these two Pac-12 title contenders will suffer their first loss of the season.

Vanderbilt gets shot at redemption at The Swamp

Last weekend was, for Vanderbilt, about as humiliating as it gets for a major program in college football. One of their players bragged about Alabama being next up following a big win over Kansas State. What the Crimson Tide did was the equivalent of The Incredible Hulk bashing Loki like a ragdoll for the full 60 minutes. Now humbled and no longer undefeated, the Commodores are traveling to The Swamp for a date with Florida, which has won its last two games by the narrowest margins.

The Gators don’t feature the kind of offense that sustains anything of substance for long. So it’ll be up to Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur to endure the hits he’s bound to take and make enough plays through the air to eke out a win in what’s sure to be a slugfest of a contest.

Jonathan Taylor worth watching early Saturday

Wisconsin isn’t the sexiest of teams to watch. The Badgers feature a punishing defense and an offense that is decidedly run-first. But fans of trench warfare surely will treasure the opportunity to watch the Wisconsin offensive line and running back Jonathan Taylor do their thing. Wisconsin will be on national television early Saturday for a noon (ET) battle at home against Northwestern, which also features a solid running back in Justin Jackson. Taylor is the main attraction, however. He’s already piled up 438 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in Wisconsin’s first three games.

Bounce-back game for Cowboys, or another setback?

Mason Rudolph

Oklahoma State was taken down a few pegs last weekend, losing at home to TCU by nearly two touchdowns. Now the Cowboys are hitting the road for a date with Big 12 rival Texas Tech. The Red Raiders surprised some by beating Houston to improve to 3-0 last weekend. They snapped a 16-game home winning streak that the Cougars had accumulated the past few seasons, thanks in large part to an improved defense that forced five turnovers.

So, will Oklahoma State’s offense bounce back with a signature series of explosive plays, or will they succumb to a second weekend in a row of disappointment? Mason Rudolph had been practically perfect heading into last week’s loss. He turned the ball over three times against the Horned Frogs and will need to be much sharper in order to avoid losing two games in a row.

Butch Jones’ hot seat watch intensifies as Georgia comes to town

Tennessee has been far from impressive the past two weeks. The Vols lost to Florida in a game they should have clearly won and then nearly lost last weekend to UMass, which was a disgraceful showing even in victory. Needless to say, for a guy whose hot seat was already sizzling even before this season began, Butch Jones has not exactly done himself any favors in 2017. And now Georgia is coming to Knoxville on a hot streak.

Ever since the Bulldogs figured out a way to beat Notre Dame a few weeks back, they’ve been on fire. Last weekend’s dismantling of Mississippi State was a sight to behold, and we’ll be shocked if Georgia doesn’t pick apart Tennessee’s defense in similar fashion.

Can FSU dig itself out of early hole?

Nobody could have predicted before the season began that the Florida State football program would be winless heading into the final weekend of September. The Seminoles entered Week 1 as the No. 3 team in the nation. Now it enters Week 5 unranked and is just a touchdown favorite to beat Wake Forest. That’s a quick turnaround, and not the good kind. Obviously, the big loss was quarterback Deondre Francois, who was lost for the season due to a knee injury at the end of the Alabama game. His replacement, the freshman James Blackman, did fairly well last weekend in his first start but lost a fumble and managed just one touchdown.

The big issue last weekend was defense. Derwin James and Co. were not as effective as they needed to be against NC State. James himself was to blame for one of the touchdowns thrown by Ryan Finley. If the Seminoles don’t tighten things up on the defensive side of the ball, then the offense will be prone to more mistakes, which won’t help in the old win-loss column.

Saquon Barkley should run wild again, this time against Indiana

If you missed the Saquon Barkley show last weekend, it’s really too bad. He and the Penn State Nittany Lions won’t be nationally televised this weekend — you’ll need the Big Ten Network to see him perform his magic tricks (like this). We fully expect Barkley to have another huge game this week. He’ll be going up against an Indiana defense that has allowed an average of almost 200 yards per game. Penn State should cruise to its fifth win of the season, and Barkley will add to his growing Heisman resume.

Can Baylor replicate last weekend’s effort on road against Kansas State?

One of the huge stunners from Week 4 was Baylor nearly taking down Oklahoma. In the end, the Sooners’ rushing attack proved a bit too potent to overcome. Baylor quarterback Zach Smith outplayed Baker Mayfield in that game. He will have to continue playing at that same high level in order for Baylor to finally win its first game of the season.

The 0-4 Bears are heading into another difficult test against a Kansas State team that was knocked out of the rankings by Vanderbilt two weekends ago. The Wildcats have had an extra week to sharpen their claws and will be eager to get back to their winning ways. Even in defeat against the Commodores, Kansas State allowed just 14 points. This defense has been a huge strength so far, and we don’t expect Baylor’s defense to have any answers for Jesse Ertz and the Wildcats’ rushing attack.

Louisville favored by nearly seven touchdowns at home against Murray State

College football is crazy sometimes. Like how this weekend, Louisville is favored to beat Murray State by almost seven touchdowns. That’s just nuts. But it’s not like it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals actually covering that ridiculous spread, either. Murray State is an FCS program that enters Week 5 with a 1-3 record, having last lost to Austin Peay by the score of 27-7 … at home.

Now the Racers will head into Louisville to take on one of the most potent pure offensive players in the nation in Lamar Jackson, last year’s Heisman winner. It’s not likely Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino will let Jackson play the entire game. But given the way he’s been going, and given the opponent he’ll be facing, one half will likely give Jackson plenty of time to pad his stats.

Auburn gets another chance to make a statement

The Tigers looked like a top SEC team last weekend on the road against Missouri, which is the perfect opponent to get right against these days. But it was only one week before that that they struggled to beat Mercer, and only one week prior to that that the Tigers were embarrassed by Clemson. Back at home again this weekend, Auburn will host a Mississippi State team that was embarrassed itself in Week 4 by Georgia.

The big question is which Bulldogs team will show up? Will Auburn face the team that humbled LSU or will it face the one that was dismantled by Georgia? The one thing we know for sure is that Auburn’s defense is one of the better ones around the nation, so Nick Fitzgerald better mind his Ps and Qs in this one.

A big win at home against the Bulldogs this Saturday would go a long way toward justifying the notion that Auburn belongs among the nation’s elite. Another hiccup by Jarrett Stidham and Co. would set the program back significantly in 2017.

Alabama looks to steamrolling SEC at home against Ole Miss

Alabama used Vanderbilt as a punching bag last weekend, shutting out the Commodores 59-0 while outgaining them by 599 yards. Now the Crimson Tide are coming back home for their SEC home opener against an Ole Miss team that has beaten them twice in the last three years. Don’t count on Nick Saban letting his team ease up on the gas pedal in this game.

The Rebels come into this game sporting an offense that’s averaged nearly 500 yards and scored 36 points per game. But if we’ve learned anything about Alabama’s defense it’s that it specializes in squashing hot offenses into mush. It will be quite a stunning result if Ole Miss even stays competitive Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

Can Josh Rosen get UCLA back on track?

Josh Rosen

UCLA isn’t winning many games this year in which Josh Rosen isn’t perfect. The defense is awful, having allowed nearly 525 yards and over 43 points per game. It’s only due to Rosen’s legendary comeback against Texas A&M in Week 1 and his flawless performance in Week 2 that the Bruins have a single win at all thus far. Unfortunately, Rosen has tried to do too much the past two weeks as his defense continues to fail and has thrown four interceptions, leading to a couple of losses.

Should UCLA beat Colorado? Surely. But given the atrocity that is the rest of UCLA’s roster aside from Rosen and receiver Darren Andrews, we’re not ready to say it’s a given. If you’re up late Saturday night, tune into ESPN2 to watch this special quarterback try to carry his team on his back.

Who bounces back when Oregon hosts Cal?

Oregon has been the hotter team this year from a national perspective. They’ve been putting over 50 points on the board per game on average, so it’s not surprising. Royce Freeman is one of the most underrated stars in the nation, and his quarterback, Justin Herbert, is flying pretty low under the radar as well. But Cal is no slouch and could potentially provide some stiff competition.

The Bears gave USC all it could handle last weekend, and in the end it was the defense of the Trojans that won the day, not the famed offense. Both of these Pac-12 teams are coming off tough losses. Oregon had a chance to beat ASU late last Saturday night but blew it big time. Now it’s time for one of these 3-1 squads to get back on track.

Josh Jackson has work cut out at home against Clemson

The biggest game of the weekend features two ACC teams that feature inexperienced quarterbacks and undefeated records. We’re expecting the Tigers, who sport the toughest defense in the nation, to give freshman quarterback Josh Jackson fits. Because of that, Virginia Tech will struggle to win at home. However, if Jackson can get some help from his offensive line and his running backs, the Hokies could shock the No. 2 team in the nation.

The one X-factor here is that Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant had an awful game last weekend in the team’s easy win over Boston College. He only managed 140 yards on 17-of-26 passing and threw two interceptions, failing to put the ball into the end zone once through the air. It’s not inconceivable to think he might struggle again on Saturday night in Blacksburg, where you know the Virginia Tech faithful will be out in force.

Still, Clemson’s defense is so dominant that the Tigers might win despite Bryant once again going up against the freshman quarterback. If the Hokies are going to pull off the upset, then Jackson needs to be razor sharp.

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