College Football Week 5 Preview — Three Top 10 Matchups Highlight a Big Week
For the first time since 2002, we’ll have three Top 10 matchups this week. Here are some of the burning questions going into a big weekend of college football:
Can Anyone Stop the Lamar Jackson Express?
Through four weeks, there’s little debate that Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson has been the most dominant player in football. The sophomore has more touchdowns through four games (25) than any player since 2005 and is the only player in that same span to have multiple seven-touchdown games in a season. Jackson leads the nation in scoring, is second in total offense and now has more touchdowns than all but one team in FBS.
That said, he hasn’t faced a defense of No. 5 Clemson’s caliber. Brent Venables’ squad ranks third nationally in total defense, fifth in scoring, second in yards per play and have held three of four opponents this season to 13 or fewer points.
For the Tigers to knock off No. 3 Louisville, two things likely need to happen. First, the Clemson defense has to play solid assignment defense, not give Jackson open running lanes and turn him into a pocket passer. Second, Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson has to start playing like, well, Deshaun Watson. Through four games, the preseason Heisman favorite has been decent (996 yards and nine touchdowns), but not been the big-play threat that led his team to the national title game a year ago. He is averaging just 6.64 yards per completion (compared with 8.36 years ago) and has rushed for just 120 total yards and no touchdowns in four games after going for 100-plus yards in five of the last seven games last year and rushing for eight touchdowns in that span.
It’s likely that one of these two quarterbacks will come out of this game as the prohibitive Heisman frontrunner. But who will it be?
Can the Badgers Shock the Big House?
No. 8 Wisconsin has already knocked off two Top Ten teams. But to pull the hat trick will require overcoming their biggest challenge to date with a trip to No. 4 Michigan.
The Wolverine defense has been ferocious this year, leading the nation in sacks, tackles for loss and third down conversions allowed. While Wisconsin’s freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook has been steady since taking over the reins of the offense (leading the game-winning drive against Georgia State and throwing for 195 yards, one touchdown and one interception in his only start against Michigan State). Wisconsin is one of only three teams with at least 40 rushes per game that is averaging less than four yards per carry. So it may be up to the freshman to take the game on his shoulders on the biggest stage of his young career.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan quarterback Wilson Speight has been solid early, completing over 63 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns and just one interception. With Wisconsin’s defense giving up just 80.5 rushing yards per game (10th nationally), look for him and star receiver Jehu Chesson to challenge the Badgers deep.
Neither quarterback has played in a game with so much on the line. With two stout defenses on the other side, look for the team whose quarterback makes the fewest mistakes to come out on top.
Can Washington End Stanford’s Run?
No. 7 Stanford has won three of the last four Pac-12 championships and, with only two teams in the North Division above .500 could be well on their way to another. But standing in their way are the suddenly powerful No. 10 Washington Huskies. After six straight losing seasons from 2004–09, Washington has rebounded with six straight bowl appearances. But only once in that stretch have they won more than eight games, and Husky faithful hope this is coach Chris Petersen’s breakthrough season that gets Washington back among the nation’s elite.
This game will be an interesting clash of styles. As you would expect with someone of Petersen’s offensive pedigree, the Huskies have been getting it done with offense, ranking 10th nationally in scoring offense and putting up at least 35 points in every game this season. On the other side of the ball, Stanford ranks 10th nationally in scoring defense and has yet to give up more than 13 points in a game.
The X-factor could be Stanford’s do-it-all tailback Christian McCaffrey. Although the Cardinal defense can likely slow down the Washington offense, Stanford will likely need McCaffrey to make some plays in the run and/or return game (he is currently second in the nation in all-purpose yardage) to score the road win in Husky Stadium’s first Top 10 matchup since 1997.
Stanford has won three in a row in this series and nine of the last 11.
Can the Big 12 Salvage Some Dignity?
Unless No. 13 Baylor can somehow run the table and sneak into the playoff, this may be a lost season for the Big 12. Still, the conference can save a little face with some of the league’s traditional powers facing off this weekend.
The Oklahoma State / Texas matchup has been a back-and-forth affair with the teams alternating wins the last five years. However, the No. 22 Longhorns have only lost in Stillwater one time in this series’ history (1997). They’ll be looking to rebound from last week’s loss to Cal against an Oklahoma State squad that has moved the ball well on offense but given up an average of 489 yards to opposing offenses in the last three games.
Likewise, although their playoff hopes are dashed, Oklahoma is hoping to challenge for another Big 12 title by rebounding at No. 21 TCU. The Sooners are coming off a bye week after their blowout loss to Ohio State and will need a much better defensive performance against a Horned Frog offense that ranks fourth nationally in total offense (576 yards per game).
While none of these schools can turn their season around overnight, a win would be a first step toward redemption while a loss…well, let’s just not talk about that.
Can Tennessee Keep It Going?
No. 11 Tennessee exorcised some demons last week after 11 years of frustration against Florida. But they’ll have another chance against a conference rival this weekend. Georgia has won five of the last six against the Vols and Tennessee has not won in Athens since 2006.
This could be a game heavy on emotion. The Volunteers are coming in off of a big win in a rivalry game while the Bulldogs will look to recover following a blowout loss at Ole Miss.
A Tennessee victory would not only give the Vols a stranglehold on the SEC East, but would secure the team’s first 5–0 start since an undefeated national championship season in 1998.