Week 5 in college football features some great conference action as USC travels to Washington State, Clemson has a big road test against Virginia Tech, Georgia and Tennessee will decide which team is a contender in the SEC East, Oklahoma State looks to bounce back against Texas Tech, and UCF takes on Memphis in an American conference clash. Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, Mike Loveall, Brett Margolies, and John Bava offer their predictions.
#5 USC at #16 Washington State (Friday at 10:30 P.M. in Pullman, WA)
Line: USC by 3.5
Steen: USC is a solid team but they have been inconsistent, their offense is lethal, and their defense has been up and down. Washington State’s air raid attack will test the Trojan defense, and the Cougars have a surprisingly good defense in their own right. traveling to Pullman is not easy and even though USC can still win the conference, I have them being tripped up in this one. Washington State 35, USC 28
Yesh: The Trojans have struggled this year, and this is Mike Leach’s chance to reassert himself in the national conversation. He won’t miss it at home. Washington State 35, USC 31
Mike: An extremely hard game to call. Washington State’s offense is excellent. But the surprise is the Cougar defense. Granted, other than Boise State, they haven’t played top-notch competition. But they’re better than in the past. USC looked great against Stanford, but susceptible against Texas. USC seems better against run-first team. Washington State seems better suited against USC’s pro style attack. It just screams Cougars. My fear is that Washington State finds a way to collapse, like they have each year of the Mike Leach era. But something seems different. The defense. Luke Falk is a senior. It’s in Pullman. Friday night. Why not? Washington State 45, USC 38
John: Pac-12 after dark gets an early start this week as Washington State hosts USC in a battle between 4-0 teams Friday night. It’s a looming battle between two of the nation’s top quarterbacks in the Trojans’ Sam Darnold and the Cougars’ Luke Falk. Both rank in the top 20 nationally in passing yards, touchdown throws and completion percentage. But Falk is no worse than second in the two latter categories (14 touchdowns, 76.9 percent completion percentage).
Through four games, USC has certainly faced the tougher opposition. But injuries to key players on offense may be an issue heading into this game. Couple that with the fact that Wazzu leads the Pac-12 in pass defense and conditions may be ripe for an upset in Pullman. The Trojans have the nation’s longest winning streak at 13 games, but they’ve looked shaky at times this year. Washington State 34, USC 31
Brett: Washington State’s high powered offense will be tested once again. It’ll definitely be an electric atmosphere with a Friday night game in Pullman. Both teams can put up points, but I like USC in a close game. USC 35 Wash St 31
#7 Georgia at Tennessee (Saturday 3:30 P.M. in Knoxville, TN)
Line: Georgia by 7.5
Steen: Georgia is too strong for Tennessee no matter how loud they play Rocky Top at Neyland Stadium on Saturday. QB Jake Fromm is growing in terms of performance every game, and their running game is a threat on its own. The Tennessee defense is disappointing, and their offense is not consistent. This game could get ugly between rivals. Georgia 42, Tennessee 17
Yesh: Butch Jones might be coaching for his job by now, but his team isn’t playing well enough to hang with Georgia at the moment. Kirby Smart has his Bulldogs rolling, and the defense is too good for Tennessee to deal with. Georgia 35, Tennessee 17
Mike: Georgia looks like they are gaining steam at the right time. A great road win at Notre Dame and an absolute destruction of Mississippi State have some fans thinking about Alabama in the SEC Championship Game already. They have a freshman quarterback that seems to be in rhythm in this offense, two great running backs, and a defense that could finish in the Top 5 in the nation. Meanwhile, the wheels might be falling off in Knoxville. Tennessee found a way to lose against Florida yet again and followed that up with an uninspired 17-13 win against Massachusetts last week. Tennessee can wear whatever uniform they want and make the stadium look good, but the final score won’t be pretty. Georgia 42, Tennessee 10
John: Georgia comes into Saturday’s game at Tennessee riding high after a 31-3 rout of Mississippi State. Meanwhile, questions abound in Knoxville after the Vols’ sluggish outing in a 17-13 win over a winless Massachusetts team. They certainly could use a bounce back performance in Neyland against the Bulldogs.
That won’t come easy against a team who clearly looks like the class of the SEC East at the moment. Head coach Kirby Smart is getting it done with a dynamic run game and physical front seven on defense. On paper, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel should roll against the Vols who rank 118th nationally against the run. Georgia 30, Tennessee 20
Brett: Tennessee has a chance to flip the script on the season after last week embarrassing win over UMASS. I don’t think the Vols are as bad as they were last week, but they don’t have enough to beat Georgia. John Kelly might be enough to keep it close, but don’t expect to see Butch Jones’s hot seat to get any cooler this weekend. Georgia 24 Tennessee 20
Memphis at UCF (Saturday at 7:00 P.M. in Orlando, FL)
Line: UCF by 3.5
Steen: This is a game with major G6 bowl bid implications. Both teams are talented and rising, with coaches that are probably not likely to stick around much longer. Memphis has a great passing game but a shaky defense at times. UCF is a more complete team and should have an edge. UCF 31, Memphis 24
Yesh: Don’t be surprised that UCF is favored over Memphis. The Knights have only played two games this year, but both were very impressive. UCF is, somehow, one of the more talented teams in the country this year. If you overlooked their win over Maryland, you won’t be overlooking them again after throttling Memphis. UCF 45, Memphis 24
Mike: This one is about defense. While most people saw Memphis upset UCLA behind a high-powered passing attack, UCF’s dismantling of Maryland may be the best win of the season between the two teams. This is a clearly improved Maryland team that beat Texas. Both Scott Frost and Mike Norvell are G5 coaches that will get a lot of phone calls this summer. But the difference here is UCF’s defense. It’s not great, but it’s certainly better than Memphis’ defense. UCF did have a two week break due to weather, but showed no signs of rust against Maryland last season. The Knights might be in the Top 25 after this week. UCF 52, Memphis 35
John: These two AAC foes were originally slated to meet in Week 2. But Hurricane Irma forced the game’s postponement until this Saturday. When the Tigers and Knights finally face off at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, FL, expect a shootout.
Both teams rank top 15 nationally in points per game, with UCF trailing only Oregon in that statistic. The two quarterbacks, UCF’s McKenzie Milton and Memphis’ Riley Ferguson, have thrown just three interceptions between them so far. But Milton may have the edge, ranking 18th nationally in total offense and one of only six quarterbacks averaging over ten yards per play. After a blowout win over a Big Ten foe last week, the Knights are riding a lot of momentum. Expect that to continue on Saturday. UCF 45, Memphis 37
Brett: UCF head coach Scott Frost has the program going in the right direction after a big road win at Maryland. They have a chance to back that up in a big conference game against arguably the best team in the AAC. Look for McKenzie Milton and UCF to make a statement and pick up a quality win in Orlando. UCF 38 Memphis 31
#15 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech (Saturday 8:00 P.M. in Lubbock, TX)
Line: Oklahoma State by 10
Steen: Oklahoma State is a team with problems, but Texas Tech is weaker on defense and in a shootout I’ll back Mason Rudolph to bounce back and get a win. The loser of this game is likely out of the BIG 12 title conversation barring something shocking. Oklahoma State 45, Texas Tech 31
Yesh: The Cowboys will be mad and out for revenge. Texas Tech was solid in beating Houston, but this Red Raiders team still doesn’t have much defense, and that’s a bad formula against the ‘Pokes. Oklahoma State 52, Texas Tech 35
Mike: Oklahoma State tries to get back on track after a disappointing loss to TCU last week. The Cowboys had CFP aspirations, but those hopes are hanging by a thread after getting diced by Kenny Hill and the Horned Frog offense. Nic Shimonek is a good quarterback, but he doesn’t have the athleticism or mobility of Kenny Hill. Texas Tech is coming off an impressive win against Houston, but their near-miss against Arizona State the week before causes some concern. Oklahoma State is much better than Arizona State. But this game is in Lubbock, and Kliff Kingsbury is coaching for his job. Oklahoma State 42, Texas Tech 35
John: After last week’s upset loss to TCU, Oklahoma State will look to avoid a hangover in Lubbock against Texas Tech. Two gunslinging quarterbacks will look to continue putting up video game numbers with Tech’s Nik Shimonek and the Pokes’ Mason Rudolph ranked third and fourth in FBS respectively in passing yards.
TCU bludgeoned Oklahoma State on the ground last week, which paved the way for the Cowboys going down. That’s unlikely to happen on Saturday with Texas Tech’s run game ranked 83rd nationally. But of course, they need to figure out a way to contain the Red Raiders’ air raid offense. Defense will likely be optional in this matchup where both pass games should figure prominently. Oklahoma State 48, Texas Tech 40
Brett: It’ll be interesting to see how Oklahoma State responds after last weeks home loss to TCU. Oklahoma State and Texas Tech can both put up points as well so this has the potential to be a shootout. I don’t think Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek is as good as they’ve had in past years, but I like their chances to pull off the upset in a primetime Saturday night game in Lubbock. Oklahoma State 42, Texas Tech 45
#2 Clemson at #12 Virginia Tech (Saturday 8:00 P.M. in Blacksburg, VA)
Line: Clemson by 7
Steen: Clemson faces yet another tough early season test, but they should pass it thanks to a stifling defense. The Clemson offense sputtered last week, and that gives Virginia Tech more than a chance, but these Tigers have 9 lives and should find a way out of trouble and win in the end, perhaps in OT. Clemson 24, Virginia Tech 21
Yesh: It’s time for an upset special in primetime. Justin Fuente has Virginia Tech capable of competing under the national spotlight, and Clemson’s offense is shaky enough to let the Hokies stay around. Look for Blacksburg to be rocking as the defending national champions suffer an early setback. Virginia Tech 27, Clemson 24
Mike: A lot of road favorites this week, and it’s hard to go against a home underdog like Virginia Tech. They have a mobile quarterback, a great defensive coordinator, and Lane Stadium will be a great atmosphere on Saturday night. I just don’t think that will be enough. Kelly Bryant has showed tremendous potential this season. And with quality wins against Louisville and Auburn, a slow start against the Hokies might not stress the defending champions too much. Virginia Tech struggled against Will Grier and West Virginia, and the Tigers present a much more balanced challenge. Clemson’s front four makes the difference here. Brent Venables is the new Bud Foster. And Clemson continues their march back to the playoffs. Clemson 34, Virginia Tech 24
John: It should be a supercharged atmosphere in Blacksburg when Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” starts playing and Virginia Tech takes the field against Clemson. Second year head coach Justin Fuente has the Hokies as relevant on the national stage as they’ve been in a while. Saturday’s matchup is the first in Lane Stadium between AP Top 12 teams in eight years.
This game has smash mouth slugfest written all over it with the two defenses ranked one-two in points allowed per game among ACC teams. Both defensive coordinators, Tech’s Bud Foster and Clemson’s Brent Venables, are among the more astute minds on that side of the ball in the nation. It’s showing this year in how dominant both units have been thus far in 2017.
Clemson’s early season schedule has certainly been a gauntlet. VT is the third team they’ve faced who came into the game ranked in the top 15. Ultimately, the Tigers prevail albeit in a closely contested tussle. Clemson 23, Virginia Tech 17
Brett: Clemson has been one of the biggest surprises of the season in my opinion. I thought there would be a significant drop-off after losing Deshaun Watson, but Kelly Bryant has filled right in. They passed their last road test at Louisville, and I don’t think this will be any different on Saturday night in Blacksburg. Clemson 31, Virginia Tech 20