Week 5 of the college football season will provide the stage for more than one early national championship contender to make a big statement.
The weekend schedule includes three matchups between Top 10 opponents and an additional Top 25 matchup between Georgia and Tennessee.
Anytime a matchup like Georgia-Tennessee is relegated to no better than the fourth-best game on the slate, it’s a good weekend for college football.
Every week is an opportunity to stake a claim to one of the four playoff spots, but this week should go further in defining those favorites than any other week to date. Here’s a look at the latest Top 25 and the weekend schedule along with odds via Odds Shark and predictions for each:
Top Games to Watch
No. 7 Stanford at No. 10 Washington
This weekend is a big one for preseason darlings Tennessee and Washington, as both will get tested against Top 10 competition. The Huskies will be the first of the two up to bat when they take on Stanford Friday night.
Washington has lived up to the hype so far, but the road hasn’t exactly been tough. Only one of its opponents has been ranked in the top 50 of Football Outsiders‘ F/+ combined rankings, which takes into consideration a myriad of factors to measure overall efficiency.
Stanford—on the other hand—has yet to face a team that’s outside of the top 50. All three of their opponents are ranked higher than Arizona by the metric and they have managed to come out unscathed.
Despite the disparity in competition this season, the Huskies might just be the beneficiaries of good timing.
Stanford’s tough schedule has already lead to some consequences in the form of injuries. The Cardinal’s two starting cornerbacks—Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder—will not play in the game, per David Lombardi of ESPN.com.
Add in a concussion for wide receiver Francis Owusu suffered last week, and Stanford is feeling the effect of its early schedule on both sides of the ball.
As Jordon Plocher of Pro Football Focus notes, the injuries form a significant matchup issue, as the Huskies do have serious talent at the receiver position in John Ross. Washington is No. 2 in the country in passing efficiency:
That kind of an advantage is too hard to ignore in a game as evenly matched as this one. Washington won’t find a better opportunity to solidify the hype than playing a hobbled Stanford team at home.
Prediction: Washington 34, Stanford 24
No. 8 Wisconsin at No. 4 Michigan
No one has been more pleasantly surprising than the Wisconsin Badgers.
Led by a defense engineered by former USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Badgers have navigated an early slate that includes LSU, Notre Dame and Michigan State.
In Week 4, the Badgers made the questionable move of starting freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook against a Top 10 team in Michigan State. He wound up with 195 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but showed the moxie and leadership necessary to win a big game.
However, the Badgers’ success came on the defensive side of the football, and that might be the problem in this game.
Wisconsin was able to jump on top of the Spartans in their 30-6 win with Hornibrook under center because the defense was able to force four Spartans turnovers, one of which was a 66-yard scoop-and-score for Wisconsin:
That’s not indicative of how the unit has played all season, though. It accounts for nearly half of their nine takeaways this season.
The Wolverines will have a hard time getting things going on the ground against a Wisconsin defense that is holding opponents to just 3.19 yards per carry in the run game. However, they’ve only turned it over twice.
Jim Harbaugh’s group has a stingy defense of its own. Michigan is 13th in the nation allowing just 4.32 yards per play. It’s part of the reason that Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report has Michigan in his playoff field heading into Week 5:
Both teams have similar identities. They’ll both look to establish the run and play dominant defense. We’re sure to see plenty of the latter, and whichever team can take care of the ball will wind up the winner.
Right now, that appears to be Michigan, and that will make the difference down the stretch.
Prediction: Michigan 20, Wisconsin 14
No. 3 Louisville at No. 5 Clemson
Michigan vs. Wisconsin and Stanford vs. Washington are all well and good, but the main event of the evening is truly Louisville traveling to Death Valley to take on Clemson.
Louisville is the hottest team in college football with a dominant win over Florida State in tow. Quarterback Lamar Jackson has taken a commanding early lead in the Heisman race with 25 touchdowns in the first four games. In case you haven’t heard, that’s more than every team in the country except Michigan.
Perhaps most interesting in Jackson’s ascent has been what it means for Clemson QB Deshaun Watson.
After leading Clemson to the national championship game and finishing third in the Heisman voting last season, it’s hard to imagine that a quarterback would come into a game with more hype than Watson this season. Yet, here we are.
In part, that’s because Watson hasn’t lived up to the extremely high expectations put on him at the beginning of the season. As CFB Film Room suggests, he’s struggled to make plays under pressure:
One big difference between Jackson and Watson is experience. Watson has played on the grandest stage of them all and in plenty of major games, coming out with a win more often than not.
For Watson, the key is to approach the big games the same as the rest, as he explained to Aaron Brenner of the Post and Courier:
It’s no different, regardless if everybody’s watching or no one’s watching. The yards and the lines on the field, it’s still 53.3 yards across and 120 yards from one end (zone) to the other. It’s still football. There’s just more people watching. At the end of the day, you’re still doing what you love to do, you’ve been doing it your whole life, and just go out there and have fun doing it.
Clemson appeared to start working out the kinks in its offense against Georgia Tech. Watson went 32-of-48 for a season-high 304 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
With Clemson’s playoff hopes likely hanging in the balance, the junior should rise to the occasion and battle Jackson for four quarters in his home stadium.
Prediction Clemson 42, Louisville 38
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Source: Bleacher Report-CFB News