As college football enters its fifth week, it’s time to separate the men from the boys. Several teams, including Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, need a key rebound, both coming off ugly losses that shocked the nation. Alabama and Clemson, on the other hand, will look to continue their dominance. A key upset that will impact the rest of the season is lurking somewhere in the slate of games this weekend — let’s see if we can find it.
No. 5 USC at No. 16 Washington State
Alex: The Cougars are 4-0 for the first time since 2001 and will be looking for a marquee win over one of the nation’s top teams. Wins over Montana State, Boise State, Oregon State and Nevada will seem like warmups once Sam Darnold and company stroll into Pullman, Washington. The game is sold out, and Martin Stadium will surely be rockin’, but USC’s experience and sheer talent will carry it to a victory against a passionate WSU team.
Josh: USC has struggled with injuries and turnovers early in the season but remains undefeated. Washington State has not yet faced an opponent of USC’s caliber. All eyes will fall on the quarterback battle between Sam Darnold and Luke Falk. Falk, in particular, commands offensive coordinator Mike Leach’s especially high-flying Air Raid offense. Expect this to be a high-scoring game. In the end, Darnold and Deontay Burnett will make enough plays for USC to grab the win.
No. 7 Georgia at Tennessee
Alex: Oh, where the Vols could be had Feleipe Franks not thrown that pass. Tennessee was mere seconds away from stealing a win in Gainesville. Now, it’ll try to recapture some momentum against a talented Georgia team. Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm will lead the Bulldogs into Knoxville as he fights to retain his spot as the rightful starter. John Kelly, the under-the-radar Vols running back, won’t let Kelly escape with a win too easily. The Heisman candidate hasn’t skipped a beat in the orange and white. I predict he’ll have another breakout game and Fromm will crumble under the pressure at Neyland Stadium, lending Tennessee a desperately needed SEC East win.
Josh: Tennessee has found a way to keep games close. John Kelly is probably the best running back in the country outside of Happy Valley, Pennsylvania. With that said, the Vols’ quarterback play continues to sputter. At least Kirby Smart remembered a thing or two about defense from his days in Alabama. Georgia will focus on stopping Kelly and forcing Quinten Dormady to throw as often as possible. The Bulldogs have proven they are contenders with a road win against Notre Dame and a convincing win against Mississippi State. Georgia will establish itself as an SEC East elite with a win at Neyland Stadium.
No. 13 Auburn versus No. 24 Mississippi State
Alex: Mississippi State’s victory over LSU wasn’t a fluke, right? Or was it? After a deflating loss to Georgia last week, things aren’t trending in the right direction. Luckily for the Bulldogs, they have another chance to prove their worth against a talented Auburn team. The Tigers’ only loss came against a very good Clemson team; it’s safe to say they should feel pretty confident at home. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald will need to rebound after last week’s loss if the Bulldogs hope to cover. But they won’t. The Tigers are too strong. Auburn wins a close affair.
Josh: Don’t expect too many offensive highlights here. Auburn and Mississippi State boast two of the best defenses in the SEC; each averages fewer than 15 points conceded per game. Opposing offenses have been terrorized by these defenses all season. Auburn’s transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham was supposed to be the electric quarterback Gus Malzahn had been searching for. He might not be, but the Tigers don’t have much of a choice. His counterpart, Nick Fitzgerald, has shown much better. His dual-threat ability, along with Donald Gray’s speed and pass catching, will lead the Bulldogs to a bounce-back win.
No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech
Alex: The fans and players on both teams have been hyping this game up for some time, especially with College GameDay coming to town and an undefeated start to match. Well, Virginia Tech, I hate to say it, but … better luck next year. This Clemson team seems as good, if not better, than the team that won the National Championship a year ago. Yes, they do start an inexperienced quarterback, but the Hokies commit plenty of defensive errors for the Tigers to capitalize on. Clemson keeps winning — and handily, at that — over a good Virginia Tech team.
Josh: Bud Foster and Brent Venables, two of the country’s best defensive coordinators, are set for battle. Clemson has shown no early weakness. Its defense is loaded at every level. Venables will use his deep front seven to rush redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson. Deshaun Watson’s replacement, Kelly Bryant, has not disappointed so far. Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow lead one of the nation’s better receiving corps. Yet VT boasts a stout defense, and no matter who the players are, Foster knows how to win. He will look to confuse Clemson’s young quarterback, but it won’t be enough. Clemson wins handily.