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College Football 2012 – Week Five Preview

College football preview
Justin K. Aller, Getty images

After a Saturday full of big games and big upsets last weekend, things look to be a little calmer this week with a handful of ranked teams on byes and only two games between ranked teams. However, for most schools, this week marks the first games of conference play so there is still a lot on the line.

Here is what to watch for in college football this week.

#1 Alabama (4-0) at Mississippi (3-1)

[Saturday, Sept. 29 at 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN]

After outscoring its first four opponents by an average of 37 points per game, the Crimson Tide begin the brunt of their SEC schedule. Ole Miss is 3-1 and is coming off a shutout of winless Tulane, but was blown out by #12 Texas two weeks ago. The Rebels are averaging over 37 points per game and have the 11th-best rushing offense in the country. But they’ll be facing an Alabama squad that is third nationally in total defense and second in scoring defense. The Crimson Tide has won eight straight in this series. The Rebels have not won in Tuscaloosa since 1988.

#2 Oregon (4-0) at Washington State (2-2)

[Saturday, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN2]

The Cougars are still looking for answers after a fourth-quarter meltdown handed them a loss last week to hapless Colorado. Unfortunately, those answers may be hard to come by against an Oregon team that can seemingly score at will and just shut out Arizona’s fast-paced offense, their first conference shutout in nine years. The Ducks rank fifth nationally in total offense and fourth in scoring while the opportunistic defense is tied for ninth in takeaways. Oregon has won five straight in this series.

Towson (2-1) at #3 Louisiana State (4-0)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPNU]

The LSU offense struggled in last week’s surprisingly close win over Auburn and will look to regroup in this final tune-up before returning to SEC play with back-to-back games against #11 Florida and #6 South Carolina. Zach Mettenberger was supposed to provide an upgrade at the quarterback position but, to date, he has thrown just four touchdowns to two red-zone interceptions. However, the Bayou Bengals’ defense (third nationally in total defense and eighth in scoring) should have little trouble shutting down FCS Towson.

#4 Florida State (4-0) at South Florida (2-2)

[Saturday, 6 p.m. on ESPN]

After pulling off the program’s biggest win in years, the Seminoles’ biggest enemy may be complacency as they will not face another currently-ranked team until late November. Quarterback E.J. Manuel accounted for 482 total yards (including a career-high 380 passing) and two touchdowns in last week’s comeback win. South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels ranks 11th in the nation in total offense (335 yards per game) but will certainly have his work cut out for him against a dominant FSU defense that, even after giving up 37 points to Clemson, still ranks second nationally in total defense and sixth in scoring.

Tennessee (3-1) at #5 Georgia (4-0)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on CBS]

The Bulldogs have scored 41 or more points in every game this season, a first in school history. But this week, they’ll face an offense that has the ability to score with them. Vols quarterback Tyler Bray is third in the nation in passing yards. The key to this game could be Tennessee’s ability to stop big plays. In their loss to Florida, the Vols gave up four plays of 30+ yards in the game’s final 19 minutes and, in the last two weeks, they have given up four touchdowns of 23 or more yards. This week, they’ll face a Bulldogs offense that leads the SEC in yards per carry (6.0) and has five touchdowns of 29+ yards in its last two games.

#6 South Carolina (4-0) at Kentucky (1-3)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN2]

Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw, who was nearly perfect last week (20/21 for 249 yards and two touchdowns), could have another big game this week against a Kentucky defense that ranks 82nd nationally in scoring defense. Last season, Shaw threw for a career-high 311 yards and four touchdowns against the Wildcats. And if Shaw struggles for some reason, running back Marcus Lattimore, who has scored in every game this season, should be able to pick up the slack against Kentucky’s 97th-ranked rush defense. A win this week would give South Carolina a school record nine straight wins and its first 5-0 start since 2001. The Gamecocks have won 11 of the last 12 in this series.

#7 Kansas State (4-0) BYE

The Wildcats get a week off to recover from their big road upset of Oklahoma. They will return to action next week against in-state rival Kansas.

#8 Stanford (3-0) at Washington (2-1)

[Thursday, Sep. 27 at 9 p.m. on ESPN]

After having an extra week to celebrate its win over then-#2 USC, the Cardinal returns to action this week with a Thursday night trip to Washington. Stanford leads the nation in rush defense and shouldn’t have much trouble with a Huskies ground game that ranks 106th in the country. So Washington’s hopes lie on quarterback Keith Price (560 yards and four touchdowns this season) and his ability to get past a Stanford pass defense that shut down Matt Barkley (four sacks, two interceptions and no touchdowns). Stanford has won 10 straight road games and three straight in Seattle.

#25 Baylor (3-0) at #9 West Virginia (3-0)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on FX]

After three blowout wins in nonconference play, the Mountaineers finally get their first taste of life in the Big 12 with a ranked Baylor team coming to town. The scoreboard in Morgantown could get quite a workout as Baylor and West Virginia rank fifth and tenth respectively in scoring offense, averaging a combined 98.6 points per game. Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith has moved himself to the front of the Heisman short list, completing 81 percent of his passes for 1,072 yards, 12 touchdowns and no interceptions this season. This week, he’ll face a porous Bears defense that is giving up over 492 yards per game (116th in the nation). However, Baylor features an offense that can go toe-to-toe with the Mountaineers if the game turns into a shootout—the Bears average almost 569 yards and over 51 points per game. Baylor is 0-25 all-time in road games against ranked Big 12 opponents.

#10 Notre Dame (4-0) BYE

Off to their first 4-0 start in 10 years, the Fighting Irish enjoy a bye week before taking on Miami next week. In the last two weeks, Notre Dame’s defense held both Michigan and Michigan State without a touchdown, the first time they had done that to both foes since 1909.

#11 Florida (4-0) BYE

The Gators get a much-needed week off to prepare for a trip to Death Valley to take on #3 LSU.

#12 Texas (3-0) at Oklahoma State (2-1)

[Saturday, 7:50 p.m. on Fox]

Texas is just 6-11 in Big 12 play over the last two years, but could take a big step back toward conference respectability with a win in front of a national TV audience and a hostile crowd in Stillwater. After two years of inconsistent quarterback play, the Longhorns may finally have found their guy as David Ash threw for a career-high 326 yards and four touchdowns in his last game against Ole Miss. But Texas’ biggest challenge this week may be for the defense going against an OSU offense that leads the nation in total yards and scoring. The Cowboys will likely be without starting quarterback Wes Lunt (knee), but it shouldn’t slow things down too much. In OSU’s last game against Louisiana-Lafayette, backup J.W. Walsh accounted for 420 total yards (73 rushing) and five touchdowns as the Cowboys racked up a school-record 742 yards.

#13 Southern Cal (3-1) BYE

The Trojans get the week off to prepare for next Thursday night’s trip to Utah.

#14 Ohio State (4-0) at #20 Michigan State (3-1)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC]

Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller has been an excellent fit for Urban Meyer’s spread offense, already accounting for 754 yards passing, 441 rushing and 14 total touchdowns. However, this week he’ll face his biggest test thus far against a Spartans defense that ranks sixth nationally in total defense. For Michigan State, bruising running back Le’Veon Bell is coming off his second 200+ yard game this season and will try to pound an Ohio State defense that has been respectable against the run (33rd nationally), but did give up big chunks of yardage on the ground in a Week Three win over California. Michigan State won in Columbus last year, snapping a seven-game losing streak in this series.

#15 Texas Christian (3-0) at Southern Methodist (1-2)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on Fox Sports Net]

TCU has not lost since last year’s upset loss to SMU and is currently riding a nations-best 11-game winning streak. The Horned Frogs defense has continued its traditional dominance, holding its opponents to an average of just 4.3 points per game (tops in the country). They’re also getting stellar play on offense from quarterback Casey Paschall, who is completing 76 percent of his passes for 841 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. He should be able to find some success against a Mustang pass defense that ranks last in the nation, giving up 388 passing yards per game.

#16 Oklahoma (2-1) BYE

After suffering their first home loss to a ranked opponent in over 13 years, the Sooners get a week off to regroup and prepare for a road trip to Texas Tech. OU has not won in Lubbock since 2003.

#17 Clemson (3-1) at Boston College (1-2)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2]

The Tigers defense gave up 667 yards (the second-most in school history) in last week’s loss to Florida State and will now try to regroup against a Boston College offense that likes to air it out. The Eagles rank just 118th nationally in rushing, but quarterback Chase Rettig leads the ACC in passing yards and total yardage. Clemson running back Andre Ellington is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns in the last three weeks. However, he will have tough running ahead against a BC defense that features three of the ACC’s top four tacklers.

#18 Oregon State (2-0) at Arizona (3-1)

[Saturday, 10 p.m. on PAC-12 Network]

Expect to see the ball in the air a lot as the PAC-12’s top two quarterbacks square off. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion and Arizona’s Matt Scott have combined for almost 629 passing yards per game. Oregon State and Arizona rank 10th and 11th, respectively, in passing offense. However, the offensive similarities end there. Arizona also features a strong running game and ranks 11th nationally in scoring (even after being shut out by Oregon last week), while the Beavers rank 114th in rushing yards and 113th in scoring. The Wildcats have the more explosive offense, to be sure, but the Beavers own the second-best run defense in the nation and held UCLA’s Johnathan Smith, who came in as the nation’s leading rusher, to just 45 yards last week. Oregon State has won in five previous games in Tucson and is seeking its first 3-0 start since 2002.

#19 Louisville (4-0) at Southern Miss (0-3)

[Saturday, 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network]

These are two programs heading in opposite directions. Louisville is off to its first 4-0 start since its Orange Bowl season of 2006, while the defending Conference USA champs have started off 0-3 and are giving up almost 40 points per game. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been the big reason for the Cardinals’ early success, throwing for 1,049 yards and seven touchdowns while completing over 73 percent of his passes. On the other side, Southern Miss has struggled to find any offense this year, ranking 118th in both total yards and passing yards and 115th in scoring. Louisville has won five straight in this series.

#21 Mississippi State (4-0) BYE

Off to their best start since 1999, the Bulldogs get a week off to get ready for a return to SEC play at Kentucky.

Wisconsin (3-1) at #22 Nebraska (3-1)

[Saturday, 8 p.m. on ABC]

Nebraska came into last season with high hopes of a Big Ten championship. But a six-minute span against Wisconsin in which Taylor Martinez threw three interceptions that led to 21 Badger points ended that dream quickly. This year, the Cornhuskers are looking for a more consistent effort from the Big Ten’s best offense. Nebraska ranks fifth in the nation in rushing offense and just got workhorse running back Rex Burkhead back from a knee injury. Martinez is also improved this year, completing over 70 percent of his passes for 878 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception. For Wisconsin, the big question is about the status of Heisman finalist running back Montee Ball, who left last week’s game with a head injury and has not yet been cleared to practice. Freshman quarterback Joel Stave threw for 210 yards and a touchdown in his first career start last week against UTEP.

#23 Rutgers (4-0) BYE

The Scarlet Knights are ranked for the first time in three years and are off to a 4-0 start for just the 12th time in the 143-year history of the program. Rutgers will return to action next week hosting Connecticut.

#24 Boise State (2-1) at New Mexico (2-2)

[Saturday, 6 p.m. ; no national television]

With Doug Martin and Kellen Moore no longer in the backfield, the Boise State offense has struggled this season. They rank 96th in total yardage, 109th in scoring and have been held out of the end zone in two of their three games this season. However, the defense has led them to a 2-1 record by giving up just 11.7 points per game, recording nine turnovers and returning two interceptions for touchdowns. The Lobos have not beaten a ranked opponent since 2003 (13 straight losses).

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