2014 NCAAF Week 5 Weekend Preview

September 24, 2014

For many leagues, the non-conference slate has wrapped up and in-conference matchups will begin this week. I personally think that this is a good thing, because even with the institution of a four team playoff we aren’t seeing the drastic increase in marquee out of conference games that some people had predicted.

Honestly, it’s going to take a system where eight teams qualify for the playoff and the conference champion of each Power Five conference is guaranteed a spot before we really see the number of special non-conference battles ramp up.

It’s doable, friends, and it will happen eventually. Just give the four team playoff a few years to sink in.

This week I am circling back to take on yet another one of the Gardner boys in the head-to-head prediction game. Matt Gardner is the guest this week and will look to break the overall deadlock that has stood since Week 3 as both Coleman and I went 3-2 in Week 4. The overall records now stand:

K. Becks: 7-8

Guests: 7-8

As far as I know Matt isn’t a Big Ten hater; he may actually be an apologist. Either way, don’t expect any predictions that favor a team by 50 points over a Big Ten opponent this week.

Here is a list of my top five games to watch this weekend, as well as five more to keep an eye on.

5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend

#11 UCLA at #15 Arizona State (Thursday, 10 PM ET)

For the second week in a row, Thursday night features two ranked squads squaring off against one another. The Pac-12 has been relatively quiet this year, with Oregon going about its business without much trouble and the occasional last second Hail Mary conversion for a game winning touchdown being completely overlooked by those in the Eastern time zone (don’t lie, that’s probably your first time seeing it). But this game is big from both a national and conference perspective, as UCLA and Arizona State are likely the top contenders to represent the South Division in the Pac-12 title game in December. Fans in Tempe have had some pretty solid teams to root for over the past few years, but don’t be surprised if attendance for this game surpasses that of all games played at Sun Devil Stadium over the past decade.

Brett Hundley is the quarterback that has been getting all the Heisman hype, but Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly has actually outplayed his counterpart this season. The senior averages just over 200 yards passing a game, but hasn’t thrown an interception this season while posting six touchdown passes. In addition, his 56 yards per game on the ground far surpasses the roughly 25 per game that Hundley has averaged. Throw in the fact that Kelly’s team is also unbeaten and you’ve got a strong argument for why he should be the guy everyone wants if they can’t have Marcus Mariota. Along with Kelly, Arizona State running back D.J. Foster leads the Pac-12 in rushing yards this season. The UCLA rush defense has been mediocre this season, so the Sun Devils could not only have success on the ground but also control possession in this game. Considering UCLA has had trouble getting things going offensively, that is not good news for the Bruins.

UCLA hasn’t looked good this season despite beginning the year ranked in the top ten, and Hundley is coming off of an elbow injury suffered against Virginia in Week 1. Unfortunately Kelly, the experienced and smart quarterback for Arizona State, is hurt. Even so, while the Bruins may have more talent overall I expect the Sun Devils to play disciplined at home. A few key stops by the Arizona State defense could make all the difference, because the run game will be the weapon of choice for both offenses. Points will be at a premium, which favors the team that takes better care of the ball.

My Pick: 20-14 Arizona State

Matt’s Take: UCLA 21 Arizona State 17

UCLA will show up defensively and make just enough plays to win in a hostile environment.

#1 Florida State at North Carolina State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

It’s been nearly two years since Florida State lost an ACC contest, dating back to October 6, 2012. In that game, the third ranked Seminoles took on an underrated North Carolina State team in Raleigh and came away shocked by a 17-16 upset. Since then, Florida State has won two ACC titles, two BCS bowl games, a national title and the number one ranking in the country. One might say that the loss propelled the Seminoles to great heights. But caution must be taken when entering Raleigh this weekend, as the Wolfpack have surprised many by opening up 4-0 and doing it convincingly.

If you looked up the top offenses in the ACC right now, you’d probably be shocked by what you’d find. North Carolina State is the leader in yards per game, followed by Duke. The mighty Seminoles are at No. 8 on the list. The Wolfpack may not have played the most feared teams in the country, but Dave Doeran’s team has been getting it done offensively in an extremely balanced way. North Carolina State averages almost as many rushing yards per game (248) as passing yards (253). This is a real danger to a Florida State defense that ranks No. 12 in the ACC in total yards given up. The Wolfpack rely on a quintet of running backs to get the job done on the ground, while junior quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been a pleasant surprise in the passing game. The way Clemson performed against the Seminoles last weekend should give fans of the underdog hope in this one, even though Jameis Winston was suspended.

It is my belief that the Seminoles will fall at some point this season, but I have to give Jimbo Fisher some credit as a head coach. He seems well aware of how his team may react in certain situations, and you can bet that he will remind the players of what happened the last time the Seminoles visited Raleigh. Although the Wolfpack would normally be a threat to make it two in a row at home against Florida State, Coach Fisher is likely taking special care to ensure his team is ultra-focused for this game. The best coaches always make sure to do that, which is why they rarely lose when favored.

My Pick: 34-17 Florida State

Matt’s Take: Florida State 38 North Carolina State 17

Arkansas vs. #6 Texas A&M [game in Dallas] (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

The fun thing about this game is that one of these teams is bound to be exposed as a fraud. Arkansas has been beating up on opponents this season with the exception of Auburn, who consequently beat up on the Razorbacks. The Aggies have been doing much of the same but have yet to face a team that can keep up with them offensively. If Bret Bielema’s team is for real, then perhaps the Razorbacks can. Arkansas has been running wild this year and has only been stopped by one of the best in the SEC. Defensive stops could be rare in this one, which makes them all the more important in deciding a winner.

The Razorbacks are eighth in the country in rushing yards per game, which either means that the offense hasn’t faced a good defense yet (partially true) or Bielema’s influence is finally starting to take root in Fayetteville (also partially true). Sophomore Alex Collins and junior Jonathan Williams make up one of the most deadly running back tandems in the country, so don’t feel bad if you think the Arkansas offense highly resembles what Bielema used to do at Wisconsin. It does. But unfortunately, the Razorbacks don’t have quite the defense that Beilema’s Badger teams did. Stopping Kenny Hill is going to be a major problem for a defense that has given up an average of 233 yards per game through the air. If the Razorbacks are to win this game, it will have to be through an offensive performance that probably wouldn’t have an equal in 2014 when all is said and done.

The Aggies have played well thus far, so it’s hard to argue that the No. 6 ranking is entirely the result of pollsters who overreact to one good win. In addition, the attention that Arkansas has gotten because of its run game this season will make it hard for Texas A&M to overlook them in anticipation of next week’s showdown versus Mississippi State. While I’d like to see this one come down to the wire, I see just a bit too much offensive talent on Texas A&M and enough on the defensive end to slow down Arkansas’ two headed rushing machine of Collins and Williams.

My Pick: 45-31 Texas A&M

Matt’s Take: Arkansas 15 Texas A&M 41

Best offense in the SEC will get it done again as Kenny Trill reminds Aggie fans why it’s a good idea to forget about that guy that played quarterback for them last year.

#16 Stanford at Washington (Saturday, 4 PM ET)

Chris Petersen has been perfect thus far as Washington’s head coach, but the Huskies first real test of the season comes on Saturday afternoon against the Cardinal. The Huskies have been a bit of a mystery this season, seemingly having trouble on both sides of the ball yet not really being tested since Week 1 against Hawaii. Stanford has only impressed on one side of the ball but also has been tested only once. It’s difficult to tell if either one of these teams is truly a contender in the Pac-12 North, but this much is for sure: the winner of this game will be treated as a Top 25 squad next week while the loser won’t be.

Washington is averaging 41.3 points per contest, yet is ranked last in the Pac-12 in total offense. Stanford isn’t far ahead, averaging 30 points per game while besting only the Huskies in the Pac-12 in the yards per game statistic. Unfortunately for both teams, there seems to be a shift in the offensive identity from last season and neither squad is quite sure how to react. Washington has been successful in the run game, but Cyler Miles has been merely serviceable at quarterback. Stanford is essentially operating by committee at running back, which is quite unusual for David Shaw’s squad. Fortunately for the Cardinal, the defense has been stellar and is responsible for two shutouts already in 2014. However, the one area of concern is in stopping the run, which is the one area where Washington’s offense excels.

Washington should receive a boost by playing at home, but it’s difficult to see how the “don’t move the ball, score lots of points” formula for victory will survive another week. Kevin Hogan is experienced enough at quarterback for Stanford to will his team to victory despite some lingering confusion on that side of the ball. As long as the Cardinal don’t turn the ball over too many times, this should be a relatively comfortable victory on the road, which should be savored in the Pac-12.

My Pick: 27-13 Stanford

Matt’s Take: Stanford 28 Washington 14

Defensive battle through first three quarters and eventually Stanford will separate itself from the Huskies in the final quarter.

Oregon State at #19 Southern California (Saturday, 10:30 PM ET)

Oregon State may actually be the biggest tease in college football over the past several years. Head coach Mike Riley always seems to get more out of his squad than the talent on the field would suggest he should, yet somehow the Beavers are still lingering around the 9-3 to 7-5 range every season. It’s about time that the school takes the next step, that being as a true contender in the Pac-12 Conference. This may not be the year, but at 3-0 and with a chance to take down the vaunted Trojans, this game is worth watching. As we saw a couple of weeks ago against Boston College, the men of Troy are vulnerable. Heck, the Stanford game wasn’t very convincing, either.

Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is used to throwing for at least 300 yards in a game, so it’s no big deal that he is averaging greater than that this season. In fact, he’s actually had better statistics in prior years, especially with regards to touchdown to interception ratio. This is a game where Mannion will either make or break his team, because Southern Cal has a strong pass defense. If 2012/2013 Sean Mannion shows up, the Beavers will take the Trojans to the brink in this one. If the Sean Mannion from the first three games of 2014 shows up, chances are Steve Sarkisian’s defense will have its way against the Oregon State offense. Surprisingly enough, the Beavers actually have much better overall defensive numbers than Southern Cal, giving up just 255 yards per game this season. But that’s hardly saying much when you face Portland State, Hawaii and San Diego State (combined record: 3-8).

The verdict is still out on the Trojans, who followed up the Stanford victory with a flop against Boston College the next weekend. However, almost nothing is known about the true strength of the Beavers. If Mannion was lighting it up on offense, I’d have more confidence in Oregon State. But because of Mannion’s relative mediocrity and Southern Cal’s pass defense, I have to go with the home team. It’ll be interesting, though.

My Pick: 31-24 Southern California

Matt’s Take: OSU 17 USC 19

Oregon State loses because it isn’t the real OSU.

5 More to Flip To

Texas Tech at #24 Oklahoma State (Thursday, 7:30 PM ET)

A primer to the more anticipated UCLA/Arizona State showdown, this one has the potential to be just exciting because of the number of points that could be scored.

Tennessee at #12 Georgia (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

The Volunteers almost shocked the Bulldogs last season. It would be an even bigger upset if it happened this year in Athens.

Cincinnati at #22 Ohio State (Saturday, 6 PM ET)

A social media war has been brewing leading up to this one, and no one is exactly sure why. I thought that everyone was aware that when Around The Corn lists a game in its “5 to Flip To” section, it means that half the country won’t care whatsoever. Come on, Bearcat fans.

#8 Notre Dame at Syracuse (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

The Orange will give the Fighting Irish trouble for a half, but after that it’s up to the lighting crew to make sure that the Carrier Dome adversely affects Notre Dame’s ability to see clearly. Otherwise Syracuse won’t win.

Washington State at Utah (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

The Cougars gave a valiant effort against Oregon, but otherwise haven’t had very much luck this season. Utah is beginning to turn heads, but this game will be closer than overall records would suggest.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Matt did this week, please let me know in one of the following ways: email me at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com, send me a message on Around The Corn’s Facebook page, post a comment under this article or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. Opportunities to become a guest prognosticator will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Thanks everyone.

– K. Becks

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