2023 NCAAF: Week 5 Preview

September 28, 2023

The stacked Week 4 certainly lived up to its billing, but boy, was it a rough week in terms of Around The Corn’s predictions.

An unimpressive 2-3 record straight up was outdone (in a bad way) by an oh-fer – 0-5 – against the spread.

Here’s the thing, readers: picking against the spread is hard. Add in the fact that ole K. Becks gets excited at the prospect of some upsets on particularly Top 25 heavy weekends, and you’ve got a recipe for betting disaster.

Overall, Week 5 is a pretty strong follow up to the big Week 4, and choosing the top games to watch this weekend was a tough task. But before we break down the upcoming weekend, let’s rewind and briefly discuss lessons learned from the week that was.

3 Things We Learned in Week 4

There is still a talent gap at Colorado

The ride was fun while it lasted, but it was only a matter of time before Coach Prime and the Buffaloes came back down to earth. The Pac-12 appears to be a stacked conference this year and Oregon is one of the leaders of the charge. On both sides of the football, Colorado was outmatched by the Ducks, who were simply the better football team last weekend.

Because of the sheer volume of really good teams that seem to exist across the conference, last weekend probably isn’t the final time that Colorado will be humbled. However, Coach Prime and the rest of the team made no excuses for the loss and it should not be buried amid this conversation that the Buffaloes have already surprised many (including Around The Corn) by being mostly competitive thus far.

Football is a game of inches

Sorry about it, Notre Dame fans. The difference between winning and losing was literally a few inches for the Fighting Irish last Saturday, and to add insult to injury, the ‘difference’ was made on the final play of the game. While jubilation for some was paired with despair for others, from the neutral point of view this game did everything to live up to the hype.

With hindsight being 20/20, moving a few inches into the neutral zone prior to that final play may have made all the difference for Notre Dame. Since the Fighting Irish only had ten players on the field at the time, committing such a penalty would have afforded Marcus Freeman’s staff time to recognize the error and correct it before the Buckeyes ran a play. And, the penalty would have only cost Notre Dame half a yard. What’s 18 inches in a football game, after all?

Life in the Big 12 will be difficult for newcomers

This became abundantly clear last Saturday, when three of the Big 12’s four additions for 2023 (BYU, Cincinnati, Central Florida) lost the first game of its conference slate. Those three join Houston, which one week earlier struggled to stay competitive against TCU in its Big 12 opener.

The message is this: going from a Group of Five conference a Power 5 one is no easy task. All four of these programs have experienced considerable success elsewhere, but it could be some time before a conference title contender emerges from this group.

5 Games You Need to Watch This Weekend

#10 Utah at #19 Oregon State (Friday, 9 PM ET – FS1)

Oregon State’s defense was seemingly exposed in Pullman last weekend, but there’s a strong feeling that the Beavers aren’t the last team to be surprised by Washington State this season. Jonathan Smith’s squad is still proving itself as one of the best in the country at moving the ball on the ground despite some disappointment so far with DJ Uiagalelei at quarterback.

Speaking of quarterback play, the absence of Cam Rising nearly caught up with Utah last weekend. Were it not for a dominant defensive performance, the Utes probably wouldn’t have survived UCLA. Unfortunately for Kyle Wittingham’s squad, a repeat performance defensively isn’t likely. If Uiagalelei can keep the Utes from stacking the box to stop the run game, Oregon State has the chops to come back strong one week after losing its first game of the season. Utah needs to find a way to score more than one offensive touchdown.

My Pick: 17-13 Oregon State (does not cover -4.5 spread)

#22 Florida at Kentucky (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

Yes, Kentucky is undefeated heading into this game. Also, yes, Florida has climbed into the Top 25 just four weeks after its atrocious performance against Utah. While both of these teams seem headed in the right direction, something has got to give. All in all, this appears to be a pretty evenly matched contest. The Wildcats and Gators boast two of the better defenses in the SEC (including the two best, statistically, against the run) and points will likely come at a premium in this one.

While Graham Mertz has been anything but flashy for the Gators, he’s been getting the job done since putting the Utah game behind him. If Kentucky wants a shot at winning this game, its own QB Devin Leary will need to avoid costly turnovers. Leary seemed to take a step backwards in terms of accuracy last weekend, and has yet to play a game without committing at least one turnover. However, Florida hasn’t exactly been excellent at forcing turnovers. The last couple of possessions have a good chance of deciding the winner here.

My Pick: 13-10 Florida (covers +1 spread)

#24 Kansas at #3 Texas (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – ABC)

The Jayhawks have earned their Top 25 ranking, taking care of every team it has faced thus far and seemingly giving its defense, which struggled mightily last season, a facelift. Now Lance Leipold’s squad will be given a chance to prove its worth on the national stage as it travels to Austin to face the No. 3 Longhorns. On paper, these teams don’t look too far apart. On the field, there are some areas where that is arguably still true. Kansas, for example, can go toe-to-toe with Texas when it comes to its running game, led by running backs Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw, Jr. and complemented by Jalon Daniels’ athleticism at quarterback. Undoubtedly, it is a dangerous unit.

Texas is supremely talented as well, however, and should win this game based on the still considerable gap between the two. While Kansas will not be intimidated by a shootout, the Longhorns can apply significant pressure by making the Jayhawks chase the scoreline early. Despite the capabilities of Daniels, Kansas is at its best when it can control the tempo with its running game. The Longhorns have been stout up front on defense and won’t be easy to crack. With both teams having scored at least 30 points in all four games this season, that feels like the magic number for a victory.

My Pick: 35-24 Kansas (does not cover -16.5 spread)

#13 LSU at #20 Mississippi (Saturday, 6 PM ET – ESPN)

While LSU survived a close one against Arkansas last weekend, the question marks about its defense have resurfaced. This should make Lane Kiffin very happy, who was unable beat Nick Saban for a fifth time in his career despite holding a 7-6 lead over the Crimson Tide at halftime last Saturday. The Rebels should find points easier to come by against LSU. While the Tigers relied on some redzone stops to beat the Razorbacks, Brian Kelly’s team has generally been pedestrian in terms of redzone defense this season.

It has been difficult to figure out this LSU team, which has sandwiched impressive performances with disappointing ones through four games. While the Rebels have been incredibly difficult to predict during Lane Kiffin’s tenure in Oxford, the loss to Alabama last weekend may have taken some of the pressure off Mississippi. Expect a freer flowing, less penalized Rebels offense this Saturday compared to last weekend.

My Pick: 34-33 Mississippi (covers +2.5 spread)

#11 Notre Dame at #17 Duke (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – ABC)

The Fighting Irish may have lost in heartbreaking fashion to Ohio State last weekend, but this is still a very good football team. Notre Dame showed the ability to move the football between the 20s on what has been an elite Buckeyes defense this season, but was unable to show much for that success by the fourth quarter. Had the Fighting Irish fielded 11 players on the last two plays of the game, perhaps things would have ended differently.

There isn’t time for Marcus Freeman’s team to wonder what could have been, however, as the Fighting Irish will need to regroup quickly to hand Duke its first loss of the season. Blue Devils quarterback Riley Leonard doesn’t light things up through the air, but is dangerous with his feet and has done a nice job leading the ACC’s most balance offense. Duke may need him to improvise at times in this one, as a vanilla approach to the rushing attack is unlikely to trouble Notre Dame immensely. If the Blue Devils are to score an upset, some surprises will be necessary from the offense.

My Pick: 28-21 Notre Dame (covers -5.5 spread)

5 Games to Keep an Eye On This Weekend

#8 Southern Cal at Colorado (Saturday, 12 PM ET – FOX)

The Buffaloes were humbled last weekend, but the follow up isn’t as damning as it may look on paper. Yes, Southern Cal is a bona fide Playoff contender, but give up a lot of points to opposing offenses. If there’s one thing that we still know about Colorado, it’s that they can score points.

South Alabama at James Madison (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ESPNU)

Who guessed that the battle for the Sun Belt would get heated so early? Both the Jaguars and Dukes head into this game a perfect 4-0 and looking to gain a leg up in the conference title race.

#2 Michigan at Nebraska (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – FOX)

Although it wasn’t against great competition, the Cornhuskers’ previous two games have us wondering whether there’s something to Matt Rhule’s ground-and-pound offense in Lincoln. The question will be answered on Saturday against Michigan’s vaunted run defense.

South Carolina at #21 Tennessee (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – SEC Network)

The Tennessee bandwagon shed a lot of weight after the Florida loss, but the Volunteers are far from out of the SEC title race at this point. This feels like an opportunity for Joe Milton to silence some of the doubters.

#7 Washington at Arizona (Saturday, 10 PM ET – Pac-12 Network)

The Huskies look every bit like a Playoff contender in the early going, and Arizona’s pass defense hasn’t faced an offense like Washington’s yet this season. If anything, this Pac-12 After Dark matchup is a great way to introduce yourself to the Huskies, if you haven’t already.

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