With Hurricane Joaquin expected to wash the East Coast in heavy rain, which teams gain an edge in their Week 5 matchups?
It’s no great surprise for weather to impact the college football season. Plummeting temperatures, rain, wind and snow are all just part of the norm for a fall sport played outdoors. LSU already had its Week 1 game against McNeese State cancelled due to lightning.
The forecast for many key Week 5 games, though, stretches beyond the expected role for weather. Although the latest weather reports indicate Hurricane Joaquin won’t make landfall on the East Coast, it will still send torrential downpour, driving winds and flooding through the weekend. Maryland and Michigan already moved up their matchup in College Park, Md., from 8:00 p.m. to noon to try to avoid the worst effects of the storm, and several other matchups will be caught in potentially blustering conditions.
While both teams in a matchup will face the same battle against the elements, the weather unquestionably hinders some squads more than others. Here’s a look at several of the major matchups that could be impacted by Hurricane Joaquin and who could gain an advantage if the wind and rain roar.
Michigan at Maryland (noon ET)
Forecast: Showers throughout the day, wind at 15-25 mph with occasional gusts over 40 mph
Moving this kickoff up from its original primetime scheduling could actually backfire as the forecast calls for only a few showers at night. The rain should force both offenses to play to their strengths as both Maryland and Michigan have had success running the ball. The Terrapins have gained 5.9 yards per carry this season, whereas their passing game is coming off a five-interception performance against West Virginia. A slippery surface is bad news for Wolverines running back De’Veon Smith, who rushed for 125 yards against BYU last week but injured his ankle. Both teams’ kickers—Maryland’s Brad Craddock and Michigan’s Kenny Allen—have been reliable this season, combining for 26 of 27 on extra points and 9 of 11 on field goals, so neither side gains much of an edge with the windy conditions.
Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech (noon ET)
Forecast: Steady rain expected through the morning and afternoon, wind at 20-30 mph
The thought of star Pittsburgh receiver Tyler Boyd not having to go up against Virginia Tech All-America cornerback Kendall Fuller—Fuller had season-ending knee surgery this week—seemed promising for the Panthers, but rain and wind could put a serious damper on that. Pittsburgh’s passing situation is already shaky with Nathan Peterman and Chad Voytik both playing, so the Panthers may opt to just stick to their ground game. That ground game, however, is much less potent without last year’s ACC offensive player of the year James Conner. It’s worth noting that Voytik ran for 118 yards against the Hokies last season.
Louisville at NC State (12:30 ET)
Forecast: Showers that are expected to get worse throughout the day, wind at 15-25 mph
Louisville definitely gets the offensive edge on a wet, windy day, as NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett has gotten off to a phenomenal start. The senior has yet to throw an interception this season and is averaging 8.52 yards per attempt. If the Wolfpack have to go run-heavy, they’ll definitely feel the absence of Shadrach Thornton, who was dismissed from the team this week. Defensively, a battle on the ground favors NC State. The Wolfpack have had one of the best run defenses in the country this season, allowing just 2.3 yards per carry, albeit against a weak nonconference schedule.
Boston College at Duke (3:30 ET)
Forecast: Steady rain in the morning lightening up in the afternoon, wind at 15-25 mph
Duke has gotten creative in trying to attract crowds on a soggy day, tying a ticket discount to the likelihood of rain. Boston College won’t have to change up its offensive philosophy much to match the conditions as the Eagles already run the ball 74% of the time. After passing for over 300 yards in each of their first two games, the Blue Devils also adopted a run-first offense (though not to nearly the same extent as Boston College) as they transitioned into the more challenging portion of their schedule. Both attacks could struggle to move the ball as the Eagles and Blue Devils both rank in the top 13 in the country in yards allowed per carry.
Alabama at Georgia (3:30 ET)
Forecast: Steady rain throughout the afternoon with 1-2 inches expected, localized flooding expected, wind at 15-25 mph
A steady downpour suits the Crimson Tide just fine on both sides of the ball. The strength of Alabama’s offense is clearly Derrick Henry and the running game, as four games have done little to clear up the Tide’s quarterback situation. On defense, Alabama’s front seven is one of the best in the country and has allowed just 2.0 yards per carry this season. The Tide’s vulnerability is big pass plays, but they can wish Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert luck chucking a soggy ball deep through wind and rain. Running back Nick Chubb is among the best in the country, but if Lambert can’t give the Bulldogs balance, Chubb will likely find little room to run. Alabama’s Nick Saban is arguably the nation’s best defensive coach if he knows what to expect from an offense.
North Carolina at Georgia Tech (3:30 ET)
Forecast: Off-and-on rain showers expected, wind at 10-20 mph
The Yellow Jackets need a win badly to prevent the season from slipping away from them early, so they’ll hope the off-and-on showers are more on than off. Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense should run perfectly well in the rain, especially against a North Carolina defense averaging 5.2 yards allowed per carry. The Tar Heels will likely rely on a heavy dose of Elijah Hood, who ran for 267 combined yards in wins over South Carolina and Illinois but hasn’t had to carry the ball more than 16 times in a game this season. One point is North Carolina’s favor is the increased risk of turnovers with a slippery ball; the Tar Heels haven’t fumbled yet this season whereas as Georgia Tech is averaging 2.7 fumbles per game.
Florida State at Wake Forest (3:30 ET)
Forecast: Steady rain that should lighten in the afternoon, wind at 20-30 mph
The Seminoles should win this game no matter the conditions, but to the extent that inclement weather is an equalizer of talent, the rain gives the Demon Deacons a puncher’s chance. It can also help mask Wake Forest’s horrid pass defense, which has allowed 9.4 yards per attempt, and force Florida State to run on a pretty decent rush defense (3.8 yards allowed per carry). However, the Seminoles’ offensive strength is their ground game, led by Dalvin Cook’s 7.4 yards per carry. And if there’s one kicker to trust no matter the conditions, it’s Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo. The biggest concern surrounding transfer quarterback Everett Golson was his penchant for turnovers, so coach Jimbo Fisher would be wise to keep things simple on Golson with a lot of handoffs to Cook.
Arkansas at Tennessee (7:00 ET)
Forecast: Rainfall of possibly over an inch during the day with almost half an inch more expected in the evening, localized flooding possible, wind at 10-15 mph
It’s fitting that a matchup of teams with dashed dreams would take place in a rainstorm. Both offenses are run heavy, but wet conditions should favor Arkansas’s powerful ground game driven by a huge offensive line and running back Alex Collins. One of the Razorbacks’ biggest weaknesses this year has been their pass defense, which has allowed 9.8 yards per attempt and got picked apart by Texas Tech and Texas A&M the past two weeks. The Hogs know how to take care of the football (last week’s near-game-losing fumble aside) and have coughed up the ball just three times this season.
Notre Dame at Clemson (8:00 ET)
Forecast: Heavy rain expected throughout the day, with 3-5 inches projected during the day and another 2-3 inches at night, significant flooding expected, wind at 15-25 mph
The biggest game of the week features the worst weather of the week as Hurricane Joaquin’s rain is supposed to hit the Carolinas the hardest of the mainland United States. Notre Dame would be happy to have Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson’s arm taken out of the game, though the Tigers proved they can run ball when Wayne Gallman gashed Louisville for 139 yards on 24 carries. The Fighting Irish’s running game has been prolific this season, topping 200 yards in every contest so far and breaking out for 457 yards against UMass last week. But if the intense rain forces Notre Dame to rely solely on the ground, it’ll have to run at a stout Clemson front seven that has allowed just 3.0 yards per carry. Quarterback DeShone Kizer already faces immense pressure in his first career road start against a very talented defense; now add in rain of potentially Biblical proportions.
All forecast information from weather.com