With some sneaky good matchups and a couple of the most anticipated games of the year, Week 5 feels like the transition from the adjustment period into the meat of the season. Below we sort the contests into categories that should help you choose what to watch—and when.
Toledo at BYU (Friday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2): What looks like a boring Friday matchup is instead a good opportunity to watch one of the most formidable Group of Five programs not named Houston or Boise State. Toledo has defeated all of its opponents by at least three touchdowns and has a promising quarterback in Logan Woodside. This season the junior has completed 62% of his passes with 11 touchdowns and just one interception.
Thanks in part to a brutal early schedule (Arizona, Utah, UCLA), the Cougars currently sit at 1–3 and have gotten inconsistent play from (very) senior quarterback Taysom Hill (six interceptions to just four touchdowns). BYU has lost its three games by a combined seven points and won its only game by two over Arizona, so perhaps another tight one is in store in Provo.
Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (Saturday, Noon ET, ESPN, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ): How will the Irish respond to the firing of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder? Their first test won’t be an easy one. Dino Babers and his lightning-fast Syracuse offense face an Irish defense that has struggled to stop a power-based attack (Michigan State), spread offense (Texas), and combo scheme (Duke). The Orange appear to be adjusting to the complexity of Babers’ Baylor-based scheme, and they could turn this one into a track meet if quarterback Eric Dungy settles in. Keep an eye on Syracuse senior Amba Etta-Tawo, who leads the nation receiving yards per game (176.5).
Utah at Cal (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks): Despite surrendering 51 points to Arizona State last week, including 31 in the fourth quarter alone, Cal enters Saturday’s matchup against Utah as a two-point favorite. The clash of contrasting styles will feature the Bears’ high-flying offense, which ranks second in the nation in passing yards per game, and Utah’s typically stingy defense.
The reason Vegas may like the Bears? The Utes have been good, but not great against the pass this season, allowing over 250 yards a game. And they haven’t defended the run as well as they usually do (49th in total run defense after finishing sixth last season). They did stifle BYU’s Hill but were exposed by USC freshman quarterback Sam Darnold last week. Cal’s Davis Webb and top target Chad Hansen will give the Utes fits. The bigger question is if Cal’s defense, which shined in the first half against Arizona State last week, can limit Utah quarterback Troy Williams and his favorite target, Tim Patrick.
Western Michigan at Central Michigan (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): You want two future NFL players? Then keep an eye out for Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis and Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush, who made national headlines after the Chippewas’ Hail Mary win over Oklahoma State. Davis projects as a first-round pick while Rush may be the next mid-major signal caller to rise in the eyes of draft evaluators.
Arizona State at USC (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX): The focus should be on Darnold, who performed admirably in the Trojans’ 31–27 loss against Utah last Friday. Now that he’s officially displaced Max Browne as USC’s starter, Darnold may be the guy to help save his head coach’s job. USC’s 1–3 start has put serious public pressure on Clay Helton, and his firing may be inevitable if the Trojans lose to a Sun Devils team with the nation’s worst pass defense.
Texas at Oklahoma State (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC): This game could go a long way toward determining whether Charlie Strong’s seat is lukewarm or toasty the rest of the season. The Cowboys are one of the Big 12’s big disappointments so far, having fallen to 2–2 after being considered a darkhorse College Football Playoff contender, but still have one of the conference’s more formidable quarterbacks in Mason Rudolph. We’re just two weeks removed from Texas’s defense surrendering 50 points against a Cal offense that runs similarly to most Big 12 attacks.
Strong may get a pass if his team loses to a good Oklahoma State squad on the road, but fans will be anxious if his team enters the Red River Rivalry at 2–2 with wins over a flawed Notre Dame team and UTEP.
Tennessee at Georgia (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): One week after breaking its 11-year drought against Florida, Tennessee could vault way ahead in the SEC East race with a win over reeling Georgia. The Volunteers look like an inverse of their 2015 selves; after struggling to close out games last season, they’ve thrived in the second half this year. Georgia, conversely, endured a 60-minute nightmare against Ole Miss. Its receivers dropped a number of fine throws from freshman quarterback Jacob Eason, the defense looked helpless against Rebels signal caller Chad Kelly, and the Bulldogs generally looked uncompetitive after barely surviving against Missouri the previous week.
North Carolina at Florida State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): For the second consecutive week, Florida State star running back Dalvin Cook gets to match up against a weak running defense. He set a career high with 267 rushing yards last week against South Florida. What can he do against the Tar Heels, a team that allowed 645 rushing yards against Baylor last year in the Russell Athletic Bowl? North Carolina ended last week’s game against Pitt with a drive it will remember all season and should carry that momentum into its biggest game of the year.
Oklahoma at TCU (Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, FOX): Oklahoma finally got a week off after two tough early games against Houston and Ohio State, but life doesn’t get that much easier for the Sooners this weekend. Both Oklahoma and TCU are reeling from early-season losses (TCU to Arkansas, Oklahoma to the Cougars and Buckeyes) and need this win to propel themselves in the Big 12 race. It’s unlikely veteran coach Bob Stoops is on the ‘hot seat’ after taking his team to the playoff last season but there may be some calling for a change at the position held by his brother—defensive coordinator Mike Stoops—if the team doesn’t improve on that side of the ball.
No. 17 Michigan State at Indiana (Saturday. 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)
The Spartans’ stock took a huge hit when they were blown out at home by Wisconsin this past weekend, and now they travel to upstart Indiana, which is still putting up a lot of points under Kevin Wilson. A Hoosier win is unlikely, but remember that Michigan State found itself in a shootout with Nebraska last season and lost (controversially) 39–38. Indiana is averaging 334 passing yards per game, good for 13th in the nation, but has struggled with turnovers. The Spartans should be fine in a rebound game, but don’t rule out an upset.
Oregon at Washington State (Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)
Both defenses are awful and both teams are desperately trying to turn their seasons around. That means points—many, many points—will be scored late at night.
Stanford at Washington (Friday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Washington hasn’t faced a notable opponent and Stanford has seen nothing but good teams. The Huskies are the hot, new conference darling, while the Cardinal are the perennial favorite. Stanford has Christian McCaffrey, while Washington has young guns (Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, Budda Baker) on both sides of the ball. Given the down year that the Pac-12 is already having, this might be the best game that the conference features all season. Expect a rocking atmosphere in Seattle; the Huskies have a deserved reputation as a rowdy fan base dating back to before the formation of the Seahawks’ “12th Man.”
Wisconsin at Michigan (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Most expected Wisconsin to enter this game with two losses. Then the Badgers stifled LSU at Lambeau Field and dominated Michigan State on both sides of the ball last weekend. Now that head coach Paul Chryst has found his starting quarterback in Alex Hornibrook and running back Corey Clement is fully healthy, the Badgers are, against expectations, a viable contender for the Big Ten title. Michigan played its most complete game last week in its throttling of Penn State, but there are still some questions surrounding quarterback Wilton Speight and its occasionally leaky pass defense. It’s the best game the Big Ten has offered yet.
Louisville at Clemson (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)
Two of college football’s most electric players (Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson) go head to head in what should be a rollicking atmosphere in Death Valley. Last time we hyped an ACC matchup like this, Louisville scored 63 points against another playoff threat from the same division. If Watson is clicking with his small army of receivers, then this game promises to be one of the most entertaining matchups of the season.