Welcome to Week 5, at the heart of what I think is the best part of the season: this lovely stretch when we get some great conference matchups but also still get to see some nonconference games with upset potential. This week’s list incorporates both such games as I jump on the Duke bandwagon, fall a little farther of LSU’s and force you to think about a MAC-Mountain West matchup you didn’t know you needed in your life until now. And though I wanted to keep the list at three games for consistency, also know I’m keeping a close eye on Virginia Tech-Clemson, which I elaborated on in this week’s staff picks. A Hokies win in Blacksburg wouldn’t shock me in the least.
Miami at Duke: The Blue Devils are 4-0 this season, and after dropping 60 on NC Central in Week 1, they’ve shown their team is for real against three solid opponents: Northwestern, Baylor and UNC. Sure, none of those three is picked to win its conference, but Miami hasn’t proven it’s anything better than a middle-of-the-road ACC team—which Duke certainly is as well. The game is in Durham, which will work in the Blue Devils’ favor, and they’ll be the toughest test by far that Miami has faced this season after its wins over Bethune-Cookman and Toledo. Both teams feature prolific offenses, and this one will likely come down to who can stop whom; my (figurative) money is still on Duke and quarterback Daniel Jones in a shootout.
Troy at LSU: Sure, the Tigers rebounded from their loss to Mississippi State (which, well, might not be so good after all) by beating Syracuse, but that doesn’t preclude a loss at the hands of Troy, which should be one of the best teams in the Sun Belt in 2017. The Trojans have one loss this year, to Boise State (another team, I’ll admit, I’m still not sure is very good), but they always play LSU tough, and if running back Derrius Guice misses the game or plays injured, watch out. Both he and Rashard Lawrence, a talented defensive end, are listed as “out” on the Tigers’ current injury report for Saturday’s game, which doesn’t bode well; in fact, Lawrence also missed the Mississippi State game, LSU’s one loss this year.
Northern Illinois at San Diego State: So far this season the Huskies have faced two Power 5 opponents, Boston College and Nebraska. They lost in Week 1 by a field goal to the Eagles, and beat Nebraska, 21-17, on Sept. 16. Coming off their bye week, they face a tough test in San Diego State, which has beaten both of its 2017 Power 5 opponents, Arizona State and Stanford. The Aztecs are ranked No. 21 and looking like candidates to make a New Year’s Six bowl or even go undefeated, and Northern Illinois is probably their second-toughest test en route to those outcomes. (The biggest obstacle may be Boise State on Oct. 14.) If the Huskies are able to silence San Diego State’s running game and keep the Aztecs guessing on offense—they present a balanced attack and spread the ball to tons of targets—this could end in an upset.