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College football: Week five preview and predictions

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NCAA Football: Boston College at Clemson
Clemson running back Travis Etienne (9) celebrates with defensive lineman Christian Wilkins (42) after carrying for a 50 yard touchdown against Boston College during the 4th quarter at Clemson Memorial Stadium.
Greenville News-USA TODAY Sports

Week four of the college football action showed us who the contenders and pretenders may be as the young season progresses. What was the answer?

Alabama and Clemson are on another level right now, seemingly destined for another championship rematch.

Then there’s Oklahoma and Penn State -- both escaped road challenges within their respective conferences. Both teams are considered serious playoff contenders, but there’s no question they are still a notch below Alabama and Clemson.

Oklahoma State were punched in the mouth at home against TCU and never recovered, and Florida State inexplicably failed to match NC State’s level of play all game.

What will week five bring us? Expect some havoc.

Appetizers

North Carolina at Georgia Tech

Saturday, Sept. 30th, 12 p.m.

Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta, GA

This isn’t a sexy game on paper, but it’ll be a wild one on the field. It’s nearly impossible to predict conference play between ACC teams, but this is a good matchup. North Carolina has a decent pass rush, but Georgia Tech will be able to exploit the Tar Heels’ lack of rush defense. Expect the Yellow Jackets to rack up the yards in the triple-option offense that will eventually wear down UNC’s defense late in the game. Don’t sleep on UNC though, they can score. GT’s secondary will have to play disciplined and keep UNC in check from big plays through the air.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets defensive lineman Brandon Adams (90) celebrates their win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina at Texas A&M

Saturday, Sept. 30th, 7:30 p.m.

Kyle Field, College Station, TX

Another unranked matchup that could be close for much of the game. While Texas A&M (3-1) is the superior team, they have looked vulnerable in every game played thus far. The Texas A&M offensive line has been sharp for the running game, but abysmal in pass protection. QB Kellen Mond has been blasted so far, as the Aggies have allowed 29 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. South Carolina QB Jake Bentley hasn’t been too shabby himself, hitting over 64% of his passes in each of the last three games. However, the Aggies will wear down South Carolina’s defense and the Gamecocks won’t be able to keep up offensively. This game will be close in the first half, but the gap will widen in the second.

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Texas A&M
Texas A&M Aggies wide receiver Christian Kirk (3) celebrates returning a kick off for a touchdown in the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at AT&T Stadium.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

(5) USC at (16) Washington State

Friday, Sept. 29th, 10:30 p.m.

Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA

We know Southern California QB Sam Darnold is a star, but he hasn’t looked completely polished thus far. He’s a top prospect, but still has work to do before we deem him a top-5 pick. He’s not afraid to sling it, but he’s trusting his arm a little too much, causing USC’s offense to sputter at times. The Trojans seem to have a good defense, but Washington State will be a true test. QB Luke Falk won’t headline the NFL draft the way Darnold does, but he has the potential to be a second-round pick. Washington State’s offense will produce a lot of quick, efficient throws that can carve a defense who plays too lightly. Expect this game to be a shootout. USC is a good team, but WSU will give their defense fits until the final whistle is blown. My mind tells me USC should prevail and win this game, but my gut says WSU will play to its home field advantage and pull off the upset. WSU wins on a field goal, and Mike Leach grabs the nation’s attention.

NCAA Football: Nevada at Washington State
Washington State Cougars quarterback Luke Falk (4) drops back for a pass against the Nevada Wolf Pack during the second half at Martin Stadium.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

(7) Georgia at Tennessee

Saturday, Sept. 30th, 3:30 p.m.

Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, TN

Don’t let Tennessee’s lackluster start fool you. Yes, Butch Jones deserves to be on the hot seat. But this is the SEC, where anything is possible on any given Saturday. Georgia will come in as the favorites with the dynamic duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to run all over this underwhelming Tennessee defense. QB Jake Fromm has done well in leading the offense, but Georgia’s rushing attack may be the best in the country, and Tennessee’s run defense may be one of the worst. Additionally, RB John Kelly has Tennessee’s only bright spot on offense, and Georgia’s run defense is spectacular. The odds aren’t in Tennessee’s favor, and Georgia has had no problem winning on the road — especially after beating Notre Dame in South Bend.

Georgia will lead a run-heavy attack that will eat up yards and clock, and the Volunteers’ defense will have no answer for it. Expect this to be a low-scoring affair, and Tennessee will do its best to keep it close, but Georgia is a better team on both sides of the ball. Georgia should win by at least a touchdown, but don’t take this game lightly, Bulldogs. A couple of turnovers could let Tennessee right back in the game.

We all know what happens when Tennessee is allowed to hang around in a ball game.

Main Course

(24) Mississippi State at (13) Auburn

Saturday, Sept. 30th, 6 p.m.

Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL

Auburn has looked impressive thus far. They lost a close road game to Clemson, but have won in impressive fashion in their victories. Auburn’s run defense has been ferocious, holding Clemson to 96 yards. The front seven for Auburn will disrupt Mississippi State’s flow, and QB Nick Fitzgerald will be running for his life. However, Fitzgerald will thrive in this role. Expect the dual-threat QB to make some plays and keep the Bulldogs in the game, but Aurburn’s defense will take over in the second half. Don't expect a shootout, and expect Auburn to win a frustrating, ugly game.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Missouri
Auburn Tigers linebacker Jeff Holland (4) celebrates after a play against the Missouri Tigers during the first half at Faurot Field.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Dessert

(2) Clemson at (12) Virginia Tech

Saturday, Sept. 30th, 8:00 p.m.

Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, VA

Clemson gave up their first rushing touchdown of the season in the win over Boston College, and they’re only allowing 2.5 yards per carry thanks to an elite front seven. Clemson shut down one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country in Lamar Jackson, but they have a dynamic QB of their own in Kelly Bryant — who has been magnificent.

Virginia Tech’s QB Josh Jackson has been enjoying a hot start by connecting on 65 percent of his passes for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns with just one pick in the four games. But he hasn’t faced a defense like Clemson, who will make it a long night for him.

Expect some fireworks from both sides, and some mistakes by both quarterbacks, button overall tight game until the final whistle. Clemson’s defense prevails to hang on in a nail bitter.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Louisville
Clemson Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant (2) drops back to pass against the Louisville Cardinals during the first half at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Clemson defeated Louisville 47-21.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports