Games to Watch: Week Five

Steve Helwick

No. 5 USC at No. 16 Washington State

Friday, 9:30 p.m., ESPN

About a decade ago, a USC-Washington State matchup would’ve been the most lopsided in the Pac-12, but head coach Mike Leach and his powerful offense have rebranded the Cougars as a perennial threat in the conference. Led by star quarterback Luke Falk (fifth in passing yards, second in passing touchdowns in FBS), Washington State is 4–0 for the first time since 2001. The Trojans, led by Heisman-caliber quarterback Sam Darnold, also sport an undefeated record, but have been battle-tested week after week. This elite quarterback matchup should come with dozens of points and Pac-12 Championship Game implications.

No. 24 Mississippi State at No. 13 Auburn

Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN

Both SEC West programs sit at 3–1, aiming for a sought-after conference win in the competitive bloodbath of the SEC West. Mississippi State rose to prominence after a 37-7 victory over LSU on Sept. 16, but the Bulldogs followed up their statement win with a 31-3 embarrassment at the hands of Georgia last Saturday. Auburn’s offense has shown similar inconsistencies this season too. Mississippi State is looking for redemption to remain in the polls, while head coach Gus Malzahn and the Tigers search for their first quality win in 2017.

No. 15 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech

Saturday, 7 p.m., FOX

Texas Tech has exceeded preseason expectations by dismantling Arizona State’s defense and stifling Houston’s offense en route to a 3–0 start. The Red Raiders’ senior quarterback Nic Shimonek has effectively filled the void left by Patrick Mahomes II’s departure, throwing for career-high 543 yards and six touchdowns in the 52-45 victory over the Sun Devils. But Texas Tech’s perfect record will be tested in Lubbock, Texas by an Oklahoma State team coming off a disappointing upset. TCU handled the Cowboys in Stillwater, Oklahoma, 44-31, placing Oklahoma State’s playoff hopes on alert. This Big 12 clash will be
decided by the offenses.

No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech

Saturday, 7 p.m., ABC

College GameDay will travel to Blacksburg, Virginia for a rematch of the 2016 ACC Championship Game. In the last contest, Clemson outlasted the Hokies 42-35 to earn a coveted spot in the College Football Playoff. Both ACC powers look strong once again, collectively dispatching quality opponents such as Auburn, Louisville and West Virginia in the season’s early going. The Hokies’ offensive line must hold firm against Clemson’s defensive tackle duo of junior Christian Wilkins and sophomore Dexter Lawrence in order to pull off the home upset. Clemson’s defense yields just 9.3 points per game, so Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson must play the best game of his young career to knock off the reigning champs.