10 quick things to know ahead of Saturday's college football slate

There's plenty to keep an eye on as Week 5 of the 2023 college football season kicks off. Here's what you need to know ahead of the final weekend in September.

Can Colorado run the ball?

Outside of Air Force, Army and Navy, the Buffaloes have the most one-dimensional offense in college football. Colorado is passing for 353 yards per game as Shedeur Sanders is completing 77% of his passes. But the Buffs simply cannot run the football; Colorado is averaging just 56 rushing yards a game.

Freshman Dylan Edwards is the team’s leading rusher with 28 carries for 157 yards through four games and No. 8 USC’s defense is giving up four yards a carry. Colorado could — could — get something going on the ground against the Trojans. But that would require an undersized offensive line to push people around up front. And so far, that hasn’t happened.

BOULDER, CO - SEPTEMBER 16:  Running back Dylan Edwards #3 of the Colorado Buffaloes carries the ball against the Colorado State Rams in the fourth quarter at Folsom Field on September 16, 2023 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Colorado has struggled to run the ball so far in 2023. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) (Dustin Bradford via Getty Images)

Alabama’s road test at Mississippi State

Nick Saban said Monday that his team’s road game at Mississippi State was “actually a bigger challenge for us” than the team’s wins over South Florida and Ole Miss because of the Bulldogs’ physicality and aggressive defense. That may be true, but some may also see it as a dig toward Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss. The Rebels led Alabama 7-6 at halftime before losing, 24-10.

Mississippi State’s defense has struggled recently, however. The Bulldogs allowed 41 points to LSU in a blowout loss and gave up 37 to South Carolina in Week 4 as Spencer Rattler had more TD passes (three) than incompletions (two). Maybe Saban’s seen something the scoreboard doesn’t explain.

South Carolina starts a big stretch

South Carolina ended Tennessee’s hopes of the College Football Playoff a season ago with a blowout win in Columbia. On Saturday, the Gamecocks visit the No. 21 Vols in the first of three games against SEC East opponents ranked in the top 25.

It’s a pivotal run for the Gamecocks after they opened SEC play with a loss to Georgia. After Tennessee, the Gamecocks host No. 22 Florida before visiting No. 23 Missouri. After that, there are no more teams currently ranked in the top 25 on the Gamecocks’ schedule. Two or three wins over the next three games can have South Carolina well-positioned to be second-best in the division behind the Bulldogs.

Can Texas A&M continue beating Arkansas in Arlington?

Texas A&M enters Saturday’s game against Arkansas as a 6.5-point favorite. The Aggies are 8-1 against the Razorbacks over the past nine seasons since the annual rivalry game moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington in 2014.

That stretch isn’t as dominant as you’d expect from the record, however. Six of A&M’s eight wins have come by a single possession and three have happened in overtime. Last year’s game was a 23-21 nail-biter. Be prepared for another close game this season, especially with Arkansas RB Rocket Sanders potentially back in the lineup.

Nebraska looks to hang with Michigan

No. 2 Michigan has methodically taken its opponents apart over the first four weeks of the season and is a 17-point favorite at Nebraska on Saturday. Can the Huskers at least keep it close? Or show some basic competency against a good opponent?

Nebraska self-destructed in the final minutes of its Week 1 loss to Minnesota and coughed up the ball four times in a Week 2 loss to Colorado. There’s no reason to expect that Michigan won’t move to 5-0 on Saturday, but Nebraska fans will at least have a glimmer of hope if the Wolverines beat Nebraska because of their own excellence and not the Cornhuskers’ mistakes.

Carson Beck’s first road test

No. 1 Georgia is a 14.5-point favorite in its first road game of the season at Auburn. That number is important, especially if you’re a bettor; the Bulldogs have failed to cover as big favorites in each of their first four games of the season.

It’s also QB Carson Beck’s first game as a starter in a hostile environment. Beck has been very efficient through the first four games and has thrown for 1,185 yards while completing 73% of his passes. All of that production has come without WR Ladd McConkey, too. Georgia’s leading wide receiver in 2022 hasn’t played at all this season because of a back injury but could finally see the field on Saturday.

Undefeated Syracuse hosts Clemson

Clemson hasn’t lost more than three games in a season since 2011. A loss on Saturday to a 4-0 Syracuse team would drop the Tigers to 2-3.

Clemson is a 6.5-point favorite and it’s worth noting that the Carrier Dome has been a tough place to play for the Tigers in recent seasons. Clemson needed a late field goal to win by 10 at Syracuse in 2015, lost in 2017 after Trevor Lawrence was forced to leave the game and escaped with a 17-14 win in 2021. Syracuse also enters this game with an offense that has scored at least 29 points in each of its wins so far this season and a QB in Garrett Shrader who is averaging seven yards a carry and has scored six TDs. A win by the Orange wouldn’t be a massive shock.

CLEMSON, SC - SEPTEMBER 23: Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney during a college football game between the Florida State Seminoles and the Clemson Tigers on September 23, 2023, at Clemson Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.  (Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Clemson is 2-2 after losing to Florida State in Week 4. (Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Can Iowa State hang with Oklahoma once again?

A home win against Iowa State may not be a formality for No. 14 Oklahoma. The Sooners are 20.5-point favorites but have never blown out Iowa State in Matt Campbell’s tenure. Iowa State is 2-6 against Oklahoma since Campbell took over as coach but has never lost by more than 14 and has lost by a single score in three different games. Throw in an Oklahoma team that could be looking ahead to its massive game against Texas in Week 6 and Iowa State is a tempting road underdog to keep an eye on.

Bo Nix and Michael Penix eye big games

No. 9 Oregon and No. 7 Washington are big road favorites Saturday night as their Heisman-candidate QBs are primed for big performances. Oregon is a 27.5-point favorite at a rebuilding Stanford team while Washington is an 18.5-point favorite at an Arizona team that could be without QB Jayden de Laura. Penix leads the country with 16 passing TDs through four games while Nix has scored 12 total TDs over the first third of the season. Week 5 is a great chance for both to have monster games.

Boise State visits Memphis

The most intriguing non-Power Five matchup of the weekend is Boise State’s trip to Memphis. The Broncos are road dogs after losing to Washington and UCF so far this season while Memphis dropped its first game of the year in Week 4 against Missouri. If Boise State loses Saturday night, its chances of a New Year’s Six bowl by being the top-ranked Group of Five team are gone. A Memphis win all but assures that the AAC will have a team in a New Year’s Six bowl for a seventh consecutive season.