With autumn now officially here, we bring September to a close with another action-packed college football weekend.
The Week 5 slate features four encounters of ranked teams in the US LBM Coaches Poll, not quite as many as last Saturday but still plenty for the discerning fan to enjoy. This week, things get off to an early start with a Friday night showdown in the Pac-12, then Saturday features a couple of squads from traditional basketball schools looking to cement their pigskin prowess.
Here are our seven picks for the top games this week, in order of how entertaining we think they’ll end up. But as always, we remind everyone that this sport’s potential for surprise is forever on display, so watch the scoreboard and keep that remote within reach.
No. 13 Notre Dame at No. 16 Duke
Time/TV: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC.
Why watch: This date on Notre Dame’s calendar might not have registered with fans on first glance. But it has become a must-win affair for the Fighting Irish on the heels of their heartbreaking, last-second loss to Ohio State. The Blue Devils have kept things rolling after their opening-week takedown of Clemson, and now look to maximize this major opportunity with ESPN's College GameDay spotlight. Regular ACC followers will be quite familiar with both QBs in this game. Duke’s Riley Leonard has been around a while but made an even bigger splash on the national stage in Week 1. His arsenal includes RB Jordan Waters and WR Jalon Calhoun, but he’ll need to avoid frequent contact with Fighting Irish DE Javontae Jean-Baptiste. After a rough start against Ohio State, Sam Hartman will look to get the Notre Dame offense moving a bit quicker this time. RB Audric Estime can help, but the Blue Devils’ D-line featuring Brandon Johnson and Aeneas Peebles creates a lot of backfield havoc.
Why it could disappoint: A quick turnaround for another amped-up opponent is a tough assignment, even for a team as talented as Notre Dame. On the flip side, it’s conceivable that the upstart Blue Devils will shrink from the spotlight, but that certainly hasn’t been the case thus far.
No. 10 Utah at No. 21 Oregon State
Time/TV: Friday, 9 p.m. ET, FS1.
Why watch: This Pac-12 tilt gets the weekend off to an early start. The Beavers look to bounce back from a hard-fought road setback at Washington State, but hosting the Utes, with the league’s stingiest defense, is a tough assignment. So far, Utah hasn’t needed to put up big scores thanks to DE Jonah Elliss and his fellow stoppers who have a total of 27 tackles behind the line of scrimmage through four games. Beavers QB D.J. Uiagalelei has avoided sacks for the most part but can still be pick prone when rushed. The availability of Utah QB Cam Rising will again be a game-time determination, so LB Easton Mascarenas-Arnold and the Oregon State defense must also be prepared if Nate Johnson gets another start.
Why it could disappoint: Utah’s offensive staff kept things conservative last week with Rising still sidelined, resulting in a low-scoring affair. Utes coach Kyle Whittingham is a fan of defense-dominant football, but you might not be. If you like points, you might want to see some from the Beavers early to make Utah open things up.
No. 24 Kansas at No. 5 Texas
Time/TV: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC.
Why watch: With a huge win at Alabama in the bank and off to a solid start in the Big 12, the Longhorns look to maintain their early momentum. The Jayhawks, however, will have other ideas. Though more closely associated with hardwood prowess, KU has become a tough out on the gridiron under third-year coach Lance Leipold’s leadership. Texas QB Quinn Ewers has been nearly flawless thus far, making excellent use of TE Ja’Tavion Sanders and WR Xavier Worthy. They’ll be up against a sound KU secondary featuring DB Kenny Logan that doesn’t allow many explosive plays. The Jayhawks will counter with QB Jalon Daniels, who battled injuries early but is back at full speed. He gets plenty of help from RB Devin Neal, and they’ll both get plenty of attention from Longhorns LB Jaylan Ford.
Why it could disappoint: Last week’s victory against Brigham Young might indeed prove to be a quality result, but it still remains to be seen if the Jayhawks are ready to compete with the Big 12’s elite. KU came to Austin two seasons ago and walked away with a track-meet win, but this year’s Longhorns’ squad looks to be more complete.
No. 12 LSU at No. 20 Mississippi
Time/TV: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN.
Why watch: After coming up short at Alabama, Ole Miss must rebound quickly to avoid a ‘2’ in the loss column that would all but put the conference championship out of reach. None of that matters to the Bayou Bengals, of course, who still have title aspirations of their own after surviving a shootout with Arkansas in their conference opener. Tigers QB Jayden Daniels and WR Malik Nabers have emerged as one of the nation’s top batteries, but the Rebels’ secondary must also watch out for WR Brian Thomas Jr., who is also averaging over 16 yards a catch. Mississippi QB Jaxson Dart hasn’t been as successful with the long ball, but his mobility might serve him well against the LSU front that struggled to contain the likes of Arkansas’ K.J. Jefferson and Florida State’s Jordan Travis.
Why it could disappoint: It probably won’t, given LSU’s penchant for late-game tension. But there still might not be any if the Rebels are again stymied on offense as they were last week at Alabama.
No. 23 Florida at Kentucky
Time/TV: Saturday, noon ET, ESPN.
Why watch: With conference play now in full swing, it’s time to find out if there are any true challengers to Georgia in the SEC East. The Gators and Wildcats square off in hopes of keeping their league records clean. The Gators followed their big win against Tennessee with a lackluster victory against Charlotte. QB Graham Mertz and the rest of the offense will have to be much sharper on the road this week. That might not be easy against LB Trevin Wallace and the Wildcats, who are limiting opponents to just 15.5 points a game. Kentucky QB Devin Leary has been somewhat generous with the ball at times, but he might have to keep taking chances against LB Shemar James and the Gators’ defense that allows less than five yards per snap.
Why it could disappoint: In truth, neither team really has the fire power to make this an offensive show. But while there might be long stretches of little happening of note on the field, there should at least be second-half drama.
No. 6 Southern California at Colorado
Time/TV: Saturday, noon ET, Fox.
Why watch: Last week’s trip to Oregon proved to be something of a reality check for the upstart Buffaloes. They might be in for another against the Trojans, but USC didn’t exactly dominate in its first road game of the season last week at Arizona State. Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders should have somewhat more time to breathe this week, though USC is averaging four sacks a game. On the other side, Trojans QB Caleb Williams has enjoyed excellent protection, which has helped him produce 15 scoring tosses without a pick to date. The Colorado special teams must also beware of Trojans’ freshman sensation Zachariah Branch, who has brought a punt and a kickoff to the house in addition to a pair of TD receptions.
Why it could disappoint: We should know right away if it will. If the Buffaloes able to match scores early, things could get interesting in the second half. But if the Trojans can build a cushion, it could get away from Colorado as the USC defense will be free to blitz often.
No. 1 Georgia at Auburn
Time/TV: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS.
Why watch: The Bulldogs take to the road for the first time to renew acquaintances with their oldest SEC rival. The Tigers dropped their league opener at Texas A&M a week ago and are still searching for answers on offense. Auburn’s best option might be to let QB Robby Ashford direct a more ground-heavy attack, but that won’t be viable if QB Carson Beck and TE Brock Bowers stake the Bulldogs to an early cushion.
Why it could disappoint: To state the obvious, Georgia is not the team you want to be facing with a struggling offense. If the Bulldogs can snap their recent trend and put up some quick points in the first quarter, this could be over in a hurry.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football Week 5 best games to watch this weekend