Every week throughout the season we’ll give you a college football viewing guide by highlighting the five best games of the coming weekend. We will also pick those five games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
The college football season turned up a notch in Week 4.
We learned plenty about teams across the country. Wisconsin is a legitimate Big Ten contender. Michigan not so much. Notre Dame is better than most believed, but still couldn’t topple Georgia in Athens. The Pac-12’s depth is underrated, but may ultimately cost the conference a shot at the College Football Playoff. Oh, and UCF is mortal.
What will we learn in Week 5? This weekend won’t bring us the kind of top-shelf ranked vs. ranked matchups we were treated to in Week 4, but there is plenty of potential for upsets and movement throughout the sport. We should be in for another fun slate of games.
(Note: All times ET, point spreads from FanDuel Sportsbook)
5. Washington State at No. 19 Utah
Time: 10 p.m. | TV: FS1 | Line: Utah -6
Oh, what could have been. Had Washington State (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) and Utah (3-1, 0-1) both emerged from Week 4 with victories, this game may have one of the more meaningful games of Week 5 and could have even drawn a visit from College GameDay. Despite last week’s results, this one has the makings of one of the more entertaining games of the weekend.
Washington State’s high-powered offense was on display against UCLA, but so was its porous defense. The Cougars blew a 32-point lead in a wild 67-63 loss that saw quarterback Anthony Gordon throw nine touchdown passes. But Wazzu also turned it over six times, allowed two special teams touchdowns and gave up 657 yards to the Bruins, a team that was winless and had averaged 14 points per game before visiting Pullman. But it’s still early in the year, and the Pac-12 is wide open in both divisions.
Utah won the Pac-12 South title last year for the first time and had higher expectations placed upon it entering 2019. While the Pac-12 title dream is far from dead, the CFP seems like a long shot now after last Friday night’s loss at USC. The Utes were doomed by self-inflicted wounds in the 30-23 loss, while its secondary was picked apart by Matt Fink, USC’s third-string quarterback. To make matters worse, Utah lost star running back Zack Moss to an injury. He is unlikely to play. That’s a big loss when playing against a defense that gives up a ton of big plays.
Picks: Sam Cooper: WSU +6, Nick Bromberg: WSU +6
4. Mississippi State at No. 7 Auburn
Time: 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Auburn -10.5
Joe Moorhead’s second season at Mississippi State has gotten off to an up-and-down start. The Bulldogs are 3-1 (1-0 SEC), but had a disappointing, mistake-filled Week 3 home loss to Kansas State. MSU responded last weekend with a 28-13 win over Kentucky. Against UK, true freshman QB Garrett Shrader got the start for injured Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens and delivered 180 yards through the air and 125 on the ground. Kylin Hill added 120 yards and three scores in the win, while linebacker Willie Gay returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown. It’s unclear if the Bulldogs will have Stevens back for Saturday’s trip to Auburn.
On the Auburn side, some may think this is a spot for a letdown with big wins over two ranked opponents — Oregon in Week 1 and Texas A&M last week — under their belt. But the Tigers (4-0, 1-0 SEC) haven’t forgotten what happened in Starkville last fall. MSU put together an impressive 23-9 win, limiting Auburn to just 90 yards rushing. The Tigers figure to do more than that this time around with Boobie Whitlow, Bo Nix and the team’s other playmakers back in the fold. Mississippi State has already allowed 22 runs of 10-plus yards this season. And if Auburn really wants to make this a three-team race with Alabama and LSU for the SEC West crown, it cannot afford any slip-ups.
Picks: Sam: MSU +10.5, Nick: Auburn -10.5
3. Arizona State at No. 15 California
Time: 10:30 p.m. (Friday) | TV: ESPN | Line: Cal -4.5
Arizona State got off to a strong 3-0 start with an upset win over Michigan State in East Lansing, a win that propelled ASU into the top 25. But that didn’t last long. The Sun Devils fell out of the rankings after losing at home to Colorado last weekend. ASU put up more points that it had against any of its other opponents this year, but allowed more points to the Buffs (34) that it had in its three wins combined (21). Herm Edwards obviously hopes the uptick in offense carries over to Friday night’s game in Berkeley, but would like to see the defense get back on track as well.
If you thought Cal would be the last remaining undefeated team in the Pac-12, you’re one of the few. The Golden Bears are 4-0 for the first time since 2015 and have two impressive wins on their September resume. Cal upset Washington in Seattle in Week 2 before outlasting Ole Miss in Oxford last weekend in a game that had a wild ending. Cal has been strong defensively during its time under Justin Wilcox, but never quite had the offense to match. Last year, the Golden Bears were doomed by turnovers week after week, but that problem has been reeled in so far this season.
Picks: Sam: ASU +4.5, Nick: Cal -4.5
2. No. 18 Virginia at No. 10 Notre Dame
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: NBC | Line: Notre Dame -12.5
After top-ranked Clemson, there hasn’t been much to be excited about in the ACC so far this season. At 4-0 and ranked No. 18, Virginia is the only other ranked team in the conference, but the Cavs haven’t been overly impressive. They handled Pitt rather easily in Week 1, but needed second-half comebacks to beat both Florida State and Old Dominion. Virginia won’t be able to afford those slow starts this weekend in South Bend. UVA ranks No. 14 in total defense, but needs to get more on offense from its rushing attack if it wants to beat Notre Dame. The Irish are allowing more than 200 yards per game on the ground.
Notre Dame will return home licking its wounds after a tough 23-17 loss to No. 3 Georgia. The Irish kept the game much tighter than many expected, but still did not have enough to pull off the upset in Athens. Notre Dame really struggled to run the ball against the UGA defense, and had to rely on Ian Book and tight end Cole Kmet in the passing game to generate offense. The Irish had a chance to potentially go ahead in the game’s final minutes, but Georgia’s defense was just too tough. Now with one loss, Notre Dame doesn’t have any margin for error the rest of the way if it wants to get back to the College Football Playoff. Virginia is one of three ranked teams the Irish play in the coming weeks. A win over the Cavs would be a good way to get back on track.
Picks: Sam: Virginia +12.5, Nick: Virginia +12.5
1. No. 21 USC at No. 17 Washington
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: FOX | Line: Washington -10.5
USC’s season has certainly been eventful so far. In Week 1 against Fresno State, the Trojans lost five-star quarterback JT Daniels to a season-ending knee injury, opening the door for backup true freshman Kedon Slovis. Slovis kept the ship afloat in a win over Fresno and then dazzled in his first start against Stanford. But then Slovis and the Trojans lost in overtime on the road at BYU — a team that Washington crushed in Provo a week later. The night before UW’s win in Provo, the Trojans upset Utah at The Coliseum and did so with a third quarterback. Slovis was knocked out on the game’s second play, forcing Matt Fink into action. All he did was throw for 351 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-23 win. USC coach Clay Helton said Thursday night that Slovis, along with safety Talanoa Hufanga and cornerback Olajiah Griffin, will be out, so Fink will start for the first time in his career. And he will do so in a very difficult environment.
Washington has rebounded nicely from that Week 2 loss to Cal by beating Hawaii 52-20 at home and, as previously mentioned, beating BYU handily, 45-19. In the win over BYU, Jacob Eason completed 24-of-28 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. Through four games, the Georgia transfer has thrown for 1,063 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 73.1 percent of his passes. Pretty good. He will need to keep playing at a high level as Washington traverses through its conference schedule. With Cal and Oregon currently leading the way, the North division is still wide open this early in the season. And the visit from USC is the first of three ranked teams that will visit Seattle. Both Oregon and Utah will play at Husky Stadium later in the year.
Picks: Sam: Washington -10.5, Nick: USC +10.5
Records ATS to date: Sam: 11-12, Nick: 12-11
Week 5’s best bets
Nick Bromberg (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 4-8)
Indiana at Michigan State (-14): Michigan State bounced back nicely from the loss to Arizona State at home with a thrashing of Northwestern on the road. But Indiana QB Michael Penix is a game-time decision and could play on Saturday. I’m betting he will and Indiana will cover the number. Pick: Indiana +14
Ole Miss at Alabama (-37.5): Ole Miss winning this game outright would be one of the biggest upsets in the last decade of college football. But this is way too big of a number to pick Alabama. The Tide jumps out to a huge first-half lead and then wins by four or five touchdowns. Not more than that. Pick: Ole Miss +37.5
Wake Forest at Boston College (+6.5): It’s hard to bet on Boston College at this point, especially against a team that has a legitimate argument to be in the top 25. Wake wins this game by two scores and enters the top 25 after Week 5. Pick: Wake Forest -6.5
Sam Cooper (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 4-7-1)
Northern Illinois at Vanderbilt (-6.5): Has any team played a tougher early-season schedule than Vanderbilt? The Commodores are 0-3, with home losses to Georgia and LSU and a road loss to Purdue. After taking those lumps, this is a game Vandy has to win if it wants to get to a bowl this year. Pick: Vanderbilt -6.5
New Mexico at Liberty (-7): After an 0-2 start, Liberty is on a nice roll, covering the spread by double digits in back-to-back home wins. New Mexico won a marathon game vs. New Mexico State last weekend and now has to travel across the country. I’ll roll with Hugh Freeze and the Flames. Pick: Liberty -7
Stanford at Oregon State (+4.5): Stanford is in a bad way right now. David Shaw’s team is full of injuries and the offense has created very few explosive plays. Oregon State has been able to put up points against Oklahoma State and Hawaii, albeit in losses, and is coming off a bye. I like the Beavers here. Pick: Oregon State +4.5
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