The matchups in week #5 are very similar to last weekend's slate of games. It's not a great overall schedule of top 25 contests, but any week containing college football action is a good one. In reviewing the schedule, there are numerous contests that are worth keeping an eye on as the vast majority of teams are now venturing into conference play. This is the time of year when conference races begin to take shape and every game becomes just that much more important. Let’s analyze the key matchups that highlight the schedule on this last weekend in September.
GAME OF THE WEEK
#1-Ohio State at #12-Iowa
Another Big 10 conference matchup is the top game in this weekend’s action. The Buckeyes are coming off a hard-fought defensive battle with Penn State that saw Ohio State make all the key plays when they needed to, turning a tight battle in the 4th quarter into a 28-6 win. Iowa, meanwhile was able to get out to a quick lead against an outmanned Illinois team and then basically put their game on cruise control for the remainder of the contest. The Hawkeyes are very much looking forward to this weekend’s game as last year Ohio State took Iowa apart in Columbus by a score of 31-6, while Buckeye fans still clearly remember their last trip to Iowa City that resulted in a lopsided 33-7 loss. Based on early season results, it looks like Ohio State and Michigan have separated themselves from the Big 10 pack, while Iowa has a golden opportunity to clearly state that they also belong in the Big 10’s elite in primetime on Saturday night.
The Buckeye offense sputtered for most of the afternoon against Penn State, finally breaking through in the 3rd quarter to put 14 quick points on the board. Ohio State relied on Antonio Pittman as he rambled for 110 yards on the day including 5.5 yards per carry, while QB Troy Smith was not at his best as he threw for only 115 yards. Look for the Buckeyes to get WR Ted Ginn much more involved this week, and he should have room to roam against an Iowa defense that has been solid, but not spectacular, so far this season. The Ohio State offensive line should be able to open holes for Pittman, and the Buckeyes will look to establish the running game early and then give Smith enough time to find his excellent WR combo downfield. A concern for Iowa is that this team is yielding way too many 3rd down conversions so far this season, and with the step-up in competition looming this weekend, the situation must be addressed or Ohio State will pick them apart. The Iowa coaching staff must develop a scheme this week to handle the speed mismatch of their defense against an athletic and quick Buckeye offense, and with a still developing secondary, that could spell trouble for the Hawks.
The clear leader of the Iowa offense is steady QB Drew Tate; he sets the tone for the offense, and this team is clearly different without Tate at the helm. If the Hawks have plans on pulling off the upset, RB Albert Young will need to generate more yardage on the ground than he has so far this season as the rush defense is one area where Ohio State is susceptible. The Buckeyes yielded 135 yards on the ground last week to PSU’s Tony Hunt, and Iowa must take advantage Saturday evening. The storyline is similar to last week as Ohio State comes into the game as the clear favorite, but this time they are on the road in a hostile environment against an opponent that has an opportunity to launch themselves into the national title picture with a win.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Purdue at #11-Notre Dame
Notre Dame arrives back in South Bend after staging a thrilling 17-point comeback in the 4th quarter versus Michigan State. The victory at MSU was huge for ND, but for the 2nd consecutive week, the Irish defense was exposed as the opposition was able to put points on the scoreboard in bunches. Against a very steady and controlled Purdue passing attack led by QB Curtis Painter, the Notre Dame secondary will continue to get tested. On the other side of the ball, the Notre Dame offense is clicking as Brady Quinn is finding his favorite targets in Samardzija, McKnight, and Carlson. The Purdue defense has yielded yardage in the air this season, and Notre Dame will look to exploit the Boilermaker weakness by tossing the ball all over Notre Dame Stadium. Overall, Notre Dame should be able to move the ball in the air in this game, and in order for Purdue to win, Painter will have to go toe-to-toe with Quinn. He will need to have his best game of the season by far for the Boilers to have any chance to send the South Bend faithful home with a loss.
Alabama at #5-Florida
Florida actually struggled for a good part of the game versus Kentucky before taking control of the contest in the 2nd half. Gator QB Chris Leak has been steady, and the emergence of RB DeShawn Wynn has been a nice surprise in balancing the Florida attack. Alabama is coming off a devastating defeat at Arkansas, as the Tide place kicker missed 3 field goals and an extra point in the OT loss. On the positive side for ‘Bama, QB John Parker Wilson played a great game and has established himself as a very good starting QB capable of leading this team. There remains a concern for the Crimson Tide as RB Ken Darby only averaged 2.5 yards per carry versus the Razorbacks, as the offensive line has not yet been able to create any push to open up the running lanes. Alabama routed Florida last year 31-3, so the Gators are fired up to earn a bit of revenge as they enter the meat grinder portion of their schedule.
Georgia Tech at #14-Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech was not sharp in last weekend’s 29-13 win over Cincinnati as the game was not under control until the Hokies delivered 17 points in the 4th quarter, led by RB Branden Ore who had 170 yards on the ground. The Hokie offense will need to play much better this week as the Georgia Tech defense has looked very sharp in the early going. It looks to be much the same story on the opposite side of the football, as Georgia Tech’s offense has been solid but has not yet been consistent in the first 4 games. The one constant in the Yellow Jacket attack is WR Calvin Johnson who exploded last week against Virginia, reeling in 6 catches for 165 yards and 2 TD’s. The key issue for Georgia Tech is the inconsistent play of QB Reggie Ball who, if he gets hot, can launch this team into the hunt for the ACC title. This looks to be a low scoring affair with two hard hitting defenses focused on causing the key turnover that will play a major role in who will emerge victorious.
#2-USC at Washington State
This is a game that does not jump off the paper as a great contest, but after last weekend’s battle with Arizona, USC better be focused for their trip to Wazzou. The USC defense has taken the torch from the offense this year as the Trojan defenders have bottled up the opposition in 3 contests so far, and flexed their muscles by giving up -16 yards to Arizona on the ground this past Saturday. The Trojan offense has been solid but not nearly as explosive as in the past few seasons, though QB John David Booty is quite capable of playing pitch and catch with WR Dwayne Jarrett all day. Washington State will attack the USC defense with QB Alex Brink, who has improved steadily since the opening week and is mobile enough to avoid the USC pressure. The Cougar defense overwhelmed Stanford this past week as the defensive line dominated the Cardinal offense, led by DE Mkristo Bruce who recorded 5 sacks on his own. Washington State is playing well, and are always a tough out at home in Pullman.
Texas Christian at Brigham Young
This game will have huge conference implications in the Mountain West as both schools look very much like title contenders. BYU bounced back in a big way after their tough OT loss to Boston College by whipping in-state rival Utah State 38-0. The Cougar offense is churning out yardage so far this season, and with just a bit more consistency in the red zone, this team is dangerous. Texas Christian had a bye week to prepare for this game, and the Frogs defense has been stellar to this point in the young season, especially in their last contest where they held Texas Tech without a touchdown for the first time in 6 years. In order for TCU to win this game, they will have to minimize the mental mistakes that have plagued them so far this year, and much like BYU, converting red zone scoring opportunities into touchdowns is critical. This game looks to be nice clash of styles as the powerful BYU offense looks to grind away at an excellent TCU stop unit.
GAMES OF INTEREST
#4-Auburn at South Carolina - Thursday 6:30 PM CDT
The Auburn defense has been suffocating so far this year, yielding only 24 points in 4 games. South Carolina’s offense has struggled, and the Gamecocks need to get Air Spurrier back on track if they have plans on upsetting Auburn.
Rutgers at South Florida - Friday 7:00 PM CDT
The Scarlet Knights are off to their best start since 1980, winning their first four contests with relative ease and earning a national ranking in the process. South Florida will try to remove the bitter taste from their mouths after getting tripped up at Kansas.
Toledo at Pittsburgh - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Pittsburgh needs this game in a big way if they expect to make this a successful season after getting thumped at home by Michigan State in week #3. Toledo is always a dangerous MAC opponent, and the Panthers need to be wary and be ready to rumble.
Boise State at Utah - Saturday 2:00 PM CDT
Utah has bounced back big time from its opening week loss to UCLA, giving up only 14 points in 3 consecutive routs. Boise State struggled in its lone road trip away from the blue turf so far this season, sneaking out of Wyoming with a 17-10 win in week #3.
#13-Oregon at Arizona State - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
The Sun Devils need to bounce back from the thrashing they received at the hands of California this past Saturday. The Ducks have established themselves as a contender in the Pac-10, and this will be their first conference road challenge.
Texas Tech at Texas A&M - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
A&M is off to a 4-0 start, but questions still abound about how good this team really is, with their best win being over Army in a close battle. Tech cruised over 1-AA SE Louisiana this past week, but the Raiders still have offensive question marks after getting manhandled by Texas Christian in the week prior.
Houston at Miami, Fla - Saturday 5:00 PM CDT
Houston has very quietly gotten off to an excellent start, and their big win over Oklahoma State has Cougar fans fired up. On the other hand, Miami is struggling to get their offense on track, and if the Hurricanes lose this one at home, their season looks to be all but lost.
California at Oregon State - Saturday 11:05 AM CDT
California looks to be flying high on offense as they are averaging 44.3 points per game in their last 3 contests. This will be Oregon State’s first real challenge at home after they easily dispatched Idaho this past week.
#6-Michigan at Minnesota - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
Michigan has looked sharp in all phases of the game so far this year and looks to be a solid favorite over Minnesota in their conference road opener. The Gophers are looking to rebound from a 6 point loss against Purdue, and a visit from the Wolverines always adds fuel to the fire.
Washington at Arizona - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT
Washington is in the midst of a turnaround season, and the Huskies just opened the Pac-10 season by knocking off UCLA in Seattle. Arizona played relatively well in their loss to USC, but the Wildcats are still having problems generating consistent offense.