It's the last week of September, meaning that conference play is in full swing around the country in college football. This weekend features three conference games between ranked teams: USC at Washington State late Friday night, then Mississippi State at Auburn and Clemson at Virginia Tech, the biggest game of the weekend, on Saturday night.
We break down every key Week 5 game below in this week's Pick 'Em.
All times are Eastern, and within each time slot games are previewed in order of importance and watchability.
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No. 5 USC at No. 16 Washington State
10:30 p.m., ESPN
It's a game that screamed upset before the season, and it's a game that still screams upset now. Consider the situation: USC has had an exhausting early-season schedule, including the big Pac-12 win over Stanford in Week 2, the OT thriller against Texas and last week's hard-fought win at a better-than-expected California. The Trojans have to go back on the road on a short week to Pullman to face the first 4-0 Washington State team since 2001. The Cougars have yet to leave Martin Stadium, spending all of September at home with wins over Montana State, Boise State, Oregon State and Nevada. Except in the OT win over Boise State, Wazzu hasn't been tested like USC, but it clearly has a situational advantage here.
Of course, USC has the talent advantage. That's not to say this isn't a good Wazzu team -- Luke Falk is a prolific quarterback, and the Cougars' defense has made significant strides -- but despite throwing more interceptions than he'd like, Sam Darnold is a probable top-10 pick at quarterback for USC, and he's surrounded by a lot of blue-chip talent. Standout RB Ronald Jones II and WR Deontay Burnett have been among the Trojans who have been banged up, but they're expected to play, giving USC more weapons to test this Washington State defense than anyone the Cougars have seen so far. However, offensive line injuries could certainly hold the Trojans back.
Going into the season, when predicting every game for my Pac-12 preview, I had USC as a one-loss conference champion earning a playoff bid. The one loss was an upset at Washington State. Let's stick with that pick.
Pick: Washington State 31, USC 30
No. 14 Miami at Duke
7 p.m., ESPN2
Not only is Duke undefeated, but it's undefeated with three double-digit wins over Power Five opponents (Northwestern, Baylor, North Carolina) in four games. This is rare territory for the Blue Devils. For context, remember that 10 years ago, Duke went 1-11 to cap a four-year stretch in which it won a total of four games. Now it's 4-0, as David Cutcliffe has the Blue Devils pointed back toward the postseason.
Friday night marks the biggest test thus far, as Miami has hopes of finally winning its first ACC Coastal. The Hurricanes missed two games because of Hurricane Irma, but they returned last week to beat Toledo. They boast a ton of talent in their defensive front, and early signs have been good on offense, as Malik Rosier has played well at quarterback and Mark Walton is coming off a 200-yard performance on the ground. Plus, standout WR Ahmmon Richards is expected to make his season debut after dealing with a hamstring injury. Duke's defense has been excellent so far, giving up just 4.6 yards per play, making this an intriguing matchup that can play a significant role in the Coastal race. It surely won't match the drama of the last time the two met in Durham, but the result can be more important.
Pick: Miami 28, Duke 20
Nebraska at Illinois
8 p.m., FS1
Say hello to Friday night Big Ten football. Under immense pressure, Mike Riley's Nebraska squad is just a 5 ½-point favorite in Champaign. It's hard to be much more confident in the Cornhuskers than that. Nebraska is 2-2 with a loss to Northern Illinois, a seven-point win over Arkansas State and a 10-point win over Rutgers. The last time it played at Illinois, it lost 14-13 on its way to a 6-7 season. This is a dangerous spot for the Huskers, especially with high-profile home games against Wisconsin and Ohio State the next two weeks. They need to take care of the ball and avoid what would be a disastrous defeat against a lackluster Illini offense.
Pick: Nebraska 24, Illinois 21
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Saturday Early Afternoon
Northwestern at No. 10 Wisconsin
Northwestern had hopes of being the best challenger to Wisconsin in the Big Ten West this season. The 41-17 loss at Duke in Week 2 did a lot to dissuade such opinions. Now, the Wildcats face their first conference game of the year on the road in Madison, kicking off a big two-game stretch that also includes next week's home date with Penn State. The Badgers have cruised through three games thus far, beating Utah State, Florida Atlantic and a lackluster BYU by a total score of 130-30. Freshman Jonathan Taylor has been terrific at tailback, and Alex Hornibrook is off to an excellent start at quarterback. Both teams are coming off an off week, and although Northwestern played well in its last game against Bowling Green, Saturday is an entirely different kind of challenge. Nothing that's happened in September has given an indication that Wisconsin is going to give up the Big Ten West crown.
Pick: Wisconsin 29, Northwestern 17
Vanderbilt at No. 21 Florida
The point total in Vegas for this game seems like a paltry 41 ½, but the combined point total for the past two games between Vandy and Florida? Thirty-five. Two years ago, Florida beat Vandy 9-7. Last year, Florida won 13-6. These have been some of the ugliest games in college football, and it's hard to expect much different in 2017. Florida has cycled back to Luke Del Rio at quarterback, after a comeback win in which two of the Gators' touchdowns, including the winner, came against totally blown coverage. Despite Vandy's horrifyingly demoralizing 59-0 loss to Alabama last week, don't expect the Commodores to be as forgiving defensively as the Wildcats were. Florida's continued struggles on offense, ongoing suspensions and regressing defense create a lot of doubt about its ability to compete for another SEC East title, and yet the Gators are 2-0 in conference play and should move to 3-0 against a Vandy squad that somehow has to bounce back from a shutout home loss in which it ran 38 plays for 78 total yards.
Pick: Florida 11, Vandy 5
Maryland at Minnesota
Few teams have had worse injury luck than Maryland in recent years, particularly at quarterback. This year, Week 1 starter Tyrrell Pigrome tore his ACL in the opening win at Texas. After showing plenty of potential, true freshman Kasim Hill tore his ACL in last week's ugly loss to UCF. This is in addition to UNC transfer Caleb Henderson dealing with a foot injury during the preseason. Next man up is sophomore Max Bortenschlager, who will start on Saturday in Minneapolis, against a Golden Gophers team off to an undefeated start under new coach P.J. Fleck. Minnesota has given up a total of 24 points in three games, and this won't be an easy spot for Bortenschlager to be unexpectedly pushed into the starting lineup on the road.
Pick: Minnesota 29, Maryland 20
Syracuse at N.C. State
12:20 p.m., ACC regional
N.C. State started the season off on the wrong foot with a somewhat fluky loss to South Carolina that nevertheless quickly burst the Wolfpack's trendy sleeper hopes. However, they're 1-0 in the ACC after upsetting Florida State on the road last week, in a showcase game for star offensive weapon Jaylen Samuels and, especially, Bradley Chubb and the defensive line. It was N.C. State's first top-25 win since beating Florida State in 2012. After pulling off that win on the road, the Wolfpack need to avoid a letdown and take care of business at home against the Orange heading into a short week in which they host Louisville next Thursday night.
Pick: N.C. State 31, Syracuse 24
No. 18 South Florida at East Carolina
After a 0-3 start that couldn't have gone any worse, East Carolina snapped out of its funk to beat UConn in a surprisingly high-scoring 41-38 win last Sunday. Beating UConn was one thing. Beating USF still doesn't seem possible. Remember, ECU was blown out by James Madison, Virginia Tech and West Virginia to start the year, and although the Bulls have been a bit inconsistent, they're 4-0 and are led by a star quarterback in Quinton Flowers. They crushed Illinois and Temple their past two games and shouldn't have much trouble with the Pirates.
Pick: South Florida 42, East Carolina 21
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Saturday Late Afternoon
No. 7 Georgia at Tennessee
3:30 p.m., CBS
The Volunteers couldn't continue to pull off games like this, but when they beat Georgia with a Hail Mary last year -- after falling behind because of a 47-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left -- they couldn't help but draw the "team of destiny" label, with a bit of a 2013 Auburn feel to them.
It didn't last, of course. Tennessee went 4-4 in SEC play, and now it's 3-1 overall this year but with a last-second loss to Florida, an OT win over Georgia Tech and an ugly win over UMass last week. The enduring image of last week's game against the Minutemen was a half-empty Neyland Stadium in the fourth quarter, and now the Vols have to attempt to move the ball on a Georgia defense that is playing at a high level. The Bulldogs stuffed Notre Dame's ground attack and gave up three points in a blowout win over Mississippi State. They're deserving of their new top-10 ranking, looking like the clear-cut favorite in the SEC East.
The recent history of the SEC East says that we should avoid overconfidence when discussing a supposed obvious frontrunner. This would be just the time for Tennessee to throw a curveball into the title race. It's still difficult to see that happening. The Vols have a star tailback in John Kelly, but their offense isn't diverse enough to consistently move the ball against Georgia. Throw in the improvement on the Georgia offensive line, and the Bulldogs look like the better, far more well-rounded team.
Pick: Georgia 28, Tennessee 17
Indiana at No. 4 Penn State
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
What does Saquon Barkley do for an encore? Last Saturday night, Penn State escaped Iowa's upset bid with a last-play touchdown pass from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson. Before then, the story of the night was Barkley's record-setting performance in which he made numerous stunning plays en route to a game with over 300 yards from scrimmage.
Upset averted, Penn State and its early-season Heisman Trophy frontrunner return home for a potentially tricky game against Indiana, which had a rough second half in the opener against Ohio State but has since responded with convincing wins over Virginia and Georgia Southern. Like last year, the Hoosiers have a better defense than usual, and they also have some dangerous weapons like WR Simmie Cobbs. But it's not enough to outduel the explosiveness of Penn State, which has also played mostly fantastic defense thus far.
Pick: Penn State 38, Indiana 20
Florida State at Wake Forest
3:30 p.m., ABC
Ten years ago, Florida State slipped into a rut and Wake Forest surged under Jim Grobe. The Demon Deacons beat the Seminoles three times in a row, starting with a 30-0 rout in 2006. Times have obviously changed since then. Order was restored, and FSU has won five in a row against Wake, including three wins by at least 40 points from 2012-14. The past two years, Wake has played FSU close, though, and now they meet under unusual circumstances: Florida State is winless, 0-2 with losses to Alabama and N.C. State and two weeks of not playing because of Hurricane Irma. Wake Forest is 4-0, owner of blowout wins over Presbyterian, Boston College and Utah before escaping Appalachian State on a blocked field goal.
The records here don't tell anywhere close to the full story. Swap schedules, and FSU would be 4-0 and Wake would likely be 0-2. Florida State has issues -- especially protecting true freshman QB James Blackman -- but it is loaded with talent, particularly on defense. Wake Forest's offense has improved, but it has not faced a team with this much talent and athleticism. With a big game vs. Miami on deck, Florida State can get its season back on track here.
Pick: Florida State 31, Wake Forest 17
Iowa at Michigan State
4 p.m., Fox
The last time these two teams met, a Big Ten championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff was on the line. It was a memorable game with an undeniably Big Ten feel to it, including the Spartans' 22-play, 82-yard drive to win the game in an all-time classic moment for the school.
Michigan State went on to get shut out by Alabama in the playoff. Since that win over Iowa, it is 5-11 with wins over Furman, Rutgers, Bowling Green, Western Michigan and a 2016 Notre Dame team that finished 4-8. Last week, the Spartans couldn't get out of their own way in a mistake-filled 38-18 loss, while Iowa lost a heartbreaker to Penn State. This is a big game for Iowa's hopes of competing for a Big Ten West title, and it's a huge game for a Michigan State team desperately trying to find some positivity, especially with trips to Michigan and Minnesota the next two games. The Spartans are actually favored by 3 ½ points at home, but this is a fairly young team, one that also lost straight up six times as a favorite last year. The edge goes to Akrum Wadley and the Hawkeyes.
Pick: Iowa 24, Michigan State 22
Arizona State at Stanford
4 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Both teams turned things around with impressive conference wins last week -- Arizona State over Oregon, Stanford over UCLA -- after both teams lost consecutive games in which they gave up a ton of points in one game and lost to San Diego State in the other. They have been on somewhat similar trajectories, and now Arizona State visits Stanford in its quest to keep Todd Graham off the hot seat. Stanford does have a significant question with QB Keller Chryst injured and questionable, although K.J. Costello played well in his place against the Bruins. The good news for Stanford is that it has a new star tailback in Bryce Love, who leads the nation with 787 rushing yards and averages 10.8 yards per carry. It's a lot easier to see Stanford slowing down Arizona State at home than the Sun Devils containing Love.
Pick: Stanford 38, Arizona State 24
Baylor at Kansas State
3:30 p.m., ESPN2
Baylor looked significantly improved last week, as it pushed Oklahoma and racked up 523 total yards in a 49-41 loss to the Sooners. But the Bears are 0-4, still searching for their first victory under coach Matt Rhule. The offense we saw against the Sooners, led by QB Zach Smith and WR Denzel Mims, can't be counted out in a game like Saturday's against a Kansas State team that is sort of a mystery. It entered the season with high expectations and was dominant in its first two games against weak opponents. In Week 3, however, it lost 14-7 at Vanderbilt … a team that lost 59-0 to Bama the next game. Kansas State has had two weeks to prepare for this one, and it feels like a game where the Wildcats can control the ball and wear the Bears down.
Pick: Kansas State 31, Baylor 21
Miami (OH) at No. 22 Notre Dame
5 p.m., NBCCSN
It's been 108 years since the first and only meeting of Miami (Ohio) and Notre Dame on a football field, a 46-0 Fighting Irish victory in 1909. The two meet again in a familiar matchup in terms of coaching, as Chuck Martin took over the RedHawks after serving as Brian Kelly's offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Martin has revived the RedHawks, who have won eight of 11 games since starting last year 0-6. However, it's hard to imagine they'll be able to match up with a powerful Notre Dame offensive line and ground attack.
Pick: Notre Dame 34, Miami (OH) 17
Other ranked teams in action: Murray State at No. 17 Louisville (3:30 p.m., ACC regional)
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Saturday Prime Time
No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech
8 p.m., ABC
The game of the week is a rematch of a stellar ACC Championship Game last December. Deshaun Watson had five total TDs, leading the Tigers to a 42-35 win over the Hokies to punch their ticket to the playoff. The teams look different this time around, when they'll meet under the lights at what's sure to be a raucous Lane Stadium. Watson is gone, as is Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans. But with Kelly Bryant at Clemson and Josh Jackson at Virginia Tech, they've both gotten off to 4-0 starts.
The Hokies' resume is built around their opening win over West Virginia. Jackson, a redshirt freshman, has been excellent, ranking eighth in passer rating and also serving as a running threat. The Hokies are also loaded on defense, with linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in particular standing out. Of course, although WVU is solid, nobody will test Virginia Tech like Clemson.
The Tigers already own wins over Auburn at home and Louisville on the road, behind a fantastic defense led by the nation's top line, featuring Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant. Virginia Tech has the ability on defense to attack the Clemson offensive line and make Bryant uncomfortable, but, of course, the same can be said the other way about the matchup between Clemson's defense and Jackson.
It has been a tough September schedule for Clemson. A loss in a game like this, after the 4-0 start, would be forgivable. But even though Virginia Tech gets a big home-field edge, it's impossible to be confidence in picking against the Tigers' defense.
Pick: Clemson 26, Virginia Tech 23
Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama
9 p.m., ESPN
Shea Patterson seems like the kind of quarterback that would have given some recent Alabama teams fits. Ole Miss has given Alabama fits three years in a row, including wins in 2014 and '15, and Patterson is a mobile QB putting up huge numbers in a revamped system. In just three games, Patterson has passed for 1,281 yards and 11 TDs, averaging 10.5 yards per attempt. However, after a big first half at California, the Rebels were shut out in the second half of a 27-16 loss. Now, they have to play an Alabama team that held Florida State to seven points in the opener and just eviscerated Vanderbilt 59-0.
Patterson and the Ole Miss receiving corps will test the Crimson Tide, who will get beat if they don't generate enough pressure. The Rebels, however, do not have a defense equipped to deal with the physicality of Alabama's running game. Hugh Freeze is gone, and don't expect the fireworks of the past two matchups, each of which included 80-plus total points. Expect Alabama to get back to playing the game how it wants to and regain control of this series.
Saban: "The ultimate disrespect is when somebody quietly thinks they've got your number."- Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) September 27, 2017
Pick: Alabama 40, Ole Miss 17
No. 24 Mississippi State at No. 13 Auburn
6 p.m., ESPN
This game would have felt a lot bigger had Mississippi State performed better against Georgia. Alas, after beating LSU by 30, the Bulldogs turned around and lost to Georgia by 34 the next week. Still, this is a potentially important matchup in the race for second place in the SEC West behind Alabama.
It's a tough spot for Mississippi State, which has to rebound from last week's disappointment and go back on the road in another tough environment against an excellent defense. With so much attention on whether Auburn's offense will find its footing, the Tigers have been superb defensively, allowing 3.6 yards per play in four games. Remember, the loss to Clemson was ugly, but they allowed only 14 points in that game. Bulldogs QB Nick Fitzgerald presents a formidable challenge, but the advantage here can rest with the Auburn defensive front on its home field.
And although the ceiling of QB Jarrett Stidham and the Auburn offensive line remain unknowns, standout tailbacks Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson are finally expected to both be available at the same time, providing a significant boost to this Tigers offense.
Pick: Auburn 27, Mississippi State 20
No. 15 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech
8 p.m., Fox
Surprisingly, Texas Tech is the one undefeated team in this matchup. The Cowboys are coming off a home loss to TCU, and the Red Raiders are 3-0, owning nonconference wins over Arizona State and Houston. There's no doubt that Texas Tech's defense has shown some improvement -- it's been particularly adept at forcing turnovers -- but it also still gave up 45 points to the Sun Devils and has yet to be tested by a Big 12 offense. It will certainly be tested on Saturday night.
If anyone is going to start making the big plays against Texas Tech that the Red Raiders have been known to give up, it's the Cowboys, with Mason Rudolph throwing to a deep receiving corps led by James Washington. Rudolph averages 11.4 yards per attempt with 13 touchdowns in four games.. Two years ago, Oklahoma State won 70-53. Last year, the Cowboys won 45-44. As always, Texas Tech has the type of offense capable of trading punches and keeping up in a high-scoring game, so expect more fireworks.
Pick: Oklahoma State 56, Texas Tech 42
Memphis at UCF
7 p.m., ESPN2
South Florida was the preseason AAC favorite and hasn't lost that status. This is a game between two teams hoping to challenge the Bulls for conference supremacy. Both teams have rising star head coaches -- Memphis' Mike Norvell, UCF's Scott Frost -- and both teams have yet to lose, with wins over Power Five opponents. Memphis won a 48-45 duel with UCLA a couple weeks ago, and UCF is coming off a 38-10 rout of Maryland. UCF probably would have won anyway, but it is worth noting that Maryland lost its quarterback early in that game. This time, the Knights defense has to figure out how to slow down Riley Ferguson, Anthony Miller and a high-powered Tigers passing attack.
Pick: Memphis 34, UCF 28
South Carolina at Texas A&M
7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Every South Carolina-Texas A&M matchup for the rest of college football's existence will probably remind us of the 2014 game, when the Aggies crushed the Gamecocks in their first game after the departure of Johnny Manziel. South Carolina ended up being a .500 team, of course, and the result didn't mean anything close to what anybody thought it meant at the time. The Aggies have followed that up with two more wins against mediocre South Carolina teams, and now this year's team is trying to continue to dig itself out of the hole created by the Week 1 meltdown against UCLA. Last week, the Aggies won a thriller over Arkansas, and South Carolina barely squeaked by Louisiana Tech. Neither team is particularly trustworthy, but Texas A&M is at home and has all-purpose weapon Christian Kirk. With its all-purpose star Deebo Samuel injured, South Carolina will have a much tougher time winning these types of games.
Pick: Texas A&M 28, South Carolina 21
No. 6 Washington at Oregon State
8 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Oregon State had hopes of significant improvement in Gary Andersen's third season, but those expectations have proven to be unfounded. The Beavers are 1-3. Their only win was by three points against Portland State, an FCS team. They lost by 31 to Colorado State, 34 to Minnesota and 29 to Washington State. Obviously, none of that bodes well entering a game with Washington, which is 4-0 and coming off a Pac-12 championship. The Huskies did take a hit with the loss of WR Chico McClatcher for the season, but the Beavers aren't equipped to contain a team like Washington.
Pick: Washington 42, Oregon State 14
No. 11 Ohio State at Rutgers
7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Rutgers and Ohio State have shared a division for three years, leading to their only three meetings ever. So far, as conference opponents, Ohio State has outscored Rutgers 163-24. Last year's 58-0 win over Rutgers was somewhat overshadowed by what Michigan did to the Scarlet Knights, but Ohio State outgained Rutgers 669-116 and allowed 33 passing yards. Rutgers is better this year, but it also lost to Eastern Michigan a few weeks ago, meaning that it is nowhere close to ready to compete with the Buckeyes.
Pick: Ohio State 51, Rutgers 10
Troy at No. 25 LSU
7 p.m., ESPNU
LSU and Troy have met twice, and surprisingly, the Tigers' two victories came by a total of only 13 points: 24-20 in 2004 and 40-31 in 2008. The 2008 game in particular was nearly a disaster, as the defending national champion Tigers fell behind 31-3 but scored 37 points in the final 17 minutes to win by nine. This time, LSU has to be careful again. The Tigers are two weeks removed from an ugly loss at Mississippi State loss, and last week's game against Syracuse was a win but featured mixed results. Troy is a Sun Belt contender that nearly beat Clemson last year and has played well defensively. Although Derrius Guice's status is in doubt, LSU will win, but the Trojans won't be pushovers.
Pick: LSU 35, Troy 16
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Saturday Late Night
Colorado at UCLA
10:30 p.m., ESPN2
Colorado beat UCLA 20-10 on a Thursday night last year in a game to forget beyond the importance of the win to the Buffaloes taking the Pac-12 South title. Colorado won despite committing 12 penalties for 128 yards and turning the ball over four times; UCLA committed 13 penalties for 96 yards. It was a sloppy game that Colorado sealed late with a 68-yard punt return. It feels safe to say that this one will at least be better played and more watchable. UCLA QB Josh Rosen did not participate in last year's matchup, but he's healthy now, having thrown for a national-high 1,763 yards and 16 TDs in four games. Rosen faces an intriguing matchup in the Colorado defense, which lost a ton from last year but is still playing well, at least against the pass. The biggest question, however, is if UCLA's porous run defense can stop Phillip Lindsay.
Pick: Colorado 39, UCLA 37
California at Oregon
10:30 p.m. FS1
Both teams started 3-0 under new coaches; both teams lost their first Pac-12 game. California has been impressive under Justin Wilcox, who has helped transform the Golden Bears defense into a respectable unit, and turnovers stood in the way of an upset of USC last week. At Oregon, results have been mixed with inconsistent performances so far under Willie Taggart, including the 37-35 loss to Arizona State that showed the defense still has a lot of progress to make. Cal's improvement gives it a shot here, but Oregon has more weapons, with the offense behind QB Justin Herbert and RB Royce Freeman leading the way to a win at Autzen Stadium.
Pick: Oregon 37, California 30
Northern Illinois at No. 19 San Diego State
10:30 p.m., CBSSN
Northern Illinois' run defense has been excellent, allowing just 2.2 yards per carry, including a dominant effort in the win over Nebraska. This, however, is the toughest matchup that defense will face all season. Rashaad Penny has picked up where Donnel Pumphrey left off for San Diego State, rushing 91 times for 716 yards and seven TDs. He also has 12 catches and a kick return touchdown, making him an early Heisman candidate for an Aztecs squad that beat Arizona State and Stanford.
Pick: San Diego State 27, Northern Illinois 17