Fall is officially here and we are finally rid of weekends like the Week 4 snoozer and can dive into conference play, headlined by two of the biggest games of the season in the SEC and Big Ten, with LSU's rejuvenated offense traveling to Georgia and Ohio State hosting Wisconsin. Throw in a big game for Alabama against Ole Miss and a significant measuring stick for Oklahoma at Notre Dame, and this Saturday looks a lot better than the previous one filled with blowouts of FCS teams.
So, here's your guide to what to watch in Week 5 of the college football season. All times are Eastern, all rankings are from the USA TODAY Coaches' Poll and games are ordered based on importance/intrigue/etc.
No. 6 LSU at No. 10 Georgia
3:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS
Line: Georgia by 3
Much of the first month of the season has been spent shattering what we think about the SEC as a defense-first conference, and even if LSU-Georgia does not measure up to the Alabama-Texas A&M offensive fireworks, the scoreboard could still be treated in a relatively similar manner. Really, though, a lot of offense isn't necessarily uncommon here: LSU blew out an overmatched Georgia squad 42-10 in the 2011 SEC title game, and in their last two regular-season meetings, LSU won by the expected low score of 20-13 in 2009 while Georgia won a 52-38 shootout in 2008. Offensive explosions, especially out of LSU, always seem jarring, but they're not necessarily uncommon.
But when we think of high-scoring LSU football games, they usually involve multiple defensive/special teams touchdowns. The 2013 offense does not need the help. Under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, quarterback Zach Mettenberger has continued to progress quickly after an underwhelming debut season as the Tigers' starter. LSU doesn't need him to pass 50 times a game; it needs him to make good decisions and hit big plays, which he's doing regularly with the breakout receiving duo of Odell Beckham, a big-play threat, and Jarvis Landry, a more complete receiver. Through four games, including wins over TCU and Auburn, Mettenberger averages 11.3 yards per attempt and ranks sixth nationally in passer rating. To make the LSU offense scarier, sophomore running back Jeremy Hill appears on the verge of stardom after his combination of size and lateral agility steamrolled Auburn to the tune of 184 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. With vertical passing and power running, LSU has its offense right where it wants it.
Suddenly, LSU has it all, and appears to be the more complete team. That's not to say this game isn't a total toss-up, of course, one that has a high probability of turning on a single turnover or special teams play. Georgia led the nation in yards per play last season, and it's seventh thus far, with the combination of Aaron Murray hitting some big plays (freshman Reggie Davis' first career catch went for a 98-yard touchdown last week against North Texas) and the one-two punch of the powerful Todd Gurley and the speedy Keith Marshall keeping the running game rolling. Still, they'll run into trouble despite LSU's rebuilding project on defense, as LSU tackle Ego Ferguson is emerging as a star, and the Tigers have playmakers on every level of their defense. Both defenses have youth problems, but LSU's is farther along than Georgia's, which has emerging players like linebacker Leonard Floyd but has struggled with a brutal schedule thus far.
Is Georgia's home-field advantage enough to offset its biggest weakness? Based on the way Mettenberger has played, maybe not.
Pick: LSU 37, Georgia 34
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No. 24 Wisconsin at No. 3 Ohio State
8 p.m. Saturday, ABC
Line: Ohio State by 7
Ohio State's schedule was rightly labeled as weak entering the season given that the Buckeyes play in a mediocre Big Ten, had only a rebuilding California team to deal with in the nonconference schedule, host Wisconsin and Penn State and don't play Nebraska or Michigan State. But it doesn't mean there aren't potential landmines; in fact, based on the way Michigan has played, the two strongest opponents may be in the next two weeks. So before the Buckeyes go on the road to Northwestern next week for the obvious trap game, they must take care of Wisconsin at home.
Don't be fooled by Wisconsin's controversial loss at Arizona State in light of the Sun Devils' manhandling by Stanford. This is yet another good Wisconsin team capable of lining up and simply running over everyone, thanks to the combination of Melvin Gordon and James White. Gordon, in particular, is ready for the big time, and he may have his chance at a true breakout game in prime time on Saturday. One of the best outside runners in college football, he averages 11.8 yards per carry, meaning he'll challenge a rebuilt Ohio State defense that lost six of its seven starters up front (all but All-American linebacker Ryan Shazier). Ohio State still has talent, as always, and it gets Adolphus Washington back from a groin injury, but this is the defense's first real measuring stick.
All that said, Wisconsin may not be able to keep up anyway. Ohio State will get Braxton Miller back at quarterback (out since spraining his MCL against San Diego State) and even if Miller isn't 100 percent after the lay-off, backup Kenny Guiton has been a revelation as a replacement, throwing for 13 touchdowns and two interceptions (to be fair, last week's 76-0 win against Florida A&M deserves to be ignored). And with Carlos Hyde working his way back from Urban Meyer's doghouse at running back, depth is suddenly not an issue for Ohio State's offense. A win is no lock, but Ohio State should take firm control of the Leaders Division in its first conference game.
Pick: Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 24
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No. 21 Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama
6:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
Line: Alabama by 15 ½
Ole Miss had already accomplished a great deal in just three games, winning two on the road against BCS opponents, with the comeback thriller at Vanderbilt and the second-half romp at Texas. Neither of those teams is a national contender, as Texas has clearly shown, but for Ole Miss it represents another big step forward, given that the Rebels went 2-10 in 2011 and lost 66-31 at home to Texas in a 7-6 season last year. But now the conversation changes dramatically.
Huge Freeze has brought Ole Miss a long way, capitalizing on pieces already in place -- like the offensive core of QB Bo Wallace, RB Jeff Scott and WR Donte Moncrief -- and infusing the program with previously unimaginable young talent, led by five-star freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche. Winning at Alabama represents another challenge altogether. This is an Alabama team that can win however it wants. In the opener, the offensive line struggled, but the defense stifled Virginia Tech, and the Crimson Tide won with big plays on defense and special teams. At Texas A&M, Alabama overcame the Aggies' big plays to outscore them and win a shootout. Expect something in the middle on Saturday. There are a few positives for Ole Miss here. One, Alabama's lone weakness appears to be at cornerback, where 6-foot-5 Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans had a field day against the Crimson Tide's smaller corners. Ole Miss' biggest strength may be at receiver, where 6-foot-3 Moncrief is a coveted NFL prospect, and 6-foot-3 true freshman Laquon Treadwell has 16 catches. Two, star linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, Robert's older brother, is expected to return from a knee injury.
A team like Ole Miss obviously needs all the help it can get to compete with Alabama, especially after the Crimson Tide offensive line looked like its usual dominant self against Texas A&M. The Rebels' passing game could give Alabama some trouble, especially because the Crimson Tide pass rush hasn't been all that impressive so far, but ultimately the Rebels haven't quite progressed enough to be capable of winning in Tuscaloosa, especially with Alabama looking healthier again.
Pick: Alabama 38, Ole Miss 21
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No. 12 Oklahoma at No. 22 Notre Dame
3:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC
Line: Oklahoma by 3 ½
Oklahoma-Notre Dame has quite a different atmosphere than it did last year. In October, a trip to Norman to face a top-10 Sooners team appeared to be a perfect spot for Notre Dame to trip up, after a series of close wins, and remove itself from the ranks of the undefeated. But that was not to be, as Notre Dame dominated the second half and won 30-13. However, the identities of the Sooners and Fighting Irish have changed. Gone is Oklahoma's traditional drop-back passer Landry Jones, and in, finally, is power runner Blake Bell, who took the starting job from Trevor Knight by passing for 413 yards and four touchdowns against Tulsa. It was only Tulsa, but we had never seen Bell do anything more than act as a short-yardage rushing replacement for Jones. Now he takes a step up at Notre Dame, which still owns a great defensive front led by Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix but has some holes in coverage, most notably exploited by Michigan in Week 2.
We don't really know what to make of Oklahoma, except that its defense appears improved against a weak schedule, giving up 27 points in three games. And we don't really know what to make of Notre Dame, which lost to a Michigan team that has since floundered against Akron and UConn. It's a sort of baffling -- but intriguing -- nonconference game, one in which we can probably expect a low-scoring battle, unless Bell is actually going to be a breakout player as a passer. But, at home, expect Notre Dame's defense to start rounding into shape after a predictably good effort against Michigan State last week and get enough help from Tommy Rees, DaVaris Daniels, T.J. Jones and the passing game to pull out a close one.
Pick: Notre Dame 20, Oklahoma 17
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No. 13 South Carolina at UCF
Noon Saturday, ABC
Line: South Carolina by 7 ½
This appears to be a bigger challenge for South Carolina than once thought, but it's still not something this Gamecocks team should have trouble handling. UCF is a good team, perhaps the second best team in the American Athletic Conference, and it proved it by going to Penn State and holding off a Nittany Lions rally to win 34-31. Quarterback Blake Bortles is one of the most accurate passers in college football, and he's not lacking weapons with tailback Storm Johnson and a solid cast of receivers.
Now, of course, he gets to meet Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney has been the subject of much attention early on, thanks to abnormal expectations, but despite his injury problems he has managed two sacks and a forced fumble -- not spectacular numbers, but not as bad as the perception. UCF actually handled Penn State's pass rush without starting left tackle Torrian Wilson, and he's expected to return from a knee injury to take his best shot at Clowney.
With a noon kickoff on the road against a UCF team building confidence, there's no doubt that this game has trap written all over it, and it's the first of four road games (along with Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri) out of five in an oddly unbalanced schedule. The atmosphere may be the weakest, but of those four teams it's possible UCF is the best opponent. That said, the South Carolina offense has been efficient, averaging 6.9 yards per play and combining effective play from quarterback Connor Shaw with the emergence of running back Mike Davis as one of the SEC's best. Perhaps it'll be uncomfortable for a while, but ultimately South Carolina is a too much for UCF to handle.
Pick: South Carolina 35, UCF 24
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Arizona at No. 20 Washington
7 p.m. Saturday, Fox
Line: Washington by 10
Arizona may be the least talked about undefeated team in college football. Not that we should be celebrating a 3-0 team with wins over Northern Arizona, UNLV and UTSA, but three straight late-night kickoffs against bad teams has caused the Wildcats to be totally out of the limelight. That, obviously, can change with an upset in Seattle. Based on the weak schedule, it's impossible to know what to make of Arizona and its new quarterback, senior B.J. Denker, who has mostly just handed the ball off and run it himself. He's attempted only 55 passes but is second on the team with 40 rush attempts (for 224 yards and five touchdowns), which isn't surprising for a Rich Rodriguez-coached team.
Now we may learn a lot about both these teams. It's a crucial game for Washington, which has wins over Boise State and Illinois under its belt but has a three-game stretch at Stanford, vs. Oregon and at Arizona State the next three weeks. Lose this one, and Washington could head straight back to mediocrity for the fifth straight season under Steve Sarkisian. So it's in a game like this that Washington, which suffered a terrible 52-17 loss at Arizona last year, could really prove that it belongs.
Rodriguez's offenses are usually capable of making things interesting, especially with Ka'Deem Carey at running back, but in this case the Wildcats probably don't have the horses to keep pace with a balanced and talented Washington offense led by QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey, WR Kasen Williams and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, especially given the Huskies' impressive play on defense so far this season (No. 6 in yards per play allowed).
Pick: Washington 41, Arizona 28
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California at No. 2 Oregon
10:30 p.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Network
Line: Oregon by 36
Last year, Sonny Dykes led Louisiana Tech to a No. 1 national ranking in both total offense and scoring offense, and even this year, with a rebuilding Cal team, the Golden Bears rank ninth in total offense and second in passing. And Oregon is still justifiably favored by more than five touchdowns.
We can't say Oregon's schedule has been a total cakewalk. The Ducks did play an embarrassing game against Nicholls State, and they have not played a team that went to a bowl last year, but at least Virginia and Tennessee are from AQ conferences. So it's OK to be impressed by Oregon's 184-27 scoring margin, its No. 2 ranking in yards per play and its No. 12 ranking in yards per play allowed. The Ducks have, so far, experienced no drop-off from coach Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich, and it's hard to find a weakness on this team. Cal's freshman quarterback, Jared Goff, has made things interesting with the team's ability to hit big plays, but the Golden Bears' talent and depth are in no way capable of matching Marcus Mariota and company. Cal will get on the scoreboard, because every Dykes-coached team does, but not nearly enough to make this less than laughable.
Pick: Oregon 56, California 24
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No. 8 Florida State at Boston College
3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC/ESPN2
Line: Florida State by 21 ½
Florida State has been laying low since its Labor Day dismantling of Pittsburgh, meaning star freshman QB Jameis Winston has been out of the spotlight. But, in three games against Pitt, Nevada and Bethune-Cookman, Winston has continued to somehow live up to the enormous preseason hype, ranking second in the country in pass efficiency and first in completion percentage. He may be good enough to carry Florida State to wins on his own, but what helps make him even more comfortable is his supporting cast is so good, from Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene out wide, to Devonta Freeman and James Wilder in the backfield to a rebuilt yet star-studded defense. This is a good all-around Seminoles team, meaning Winston should have no trouble walking into an early ACC road game and walking out with a decisive victory.
Boston College has a handful of solid players, particularly in quarterback Chase Rettig, wideout Alex Amidon and linebackers Steele Divitto and Kevin Pierre-Louis, but Steve Addazio still faces a tough task in rebuilding the Eagles, as seen in the blowout loss at USC two weeks ago in which they gained 184 total yards. Perhaps they can keep it closer than last year's 51-7 Seminoles win, but not by much.
Pick: Florida State 45, Boston College 17
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No. 9 Texas A&M at Arkansas
7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2
Line: Texas A&M by 15
There's no reason to be sold on Texas A&M's defense yet, but Arkansas will have a tougher time competing likely without starting QB Brandon Allen for the second straight game*. Iowa transfer A.J. Derby completed 14-of-26 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown in a loss at Rutgers in which the Razorbacks blew a 24-7 second-half lead, and Arkansas' only hope is to somehow keep the ball out of Johnny Manziel's hands and control the tempo with the talented running back duo of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. There's really no chance of that happening. Arkansas is better than it was last year, when Manziel led the Aggies to a 58-10 win, but its defense is no match for the Aggies' passing game. Nobody is.
*On Friday night, Bret Bielema tweeted that Alllen will return. That does not change the prediction ...
Pick: Texas A&M 49, Arkansas 21
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USC at Arizona State
10:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2
Line: Arizona State by 5 ½
Two presumed favorites in the Pac-12 South, and suddenly it looks like UCLA's division to control once again. Nobody else has appeared in the conference title game from the division, and that may not change. USC's problems are well known, with a stagnant offense under Lane Kiffin that lost a 10-7 home game to Washington State and won a 17-14 home game against Utah State. Arizona State, meanwhile, just doesn't appear ready to get over the hump after following its controversial win over Wisconsin and getting steamrolled by Stanford.
Not that a loss to Stanford ruins a season. Arizona State still has talent to work with, but it needs to get the defensive front seven rolling, in particular, with All-American tackle Will Sutton off to a quiet start. Plus, the offense was stagnant until Stanford took its foot off the gas, and running back Marion Grice and the rest of the unit face another steep challenge in USC, which has played some of the best defense in the country under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
This is a huge game for both teams, a chance for Kiffin to earn some semblance of respect back and for QB Cody Kessler to get a big win on the road, while also a chance for Arizona State to re-establish itself in the Pac-12 pecking order. Based on what we know so far, Arizona State's best bet is to beat USC by forcing a couple of crucial turnovers. USC has shown occasional signs of life on offense, but not enough.
Pick: Arizona State 17, USC 13
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Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter @MattBrownSoE. Check back on Sunday at Sports on Earth for The Professor, a weekly guide to everything we learned from the weekend in college football.