It's finally here. Week 5 of the college football season has a loaded docket, with very few creampuff matchups. Trends that have been established figure to play out legitimately at this point, and the Savannah States and Bethune-Cookmans of the schedule disappear. Conference play is nearly in full swing, and it's time for top units to play starters for four quarters and for astute fantas owners to exploit matchups liberally.
Before looking forward, we need a brief time for reflection. Picks here have probably only earned an "A" or "B" grade 50 percent of the time, which isn't what we're shooting for. Many factors come into play during blowouts, but the bottom line remains it's not difficult to predict blowouts, it's simply difficult to predict how the blowout will occur. Conference play represents a time for redemption. Here's to batting .750 or better.
Arkansas (vs. Texas A&M): This one is simple. Arkansas likes to run, as both freshman Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams have already topped 415 yards this year. The Hogs also can't pass, throwing for 606 yards through four games. Texas A&M's defense was whole again against SMU, and looked much improved, but the Mustangs aren't known for their rushing attack. Prior to last week, A&M had given up 306, 240 and 234 yards to Rice, Sam Houston State and Alabama, respectively. Woo Pig Sooey should pile up yards against the Aggies.
Boise State (vs. Southern Miss): Running back Aaron Baltazar's emergence paired with Jay Ajayi's fumbling may have opened eyes for owners of either back, but fortunately here it doesn't matter who's carrying the ball. Southern Miss' defense has been gashed for 543 yards and six touchdowns the last two weeks, and the Broncos will look to add to their misery.
Oregon (vs. California): There usually isn't a week where you need to think about starting anything related to the Ducks offense, and this week looks like a week to consider using every and any option you have. Cal's defense has given up at least 209 yards on the ground in each of its three games, capped by a season-high 332 last week against Ohio State. This looks like the week when Oregon finally gets Byron Marshall (29 carries, 196 yards) and Thomas Tyner (12 carries, 80 yards) rolling along with De'Anthony Thomas.
New Mexico (vs. UNLV): It's always risky to start a running back group when there's a mobile quarterback in the mix, but the Lobos aren't sure who their signal caller is just yet. Clayton Mitchem has started while Cole Gautsche recovered from a concussion but isn't the running threat Gautsche is. And should Gautsche see the majority of the snaps, look for him to defer to his backs in an effort to stay healthy. Kasey Carrier has one monster game (41 carries, 291 yards, four scores) mixed in with two bad outings, but backup Crusoe Gongbay is capable of production as well. The Rebels defense allows 232 yards on the ground per game and will be chasing plenty Saturday.
Missouri (vs. Arkansas State): Quietly, the Tigers offense is humming after a disastrous 2012 campaign, and it gets one last week before lining up against SEC defenses. Through three contests, the Tigers are averaging 47 points and 270 yards rushing. It's been a team effort as three running backs have at least 25 carries and three touchdowns. Led by Russell Hansbrough's 239 yards, look for the Tigers to exploit a soft Red Wolves unit that has allowed 252 yards on the ground through four contests.
Houston (vs. UTSA): The Cougars air raid offense is quietly and surprisingly churning out huge yardage totals on the ground through three contests, averaging 252 yards per game, good for 20th nationally. Backs Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow both average six yards or more each time they touch the ball, and the quarterback situation in Houston is uncertain. David Piland opened the season as the starter but has been sidelined by a concussion, and arguably outperformed by freshman John O'Korn. The Roadrunners rush defense has been a bit feast or famine, allowing 193 and 264 yards to New Mexico and Arizona, respectively, but limited Oklahoma State and UTEP to 87 and 99 yards. It's alternated weeks being gashed and is due for another stinker in Week 5.
Oregon State (vs. Colorado): The Beavers boast the nation's third-ranked passing attack, averaging 420.8 yards per game. Led by quarterback Sean Mannion and wide receiver Brandin Cooks, the Beavers' air attack has been bolstered by the emergence of 6-foot-3 Richard Mullaney. Oregon State has also been inept running the ball, averaging a paltry 2.1 yards per carry, and couldn't get their ground attack working against a porous San Diego State unit a week ago. The Buffs haven't played in two weeks due to flooding, and are in for a rude awakening defensively when they finally get back on the field.
Colorado (at Oregon State): Deja vu? For as great as the Beavers passing game has been, their pass defense has been inept, allowing 287 yards per game, including 448 to FCS opponent Eastern Washington. Colorado brings a virtually similar offensive attack to this contest as its opponent. Quarterback Connor Wood has been solid and is enjoying the return of wide receiver Paul Richardson from injury. After missing 2012, Richardson has topped 200 yards in both game so far, and Wood's season low through the air is 341 yards. If you like a ground-and-pound style of football, don't tune in to Corvallis Saturday afternoon.
Ole Miss (at Alabama): It may surprise some, but the Crimson Tide's pass defense ranks 83rd nationally, and that includes allowing just 59 yards in the season opener against Virginia Tech. Yes, that's an outlier just like Texas A&M's 464 yards were two weeks later, but the fact remains Alabama's secondary is cause for concern. Ole Miss has been a difficult team to figure out offensively, as it seems to have one unit working weekly, while struggling in the other facet of offense. Quarterback Bo Wallace averages just 216 yards per game and has only four touchdowns, but has been outspoken this week about the talent he has at wide receiver. Led by Donte Moncrief and freshman Laquon Treadwell, the Rebels hope to make a statement Saturday night.
Pittsburgh (vs. Virginia): There may not be a better receiving duo nationally than the always consistent Devin Street and hot-shot freshman Tyler Boyd. They've combined for 701 yards over the first three contests, and quarterback Tom Savage seems to be shaking off the rust now that he's seen some live action for the first time in several years. Don't be fooled by the Cavaliers' seventh-ranked pass defense. They've played VMI, BYU in a monsoon and the Oregon game was out of reach early. The latter two teams ran the ball 93 times combined. Expect the Panthers to test a secondary that hasn't seen much action in 2013.
Clemson (vs. Wake Forest): Many national pundits are writing off quarterback Tajh Boyd as a Heisman candidate thanks to his early season "struggles." This week just feels like a week where the Tigers come out firing on all cylinders and put it on a Demon Deacons defense that allowed Louisiana-Monroe to throw for 315 yards. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins breaks out of his early season possession receiver trend, and freshmen Germone Hopper and Mike Williams flash their potential this weekend.
San Diego State (at New Mexico State): The Aggies defense ranks 107th nationally against the pass, allowing 282.5 yards per game, twice allowing opponents to top 350 yards. San Diego State has its own problems stopping the pass, and the rushing attack is surprisingly struggling, posting just 260 yards over three contests. Wide receiver Colin Lockett has been impressive early this season, and the Aztecs figure to roll into New Mexico and pitch it around a little bit.