To date, no week in the 2017 college football season has embodied the ups and downs of this sport like Week 5.
were, shall we say, volatile. USC-Washington State was trendy. Troy-LSU took stones, but ... called it! Now, Georgia-Tennessee? Woof. That was undoubtedly the worst call yet. But that's the risk.
There's a reason Las Vegas likes who it likes and how much it likes them. In challenging that, there are going to be some spectacular swings and misses in which the bat goes hurtling into the stands and gives someone a concussion.
But onto the next one. Each week, we give you the top five upset alert games based on matchups, injuries/suspensions and other factors. Again, as an extra challenge, we try to avoid games whose lines are well within a touchdown with exceptions being made for cases that warrant them (and there are a couple of those this week).
No. 17 Louisville at No. 24 NC State
When: Thursday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Raleigh, North Carolina | Open: Louisville -3.5
Why it's listed: Because the Week 6 slate of games aren't great for upsets, I have to break my +/-7-point line rule (which is really more like a guideline than an actual rule anyway). Plus, this could be a bad matchup for the Cardinals. The last time Louisville played against a defensive line this good (vs. Clemson in Week 3) it gave up five sacks in a 47-21 loss. Well, the Wolfpack have a front four that's not to be messed with, either. After getting gashed by quarterback Lamar Jackson last season, NC State will be looking for revenge.
NC State wins if: It leans on its defense and dominates in the trenches. That doesn't necessarily just mean sacks. It means contain, too, and trying not to let Jackson turn nothing into something. As you can see above, Chubb is a special player. These are the types of games he needs shine in if NC State is going to make a real run at the ACC Atlantic division. That would keep the Wolfpack on pace with Clemson going into Saturday.
Louisville wins if: Jackson is Jackson. This is why the matchup is so interesting. Lost in all the praise of NC State's defensive line is the fact that the Wolfpack's pass defense has been sub-par. NC State is giving up eight yards per pass attempt. It took some hero throws from James Blackman, but even Florida State threw the football downfield on this defense. For Jackson, it's not just about the highlight plays. He's shown so much growth in pocket presence. His movement and accuracy under duress is NFL-caliber. There simply aren't many college quarterbacks who can finish throws from the pocket like he can.
West Virginia at No. 8 TCU
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET | Where: Fort Worth, Texas | Open: TCU -12.5
Why it's listed: I'm actually not crazy about this matchup for West Virginia on paper. For one, TCU runs the ball well and West Virginia is t-e-r-r-i-b-l-e at stopping it. Secondly, the Mountaineers run 80 plays a game and the Horned Frogs ran 85 in their win over Oklahoma State. And if there's a season-long concern for West Virginia, it's depth. However, coach Dana Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson are under-appreciated schemers. If Holgorsen and play-caller Jake Spavital can present different looks to get his offensive playmakers open, and if Gibson can find his points of attack on TCU quarterback Kenny Hill, the 'Eers have a shot.
West Virginia wins if: It does two things. First, West Virginia must keep TCU from getting big plays and choose their spots to attack. That usually translates to more methodical drives. That will test the Mountaineers' depth, which is a concern, but it also opens up opportunities for mistakes. Hill has been known to be charitable with the ball from time to time. Secondly, quarterback Will Grier needs to get the ball out of his hand quickly. As TCU showed against Oklahoma State, it can finish plays in the backfield with its defensive front and bracket receivers on the back, leading to coverage sacks.
TCU wins if: It controls the line of scrimmage. Offensively, that shouldn't be too hard against the 115th ranked run defense in the FBS. West Virginia gets some key defensive pieces back for this game, but the frequency with which this group has been beat up front and unable to shed blocks is concerning. TCU's Darius Anderson has been a stud with 105.5 yards per game. His career-high 26 carries for 160 yards and three tuddies against Oklahoma State showed he can carry the Frogs' offense as well. On defense, TCU leads the Big 12 with 11 sacks, eight of which have come from the D-line.
No. 16 Virginia Tech at Boston College
When: Saturday, 7:15 p.m. ET | Where: Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts | Open: Virginia Tech -14.5
Why it's listed: Let's get weird, y'all. It's October, which means conference play is ramping up. And when conference play ramps up, that means familiarity among opponents goes up. And conference opponents are like people you used to date. You're different now, sure, but the other side has just enough background information on you to make you uneasy. Boston College may be 2-3, but it has been a feisty 2-3. Catch Virginia Tech on an off night -- maybe a Clemson loss hangover -- and DUDES may do the unthinkable.
Boston College wins if: It can finish what it starts. This goes back to Week 2 when BC lost to Wake Forest 34-10. The Eagles, with no hope of winning, ran six straight times to end the game. They literally ran the clock out on themselves. Since then, though, they've played better than scores have indicated. They had Notre Dame within one touchdown midway through the third quarter in Week 3 and were knotted at 7-7 with Clemson entering the fourth quarter in Week 4. BC just hasn't been able to finish the job. It needs defensive stops and turnovers, and maybe a couple of special teams breaks, too. The field needs to be shortened.
Virginia Tech wins if: It gets out to a comfortable lead early. Shake off the loss to the Tigers, get back out there and be somebody, because BC sure isn't playing catch up. The Eagles average just under four yards per play; only UTEP and Georgia Southern are worse. If Virginia Tech goes up by two touchdowns and plays smart, it might as well be a 35-point game.
Michigan State at No. 7 Michigan
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET | Where: Ann Arbor, Michigan | Open: Michigan -12.5
Why it's listed: Jerry Palm expects Michigan to John O'Korn at quarterback, this is still his first starting job in a long time. Michigan's passing offense has left something to be desired (at least until O'Korn came in) and the Spartans have statistically performed well against the pass (5.5 yards per attempt, one touchdown allowed). Quietly, this team is 3-1. And not that Michigan State would have beat Notre Dame otherwise, but the Irish got 21 points off of turnovers: one pick six, one starting deep in Spartans territory and one after MSU running back LJ Scott fumbled as he was about to score. The point being, MSU shot itself in the foot a lot, which is a correctable issue.. I'm not as sure. While it's possible Michigan's offense with
Plus, it's Mark Dantonio vs. Michigan.
Michigan State wins if: It keeps doing better in turnover margin -- or at least that's Michigan State's best chance to win. The Spartans have been generally bad with ball control (-4 overall); however, they finished +2 in a 17-10 win over Iowa. The Spartans have found some mojo with Brian Lewerke at quarterback, but he needs help. Driving the field on Michigan's defense is almost impossible. The Wolverines have allowed just three sustained touchdown drives in four games. And you don't want to give Michigan any kind of short field. That means getting turnovers and Michigan has been generous at times there, too.
Michigan wins if: O'Korn is everything he looked to be vs. Purdue. At first glance the numbers don't jump off the page (18-of-26, 270 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), but that's 10.4 yards per attempt. He had six passes of at least 20 yards. That's already almost one-third of what Michigan has on the season. His ability to push the ball down the field and evade pressure are two things that helped jolt that offense.
When: Saturday, 10:15 p.m. ET | Where: Salt Lake City, Utah | Open: Stanford -3.5
Why it's listed: Utah is an interesting home dog despite being ranked in the top 25. The line has moved a couple of points in Stanford's favor since opening, but the Utes are a tough opponent when they're at home. Utah has lost just three home games in the past two seasons, none by more than one possession. And outside of Bryce Love, Stanford has a thing or two to prove.
Utah wins if: It can somehow, someway, contain Love. Before getting into the how, let's look at the numbers for a moment: Love ranks first in the FBS with 1,088 yards; no other running back has reached 1,000 yet. His 11.1 yards per carry is also first even though he has 98 carries. Most impressively, seven of his eight touchdown runs have come from at least 40 yards out. For-ty. That's absurd, and for that exact reason the law of averages is going to kick in at some point. Utah, on the other hand, has the top run defense in the Pac-12. I don't expect the Utes to shut Love down as much as force Stanford to show it has weapons other than him. If the Utes can keep Love in front of them by shedding blocks and taking good angles, they can do just that.
Stanford wins if: It finishes drives in the red zone. The less talked about proficiency of the offense is how great the Cardinal are at finishing drives. Stanford is a perfect 22-of-22 in the red zone with 15 touchdowns. Cameron Scarlett has five rushing touchdowns in red zone opportunities and receiver JJ ARcega-Whiteside has both of his scores in the red zone.