Week 5 on the football calendar is at hand, and as conference play ramps up across the country, the high-stakes contests become more numerous.
This weekend’s slate features no fewer than five clashes of teams appearing in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll Top 25. A couple of other games involving ranked teams are worth noting as well as you plan your viewing priorities.
As always, we note that surprises are plentiful in this sport, and there will inevitably be games not on this list that will produce noteworthy plays and nail-biting finishes. But here are the ones we think will have the biggest impact.
No. 10 North Carolina State at No. 5 Clemson
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Why watch: The Tigers cleared the first hurdle in their bid to regain the ACC throne. The Wolfpack look to take down Clemson for a second consecutive season and take charge of the division in what could be a truly historic season. N.C. State narrowly avoided disaster in Week 1 at East Carolina, but its home victory against Texas Tech keyed by the defense has gained value. Wolfpack QB Devin Leary will need to get the aerial attack cranked up to keep pace with Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei, who is coming off a stellar outing at Wake Forest.
Why it could disappoint: The weather forecast doesn’t bode well for an aerial showcase with windy and rainy conditions expected. A soggy field might suit Clemson better, as the Tigers can put matters in the hands of RB Will Shipley while allowing the defense to keep the Wolfpack’s less accomplished running game in check.
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No. 2 Alabama at No. 19 Arkansas
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Why watch: After easily handling business against Vanderbilt, the Crimson Tide hit the road to take on the first of their SEC West challengers. The Razorbacks must shake off last week’s disappointing loss to Texas A&M quickly if they hope to stay in the race. Arkansas QB K.J. Jefferson undoubtedly got a few reminders about ball security during the week, and he must bear these in mind should he encounter Alabama LB/DE Will Anderson with any frequency. Tide QB Bryce Young’s pass catchers aren’t quite as talented as last year’s group, but Traeshon Holden and Ja’Corey Brooks are emerging as reliable deep threats. But the Arkansas defense, which ranks first in the country with 20 sacks through four games, could make it difficult for Young to find them.
Why it could disappoint: It shouldn’t. There might not be as many explosive plays as we’ve come to expect, but a blowout either way seems unlikely.
No. 8 Kentucky at No. 11 Mississippi
Saturday, noon ET, ESPN
Why watch: The day in the SEC begins with this cross-divisional battle of unbeatens hoping to keep pace with favorites Alabama and Georgia. The Wildcats have arguably dealt with the more difficult slate thus far having already dispatched Florida, while this is the first league contest for the Rebels. The Ole Miss offense looks a bit different than when Matt Corral was slinging it around, with QB Jaxson Dart now directing a punishing ground attack led by RBs Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans. The Wildcats, who’ve been more run-oriented in recent years, are airing it out more frequently with QB Will Levis at the controls making use of WRs Tayvion Robinson and Dane Key.
Why it could disappoint: Again, this Ole Miss team might not create the sort of high-flying acrobatics we’ve seen in recent years, and the Kentucky defense could keep the Rebels even more grounded. But it’s again unlikely either side will build an insurmountable cushion.
No. 7 Oklahoma State at No. 14 Baylor
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox
Why watch: A busy day in the Big 12 features this rematch of the 2021 conference title game. The Bears got off on the right foot in their championship defense with a hard-fought win at Iowa State. They return home to face the rested Cowboys, who remain something of a mystery team after limited early results. Veteran QB Spencer Sanders has picked up where he left off for Oklahoma State, with plenty of help from backfield mate Dominic Richardson. Baylor QB Blake Shapen had three scoring tosses last week in Ames, shaking off a tough Week 2 loss at Brigham Young.
Why it could disappoint: It won’t if it’s anything close to the last meeting. The Bears’ offense isn’t lighting the world on fire, but Oklahoma State needed 58 points to outdo Central Michigan’s 44 in Week 1. Both teams should be able to score, but ground yards could be hard to come by.
No. 21 Wake Forest at No. 22 Florida State
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Why watch: The day’s first of two key ACC Atlantic showdowns will occur as scheduled, and it may provide a needed distraction for Sunshine State residents dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. For the Demon Deacons, it’s a must-win to keep their league hopes alive after coming up just short against Clemson. For the Seminoles, it’s the first of a huge three-game stretch that will determine if they are in fact back to contending status. FSU QB Jordan Travis returned from an injury scare against Louisville to post a solid outing against Boston College, and he gets plenty of ground support from a deep backfield led by Treshaun Ward. Wake QB Sam Hartman was nearly flawless in a six-TD effort against the Tigers, though his last attempt in the second overtime was broken up.
Why it could disappoint: Wake’s third-down defense is still an issue, allowing Clemson to convert on 16 of 23 attempts. The Seminoles will have scoring opportunities if they avoid mistakes. The Deacons’ offense is capable of keeping pace, but empty possessions will be hard to overcome.
No. 4 Michigan (4-0) at Iowa (3-1)
Saturday, noon ET, Fox
Why watch: The Wolverines passed their opening exam in defense of their Big Ten crown, though Maryland did give the 'Big House’ crowd a few nervous moments. Michigan faces a very different challenge in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes field the nation’s stingiest scoring defense but also the least productive offense. Wolverines RB Blake Corum is averaging nearly 7.5 yards per carry, while the Iowa defensive front, anchored by LBs Jack Campbell and Seth Benson, yields just 2.2.
Why it could disappoint: The problem for Iowa, of course, is that if the Wolverines get any kind of a lead, the Hawkeyes’ offensive woes will make a comeback nearly impossible. Crazy things have been known to happen in Iowa City, so Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy must avoid the big mistake in his first start away from home.
No. 18 Washington at UCLA
Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Why watch: The weekend gets a kick-start with this #Pac12AfterDark Friday special. Both the Bruins and Huskies enter this contest with a clean slate. UW’s resume appears stronger, though it remains to be seen how the Michigan State win holds up over time. The Bruins nearly became victims of the Sun Belt’s Week 3 upset barrage but survived by a point against South Alabama. UCLA’s dynamic duo of QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson and RB Zach Charbonnet are still together and putting up big numbers. Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. has continued his hot start, with Jalen McMillan leading a deep and talented receiving corps.
Why it could disappoint: It’s possible that the Huskies’ defense is superior. A couple of early stops could enable UW to grab a lead, but the Bruins have succeeded in comeback mode before.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football Week 5 top games include Clemson-North Carolina State