College Football Week 5 Preview: Storylines, matchups and predictions for the biggest games

Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi Rebels wide receiver Jonathan Mingo (1) and Mississippi Rebels wide receiver Malik Heath (8) react after a touchdown during the first half against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

• Previewing the biggest Week 5 games in college football: KentuckyOle Miss, AlabamaArkansas, Oklahoma StateBaylor, Wake ForestFlorida State and N.C. StateClemson.

• Five ranked matchups in Week 5: That ties for the most in a regular season week since 2017.

• Week 5's premier matchup: The biggest game this week is between two top-10 teams in Clemson and N.C. State.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 mins

Nine of the top 15 teams in Week 4 played one-possession games, creating arguably the best weekend of college football all season.

If you thought that was fun, just wait until you see what’s in store for Week 5. There are five ranked matchups this week — tied for the most in a regular season week in five years. Buckle up.

Here are the storylines to know, matchups to watch and predictions for those five games.

No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats @ No. 14 Ole Miss Rebels

How to watch: 12:00 PM ET on ESPN

Storyline to know: The return of Chris Rodriguez Jr.

Kentucky will welcome back one of the best running backs in the country on Saturday. Running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. is set to make his season debut after being suspended for four games. 

Since 2020, Rodriguez’s 92.3 grade ranks second-highest among active FBS running backs. He’s been incredibly efficient with the ball in his hands in that span. Among Power Five backs, he has the third-highest first down/touchdown rate and the fourth-lowest rate of carries that resulted in no gain or a tackle for loss. 

His return is a much-needed one, too. Kentucky’s 65.5 rushing grade this season is the lowest in the Power Five. 

Matchup to watch: Kentucky’s receivers vs. Ole Miss’ secondary

Kentucky’s receivers have carried the team's offense so far. The Wildcats’ receiving grade (80.4) is the sixth-highest in the country. No other aspect of their offense has graded out in the top 65.

Kentucky offensive grades | 2022
Offensive Aspect Grade Rank among 131 FBS teams
Passing 69.2 68th
Rushing 65.5 121st
Receiving 80.4 6th
Pass-blocking 65.1 T-67th
Run-blocking 59.4 80th

Tayvion Robinson leads the Wildcats’ receiving corps and is a menace with the ball in his hands. The Virginia Tech-transfer is tied for fourth in the Power Five in yards after the catch (245) and has the second-most receiving yards after contact (126).

On the opposite side, Ole Miss’ 92.7 coverage grade is the third-highest in the Power Five. The Rebels have five defensive backs who are among the 20 highest-graded at their position in the Power Five: Ladarius Tennison, Davison Igbinosun, Isheem Young, AJ Finley and Trey Washington

Prediction: Ole Miss 30, Kentucky 24

The Ole Miss secondary will limit Kentucky quarterback Will Levis and company in a statement win for the Rebels.

No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide @ No. 20 Arkansas Razorbacks

How to watch: 3:30 PM ET on CBS

Storyline to know: Help for Bryce Young could be on the way

The Crimson Tide are currently without a receiver who can take the top off a defense. Alabama’s expected points added per play figure on deep throws is the lowest in the Power Five, and all of the Crimson Tide’s receivers have sub-70.0 grades this season. 

That should change when Tyler Harrell and JoJo Earle return. Harrell transfers in from Louisville and has game-breaking speed. His 94.3 grade on deep throws trailed only Jordan Addison in the ACC last season. Earle was a top-50 recruit a couple of years ago and was known as a speedster coming out of high school.

Both have yet to play this season due to foot injuries but have a chance at making their season debut against Arkansas on Saturday.

Matchup to watch: Arkansas’ run game vs. Alabama’s run defense

Few schools have run the ball more than Arkansas this season. The Razorbacks have done so on 69.4% of their plays this year, the highest rate in the Power Five. And it's been for good reason, too: They have the highest run-blocking grade in the Power Five thus far. 

Meanwhile, Alabama has the highest run-defense grade in the country (93.9). The Crimson Tide have made 32 tackles for loss or no gain this season, tied for the second-most in the Power Five. Edge defender Will Anderson Jr. sports a 91.2 run-defense grade since last season, the highest among active Power Five defenders.

The war in the trenches should determine how close this game is.

Prediction: Alabama 38, Arkansas 21

The Crimson Tide’s offense should roll in this one against a vulnerable Razorback secondary. 

No. 9 Oklahoma State Cowboys @ No. 16 Baylor Bears

How to watch: 3:30 PM ET on FOX

Storyline to know: Oklahoma State’s first test of the season

Oklahoma State may be ranked as a top-10 team, but the Cowboys haven’t really had to prove it yet. According to PFF’s power rankings, Oklahoma State has played the third-easiest schedule in the country. Both Central Michigan and Arizona State rank outside the top 80 of our rankings, while Arkansas-Pine Bluff is an FCS school. 

A road game against No. 16 Baylor will be a good indicator of whether Oklahoma State is a contender or pretender to make the College Football Playoff. 

Matchup to watch: Baylor’s offensive line vs. Oklahoma State’s defensive line

Baylor loves to pound the rock, recording the seventh-highest run rate in the Power Five. Most of that is because of how dominant the Bears’ offensive line is, with both the fourth-highest overall grade and run-blocking grade in the Power Five.

Oklahoma State’s defense is well-equipped to handle the run, though. The Pokes’ defensive line has the highest run-defense grade in the nation. The star is Tyler Lacy, whose 90.6 run-defense grade leads all edge defenders in the nation.

Just like Alabama-Arkansas, this game should come down to the heavyweight bout in the trenches.

Prediction: Baylor 28, Oklahoma State 27

Baylor takes this game in what should be a nail-biter and emerges as the new favorite in a wide-open Big 12 to this point.

No. 22 Wake Forest Demon Deacons @ No. 23 Florida State Seminoles

How to watch: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC

Storyline to know: Is Florida State back?

The Seminoles are ranked for the first time in four years, but if you ask any Florida State fan, they’d swear it’s been at least a decade. 

It’s been a long road for the Seminoles, but they’re finally showing some life this year. They sport a 4-0 record — their best start since 2015. Beating a top-25 opponent in Wake Forest would prove that this comeback season is real. 

Matchup to watch: Florida State’s passing attack vs. Wake Forest’s pass defense

Leading the charge for Florida State is Jordan Travis, whose 92.2 grade is the second-highest among Power Five quarterbacks. He’s also throwing to the nation’s highest-graded wide receiver in Johnny Wilson and the 11th-highest in Ontaria Wilson. Florida State is the only school in the country with two wideouts in the top 15.

It won’t be easy for the Seminoles on Saturday, though. Wake Forest currently has a 90.8 coverage grade, fifth-best in the Power Five. The Demon Deacons’ best chance at slowing down the Seminoles will be up front. Wake Forest has the highest pass-rushing grade in the Power Five so far, while Florida State has allowed the eighth-highest pressure rate.

Prediction: Florida State 34, Wake Forest 30

Florida State proves that it’s once again a serious contender in the ACC with a win over No. 22 Wake Forest.

No. 10 N.C. State Wolfpack @ No. 5 Clemson Tigers

How to watch: 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC

Storyline to know: Is N.C. State actually a top-10 team?

The Wolfpack are in the top 10 for the first time since 2002, when Philip Rivers was their quarterback. 

We here at PFF are a bit lower on N.C. State than the Associated Press, as the Wolfpack rank 12th in my top 25 and 20th in PFF’s power rankings. A missed 41-yard field goal was all that separated the team from a season-opening loss to East Carolina, which currently ranks 84th in our power rankings. 

A win on the road over a top-five team in Clemson would prove us wrong for being hesitant about N.C. State.

Matchup to watch: Can D.J. Uiagalelei keep it up against a solid N.C. State secondary?

Heading into the season, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before five-star freshman Cade Klubnik would usurp D.J. Uiagalelei as Clemson’s starting quarterback. This was mainly because of Uiagalelei’s putrid performance last season. His 64.4 passing grade ranked 11th'lowest in the Power Five.

He’s finally started to show why he was the highest-rated quarterback recruit not named Bryce Young in the 2020 class. His 90.4 passing grade this year is currently the fourth-highest in the Power Five. Last week against the aforementioned Wake Forest defense, he led Clemson to victory with an 87.6 passing grade that included five big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays.

He’ll face another tough secondary this week in the Wolfpack, who sport a top-15 coverage grade in the Power Five. Their star is slot cornerback Tyler Baker-Williams, who’s currently the highest-graded cornerback in the country. He’s allowed just two catches all season while picking off two passes of his own. His 2.8 passer rating when targeted is the third-lowest among Power Five cornerbacks.

Ultimately, Clemson will go as far as Uiagalelei will take them. Last year, it brought them to the Cheez-It Bowl despite their College Football Playoff expectations. This season, Clemson looks capable of making good on those same expectations thanks to his improvement.

Prediction: Clemson 24, N.C. State 17

N.C. State’s time in the top- 0 will be short-lived as Clemson claims its second top-25 win in as many weeks.

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