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College Football 2018 Week 5 Preview
Friday, 2018 September 28 - 1:01 pm
Michigan takes on Northwestern, NCSU plays Virginia, and Penn State has a monster matchup against Ohio State.

Michigan at Northwestern, 4:30 PM FOX
Northwestern is better than their 1-2 record would suggest. They beat a scrappy Purdue team, and lost to Duke and Akron... but both Duke and Akron are quite a bit better than anyone would have thought, coming into the season.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, starting running back Jeremy Larkin has been forced to quit the game, after a diagnosis of cervical stenosis. Best wishes to Mr. Larkin; he was arguably the most talented player on the NW team and it's heartbreaking to have to go out like that.

What's left for Northwestern is an experienced quarterback in Clayton Thorson, and... not much else. Thorson has been a bit slowed after an ACL tear last season, so sometimes he's pulled in favor of T.J. Green, who is... not as good. This team will have trouble against Michigan's defense; they'll rely on a lot of spread trickery (speed option runs, run-pass options, and pick routes in particular) to try to get players in space. Zone-read runs will probably be rather futile.

Defensively, NW will probably be ready for the Down-G running play that Michigan ran so successfully last week, but the flip side of that is they'll probably have more trouble dealing with screens and edge rushing plays, and might be vulnerable to play action and TE crossing routes. After seeing the Michigan offense start to master a larger piece of the playbook, it seems more likely than not that Harbaugh will have coordinated attack ready to go.

Prediction: Michigan 33, Northwestern 6.

N.C. State vs. Virginia, 12:20 PM ACC/ESPNN
I'm not really sure what to make of the Cavs. On the one hand, they're 3-1 with a win over Louisville and only a close loss against Indiana. On the other hand, Louisville kinda sucks and they also gave up 31 points to the Ohio Bobcats. They had 379 yards passing against Ohio but only 106 against Indiana. This team is about as unpredictable as... the Wolfpack.

Offensively, Virginia has a talented quarterback in junior Bryce Perkins, though he's a first-year starter. Maybe inexperience could play against him in a big game. The Virginia defense looks pretty solid, but again, we're talking about opponents like Richmond and Ohio, so who really knows.

I suspect that this will be one of those games where NCSU has 400 yards passing and 70 yards rushing.

Prediction: NCSU 27, Virginia 21.

Penn State vs. Ohio State, 7:30 PM ABC
Heeere we go. This is a monster. Penn State against the dreaded Buckeyes, at home, in a night game? Beaver Stadium will bit LIT. (Er, both literally and figuratively). Home field should account for several points for the Lions. Beyond that, it's a tossup.

Both teams feature explosive offenses, (averaging 599 yards a game for OSU and 515 for PSU); if there's a question mark on either side, it's on defense. So I'm expecting a high-scoring affair, and Vegas seems to agree: the over/under is at 69.

Ohio State has the better resume at the moment, with a win over a ranked TCU team, but I think Penn State has more talent at the skill positions. It'll come down to which defense can make a stand... maybe a turnover or a special-teams gaffe might determine the game.

Prediction: Penn State 41, Ohio State 38.

Games to Watch on TV
At noon, Syracuse at #3 Clemson might be interesting for a half; that's on ABC. N.C. State is at 12:20 on the ACC Network. #12 West Virginia plays #25 Texas Tech on ESPN2; I'm probably not going to watch that, but it's the only matchup of two ranked teams in the early game.

At 3:30... yawn? Purdue plays Nebraska, who will be itching to get their first win. I don't see much else of interest. At 4:30, #14 Michigan plays Northwestern on Fox.

At 7:00, Virginia Tech plays #22 Duke on ESPN2, and this has become a strangely compelling matchup given Duke's recent success. The Game of the Week, though, is #4 Ohio State at #9 Penn State, at 7:30 on ABC. Not very far behind is the Almost Game of the Week as #7 Stanford plays #8 Notre Dame. I'll be rooting for Stanford here, even though it'll benefit Michigan more if Notre Dame wins.

#20 BYU plays #11 Washington at 8:30 on Fox, but the more interesting late game is #19 Oregon at #24 Cal. If Cal wins this one, they'll remain undefeated and in contention for the Pac-12, while Oregon can ill-afford a second conference loss.
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