by Rafid Farjo (Twitter @rafid_313)
Week 5 poses many exciting matchups as we head towards clarity in the race to the college football playoff. (12) Ole Miss led by Heisman candidate Matt Corral face (1)Alabama, (14)Michigan heads to Wisconsin where they have not won since 2001, the group of 5’s best playoff hope in (7) Cincinnati travels to (9)Notre Dame, and (3)Oregon plays an upset-minded Stanford team. Using lines from Barstool Sportsbook, we provide our best predictions and analysis for some of this week’s headlining matchups.
The Game: (6)Oklahoma @ Kansas State
The Play: Oklahoma -10 (-121)
Why: With an average margin of victory of only 5 points against FBS opponents, Oklahoma has struggled thus far. While preseason rankings are irrelevant and should not exist, the Sooners being the AP’s preseason number 2 shows their lofty expectations. Spencer Rattler, who just 4 weeks ago was ranked in a tier of his own among quarterbacks by PFF, has been inconsistent, even hearing calls to be benched from his home crowd last weekend. Despite all this, Oklahoma is 4-0 and their talented roster persists. Their problems have very likely been magnified by the public and they (hopefully) seem bound to play to their potential soon. Historically maligned for their defense, the Sooners have shown strength on the defensive side, only allowing 16 ppg this season and 247 yards against West Virginia last week. Their offense ranks 8th in F+ rating and has largely played well, but has made some critical mistakes, having 5 turnovers and only converting on 33.3% of 3rd downs, greatly limiting their ceiling and margins of victory. Kansas State is a good opponent, ranked 34th by F+, but will be without talented QB and leader Skylar Thomspon this weekend. Thompson has thrown for over 5,000 yards, rushed for over 1,000 yards, and has beaten Oklahoma before in his veteran career. The Wildcats recent success against Oklahoma combined with Oklahoma’s early season struggles puts the Sooners in a position where they will be on high alert. Oklahoma remains talented and will be motivated, making this the spot they play to their true potential.
The Game: Army @ Ball State
The Play: Army -9 (-116)
Why: Army has been one of the surprises of the college football season thus far. The Black Knights began 2021 as an underdog against Georgia State and were projected to win 7 games, but have scored solid victories against aforementioned Georgia State as well as Western Kentucky on their way to being 4-0. They rank 13th in total defense, and 30th in F+. Ball State on the other hand has severely struggled, rated 110th out of 130 teams by ESPN FPI going 0-4 against the spread and failing to cover on average by 15.2 PPG. QB Christian Anderson leads the Knights as their leading passer and rusher. Army, typically known for their triple option offense, has been surprisingly effective with Anderson throwing the ball, with him putting up 187yards and 3TD through the air on just 15 attempts. Anderson also averages an impressive 107.8 rush YPG, accounting for about ⅓ of Army’s immense 344.5 total rush YPG this season. With Ball State’s 102nd ranked offense and 111th ranked defense by F+, it seems too good to be true that this line is only at 9 points in favor of Army. The Knights should impose their will with their triple option offense, and dominate with their physical defense that only allows 56 rush ypg.
The Game: Western Kentucky @ Michigan State
The Play: Western Kentucky +11 (-113)
Why: Another one of college football’s biggest surprises has been Michigan State. Coming into the season with an O/U win total of 4.5, the Spartans have the opportunity to go 5-0 this week, and they very well may do that, but not by more than 10 points. Western Kentucky isn’t highly rated by many metrics. ESPN FPI has them at 80th overall while F+ has them at 85th, with those same metrics having the Spartans at 16th and 29th respectively, but they have looked much better than that. The Hilltoppers have lost to Army and Indiana by a combined 5 points, but average 41.7ppg and are led by QB Bailey Zappe, who boasts a 73.1 completion percentage as well as a 6.5TD/Int (13 pass TD) ratio in 3 games. While the Hilltoppers rushing attack isn’t particularly reliable as their leading rusher has only 82 yards on the season due to the team’s air raid style offense, Michigan State’s relatively weaker defensive suit is pass defense, which allows twice as many yards as their rush defense this season. WKU should be able to expose this and stretch the Spartans secondary vertically as the game progresses. This game has the potential to be a shootout considering Western Kentucky’s defense allows 30.7ppg and the Spartans have a legitimate Heisman candidate in RB Kenneth Walker, but it seems likely the Hilltoppers offense will keep this game close.
The Game: (22)Auburn @ LSU
The Play: LSU -3 (-113)
Why: Auburn is 1 miraculous minute of football from being a double digit underdog in this game. With 45 seconds left in their game last weekend, Auburn trailed 19-24 against Georgia State, and was facing a 4th down, when backup QB and LSU transfer TJ Finley found Shedrick Jackson in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. On the ensuing drive, Georgia State threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, giving Auburn what on paper looked like a comfortable 10 point win. Had Auburn not scored on that 4th down play, the narrative going into this game would be much different, with LSU being much larger of a favorite. This line seems like an overreaction to that one play giving Auburn a victory, rather than a proper reaction to the other 59 minutes of football that saw QB Bo Nix put up a 22.3 QBR and get benched in favor of TJ Finley. F+ has these teams ranked very similar with Auburn and LSU at 21st and 24th respectively, but LSU has the intangible advantages of a night game at home, where they have won at a .773 clip since 1960, and the fact that Auburn remains uncertain over which quarterback will play. Both teams are similarly built and skilled but with LSU at home and drastically different QB Scenarios (LSU QB Max Johnson has thrown for 15TD in 4 games), LSU is the pick.