Which ranked teams should be on upset alert in Week 5? CFB Winning Edge offers the win probability for every Top 25 team.
Unexpected results are on the rise in college football – or so it would seem. Five ranked teams lost to unranked opponents in Week 4, up from three the previous Saturday, and only four combined across the first two weekends of the 2019 college football season.
But we’ve yet to see a team ranked No. 13 or higher in the AP Top 25 go down in upset fashion. Might Week 5 offer our first big surprise?
If so, it would be a shocker. Only two of the top five teams in the country play this week – No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama – and the annual playoff contenders are favored by a combined 65 points. And it’s not like the Tigers are playing Charlotte again, or the Crimson Tide are set to take on New Mexico State in an early-season rematch. These are conference games.
The next highest-ranked team on display this week, No. 6 Oklahoma, is a 27-point favorite over Big 12 rival Texas Tech. Therefore, we’ll have to look farther down the line to find a true upset candidate.
Fortunately, each week, we consult CFB Winning Edge, which built a player ratings-based model to project point spreads and final scores for every FBS vs. FBS game, to determine the win probability of each Top 25 team. Here’s how the percentages shake out for Week 5:
Friday, Sept. 27
No. 12 Penn State at Maryland
Both Penn State and Maryland were idle in Week 4 in anticipation of Friday night’s matchup in College Park. The Nittany Lions survived non-conference play unscathed, beating Idaho and Buffalo by a combined score of 124-20, and beat rival Pitt 17-10 in Week 3 – a win that looks more impressive following the Panthers’ victory over UCF last weekend.
Maryland’s trip through non-conference play was a roller coaster. The Terrapins were dominant in wins over Howard (79-0), and Syracuse (63-20), but failed to convert on several important scoring opportunities in a 20-17 loss to Temple (and it’s worth noting the Owls would go on to lose against Buffalo the following game).
Weeknight games are always difficult to prepare for, and Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford is set to make his first start on the road. Nevertheless, the Nittany Lions are favored by nearly a touchdown.
Arizona State at No. 15 Cal
CFB Winning Edge is higher on Arizona State, and lower on Cal, than most. The Sun Devils rank No. 32 in Team Strength – well ahead of No. 55 Cal – in large part because of a big edge in recruiting performance. Arizona State ranks in the top 30 nationally in Roster Strength and average 247Sports player rating, while Cal is No. 69 and No. 59, respectively in those categories – ranked among the worst Power Five programs in both.
Nevertheless, the Bears have closed the gap significantly on the field. Cal ranks No. 19 in Team Performance rating, while the Sun Devils sit No. 46 overall, and the Bears can boast one of the best defenses in the country. Justin Wilcox’s squad also has a far shorter injury report than Arizona State, which has been forced to start two true freshmen on the offensive line due to injuries – and charging them with protecting a true freshman quarterback.
There are plenty of reasons to expect Cal to improve to 5-0 and continue its climb in the polls. After all, the Bears are favored by Las Vegas and online oddsmakers. But this will likely be a slow, low-scoring game, which benefits Arizona State as much as it does Cal, and we’ve seen the Sun Devils win such a contest against Michigan State on the road already this season. Don’t be shocked if it happens again.
CFB Winning Edge Win Probability: Arizona State, 58 percent
Saturday, Sept. 21
No. 1 Clemson at North Carolina
Speaking of true freshman quarterbacks, North Carolina’s Sam Howell has been as impressive as any first-year signal-caller this season. Howell helped lead the Tar Heels to dramatic victories over South Carolina and Miami in his first two starts and nearly brought the team back in close losses to Wake Forest and Appalachian State in his last two games.
So far, Howell has thrown for 1,024 yards and nine touchdowns with only two interceptions – better in each category than his QB counterpart Saturday, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence hasn’t looked as dominant as most expected he would as a sophomore, but he’s still a Heisman-caliber player leading the No. 1 ranked team in the country.
On that note, Clemson is a heavy favorite to beat Carolina – nearly four touchdowns at most books. The Tigers rank No. 4 in scoring defense (10.0 points allowed per game) and have yet to allow an opponent to score more than 14 points in a game. Odds are, the Heels will have similar trouble putting points on the scoreboard.
Ole Miss at No. 2 Alabama
Alabama is an even bigger favorite than Clemson in Week 5, and like the Tigers, the Crimson Tide must take on a conference rival. Ole Miss has never been a bigger underdog than it is this week as the spread has grown to 37.5 at most shops. The Rebels defense will have its hands full in an attempt to slow down an Alabama offense that has averaged 50.0 points per game so far this season, which currently ranks No. 6 nationally.
Tua Tagovailoa looks like a Heisman favorite once again, having completed 77.7 percent of his passes for 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns without an interception. Tagovailoa has completed 11.6 yards per pass attempt, which ranks third in the country behind Jalen Hurts (14.4) and Joe Burrow (12.3), thanks in part to an explosive, deep and talented receiving corps led by Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III.
We can expect the Tide to continue its aerial assault Saturday. Ole Miss has surrendered 288.5 passing yards and an average of 7.5 yards per attempt this year, which rank No. 114 and No. 83, respectively, among FBS defenses.
Texas Tech at No. 6 Oklahoma
Tua’s biggest competition for the Heisman through the first quarter of the regular season is his former backup, Jalen Hurts. The new Oklahoma signal-caller has picked up right where Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray left off, leading the nation in passer rating (250.20) and yards per pass (14.4). Hurts is also the national leader among quarterbacks in rushing (124.3 yards per game), which ranks No. 10 overall.
It should come as no surprise the Sooners rank No. 1 in the nation in total offense (676.7 yards per game) and yards per play (10.46), and No. 2 in scoring (55.7 points per game). The question, still, is whether or not the Sooners can stop opposing offenses – and Texas Tech should be a good test.
The Red Raiders have averaged 6.03 yards per play this season and scored 32.3 points per contest during a 2-1 start. However, Matt Wells’ squad was held to 5.14 yards on average and scored just 14 points in a 28-14 loss to Arizona in its most recent game, during which it lost its starting quarterback, Alan Bowman, to injury.
Mississippi State at No. 7 Auburn
The argument could be made that Auburn has the best combination of wins during the 2019 college football season to date with its 27-21 victory over Oregon in the season opener and its 28-20 win over Texas A&M last week. It’s certainly worth noting both games came away from the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium, and with a true freshman quarterback, Bo Nix.
The Tigers return home this week to face Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have taken a step back defensively due to lost production from its elite 2018 unit, as well as a handful of suspensions to key contributors, and have dealt with injuries at quarterback as well, playing without starter Tommy Stevens in a 28-13 win over Kentucky last week.
We don’t know if Stevens will return, or if freshman Garrett Shrader will start again, but we expect running back Kylin Hill to continue his good work. Hill has run for 551 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 6.05 yards per carry – but will face his toughest test of the season in an Auburn defensive line considered one of (and potentially the very) best in the country.
Northwestern at No. 8 Wisconsin
Auburn certainly has a pair of important wins, but few teams have been as dominant as Wisconsin so far this season. The Badgers currently rank No. 3 overall in Team Performance, including the No. 1 rating in Week 4 for an impressive 35-14 victory over Michigan that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate.
It took 10 quarters for an opponent to score on the Wisconsin defense in 2019 – a period where running back Jonathan Taylor and the Badgers offense put 138 points on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Northwestern, which must make the trip to Madison this week, has managed just 47 total points across three games and has already played three quarterbacks due to injury and ineffectiveness.
No. 18 Virginia at No. 10 Notre Dame
Notre Dame returns home from its 23-17 loss against Georgia, in which the Irish led 13-10 at halftime and had the ball with a chance to drive for a winning touchdown in the final minute of the fourth quarter, to host a Virginia squad that sleepwalked through the first half of its 28-17 win over Old Dominion.
The quarterback matchup is significant. Ian Book has thrown for 828 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions in three games this season for the Irish, and is also the second leading rusher on the team, having gained 145 yards on the ground, while tying for the team lead with two TD runs. Virginia QB Bryce Perkins has thrown for 843 yards and six touchdowns with four interceptions, and leads the Cavaliers in rushing with 193 yards, and ranks second to running back Wayne Taulapapa (5) with two scores on the ground.
Both defenses have allowed an average of 18.0 points per game this season, but the Virginia unit has done a far better job limiting opponents’ yardage totals. The Hoos rank No. 14 in the country in total defense (263.8) and No. 11 in yards allowed per play (4.14), but cornerback Bryce Hall and linebackers Jordan Mack and Zane Zandier will be tested by a Notre Dame receiving corps led by wideout Chase Claypool and tight end Cole Kmet, who combined for 15 receptions and 172 yards against Georgia.
Middle Tennessee at No. 14 Iowa
The Iowa schedule makers made curious use of the Hawkeyes’ first bye week, choosing to insert an idle weekend ahead of a non-conference game against Middle Tennessee. Though the extra days of preparation could help any potential hangover effect from the 18-17 victory over archrival Iowa State in Week 3, it might have been more useful ahead of a looming Oct. 5 trip to Ann Arbor to face Michigan, or the home game versus Penn State the following Saturday.
Nevertheless, Iowa should make quick work of the Blue Raiders in the final tune-up before diving into the meat its Big Ten schedule. The Hawkeyes have excelled defensively, and sit No. 7 on the FBS leaderboard in scoring defense (10.3 yards allowed per game) and No. 12 in total defense (262.7). But one small area of concern: the Hawkeyes have surrendered 5.08 yards per snap – which ranks 47th and could create an opening for dual-threat quarterback Asher O’Hara.
CFB Winning Edge Win Probability: Iowa, 81 percent
No. 21 USC at No. 17 Washington
If we were to rely on college football’s often-cited transitive property, we could expect Washington to beat USC with ease Saturday afternoon in Seattle. After all, just two weeks ago, the Trojans lost to BYU 30-27 in overtime in Provo. The Huskies made the trip to BYU the following week, and barely broke a sweat while beating the Cougars 45-19.
But things can change quickly, especially in the Pac-12 (just ask Washington State). Plus, USC responded to its upset loss by beating then No. 10 Utah 30-23 just six days later to take control of the South division. The Trojans even overcame a significant injury to quarterback Kedon Slovis (himself a replacement for first-game starter J.T. Daniels) to rack up 368 passing yards against arguably the conference’s most talented secondary. Michael Pittman, Jr. proved to be a backup quarterback’s best friend, catching 10 passes from Matt Fink for 232 yards and a touchdown.
Fink is likely to start for USC Saturday as Slovis was still in the concussion protocol Wednesday, and will tangle with a talented Washington secondary highlighted by all-conference standout Myles Bryant. The Trojans are also banged up on defense and could be without a pair of defensive back starters. As a result, Washington is a double-digit favorite, and rightly so.
Washington State at No. 19 Utah
Both Washington State and Utah were upset last week, and the good news is that one of the two will get back on track Saturday night. As the home team (and the still-ranked team), the Utes are favored to win, but CFB Winning Edge expects the outcome to be closer than the oddsmakers.
Washington State has been practically unstoppable on offense this season and ranks fifth nationally in scoring offense (52.8). New quarterback Anthony Gordon is the runaway leader in passing (473.5 yards per game), and touchdown passes (21) nationally. Gordon posted new career highs with 570 passing yards and a school-record nine (!) TDs against UCLA, though he was also intercepted twice and the Cougars lost four fumbles. Defensively, Washington State allowed 657 total yards in the 67-63 loss, and the Cougars also allowed two touchdowns on special teams – one a punt return, and another on a kickoff.
Utah’s defensive breakdowns seem quaint compared to Washington State’s, but the Utes still have issues to clean up defending the pass as they allowed 351 yards through the air to USC’s third-string quarterback. Utah must also look to improve offensively despite the loss of elite running back Zack Moss, who suffered a shoulder injury and was limited to just six carries against the Trojans.
Rutgers at No. 20 Michigan
Michigan was embarrassed in its loss to Wisconsin, which continues the woes from the Wolverines’ unimpressive start to the season. There have been growing pains offensively in the transition to a more up-tempo style of stack under new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, and quarterback Shea Patterson has yet to live up to expectations.
Perhaps more worrisome is a defense that allowed 4.96 yards per play and 343.7 yards per game over its first three contests, which spiked at 6.67 and 487, respectively, against the Badgers. Typically, the cure for such struggles would be a visit from Rutgers. However, the Wolverines must contend with a pair of multi-faceted running backs in Isaih Pacheco and Raheem Blackshear. Michigan is a heavy favorite, but the Scarlet Knights have weapons that could prove problematic.
Connecticut at No. 22 UCF
UCF lost to Pitt last week. But the Knights, as 43-point favorites, will get back on track against UConn.
No. 23 Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (in Arlington, TX)
Arkansas’ loss to San Jose State was far more depressing than the end of UCF’s 27-game regular season run. The Razorbacks entered Chad Morris’ second season with hopes of getting back to a bowl game for the first time since 2016 but lost to a Mountain West team for the second straight year. Quarterback Nick Starkel was intercepted five times and got so mad he threw away his Justin Bieber t-shirt.
Texas A&M is also coming off a disappointing performance at home. The Aggies held Auburn to fewer than 300 total yards of offense and a modest 4.75 yards per play but surrendered a 57-yard run on a reverse during the opening drive of the contest that set the tone for the afternoon.
Kellen Mond threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns, but to get bounce back, Texas A&M must re-establish a rushing attack that has been missing since the loss of starting running back Joshua Corbin to injury. The Aggies gained just 56 yards on 21 carries against Auburn – an average of 2.7 yards per attempt.
No. 24 Kansas State at Oklahoma State
Kansas State is ranked and undefeated under new head coach Chris Klieman, but the Wildcats are underdogs in the Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The Cowboys opened conference play with a 36-30 loss to Texas a week ago, but are expected to respond in large part because of an explosive offense. Running back Chuba Hubbard leads all FBS players with 642 rushing yards and nine rushing TDs. All-American receiver Tylan Wallace ranks fourth with 473 receiving yards and is currently tied for second in the country with six touchdown catches.
Meanwhile, K-State ranks ninth in the country and first in the Big 12 in total defense (256.0 yards allowed per game), and have already pulled off an upset this season, beating Mississippi State 31-24 on the road in Week 3 before taking an extra week to prepare for the Pokes. The Wildcats also rank No. 10 overall in Team Performance this season, so it should be a tightly contested game.
Indiana at No. 25 Michigan State
Michigan State has held its opponents to just 3.61 yards per play this season, which ranks third in the nation, and interestingly, third in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin (3.17) and Ohio State (3.42). The Spartans have been at their best defending the run, having surrendered just 1.71 yards per carry and 52.25 yards per game, which are tied for second and third, respectively, among all FBS units.
Indiana hasn’t excelled running the football this season (the Hoosiers rank 102nd in rushing yards per game), but running back Stevie Scott has gained 215 yards and scored four times on the ground during IU’s 3-1 start. Instead, the Hoosiers have relied more on the arms of quarterbacks Michael Penix and Peyton Ramsey, who have each started twice due to an injury that has sidelined Penix in each of the last two weeks. He is questionable to return for Week 4, and Indiana is questionable to win in East Lansing.