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College Football Preview, Week 5: Alabama, Nebraska, Clemson Face Stiff Road Tests

Week 5 in the College Football season is headlined by the Big 10 debut of the Nebraska Cornhuskers as they travel to Camp Randall to take on the Wisconsin Badgers in a battle of Top 10 teams. Three other games between ranked teams are also on the slate including Alabama's trip to Gainesville to battle the Florida Gators.

WEEK 4 REVIEW

First there was Oregon in Dallas, and then it was Mississippi St. in Starkville and now West Virginia in Morgantown. The newly minted #1 team in the country, the LSU Tigers, have taken down three ranked opponents, all of them away from Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, in one of the most grueling early season schedules for a highly regarded team in recent memory.

The Tigers went into Morgantown last Saturday night to face the Mountaineers in one of their biggest home games in school history. Instead of the defensive struggle most were expecting, LSU showed that it can win games with its offense if necessary as they rang up 47 points in a 47-21 win.

The game wasn’t a walk in the park though, as West Virginia desperately battled back from a 27-7 deficit to within 6 points behind their electric quarterback Geno Smith. The stadium was rocking and suddenly the Mountaineers began to believe. Then, on the ensuing kickoff LSU return man Morris Claiborne broke two tackles and simply out ran the coverage team to the end zone, breaking the momentum and, for all intents and purposes, ending the game. The Tigers would add two more scores in the fourth quarter, and just like that, they became the favorites to win the National Championship.

Tigers quarterback Jarrett Lee demonstrated that he can make plays with his arm if needed when he threw for three touchdowns, and the defense, dominant as always, forced four turnovers. This truly is a complete team, and the game with Alabama in just four weeks looms as the possible game of the year.

Speaking of the Tide, they were in fine form this past weekend as well, drubbing Arkansas 38-14 behind running back Trent Richardson’s 210 total yards of offense (126 rushing, 85 receiving). The one real weakness that they seemed to have, quarterback AJ McCarron, seems to have subsided as the sophomore from Mobile has gotten more dangerous as the season has moved along. He threw for 200 yards and two scores on Saturday while completing 15/20 passes.

The Razorbacks on the other hand looked, for the first time this season, like a team missing most of its key offensive players from their Sugar Bowl squad of a year ago. Without any go to offensive weapons, they were simply unable to penetrate that fearsome front seven of Alabama and turned the ball over twice.

Meanwhile, in the Big 12, Texas A&M and Oklahoma St. were battling it out in College Station to solidify themselves as the co-contenders in the conference with the Oklahoma Sooners. A year ago in Stillwater, the Cowboys rallied from a 21-7 deficit at halftime to win on a last second field goal, 38-35. So, when the Aggies jumped out to a 20-3 halftime lead this year thanks to Ryan Tannehill’s two touchdowns, there was no panic in Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden. Weeden threw for 438 yards and two touchdowns and receiver Justin Blackmon caught 11 passes for 121 yards with a score to help rally the Cowboys to a 30-29 win.

The Cowboys oft maligned defense also held up its end of the bargain this year. They created four turnovers (three interceptions) and kept the Aggies vaunted ground attack in check for most of the afternoon (13 carries, 65 yards for star back Cyrus Gray).

As we turn the calendar toward Week 5, the conference play goes into full swing with a number of critical games for ranked teams looking to solidify their status as contenders for their respective conference crowns.

Maybe the biggest of them all this week will be in Madison, WI where the Badgers will face their first true test after a slew of patsies when they on highly rated Nebraska in the Huskers first Big 10 conference game. That along with key games in the ACC and SEC highlight an important Week 5 where we’ll find out who’s for real and who should have kept playing cupcakes!

(ALL GAMES ARE ON SATURDAY 10/1/11 UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MAIN EVENT

No. 8 Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-0) @ No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers (4-0) – 8:00 p.m. (ABC) The Cornhuskers will get a rude welcome into the Big 10 Conference when they travel to Madison to take on Russell Wilson and the bruising Badgers of Wisconsin. It’s hard to get a real beat on either of these teams going into this game. The Badgers have been absolutely dominant behind Wilson and running back Montee Ball, but have played absolutely nobody while doing so. On the other hand, Nebraska has looked shaky throughout the early portion of the season, particularly on defense where they allowed 38 points to Washington and 29 to Fresno St. And, despite averaging 42.8 points per game, quarterback Taylor Martinez continues to be up and down when throwing the football (completing just 50% of his passes). The rushing attack is potent as always thanks to running back Rex Burkhead’s 420 yards and 7 touchdowns, but it would seem that in order for the Huskers to win this game, Martinez will need to be able to make some plays with his arm. For the Badgers, Russell Wilson’s ability to scramble and extend plays will be critical. He’s struggled in big games in the past and will need to make smart decisions in order to keep the Big 10 favorites on schedule. Wisconsin’s defense hasn’t faced a team like this recently, so its ability to adapt to the explosive running attack of the Cornhuskers and make Martinez win the game with his arm will help decide the game.

UNDERCARD

No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide (4-0) @ No. 12 Florida Gators (4-0) – 8:00 p.m. (CBS) Considering its only been one full season since Tim Tebow last played a game for the Gators, it seems odd to say that this is a chance for them to show that they are "back". But, after the disaster of a season they had last year in Urban Meyer’s final year, that’s exactly what this is. In Will Muschamp’s first season at the helm, Florida has flown a little under the radar despite its Top 15 ranking. New offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has worked wonders with quarterback John Brantley, improving his efficiency (65% completions) and helping to limit his mistakes (4 TD’s against 2 INT’s). The Gator defense has been strong again as well, giving up just nine points per game over the first four weeks despite the absence of a marquee opponent. Alabama meanwhile continues to roll along like a well oiled machine. Quarterback AJ McCarron has stepped ably into the shoes of the departed Greg McElroy, Trent Richardson is adjusting well to the full-time job at running back, receiver Marquis Maze is a solid number one option on the outside and the defense is as dominant as ever. The Gators should be able to hang around in this game, but in order to have a chance to win the game, they’ll need a big game out of utility man Chris Rainey. Rainey is averaging 164 yards of offense a game and is a threat to take it to the house every time he gets the ball in space.

No. 13 Clemson Tigers (4-0) @ No. 11 Virginia Tech Hokies (4-0) – 6:00 p.m. (ESPN2/ESPN3.com) After scheduling at least one strong non-conference opponent in each of the last four years, the Hokies took the year off and ran through a collection of weak directional schools, surrendering no more than 13 points in any contest. Clemson on the other hand ended Auburns 17-game winning streak a few weeks ago and then carried that momentum over to conference play, dumping the Florida St. Seminoles and taking control of the ACC’s Atlantic Division. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has been one of the nation’s biggest surprises with over 1200 yards passing and 12 touchdowns (just one interception) through four weeks. Along with true freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, the Tigers boast one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Lane Stadium in Blacksburg has long been the kryptonite for a number of ACC teams, and Clemson is no exception. The Hokies have one of the best home environments in the country and combined with running back David Wilson and quarterback Logan Thomas, this will likely prove to be an uphill battle for Clemson. The Virginia Tech defense looks to be much improved this year as well after struggling with their defensive line a year ago thanks to pass rushing specialists James Gayle and Bruce Taylor.

UPSET SPECIAL

Auburn Tigers (3-1) @ No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks (4-0) – 3:30 p.m. (CBS) You can almost hear South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier’s rage bubbling to the top from here. After allowing Stephen Garcia to return for his fifth year, the quarterback has struggled badly after having a breakout year during the teams run to the SEC Championship Game last year. Make no mistake about it, this team is only ranked this high because they started there, not based on what they’ve done thus far. The offense is still potent thanks to Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery, but the defense is giving up over 25 points a game (33 before they held Vanderbilt to just three points last week) and has had to rally repeatedly against supposedly inferior teams like East Carolina and Navy. On the other side, the wildly unpredictable Auburn Tigers have shown that they can certainly put up points in a big hurry behind running back Michael Dyer and already have an impressive win over Mississippi St. to their credit this season. Despite an unimpressive win over Florida Atlantic last week and a beating at the hands of Clemson the week before, Auburn is probably the best team South Carolina has played and would seem an ideal candidate to knock them off.

LOCAL SPOTLIGHT

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (2-1) @ Boston College Eagles (1-3) – 12:30 p.m. (ESPN3.com) Boston College finally got in the win column last week as they drubbed the previously undefeated UMass Minutemen 45-17, but now it’s back to playing FBS opponents. Wake Forest comes into this game off a bye week with a 2-1 record and a conference win over North Carolina St. to its credit. The Deacons look improved this year under head coach Jim Grobe as their offense has yet to score less than four touchdowns in any game this season. Much of that offensive improvement can be credited to the play of quarterback Tanner Price, who struggled last year while splitting time with a host of other signal callers, but has been strong this year, averaging over 320 yards per game through the air (good for 14th in the country). That doesn’t bode well for Boston College who has struggled in all phases defensively, but nowhere worse than in the secondary where they’ve been forced to shuttle in a host of walk-ons, freshman, and lightly recruited veterans. FBS quarterbacks are completing an absolutely astonishing 78 percent of their passes against the Eagles soft zone coverage and have had plenty of time to do so with the front four unable to generate almost any type of pass rush. The return of Montel Harris to full-time duty this week should help the Eagles offense, but Donnie Fletcher and Jim Noel must cut down on the Deacons passing game to give the team a chance.

Western Michigan Broncos (2-2) @ Connecticut Huskies (2-2) – 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3.com)

Holy Cross Crusaders (2-1) @ New Hampshire Wildcats (2-1) – 12:00 p.m.

Delaware Blue Hens (3-1) @ Maine Black Bears (2-1) – 3:00 p.m.

Rhode Island Rams (1-2) @ Brown Bears (1-1) – 6:00 p.m.

Massachusetts Minutemen (2-1) @ Old Dominion Monarchs (3-1) – 7:00 p.m.

Yale Bulldogs (2-0) @ Lehigh Mountain Hawks (3-1) – 12:30 p.m.

Harvard Crimson (1-1) @ Lafayette Leopards (1-3) – 1:00 p.m.

Pennsylvania Quakers (0-2) @ Dartmouth Big Green (1-1) – 6:00 p.m.

Sacred Heart Pioneers (1-2) @ Central Connecticut St. Blue Devils (2-2) – 12:00 p.m.

Bryant University Bulldogs (3-1) @ Duquesne Dukes (3-1) – 1:00 p.m.