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College Football Picks 2017: Week Five

Luke Falk, Washington State
College Football Picks 2017: Week Five
Current Record: 21-11

(4-0) 2 Clemson Tigers vs. (4-0) 12 Virginia Tech Hokies

@ Lane Stadium (Blacksburg), 7 PM Saturday on ABC

Clemson was supposed to take a big step back as they moved on from Deshaun Watson this year, but that certainly has not been the case. The Tigers have started the year 4-0, with wins over Auburn and Louisville, and once more, look like the biggest threat to Alabama in the National Championship race. With that being said, the Coastal Division favorite, Virginia Tech, is a tough team to beat, particularly in Lane Stadium. The Hokies have jumped off to a fast start behind the arm of redshirt frosh Josh Jackson. Jackson, a fearless gunslinger with good mobility, has thrown for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns so far on the season, but has yet to face a defense with the playmakers Clemson possesses. The Tigers' secondary is still a work in progress right now, but there is no denying the front seven is one of the nation's best, and has shut down past star QB's such as Jarrett Stidham and Lamar Jackson. On the other side of the ball, Clemson is still figuring things out offensively, although there is no denying their vast potential. New quarterback Kelly Bryant has shown that he can absolutely shed defenses with his speed and elusiveness, but he needs more refinement as a passer. He will be aided by a deep stable of running backs, led by true freshman Travis Etienne, who is leading the team in rushing and averaging a mind-blowing 12.7 yards per carry. On the outside, Clemson also has their usual collection of playmakers ready to challenge Virginia Tech's defense, namely Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud. The Hokies have long been known as a defense-first team, even if Justin Fuente has breathed new life into the offense. They are stout once more on the defensive side of the ball, although they haven't faced a team with the speed and big-play potential of Clemson, so it should be quite the test. With impressive wins against Auburn and Louisville already on the resume, the Tigers are hopeful a win here would be enough to jump Alabama for the nation's No. 1 spot. Virginia Tech should be able to give them quite a battle in front of the home folks, but it's reasonable to think Jackson and the rest of the offense could have a tough day against the Clemson D. The Tigers should be able to come out on top, but don't expect a blowout by any means.

The Pick: Clemson, 35 Virginia Tech, 27

(4-0) 5 USC Trojans vs. (4-0) Washington State Cougars
Martin Stadium (Pullman), 9:30 PM Friday on ESPN

The Pac-12 is known for it's late-night shootouts, and we could be in store for another one in this Friday night collision. Both USC and Washington State are blessed with fabulous quarterbacks and explosive offenses, and both enter this game undefeated. The Trojans have certainly been tested early on this season, barely surviving against Texas and getting pushed by Cal, but are still in good position to make a Playoff run. Sam Darnold entered the season as the Heisman frontrunner, and has played overall pretty solid, but does have seven interceptions (he had nine all of last year). That is certainly concerning for 'SC, and could become a factor in this one, because giving Washington State even more offensive possessions is quite dangerous. The Trojans did get a break of good news this week when they learned feature back Ronald Jones II would be back from a thigh contusion this week. Having Jones making plays out of the backfield makes the offense much more balanced and effective, particularly against a Cougars' defense that has never been known for it's rush defense prowess. Unfortunately, the Trojans will be without one of their top wide outs, Steven Mitchell Jr., so others will have to step up. For the Cougars, senior Luke Falk continues to put up videogame-like numbers. The smart, accurate signal-caller is a terrific fit in Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, and he does an amazing job cutting down on turnovers despite the amount of times he throws. Falk will be helped out by a number of dangerous weapons on the perimeter, namely Tavares Martin Jr. (390 receiving yards) and James Williams (266). But, USC does have one of the conference's stronger pass defenses, and they picked off Cal QB Ross Bowers four times in their road win there. If they can play the same against Falk and pressure the veteran, they'll be in pretty fine position. The Trojans also have to stop the run, even if Washington State doesn't run the ball a lot. 'SC gave up a lot of yards to both Texas and Cal, and they obviously struggled when that was the case. If they can contain the run and force the Cougars to rely exclusively on the pass it has to be viewed as a success. I would not be surprised to see 100-plus points scored in this one, with the way these offenses like to attack and the talent they have. USC is considered the favorite, but Washington State will give them quite the challenge. However, if Darnold can play under control and the Trojans can force some turnovers, they should be able to survive another close one.

The Pick: USC, 52 Washington State, 47

(3-1) 13 Auburn Tigers vs. (3-1) 24 Mississippi State Bulldogs
@ Jordan-Hare Stadium (Auburn), 5 PM Saturday on ESPN

Nobody can deny Alabama is the team to beat in the SEC West, but there is a question as to who their biggest threat is in the division. LSU's old passing problems continue to haunt them, Auburn's offense has not taken the steps they had hoped offensively, Arkansas has struggled, and Mississippi State just lost by four touchdowns to Georgia. The winner of this one could put themselves in position to at least be in the conservation in the SEC West, so the stakes could be high. The Tigers are still hoping their aerial attack can re-emerge after a tough start to 2017. Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham has the arm talent, but he's been hurt by a bad offensive line and a receiver corps that lacks elite weapons. It will be interesting to see how that offensive line will be able to hold up against a strong Bulldogs' pass rush, which is led by Gerri Green and Jeffery Simmons. The good news is that the ground game should be able to help out, as Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway should be able to have plenty of success. For Mississippi State, their offense hopes to recover from a poor showing against UGA, behind the play of dual-threat QB Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is one of the best running quarterbacks in the entire nation, but he will have to square off against a quality Auburn rush defense. When paired with Aeris Williams, the Bulldogs should still be able to have some success. It will be interesting to see how Mississippi State passes the ball in this game, since they struggled so much against Georgia. Auburn's pass defense is pretty solid, but that doesn't mean that the Bulldogs can't find some success if they execute in the play-action. Both of these teams should come into this one with a chip on their shoulder, considering the losses they've suffered so far this year. They seem pretty evenly-matched, as both teams offer plenty of weapons to make their ground game chug along. The X-factor could be the passing game, which Auburn seems to have a slight advantage in, as long as Stidham can play to his potential. It should be a very competitive one, but the Tigers should be able to pull off this one in what could be a thriller.

The Pick: Auburn, 31 Mississippi State, 21

Other Picks
(#11) Ohio State, 45 Rutgers, 24
(#1) Alabama, 34 Ole Miss, 17
(#15) Oklahoma State, 49 Texas Tech, 44
(#10) Wisconsin, 30 Northwestern, 19
Duke, 28 (#14) Miami, 27

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