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2022 College Football Picks: Week Five

Will Shipley, Clemson
Current Picks Record: 21-15

Upset: 2-2

Superdogs: 2-2

Locks: 1-3

(#10) NC State Wolfpack @ (#5) Clemson Tigers

Line: Clemson -7

O/U: 43

Following their overtime victory over Wake Forest last weekend, Clemson is once again the favorite in the ACC. However, they get quite the follow-up test this Saturday against NC State in primetime, a team that beat them a year ago and looks strong once again.

Clemson had their best offensive showing of the season against Wake Forest, dropping 51 points and notching 559 total yards. Granted, the Wake defense isn't exactly an elite group, but it was still reassuring for the Tigers to look so crisp on this side of the ball, which was not the case at any point in 2021. QB D.J. Uiagalelei silenced plenty of detractors when he went for 371 yards and five touchdowns, but now faces a deep and experienced Wolfpack secondary. He looked in complete control last weekend and played with a confidence that has often been lacking, but NC State is going to throw different looks at him and challenge him. They'll also likely apply more pressure than the Demon Deacons, as Uiagalelei had all day to sit back in the pocket and pick apart the secondary. It would also be incredibly helpful if Clemson's receivers could have an impressive encore. Joseph Ngata had his best game of the season, Beaux Collins was terrific, and young tight end Jake Briningstool is putting it all together. Out of the backfield, Will Shipley has been one of the ACC's best up to this point, but he faces a stout defensive front. I am very curious to see how new Clemson offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter chooses to attack this Wolfpack defense. The teams that have had the most success moving the ball against them this fall have been aggressive and willing to take shots down-the-field. That hasn't really been Clemson's M.O. the past several seasons, but Uiagalelei is playing well and the receivers got open last week.

NC State got quite a scare from East Carolina to open up their season, but have looked strong since, with three consecutive victories. They aren't exactly blowing teams out, but have displayed a balanced offense, well-coached defense, and physical line play. Quarterback Devin Leary is fresh off a 320-yard, four touchdown performance over UConn and has to be licking his lips at facing this Clemson secondary. The Tigers' defensive backs looked absolutely lost out there against Wake Forest, as they were burned countless times and committed penalty after penalty. NC State doesn't quite have the receivers Wake does, nor do they chuck the ball all over the field like the Demon Deacons, but Leary is more than capable of making Clemson pay down-the-field. To be fair to Clemson, the defensive woes they've struggled through the season's first month are understandable. Not only is Brent Venables gone, but the Tigers have suffered a rash of injuries, especially in the secondary. Two of their best defenders, Andrew Mukuba and Sheridan Jones, missed last weekend and their status remains unclear for this Saturday. There's an opportunity here for the Wolfpack to engineer something special, but the supporting cast hasn't quite been as effective as hoped in the preseason. While Leary seems to be hitting his stride, the ground game has been mediocre, and the receiver corps lacks much proven weapons beyond Thayer Thomas. The O-Line has been playing well, but how do they cope with the unique challenge Clemson presents? Even though the Tigers are beat up in the trenches, this is a much greater challenge than anything the Wolfpack have seen this season.

Inclement weather is another factor to consider in this game, with the fallout of Hurricane Ian very likely to create a chaotic scene. Nasty weather seems like it would favor Clemson, considering their ground oriented attack and physical play in the trenches, and they also get the Wolfpack in Death Valley. In general, the Tigers just feel like the safer pick here, with all due respect to an NC State team that I'm very high on. Clemson matches up much better with the Wolfpack than Wake and while I think things will be tight, I'm rolling with the Tigers..

The Pick: Clemson, 31 NC State, 28 (NC State cover)

(#7) Kentucky Wildcats @ (#14) Ole Miss Rebels

Line: Ole Miss -7

O/U: 54

A pair of undefeated SEC teams collide in Oxford over the weekend, with both eager to prove they are legit SEC Title contenders. Ole Miss has pounded four inferior opponents but now faces a brutal slate the next two months, while Kentucky's win over Florida is boosting them into the Top 10.

It's all about the rushing attack for the Rebels, with three players currently over 200 yards and averaging more than six yards per carry. Freshman Quinshon Jenkins has been the biggest surprise of the season so far, leading the team with 429 yards, while highly touted transfers Jaxson Dart and Zach Evans have also provided plenty of electrifying runs. Dart has left a bit to be desired as a passer in opening up the season, but the former USC transfer has taken care of the football and is working with a receiver corps not quite at the level it's been in the early Lane Kiffin years. With that being said, Jonathan Mingo and Malik Health still put pressure on opposing defenses, while fellow 'SC transfer Michael Trigg is a real matchup problem. It's an interesting challenge for this Kentucky defense, but Mark Stoops' defense has proven to be capable time and time again. They're never the most athletic team on the field, but make up for it by being well-coached, fundamentally sound, and able to force turnovers. This is a Top 20 rush defense nationally that features two of the better linebackers in the SEC in Jacquez Jones (who happens to be an Ole Miss transfer) and DeAndre Square. They'll give Kiffin and the Rebels a battle, and it should be fun to watch the chess match unfold here.

Most of the attention surrounding Kentucky's offense has been reserved for quarterback Will Levis, who is on the short list for first signal-callers taken in the 2023 NFL Draft. There's no denying he's had an impressive fall up to this point, but credit should also be given to a receiver group that has been a pleasant surprise. Former Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson has been the leader, which isn't a shock, but it's the play of the youngsters that should be given more attention. Freshmen Barion Brown and Dane Key have been two of the most impressive first-year players anywhere in the country, and the numbers aren't flukes, either. They've excelled at making tough catches in traffic, and both have some speed and elusiveness once they get a lane in the open field. This passing attack isn't always pretty, but there isn't any denying the potential here when they get into a rhythm. The ground game hasn't been as effective, but there's an understandable reason: star back Christopher Rodriguez has been suspended the first four games of the year. The expectation is that Rodriguez should be back and ready to go for this one, which will put significant pressure on this Rebel defense. Ole Miss has been improved on this side of the ball, but they've also faced a soft schedule. Are we sure they have made the necessary adjustments to be able to handle this receiver corps and a fresh Rodriguez? 

Frankly, I don't think either of these teams are ranked appropriately. Kentucky benefitted from a high preseason ranking and beating Florida, but this is not the seventh best team in the nation. Ole Miss has beaten up on lesser foes, but I'm not sure they're a legit SEC West contender. While I may view the Wildcats as overrated, I actually like their chances to go into Oxford and escape with a win. They should be able to outplay Ole Miss in the trenches, and getting Rodriguez back will be huge. I'm not sure this will be a pretty win, but it doesn't have to be pretty to escape with a victory.

The Pick: Kentucky, 28 Ole Miss, 23

(#2) Alabama Crimson Tide @ (#20) Arkansas Razorbacks

Line: Alabama -17

O/U: 61

Arkansas suffered a heart-breaking loss last weekend, with a missed field goal costing them the game against rival Texas A&M. Things don't get any easier this weekend, as the 'Hogs must now welcome second-ranked Alabama to Fayetteville. The Tide appear to be getting in a rhythm, fresh off a 55-3 dismantling of Vanderbilt, and have won 14 straight against the Razorbacks.

Arkansas' offense has had a great start to the 2022 campaign, but it struggled to find consistency against A&M. There is no question this is an elite rushing attack, with dual-threat K.J. Jefferson and feature back Raheim Sanders leading the way. However, the Razorbacks are going to need their passing attack to show up if they are to pull off an upset. Jefferson fell back to Earth quite a bit as a passer against the Aggies; he didn't look confident throwing the ball down-the-field and never seemed to find his rhythm. There's potential to move the ball against this Alabama secondary, but the receiver corps desperately needs one or two guys to step up. Matt Landers, Jadon Haselwood, and Warren Thompson have been a serviceable trio, but it's clear this offense lacks a Treylon Burks piece this year, a player that can go out there and get you a big reception at any moment. Tight end Trey Knox has also been quiet after notching two touchdowns in the Cincinnati win, and is enough of a matchup problem to cause issues against the Tide. The O-Line will also have to show out, facing their stiffest competition of the year. They didn't play quite up to par against the Aggies and now face a fearsome Alabama rush that includes Will Anderson Jr., Dallas Turner, and more.

The Tide offense appears to still be working out some kinks, but they've looked dominant the last two weeks. Granted, they're in for a different challenge this Saturday facing Barry Odom's defense, a physical, hard-nosed group. The Razorbacks are particularly strong against the run, with a rush defense spearheaded by former 'Bama linebacker Drew Sanders and program stalwart Bumper Pool. However, they've been more susceptible through the air, and now have to face down the reigning Heisman winner. Bryce Young has been tremendous, looking every bit like the superstar we saw a season ago. He's surpassed 1,000 yards through the air, is completing 69% of his throws, and has already notched 15 touchdowns. It would be nice if he could have more consistency from his receiver corps, but this group appears to be figuring it out. Traeshon Holden has been the primary weapon so far, but Ja'Corey Brooks appears to be getting better each week, and I'm still waiting on Tyler Harrell. The former Louisville transfer warmed up for the first time this fall against Vandy, but has yet to see game action. If he can go, his home-run ability makes this Tide offense quite terrifying. The Razorbacks simply don't have the athletes to compete with 'Bama if Harrell is ready to go, particularly when they have to deal with Jahmyr Gibbs out of the backfield, too.

I've been high on the 'Hogs all offseason and throughout the start of the 2022 campaign, so I'm not going to jump off the bandwagon following this defeat. With that being said, I find it very difficult to pick against the Tide, especially after last Saturday's frustrating performance from Arkansas. This remains the sport's Goliath, and they seem to be getting things rolling. 

The Pick: Alabama, 38 Arkansas, 24 (Arkansas cover)

Other Picks

(#9) Oklahoma State @ (#16) Baylor -- Somewhat of an under-the-radar game on this weekend's slate, and we really don't know much about Oklahoma State just yet. The Bears should have an edge in the trenches and it's considering it's in Waco, I like them.

The Pick: Baylor, 24 Oklahoma State, 17

(#22) Wake Forest @ (#23) Florida State -- Weather is likely to impact this one, which would be a shootout otherwise. The 'Noles have been super impressive this fall, but it feels like a loss is coming, and I like Wake's chances to recover.

The Pick: Wake Forest, 30 Florida State, 28

(#1) Georgia @ Missouri -- Could Missouri pull off an unlikely upset at home? There's nothing to indicate this offense is going to be able to figure out the 'Dawgs, and Stetson Bennett continues to roll.

The Pick: Georgia, 41 Missouri, 10

Upset: UCLA over (#15) Washington -- A late night Friday Pac-12 game is always a recipe for chaos, and the 4-0 Bruins are no joke. Washington has been terrific in the early going, but are we sure there resume is that impressive? Going into Westwood and taking on the Bruins could give them a plus-one in the L column.

The Pick: UCLA, 35 Washington, 27

Superdog (covers > 21 point spread): Texas State (+22) @ James Madison -- James Madison has been a tremendous story in the early going, but there's no guarantee they'll blow out a .500 Texas State team with a solid QB in Layne Hatcher.

The Pick: James Madison, 27 Texas State, 13

Lock of the Week (has to be a favorite) -- East Carolina (-9) @ South Florida -- Not sure why this number is what it is, South Florida has been atrocious this season and it looks like Jeff Scott could be on his way out. Meanwhile, East Carolina has been .500, and came up just short in their upset bid against a good NC State team.

The Pick: East Carolina, 31 South Florida, 14

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