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College Football Picks 2023: Week Five

Riley Leonard, Duke

Current Picks Record: 23-13

Upsets: 1-3

Superdogs: 3-1

Locks: 3-1

(#11) Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ (#17) Duke Blue Devils

Line: Notre Dame -5.5

O/U: 53

Duke burst onto the national scene with an upset of Clemson on Labor Day, but now they're hoping to prove it wasn't a fluke by welcoming No. 11 Notre Dame to Wallace Wade Stadium. The Irish are fresh off a heartbreaking loss to Ohio State at home, but present a significant test to Mike Elko and the Blue Devils.

The Duke offense doesn't jump out at you statistically, but it's one of the more balanced units you'll find anywhere in the nation. Quarterback Riley Leonard is a dual threat who is a joy to watch; he won't take too many shots down the field, but is an efficient passer that won't turn the ball over. His legs present a challenge the Irish really haven't seen this fall, they've dealt with primarily pocket passers. It's not just short scrambles that make Leonard so dangerous; he's a big-play threat who is averaging over eight yards per carry so far on the season. Tailbacks Jordan Waters and Jaquez Moore represent a quality rushing duo, while it's all about Jalon Calhoun and Jordan Moore on the perimeter for the Blue Devils. It's a supporting cast that doesn't strike fear into defenses in quite the same way Ohio State's offense does, but the Irish will still need to be on their "A" game. Fortunately, that hasn't been a problem for Marcus Freeman's crew, as this has been one of the nation's premier defenses over the first month of 2023. We knew the Irish were stout up front, but the pass defense has been a pleasant surprise. They never allowed Kyle McCord to get comfortable last weekend, and have some of the best man-to-man coverage defenders in college football. It's the type of defense that makes every yard a battle, a group that could ultimately be the toughest Duke sees this fall.

Although Notre Dame's offense is coming off an underwhelming showing against Ohio State, this looks to be the best Irish offense we've seen in some time. Quarterback Sam Hartman has been a difference-maker, a fearless passer who has 14 touchdowns without an interception on the year. But, even more important, it appears as though the Irish are finally identifying some playmakers on the perimeter that can help them secure the major national games wins that have evaded them in the past. Chris Tyree's transition to wide receiver has been huge, as the speedster is averaging nearly 27 yards per reception and is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Jayden Thomas and Jaden Greathouse have also been huge, giving Notre Dame two proven, traditional options to beat teams through the air. Add in powerful runner Audric Estime, this is a scary Notre Dame offense, even after what we saw last weekend. There is real explosive on the roster that should be able to help them overcome the tougher opponents on the schedule, like Duke. Yet, I think the real advantage the Irish will look to exploit this weekend is in the trenches. The Irish offensive line, with the exception of tackle Joe Alt, has been a slight disappointment, but they retain a major edge over the Blue Devils here. Now, Duke was able to negate this weakness against Clemson and still win but if you rewatch that game, the Tigers had no issues moving the ball, it was the red zone turnovers that doomed them. With how well Hartman and company take care of the football, I don't envision that being the difference here.

Coming off such an emotional loss the week prior always makes me a bit wary, but I came away very impressed with Notre Dame in the losing effort. They outplayed the Buckeyes essentially the entire way and I still firmly believe they will remain in the College Football mix all year. Duke has been a great story and I love what Mike Elko has done here, but the Irish are the better football team top-to-bottom. Even in Durham, that should result in an Irish victory.

The Pick: Notre Dame, 30 Duke, 21

(#24) Kansas Jayhawks @ (#3) Texas Longhorns

Line: Texas -16.5

O/U: 61

Kansas has been a thorn in the side for Texas in recent years, but the two collide this Saturday with different stakes on the line. Texas envisions a first College Football Playoff berth in their future, while the Jayhawks are 4-0 and looking to continue their impressive turnaround under Lance Leipold. Expect plenty of fireworks in the final installment of these two as conference foes.

There's something different about Texas this year. For as impressive as the Alabama win was, I came away feeling that the Baylor victory was a stronger signal of the Longhorn attitude shift under Steve Sarkisian. We've seen the Longhorns win big games before, but it's been these types of road contests against inferior conference foes that have remained a consistent problem in Austin. Instead, Texas came out motivated, hungry, and disciplined, resulting in a blowout win over the Bears. I suspect they won't have any issues getting up for this game, a ranked matchup in front of their home crowd. That's concerning for a Kansas team that still sees a major talent gap between themselves and the 'Horns, especially when comparing the Texas offense to the Jayhawk defense. Quinn Ewers has lived up the hype so far this fall, but his play shouldn't completely overshadow this supporting cast. Texas may boast the most complete pass-catcher room in the nation, with the lone exception being Washington, and up front, this is one of the most physical and ferocious offensive lines in America. The ground game appears to still be feeling things out, but true freshman C.J. Baxter looks like the real deal and I don't doubt the 'Horns will have success running against a mediocre Kansas defensive front. As long as this team takes care of the football, which hasn't been a major problem so far this fall, they shouldn't have too much troubles lighting up the scoreboard.

The best hope for Kansas is hoping their offense can keep up and they do just enough defensively to squeak out a victory. That isn't out of the realm of possibility, especially when you consider the Jayhawk offense is led by one of the nation's most exciting quarterbacks, Jalon Daniels. Although Daniels hasn't been as effective with his legs as he has previously, he seems to have taken steps forward as a passer, with 705 yards and five touchdowns through the air on the year. His growth in that area has allowed Kansas to take more shots down the field, buoyed by the fact Lawrence Arnold, Luke Grimm, and Quentin Skinner have evolved into a formidable trio. This is where the Jayhawks are going to have the most success; I worry about their ability to run the ball against an imposing Longhorn front, but we haven't seen Texas face a truly dynamic aerial attack so far in 2023. Daniels is the most complete quarterback they've seen and even with the improvement on the back-end, Texas could be vulnerable. With that being said, the Jayhawks are not an offense known for leaning exclusively on the pass, so this be take adjustments and improvisation to have success.

There's still a big part of me that remains wary of Texas despite what we've seen so far this season. This isn't the first time in the last decade-and-a-half the program has enjoyed a hot start and you can never be sure what version of the 'Horns you're going week-in, week-out. Yet, they are clearly the more talented team in this matchup and playing at home, it feels unwise to pick against them here.

The Pick: Texas, 42 Kansas, 31

(#8) USC Trojans @ Colorado Buffaloes

Line: USC -21.5

O/U: 73

Was last weekend the wakeup call Deion Sanders and Colorado needed? For as good as a story as the Buffaloes have been over the season's first month, they have their clear deficiencies, and those were exposed in a big way against Oregon this past Saturday. Responding by upsetting eighth-ranked USC would be quite the statement, but remains a lofty goal.

Surprise, surprise, a Lincoln Riley-coached offense is once again terrifying opposing defenses. USC currently ranks as the top scoring offense in the nation, averaging 55 points per game behind the stellar arm of Caleb Williams. The reigning Heisman winner remains perched near the top of the betting favorites to take over the award once more, as he enters this one with over 1,200 yards of total offense and 18 total touchdowns. Around him, former South Carolina transfer MarShawn Lloyd has been a pleasant surprise, averaging nearly nine yards per carry en route to 349 yards. Then, there's the receiver corps, which includes Tahj Washington, Brenden Rice, and the ultra-versatile Zachariah Branch. In many ways, it's a classic Riley offense; they run the ball well enough to keep you honest underneath but can kill you over the top with the playmakers they feature on the perimeter. It's a brutal matchup for a Colorado team currently operating without their best defender, cornerback-receiver extraordinaire Travis Hunter. There was some hope among the Colorado faithful that Hunter might be set for a return this weekend, but that feels highly unlikely. Instead, others on this defense are going to find a way to step up, but the lack of depth and experience appears to already be showing itself throughout the lineup. 

The good news for Colorado is that USC's defense continues to struggle. All offseason, improvement on the defensive side of the ball was a point of emphasis for the Trojans but against their top two opponents this fall, Arizona State and San Jose State, they've looked extremely underwhelming. The Buffaloes offer plenty of weapons, even without Hunter. Shedeur Sanders' Heisman hopes may have taken a beating last weekend, but he remains one of college football's premier playmakers, as long as the offensive line can keep him upright. That may not have been the case against Oregon, but the Trojan pass rush is significantly less impressive and Sanders should have more time to throw, if even a second or two. Xavier Weaver has been his favorite target so far, but the veteran wide out left the Ducks game and his status remains a mystery. If Weaver can't go, that puts more pressure on Jimmy Horn Jr. and the rest of the supporting cast, which hasn't found a consistent cast of characters beyond the top guys. Could a name like Tar'Varish Dawson or Javon Antonio use this opportunity to distinguish themselves? Just as important, Colorado needs to identify some sort of ground attack. Aside from Week One, the Buffaloes have been atrocious running the football and the lack of balance makes this team much easier to scheme against. Freshman Dylan Edwards has enjoyed flashes, can he finally deliver something more against a porous Trojan defensive front?

It's hard to have much confidence in either of these defenses at this point in the season, so offensive fireworks should be a constant in Boulder this weekend. USC has proven time and time again they can win these types of shootouts and even going on the road, they retain a significant advantage. Not only Caleb Williams, but a balanced offense and much better offensive line. That makes them a much smarter pick to roll to a victory, even if Shedeur Sanders is able to whip up the magic. I am curious to see the energy levels around Folsom Field after last Saturday's deflating defeat. Will it still be a raucous environment? Perhaps the fans can provide enough pressure on Williams and the Trojans to make things interesting, although that feels highly unlikely.

The Pick: USC, 52 Colorado, 21

Other Picks

(#10) Utah Utes @ (#19) Oregon State Beavers -- Expect an ugly one in wet weather in Corvallis. Both these teams are looking to play ground-and-pound and lead with their defense, but a Cam Rising-less Utah team has me leaning Beavers.

The Pick: Oregon State, 20 Utah, 13

(#13) LSU Tigers @ (#20) Ole Miss Rebels -- Lane Kiffin has struggled to win these types of big games since taking over in Oxford. Last weekend's performance against Alabama didn't exactly inspire confidence, even if the Tiger defense looks like it could be a real problem this fall.

The Pick: LSU, 34 Ole Miss, 24

(#2) Michigan Wolverines @ Nebraska Cornhuskers -- Potential upset alert in Lincoln this Saturday? The Wolverines still are figuring things out offensively, but their defense is too strong for the 'Huskers to do enough the other way.

The Pick: Michigan, 27 Nebraska, 14

Upset: (#22) Florida Gators @ Kentucky Wildcats -- With the way these two offenses are playing, this should be a low-scoring affair in Lexington. I like Kentucky to come out on top and win their third straight in the series, something that hasn't happened since the 1950s.

Superdog (covers > 21 point spread): UAB Blazers (+22) @ Tulane Green Wave -- For the second straight week, I'm rolling with UAB as my "Superdog" selection. That doesn't mean Trent Dilfer's group is a good football team, but they have a real shot to cover against a Tulane team likely to still be without QB Michael Pratt.

The Pick: Tulane, 28 UAB, 10

Lock of the Week: Maryland Terrapins (-14) vs. Indiana Hoosiers -- While all the attention on the Big Ten East has been focused on the likes of Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State, the Terrapins have been absolutely decimating their competition. They should have no issues with Tom Allen's team at home.

The Pick: Maryland, 38 Indiana, 17

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