Week 5 of the college football season mostly marks the end of non-conference play. Well, at least until the SEC plays a bunch of tomato cans in Week 12. Teams are getting into the league season or back into the league season, depending on how the schedule is shaking out. There are some teams that are playing non-conference opponents this week as a break from league play, which can create some very unique and challenging spots, especially as a big favorite.
Isolating situational spots is something that you should do every week in every sport. You don’t necessarily want to play the games solely on that premise alone, but you want to use it as a way to narrow down the card and give yourself more of a focus instead of trying to take a deep dive into the 60+ games that are on the card.
Here are some games that fall into that category for Week 5 (sorted by rotation number):
North Carolina at Miami (FL) – This game has a lot of things going on. North Carolina is getting some players back from suspension and Miami has a new starting quarterback in N’Kosi Perry that has to prepare for a conference opponent on a short week. The Hurricanes are being asked to cover 18 points, which is certainly possible, but there are a few unknowns about this standalone Thursday game. How much will those returning UNC players help? How refined is this Miami offense? One thing to remember here is that Miami had only allowed 43 yards through three quarters to FIU last week before the Panthers put up some cosmetic points, so don’t let that game creep into your handicap.
UCLA at Colorado – Both teams head into this battle in Boulder off of a bye. Colorado was off to a pretty nice start with three wins over a bad slate of opponents, so the week off didn’t really come at an optimal time. For UCLA and first-year head coach Chip Kelly, the bye probably couldn’t have come at a better time with an 0-3 start to the season. It isn’t a surprise that we’ve seen this line tick down and the spot likely has something to do with it, as we would expect UCLA to look a bit better with extra prep time.
Army at Buffalo – UCF has the longest winning streak in college football at 16. Ohio State is next at 9. Penn State is next at 8. Duke and Buffalo are tied at 7. Those are exactly the two teams that we would expect, aren’t they? Buffalo draws another run-heavy offense after playing Temple, Eastern Michigan, and Rutgers, although Rutgers trailed badly and was forced to throw a little more than anticipated. It is always interesting when option teams are in town and this spot is no different.
Central Michigan at Michigan State – The Chippewas are one of the worst offensive teams in the country, but they are catching Michigan State in a weird spot here. First of all, it’s a Little Brother vs. Big Brother game, which is always fun. Second, Sparty just picked up its first win of the season over Indiana in the conference opener. Michigan State’s next four games are Northwestern at home, Penn State on the road, Michigan at home, and Purdue at home. Will they be invested enough to win by more than four touchdowns here?
Old Dominion at East Carolina – As far as potential letdown spots go, there is Old Dominion and then everybody else. The Monarchs hung 652 yards on Virginia Tech in a 49-35 upset win last weekend in something of a Little Brother vs. Big Brother game for the team from Norfolk. Now ODU hits the college football highway for a long bus ride to Greenville to take on upstart ECU, who is one of the most improved teams in the country statistically.
Syracuse at Clemson – This isn’t a bad scheduling spot or anything, but this is a unique spot for Clemson. So far this season, Clemson has played three triple-option teams. The Tigers pass defense was only tested against Texas A&M and allowed 430 passing yards in that game. Syracuse will throw the football and will run a lot of plays. Per fellow BangTheBook writer Rich Lammons, Clemson has only defended a passing play on 26.4 percent of its defensive snaps this season.
South Carolina at Kentucky – The Wildcats are ranked for the first time since 2007 after their upset win over Mississippi State to move to 4-0. The Gamecocks come to town having made the most of their impromptu hurricane bye week to fix a lot of problems and blow out Vanderbilt. Kentucky is starting to take some money in the betting market, but this has the look and feel of one of those tough spots for a home team with expectations. South Carolina has four-time revenge here, as they haven’t beaten the Wildcats since 2013.
Nevada at Air Force – While service academies are well-disciplined and generally don’t overlook opponents, the Falcons host the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief series next week when they host Navy. Air Force got blown out by New Mexico last year before facing Navy. While the Falcons have generally fared well in those games before facing other branches of the military, this isn’t the best of spots for the favorite in this game.
Toledo at Fresno State – After welcoming a team making a long trip to the Glass Bowl, the Toledo Rockets take a long trip of their own. It’s not a rocket to the moon, but Fresno, California might as well feel like the moon. This is actually the conclusion of a home-and-home series with the Bulldogs. Toledo won 52-17 in 2016, but this is a dramatically different Fresno State squad. This is Toledo’s first visit to California since a 2005 loss to Fresno State.
Ohio State at Penn State – This isn’t any kind of strange travel spot or a sandwich spot or anything like that. This is simply to note that a white out in Happy Valley produces one of the absolute toughest environments in college football. This is appointment TV.
Liberty at New Mexico – This is certainly a strange spot for the Liberty Flames. They’ll head to Albuquerque, New Mexico and play in some altitude, along with just a dramatic change of scenery. Liberty played at Montana in 2012, but nobody from that team is on this current team and hasn’t made a trip like this from Lynchburg, Virginia. Not many people think about Albuquerque as an altitude spot, but it averages around 5,300 feet above sea level. That’s a big shock to the system for the Flames, not to mention New Mexico’s modified option style. This is one of the bigger situational spots of the week.
Liberty also plays New Mexico off of a bye. The Flames then play New Mexico State next week, with the Aggies also off of a bye. This is a pretty rough spot for Liberty, who will probably just spend the week in New Mexico.
Baylor at Oklahoma; Texas at Kansas State – Oklahoma and Texas are both in bad spots as big favorites this week. Next week is the annual Red River Rivalry game in Dallas, so this is a look-ahead spot for both of those squads. While they’re accustomed to having to play the week before the game, it may be a challenge for the Sooners and Longhorns to cover despite playing inferior opponents.
Florida at Mississippi State – The Dan Mullen Game. Former Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen makes his return to Starkvegas wearing blue and orange. The Bulldogs need a bounce back win after last week’s loss at Kentucky, though it’s fair to wonder how much they really want to stick it to their old coach, who was the OC at Florida prior to taking the Mississippi State gig and seems to be very transparent with his players throughout the process.
Coastal Carolina at Troy – Coastal Carolina is playing a fourth road game in five after the game against Campbell had to be moved out of Conway due to Hurricane Florence. The Chanticleers have been extremely impressive this season, but they’re going into a tough environment with a backup quarterback and probably some fatigue as well.
Hawaii at San Jose State – The Rainbow Warriors are on the mainland for the third time this season as they head to San Jose. This is a much shorter trip than their first two, with visits to Fort Collins, Colorado and West Point. That Colorado State matchup was Week 1, too, so the Rainbow Warriors had plenty of time to prep. Hawaii has been a road favorite on just two occasions since 2013 and didn’t cover in either one of them. They are a 12.5-point favorite this week in spite of that stat.
Stanford at Notre Dame – The Cardinal make the long trip to South Bend in a really, really bad spot. Not only did Notre Dame figure something out last week with Ian Book, but Stanford just beat a division rival on the road in Eugene with a furious comeback and an overtime win. While Stanford is traditionally one of the better coached teams in the country and also one of the more disciplined teams, this is a brutal spot to say the least. We’ve seen this line on the rise and the spot has a lot to do with that.