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College Football 2013: 5 Big Questions for Week 5

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After the weakest slate of games of the season, we get back to some better competition this week. Most teams are now entering conference play, and there are three Top 25 matchups on tap. Here is what to watch for in Week 5:

Which Big-Name Team Can Step Up?

Oklahoma and Notre Dame are two of the most storied programs in football history, with 18 national championships and 12 Heisman winners between them. No. 22 Notre Dame suffered an early loss at the hands of No. 18 Michigan but is still very much in the mix for another BCS bowl bid. The No. 14 Sooners, meanwhile, find themselves in the unfamiliar position of being outside the Top 10 but still undefeated and holding title hopes of their own.

Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees had a rough outing last week in a win over Michigan State (14-of-34 for 142 yards) but has otherwise been solid, averaging 323 yards per game through his first three and throwing eight touchdowns. For Oklahoma, all eyes will be on quarterback Blake Bell, who was spectacular in his first career start against Tulsa (413 yards and four touchdowns). Bell will be making a big jump up in competition against a Notre Dame defense that has given up just 14.3 points and 303 yards per game in the Irish’s three wins this year.

LSU/Georgia: The Prodigal Son Returns

Three years ago, Zach Mettenberger lost the Georgia starting-quarterback job to Aaron Murray and was kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons just weeks later. He spent a year in junior college before transferring to LSU, where he then won the starting job. This week the former Bulldog returns to Georgia, with much more than payback on his mind. They may not get the attention Alabama does, but No. 6 LSU is very much in the national-title picture. This week’s game is their biggest hurdle to date, their first of a grueling gauntlet that includes matchups with ranked opponents in five of their next seven games.

Georgia is also still very much in the title hunt. Despite the early-season loss to Clemson, a win over then-No. 6 South Carolina and a favorable schedule (only one ranked opponent, No. 20 Florida, the rest of the regular season) make the Bulldogs a heavy favorite in the SEC East. This game is so big that Georgia coach Mark Richt has actually given Tammy Mettenberger—Zach’s mother and an administrative assistant in the UGA athletic department—the week off so no one has to worry about any divided loyalties.

Can Ohio State Be Stopped?

Despite an injury that kept quarterback Braxton Miller on the sideline the last two weeks, Ohio State hasn’t missed a beat. The Buckeyes are averaging almost 53 points per game and are in the top six nationally in both rushing offense and scoring. But this week’s matchup with No. 23 Wisconsin will be OSU’s first real test of the season. The Badgers boast one of the nation’s most potent running games, with Melvin Gordon and James White averaging a combined 266.5 yards and 15 points per game. Wisconsin is one controversial finish at Arizona State from being undefeated, but now faces its toughest hurdles of the regular season with back-to-back games against the No. 4 Buckeyes and No. 17 Northwestern.

Ohio State comes into the game with the nation’s ninth-rated rush defense, but the Buckeyes have not really been tested in that regard as they have beaten up on lesser opponents through four games this year. This game will be a good old-fashioned Big Ten game decided in the trenches, as two of the nation’s best rushing teams face off.

Is the Pac-12 More Than a Two-Horse Race?

While No. 2 Oregon and No. 5 Stanford understandably get all the hype, don’t sleep on No. 16 Washington in the Pac-12 title race just yet. The Huskies rank third nationally in total offense and can get off to their best start in 12 years with a win this week over Arizona. Moreover, Washington has a potent defense to go along with their offensive firepower, ranking eighth nationally in scoring defense. However, we’re about to find out just how good the Huskies really are, as they begin a daunting four-game stretch against Arizona, on the road at Stanford, Oregon and at Arizona State.

Can USC Air It Out?

Think about this one for a minute: USC—the school that in the last decade gave us Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez—currently ranks 110th nationally in passing. The Trojans average just over 163 yards per game through the air, and quarterback Cody Kessler has thrown only four touchdowns in four games. The once-high-powered offense currently ranks 93rd nationally in scoring and 108th in total offense. Thus far, the Trojans have managed a 3-1 record thanks to a weak nonconference schedule and a stout defense. But with talent like Biletnikoff-winning receiver Marquise Lee, it’s almost unthinkable that a team like USC can’t find ways to be successful through the air.  Unfortunately, things for the Trojans get more difficult this week with a trip to Arizona State followed by matchups with high-scoring Arizona and at No. 22 Notre Dame. While USC has enough talent to beat any of those teams, the Trojans will have to start getting better performances on offense if they want to compete in the Pac-12.

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