College football games and players to watch, plus early 2023 NFL draft picks – The Denver Post


Welcome to The Top 25, a weekly rundown of the best of college football.

Each week, The Baltimore Sun will break down the top games, players and teams to watch, from the Power Five to the Group of Five. Here’s what to know for Week 5:

5 games to watch

No. 7 Kentucky at No. 14 Ole Miss (Saturday, noon, ESPN): While quarterbacks Will Levis and Jaxson Dart will deservedly get most of the attention, it might be the running backs who decide this one. Kentucky’s Chris Rodriguez, the leading returning rusher in the SEC, is back from his suspension, while Ole Miss’ Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans look to continue their hot start after combining for nearly 800 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in the first four games.

No. 2 Alabama at No. 20 Arkansas (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS): The Razorbacks were a fumble at the goal line away from beating Texas A&M and staying undefeated. They’ll have to regroup quickly against an Alabama team that is rounding into form after an early-season scare against Texas.

No. 9 Oklahoma State at No. 16 Baylor (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Fox): The rematch of last year’s Big 12 championship game unsurprisingly has big implications for the conference title race. The Cowboys are coming off a bye and looking for revenge after last year’s title hopes ended just inches short of the goal line in a 21-16 loss to the Bears.

No. 22 Wake Forest at No. 23 Florida State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC): The Seminoles are off to an impressive 4-0 start under coach Mike Norvell, but they haven’t faced an offense quite like Wake Forest’s. The Demon Deacons scored 45 points in a double-overtime loss to Clemson as quarterback Sam Hartman threw an ACC-record six touchdown passes.

No. 10 NC State at No. 5 Clemson (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ABC): This is an inflection point for NC State, which has a chance to prove its lofty preseason ranking was justified. Clemson’s offense looks much improved behind quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei and should test a Wolfpack defense that ranks eighth in ESPN’s SP+, a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of efficiency.

5 players to watch

Iowa LB Jack Campbell (vs. No. 4 Michigan): The senior is not only a reliable run defender, but excellent in pass coverage, allowing only 39 yards on nine targets this season, according to Pro Football Focus. If he can help shut down Michigan’s offense, Iowa might have a chance.

Mississippi State QB Will Rogers (vs. No. 17 Texas A&M): The junior has taken full command of coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, leading the country in touchdown passes (16) and ranking second in passing yards (1,386). How he handles one of the country’s best defenses will decide this game.

California RB Jaydn Ott (at Washington State): The true freshman broke out in a 49-31 win over Arizona, rushing for 274 yards — the third most in school history — and three touchdowns. The former four-star recruit chose Cal over top programs like Oregon, Southern California and BYU, giving the Golden Bears one of their most exciting players in years.

Navy QB Tai Lavatai (at Air Force): Lavatai delivered with his arm in a 23-20 double-overtime win over East Carolina, completing seven of 10 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. He might need to connect on a few more deep passes to beat rival Air Force, which has scored 40 or more points in its three wins.

Oregon State TE Luke Musgrave (at No. 12 Utah): The 6-foot-6, 250-pound junior already has 11 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown this season, perhaps drawing the attention of NFL scouts. He’s an important part of the Beavers’ ascension under coach Jonathan Smith.

5 big underdogs who could keep it close

Northwestern (+26.5) at No. 11 Penn State: After losses to FCS Southern Illinois and Miami-Ohio, the Wildcats look like one of the worst teams in the Power Five. But Penn State has occasionally struggled as big favorites under coach James Franklin, including last year’s nine-overtime loss to Illinois.

Rutgers (+40) at No. 3 Ohio State: The Scarlet Knights are 3-1 and only gave up 27 points to Iowa because of two defensive touchdowns. The Buckeyes’ offense looks unstoppable, but Rutgers’ defense ranks 32nd in SP+ and could hold its own.

Stanford (+17) at No. 13 Oregon: The Ducks have scored 40 points or more in their last three games and the Cardinal have allowed 40 or more in two straight, but this is usually a close fight. Stanford has won four of the past six meetings, including an upset of No. 3 Oregon last season.

Navy (+14) at Air Force: The service academy rivalry games are always unpredictable. The Midshipmen have lost by a combined 53 points in the past two meetings, but this is a desperate Navy team looking to turn its season around.

Georgia Southern (+10.5) at Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers are 4-0 but have not been nearly as dominant as expected. The Eagles have found immediate success behind Buffalo transfer quarterback Kyle Vantrease and could take advantage of Coastal’s soft defense.

5 stats leaders you should know

Passing yards: Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. (1,388)

The Indiana transfer has thrown for at least 300 yards in all four starts, including 397 in a win over Michigan State.

Rushing yards: Illinois RB Chase Brown (604)

Brown has at least 100 yards in every game this season while averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

Receiving yards: SMU WR Rashee Rice (565)

Rice is averaging 141.3 yards per game and has caught a touchdown pass in three of four games.

Touchdowns: Michigan RB Blake Corum (9)

The former St. Frances Academy star is averaging 7.5 yards per carry and has scored at least one touchdown in all four games.

Sacks: Michigan State LB Jacoby Windmon and Arkansas LB Drew Sanders (5 1/2)

Windmon had four sacks in the season opener, while Sanders has recorded at least half a sack in all four games.

Projected top 5 picks in 2023 NFL draft

Note: The draft order is determined by ESPN’s Football Power Index projections.

1. Houston Texans: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

Davis Mills has outperformed expectations for a third-round pick, but he’s not the long-term answer. Stroud is once again putting up huge numbers and showing the ability to make high-level throws.

2. Seattle Seahawks: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

Levis’ combination of arm strength and rushing ability will vault him up draft boards come the spring. Geno Smith has done an admirable job as the starter, but it’s hard to see Seattle passing on a quarterback if they pick this high.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers: Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama

If Anderson lands in Pittsburgh to pair with reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, you’re looking at the best pass-rushing duo in the league.

4. New York Jets: Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

With Mekhi Becton missing another season due to injury and George Fant in the final year of his deal, the Jets need help at tackle. Skoronski hasn’t allowed a single pressure on 155 pass-blocking snaps this season, according to PFF.

5. Atlanta Falcons: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

Carter was perhaps the best defensive lineman on a 2021 national championship team that included first-round picks Travon Walker and Jordan Davis. He’d form a fearsome tandem with Grady Jarrett in the middle of the Falcons’ defense.



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