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College football Week 5 preview: Alabama faces first SEC road test, top-10 matchup in Death Valley

There are certain weekends during the college football season fans of the game live for. 

Rivalry week, conference championship Saturday and the College Football Playoff weekend all come to mind. 

And then there’s the regular season Saturday with a slate so loaded that even the casual fan has to take notice. 

Welcome to one of those Saturdays, folks. Go ahead and pinch yourself. It’s real. 

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There are five – count ’em, FIVE – top-25 matchups on the Week 5 docket, filling your day with wall-to-wall quality matchups. 

Let’s take a look at the games you should be keeping an eye on during Week 5 of the college football season. 

It’s the first time since 1958 the two teams will square off while both are in the top-25. Both the Rebels and Wildcats look to remain undefeated. 

There are multiple records on the line, with Ole Miss looking to extend its 12-game winning streak at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium – the longest since 1964 – and Kentucky searching for its ninth win in a row. 

It’s the start of the SEC schedule for Ole Miss as it looks for its first quality win of the season. The Rebels’ first four opponents are a combined 6-10 on the year. 

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The Rebels are fourth in the country in rushing yards per game (280.8 yards) and Kentucky is 33rd in rush defense, allowing 108.2 yards per game. 

“They are running the ball extremely effective, and when you can run the ball like that it obviously creates explosive plays in the pass game,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said Tuesday at his weekly press conference, according to 247 Sports. 

“They haven’t needed to rely on that as much in the first four games, but certainly they can do a lot of things and be as balanced as they want to be. They have two tremendous tailbacks, really three, but two that will play against us that are playing at a very high level along with their quarterback.”

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For Kentucky, senior running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. will make his season debut after missing the first four games due to an NCAA matter. Rodriguez is the SEC’s leading returning rusher from 2021. 

“He’s such a great weapon to include in this offense and has been itching to get back out there and has been practicing and preparing mentally and staying sharp,” Kentucky QB Will Levis said, according to ESPN. “He’s out there on a mission … and we’re pumped to have him back.”

If not for a wild play by Texas A&M, this would more than likely be a top-10 matchup in Fayetteville, Arkansas. 

Arkansas lost 23-21 in Week 4, allowing a 97-yard fumble return for a touchdown late in the second quarter with a chance to go up 21-7. It was a mistake that flipped momentum, and Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman knows that mistakes against a Nick Saban-led team will doom anyone. 

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“You have to play a really clean game,” Pittman said of Alabama this week, according to 247 Sports. “You can’t turn the ball over. You have to convert situational football. You have to score touchdowns in the red zone. You have to make your 3rd and 1’s. If you go for it on fourth, you have to (convert it). They’re just a really good team that you can’t make mistakes against because, if you do, they’re like piranhas. They feast on that.”

The Razorbacks will be looking to end a 15-game losing streak to Saban’s Crimson Tide, with their last win coming in 2006, a year prior to Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa. 

Alabama got a tough test from Arkansas in 2021, winning 42-35 at home. 

“Psychologically, I think everyone has to know this is the toughest challenge of the year,” Saban said.

The Arkansas offense is explosive, ranking third in the SEC with 11 plays of 30 or more yards. The running game is ninth in the country in yards per game (243.8) and running back Raheim Sanders is leading the SEC in yards. 

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The rushing attack will face its toughest test of the season, going against an Alabama defense allowing just 62.5 yards rushing per game, fourth best in the country. 

“I tell people all the time, the audacity for the other team to even step on the field is disrespectful to me,” Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. said. “I think people ask me what motivates me, and I say, ‘The audacity for the fans to show up and for the team to come step on the field and play.’ That’s my own little thing in my head that I do.”

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young threw for an Alabama-record 559 yards in last year’s win over Arkansas. 

The last time these two teams played it was in the 2021 Big 12 Championship, and Oklahoma State came up inches short of the Big 12 title. 

“We use it to fuel us,” Cowboys running back Dominic Richardson said this week.

Mike Gundy’s offense is rolling, averaging 51.6 points per game, best in the country. Quarterback Spencer Sanders has thrown for 916 yards and 10 touchdowns in three games. 

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“We let him do whatever he wants to do,” Gundy said this week, according to 247 Sports. “He goes at it, has fun. He still does some things. He’s a risk-taker. He’ll run more, takes more hits than he should. He’ll throw into coverage some, but it’s kind of the way it is. We have a lot of confidence in him allow him to go out and make his plays.”

But Baylor has been able to slow Sanders down historically, forcing the preseason All-Big 12 quarterback into seven interceptions in three games, including four in last year’s championship game. 

Baylor head coach Dave Aranda knows that every game is different, and that last year’s massive win over the Cowboys has nothing to do with Saturday. 

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“Offensively, quarterback really stands out,” Aranda said this week. “Really playing fast, looks faster, playing confident. I think they’ve got a running back by committee that’s been really successful.”

It’s a matchup of two different styles as Aranda’s defense – allowing 305.3 yards per game – attempts to slow down Gundy’s high-powered offense (511.3 yards per game).

It’s the first top-10 matchup in the history of the Textile Bowl, a rivalry that dates all the to 1899. 

Clemson has been here before under head coach Dabo Swinney, winning two of the eight CFP national championships. The Tigers own a 36-game winning streak at home and are 4-1 at home in undefeated matchups where both teams are 4-0 or better. 

The Tigers are coming off of a thrilling 51-45 double overtime victory over Wake Forest. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is playing significantly better after a 2021 season that saw him throw more interceptions than touchdowns. 

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Uiagalelei has thrown for 1033 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception, including five touchdowns in Week 4. 

“After four games, if you don’t recognize this kid’s special ability, then you’re blind,” Swinney said, according to ESPN. “You just want something else to write about. Hopefully, everybody can tear up all those articles you’ve written, or take some ownership for them at this point.”

For N.C. State, this is all new as they enter their first ever AP top-10 matchup. 

The Wolfpack defense – second in the ACC in yards allowed per game (261.5 yards per game) – will be tasked with slowing down Uiagalelei and the Clemson offense.

“We understand who we’re playing,” N.C. State linebacker Isaiah Moore told ESPN. “We understand the magnitude of the game. We’re not going to sit here and try to ignore it. It’s there, but the biggest thing is to not let that affect how we go about every day. We have to continue to go about what we’ve been preaching all year, and we’ll be ready for Saturday.”

N.C. State quarterback Devin Leary is 16-3 as the starter in Raleigh, throwing for 890 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. The Wolfpack won last year’s matchup 27-21 in double overtime. 

“We expected to be in this position, heading into the season, being 4-0,” Leary said this week, according to Inside Pack Sports. “But obviously there’s still a lot of room for us to improve. Each and every week we walk off the field, obviously, excited and proud of what we’ve done, but at the same time we’re our biggest critique. We know how many plays we left on the field and our goal is to just get better each and every week.” 

Other games of note: 

No. 23 Florida State vs. No. 22 Wake Forest – 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Iowa vs No. 4 Michigan – 12 p.m. ET, FOX

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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