This article is part of our Start vs. Sit series.
The calendar is about to flip to October as we approach the midway point of the season. This week's slate of games features a number of marquee matchups that'll have major conference championship implications, such as Washington vs. Stanford, Clemson vs. Louisville, and Michigan vs. Stanford. We've also got plenty of other intriguing matchups to take advantage of and plenty of matchups to avoid.
PLAYERS TO STARTAAC
Braeden West, RB, SMU(@ Temple): West has stepped up nicely since Xavier Jones went down with a hamstring injury. Jones hasn't played since the season opener, which has opened the door for West and Ke'Mon Freeman to get carries out of the backfield. In fairness, most of West's production this season came in a 220-yard outing against Liberty, though he did average close to six yards per carry against Baylor in Week 2. There's no word yet on whether Jones will be back this week, but even if he is, West has likely done enough to see a strong share of the carries. Furthermore, Temple's run defense hasn't played anywhere close to its 2015 form, as the Owls are allowing more than 180 yards per game. West has the talent to take advantage of a favorable matchup this week, especially if Jones is still sidelined.F
Louisville Receivers (@ Clemson): The Cardinals' receiving corps has caught plenty of flak for, well, not catching the ball particularly well this season. The Syracuse game was a prime example of the Cards' receivers leaving a ton of yardage on the field with careless drops on well-thrown balls from Lamar Jackson. Another reason for hesitation might come from looking at Clemson's pass defense numbers. The Tigers secondary has allowed two touchdowns against a whopping seven picks while holding the opposition to a 47.3 completion percentage. Yes, Clemson has a talented bunch in the secondary, but they have yet to face a quarterback in the same stratosphere as Action Jackson. The best quarterback they've faced was Sean White, who was frequently subbed out for other signal callers during the season opener. Meanwhile, Jackson is a Heisman frontrunner with a dangerous group of deep threats. If you have the likes of James Quick, Jamari Staples, or Jaylen Smith, don't shy away from starting them against Clemson.
Jonathan Giles, WR, Texas Tech (vs. Kansas): Coming into the year, it was tough to predict who would emerge as the new No.1 receiver in the high-scoring Texas Tech offense. Through three games, Giles has taken up that mantle with 19 grabs for 346 yards and five scores. This week, Giles and the Red Raiders get to go against the hapless Jayhawks. Like the dodgeball scene in Billy Madison, now you're all in big, big trouble. Although Texas Tech will undoubtedly spread the ball around, Giles can do more than enough damage with even four or five catches. Yes, Kansas technically is giving up the fifth-least yards per game through the air, but that's due to their opening schedule against Rhode Island, Ohio, and Memphis. It'd be surprising if Texas Tech didn't eclipse the 405 total yards that Kansas has given up through the air. Start Giles on Saturday if you were lucky enough to nab him off the waiver wire.
Domonique Young, WR, Purdue (@ Maryland): Young is coming off his quietest outing of the young season, catching just three of six targets for 22 total yards against Nevada last Saturday. Prior to that game, Young had back-to-back eight-catch games totaling 210 yards and a score. Maryland has a decent secondary, but Young's size (6-2, 215) presents a mismatch –especially if the Terrapins match him up with cornerback William Likely. What makes Young even more appealing is that Purdue is chucking the ball more than anyone else in the Big Ten, averaging 44 attempts per game. Young should see plenty of downfield targets, and the odds are that he'll be able to capitalize on at least a few of them and possibly reach the end zone.
Ryan Higgins, QB, Louisiana Tech (vs. UTEP): Higgins had to sit out the first game of the season and threw a pair of picks against South Carolina State in his season debut, but the senior quarterback has found his groove in recent weeks. He's thrown for 1,224 yards, 10 touchdowns, and two picks on the season while completing 62.9 percent of his passes with an 8.6 YPA. This week he gets to face a UTEP defense that allows opposing quarterbacks a 150.66 QB rating, ranking them 105th in the nation. This figures to be a high-scoring affair seeing so look for Higgins to throw the ball a lot.
KeVonn Mabon, WR, Ball State (vs. Northern Illinois): It's been an extremely quick trip from the penthouse to the outhouse for Northern Illinois, which used to be one of the MAC's preeminent programs. An 0-4 start that includes a home loss to Western Illinois makes the Huskies a team to target. Enter Mabon, whose 23 catches through four games make him one of the most consistent receivers in the nation through the first four weeks of the season. His 11.3 yards/catchy and lack of touchdowns obviously leave something to be desired, but the 6-2 senior ought to get his break this week against NIU. Mabon has nearly twice as many receptions as any of his teammates and he's a near lock to continue that trend. What's more, the Huskies are giving up 262.8 yards per game through the air despite not really playing against any high-flying passing attacks, unless you count Wyoming. Look for Mabon to reach the end zone Saturday for the first time this season.
Lexington Thomas, RB, UNLV(vs. Fresno State): Thomas is quietly having one of the best seasons in the nation, let alone the Mountain West. He's ripping opposing defenses for 113 yards per game on 6.9 yards per carry, which is pretty impressive for a sophomore in his first season as the featured back. He'll face Fresno State at home Saturday and I have trouble believing that the Bulldogs will do much of anything other than help Thomas add to his gaudy numbers. Also, UNLV will be starting a redshirt freshman at quarterback with Johnny Stanton (knee) sidelined, so they're going to run the ball. RB James Butler of Nevada is another candidate for a huge game, but I wrote about him two weeks ago and he's playing against Hawai'i, which makes him a no-brainer.
Sam Darnold, QB, USC (vs. Arizona State): If you weren't already aware, Arizona State doesn't really play what most would refer to as defense. That sets up pretty well for a redshirt freshman who will be making his first career home start after being tasked with starting in a hostile environment at Utah last Friday night. Despite the tough matchup, Darnold was poised and impressive in the face of heavy pressure throughout the game, as he completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 253 yards (9.7 YPA). He even added 41 yards and a score on the ground against the Utes. A matchup against a decidedly weaker Sun Devils defense ought to result in a productive day for Darnold, who's clearly capable of doing damage as a runner and a passer.
Tennessee Wide Receivers (@ Georgia): It hurts to write this as a Georgia grad, but the Bulldogs started to get exposed in the secondary against Missouri before getting their doors completely blown off by Ole Miss and Chad Kelly last week. Georgia has struggled against big, physical receivers like Mizzou's J'Mon Moore or, well, every Ole Miss wideout. Tennessee has no shortage of big receivers that can create separation, and if the Vols can carry their momentum from last week's exceptional second half against Florida, things could get ugly in a hurry. Jauan Jennings and Josh Malone (both 6-3) showed they can create separation against Florida's elite cornerbacks, so they should be able to have a field day Saturday against a decidedly less cohesive and talented Georgia secondary. Quarterback Josh Dobbs' accuracy will be the key to Jennings and Malone taking over the game, but again, if Tennessee can carry over the momentum from last week, there should be no shortage of big plays for the Vols.
Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State (vs. Georgia State): With Marcus Cox's status looking doubtful for Saturday, the runway should be clear for Moore to take off once again. The sophomore has gotten a ton of work over the last two weeks with Cox sidelined with a leg injury. Appalachian State should have no trouble building an early lead on this hapless Georgia State team that's allowing an unfathomable 325 yards per game on the ground through three games. The Mountaineers coaching staff has no problem with feeding Moore the rock, as he took 39 carries for 257 yards and two scores in his start against Akron last week. He might not see the 39 carries again Saturday as App State should put this one away by the third quarter, but that'll still give Moore ample time to carve up the Panthers defense.
PLAYERS TO SITAAC
Noel Thomas, WR, Connecticut (@ Houston): Last week, Thomas found himself in the start category in this article and he was kind enough to answer the bell and rack up 14 grabs for 111 yards. The 14 grabs are extremely impressive, but the 7.9 yards/catch against an average Syracuse defense left something to be desired. He also has just one touchdown despite hauling in 40 receptions through his first four games. This week he draws a matchup against Houston, who has an extremely aggressive and opportunistic defense. Thomas will likely see plenty of targets again this week, but his catch rate may take a dip and his yards per reception will likely remain under 10. Also, if he can't score a touchdown on 14 grabs against Syracuse, it's difficult to see him fixing his touchdown woes against a superior Houston defense.
Matt Dayes, RB, North Carolina State (vs. Wake Forest): Don't get me wrong, Dayes is an excellent running back. He should probably be started on a weekly basis save for matchups against the ACC bluebloods. However, Wake Forest has a tough run defense that might slow Dayes' roll this week. He's been averaging a strong 6.1 yards/carry through his first three games, but he's faced the likes of William & Mary, East Carolina, and Old Dominion. Meanwhile, Wake Forest just held Devine Redding and Indiana to just 3.6 yards/carry on the road. This will be Dayes' toughest test yet by far, and he's worth considering leaving on the bench Saturday.
Mike Warren, RB, Iowa State (vs. Baylor): The Big 12's calling card is not defense, but Baylor's ability to slow the opposition's ground game has been impressive this season. Warren, who was one of the big surprises among the Big 12 running backs last season, has gotten off to a slow start this season and could be in for a long day Saturday. Not only is Baylor's run defense holding opponents to just 3.8 YPC, but the Bears' offense looks like it hasn't really lost a step from last year. Given how porous Iowa State's defense has been, this spells trouble for Warren's upside Saturday. Baylor should jump out to a big lead, forcing Iowa State to go to the air in catch-up mode. That'll limit Warren's chances, plus Baylor knows that Warren is the Cyclones' second-biggest threat on offense behind Allen Lazard, so the Bears will be scheming up to slow him down.
De'Veon Smith, RB, Michigan (vs. Wisconsin): Smith is coming off his best game of the season, taking 12 carries for 107 yards (8.9 YPC) and a touchdown against a depleted Penn State front seven. This week could be an entirely different story with the Badgers coming to Ann Arbor. Not only does Wisconsin have one of the best run defenses in the nation, holding teams to just 80.5 YPG on just 3.2 YPC, but Michigan's team context adds another reason for concern. The Wolverines run it about as much as anyone in the nation (42.5 attempts/game), but they have as deep a running back rotation as anyone in recent memory. Even their receivers and fullbacks get into the mix. There are simply too many cooks in the kitchen here for Smith to stand out. He may lead the team in carries, but leading the pack in this case might mean having just 12 carries against the stout Badger front.
Anthony Wales, RB, Western Kentucky (vs. Houston Baptist): This is a matter of snap count and opportunity in my mind. Wales has been the lead back for the Hilltoppers with 50 carries for 254 yards and four scores through the first month of the season. Western Kentucky is hosting an FCS team after three straight grueling contests and it has a pivotal matchup with Louisiana Tech on the other side of this Houston Baptist game. Methinks the Hilltoppers' first-team offense won't be on the field for very long Saturday, so that limits the upside for the likes of Wales, quarterback Mike White, and receivers Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris. Wales still has value moving forward thanks in part to D'Andre Ferby's slow-healing injury, but freshman Quinton Baker may be the better bet to see carries Saturday against Houston Baptist.
Cody Thompson, WR, Toledo (@ BYU): Thompson has been one of the most efficient and explosive receivers in the game to start the year, averaging an absurd 32.8 yards/reception over 11 catches while scoring three touchdowns. Those sorts of numbers are simply unsustainable over the course of an entire season, and I think we'll start to see them come back to earth this week in Provo. BYU doesn't necessarily have a lockdown defense, but its secondary has been tested by great quarterbacks early in the season with the likes of Anu Solomon, Josh Rosen, and Skyler Howard. While Logan Woodside is certainly a serviceable MAC QB, he's not quite in the same echelon as the aforementioned signal callers. BYU should be able to pressure Woodside and get him out of rhythm, making it tougher for him to hit Thompson for the big play Friday. Thompson should return to your starting lineups once conference play opens next week at Eastern Michigan.
Kent Myers, QB, Utah State (@Boise State): A glance at Boise State's pass defense numbers can be pretty misleading. The Broncos rank 112th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game at 285.7 and they rank dead last in completion percentage allowed at 71.0. Well, those numbers are completely skewed by their game against Washington State in which Luke Falk went 55-for-71 for 480 yards. It's Luke Falk. It's a Mike Leach offense. It happens. The Broncos have held their other two opponents under 200 yards through the air with a combined YPA of 5.6. Myers, though a talented player in his own right, is likely destined for a mediocre outing Saturday. Aside from his 360-yard display against USC in which he threw it 47 times, Myers has cracked the 200-yard mark just once this season. He also could have some trouble finding room to run against a swarming Boise front. In all, this is just a bad matchup on the road for Myers on Saturday.
Chico McClatcher, WR, Washington (vs. Stanford): This might be the matchup that decides the Pac-12 North now that Oregon has sufficiently had its wings clipped with two consecutive losses. Stanford, who has won three of the last four Pac-12 titles, presents possibly the biggest challenge Washington will face all year. McClatcher, who stands at just 5-7, 179 pounds, might have trouble getting separation from Stanford's big and talented secondary that starts two corners standing well over 6-0. Washington will need to be creative in order to get the ball to McClatcher due to the size mismatch he'll face. If Washington is able to move the ball through the air Friday, Dante Pettis and tight end Darrell Daniels will likely be the keys to doing so.
Drew Lock, QB, Missouri (@ LSU): Before you call this an obvious choice, remember that Lock is up to 1,508 yards (377/game) with 14 touchdowns against three interceptions through the first four games of the season. Sure, there have been some cupcakes mixed in there, but he has taken major strides physically from where he was a year ago when he looked like a deer in headlights. Obviously, LSU is off to a tough start this season, but having an interim coach like Ed Orgeron taking the reins should light a fire under the Bayou Bengals and playing at night in Death Valley is a nearly impossible task for LSU's foes regardless of how the season is going. Lock is suddenly looking like a promising quarterback for Mizzou, but this would be a week to leave him on the bench.
Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama (vs. San Diego State): As Everett goes, so does the South Alabama passing game as the talented tight end leads the Jaguars in receptions (21) yards (290) and touchdowns (2). Unfortunately, South Alabama draws a matchup with one of the best Group of Five teams in the nation this week with the Aztecs coming to town. The Aztecs play a suffocating brand of defense, and their pass defense numbers are inflated due to their one game against Cal in which Davis Webb threw for 522 yards. The Jaguars don't have a quarterback even close to the caliber as Webb, so this could be a long day for their passing attack. Even though Everett might still pace South Alabama in catches and yards Saturday, that doesn't necessarily equate to a strong fantasy output. Everett's position eligibility as a top flight tight end makes it difficult to bench him, but I'm sure there are plenty of under-the-radar tight ends sitting on your waiver wire that'll be worth streaming this week.