The Complete Guide to College Football, Week Five Edition

We're one-third of the way through the season. What have we learned so far?

It’s been four-ish weeks since college football season began. We know a lot about our teams, yet still we have so little of the big picture. For instance, we know that Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State really are that good. We also know Notre Dame and Oklahoma aren’t the world beaters they typically are, but we knew that going into the season.

But there’s still so much we don’t know about the end of the season, like the fate of the many Pac-12 teams who emerged from out-of-conference play with a lot of hype and some impressive wins. Who’s going to be the top dog in the Pac-12, when there are 4, maybe 5 contenders for the conference title? In the ACC, Clemson only has a few legitimate challenges left on the schedule–how are we supposed to know if they’re good when the ACC is the weakest power conference in football from top to bottom? And, in the Big 12, we have to answer the perennial question: is Texas back? Will they ever be back?

The intra-conference action began slowly, with a nice chunk of games between conference opponents. But this week, the intra-conference play is out in full force, and we’ll finally find out just how good some of these new challengers — Minnesota, Kansas, etc. — really are. Get excited!

 

Recapping Week 4

 

The Good:

Upsets! While some teams, like Clemson, Tennessee, and Oregon, were able to survive a feisty challenge from lower-ranked teams, several others weren’t so fortunate.

First of all, the Texas Tech/Texas game was over when Ric Flair showed up with this ice:

Why’d they even play the game if he was gonna show up so dripped out?

Anyway, the Red Raiders played a strong 4 quarters. Poor Tech QB Donovan Smith threw the ball until his arm fell off (56 times), connecting with TTU receivers on 38 of those throws for 331 total yards. He also tacked on 2 TDs in the ultimate “Kobe” game: lots of volume and good-looking numbers, until you take even a second look at how inefficiently the points were racked up. Tech’s offense was bottled up well enough that the Longhorns actually led 24-14 at halftime. Backup QB Hudson Card was able to piece together 277 passing yards and 2 TDs and actually racked up a better QBR than Smith despite throwing the rock half as often, while Texas RB Bijan Robinson efficiently hit the century mark in rushing yards. Texas let the lead slip away in the third and fourth, but was able to tie the game in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter with a field goal.

Tech was able to stop Texas’ offense in overtime before kicking a field goal of their own to win it. And then, pandemonium:

Texas Tech is 3-1, and while they don’t really deserve to be ranked, the Red Raiders sure are looking like one of those teams you wouldn’t want to play on any given Saturday. I wouldn’t challenge a team willing to throw the ball in any and all situations; you’re bound to give up a big play or two or three to that kind of offense.

The other big upset of the day was also over a future SEC team, Oklahoma. Kansas State’s offense ran all over the Oklahoma defense, racking up 275 yards on 49 carries for an average of 5.6 yards per carry. Oh, and they scored four rushing TDs. Nebraska escapee and current K-State QB Adrian Martinez carried the freight through the air and on the ground, throwing the ball for 234 yards and rushing for an additional 148 yards and all four of those rushing TDs. Perhaps Martinez saw what the Sooners did to his old teammates at Nebraska and took that personally. However he found the motivation, it was plenty good enough for the Wildcats.

Fun Fact:

The puzzling thing about this K-State squad is that last week, their game was the equivalent of a wet fart, as the Wildcats scored just 10 points against Tulane in a 17-10 dud. No disrespect to the Green Wave, as they grade out as a fairly decent G5 squad, but if Kansas State can drop 41 on Oklahoma in Norman with ease, what the heck happened against Tulane?

Losing very winnable games to Tech and K-State can’t feel good or look good for Texas and Oklahoma, especially when they will face far better teams in the SEC very soon. If they can’t close out against Texas Tech and Kansas State, how will Texas and Oklahoma fare against teams like Ole Miss, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas? When they join the SEC, Texas and OU won’t have the added luxury of beating up on the rest of their conference to rack up 8-9 wins a season; no win–except the free space against Vanderbilt–comes that easy in the SEC. We’re only 4 games into the season, but I can’t say I’d be excited for SEC football play if I was a Texas/Oklahoma fan.

Other upsets:

  • #23 Texas A&M held on to beat #10 Arkansas at AT&T Stadium (Jerry World, as it is affectionately known).
  • Middle Tennessee State cruised to a victory against #25 Miami at Hard Rock Stadium, 45-31.

Kansas! The Jayhawks are now 4-0 after beating Duke on Saturday, 35-27. The last time Kansas won 4 games in a football season (remember, they play 12 every year) was 2008. That year, the Jayhawks went 8-5, peaked at #13 in the AP Poll, and won what is now known as the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. It doesn’t even matter what they do the rest of the season because Head Coach Lance Leipold has shown that this team is moving in the right direction and that he’s building something special in Lawrence, provided he’s around long enough to see it to completion.

Ignore the many missed tackles and just enjoy Kansas playing well here:

Rock Chalk!

Western Kentucky: Holy cow, the Hilltoppers can play! This week, WKU recovered from their tight loss to Indiana in Bloomington to crush Florida International, 73-0. By halftime, Big Red led the Panthers 42-0. WKU is now 3-1 heading into an out-of-conference matchup with Troy, and look like they will be a force to be reckoned with in Conference USA play. The Hilltoppers also have a strange 13-game schedule this season, as they will play a full 8 games against conference opponents and have another out-of-conference game towards the end of the season against Auburn.

Surprisingly Surging Teams:

  • UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels are slowly but surely returning to relevance after toiling in obscurity for a decade. Now 3-1, the Rebels haven’t won more than 5 games since 2017, and haven’t posted a winning record since 2013.  They have already surpassed their win total from the last two seasons combined (2 total Ws). And, speaking of winning records, the Rebels have posted a .500 or better record just three times in the 21st century. We can probably call this season a success already, but then we’d be ignoring some very winnable games against New Mexico, Hawaii, and their intra-state rival, Nevada.
  • LSU: After that heartbreaking Week 1 loss to Florida State, the Tigers have ripped off three straight wins and are hot heading into SEC play. Unfortunately, the Tigers will play a slate of SEC opponents that includes five ranked teams, plus an always-difficult game against Florida. We will have a really good idea of the strength of this program by Week 6, after their game against #8 Tennessee.
  • South Alabama: The Jaguars have only been in FBS play since 2012, so they don’t have a lot of history to measure up against. In fact, the record for most wins in a season for any South Alabama team is just 6, so the bar is quite low for a successful season for the Jags. But this season’s iteration is already well on their way to the best season in school history. Through 4 games, the Jaguars have a 3-1 record and a point differential of +79, and their only loss came by just a point to UCLA in Los Angeles (Pasadena, really, but who’s keeping track?). The model projects the Jaguars to coast to 10-11 wins, which would put them squarely in contention for their first Sun Belt conference title and maybe even a shot at a New Year’s Six game.
  • Florida State: This ‘Noles team is looking quite good after a blowout win over Boston College. 4-0 and a chance to prove that they deserve that #23 ranking in the AP Poll next week against Wake Forest? What more could you ask for?

 

The Bad:

Appalachian State: I love the James Madison Dukes and want them to win as much as the next guy, but when you’re up 28-10 at halftime and put up 28 points in a single quarter to do so, you’d better win that game! In fact, the Mountaineers allowed JMU right back into the game, watching the Dukes put up 22 unanswered points to steal a win in Boone.

You’re darn right this team can compete with any G5 school. We’re going to be robbed of an epic matchup in bowl season when the Dukes are ineligible to participate.

App. State got stuck in another close game, with their luck swinging the opposite direction to the week prior. The Mountaineers have now played 4 straight 1-score games, winning 2 and losing 2 (perfectly balanced!). They could be 4-0 right now, with wins over UNC, Texas A&M, and James Madison, but are instead looking to recuperate against The Citadel after blowing a very winnable game. When will the Mountaineers give their fans’ hearts some help?

Another FCS Upset: For shame, Colorado State! You scheduled this one hoping to pick up a nice easy win at home and sending away Sacramento State with a nice, fat paycheck. Instead, you’re saddled with an embarrassing 41-10 defeat to the 3-0 FCS Sacramento State. Colorado State is now 0-4 and heads into conference play desperately searching for a win.

East Carolina, Losers of the Sea Battle: The Pirates fell to the previously winless Midshipmen at home in Greenville, in a battle of two seafaring mascots. Navy, who failed to beat FCS Delaware a few weeks ago, held Senior QB Holton Ahlers and the Pirates, who played then-#13 NC State to a 21-20 loss, to just 20 points across 4 quarters and 2 overtime periods. That was probably not the entrance into American conference play ECU envisioned, but they’ll have a chance to make a second first impression against a struggling South Florida squad.

Ranked Team Wins that Feel More Like Losses:

  • #7 USC scraped by unranked Oregon State thanks to 14 4th-quarter points. The Trojans needed some very late heroics from QB Caleb Williams, who was 16-36 for just 180 yards, to overcome the Beavers in Corvallis. This one probably feels okay for the Trojan faithful, because they won an away game late, but Oregon State isn’t the cream of the crop in the Pac-12, and USC will need to beat those guys to truly be “back.”
  • #11 Tennessee holds on for dear life against #20 Florida. With 7:55 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Vols led, 38-21, and it looked like they were cruising to a comfortable win to open SEC play. Then, the Gators scored twice in 5 minutes, recovered an onside kick with 17 seconds remaining, and were in field goal range with approximately 2 chances at an end zone Hail Mary. However, the Vols forced an incomplete pass on 1st down, with 6 seconds remaining, and then intercepted Anthony Richardson’s next pass to finally clinch the W. Way too close for comfort!
  • #15 Oregon squeaked by Washington State by the skin of their teeth, scoring 29 fourth quarter points to overcome a 27-15 deficit. With a minute to play, the Cougars were driving down the field, hoping to put a stake in the heart of the Ducks’ last playoff hopes, but a Mase Funa pick-six put the Ducks up 10 and iced the game once and for all.

 

Ranking the Top 25 and Bottom 10 Teams

 

Top 25:

Adam’s Top 25 Ranking

Also “Receiving Votes” (in no particular order):

  • Washington State
  • LSU
  • Syracuse
  • Kansas
  • UCLA
  • James Madison

These teams have the records to be in consideration for Top 25. But they haven’t done enough with the teams they’ve played against to reach Top 25 status. UCLA, for example, has beaten 3 teams very easily and survived a feisty-and-surprisingly-good South Alabama Squad. They’ve been scoring with ease against the bottom of FBS, but it’s hard to judge them against another Top 25 team because they really haven’t played anyone of high quality yet.

Similarly, while I’ve devoted plenty of space to Kansas in this column before and love what the Jayhawks are building, they haven’t played a team that could seriously contend for Top 25 status. Even in KU’s win against Duke this week, Kansas won by just 8, indicating that this team may not have the “juice” to compete for wins against the top 20% of FBS schools.

I’m interested to see what James Madison gets up to this year. The Dukes only just moved into FBS, so they’re ineligible to compete for a conference championship (they’re calling it a “transition year”), which is a travesty because the Dukes look fantastic. They just beat Appalachian State, a high-quality G5 school, have crushed their other opponents, as any good team would, and look like they’re on track for 9-10 wins, despite playing only 11 games this season, instead of the normal 12.

Teams I’m more optimistic about than AP voters are: Minnesota and Florida State. After the seasons both have had thus far, with Minnesota manhandling its opponents early on and Florida State beating two talented and feisty teams in LSU and Louisville, I am surprised both squads haven’t received a greater vote share from AP voters.

Yes, Florida State has beaten both LSU and Louisville in one-score games, but they look composed in those spots, which has given me the confidence to rank them where I have. Up next, the ‘Noles have a three-game set against AP #22 Wake Forest, #10 NC State, and #5 Clemson, which will give us a greater understanding of the team’s true talent level at the halfway mark of the season. If the ‘Noles can win maybe 2 of these games, they will absolutely warrant this ranking and then some.

Minnesota, meanwhile, has not played a close game yet, which partially has to do with their early opponents (bottom-10 FBS New Mexico State, FCS Western Illinois, bottom-10-ish Colorado) and partially due to their success in all facets of the game. Minnesota finally got to play a Power 5-caliber school in Michigan State last weekend and dominated the Spartans, holding them to 7 garbage time points and scoring 34 on a solid Spartans defense. In fact, Gophers QB Tanner Morgan completed over 90% of his passes and threw for 3 touchdowns, while Minnesota’s running backs combined for over 200 rushing yards. It’s hard to find a fault with this squad, and I’m surprised that AP voters continue to hold them down in the poll.

Teams I’m pessimistic about: BYU. I’ve devoted a lot of time in this column to BYU in previous weeks, so if you’re curious, check out those for more information.

Upset with my rankings? Call me out on Twitter or Reddit at @MrAdster99.

Adam’s Bottom 10 Ranking

The list of college football rejects saw a nice shakeup this week, as some teams were able to climb out of the pit with a win! ULM, Buffalo, and UTEP are no longer in the bottom 10, thanks to big wins over Louisiana, Eastern Michigan, and Boise State, respectively.

It was more of the same for the bottom 4 teams on this list, who continued to torture their fanbases, assuming there are even fanbases for UConn and UMass football:

Florida International, who lost 73-0 to Western Kentucky last week, is only in the second-worst spot in FBS because UMass continues to stink to high heaven, falling to bottom-25 team Temple to drop to 0-4. Meanwhile, we have a surprise Power 5 guest in Colorado, who flopped against UCLA in Boulder last week, losing 45-17 and falling to 0-4 on the year. There aren’t any wins tucked into the Buffaloes schedule anywhere, as Colorado now has to face the full slate of Pac-12 opponents, all of whom grade out much higher than the Buffs.

 

Projecting the CFP

 

This is how I expect the College Football Playoff to look after the dust settles on selection day in December. It’s not just a reflection of how I think these teams have played through 4 weeks of games, it also factors in their remaining strength of schedule, injuries, possibility of winning a conference championship, and more.

1. Georgia

Same old, same old! The Bulldogs cruised to a win against Kent State this week and have looked immortal through 4 games this season. The ‘Dawgs get a cupcake matchup against Missouri, followed by a matchup against the very beatable Auburn Tigers, so Georgia may be at 6-0 without having to break a sweat.

2. Ohio State (2a)/Michigan (2b)

Both teams look great so far, although Michigan probably got a little more resistance out of Maryland than it initially thought last week. This ranking won’t change until one of these teams slip up or we see a result from The Game in November.

3. Alabama

‘Bama still looks great after getting a nice tune-up win over Vanderbilt last week. Things get a little tougher next week, as Alabama travels to Fayetteville to take on #20 Arkansas. Perhaps Arkansas will put up a bit of a fight and make this one interesting!

4. Clemson

These guys just don’t go away, huh? Wake Forest made the Tigers look very beatable, but the Deacons just couldn’t execute in overtime and let Clemson slip away with the win. Unfortunately, this gives the Tigers a quality win for their resume, so it will be hard to claim that Clemson “hasn’t played anybody good.” Next week, the Tigers get what will likely be their most difficult matchup of the season, a home game against #10 NC State.

Others to Watch for the CFP: USC, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Penn State, Kansas

Bowl Projections After Week 4

 

Bowl projections are difficult enough to do even 6 weeks into the season because it requires a lot of guesswork about the Playoff Committee’s opinion of Playoff-contending teams, and the Committee is famously made up of humans, not computers with predictable algorithms. Bowl matchups, especially the ones closer to New Year’s Day, are heavily dependent on the Top 25 and Playoff rankings from the Committee. When one team moves up into the top four in the country, it creates a ripple effect that changes other bowl matchups, making a projection of the Playoff picture essential to the Bowl Projections.

Further adding to the guesswork is the lack of transparency behind the bowl selection process. Many conferences choose to move teams around to different bowl matchups based on factors like geography, travel time, opponent (which makes bowl matchup selection confusingly circular), TV timeslot, and payout. There’s no strict connection between record and bowl placement. Some bowls do have “tie-ins,” where the bowl will specifically agree with a conference to only select teams from that conference to play in the bowl game. For example, the Rose Bowl generally features the best team from the Pac-12 and the best team from the Big Ten. However, those games are few and far between.

ESPN has the right to move certain teams into one of their own bowl matchups, so even though certain conferences have a specific number of tie-ins to fill, they may not meet that obligation because ESPN could move a team out of an official bowl tie-in and into one of ESPN’s own bowls at a more advantageous time slot. Bowl season is big money, folks.

So, with all of that out of the way, here are my latest bowl projections for the 2022-23 season:

Bowl Projections After Week 4

 

Feature Image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)

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