The Complete Guide to College Football, Week Six Edition

How are the conference races shaping up after five weeks? Find out below...

No fancy intro is needed this week. Let’s get right to it.

 

Recapping Week 5

 

The Good:

Alabama: Listen, I know we’re all sick of the Tide, but even the biggest haters have to respect just how darn good this team is year-in and year-out, especially with 25-30% of the roster turning over in any given year. That was apparent last week, as star ‘Bama QB Bryce Young left the game with an AC joint injury in the first half against Arkansas. He was 7/13 for 173 passing yards, a TD, and an INT, and Alabama led 14-0 when he departed.

Even with the backup QB — Jalen Milroe — in under center, the Tide still managed to tack on an additional 35 points to 20th-ranked Arkansas’ 26 over the remaining 40-or-so minutes. The final score: 49-26.

A lot of ‘Bama’s success came thanks to RB Jahmyr Gibbs, who totaled an eye-popping 206 yards on 18 carries (11.4 YPC!) and added 2 TDs.

I regret to inform the haters and losers that not only does Alabama have a Top-5 QB in football, but they also have a Top-5 RB.

Milroe, the true freshman, wasn’t superb as a passer, going 4/9 for 65 yards and a passing TD. But he was excellent as a runner, including this scramble to erase whatever hope the Razorbacks had of erasing their deficit:

Milroe is going to be very difficult to account for in the offense next year. He was outrunning most of that Arkansas defense and looked elusive once he got into the second level of the play. Opposing coordinators will have to worry about Milroe’s arm — I’m assuming he has a good one if he’s an Alabama recruit — and his speed on the ground… plus Alabama’s stable of 5-star running backs.

No matter the quarterback, the Tide will regularly be in contention for the NCAA title until the heat death of the universe.

Also Good:

UCLA: Pac-12 home teams are 17-7 in Friday night games over the last five years, which probably gave all 3 Bruins fans some optimism heading into the matchup.

But, in recent years, with some friendly schedule adjustments, the home-field advantage has been slightly less pronounced, as home teams were winning a shade over half of these road games. Plus, the Huskies were coming off huge wins over Michigan State and Stanford. They were 4-0, ranked 15th in the country, and had a very talented QB in Michael Penix Jr. What could go wrong?

Enter Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR):

Oh yeah, and DTR threw for 315 yards and 3 passing TDs on 24/33 attempts. He also tacked on 53 rushing yards on 10 attempts and the previously-shown rushing TD. When Washington called, DTR answered, and thanks to his many highlight-reel plays, the Bruins rolled out to a 40-16 lead with 3-plus minutes left in the 3rd quarter.

The final score says 40-32, but now-#18 UCLA had this one wrapped up early and was playing prevent defense for the final quarter, which allowed the Huskies to tack on a couple touchdowns at the end. UCLA takes on #11 Utah next week in what will be a very important showdown in the battle for Pac-12 supremacy.

 

Formerly underrated Big 12 teams: TCU crushed preseason Big 12 favorite Oklahoma, dropping 55 points on the hapless Sooners defense. The game was over after the first quarter, as the Horned Frogs scored 27 points to Oklahoma’s 10. But, in case that wasn’t enough, TCU would tack on two more TDs in the second quarter, making it a 41-17 lead at halftime. 

The team posted a huge win, but the social media team was also collecting Ws of its own with its captions:

Yankees OF Aaron Judge was chasing a single-season home run record (he was trying to hit 62 home runs) on Saturday, so ESPN was cutting away from college games — in the midst of the action sometimes! — on all of its different channels to show Judge’s at-bats, which led TCU to tweet this banger halfway through their game:

TCU jumped to 17th in the AP Poll after the win.

Elsewhere in the Big 12, Kansas continued its return to football legitimacy with a huge win over Iowa State. The Jayhawks scored just two TDs, both in the second quarter, and that’s all they needed to improve to 5-0.

Well, that’s not all they needed. ISU’s kicker missed three field goals to help Kansas win this one, including a possible game-tying field goal with less than a minute to go in the fourth:

Kansas was outgained in total yards, 303-213, and had only 10 first downs to ISU’s 20, indicating that Kansas was a little outclassed by Iowa State in this game. It’s hard to take a lot of optimism out of the Jayhawks’ performance here, especially considering how lucky they were to win, but to get to 5-0 you have to be a little lucky.

Conveniently enough, TCU and Kansas will face off next week, with ESPN’s College Gameday in attendance. It should tell us a lot about the hierarchy of an upside-down Big 12 this season.

Ranked Teams Takin’ Care of Business: Every day! Every way!

  • Michigan: Ranked teams often have trouble playing at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, which has led to some embarrassing, season-derailing losses to the Hawkeyes. The Wolverines showed they were a step above that, handling Iowa’s unimaginative offense, 27-14.
  • Clemson: The Tigers dispatched of #10 NC State without much issue. Clemson scored a touchdown with 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter to make it 13-10, and they never trailed again. The Tigers look like the well-oiled machine that they were with Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence again.
  • Wake Forest: A week after getting dispatched by Clemson on their home turf, the Demon Deacons took care of upstart Florida State, 31-21. The Deacs trailed for all of 11 minutes of the game, and punched in score after score against the Seminoles’ defense.
  • Oklahoma State: The Cowboys had their best performance of the young season, dropping 36 points on a normally-stout Baylor defense. OSU, TCU, and Kansas are now the only undefeated teams left in the Big 12, and the Cowboys take on Texas Tech next week to try to improve to 5-0.

 

The Bad:

Kentucky: The Wildcats headed into this game ranked 7th in the country, their best AP poll ranking since 1977. This matchup presented a wonderful opportunity to pick up a quality win over #14 Ole Miss and prove to AP voters that they deserved that #7 ranking before strolling into another winnable game against unranked South Carolina.

Instead, the Wildcats were stifled by a strong performance from Ole Miss’s defense. Kentucky couldn’t get much going on the ground, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry on 37 carries. QB Will Levis totaled just 220 passing yards, fumbled the ball away twice, and took a nice big safety in the second quarter:

But, it’s tough to put all of Kentucky’s offensive struggles on Levis, given the finger injury he sustained mid-game:

It’s a wonder that he was able to stay in and keep Kentucky in contention for the win even with his injury. In fact, Levis was able to pull Kentucky into a 19-19 tie with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter. Many props to Levis for his toughness, but the rest of the offense forgot to display that same level of grit and perseverance, as the offense disappeared in the final quarter, which is what ultimately doomed them against the Rebels. The Wildcats’ path to an SEC championship appearance seems incredibly narrow moving forward, with games still to come against #23 Mississippi State, #8 Tennessee, and #2 Georgia.

Minnesota: Well, a week after playing themselves into favorites for the Big Ten West title, the Gophers stuck themselves back in the thick of the divisional race with a flop of a game against Purdue. Minnesota hadn’t scored less than 30 points in each of their first 4 games, but managed only 10 against the Boilermakers. Now, we have a mess of Big Ten West teams who are 1-1. In fact, 6 of the 7 teams in the West division are 1-1 in Big Ten play.

Texas A&M: The good news is that A&M set a new season-high for points scored against an FBS opponent. The bad news is that it was only 24 points, and their opponent, Mississippi State, scored 49. A&M’s normally-stout defensive front couldn’t find a way to stop State QB Will Rogers, who tallied 329 passing yards and 3 TDs on 31/45 attempts. A&M has fallen outside the Top 25, while State’s big win pushed them into the #23 slot.

Pittsburgh: Georgia Tech, Pitt’s opponent, had just fired HC Geoff Collins and AD Todd Stansbury. The Yellow Jackets were 1-3 heading into the game, and Pittsburgh was playing at home. Yet, the Panthers scored just 7 points through the first 3 quarters and then allowed 17 fourth quarter points to a Georgia Tech offense that, before this matchup, couldn’t score touchdowns if their lives depended on it. Tech finished off the Panthers with a touchdown with 1:25 remaining, making it 26-14. Pitt would add a late TD to make the final score more respectable, but Georgia Tech had this one wrapped up.

Fresno State: A legitimate FBS team like Fresno State shouldn’t be losing to UConn. The following tweet encapsulates just how dire the UConn roster situation was heading into Week 5:

Yet, the Huskies were able to pull out a shocking win against a normally very good Fresno State team in Storrs. UConn picked up its first win against an FBS program in three (3!) years, and while it was bound to happen to someone, it shouldn’t have happened to Fresno State, who just played a solid Oregon State squad down to the wire a few weeks ago. The Bulldogs now sit at 1-3, and while they haven’t played an in-conference game yet, they don’t look like the favorites for the Mountain West title anymore.

 

Ranking the Top 25 and Bottom 10 Teams

 

Top 25:

Adam’s Top 25 Ranking

Also Receiving Votes (in no particular order):

  • Syracuse: 5-0, sure, but when your signature win is probably a 3-point home win over Purdue, do you really deserve to be ranked? A win over NC State makes them a lock for the Top 20, but until then, this record is the result of a cake schedule and some close wins against middling Purdue and Virginia at home.
  • James Madison — They were seriously considered for a Top 25 spot but I ultimately left them off due to a slightly smaller sample size of games. A win next week will certainly put them in for me because they’ve looked very good against the bad teams and posted an impressive win against App. State. Likely the best team in the Sun Belt, James Madison may miss out on a conference championship and a sweet bowl matchup because they’re ineligible to participate in postseason festivities as a new FBS team. ¡Qué lástima!
  • Washington State — The Cougs have done nothing wrong, really; their only “crime” was losing to Oregon by a field goal; I just found that there were too many other teams deserving of a spot this week. Plus, Wazzu’s signature win over Wisconsin doesn’t quite look so good anymore after the Badgers were blown out by Illinois last week, while the Cougs’ other Ws aren’t huge resume builders.
  • Minnesota — Tough look for me after ranking Minnesota in the Top 20 last week. I was fooled by the Golden Gophers’ great performance against Michigan State — which now isn’t all that impressive — and their strength of record doesn’t show a team worthy of the Top 25 at the moment.
  • BYU — Same issue as I had with Wazzu, except BYU was blown out by Oregon a few weeks ago and their signature win over Baylor a few weeks ago isn’t the resume builder it was then. Beating Notre Dame this week will push them back into the Top 25.
  • North Carolina — The Tar Heels looked outmatched against Notre Dame, but have a Top-30 strength of record after 5 games. Need a bigger body of work before pushing them into the Top 25.
  • South Alabama — Their 1-point loss at UCLA is looking better and better by the week. The Jaguars have been very strong so far, and look like they could sweep through to the Sun Belt championship with no JMU to worry about.
  • Duke — If we’re going to rank Kansas, we have to consider the Blue Devils’ resume as well, considering that the only team Duke has lost to is Kansas, and that was by a single touchdown. Duke’s been strong so far, and they’ll get rewarded for their strong start with a bowl appearance, but their strength of record doesn’t indicate a Top 25 team, yet.
  • Coastal Carolina — Yes, the Chanticleers are 5-0, but they don’t strike me as a particularly impressive 5-0 to this point. Their 4 wins against FBS teams have come against some mediocre or bad Group of 5 teams, and they’re not really blowing any of them out like the best of the G5 have done in years past. I need to see more from them before they reach the Top 25.

Teams I’m more optimistic about than the AP Poll: LSU and Cincinnati. Ultimately, my rankings for most of these teams ended up being pretty close to their AP Poll ranks this week. However, I’m a big fan of LSU’s season thus far, as the Tigers have now cruised to wins against currently-ranked Mississippi State and Auburn, with a tough but somewhat understandable loss to Florida State. They’ve looked much more cohesive as a group since that Week 1 loss to the ‘Noles, and get the chance to show off their improvement against #8 Tennessee in Death Valley this week.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati has gotten past that Week 1 loss to Arkansas to post dominant wins against Indiana and Miami-Ohio, and dispatched a scrappy Tulsa squad, 31-21, last week. Tulsa’s 2-3 at the moment, but don’t be fooled by their record. The Golden Hurricane’s 3 losses have come by a TD against ranked Ole Miss, 10 points against ranked Cincinnati, and a narrow 3-point loss to Wyoming, so I think Cincinnati’s win at Tulsa was more impressive than it initially looks.

Teams I’m less optimistic about: BYU, Syracuse, and Kansas. I’ve already written about BYU and Syracuse, and Kansas feels over ranked in the AP Poll (now 19th) this week. I’m not sure the Jayhawks warrant being ranked 19th at this point, given how lucky they were to escape with a win over Iowa State this week. Have I mentioned that the Cyclones missed three field goals and only lost by 3 points, indicating a very unlucky loss to KU? Outside of last week, the Jayhawks have now beaten one FBS team with a winning record by a single touchdown, illustrating that this squad might be getting a little lucky with its play against lesser teams. Show me some more against good teams, so I can feel comfortable putting this team in the Top 20!

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

Adam’s Bottom 10 Ranking

Same old, same old for the bottom 2 teams in FBS. Massachusetts and NMSU continue to struggle against other FBS teams of all skill levels, as NMSU fell to former Bottom 10-entrant Florida International, 21-7, and UMass flopped against Eastern Michigan, 20-13.

Meanwhile, the state of Colorado is trying its darndest to lose as many games as possible, but hasn’t anyone told them that there is no draft pick reward for being this bad? It’s hard to put Colorado down in UMass territory, given just how awful UMass has looked against a weak schedule, but they’re headed in that direction.

We got another Power 5 entrant to the list this week in Northwestern, who put up a pathetic 7 points against Penn State in Week 5. I kept Northwestern off the list as long as possible, given Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s ability to keep the Wildcats annually competitive, but it appears the magic has run out in Evanston. The loss to FCS Southern Illinois is still unforgivable, as is the loss to Miami-Ohio two weeks ago, and Northwestern’s overall resume is very weak.

Goodbye for now, UConn! The Huskies defeated Fresno State in a shocker last week, giving them 2 wins on the season and catapulting them off the list for this week. While I fully expect them to be back in the bottom 10 soon enough, they should try to enjoy their time in the sun as much as possible before getting smacked around by their remaining opponents. The same goes for Georgia State, who finally jumped into the win column with a nice W over Army in West Point. It’s a good win, but the Panthers are still 1-4, and will need to win a game or two more before moving a safe distance from this list.

 

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.

I project this year to be a test of the Playoff Committee’s values. There’s a relatively strong possibility that both Alabama and Georgia enter the SEC Championship Game undefeated and with a handful of quality wins under their belts. One of the teams will walk away without a conference title, and those titles have been a heavy consideration for the Committee in years past and still make for an excellent bullet point on any team’s Playoff resume.

Meanwhile, there are a handful of teams that could finish their campaigns 12-1, with a conference championship. For example, 2 of the Pac-12’s best teams, Oregon and Utah, already have a loss on their resume. If both teams were to run the table in Pac-12 conference play, we could be looking at a Pac-12 championship that is 12-1, same as Alabama or Georgia, except with a conference championship. If the Committee has to compare a 12-1 Utah to a 12-1 Alabama, how will they rule?

This is probably the worst-case scenario for any non-SEC fan because it means the Committee will have to engage in the dreaded “strength of schedule” argument, where they value the strength of the teams each contender has played en route to their 12-1 record. Then, non-SEC fans will have to hear about how the SEC is easily the strongest football conference, how any middling SEC team would crush any other team in any other conference, and so on. The Committee will also have to look into each team’s margin of victory over their opponents, even though a few extra points in a victory margin are essentially useless for determining a team’s overall quality. It’s a lose-lose situation, because if the loser of the Alabama/Georgia SEC Championship Game doesn’t make it, then we’ll have to hear discourse about how they would’ve done in the same Playoff scenario. If the conference champion misses out for the loser of Alabama/Georgia, then we’ll have to see the same teams in the Playoff yet again.

Hopefully, the teams just make it easy on us and sort the Playoff considerations out with an extra loss or two.

1. Georgia

Don’t let the close win against Missouri fool you — this team is still dawg-gone good. I take full responsibility for nearly jinxing the Bulldogs into a loss against Missouri by calling the Tigers a “cake matchup,” but Georgia was able to make the nice come-from-behind victory even with my bad juju.

I hate to proclaim Georgia the winner of the conference here, given Alabama’s history and coaching staff, but if I had to pick one of Georgia or Alabama in a one-off game this season, I think I’m going with Georgia.

2. Ohio State

Ohio State dispatched Rutgers cleanly this week, winning 49-10. The Buckeyes haven’t won a game by less than 11 points this season, although part of that is due to the fact that they’ve played 4 teams in the bottom half of FBS (and Notre Dame). Things will be pretty manageable for tOSU in the next two weeks, as they travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State, and then host Iowa’s pitiful offense at the Horseshoe on October 22nd.

Michigan is still this team’s biggest challenger, and Michigan has looked unflappable this season — also against a cake schedule. Barring an early upset, the Michigan/Ohio State game will be the game that decides the Big Ten.

3. Clemson

The Tigers have now added another quality win to their schedule, dispatching formerly #10 NC State at home last week without much trouble. The win comes a week after beating a still-ranked Wake Forest squad, so Clemson is now through the toughest part of its schedule without much trouble. They finally look like a Top 4 team again, so I hope no one missed Dabo Swinney and the gang!

4. Utah

This is why I made everyone sit through that long explanation of the Playoff Committee’s selection process. If the Utes win the remainder of their games, including games against #18 UCLA, #6 USC, #12 Oregon (and maybe a ranked Washington State by the time that game rolls around), and what will most likely be a conference championship game against one of those teams, the Committee will have no choice but to rank them. Utah had that close loss against Florida to start the year, but that one can probably be excused as a Week 1 brain fart if they continue to win games against even better teams.

Others to Watch for the CFP: How about a third of the Pac-12? Oregon, Utah, USC, UCLA, and even Washington could still win each of their remaining games and enter the postseason picture with only 1 loss. Also, keep an eye on Tennessee, Penn State, and Oklahoma State, who still have legitimate-ish playoff hopes.

 

Bowl Projections After Week 5

 

These projections reflect a change from earlier weeks in that most of the early-season factors — such as recruiting strength, 2021 performance, quality of coaching — are no longer considered in my model. We are far enough into the season, and every team has a large enough body of work that the aforementioned factors could be phased out and the model could be based almost solely on 2022 performance. Thus, USC is considered the favorite for the Rose Bowl now, not Oregon, although Oregon, Utah, and USC are all viewed as being very similar in quality.

A few matchups are especially worth highlighting:

Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Penn State — I project this year’s Orange Bowl matchup to feature two historically good programs that have returned to relevance this season after a few years of varying mediocrity. Florida State would have a bit of home-field advantage, as the Orange Bowl is played in Miami, about an hour-long flight away from Florida State’s main campus in Tallahassee. Florida State’s offense has picked up this season, and Penn State’s defense has stifled opposing offenses, so it should be fun to see the two teams try to impose their wills on each other.

First Responder Bowl: Appalachian State vs. BYU — App. State’s early-season upset of Texas A&M shows this team is no pushover and is set up to be quite the menace in Sun Belt conference play. I expect ESPN to key in on App. State’s strong season and steal them away for one of its own bowls. Meanwhile, BYU is still going strong at #16 in the AP Poll, and could threaten for the G5 spot in the New Year’s games. However, I think BYU is going to falter a bit down the stretch, with a couple of tough teams still on the schedule, and instead of playing in a New Year’s bowl, they’ll be tapped for an appearance here. We’ll get a great matchup between two well-regarded non-Power 5 teams.

Armed Forces Bowl: Memphis vs. Coastal Carolina — Two strong G5 programs, coming off what will hopefully be strong campaigns in the American and Sun Belt, respectively. The offenses will be on full display here!

Bowl Projections After Week 5

 

Games to Watch This Week

 

Now that we’re into the thick of conference schedule, the games have more significance for conference championship spots, Playoff races, and even bowl selections. A win against a conference opponent may put a team into a higher-paying bowl slot, push it one step closer to the conference championship, or even add some legitimacy to a team’s promising young campaign.

[SICKOS GAME] UConn at Florida International: This game features two of the worst teams in FBS. Florida International has run a strong campaign to become the worst team in FBS, but barely scraped out of the Bottom 10 rankings this week, while UConn picked up a surprise win last week against Fresno State, 19-14. Their big wins last week shouldn’t be fooling anyone; these are still two of the worst squads in FBS, so this game will be outright painful (or fun, maybe?) to watch.

Red River Showdown, Texas vs. Oklahoma: shrugs It’s UT vs. OU, a classic matchup. This year just comes with a lot less fanfare since neither team is ranked, but there is always a potential for fireworks with these two schools. Plus, it’s a rivalry game, and those are almost always going to get the best efforts out of both schools.

#11 Utah at #18 UCLA: The further we get from that Utah loss to Florida, the better the Utes look. They’ve figured some stuff out over the past few weeks, making that #11 ranking feel appropriate for them. Meanwhile, UCLA is still undefeated, having beaten 4 teams they should’ve beaten and cruising to a win last week against Washington. Whichever team wins this game will add a huge bullet point on their resume and will have gotten over a big hurdle in the race for the Pac-12 championship.

Western Kentucky at UTSA: Both teams have great offenses (Top 40) and middling defenses (Bottom 40). Western Kentucky is coming off a frustrating loss to Troy, so their offense will be out for blood. UTSA just dropped a season high in passing yardage on Middle Tennessee State in a 45-30 win and will be looking to continue their high-powered offense against a more talented opponent than MTSU. Sign me up!

#8 Tennessee at #25 LSU: Speaking of teams that have figured out their identity over the past few weeks, how about LSU? The Tigers were a field goal away from beating Florida State in Week 1, but since then, the Tigers have been solid, beating a pair of SEC opponents in Mississippi State and Auburn en route to a 4-1 record. Tennessee is a different breed of opponent from State and Auburn, though, as the Vols have one of the best and most consistent offenses in the country. A Vols win would add a signature win to their resume, now that their big win over Pitt is looking a little worse, while an LSU win would catapult them back into the conversation for the top of the SEC and provide some much needed confidence heading into matchups against Florida, Ole Miss, and Alabama.

#17 TCU at #19 Kansas: 4-0 TCU against 5-0 Kansas. Just like we drew it up at the beginning of the season. I’ve devoted a lot of time to Kansas in this series previously, but even after all that work, it’s hard to tell whether this Jayhawks squad is for real. They’re 5-0, but a quick glance at the teams they’ve played doesn’t show a lot of tough challengers or teams that make that #19 rank seem legitimate. They’ve won all their games, but their best win has probably come against a Houston team that is rapidly falling from grace in the American. A win over TCU here would certainly help Kansas’ case as a legitimate Top 25 team. Meanwhile, a TCU win would give them a nice confidence boost heading into a huge matchup against Oklahoma State next week. The Horned Frogs beat a struggling Oklahoma squad, but Oklahoma State hasn’t shown the same signs of weakness as their in-state counterpart, so TCU will need every ounce of help they can get.

Check out analysis from previous weeks here:

Week 5Week 4 Week 3Week 2 | Week 1/Preseason

 

Feature Image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)

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