The college football season is through five weeks, meaning it is done with more than a third of the regular-season journey. Conference races are taking on more definition and texture and we are progressively gaining more and more information on teams’ actual levels of quality. Accordingly, we are getting more information on the structure of races for divisions, conferences and the College Football Playoff.
Arkansas Not There Yet
The Arkansas Razorbacks ran into reality against the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs. They allowed 21 very quick points and simply weren’t competitive in the 37-0 loss, which was quite disappointing to those who bet online and backed them. Does Arkansas represent a team that is somehow fraudulent? No, it’s just that Arkansas isn’t in Georgia’s league. There’s a difference between those two notions. Arkansas is better than Texas and Texas A&M, but those are two relatively mediocre teams. There’s a huge gap between them and Georgia. Arkansas might still be the third- or fourth-best team in the SEC, which is really pretty good, but there’s a gap between Alabama and Georgia at the top of the SEC and everyone else below.
Ole Miss Not Ready for Prime Time
The Arkansas Razorbacks were exposed. So were the Ole Miss Rebels, who got absolutely drilled by the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide 42-21. Ole Miss thought it had the speedy playmakers and dazzling play scheme to deal with Alabama and run up a big score on the Tide, but that did not happen. Alabama’s defense was pushed around by Florida, but it really bounced back in this game and sent a message not only to the rest of the country and Ole Miss, but to itself. Alabama needed to have more internal accountability and responsibility for what was happening on the defensive side of the ball.
Nick Saban is too good a coach and too much of a detail-oriented student of the game to not make significant fixes to the Alabama defense. Those adjustments were evident in a sharp, physical, ruthless display against Ole Miss. Lane Kiffin, Saban’s former offensive coordinator at Alabama, received yet another lesson from his former boss. Saban continues a consistent track record at Alabama of beating his former assistant coaches. He has done this with Jimbo Fisher, who was an assistant at LSU when Saban won the 2003 national championship. He has done this with Kirby Smart of Georgia, a former defensive coordinator at Alabama. He now has beaten Kiffin each of the last two years. He knows how his former assistants think and he knows how to game-plan against them.
Ole Miss will try to learn from this loss and regroup for its next game vs Arkansas. The Rebels, a lot like Arkansas, could still be the third-best team in the SEC. If they get that high, it will be a very good season for them.
Wake Forest Might Be Class of ACC
The Wake Forest Demon Deacons are the last unbeaten team in the ACC after Boston College lost its first game to Clemson. Wake Forest didn’t dominate Louisville, but it won the game and dealt with the pressure of now being a target for everyone else in the conference. The Demon Deacons have a potent offense, and they needed every one of their points in a 37-34 victory on a field goal in the final seconds. Coach Dave Clawson continues to maximize what he has at his disposal in Winston-Salem.
Big 12 Still Hard to Figure Out
West Virginia lost at home to Texas Tech 23-20 in what was a big surprise. Oklahoma State topped Baylor 24-14 in a very close game. Texas and TCU played a wild and sloppy game that could have gone in many different directions before the Longhorns held on to win 32-27. The Big 12 has Oklahoma at the top, but after that it’s a real jumble among the other teams in the conference, except for Kansas.
Wisconsin is Worse Than We Thought
We knew that Wisconsin was not very good on offense and that the Badgers would continue to play ugly games, but they really did collapse in a 38-17 home loss to Michigan on Saturday. They allowed big downfield pass plays and did not get much from their defense in support of a struggling offense. Quarterback Graham Mertz got injured in the second half and his backup did not play well at all. Everything is a mess in Madison as a program which has been so consistent is now consistent in the worst ways.
Michigan Is Better … But By How Much?
The Michigan Wolverines won as a road underdog under Jim Harbaugh for the first time on Saturday against Wisconsin. That’s progress, to be sure, but everyone saw how bad Wisconsin was. It’s surprising Wisconsin was actually favored to win the game. Harbaugh has a more physical and disciplined defense than what he has had in previous seasons. He made staff changes and has that side of the ball figured out. The offense isn’t yet that good, but a solid defense gives Harbaugh a real foundation with which to work. That’s progress, even though Michigan is probably not as good as Ohio State, Penn State, or Iowa.
Arizona State Steps Forward, Oregon Backward In Pac-12
The Arizona State Sun Devils took a big step toward the Pac-12 South Division title by hammering UCLA 42-23. The Sun Devils’ offensive line pounded UCLA’s defensive front in a brilliant display of toughness and consistency. ASU has to like its chances against reeling USC later this season. If the Sun Devils can win a tough road game at Utah, they are almost certain to win the South Division and compete for a Pac-12 championship. Meanwhile, then-No. 3 Oregon lost to Stanford 31-24, hurting its own hopes and the Pac-12’s chances for a College Football Playoff berth. The Pac-12 is really balanced, mostly because there is no great team in the conference. Arizona State certainly improved its standing, however. We’ll see if these teams meet in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Oklahoma Made Progress
The Sooners weren’t perfect or dominant, and they’ve been dicey for college football picks all season, but they were better than in previous weeks in a 37-31 win over Kansas State, a team which had beaten Oklahoma the previous two years. Spencer Rattler looked a lot more comfortable at quarterback. Oklahoma ran the ball better than in previous weeks. This was a solid team performance on both sides of the ball. The defense finally received help from the offense.
Iowa, Penn State Prepare For Big Battle
The No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes and fourth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions have elite defenses. They meet this upcoming weekend in a top-five showdown with College Football Playoff and division championship implications. The winner will grow in respect and stature, while the loser will have little margin for error the rest of the season.
Cincinnati Makes Its Case
The Cincinnati Bearcats beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on the road in South Bend, Ind., to remain perfect. If Cincinnati (4-0) stays unbeaten, the Bearcats could become the first Group of Five team (outside the Power Five conferences) to make the College Football Playoff, which would be a tremendous achievement for the Bearcats and coach Luke Fickell. For now, keep riding them as they’re a good option versus the weekly NCAA odds.