For close to 15 minutes Saturday afternoon, it seemed like Alabamawas doomed. Bryce Young was hurt. Arkansashad all but erased a huge Crimson Tide lead. The college football world held its collective breath.
For more than three quarters of action Saturday night, it seemed as if the kings had been dethroned. Georgia's offense sputtered. Missouribuilt a double-digit lead. The foundation of the college football world began to crumble.
In the end, college football's Big Three of 2022 -- the Buckeyes, Bulldogs and Tide -- all survived. Ohio State rolled, Alabama used a pair of long runs to assert its dominance even without Young, and Stetson Bennett rallied Georgia to a 26-22 come-from-behind win. Order had been restored.
It was a reminder that the Big Three are worthy of their place atop the sport, but also served notice that no one has a playoff berth carved into stone after just five weeks.
Young's injury served notice of how tenuous title hopes can be, even at a place like Alabama. And Ohio State has its own injury woes at the moment, with a trio of solid defenses awaiting on the schedule. Georgia has delivered back-to-back stinkers against the likes of Kent Stateand Missouri. After the game, Kirby Smart shrugged off the struggles by noting, "There's nothing easy in the SEC." Kansas State, which beat Missouri by 28 two weeks ago, might disagree, but who are we to argue with the coach who won last year's national championship?
So what happens if, one of these Saturdays, the Big Three don't survive? Who's next in the playoff pecking order?
If Week 5 didn't deliver the shocking upsets, it did offer some separation between the pretenders and contenders behind the Big Three.
In Oxford, Ole Misswas decked out in helmets made of the same material used for those Coors Lite cans that turn blue when they're cold, then delivered a silver bullet to Kentucky' Wildcats playoff hopes. That the Rebels won with defense was an emphatic statement that Lane Kiffin's team isn't a one-dimensional attack. Kirby Smart and Jimbo Fisher each earned wins over Alabama last year, and Kiffin might now be the former Saban assistant with the best shot to upend his old boss.
After NC Statebeat Clemsonin double overtime last year in Raleigh, Dave Doeren celebrated with a red Solo cup and a cigar. We doubt Dabo Swinney will do the same after Clemson's impressive 30-20 win over the 10th-ranked Wolfpack Saturday (though, perhaps he'll indulge in a tall glass of milk and some wheat toast?), but the win was a statement that the Tigers are back in the playoff hunt in 2022. DJ Uiagalelei accounted for three total touchdowns, and the Clemson defense turned in a vintage performance, all but paying rent for the amount of time it spent in the NC State backfield.
Baylorthwarted Oklahoma Statetwice last season, but on Saturday, the Cowboys delivered their response with a 36-25 win. Spencer Sanders, who struggled mightily in last year's two losses, threw for 181 yards, ran for 75 more and accounted for two touchdowns. Mike Gundy's team hasn't gotten much love so far, but the Cowboys have won all four of their games by double digits and, if not for Big 12 power Kansas, would be a clear favorite to win the league.
Iowa's plan to lull Michiganto sleep by playing offense failed miserably, too. The Hawkeyes punted on each of their first five full drives, which is usually a winning formula, but not against Blake Corum, who carried 29 times for 133 yards and a touchdown in Michigan's 27-14 win.
Meanwhile, Kentucky and NC State are likely to tumble out of the top 10. Penn Statewon, but served up five turnovers in an ugly performance against Northwestern. Minnesota couldn't move the ball in a loss to the Purdue Owls with star tailback Mohamed Ibrahim sidelined. Oklahoma, Florida Stateand Washingtonall fell by the wayside in Week 5, too.
We're just one Saturday into October. We're still farther from the finish line than the starting blocks. There's little point in making sweeping declarations about the contenders at this point, but Week 5 did offer a clearer picture than we've had before.
Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State keep winning -- even if it hasn't always been pretty.
But Clemson, Michigan, Oklahoma State and others offered their own reminder that, while only four playoff invites will go out at year's end, the Big Three don't need to check their mailboxes just yet.
It's time to believe in TCU
It's just like we've been saying for weeks: It's time the rest of the country started paying attention to the upstart Big 12 team that's opened the season 4-0 and deserves to be ranked.
After finishing last season 5-7 and firing Gary Patterson, the Horned Frogs were hardly considered contenders in the Big 12 this season, but Sonny Dykes has clearly injected some life into the offense, and Max Duggan has emerged as one of the nation's most productive QBs.
If you weren't a believer before Saturday, the 27 points TCU hung on Oklahomain the first quarter should've had you convinced. And if you've ever wondered how many big plays are needed before Brent Venables' head explodes, well, this game certainly took a swing at providing an answer.
TCU racked up 668 yards in the 55-24 win, including four plays of 60 yards or more.
Duggan was sublime, throwing for 302 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 116 yards and two more scores. If the stat line looked familiar for Sooners fans, it should. In the playoff era, the only other Big 12 QB with 300 pass yards, 100 rush yards, three pass TDs and two on the ground in the same game was Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts in 2019. Duggan is just the eighth player in the playoff era from any conference to hit those marks against a Power 5 foe.
So, if Oklahoma can officially be scratched off the list of playoff contenders, is it time to start thinking about TCU as a possible Big 12 champ?
This is the Horned Frogs' first 4-0 start since 2017 and they now have notable wins vs. the Sooners and SMU. They've put up 38 points in each of their first four games and, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, the 55 points vs. Oklahoma marked the most allowed by the Sooners since the 2019 Peach Bowl. That one came against Joe Burrow and LSU. The last time Oklahoma allowed 55 or more against an unranked foe was 2016. That one came against Patrick Mahomes. Yikes.
Still, for all the deserved attention TCU's big win will get, it's worth noting the Horned Frogs couldn't deliver on their mid-game trolling. The family of Roger Maris will now need to attend every TCU game until the Horned Frogs score 62.
Rebels dunk UK, but hoops schools still flying high
Somewhere, John Calipari is sipping a bourbon, throwing darts at a photo of Shaheen Holloway he keeps pinned to his wall and laughing. Yes, Kentucky remains a basketball school.
The Wildcats had their chances to pull off a road win, but an early safety left Will Levis' finger looking like he was trying to use his hands to do long division and was left with a remainder.
But all is not lost for the basketball schools.
Kansashad a message to those cowards voting in the AP poll, holding Iowa State cyclones to just 26 yards on the ground in a 14-11 win. Jalen Daniels' Heisman campaign took a bit of a hit as he completed just seven passes for 93 yards (we're assuming he got in early foul trouble), but the defense more than made up for the offensive shortcomings.
Syracuse, too, moved to 5-0. The Orange played Wagner, which may or may not have been a bunch of elementary school kids standing on each others shoulders, wearing trench coats and jerseys.
Auburn's luck runs out
The Bryan Harsin Experience just keeps getting weirder.
Last week, Harsin was down to his fourth-string QB and just inches away from a loss to Missourithat seemed sure to be the final nail in his coffin -- and he survived.
Then this week, former AlabamaQB A.J. McCarron made the unsubstantiated comment that Auburn had actually already fired Harsin, but was allowing him to keep coaching for a while longer, undoubtedly following the "Office Space" principle of simply fixing the glitch in payroll and assuming Harsin would eventually realize he was no longer employed.
Nevertheless, Harsin was back on the sideline Saturday as Auburnhosted LSU, and for the first 20 minutes of action, it looked like he might find another escape hatch as Auburn jumped out to a 17-0 lead with 9:38 left in the first half.
Then LSU figured out its offense, and Auburn never scored again. Its second-half drives: punt, turnover on downs, interception, punt, fumbled punt return, interception.
Auburn will now be moving Harsin's office downstairs to Storage B. They've got a lot of new people coming in, and they really need all the space they can get.
Ladies and gentlemen, UConnhas an FBS win.
Please, take a moment to gather your emotions.
The Huskies engineered a 94-yard drive to score a go-ahead TD with 2:20 to play and finished with a shocking 19-14 win over Fresno State.
It had been 1,050 days since UConn last won a game against an FBS opponent. In the interim, 23 teams have announced they're changing conferences (including UConn, which went independent), Miamihas been back -- then not back -- eight times, and James Madison, which was an FCS team a month ago, has won three games vs. FBS foes.
Even that undersells just how long it's been since UConn did something as unexpected as Saturday's win. UConn had been a 19.5-point underdog -- the money line for a UConn win was +1050 -- and yet the Huskies pulled off a win. The last win was actually at home against equally woeful UMassin a game UConn was favored to win. To find UConn's last FBS upset, you'd need to go all the way back to 2017. This was, like, five Taylor Swift albums ago.
This is the beauty of UConn football. It serves as a time capsule for the rest of us, a means by which we can measure not the struggles of the Huskies, but rather how far the rest of us have come.
Nearly every week this season, we've gotten an email from a reader accusing us of being a "Georgia homer." It's not true. We're simply biased in favor of teams that win national championships. Still, last week, he noted Stetson Bennett's No. 2 ranking here and asked, "Do you even watch football? How do they let you get away with this stuff?"
Well, dear reader, we'd like to let you know we flipped over to the Georgia-Missouri game several times this week during commercials in the big ULM-Arkansas State tilt, and we must admit -- you're right. Bennett did throw for 312 yards, but it was hardly a Heisman-worthy performance against woeful Missouri.
So, we're retiring Bennett from the Heisman Five and simply awarding him a Lifetime Achievement Award, which he can put on his trophy case next to his national championship trophy and his "World's Greatest Dad" coffee mug Alabama's defense gave him for Father's Day this year.
1. Alabama QB Bryce Young
Nick Saban said Young's shoulder injury isn't serious, which is great news. Well, not for Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M Aggies, who'll now lose by 30 next week. For Alabama fans, it's great news.
2. Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud
It was hardly Stroud's best game -- 13-of-22 for 154, two touchdowns and a pick -- but Ohio State won easily. It was actually a very sportsmanlike move to not pad his stats against Rutgers, as so many Ohio State QBs have done before.
Tennessee was off this week, but we assume Hooker at least got in a game of NCAA Football '14, downloaded new rosters and threw for 600 yards and nine touchdowns against Florida, then sent some taunting text messages to dudes from the 2014 Gators just for fun.
Maye threw for 363 and three touchdowns, ran for 73 and two more scores, and UNC dominated Virginia Tech Hokies 41-10. Maye has thrown for 300 yards and three TDs in four of his five games so far this season. And given that UNC's defense has played horribly for most of the season, Maye's going to have plenty of chances to keep putting up big numbers.
Break up the Illini
We're five weeks into the season, and it feels like an appropriate moment for the college football world to take a quick step back, peruse the standings, and ask a question that has frustrated even the most renowned philosophers, scientists and scholars: Hey, is Illinoisgood?
The Illini are 4-1 for the first time since 2015 after throttling Wisconsin34-10 on Saturday, led by a Syracuse cast-off and an absolutely dominant run defense. It was Illinois' biggest road win since 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, and it snapped an eight-game losing streak at Camp Randall.
On Saturday, QB Tommy DeVito pulled off a pretty neat trick: He ran for minus-2 yards in the game, but he also had three rushing touchdowns. It's a rare feat to have five fewer rushing yards than rushing TDs, but at Illinois, DeVito has managed to combine a new-found scoring touch to go with his long established ability to serve as a tackling dummy. From 2019-21, DeVito was sacked 70 times at Syracuse, despite starting just 18 games. He's been dumped in the backfield 11 more times this season, but he's also racked up 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
The big key to Illinois' success thus far has been the defense, which has been a brick wall against the run. Wisconsin managed just 2 rushing yards on 24 carries Saturday, marking the worst output on the ground by the Badgers since 2015 against Northwestern. For the season, Illinois has allowed just 351 yards on the ground, and has held four straight opponents to less than 100 yards rushing.
The most college football thing to happen Saturday
Unfortunately, the throw that'll likely show up most on SportsCenter this week wasn't one to remember. Jurkovec was essentially in a full-on Neo-in-The Matrix position as he tossed the ball backward in the general direction of running back Pat Garwo III. From there, it got silly.
But hey, all's well that ends well. Malik Cunningham scored two plays later to give Louisville the lead, but the Cardinals couldn't hold on, as Boston College earned its first ACC win of the season.
Under-the-radar play of the day
Jaivian Lofton's catch to open the scoring in Liberty's game against Old Dominionwould warrant its inclusion here regardless. It's a ridiculous one-handed snag on a 34-yard TD. But what truly puts this one over the top is the reaction.
Lofton basically treated the catch like he was picking up a DoorDash order at Arby's. Zero emotion. We hope Lofton is like this in every aspect of life. Ace a test? No biggie. Win the lottery? Cool, he'll send you his routing number in the morning. Finds out Kansas is 5-0? OK, no one could take that in stride.
Under-the-radar game of the day
Crusaders QB Matthew Sluka threw for 300 yards and two TDs, while Jalen Coker caught 10 balls for 166 yards in the win. It marked the first time Harvard lost a game by more than one possession since its 2019 opener.
Holy Cross is now 5-0, including a road win against FBS Buffalo last month, giving the Crusaders a pretty good case as the Commonwealth's top team. Holy Cross has head-to-head wins over Merrimack and Harvard now, and both BC and UMass are below .500 for the season. That leaves Stonehill (3-0) as the only other contender, and frankly, we just learned that Stonehill was in Massachusetts.
Big bets and bad beats
Syracuse was cruising toward an easy cover over FCS Wagner on Saturday, but it turns out, it was a little *too* easy.
The line closed at Syracuse -54, which seemed about right given that Wagner is 1-27 since 2019 and had already lost to Rutgers by 59 this season. And, as expected, Syracuse rolled early, jumping out to a 49-0 lead at the half.
Easy cover, right?
Well, no. Wagner waved the white flag, and sports books waived the bets.
Syracuse went on to win 59-0 -- a cover for the Orange and the under, but due to the shortened quarters, the bets didn't count. Kudos to Caesars for having the courage to say what the rest of us were thinking.
There's no such thing as easy money, but the service academies at least offer something close. Air Force hosted Navy on Saturday in the first Commander's Cup matchup of the season, and that means it's time to throw some money on the under. What was the total? Doesn't matter. Whatever the total is, bet the under. In the playoff era, the under in Commander's Cup games is 22-2-1, and it's hit 77% of the time.
In this case, the the total closed at 38. It's a low number. Low enough to worry about the under? Heck, no.
OK, so you bet the under, then Air Force found the end zone on its opening drive on a 67-yard pass play. Now you're worried, right? Ah, still no.
Of the remaining 19 drives in the game, 10 ended with punts. The others: a Navy touchdown, two field goals (including one after Navy got the ball deep in Air Force territory), a turnover on downs, two fumbles (including one in the red zone), a missed field goal and a seven-play drive that chewed up the final 3:49 of the game.
That, friends, is a recipe for another under. Final score: Air Force 13, Navy 10.
The under has now covered in nine straight games that featured two of the three service academies, and 14 of the last 15.
Oklahoma Statejumped out to a big lead and cruised to a 36-25 win over Baylor. The Cowboys had been a 2.5-point favorite, which is hallowed ground for head coach Mike Gundy. As ESPN's Chris Fallica noted, since 2016, Oklahoma State is now 14-3 in games when the spread is +/- 3.5 points, including a ridiculous 13-2 in those situations on the road.