College football Week 5: Reality checks, receivers to watch

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Friday, September 29, 2023

Each of the Power 5 conferences enter Week 5 of the college football season with three or more unbeaten teams. There will be at least one fewer in the Big 12 after Saturday, when No. 24 Kansastravels to No. 3 Texas.

That's not to say the rest of the teams without a defeat will get out of the weekend unscathed. No. 8 USCis on the road at once-beaten Colorado, No. 17 Dukehosts No. 11 Notre Dame,and unranked but unbeaten Syracusegets a test at home against Clemson.

Our reporters preview Week 5 with a look at teams that will give us a reality check, receivers to watch and some of the week's best quotes.

Reality check: Are these teams really that good?

Syracuse:There are six undefeated teams in the ACC, but two remain unranked: Syracuse and Louisville. Considering that fact alone, it is fair to question whether both are for real. But let us focus on Syracuse for just a moment, since the Orange host Clemson on Saturday (noon ET, ABC).

Syracuse has given the Tigers fits over the past few years, with little to show for it. Last year, the Orange went into Clemson undefeated at 6-0 and led 21-10 heading into the fourth quarter. But they lost 27-21, then dropped their next four.

In 2021, Syracuse missed a game-tying field goal in the final seconds. Four of the previous six meetings were decided by fewer than seven points, but Syracuse won only one of them -- in 2017.

Going into the matchup this year, Syracuse is 4-0; Clemson is 2-2. Garrett Shrader has put up big numbers at quarterback, ranking No. 2 in the ACC in total offense behind Drake Maye at North Carolina, and he has done it without his top receiver in Oronde Gadsden II (out for the season).

But there is no going around the nonconference schedule Syracuse just played to start 4-0: one FCS win, two Group of 5 wins, one Power 5 win. The three FBS teams the Orange beat are a combined 4-8. None has a winning record.

Clemson is coming off a tough overtime loss to Florida Stateand is 0-2 for the first time in ACC play since 2010, so there is opportunity for Syracuse to show Saturday that it is, in fact, "for real." Especially with two more games after Clemson that will test their mettle -- at No. 14 North Carolina(4-0) and at No. 5 Florida State (4-0) --Andrea Adelson

Kansas: The tired "Is Texasback?" debate can wait. Let's look at these Jayhawks.

Kansas landed at No. 24 in this week's AP poll, being ranked in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2007-09. They've started 4-0 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since they did it from 1913 to 1915.

The Jayhawks' offense is a huge reason. They have scored 30 or more points in five straight games, also the longest streak since 2009. Quarterback Jalon Daniels had another three-touchdown game last week against BYU,his sixth since 2021, second only to former TCUQB Max Duggan in the Big 12 over that span. Daniels was the preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year and running back Devin Neal was a preseason first-team pick as well. The league respects the Jayhawks, and at 37.8 points per game, they should.

The defense is holding up well, including two touchdowns last week and seven turnovers on the season.

But the Jayhawks' offense will have its hands full with the Texas defense, which is first in the country in red zone touchdown percentage allowed (10%).

Two years ago, Daniels pulled off a 57-56 upset over the Longhorns in Austin. Last year, however, Texas lowered the boom with a 55-14 payback. Kansas coach Lance Leipold knows this Longhorns team is more like the one last year than the one he saw two years ago.

"Tough kids," Leipold said this week. "It's definitely a different team and a huge challenge for us and one that we've got to have our best week of preparation yet." -- Dave Wilson

Michigan: The Wolverines are ranked No. 2 the country, but the knock on them has been the strength of schedule, so it has been difficult to gauge just how good this team is. Michigan beat Rutgers 31-7, which is the best win to date this season. The Wolverines play their first game away from Ann Arbor on Saturday when they play atNebraska(3:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

Yes, it has been a lackluster schedule thus far, but the Michigan defense has not given up more than seven points in any of its first four games. The offense has been more balanced than we have seen in years past with J.J. McCarthy at quarterback. When the running game isn't making big plays, McCarthy and the receivers have been there to pick the offense up -- not something we had fully seen from this team last season. So, while it won't truly be tested until November, when Michigan plays Penn State and Ohio State, this is still a very good team that has handled business up to this point.

Opposing defenses can no longer just stack the box and try to take the run away, as McCarthy has shown accuracy and good decision-making this season. Receiver Roman Wilson has six receiving touchdowns through four games, and McCarthy has thrown for 915 yards and eight touchdowns. The combination of a balanced offense and restricting defense makes Michigan one of the best teams in the country. -- Tom VanHaaren

Utah:Some coaches have earned the benefit of the doubt; some have not. It's a simple concept: If a coach has a track record of success, there is a presumption that success will continue until it's obvious that's not the case.

That's a large part of why I picked Utah to win the Pac-12 in the preseason. Kyle Whittingham earned it. Plus, the Utes are the two-time defending conference champions and the quarterback who led them to those titles,Cam Rising, said in July he would be ready for the opener.

But with new information comes the obligation to reevaluate. After four games, Utah looks more like a team hanging on than it does a team that's a real threat to three-peat. It's a strange sentiment considering the Utes have three Power 5 wins -- Florida, Baylor and then-No. 22 UCLA -- but in a conference that has one of the best collections of quarterbacks in the history of college football, the offensive struggles feel too significant to overcome. Yes, the Utes have been incredible on defense (No. 6 nationally in scoring), but only three Power 5 offenses are averaging fewer yards per play than the Utes (4.89). It's not a sustainable winning formula.

The wild card is Rising, who has yet to play. If his return -- maybe this week against Oregon Stateon Friday (9 p.m. ET, Fox Sports1)? -- transforms things, then, sure, Utah remains a player. But if his return keeps getting delayed or the offense doesn't improve significantly upon his return, expect Utah to fade. -- Kyle Bonagura

Kentucky: Had even the most pessimistic of Kentucky football fans surveyed the schedule back in August, they would have confidently placed the Wildcats right where they are at this point -- 4-0. It's difficult to find a cushier start to the 2023 season (Michigan would be in the running) than what Kentucky has faced in playing Ball State, Eastern Kentucky, Akron and Vanderbilt.And against FCS foe Eastern Kentucky in Week 2, Kentucky was anything but sharp.

None of that matters now, as Kentucky gets into the teeth of its schedule with No. 22Floridavisiting Kroger Field on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN). It's the start of a stretch where Kentucky plays three of its next four games at home.

There was a time when the mention of Florida inside the hallways of the Kentucky football complex would have elicited shivers. But not anymore. The Wildcats have won three of the past five matchups in this series, yet another example of the job Mark Stoops -- in his 11th season -- has done in building the Kentucky program from the ashes.

Before this recent success, Kentucky had lost 31 straight games to Florida. And if the Wildcats can get it done again, it would be only their fourth 5-0 start to the season in the last four-plus decades. Stoops engineered two of them. Kentucky started 6-0 in 2021 on its way to 10 wins and started 5-0 in 2018 en route to winning 10 games.

Particularly in light of last season's 7-6 finish, this is a chance for the Wildcats to show they belong in the SEC's upper echelon. This team very much has a Stoops feel to it. The defense is fourth in the SEC in scoring (15.5 points per game), and they're tied for first with eight forced turnovers.

Each of their top two running backs are averaging more than 6 yards per carry, and transfer quarterback Devin Leary has one of the deepest fleet of explosive receivers UK has had in a while. Tayvion Robinson has blossomed with Liam Coen back as offensive coordinator.

In short, what's missing for Kentucky this season is a complete game against a nationally ranked team. The Wildcats get their shot Saturday. -- Chris Low

Wide receivers to watch in Week 5

ACC:One of the brightest spots at Virginiathis season has been receiver Malik Washington, who has emerged as one of the best players in the ACC. A transfer from Northwestern, Washington leads all ACC receivers in receptions (28) and receiving yards (459). Last week against NC State,Washington had 10 receptions for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He now has three straight 100-yard receiving games, just the third Virginia player to ever do that. Nobody in Virginia history has ever recorded four straight 100-yard receiving games, but Washington will get his chance Saturday against Boston College(2 p.m. ET, CW Network). -- Adelson

Big 12:UCF's Kobe Hudson is off to a hot start in 2023, averaging 115.8 yards per game, and his 463 yards are 60 more than the next-closest Big 12 receiver (Samuel Brown of Houston). Hudson, a 6-1, 200-pound Georgia native who was Auburn'sleading receiver in 2021 before transferring to UCF, already has three 100-yard games, including 138 yards and two touchdowns in the Knights' Big 12 opener, a 44-31 loss at defending Big 12 champs Kansas State last week. He'll be a focus of the offense in the Knights' first Big 12 home game, Saturday against Baylor(3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports1). -- Wilson

Big Ten:Senior wideout Bryce Kirtz was one of the heroes for Northwesternin its come-from-behind 37-34 OT victory over Minnesotalast week, having a career day with 10 receptions for 215 yards and two scores. With No. 6 Penn Statecoming to town Saturday (noon ET, Big Ten Network) and the Wildcats searching for consecutive Big Ten wins for the first time since 2020, Ben Bryant will certainly throw in the direction of Kirtz, who's sixth in the conference with 274 receiving yards. -- Blake Baumgartner

Pac-12:Despite Caleb Williams' willingness to spread the ball around, USC's Brenden Rice has emerged as Williams' top target, especially when it comes to deep balls and touchdowns. Through four games, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Rice has four touchdowns, including one of 75 yards and another of 43. The son of Hall of Famer Jerry Rice is averaging just over 21 yards a catch so far this season and looks primed to become the top scorer for the Trojans on offense should this trend continue. -- Paolo Uggetti

SEC:The bad news for South Carolinais Juice Wells is out for the Tennesseegame (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network), but Xavier Legette has been one of the best receivers in the country through four games and just keeps getting better. The 6-3, 227-pound Legette leads the country with an average of 139 receiving yards per game and is averaging 20.6 yards per catch. He had two touchdowns last week in the win over Mississippi State, and while he has great size, he also has elite speed. On his 76-yard touchdown reception against Mississippi State, Legette topped out at 22.3 mph. -- Low

Notable quotes

Mark Stoops: While some coaches might worry about how a noon ET kickoff affects the crowd, the Kentuckycoach has faith in the Wildcats' fans showing up for Saturday's game against Florida.

"I have great confidence in the people of Kentucky that can get up very early and pound some beers. Why would you disrespect this great state and the great people of it?"

Hugh Freeze:Auburn's coach would just as soon not talk about beating the Tigers' oldest rival, Georgia(it dates back to 1892), in a hateful way, but rather in a positive light.

"I'm not big on hate. I'm really not. I'm big on just, man, this means something to so many people. So we should compete in a way out of love for our people, not necessarily for hate for other people."

Dabo Swinney: Despite Clemson's 2-2 start, the Tigers coach has been impressed with his team's play.

"They're not perfect, but they are playing the right way. We'll get through this. Honestly, I've had a bunch of 4-0 teams around here that haven't played as well as this group."

Mike Elko: The Duke coach knew his Blue Devils would be good, but even he didn't know they'd be this good, this fast.

"I did not take the job with the hope and expectation that we could be a middle-of-the-road program. That's not who I am. Did I anticipate in Game 5 of Year 2, that we would be on this stage? No, of course not. That is a credit to our kids, and what they bought into and how hard they've worked. What it's doing is it's allowing us to expedite the process of building the brand of football to the level that we hope that we could get to."

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