The 5 Biggest College Football Questions Heading into Week 5
Each new week of the college football season brings new questions and sparks new debates. Which teams are better than others; which players are Heisman contenders and which teams should play for the national title.
Last week gave us a turnover-filled thriller in South Bend between two traditional powers, a blowout win for one undefeated Pac-12 team over another undefeated Pac-12 team, a MAC team beating a Big Ten team and an old-fashioned ACC shootout.
With Week 5 of the college football upon us, it's time to take a look at the biggest question marks in the sport going into the weekend.
Who Are the Heisman Front-Runners This Year?
Almost everyone in the country assumed that Matt Barkley would be the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. He is no longer considered to be the favorite following an unexpected loss and a few poor performances.
That distinction now belongs to a trio of dual-threat QB in EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, and Colin Klein, each of whom had stellar games last week that vaulted them into the Heisman Trophy race. Manuel facilitated an epic come-from-behind victory over Clemson; Smith put up a huge three touchdown, 338-yard performance to beat Maryland and Klein basically carried his team to victory over a then-Top 10 Oklahoma team in Norman.
So the big question this week is who will thrust themselves into the thick of the race this week?
Two players to consider are QBs Aaron Murray of Georgia and Braxton Miller of Ohio State.
Murray has a big game against SEC East opponent Tennessee at home this weekend. A win over the Vols in what will likely be an offense-filled shootout coupled with big passing numbers can put Murray's name right up there with Manuel, Smith and Klein.
Miller and the Buckeyes face Michigan State in each team's Big Ten opener. If he can continue to be the best player on the field as he has been through the first four weeks and lead the Buckeyes to a victory over Sparty, he too can throw his name into the Heisman Trophy race.
Which Team Is the Class of the Big Ten?
At the beginning of the year there were five teams from the Big Ten ranked in the preseason Top 25.
Now there are only three, two of which are playing one another this weekend (Ohio State and Michigan).
Wisconsin, perhaps the class of the Big Ten last year, lost its star QB Russell Wilson to the NFL and had its star running back and Heisman Trophy contender Montee Ball go down with a head injury last week against UTEP. Oh, and they also lost to then-unranked Oregon State in Week 2, putting them outside the Top 25. This week they get a date with No. 22 Nebraska in Lincoln.
Michigan State also lost QB, Kirk Cousins to the NFL. The Spartans and haven't seemed to regain any sort of swagger on offense, apart from handing the ball to La'Veon Bell 30 times per game. They did beat 24th ranked Boise State, but lost handily to then-ranked No. 20, Notre Dame at home. Now they sit at No. 20 and play Ohio State at home this weekend.
Michigan, fresh off a Sugar Bowl victory against Virginia Tech, had the daunting task of playing the defending champion Alabama in Week 1 and Notre Dame in Week 4. They lost both contests and now sit at 2-2 and out of the Top 25. However, they do face Purdue next weekend after taking a bye this weekend, and should get back on track with an easy win.
Nebraska still cannot seem to put together a consistent effort on defense and sits at No. 22 after entering the season ranked at No. 17. A loss to UCLA in the final minutes of the game put a damper on the success they had been having on offense early in the year. Now they face a tough Wisconsin team at home this weekend.
Ohio State can't play in a bowl game this season, which likely keeps them from garnering any serious attention on a national scale. They have looked solid through the first few weeks of this year but have had considerable trouble on defense, a supposed strong point for the team this year. They face No. 20 Michigan State in East Lansing this weekend.
Northwestern is the only other Big Ten team worthy to be in this discussion right now. The Wildcats are 4-0 and have beaten a few solid teams this year in Boston College and Syracuse. We will see how good they are come Week 8 when they face Nebraska (assuming they stay undefeated until then).
So which one of these preseason top 25 teams from the Big Ten will step up this weekend and show that they are the best of the Big Ten? All signs point to the winner of the Michigan State-Ohio State game filling that role.
Can Anybody Beat Alabama?
Alabama has been rolling through college football since losing to LSU on November 5th of last year.
The Crimson Tide did not lose another game last year after that 9-6 debacle in Tuscaloosa, thoroughly beating up on LSU in the national championship game.
This year, the Crimson Tide have continued the trend they started last year by beating up on every opponent they face. They have beat then-ranked No. 8 Michigan in their opener 41-14 and SEC East foe Arkansas 52-0 Other wins include Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky.
Although the Tide have been rolling thus far, their schedule does get much tougher, starting with a Week 7 game at Tennessee, a Week 8 date against Mississippi State at home and a Week 9 showdown with LSU. That game could, and probably will, determine which SEC East team gets to play in the national championship game this year.
While all of those games could present potential roadblocks for the Tide in their quest for a third title under Nick Saban, consider a few things.
First, Tennessee will be coming off a high-emotion, intense game against Georgia that could go either way. The Vols will likely be worn out, despite the fact that they're getting the Tide at home.
Second, the game against Mississippi State will be at home for the Tide, which is a bonus for any team playing a ranked opponent.
Finally, the LSU game will be a "revenge" game for the Tide, as they try to avenge the loss to the Tigers from the regular season last year on the Tiger's home turf.
With the way things went last year, and considering that Nick Saban is arguably the best coach in college football, Alabama should finish the season undefeated, play for a national title, and, in all likelihood, win that national title for the third time under Saban.
How Good Is the Big 12?
Not many people will argue against the idea that the SEC is the best conference in America when it comes to college football, and that playing in the SEC presents the biggest challenge to any team that wants to contend for a national title.
However, consider that both the SEC and the Big 12 currently have six teams ranked in the top 25 going into the weekend, and each of the six ranked teams from the Big 12 play one another at some point in the season, including an Oklahoma team that must play all five of those ranked teams and No. 10 Notre Dame.
So is the Big 12 comparable to the SEC?
Well, the SEC holds four of the top six spots in the polls right now as well as the eleventh and twenty-first spot. The Big 12 holds two spots in the Top 10 No. 7 and No. 9, and the No. 12, No. 15, No. 16 and No. 25 spots. In terms of average ranking, the SEC sits at 7.8 and the Big 12 at 14.
So the SEC rules in ranking terms, but some teams from the conference can show how good they really are this weekend when conference play hits its second week.
Texas plays a preseason-ranked Oklahoma State team with a great offense, built around an aggressive rushing attack. This should test the skill of the Texas defense.
West Virginia, possibly the best team in the conference, takes on RGIII-less Baylor in what should be a very high-scoring affair. Look for Geno Smith to have another big game after his three-TD effort against Maryland last week.
If both of these teams win big, the conference could be looking at having three teams in the Top 10, one of which may crack the Top 5 with help from a Georgia loss at home.
Is Oregon State for Real?
Is Oregon State really the fourth-best team in the Pac-12?
We can safely assume that Oregon, Stanford and USC are the three best teams from that conference, but who fills the number four role for the Pac-12?
We were tricked into thinking it was UCLA for awhile after their late-game win over Nebraska in Week 2. Then the Bruins lost to Oregon State at home last week and slipped out of the polls.
We were also tricked into thinking Rich Rodriguez had finally gotten it right in his first year at a school, leading Arizona to a 3-0 record, including a win over then-ranked No. 18 Oklahoma State in Week 2. However, they also let us down by dropping a big goose egg last week against Oregon and proceeded to follow UCLA out of the polls.
Now we are supposed to think the Beavers are the fourth best in the Pac-12?
They have beaten two ranked opponents thus far in then-ranked No. 13 Wisconsin in a 10-7 squeaker back in Week 2 on home turf. They followed that with a win over the then-ranked No. 19 UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl last week.
We will know a lot more about this team come Saturday night when the Beavers take on Arizona away from home. A win likely solidifies them as the fourth-best team in the Pac-12, and a loss gives us writers another Pac-12 one-hit wonder to talk about.