B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 5
If Week 5 of the 2020 college football season is anything like Week 4 was, strap yourself in for a bumpy ride. No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 6 LSU both lost at home to unranked opponents, and No. 10 Texas A&M darn near did the same.
In the entire 2019 season, there was only one instance of a Top 10 team losing at home to an unranked opponent, coming when South Carolina stunned No. 3 Georgia in double overtime. Moreover, it only happened twice in the entire 2018 season: No. 6 Wisconsin losing to BYU and No. 8 Penn State taking an L in a wild finish against Michigan State.
To have two such upsets in one weekend was something else. Completely unpredictable, you might say.
But we're going to keep trying to predict this sport anyway.
If you have been a loyal reader of this weekly predictions piece, you'll notice we're switching up the format. After several seasons of asking each of our five college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Joel Reuter, Brad Shepard and myself—to provide a brief response to eight questions each week, now we're just doing two expert predictions per question.
Because let's be honest: You don't need five short, mostly similar predictions about K.J. Costello's stat line against Arkansas, the best game between unranked teams and the winner of the colossal Auburn-Georgia showdown. Our hope is that two slightly longer responses will make for a more entertaining read.
Here's another fun new wrinkle: If there's a question you'd like to see us answer about next week's slate of games, send me a DM on the B/R app (@KerranceJames) by Monday afternoon, and it might be included.
Until then, here's what we see going down in Week 5.
No. 7 Auburn at No. 4 Georgia: Who You Got?
It just doesn't feel right for the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry to be played in early October. It's almost as sacrilegious as the Iron Bowl happening before the final weekend of the regular season. But that's what the pandemic-altered 2020 season has given us.
Luckily, it gives college football fans a rivalry fueled by hatred to look forward to this weekend. It doesn't hurt that both teams are ranked in the AP Top 10.
USC transfer quarterback JT Daniels has been cleared to play this week for Georgia, which begs the question: How much does head coach Kirby Smart let him loose? Will Daniels immediately solve the issues the Bulldogs encountered before inserting Stetson Bennett for D'Wan Mathis against Arkansas? On the flip side, Auburn looked strong on both sides of the ball after a sluggish start against Kentucky.
But now the competition ramps up considerably for both teams.
With question marks surrounding UGA, it wouldn't surprise me if the Tigers pulled off an early upset. It seems Auburn quarterback Bo Nix has a firm grasp of this offense in Year 2, and new offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the perfect fit for him.
It's anybody's guess who is going to win, but I'm rolling with Auburn, Nix and a vaunted secondary to come away with a 26-23 win.
This is going to be an absolute beaut of an SEC rock fight. Auburn can't run the ball, Georgia's depth chart might as well have a big ol' shrug emoji at quarterback, and these should be two of the best defenses in the country this season.
There were only six games in the entire 2019 season in which the winning team scored 13 points or fewer, but this may well be the first such result in 2020.
Auburn definitely looked better against Kentucky than Georgia did against Arkansas during the SEC's opening weekend, but I'm going to try not to overreact too much to one afternoon. Before the season, I would have picked Georgia to win this home game by double digits. I'm still taking the Dawgs, but I expect a close, 17-13 type of defensive war.
How Many Yards Does K.J. Costello Rack Up in Encore Performance vs. Arkansas?
Here's the thing about Mike Leach offenses: They don't change. They don't morph wildly week over week. It's the same overpowering, deliberate attack. Sure, Mississippi State will likely run for more than nine yards this week. But the philosophy of passing the dang ball all over the place is going to be constant regardless of the opponent.
So, K.J. Costello is once again going to throw for a ton of yards against Arkansas. I don't envision him eclipsing the 600-yard mark for the second straight week, but I do think he'll continue to do magical things in an offense that can take full advantage of his skill set.
The Hogs played tough against Georgia in the first half last week—and they do initially seem much improved from last year—but I don't believe that's going to matter. At least not in terms of Costello's performance.
While I could see Arkansas playing tough in what feels like a potential letdown spot, that won't stop the offenses from humming. Costello will be at the center of the madness.
Final prediction: 33-of-48, 473 yards passing, five touchdowns.
With most non-pirate coaches, I would see Arkansas on the schedule and think, "Eh, they'll just be running the ball for most of the second half of that blowout—if the starting quarterback is even in there at all after the intermission."
But to Mike Leach, taking your foot off the gas pedal is a completely foreign concept.
After taking a 38-10 fourth-quarter lead over Colorado last season, Leach not only left his starting quarterback, Anthony Gordon, in the game but also drew up seven consecutive passing plays for him.
And remember two years ago when Gardner Minshew II got his seventh passing touchdown of the night with seven minutes remaining in a 69-28 win over Arizona?
I expect something similar in this game, which results in Costello throwing for 472 yards and five scores.
Things won't always get this out of hand for Costello. However, I feel like Leach is the type of coach who—though he gives zero you-know-whats about a Heisman trophy—pays enough attention to that type of stuff and cares enough about his quarterback that he's going to leave Costello in there to pad his stats in a classic stat-padding opportunity.
Please note that we each wrote these answers without having seen the other's response. It's a funny coincidence that Kramer went one yard over my prediction like some savvy The Price Is Right contestant.
Which 3-TD Favorite Faces the Stiffest Test: LSU, Cincinnati or Oklahoma State?
It's tempting to say Oklahoma State given the way its first two games played out. However, it sounds like quarterback Spencer Sanders will be back for the Cowboys, and Kansas is undeniably bad.
I'll instead say Vanderbilt keeps things close against an LSU team that is still reeling from an eye-opening loss to Mississippi State in which K.J. Costello threw for an absurd 623 yards and five touchdowns.
Despite losing last week, Vanderbilt comfortably covered a gigantic point spread against Texas A&M in a 17-12 contest. The Commodores secondary limited Kellen Mond to just 189 yards on 17-of-28 passing. Meanwhile, LSU signal-caller Myles Brennen only completed 58.7 percent of his passes and threw a pair of picks in last week's shootout with the Bulldogs.
The 38 points Vanderbilt scored against LSU last year were good for the second-most allowed by the undefeated Tigers all season, trailing only the 41 scored by Alabama.
LSU wins, but Vanderbilt covers.
I think it has to be Oklahoma State at Kansas because the Jayhawks at least have a playmaker on offense and occasionally threaten to score.
Putting South Florida's offense on the field against Cincinnati's defense is just cruel and unusual punishment.
The Bulls legitimately might get held to 100 yards of total offense. It's hard for me to believe the over/under on this game (47) is 25 points higher than the spread (Cincinnati -22) because that puts South Florida's expected point total at 12.5. That's mighty optimistic for a team that only got inside the Notre Dame 30 one time in a 52-0 loss a couple of weeks ago.
It's a similar story for the LSU-Vanderbilt game.
The Commodores did inexplicably put up 38 points against the Tigers last year (with help from two defensive touchdowns), but they averaged just 14.4 points per game for the rest of the season and managed only 12 points and 255 total yards last week against Texas A&M. The reigning national champions have some question marks, but they also have frustrations they're about to let out on Vanderbilt.
Kansas lost by 15 to Coastal Carolina and by 33 to Baylor, so a three-touchdown spread against a ranked team is justified. But I think Jayhawks running back Pooka Williams Jr. bounces back from a dreadful 2019 performance against Oklahoma State (12 carries for 26 yards) to keep things somewhat interesting against the Cowboys, who may or may not still be rolling with a backup quarterback as Spencer Sanders recovers from a high ankle sprain.
Will No. 2 Alabama Cover the 17-Point Spread Against No. 13 Texas A&M?
I'm going to be frank: Texas A&M's 17-12 win over Vanderbilt was the most underwhelming victory I watched all weekend involving a team I liked heading into the year. There is, however, some saving grace baked in there. Texas A&M, unlike Oklahoma, didn't lose. But the performance left a lot to be desired. (That's being kind.)
And here comes Alabama, which didn't miss a beat in its opener against Missouri. Wideout Jaylen Waddle might be the best offensive skill position player in the country. Mac Jones looked excellent at quarterback. Outside of the defense giving up a few late scores, there was a lot to like.
So for this game, I am a bit surprised the point spread isn't even larger than 17. It feels like it should be more. If Bryant-Denny Stadium was full, would it be? Perhaps.
But regardless, given what we've seen from both teams, I am inclined to lay the points here and back the Crimson Tide.
My inner contrarian is, admittedly, skeptical. This isn't my favorite pick of the weekend. I have more questions than answers. Does Vegas know something here that we don't? Did A&M just have a rough debut after a weird offseason before getting set to show rapid improvement? Is Vanderbilt better than we realize?
That is the beauty and the unknown, and you can call me a sucker for blindly laying the points. But I'm laying them: 'Bama by 24.
At first glance, this spread startled me. I don't pay that much attention to the Vegas lines or a recent history of them, but it just seems wild that the supposed 13th-best team in the country isn't even expected to stay within two possessions of Alabama.
But I suppose North Carolina would be a 17-point underdog at Clemson if they played this weekend, too, and it's not like Texas A&M has had a promising past few performances against the Crimson Tide. Five of the past six games in this series have been Alabama victories by 18 or more points.
Given how bad the Aggies looked against Vanderbilt last weekend, that trend seems unlikely to change.
But I think Jimbo Fisher was sandbagging us and Alabama with that performance against the Commodores. Only eight touches for Isaiah Spiller? Two short passes to Jalen Wydermyer? That struck me as a "Don't get injured and don't reveal too much of the game plan" type of performance that almost came back to bite the Aggies in the backside.
I don't believe it will help, though. Alabama's offense is too potent, and Texas A&M doesn't have enough experience at wide receiver to hold its own against a Crimson Tide secondary anchored by Patrick Surtain II. Alabama wins 41-23.
Which Game Between Unranked Teams Will Be Most Entertaining?
When you're talking about intriguing, entertaining matchups, I love games featuring contrasting styles. There's perhaps no better example this weekend than Ole Miss heading to Lexington to face Kentucky.
Both teams had to be disappointed with lopsided losses last Saturday, even if they did come against excellent teams. The Rebels dropped Lane Kiffin's debut 51-35 to Florida, while Kentucky's hype-filled season started with a 29-13 thud against Auburn.
The Rebels have to show some semblance of defensive aptitude, and the Wildcats have to generate something with Terry Wilson at quarterback in the post-Lynn Bowden Jr. era.
So, who wins?
Kiffin's crew ran into a buzzsaw in Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts, but he's too good a coach to allow that to happen again this week. Kentucky is going to rebound somewhat offensively, too, because Ole Miss doesn't have a lot of great defenders, but the Rebels are going to pull off a significant upset in this one.
It's going to be more of a shootout than expected, but give me the Rebels in a 38-35 squeaker.
That SEC matchup is going to be awesome. No question about it. But I'll have my eye on Baylor at West Virginia as the highlight of what might otherwise be a lackluster slate of early-afternoon games. (Seriously, what's the next-best noon game? TCU at Texas?)
Outside of a three-minute sequence in which Oklahoma State scored 14 points on a 66-yard run and a strip-sack returned for a touchdown, West Virginia more than held its own on the road against the Cowboys last week. The Mountaineers had a disappointing 3-6 record in Big 12 play last year, but they look more like a 6-3 team already this season.
But so does Baylor, which easily took care of business against Kansas in its season opener last week. Of course, we didn't get to see much of the Bears offense in that 47-14 victory because Trestan Ebner returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. You can't count on that every week, though.
I like West Virginia to get the W and to go 4-0 in October with upcoming games against Kansas, Texas Tech and Kansas State.
Which Player Puts Up the Most Rushing Yards in Week 5?
The Kansas defense ranked 121st against the run a year ago, allowing a staggering 232.9 yards per game. In 2020, it already looks like more of the same for the Jayhawks. Baylor had a 203-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance last Saturday in a lopsided 47-14 blowout.
Chuba Hubbard admittedly feels like a lazy answer to this question, but it's hard not to love the matchup he has this weekend against Kansas.
The nation's leading rusher in 2019 is off to a comparatively slow start with 49 carries for 194 yards and two touchdowns through two games. With starting quarterback Spencer Sanders sidelined, teams have been able to key in on the running game. If he returns Saturday as expected, it should open up the Cowboys offense and allow for some additional running room.
Hubbard had four 200-yard games a year ago, and Saturday looks like a prime spot for his first such performance this season.
I'm pulling out a wild card here, picking a guy who hasn't played yet this season, has never had a 100-yard game at the FBS level and is probably going to be splitting reps with several teammates.
Give me Florida Atlantic's B.J. Emmons.
Emmons was a highly touted recruit when he chose Alabama during the 2016 recruiting cycle, but he played sparingly as a freshman before transferring to Hutchinson Community College and, eventually, to FAU. He was expected to be a big piece of the puzzle for Lane Kiffin's Owls last year, but he suffered a broken ankle seven minutes into the season opener against Ohio State and missed nearly three months.
After several FAU games were postponed due to COVID-19, he's finally going to make his 2020 season debut against a Charlotte team that allowed 308 rushing yards in its only game this season and gave up nearly 200 rushing yards per game in 2019.
In this one game, Emmons will nearly match his 237-yard total from all of last season.
Will No. 25 Memphis or 3-0 SMU Win a Key AAC Showdown?
This contest is the 2020 season in a nutshell.
Memphis opened the regular season on the first weekend of September and now plays its second game on the first weekend of October. We're the experts, but in 2020, that means acknowledging this is a blindfolded dart throw.
Without the extended layoff, I'd probably take Memphis. But I'm inclined to take SMU simply because it's a mostly even matchup, and the Mustangs have already played three games.
Time and time again, we hear coaches saying how replicating game speed in practice is just about impossible. Memphis needs to readjust quickly, or else this fast-paced SMU offense will build a sizable early lead behind quarterback Shane Buechele.
This was one of the most entertaining games of the entire 2019 season. Just a back-and-forth, no-defense slugfest with 38 fourth-quarter points in a 54-48 Memphis victory. And with the way SMU has been scoring the past two weeks—a 65-35 win over North Texas and a 50-7 win over Stephen F. Austin—I'm expecting something similar this year.
The big unknown is the rust factor for Memphis, which has not played since Sept. 5 thanks to several COVID-19 postponements.
Every year, teams have to endure similar-length breaks between the end of the regular season and their bowl game, and most of them get through it without any disruptions to their offensive rhythm. But there's a huge difference between hitting a one-month pause button after 12 or 13 games and doing it after just one game—a game in which the Tigers were trying to figure out their rushing attack less than a week after their star, Kenny Gainwell, opted out of the season.
Even though SMU's defense hasn't been anything impressive thus far, I like quarterback Shane Buechele and running back Ulysses Bentley IV to pace the Mustangs to a 45-42 win.
Which P5 League Reaches the CFP: Big 12, Pac-12, Neither or Both?
Quite the test of overreactions, right?
I think the Big 12 ultimately sends one of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or Texas, though OU lost to Kansas State and both OSU and Texas survived early scares.
Ask me about that conference again in a couple of weeks, but I'll extend some benefit of the doubt for now.
However, I'm guessing the Pac-12 is left out again. Any loss will disqualify the programs with the briefest schedule in the country, but even an undefeated season might not do the trick, particularly if the SEC's 10-game schedule produces both an undefeated champion and a one-loss team.
Well, it certainly won't be both. Just about the only way that could even be an option is if at least one of the other three leagues produces a three-loss champion. And even in the aftermath of a pretty wild Week 4, I find it hard to believe that could happen.
Moreover, I cannot see the Pac-12 getting in with just a six-game regular-season schedule.
At No. 14, Oregon is the only team in the league in the AP poll, which means the Ducks will have no opportunities for statement wins. Even if they go 6-0 before defeating a 6-0 USC in the conference championship, it likely won't be enough.
Maybe if they were to win each game by a 28-point margin, those style points could put them in the conversation. But I would be surprised if a Pac-12 team even finishes in the top eight of the CFP rankings.
The Big 12 at least has a chance, but even that seems unlikely at this point. Oklahoma already lost. Texas looked terrible last week. Oklahoma State has struggled in both its games. And that 0-3 record against the Sun Belt isn't going away any time soon.
Still, if the Big 12 can produce a one-loss or undefeated champion, that might be enough. But if we get something like 10-0 Alabama facing 10-0 Florida in the SEC Championship Game or 8-0 Ohio State vs. 8-0 Wisconsin for the Big Ten title, we've got to assume the Big 12 would be the odd man out.