B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 5
With each passing week, the 2021 college football season seems to get a bit more unpredictable. And it's not like things went even remotely according to plan in Week 1.
Though Alabama and Georgia have held serve admirably and appear to be the clear co-favorites heading into October, there have already been 13 unranked-over-ranked upsets, plus at least one case per week of a Top Five team barely surviving against an inferior foe.
And that notion of Alabama and Georgia reigning supreme? It could go up in smoke this weekend when the top-ranked Crimson Tide face No. 12 Ole Miss and the Bulldogs host No. 8 Arkansas.
In preparation for what should be an amazing slate of Week 5 action, Bleacher Report's college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—joined forces to offer predictions on the hottest burning questions, such as:
- Will No. 7 Cincinnati or No. 9 Notre Dame win in South Bend to remain in the College Football Playoff mix?
- Does Arkansas have a shot at upsetting No. 2 Georgia?
- Which side of the spread and over/under do we like in Ole Miss-Alabama?
- Is this the week Clemson snaps out of its offensive funk?
- And after that first month of chaos, who wants a mulligan on their CFP picks?
We're on the case.
No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks at No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs: Who You Got?
I want to say Arkansas. I really do. This team is both talented and extremely likable. Head coach Sam Pittman, who felt like an afterthought hire in the moment, has been one of the best additions a program has made in the past decade. Truly.
That said, this is a monumentally tall order. The point spread, which sits at 18.5 as of Thursday, speaks to the sheer talent the Hogs are up against.
While Arkansas has the ingredients to ugly up this game some, it won't do enough against a team with so many incredible parts. Georgia is just too talented in too many places.
If Arkansas is to ugly up this game on the road in Athens—and the environment is likely to play a big factor in this—it needs stops. That is not exactly innovative football commentary; it's the blueprint to winning an ugly football game.
Arkansas got those stops against Texas A&M and its backup QB, but this is a much tougher task. Georgia wins comfortably.
This will be a good old-fashioned slobberknocker between two defenses that are way, way better than I expected.
Over the final four games of last season, Arkansas allowed 192 points and 2,108 yards of total offense. Through the first four contests of this season, the Hogs are sitting at 58 and 1,069, respectively. Granted, two of those games in 2020 were against Alabama and Florida and two of the games in 2021 were against Rice and Georgia Southern, but it's clear that this defense is light-years ahead of where it was 10 months ago.
And while "Georgia" and "elite defense" were oft-mentioned in the same sentence over the past two seasons, I thought the Bulldogs would take a step backward after losing six NFL draft picks and a key transfer (Tyrique Stevenson to Miami). Instead, they've somehow gotten better, holding opponents to a preposterous 5.8 points and 185.3 yards per game.
Don't get me wrong. We expected big things from Georgia this year. But those expectations were largely fueled by quarterback JT Daniels and all the returning offensive talent. And after a slow start in the season opener against Clemson, that offense has been on fire, averaging 52.7 points over the past three games.
As Adam pointed out, the point spread is not what you would expect from a Top 10 clash, but it's also hard to argue with, considering it's clear that Georgia is better both on offense and on defense. As someone who does not have a favorite team and generally roots for chaos, I would love to see Arkansas win. But I also don't see it happening. (I do see them covering, though.) Georgia 30-17.
What's Your Same-Game Parlay Pick for No. 12 Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama?
Note: When this question was initially asked, the spread was Alabama -14.5 with a 77.5 total.
Give me Ole Miss and the over.
Lane Kiffin has been a little extra chirpy this week, and while the Master of the Headlines knows any publicity is good publicity, there's a not-so-quiet confidence with the Rebels.
It's obvious Ole Miss isn't just going to Tuscaloosa for a moral victory. While it's hard to pick against the Crimson Tide (especially carrying a more than two-touchdown advantage in Vegas), this game will be close, just like it was last year in a 63-48 Tide victory.
We all know Nick Saban doesn't lose to his former assistants—23 wins against zero losses—but as Kiffin noted this week, the GOAT college coach is nearly undefeated against everybody. It's big-time news when Alabama loses, and while it's hard to say the Tide will be toppled, it's not out of the question.
Meanwhile, the vaunted 'Bama defense that was supposed to carry the team has shown cracks, especially in the front seven against Florida. Ole Miss won't have much difficulty scoring, and with quarterback Bryce Young at the helm against a Rebels D that isn't very good, points will be plentiful.
Look for this one to be a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair, but Alabama will prevail 48-38.
Vegas can't set the over/under high enough to scare me away.
Each of the last six games in this series has featured at least 69 points. During that span, the average total was 85 points. And now, with these offenses boasting the two quarterbacks who are essentially running a two-player race for the Heisman Trophy, Young and Matt Corral, we're supposed to believe that 77.5 points is high enough? Be serious. Give me the over.
(The total has crept up to 80 since this question was initially posed, which speaks volumes to what is expected in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Even at 80, give me the over.)
I like Ole Miss to cover the spread, but barely. If it were 13.5, I'd be much more indecisive. But there's something about saying Alabama will win by more than two touchdowns that doesn't feel right.
Because—recent blowout of Southern Miss aside—Alabama's offense hasn't been quite at the same level as it had been for the past three seasons. And its defensive effort against Florida left something to be desired.
To win this game by at least 15 points, Alabama would need to score on just about every possession. Maybe the Tide could come up empty once or twice and still get there, but they had to score 63 to win by 15 last year. They won't get that many points this time. I like Alabama 49-36.
No. 7 Cincinnati or No. 9 Notre Dame in the Other AP Top 10 Clash?
I might be picking with my heart here, but I'm going with Cincinnati.
The Bearcats enter this matchup as a slight favorite over Notre Dame, even though this one is in South Bend. Cincy, which was idle last week, is 3-0. And the Bearcats' strength lies in its defense. They rank 12th in scoring defense, allowing just 15 points per game. ESPN's SP+ rankings also rank Cincinnati as the 12th-best defense in the country.
On offense, Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder has thrown for 748 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. Per Cincinnati, Ridder's 33-5 record as a starter makes him the nation's active leader in winning percentage. He's also statistically the second-best quarterback in Cincy school history, having thrown for 7,653 yards and 64 touchdowns. Running back Jerome Ford has been productive on the ground this year, too, with 300 yards and six scores on 50 carries.
But the biggest reason Cincinnati is favored is Irish QB Jack Coan's uncertain status.
Coan left last week's game vs. Wisconsin because of a sprained ankle. Before his injury, he threw for 986 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 7.7 yards per throw too.
If he can't go, the QB job would presumably fall to redshirt freshman Drew Pyne, the team's third-string signal caller. Coan's backup, Tyler Buchner, has been dealing with a hamstring injury too. Pyne did throw for 81 yards and a touchdown last week against Wisconsin when he came on in relief of Coan, though.
I've (mistakenly) picked against the Fighting Irish in each of the past two weeks, and before the season began, I was torn between Notre Dame and North Carolina for my choice on which AP Top 25 team would tumble furthest during the season.
I'm starting to believe in the Irish at least a little after that win over Wisconsin, but I've also been a huge believer in Cincinnati since before the season began. I'm beyond skeptical that the College Football Playoff selection committee will give the Bearcats their due even if they go undefeated, but I've had them at No. 4 in my Top 25 ballot for the past several weeks, and they're good enough to win this road game.
And it all boils down to why I've been out on Notre Dame since before this season began: the offensive line.
That unit is usually one of the biggest strengths for the Fighting Irish, but they had to replace four starters from last season, and it's not going well. They've allowed 20 sacks through four games, and even if you don't count the 112 yards lost on sacks against their rushing total, they still would only be averaging 108.0 rushing yards per game.
Against a Cincinnati defense that has 23 interceptions and nine passing touchdowns allowed since the beginning of last season, neither being able to run the ball nor pass-protect seems like a bad thing.
Now, Notre Dame's defense will do enough to keep things extremely interesting. But it'll be a little bit too much Ridder and Ford in the end. Give me Cincinnati in a fantastic 24-21 game and inject the subsequent "Should the Bearcats get a shot in the CFP?" conversation directly into all of my veins.
Which Matchup Between Unranked Teams Will Be Most Entertaining?
Several unranked vs. unranked games fit the bill of being fun to watch this weekend. Tennessee-Missouri could generate a lot of points, Washington-Oregon State could be interesting Saturday night and Nevada-Boise State will definitely be worth watching.
But I'm most interested in the intrigue that surrounds Texas-TCU.
The Horned Frogs have been the Longhorns' kryptonite in recent years, and though this isn't exactly a banner stretch of football on the Forty Acres, it's difficult to believe TCU has owned Texas the way it has.
The Horned Frogs won six of the past seven games and seven of the past nine. The past two games, the Frogs have won 37-27 and 33-31, so they've not only been high-scoring, they've also been close.
It's a new era in Texas with coach Steve Sarkisian at the helm, and the Horns seem to have found some footing after switching quarterbacks from Hudson Card to Casey Thompson. With TCU quarterback Max Duggan and running back Zach Evans, the Frogs can produce some offensive fireworks too. They're 2-1, though, and are showing some uncharacteristic defensive issues after a 42-34 loss to SMU on the heels of a 34-32 win over Cal.
This one promises a lot of points, and there is no love lost between these in-state rivals.
The obvious answer is Texas at TCU.
Texas can say it's leaving the Big 12 for the SEC for recruiting, revenue or national championship potential, but we all know the real reason: The Longhorns are sick of losing to TCU.
Since joining the Big 12 in 2012, the Horned Frogs are 7-2 in this series, including wins over a ranked Texas squad in each of the past two seasons. And this year's showdown between unranked, one-loss teams is looking like quite the coin flip.
I like my chances in backing Texas and Thompson, though.
Since he replaced Card at quarterback in the second half of the loss to Arkansas, this Longhorns offense has been a different animal, steamrolling Rice 58-0 before smashing Texas Tech 70-35. And it's not as if TCU's defense has been digging in its heels as of late, allowing at least 32 points in back-to-back contests.
But TCU always seems to get up for this game. As just mentioned, the Horned Frogs are 7-2 against Texas in the past decade. What wasn't mentioned is that they have gone just 5-14 overall in the games directly before and after facing Texas during that time.
In fact, they lost the game before playing Texas, beat Texas and then lost the game after playing Texas in each of the past two years. In a weird way, TCU's Week 4 loss to SMU makes me more concerned that it is going to turn around and drop 40 points in a win over Texas.
Which Game Will Feature the Most Total Points?
In terms of overall points, I would love to tell you some obscure game will upstage the most interesting contest on the card, but I cannot. The answer is Alabama-Ole Miss, and I struggle to summarize just how delighted I am by this matchup.
Last year's game gave us 111 points. Alabama, of course, accounted for 63 of those 111, although Ole Miss was up for the challenge.
I would be surprised if we got that. That should be a perfectly lukewarm take for a game with a total hovering around 80 points.
There will be offense. Tons of it. Matt Corral and Bryce Young will deliver the goods for both of their teams, and the winner will come out the Heisman Trophy favorite. The loser will still be very much in the mix barring a catastrophic showing, and I don't expect that to be the case.
As for total points, this game could hit the under and still be the highest-scoring contest of the weekend. It's that kind of matchup.
It will take roughly five hours, feature more commercials than you thought existed and be easy on the eyes for those who love points. Get ready.
I can't disagree with Adam. That SEC West clash is certain to produce a touchdown or 12.
But for argument's sake, I'll take a trip to Tobacco Road and nominate Duke at North Carolina.
Now, it won't be as beautiful as Ole Miss at Alabama. But if you find yourself unable to appreciate the defensive grind of Arkansas at Georgia and need a game full of points in the early slate, this one should deliver.
North Carolina has already scored 59 points in a game twice this season and has also given up at least 39 points in each of its past two contests against Virginia and Georgia Tech.
And Duke comes into this one fresh off a 52-33 win over Kansas in which it allowed 530 yards of total offense. Again...to Kansas. A team that managed just 247 yards against South Dakota in its only win of the season. Duke has also racked up at least 560 yards of total offense in each of its three games against FBS opponents.
Of particular note: Duke has only recorded five sacks this season, and North Carolina has been just about exponentially more potent on offense when Sam Howell isn't under constant duress—14 sacks allowed in the two losses, three sacks allowed in the two 59-point games.
My projection for this one is North Carolina 49, Duke 38. But I could easily see this creeping into the triple digits.
Of the 6 Winless Teams Playing in Week 5, How Many Finally Get a W?
First, let's preview the Game of the Week. Connecticut travels to Vanderbilt for a showdown between a disastrous program and the SEC bottom-feeder. Few matchups can possibly be sadder. Last week, UConn only lost to Wyoming by two points, though! Baby steps, you know? But the 0-5 record will become 0-6. Even a bad Vandy offense should score a few touchdowns on UConn.
More losses that will continue a winless start: Navy to UCF, Florida State to Syracuse, UMass to Toledo and UNLV to UTSA. Navy has a bit of uncertainty in its favor because UCF needs to replace injured QB Dillon Gabriel (collarbone). And maybe FSU capitalizes on an inconsistent Syracuse offense. However, I suspect all four of those teams will lose.
But here comes Ohio! Despite an 0-4 record, the Bobcats have hovered around 10-point favorites for this matchup with Akron. Unfortunately for the Zips, a foot injury has sidelined quarterback Kato Nelson for the last two games. Ohio head coach Tim Albin should land his first career win Saturday.
The three that definitely aren't happening are UNLV at UTSA, Massachusetts vs. Toledo and Navy vs. UCF. UNLV gave Fresno State a scare last week, but that was a classic hangover game for the Bulldogs after they beat UCLA. The Rebels will be back to their usual hapless ways against undefeated UTSA.
Massachusetts ranks last in the nation in scoring defense and should get blown out by a respectable Toledo squad. And UCF is too potent on offense (Gabriel or not) to lose to a Navy team averaging 10 points per game.
The two maybes are Florida State vs. Syracuse and Connecticut at Vanderbilt. Syracuse is 3-1, but it is averaging 120.0 passing yards with no passing touchdowns in three games against FBS opponents. FSU has been a hot mess, but there's a good chance it wins this home game.
And UConn-Vandy will be a comedy of errors between two anemic offenses and two dreadful defenses. Vanderbilt should win, but perhaps this merging of dumpster fires will swing in Connecticut's favor.
The one I feel good about winning is Ohio at Akron. Ohio has had a lot of trouble with a relatively difficult schedule, but Akron has lost 25 of its last 26 games against FBS opponents and would be the worst scoring defense in 2021 were it not for UMass. The Bobcats might not win again this season, but they should at least beat the Zips.
So my official answer is two wins: Ohio and either Connecticut or Florida State.
Which Quarterback Will Rack Up the Most Passing Yards This Weekend?
Ole Miss' Matt Corral has a chance to really burst into the national spotlight with a big game against No. 1 Alabama. Corral is a well-respected quarterback among SEC fans. He had a breakout season in 2020 while throwing for 3,337 yards and 29 touchdowns. But thanks to Ole Miss' 5-5 record, his big numbers didn't hold much weight nationally.
But through three contests this year, Ole Miss is undefeated and Corral has thrown for 997 yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. He is dangerous with his legs, too, with 158 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
The junior quarterback has some serious talent around him. Receivers Dontario Drummond and Jonathan Mingo have combined for 629 yards and seven touchdowns. The Rebels are first in the nation in scoring and total offense, averaging 52.7 points and 638.3 yards per game.
But he's the pick here because of what he did against the Tide last year.
Although Ole Miss lost 63-48, Corral finished with 365 yards passing and two touchdowns. With Corral being more comfortable in Kiffin's system in year two, he might have an even bigger day. Plus, Corral wasn't able to run much against the Tide last year, as he was held to 40 yards on 13 carries.
Several great options feature a top-15 quarterback (in yardage per game) facing a bottom-30 secondary.
Western Kentucky's Bailey Zappe is second in the nation in passing yards per game, and he's facing Michigan State, which ranks 107th in passing defense. There's also Fresno State's Jake Haener (third) against Hawai'i (112th) and SMU's Tanner Mordecai (11th) against South Florida (111th). Any of those three would be a solid choice, particularly Zappe, who figures to still be out there throwing the ball in the fourth quarter.
But I'm going with North Carolina State's Devin Leary against Louisiana Tech.
The spread (NC State -18.5 at last check) would have you believe that Leary's night could be over by halftime. However, Louisiana Tech is averaging 35.0 points per game and is oh so close to a 4-0 record.
The Bulldogs were up 34-14 at Mississippi State before they allowed three straight touchdowns and missed the would-be game-winning field goal, and they lost to SMU on a 33-yard Mustangs touchdown as time expired.
They're good enough to at least hang with the Wolfpack, and their secondary is terrible enough for Leary to have a big day. Through its first three games against Mississippi State, SMU and Southeastern Louisiana, Louisiana Tech allowed 1,271 passing yards (423.7 per game) and 11 passing touchdowns. And while Leary's numbers haven't been anything special, he has thrown for at least 230 yards in each game.
I could easily see him eclipsing 400 yards in a high-scoring affair.
Will Clemson Score over 14 Points in Regulation vs. an FBS Foe for a Change?
When the Clemson offense had a terrible day against Georgia in a 10-3 loss, I figured it was the product of a stellar defense being exactly that. Then, the Tigers cruised past South Carolina State 49-3. Nothing out of the ordinary.
However, the total lack of explosiveness in a 14-8 win over Georgia Tech made it clear Clemson had a problem—and that I would be very, very wrong about my preseason champion prediction.
Will the Tigers crack 14 points against BC?
Sure, but not by much.
Mostly, Clemson's scoring will be a product of the defense containing BC's rushing attack and giving the offense a few possessions with great field position. But if the defense cracks, Clemson is headed for another frustrating result.
One of these years, maybe we'll learn that—unless we're talking about Alabama—it's really freaking hard to replace four of your five most productive passers/rushers/receivers and remain potent on offense.
Just off the top of my head, NC State and West Virginia both dropped off a cliff from 2018 to 2019, LSU's attempted title defense was a nightmare and now we're seeing Clemson (and North Carolina) struggle to move the ball against competent defenses.
DJ Uiagalelei was awesome in two starts last season, but he has had a nightmarish time trying to get into any sort of rhythm in 2021. He has more than enough arm strength to launch the deep ball, but Clemson is only averaging one 30-plus-yard completion per game. Even when Kelly Bryant was the quarterback in 2017, the Tigers were more of a downfield threat than that (18 completions of 30 or more yards in 14 games).
With Travis Etienne's career mark of 7.2 yards per carry out of the picture, Clemson's running game has been a mess too. And it's likely about to get worse with Will Shipley (responsible for 44 of Clemson's 85 non-QB rushing attempts this season) out for at least a few weeks with a knee injury.
But more than 14 points against Boston College? Yeah, the Tigers can at least pull that off. Uiagalelei threw for 342 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in last year's game against the Eagles. Perhaps this is where he gets rolling for the first time in 2021.
CFP Update: Who Are Your New Final Four and Champion?
David Kenyon (Original Picks: Clemson champ, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma)
The easy replacement for Clemson is Georgia, and let's also swap in Oregon for Oklahoma. I'm sticking with Ohio State, though, because the schedule, in theory, gives the Buckeyes some time to improve before an October-ending clash with Penn State and a difficult November.
Adam Kramer (Original Picks: Georgia champ, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson)
First, let me say that this season is very weird, and I love it. It also makes this exercise extremely hard to do. But here are my top four, which I don't feel great about.
I'm sticking with Georgia as my champion, but changing everything else. Give me No. 2 seed Alabama, No. 3 seed Oregon and No. 4 seed Penn State to round it out.
Kerry Miller (Original Picks: Alabama champ, Oklahoma, Georgia, Wisconsin)
The only reason I went with Wisconsin instead of Iowa as my No. 4 seed was the Hawkeyes will be the road team when they face the Badgers on Oct. 30. If I had just ignored that minor detail and chosen Iowa, I'd look so much smarter right now.
So let's correct that error, swap in Iowa for Wisconsin and I'm all set. I would love to see Cincinnati get in, but I doubt it'll happen. And Oregon will suffer a rough loss in the Pac-12.
If I were to change anything else aside from updating the projected Big Ten West champion, I would consider swapping Georgia and Alabama in the No. 1 and No. 3 seed positions, because Georgia has looked like the most complete team in the country. But I'll stick with Alabama as my No. 1 seed and projected national champion.
Morgan Moriarty (Original Picks: Clemson champ, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State)
Ole Miss can beat Alabama this Saturday. If it were a home game for the Rebels, I'd pick them outright. But this one being in Tuscaloosa makes me hesitate. Elsewhere in the SEC, I have no idea what to make of Florida-Georgia this year, so I'm not confident in whomever comes out of the East.
That's a long way of saying I'll stick with Bama for now.
So let's go: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Iowa for the semis, with 'Bama winning it all. Saturday will tell us a lot about just how solid Alabama and Georgia are, though.
Brad Shepard (Original Picks: Oklahoma champ, Georgia, Ohio State, North Carolina)
As much as I tried to avoid another boring Alabama-Clemson projection in the preseason, I was half right. The Tide are still the premier team in the nation, but the Tigers...not so much.
Thanks to their on-field resumes, a one-loss Georgia or Alabama would get in, so I will go with 'Bama, UGA, Oregon and Notre Dame as my new four.
The Fighting Irish may be the weakest link here, but I'm picking them to beat Cincinnati this week, and the rest of their schedule is shaping up nicely. A loss will knock out the Bearcats, and the Big Ten may wind up beating up on itself too much. But I've got a close eye on Penn State. The Nittany Lions will belong if that defense can help them run the table, but they have a brutal schedule remaining. The Ducks are the best in a better-but-still-not-great Pac-12.