B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 6
Week 5 of the 2021 college football season was unmitigated chaos.
Week 6 might be even more out of control.
We've got four more ranked-against-ranked games on tap for Saturday, plus half a dozen other games in which a team ranked in the AP Top 20 is favored by six points or fewer against an unranked opponent.
And, who knows, perhaps this will be the week when things go completely off the rails in the form of a road loss by Alabama or Georgia.
Even as things become more and more incalculable, our college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—will keep attempting to predict the unpredictable.
For Week 6, we're offering up predictions on the hottest burning questions, such as:
- Will No. 3 Iowa or No. 4 Penn State move into the Big Ten driver's seat?
- Can No. 21 Texas knock off No. 6 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry?
- Will Ole Miss or Arkansas bounce back from last week's dud?
- How many undefeated teams survive the week?
- And will Florida beat Vanderbilt by at least 38.5 points?
We're on the case.
No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions at No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes: Who You Got?
This one will be a classic, low-scoring Big Ten affair, as both Iowa and Penn State's defenses have been fantastic. The Hawkeyes are second in the nation in scoring defense, behind only Georgia, allowing just 11.6 points per game. The third-ranked scoring defense? Why, that would be Penn State, which gives up just 12 points per contest.
Iowa's defense has the edge in turnovers, as it leads the country in turnover margin with 16 takeaways against just four giveaways. Hawkeye cornerback Riley Moss has three interceptions, with two of those resulting in pick-sixes.
Penn State isn't far behind Iowa in turnover margin, though, ranked 10th at plus-six. The Nittany Lions have forced nine turnovers, seven of them interceptions. Nittany Lions safety Ji'Ayir Brown has three.
So, which offense has the edge?
It's Penn State, which puts up 419.8 yards per game and is averaging 30 points. While Iowa has scored slightly more (33.2), Penn State has a bit more balanced offense. Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford has thrown for 1,336 yards and 11 touchdowns. Running backs Noah Cain and Keyvone Lee have combined for 361 rushing yards, with Cain scoring three touchdowns.
Iowa hasn't needed to do much on offense thanks to its defense. Quarterback Spencer Petras has thrown for 943 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception. Running back Tyler Goodson averages 4.3 per carry and has five touchdowns.
It's hard to pick against Penn State, one of the Big Ten's best teams. But I'm going with Iowa at home. These two just might see each other again in the Big Ten Championship game, though.
I'm picking Iowa. In fact, I had the Hawkeyes in my updated College Football Playoff predictions in this piece one week ago.
But I gotta tell you, I am not comfortable with putting that much support behind this offense.
This defense is awesome. In each of their five games, the Hawkeyes have held their opponent to at least 100 yards below its season average. And those season averages include what Iowa did to them, so it's actually 125-plus yards worse than what those opponents have accomplished in their other games.
And while Georgia is also exceptionally good at limiting yardage, it's not hard to argue that Iowa has been the best defense in the country on account of the 16 turnovers it has forced to Georgia's nine.
However, it could be trouble if they can't force turnovers in this one, because through three games against Power Five foes, Iowa has only had three scoring drives of 60 or more yards—two of which came in the second half of last week's game against Maryland, after the Terrapins had already fallen behind by four scores and had effectively given up on the outcome.
Penn State doesn't make many mistakes, with only three turnovers committed all season, but Sean Clifford did throw a pick against Indiana last week that set the Hoosiers up with the ball in the red zone. They squandered that opportunity, but Iowa has consistently capitalized on those gifts this year.
At least one back-breaking turnover will go in Iowa's favor, and that will be the difference in a 21-17 ballgame.
Who Wins 2021 Edition of the Red River Rivalry: No. 6 Oklahoma or No. 21 Texas?
It appears Lincoln Riley's Sooners know how to win the grind-it-out, defensive-minded games. However, it has to be a little disturbing to Oklahoma fans that this offense is nowhere near as efficient as it should be. The line is a mess, and quarterback Spencer Rattler has been, well, a little more rattled than expected.
On the other hand, Texas was humbled after a trip to Arkansas, and it may have been the best long-term thing to happen to the Longhorns. Head coach Steve Sarkisian settled on quarterback Casey Thompson after his performance in relief during that loss, and things have turned around since then. This past weekend, they leaned on star running back Bijan Robinson for 216 yards rushing to exorcise the TCU Horned Frog demons that have plagued them for most of the past decade.
That sets the stage for the annual Red River Rivalry, and though the Big 12 still has some surprising teams such as Oklahoma State and Baylor to offset the disappointing Iowa State, this game figures to determine the conference favorite.
It's a major opportunity for Sark to announce he's a force for the remainder of Texas' stay in the conference. For the Sooners, it's a chance to show they are still a national title contender despite not being as explosive.
In the end, though, it comes down to whether OU can stop Robinson, and I'm not sure it can. Texas will force Rattler into mistakes, and the Longhorns will make one more play with the game on the line and pull off the upset 38-34.
There have been 41 games in the history of this rivalry in which both teams were ranked. Three of those games ended in a tie, but in 30 of the remaining 38, the higher-ranked team won.
Moreover, most of those upsets came at least four decades ago. Twenty of those 38 games have been played since 1980, in which the higher-ranked team went 18-2.
I fully expected it to be a 50/50 split, since this at least anecdotally feels like one of those rivalries where the rankings are irrelevant. Instead, it made me even more confident in backing the Sooners.
(Of course, one of those upsets came just three years ago when No. 19 Texas defeated No. 7 Oklahoma 48-45, so who knows?)
Beyond that mostly meaningless AP poll history lesson, I like the Sooners in this one for two reasons.
First, their defensive front seven has been very good, which was also a key component of last year's victory. Sam Ehlinger ended up with four rushing touchdowns in that four-overtime affair, but the Longhorns had 99 rushing yards in regulation. They'll undoubtedly give Robinson more touches than the seven he got last year, but Oklahoma might be able to stifle him the same way Arkansas did (19 carries for 69 yards).
Second, even though he has fallen well short of expectations, I'm taking Rattler over Thompson 11 times out of 10. Rattler might throw a hideous interception at some point, but his good moments will far outweigh his bad ones in a 34-28 victory.
Will No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Georgia Each Win Road Games by 15-Plus Points?
I don't see either of these teams struggling this weekend, so yes.
The Crimson Tide go on the road to Texas A&M in prime time in a game that looked a lot more intriguing before Texas A&M lost its last two contests to Arkansas and Mississippi State, dropping to 3-2. They are playing backup quarterback Zach Calzada because Haynes King went down with a leg fracture earlier in the season. And Calzada has thrown an interception in each of his last three games.
The Aggies defense is fifth in the country in points allowed, giving up 12.6 per game. But Alabama is averaging 45.6 points per game. That pace won't slow much Saturday, especially if Bama's defense forces turnovers to give the offense a short field.
And while we'd love to see at least one team give Georgia a run for its money, it won't be Auburn.
While the Bulldogs face their first true road test, this one might be close for about a quarter before the Dawgs pull away. Auburn quarterback Bo Nix has yet to throw an interception this season, but Georgia's defense has seven picks. I'm hoping Auburn can prove me wrong and keep this one close, but I don't see it happening with how good Georgia has looked. Not to mention, the Bulldogs have won the last four in this rivalry. With a big win on the road against a ranked Auburn team, Georgia's playoff resume will get even stronger.
As of 8:35 p.m. ET Tuesday night, using Georgia -14.5 and an alternate line of Alabama -14.5, I'm seeing parlay odds of +207. That implies a 32.57 percent chance that each team wins by at least 15 points.
And, yeah, I may have put a few shekels on that, because I feel good about the two best teams in the country's ability to impose their dominance.
Since destroying lowly Akron and Alabama State, Auburn hasn't been anything special. For all of the positive tweeting about Nix during the Week 5 win over LSU, the Tigers have had a sub-54 completion percentage in three consecutive games while Georgia has the fourth-best run defense in the nation.
I have a hard time believing Auburn will get shut out for the first time in nearly nine years, but I have an even harder time believing the Tigers will score more than twice. Georgia cruises to a 31-10 victory.
But at least Auburn can run the ball against normal defenses. Texas A&M's offense is a dumpster fire, held below 300 total yards in all three games played against Power Five opponents. The Aggies do have a solid defense, but this is Alabama we're talking about. Streaks are made to be broken and yada yada yada, but the Crimson Tide have scored at least 31 points in 31 consecutive games. They'll keep that going in a 38-14 win.
Will No. 13 Arkansas or No. 17 Ole Miss Get Back on Track with Head-to-Head Win?
I really like Ole Miss in this game, although I doubt I am alone on that front.
For these two teams, you almost have to forget about last week. Given how superb both Alabama and Georgia have looked, I don't feel all that differently about Ole Miss or Arkansas. They lost on the road against the best teams in the sport. It happens.
In this game, however, the Rebels are the more explosive team. Matt Corral finally looked mortal last week against the Tide, though I expect his superhuman performance to resurface.
And yes, like last week, location is a huge factor. The Hogs go on the road to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, another tricky venue, and will go against an offense that is superior to the one it faced last week.
While Arkansas should find more success on offense after accumulating just 165 yards against the Bulldogs, I don't see it being enough.
My heart says Ole Miss, because my heart loves teams that can score a billion points and that are generally fun to watch.
But my head says Arkansas, because the Razorbacks are on the short list of teams capable of holding the Rebels below 35 points.
Even in the 37-0 loss to Georgia, Arkansas did a fine job on D. Of UGA's four touchdowns, one drive necessitated a fourth-down conversion, one drive was extended twice by a pair of third-down defensive penalties and one touchdown came on a blocked punt.
Don't get me wrong: Georgia won convincingly. But it's not like the Razorbacks were exposed as some sort of defensive fraud. And they have been particularly good against the pass, allowing just one aerial touchdown all season, which came way back in the third quarter of their opener against Rice.
Ole Miss has scored at least 21 points in all 14 games since hiring Lane Kiffin, and that streak will continue. Still, this game will also serve as a vivid reminder that the Rebels don't have a championship-caliber defense. Treylon Burks will have a couple of big receptions and Trelon Smith will get it done on the ground for a 30-27 Arkansas victory.
Which Matchup Between Unranked Teams Will Be Most Entertaining?
When I think "entertaining," I think exciting. Maybe more specifically, I think about touchdowns, drama and scoreboards coming close to catching on fire.
The game that fits that criteria best might not be on your radar. Although we can change that.
Give me UTSA at Western Kentucky.
Now, perhaps you're a bit bewildered by this pick. Don't worry. I understand.
UTSA is undefeated and nearing a ranking in the AP Poll. Western Kentucky is 1-3, although it has played largely competitive, high-scoring games against Army, Indiana and Michigan State. It's why the Hilltoppers are actually the slight favorite in this matchup.
The total in this game is what excites me. It's hovering right around 70 points, and I have a feeling the output will exceed that.
Plus, UTSA is one heck of a story. If you're a fan of building programs, this is a team you need to become familiar with. Why not do it now and enjoy the deluge of touchdowns that will come with it?
If kickoff time had nothing to do with my decision, this would be easy: Virginia at Louisville. UVA quarterback Brennan Armstrong ranks second in the nation in passing yards per game, and Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham is one of the top true dual-threat options in the game. Throw in the fact that both defenses are mediocre, and this one could be a scoring extravaganza.
However, Virginia-Louisville kicks off at 3 p.m. ET, Boise State-BYU and Georgia-Auburn both kick off at 3:30 and Penn State-Iowa gets rolling at 4. And I cannot in good faith talk up a game that I already know will be, at best, relegated to the "Muted on the iPad" viewing option in my office.
TCU at Texas Tech, though, should be one of the best games of the evening slate.
Texas Tech is still adjusting to life with Henry Colombi at quarterback, as he had to replace the injured (why can't TTU QBs ever stay healthy?) Tyler Shough, who broke his collarbone two weeks ago. But TCU has allowed at least 32 points and 400 total yards in three consecutive games, so this could be a big day for the Red Raiders passing attack.
And when TCU has the ball, Zach Evans has been a fantastic running back when given opportunities. He averaged 7.7 yards per carry last year and has bumped that up a tick to 7.8 through four games this season, but he only got 15 carries in each of the recent losses to SMU and Texas. I would love to see the Horned Frogs cut him loose against a TTU defense that Texas relentlessly ran into the ground two weeks ago.
Will There Be Multiple 'Unranked over AP Top 16' Upsets for 6th Straight Week?
Yes. There are just too many intriguing matchups to predict otherwise.
While Texas A&M no longer looks like a threat to unseat Alabama, and Ohio State should handle Maryland after the Terrapins came back to reality against Iowa, there are other options worth watching. But it may not be the ones you think.
I expect BYU to handle business against Boise State, Michigan to roll into Big Red Country and topple Nebraska and Michigan State to come out victorious over Rutgers. (Although a Cornhuskers win over the Wolverines wouldn't exactly surprise me.)
The two upsets I'm going with this weekend are Virginia Tech over No. 14 Notre Dame and LSU winning at No. 16 Kentucky.
The Fighting Irish's quarterback issues were exposed last weekend against Cincinnati, and Drew Pyne may get his opportunity to lead this team after Jack Coan's struggles. But the biggest issue is the offensive line, which isn't giving anybody a chance to throw. Now they're going into the hostile environment of Lane Stadium to play in front of a raucous Hokies crowd?
That does not bode well for the Irish.
In the other game, Kentucky is coming off an all-time high from a home win over Florida. The Wildcats will go right back at it at Kroger Field against an up-and-down LSU team that has disappointed for a second straight year.
Though this is a shaky pick, Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron needs this game to cool the heat on his seat. The Wildcats won last weekend, but they mustered just 224 total yards and capitalized on the Gators' mistakes. LSU will win, even if it's ugly.
Short answer: Yes.
More specific answer: I see two of the most iconic programs in college football history suffering heartbreaking road losses.
No. 9 Michigan has yet to face a quality quarterback this season. Washington's Dylan Morris and Wisconsin's Graham Mertz should eventually be good, but they aren't there. And the Wolverines will have some trouble with Adrian Martinez, who has been impressive outside a few bad throws in the opener against Illinois.
Moreover, Michigan's run game over the past two weeks has been a far cry from the juggernaut we saw in nonconference play, and the Cornhuskers run defense has been solid. Maybe Wolverines quarterback Cade McNamara comes through in the clutch, but I like Nebraska to get the win.
The other game I have circled is No. 14 Notre Dame at Virginia Tech, if only because the ranked team is playing on the road with somewhat of a quarterback controversy. In a game between otherwise evenly matched squads, give me the Hokies in a close one.
And while I don't think any of them will lose, No. 10 BYU vs. Boise State, No. 11 Michigan State at Rutgers and No. 16 Kentucky vs. LSU are each at least vulnerable.
Among those five games, there will most likely be at least two losses by the ranked team.
Does Florida Cover the Nearly 40-Point Spread Against Vanderbilt?
I realize that Vanderbilt failed to crack 100 offensive yards in a loss to Georgia. I know UConn, which is a trainwreck at best, nearly clipped the Commodores last week. There is plenty of justification for such a lopsided spread, but that is still just a massive number.
However, I'm really not confident in what to expect from Florida's offense.
Emory Jones has remained the starter at quarterback, but he's still relatively inefficient. Plus, backup Anthony Richardson seems to be healthy again, so who knows if the early QB rotation is coming back. Penalties―false starts, in particular―just crushed the offense in last Saturday's loss at Kentucky, too.
While the Gators aren't in danger of an upset, their uncertainties make me shy away from expecting a 40-point win.
Allow me to start by pointing out that there were four FBS-vs.-FBS games in Week 4 with a closing line of more than 35 points: Coastal Carolina (-36) vs. Massachusetts, Georgia (-37) at Vanderbilt, Alabama (-45) vs. Southern Miss and Ohio State (-48) vs. Akron.
All four favorites won by at least 49 points, so even though it stands out a bit on this week's slate, a 38-point spread isn't unreasonable.
And there's little question that Vanderbilt is deserving of this dishonor. The Commodores narrowly won the game, but they just allowed 523 yards of total offense to a Connecticut team that had maxed out at 281 in its first five games. That mess came one week after the 62-0 loss to Georgia in which Vanderbilt managed just four first downs.
It's really just a question of whether Florida—which has yet to score more than 42 in a game this season—is up to the task of blowing this one wide open in a hurry.
I believe the Gators are.
They're mad about the low-scoring loss to Kentucky and they're going to take that frustration out on the SEC's punching bag. What's more, last week was Anthony Richardson's first game back after missing two weeks with a hamstring injury, and they're going to want to make sure that their most dangerous weapon is ready to dominate again before they fully re-implement the two-QB offense next week against LSU. Richardson and Emory Jones will each account for at least three touchdowns in a 52-10 victory.
Over/Under 13.5 Undefeated Teams Heading into Week 7?
Over, but only barely.
Three undefeated teams will fall in Week 6, dropping the number to 14.
In the Big Ten battle of unbeatens, I'm taking Iowa because of its defense and home-field advantage. I fully anticipate a low-scoring game because Penn State's D is also excellent, but Iowa's ability to force and capitalize on turnovers is awfully impressive.
The other two projected losses are Oklahoma and Wyoming.
As much as I want to believe in OU, the Sooners are barely scraping past all FBS competition―and thanks to Bijan Robinson, Texas has the most explosive offense Oklahoma has seen yet.
Wyoming has similarly fought its way to 4-0, most recently defeating UConn 24-22. That's not exactly the most inspiring result, though. Air Force's option attack has amassed 400-plus rushing yards in three straight games, and UW ranks 92nd nationally in yards allowed per carry. Down go the Pokes.
Give me the under on this one.
Penn State-Iowa is guaranteed to bring us down to 16 undefeated teams.
I'm already on record in picking Nebraska to upset Michigan, so that gets us to 15.
I'm also reasonably confident that 4-1 Air Force will knock off 4-0 Wyoming, considering the Falcons are leading the nation in rushing yards per game and the Cowboys barely held on to beat Connecticut in their most recent outing. That makes 14.
And then there are just way too many other tough calls—BYU vs. Boise State, Kentucky vs. LSU, UTSA at Western Kentucky, SMU at Navy, Oklahoma vs. Texas, Michigan State at Rutgers—to assume they all escape unscathed.
You could drop the line all the way down to 11.5 and I'd still probably take the under. There's been so much carnage already this season. Why expect it to slow down now?
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