For close to 15 minutes Saturday afternoon, it seemed like Alabama was doomed. Bryce Young was hurt. Arkansas had all but erased a huge Crimson Tide lead. The college football world held its collective breath.
For more than three quarters of action Saturday night, it seemed as if the kings had been dethroned. Georgia's offense sputtered. Missouri built a double-digit lead. The foundation of the college football world began to crumble.
For five plays Saturday, Rutgers led Ohio State. No one really panicked here. It's still Rutgers, and there was only so much stress to go around.
In the end, college football's Big Three of 2022 -- the Buckeyes, Bulldogs and Tide -- all survived. Ohio State rolled, Alabama used a pair of long runs to assert its dominance even without Young, and Stetson Bennett rallied Georgia to a 26-22 come-from-behind win. Order had been restored.
It was a reminder that the Big Three are worthy of their place atop the sport, but also served notice that no one has a playoff berth carved into stone after just five weeks.
Young's injury served notice of how tenuous title hopes can be, even at a place like Alabama. And Ohio State has its own injury woes at the moment, with a trio of solid defenses awaiting on the schedule. Georgia has delivered back-to-back stinkers against the likes of Kent State and Missouri. After the game, Kirby Smart shrugged off the struggles by noting, "There's nothing easy in the SEC." Kansas State, which beat Missouri by 28 two weeks ago, might disagree, but who are we to argue with the coach who won last year's national championship?
So what happens if, one of these Saturdays, the Big Three don't survive? Who's next in the playoff pecking order?
If Week 5 didn't deliver the shocking upsets, it did offer some separation between the pretenders and contenders behind the Big Three.
In Oxford, Ole Miss was decked out in helmets made of the same material used for those Coors Lite cans that turn blue when they're cold, then delivered a silver bullet to the Kentucky Wildcats' playoff hopes. That the Rebels won with defense was an emphatic statement that Lane Kiffin's team isn't a one-dimensional attack. Smart and Jimbo Fisher each earned wins over Alabama last year, and Kiffin might now be the former Saban assistant with the best shot to upend his old boss.
After NC State beat Clemson in double overtime last year in Raleigh, Dave Doeren celebrated with a red Solo cup and a cigar. We doubt Dabo Swinney will do the same after Clemson's impressive 30-20 win over the 10th-ranked Wolfpack Saturday (though, perhaps he'll indulge in a tall glass of milk and some wheat toast?), but the win was a statement that the Tigers are back in the playoff hunt in 2022. DJ Uiagalelei accounted for three touchdowns, and the Clemson defense turned in a vintage performance, all but paying rent for the amount of time it spent in the NC State backfield.
Baylor thwarted Oklahoma State in last year's Big 12 title game, but on Saturday, the Cowboys delivered their response with a 36-25 win. Spencer Sanders, who struggled mightily in two games against Baylor last season, threw for 181 yards, ran for 75 more and accounted for two touchdowns. Mike Gundy's team hasn't gotten much love so far, but the Cowboys have won all four of their games by double digits and, if not for Big 12 power Kansas, would be a clear favorite to win the league.
Iowa's plan to lull Michigan to sleep by playing offense failed miserably, too. The Hawkeyes punted on each of their first five full drives, which is usually a winning formula, but not against Blake Corum, who carried 29 times for 133 yards and a touchdown in Michigan's 27-14 win.
Meanwhile, Kentucky and NC State are likely to tumble out of the top 10. Penn State won, but served up five turnovers in an ugly performance against Northwestern. Minnesota couldn't move the ball in a loss to the Purdue Boilermakers with star tailback Mohamed Ibrahim sidelined. Oklahoma, Florida State and Washington all fell by the wayside in Week 5, too.
We're just one Saturday into October. We're still farther from the finish line than the starting blocks. There's little point in making sweeping declarations about the contenders at this point, but Week 5 did offer a clearer picture than we've had before.
Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State keep winning -- even if it hasn't always been pretty.
But Clemson, Michigan, Oklahoma State and others offered their own reminder that, while only four playoff invites will go out at year's end, the Big Three don't need to check their mailboxes just yet.
It's time to believe in TCU
It's just like we've been saying for weeks: It's time the rest of the country started paying attention to the upstart Big 12 team that's opened the season 4-0 and deserves to be ranked.
Oh, no, not Kansas. We're talking about TCU.
After finishing last season 5-7 and firing Gary Patterson, the Horned Frogs were hardly considered contenders in the Big 12 this season, but Sonny Dykes has clearly injected some life into the offense, and Max Duggan has emerged as one of the nation's most productive QBs.
If you weren't a believer before Saturday, the 27 points TCU hung on Oklahoma in the first quarter should've had you convinced. And if you've ever wondered how many big plays are needed before Brent Venables' head explodes, well, this game certainly took a swing at providing an answer.
John Emery Jr. rushes in for a 20-yard touchdown and 21-17 LSU lead.
TCU racked up 668 yards in the 55-24 win, including four plays of 60 yards or more.
Duggan was sublime, throwing for 302 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 116 yards and two more scores. If the stat line looked familiar for Sooners fans, it should. In the playoff era, the only other Big 12 QB with 300 pass yards, 100 rush yards, three pass TDs and two on the ground in the same game was Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts in 2019. Duggan is just the eighth player in the playoff era from any conference to hit those marks against a Power 5 foe.
So, if Oklahoma can officially be scratched off the list of playoff contenders, is it time to start thinking about TCU as a possible Big 12 champ?
This is the Horned Frogs' first 4-0 start since 2017 and they now have notable wins vs. the Sooners and SMU. They've put up 38 points in each of their first four games and, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, the 55 points vs. Oklahoma marked the most allowed by the Sooners since the 2019 Peach Bowl. That one came against Joe Burrow and LSU. The last time Oklahoma allowed 55 or more against an unranked foe was 2016. That one came against Patrick Mahomes. Yikes.
Still, for all the deserved attention TCU's big win will get, it's worth noting the Horned Frogs couldn't deliver on their mid-game trolling. The family of Roger Maris will now need to attend every TCU game until the Horned Frogs score 62.
Who hits 62 first?— TCU Football (@TCUFootball) October 1, 2022
Like for TCU
RT for Aaron Judge #GoFrogs #DFWBig12Team
Rebels dunk UK, but hoops schools still flying high
The Ole Miss defense delivered a brutal blow to Kentucky's SEC hopes Saturday with a 22-19 win, then the Ole Miss social media team delivered an even more brutal blow after the win.
u like what u see? @KentuckyFB pic.twitter.com/MP8xYYzrFP— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) October 1, 2022
Somewhere, John Calipari is sipping a bourbon, throwing darts at a photo of Shaheen Holloway he keeps pinned to his wall and laughing. Yes, Kentucky remains a basketball school.
The Wildcats had their chances to pull off a road win, but an early safety left Will Levis' finger looking like he was trying to use his hands to do long division and was left with a remainder.
But all is not lost for the basketball schools.
Kansas had a message to those cowards voting in the AP poll, holding the Iowa State Cyclones to just 26 yards on the ground in a 14-11 win. Jalen Daniels' Heisman campaign took a bit of a hit as he completed just seven passes for 93 yards (we're assuming he got in early foul trouble), but the defense more than made up for the offensive shortcomings.
Syracuse, too, moved to 5-0. The Orange played Wagner, which may or may not have been a bunch of elementary school kids standing on each others' shoulders, wearing trench coats and jerseys.
And UCLA toppled Washington in a statement win Friday night, moving the Bruins to 5-0, too.
Add in 4-1 starts by North Carolina and Maryland, and the basketball schools are looking awfully good on the gridiron -- even if Kentucky didn't get its one shining moment at Ole Miss.
Pac-12 earning some respect
After years without a playoff team, 2022 is shaping up like the Year of the Pac-12. Well, as long as you don't count Colorado.
The league may still be a playoff outsider -- although USC and UCLA could certainly offer an olive branch before bolting for the Big Ten -- but there's no dearth of legitimately fun teams playing out West.
Utah's Week 1 loss to Florida seems more inexplicable by the week -- both due to the Gators' struggles since that win, and because the Utes have downright dominated. Saturday's 42-16 thrashing of Oregon State was highlighted by four Cameron Rising touchdowns and three interceptions by Clark Phillips III, who's quickly making a name for himself as the country's best defender.
USC allowed Arizona State to hang around for three quarters before finally ending the Sun Devils' misery 42-25, and the Trojans now move to 5-0. That gives the Pac-12 two 5-0 teams for the first time since 2017, when Washington and Washington State both opened without a loss through five weeks.
Washington, Washington State and Oregon are all 4-1, too, while Oregon State, California and even Arizona have been fun (if not necessarily good) through five weeks. Jayden de Laura threw for 484 yards and six touchdowns in Arizona's win over Colorado on Saturday, and Washington State's Cameron Ward threw for 343 and three TDs in a win over Cal.
So, it certainly appears the Pac-12 deserves some respect in 2022 -- or at least that's what Kevin Warren is telling TV networks he's squeezing for a bigger deal to add four more of the Pac-12's teams.
Auburn's luck runs out
The Bryan Harsin Experience just keeps getting weirder.
Last week, Harsin was down to his fourth-string QB and just inches away from a loss to Missouri that seemed sure to be the final nail in his coffin -- and he survived.
Then this week, former Alabama QB A.J. McCarron made the unsubstantiated comment that Auburn had actually already fired Harsin, but was allowing him to keep coaching for a while longer, undoubtedly following the "Office Space" principle of simply fixing the glitch in payroll and assuming Harsin would eventually realize he was no longer employed.
Nevertheless, Harsin was back on the sideline Saturday as Auburn hosted LSU, and for the first 20 minutes of action, it looked like he might find another escape hatch as Auburn jumped out to a 17-0 lead with 9:38 left in the first half.
Then LSU figured out its offense, and Auburn never scored again. Its second-half drives: punt, turnover on downs, interception, punt, fumbled punt return, interception.
OMG Auburn... the fan reactions 😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/PrrG5Tx9iF— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) October 2, 2022
Auburn will now be moving Harsin's office downstairs to Storage B. It has a lot of new people coming in, and it really needs all the space it can get.
Ladies and gentlemen, UConn has an FBS win.
Please, take a moment to gather your emotions.
The Huskies engineered a 94-yard drive to score a go-ahead TD with 2:20 to play and finished with a shocking 19-14 win over Fresno State.
It had been 1,050 days since UConn last won a game against an FBS opponent. In the interim, 23 teams have announced they're changing conferences (including UConn, which went independent), Miami has been back -- then not back -- eight times, and James Madison, which was an FCS team a month ago, has won three games vs. FBS foes.
Even that undersells just how long it's been since UConn did something as unexpected as Saturday's win. UConn had been a 19.5-point underdog -- the money line for a UConn win was +1050 -- and yet the Huskies pulled off a win. The last win was actually at home against equally woeful UMass in a game UConn was favored to win. To find UConn's last FBS upset, you'd need to go all the way back to 2017. This was, like, five Taylor Swift albums ago.
This is the beauty of UConn football. It serves as a time capsule for the rest of us, a means by which we can measure not the struggles of the Huskies, but rather how far the rest of us have come.
Nearly every week this season, we've gotten an email from a reader accusing us of being a "Georgia homer." It's not true. We're simply biased in favor of teams that win national championships. Still, last week, he noted Stetson Bennett's No. 2 ranking here and asked, "Do you even watch football? How do they let you get away with this stuff?"
Well, dear reader, we'd like to let you know we flipped over to the Georgia-Missouri game several times this week during commercials in the big ULM-Arkansas State tilt, and we must admit -- you're right. Bennett did throw for 312 yards, but it was hardly a Heisman-worthy performance against woeful Missouri.
So, we're retiring Bennett from the Heisman Five and simply awarding him a Lifetime Achievement Award, which he can put on his trophy case next to his national championship trophy and his "World's Greatest Dad" coffee mug Alabama's defense gave him for Father's Day this year.
1. Alabama QB Bryce Young
Nick Saban said Young's shoulder injury isn't serious, which is great news. Well, not for Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M Aggies, who'll now lose by 30 next week. For Alabama fans, it's great news.
2. Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud
It was hardly Stroud's best game -- 13-of-22 for 154, two touchdowns and a pick -- but Ohio State won easily. It was actually a very sportsmanlike move to not pad his stats against Rutgers, as so many Ohio State QBs have done before.
3. Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker
Tennessee was off this week, but we assume Hooker at least got in a game of NCAA Football '14, downloaded new rosters and threw for 600 yards and nine touchdowns against Florida, then sent some taunting text messages to dudes from the 2014 Gators just for fun.
4. USC Trojans QB Caleb Williams
Williams shrugged off last week's struggles against Oregon State Beavers, accounting for TDs on each of USC's first three drives against Arizona State on Saturday.
5. North Carolina QB Drake Maye
Maye threw for 363 and three touchdowns, ran for 73 and two more scores and UNC dominated the Virginia Tech Hokies 41-10. Maye has thrown for 300 yards and three TDs in four of his five games so far this season. And given that UNC's defense has played horribly for most of the season, Maye's going to have plenty of chances to keep putting up big numbers.
Break up the Illini
We're five weeks into the season, and it feels like an appropriate moment for the college football world to take a quick step back, peruse the standings and ask a question that has frustrated even the most renowned philosophers, scientists and scholars: Hey, is Illinois good?
The Illini are 4-1 for the first time since 2015 after throttling Wisconsin 34-10 on Saturday, led by a Syracuse castoff and an absolutely dominant run defense. It was Illinois' biggest road win since 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, and it snapped an eight-game losing streak at Camp Randall.
On Saturday, QB Tommy DeVito pulled off a pretty neat trick: He ran for minus-2 yards in the game, but he also had three rushing touchdowns. It's a rare feat to have five fewer rushing yards than rushing TDs, but at Illinois, DeVito has managed to combine a new-found scoring touch to go with his long established ability to serve as a tackling dummy. From 2019 to 2021, DeVito was sacked 70 times at Syracuse, despite starting just 18 games. He's been dumped in the backfield 11 more times this season, but he's also racked up 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
The big key to Illinois' success thus far has been the defense, which has been a brick wall against the run. Wisconsin managed just 2 rushing yards on 24 carries Saturday, marking the worst output on the ground by the Badgers since 2015 against Northwestern. For the season, Illinois has allowed just 351 yards on the ground, and has held four straight opponents to less than 100 yards rushing.
Georgia State pulled the upset at Army on Saturday, knocking off the Black Knights 31-14 to earn win No. 1. It was a notable victory, in that Georgia State had been the last winless team in the country -- outside the state of Colorado, that is.
Colorado fell to 0-5 Saturday with a 43-20 loss to Arizona. Meanwhile, Colorado State was off in Week 5, though we feel confident its O-line still allowed six sacks. Regardless, the Rams are 0-4.
How bad have things been for Colorado and Colorado State? Neither team has managed more than 20 points in a game thus far. On average, they've lost by 30 points. The Bottom 10 has set up a bureau in Denver, though they're still frustrated by how far the airport is from downtown.
But there is hope for the state. Air Force may have run afoul of the NCAA this week, but the Falcons are 4-1, providing the Rocky Mountain state with at least one peak to go with its deep, deep valleys.
The most college football thing to happen Saturday
Phil Jurkovec led Boston College to a 34-33 win over Louisville on Saturday, throwing for 304 yards and three touchdowns, including completions of 50, 57 and 69.
Unfortunately, the throw that'll likely show up most on SportsCenter this week wasn't one to remember. Jurkovec was essentially in a full-on Neo-in-The Matrix position as he tossed the ball backward in the general direction of running back Pat Garwo III. From there, it got silly.
This was ugly. Like real ugly.— Andy Backstrom (@andybackstrom) October 1, 2022
Trying to avoid the sack, BC QB Phil Jurkovec threw the ball away, but it went backwards.
BC RB Pat Garwo III tried to recover the now-fumble. Instead, though, Louisville's YaYa Diaby hopped on it.
Third Eagles turnover of the game. pic.twitter.com/QZTmULRBYQ
But hey, all's well that ends well. Malik Cunningham scored two plays later to give Louisville the lead, but the Cardinals couldn't hold on, as Boston College earned its first ACC win of the season.
Under-the-radar play of the day
Jaivian Lofton's catch to open the scoring in Liberty's game against Old Dominion would warrant its inclusion here regardless. It's a ridiculous one-handed snag on a 34-yard TD. But what truly puts this one over the top is the reaction.
Jamon Dumas-Johnson is frustrated with Georgia's defense as the Bulldogs give up a touchdown to go down by 10 in the second quarter to Missouri.
Lofton basically treated the catch like he was picking up a DoorDash order at Arby's. Zero emotion. We hope Lofton is like this in every aspect of life. Ace a test? No biggie. Win the lottery? Cool, he'll send you his routing number in the morning. Finds out Kansas is 5-0? OK, no one could take that in stride.
Under-the-radar game of the day
Holy Cross toppled Harvard 30-21 on Saturday to move to 5-0 and, perhaps, put in its claim as the best team in Massachusetts this season.
Crusaders QB Matthew Sluka threw for 300 yards and two TDs, while Jalen Coker caught 10 balls for 166 yards in the win. It marked the first time Harvard lost a game by more than one possession since its 2019 opener.
Holy Cross is now 5-0, including a road win against FBS Buffalo last month, giving the Crusaders a pretty good case as the Commonwealth's top team. Holy Cross has head-to-head wins over Merrimack and Harvard now, and both BC and UMass are below .500 for the season. That leaves Stonehill (3-0) as the only other contender, and frankly, we just learned that Stonehill was in Massachusetts.
Big bets and bad beats
Arizona State certainly made things interesting in a close first half against USC -- at least for one Caesars bettor.
Giant bet reported by @CaesarsSports: A bettor at Caesars Palace placed a $575,000 moneyline bet on USC to beat Arizona State at -4,500 odds.— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) September 29, 2022
If the Trojans prevail, the bettor would win a net $12,777.80.
Chalk it up as the most stressful way possible to earn $12,777.80 and a reminder that, as a former head coach at Arizona State once said, you bet. To win. The game.
Syracuse was cruising toward an easy cover over FCS Wagner on Saturday, but it turns out, it was a little *too* easy.
The line closed at Syracuse -54, which seemed about right given that Wagner is 1-27 since 2019 and had already lost to Rutgers by 59 this season. And, as expected, Syracuse rolled early, jumping out to a 49-0 lead at the half.
Easy cover, right?
Well, no. Wagner waved the white flag, and sports books waived the bets.
Syracuse went on to win 59-0 -- a cover for the Orange and the under, but due to the shortened quarters, the bets didn't count. Kudos to Caesars for having the courage to say what the rest of us were thinking.
Ohio State would never pic.twitter.com/X328yS5rCT— Caesars Sportsbook (@CaesarsSports) October 2, 2022
There's no such thing as easy money, but the service academies at least offer something close. Air Force hosted Navy on Saturday in the first Commander's Cup matchup of the season, and that means it's time to throw some money on the under. What was the total? Doesn't matter. Whatever the total is, bet the under. In the playoff era, the under in Commander's Cup games is 22-2-1, and it's hit 77% of the time.
In this case, the total closed at 38. It's a low number. Low enough to worry about the under? Heck, no.
OK, so you bet the under, then Air Force found the end zone on its opening drive on a 67-yard pass play. Now you're worried, right? Ah, still no.
Of the remaining 19 drives in the game, 10 ended with punts. The others: a Navy touchdown, two field goals (including one after Navy got the ball deep in Air Force territory), a turnover on downs, two fumbles (including one in the red zone), a missed field goal and a seven-play drive that chewed up the final 3:49 of the game.
That, friends, is a recipe for another under. Final score: Air Force 13, Navy 10.
The under has now covered in nine straight games that featured two of the three service academies, and 14 of the past 15.
Oklahoma State jumped out to a big lead and cruised to a 36-25 win over Baylor. The Cowboys had been a 2.5-point favorite, which is hallowed ground for head coach Mike Gundy. As ESPN's Chris Fallica noted, since 2016, Oklahoma State is now 14-3 in games when the spread is +/- 3.5 points, including a ridiculous 13-2 in those situations on the road.