We had lots of great matchups in Week 1 of the non-conference variety. In Week 5, however, we have our best card of the season to date, featuring five battles of unbeaten teams.
Although Oklahoma remains undefeated, it has barely survived three home games in which it was favored by 70.5 combined points. The Sooners have been disappointing along with Clemson and Ohio St., and all three of those squads face dangerous games on Saturday.
In fact, OU has lost back-to-back games to Kansas St. Fortunately for the Sooners, the Wildcats are dealing with injuries at the QB position. Nevertheless, we’ll note how K-St. owns a remarkable 16-5 spread record in its last 21 games as a home ‘dog.
The nation’s biggest surprises are Michigan St. and Arkansas. The Razorbacks face a daunting task at Georgia, while a high-octane offense comes to East Lansing one week after throwing a scare into another Big Ten school.
Let’s rank the best games on Saturday’s slate and hit on some quick-hit thoughts for each of those contests.
1-Ole Miss at Alabama: QBs Bryce Young and Matt Corral are the +175 co-favorites to win the Heisman Trophy at many betting shops. These signal callers will do battle one year after these teams waged a thriller in Oxford. I looked back at that game in this by-line last week about the look-ahead line.
DraftKings had this number at ‘Bama -14.5 going into this past Saturday, and that’s where it was at most spots as of early Wednesday. This SEC showdown also has the highest total of the season so far, listed in the 79-80 range on Wednesday. Circa actually opened the Crimson Tide at -20 early Sunday afternoon. Alabama RB Brian Pittman is hoping to return from an injury to his ribs sustained at Florida that caused him to miss last week’s 63-14 home win over Mercer. The Rebels have had two weeks to prepare after smashing Tulane by a 61-21 count in Oxford.
2-Arkansas at Georgia: Letdown scenario for the Razorbacks after finally ending their long losing streak to Texas A&M? Perhaps. Unfortunate that KJ Jefferson is banged up after leaving the 20-10 win over the Aggies with a bruised knee (but later returning)? For sure if he’s not fully recovered by Saturday. Do either of those factors diminish the anticipation of this matchup? Hell no! And by the way, Arkansas backup QB Malik Hornsby has track-star speed. UGA is 12-17 against the spread in its 29 games as a home favorite during Kirby Smart’s six-year tenure. Clemson, UAB, South Carolina and Vandy are ranked #121, #79, #115 and #123 nationally in total offense, respectively. The Tigers, Blazers, Gameocks and Commodores are ranked #105 (21.8 points per game), #85 (26.5 PPG), #104 (22.3 PPG) and #129 (12.5 PPG) in scoring, respectively. Those are Georgia’s first four opponents who aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts. Nevertheless, UGA’s defense looks like one of the nation’s best. The Bulldogs are ranked #1 in total defense and scoring ‘D,’ allowing only 5.8 PPG. Arkansas scored 17 points with the quickness on the Aggies, who also have an elite stop unit. From there, the Hogs just managed the game the rest of the way. They’re ranked eighth in the country in rushing yards. Most books have UGA installed as an 18.5-point home favorite with a total of 48.5. Arkansas is +700 to +760 on the money line, but Circa has the Razorbacks at +845. UGA TE Darnell Washington and DB Tykee Smith are expected to make their season debuts after missing four games with injuries. WR Dominick Blaylock is still hopeful to play, but he remains ‘questionable.’
3-Cincinnati at Notre Dame: Brian Kelly’s team trailed Wisconsin 13-10 early in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field in Chicago this past Saturday afternoon. But the Fighting Irish erased that brief deficit thanks to Chris Tyreel’s 96-yard kickoff return for a TD. Then Notre Dame got a pair of pick-sixes from Jack Kiser and Drew White in a 41-13 win to stay undefeated. The Bearcats have had two weeks to prepare after overcoming a double-digit deficit at Indiana and rallying to captured a 38-24 win. Jack Coan left last week’s game against his former school with an injury, but the Irish seemed optimistic about his availability for Saturday on Wednesday afternoon. Luke Fickell’s team has to win to stay in the conversation for a potential berth in the College Football Playoffs. UC’s hopes were definitely boosted by IU’s win at Western Ky. last week and the Irish’s victory over Wisconsin. Now it would love to stay unbeaten, see Indiana pull off an upset at Penn St. and see Western Ky. knock Michigan St. from the list of unbeatens.
4-Florida at Kentucky: The Gators haven’t lost in Lexington since 1986. However, they’ve been fortunate to escape Kroger Field unscathed in three consecutive trips. UF is 3-1 with its lone defeat coming by two points at home vs. Alabama. Dan Mullen told the media Wednesday that Anthony Richardson is 100-percent healthy and will play after missing back-to-back games. UF is hoping star CB Kair Elam can return after missing last week’s 38-14 home win over Tennessee due to what was deemed a minor knee issue. Mullen called Elam ‘probable’ on Monday, but he isn’t necessarily to be trusted when talking about injuries to his players. The most impressive thing about UK’s 4-0 start is that it’s happened despite ranking dead last out of 130 FBS teams in turnover margin (-9). Mark Stoops has a big-armed QB for the first time in a long time in Penn St. transfer Will Levis, but his turnovers in the last two weeks have been disconcerting. Nebraska transfer WR Wan’Dale Robinson has been as advertised and then some. RB Chris Rodriguez leads the SEC in rushing yards, but he’s been fumbling entirely too much. For now, Kentucky is a legit SEC East contender. Florida is that and a legit CFP contender as well. Both teams need this one in the worst way.
5-Auburn at LSU: HUGE revenge spot for the Bayou Bengals, who got absolutely humiliated at Jordan-Hare Stadium last year in a 48-11 pimpslap. As of Wednesday, Bryan Harsin hadn’t announced a starting QB yet. He yanked Bo Nix with his team trailing Ga. St. by 12 in the second half this past Saturday. QB TJ Finley, a transfer from LSU who started for Ed Orgeron’s team at Auburn last year, orchestrated a comeback win for AU on The Plains. His crafty moves to avoid a hard-coming rush on a fourth-and-nine play in the red zone saved the day when he threw a go-ahead TD pass at crunch time. LSU’s Max Johnson has a 15/3 TD-INT ratio through four games to improve those career numbers to 23/4. WR Keyshon Boutte is tied for first in the SEC in TDs with eight. LSU’s defense couldn’t tackle in a loss at UCLA, but it shut down Mississippi St.’s offense for the most part for three quarters and change in last week’s 28-25 win Starkville. The Bulldogs put up most of their stats in the fourth quarter when LSU was playing prevent with a 28-10 lead. With both teams already saddled with one loss, albeit in non-conference play, Saturday’s winner still feels like a contender while the loser has no more room for error in the SEC race.
6-Iowa at Maryland (Friday): As of Wednesday, most spots had the Hawkeyes listed as 3.5-point road favorites with a total of 47.5. Maryland (4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS) is 3-0 both SU and ATS at home. The Terrapins have a quality home win over West Virginia (30-24) and opened Big Ten play with a 20-17 win at Illinois. Mike Locksley’s squad is off a 37-16 home win over Kent St. as a 13-point ‘chalk.’ Iowa hosted Kent St. in Week 3, winning by a 30-7 count. The Terps are ranked eighth in the nation in passing yards and 12th in total offense. Their defense is ranked ninth in scoring ‘D’ (14.3 PPG). Iowa is ranked third in the country in scoring ‘D’ (11.0 PPG), 13th in total defense, 17th versus the run and No. 31 against the pass. However, the Hawkeyes are #122 in total offense, #114 in passing yards, #106 in rushing yards and #71 in scoring with their 28.8 PPG average. Kirk Ferentz’s team trailed Colorado St. 14-7 at home last week before pulling even midway through the third quarter. They took the lead for good with 6:01 left in the third. The ‘under’ is 4-0 for Iowa and 3-1 for Maryland. Baby Tua has a stellar 10/1 TD-INT ratio for the Terps, who are 3-3 ATS as home ‘dogs on Locksley’s watch. The Hawkeyes are 19-5-1 ATS as road favorites since 2012.
7-Baylor at Oklahoma St.: Our fifth battle of unbeatens will go down in Stillwater, where the Cowboys beat Kansas St. 31-20 last week. Mike Gundy’s club won its first three games vs. Missouri St. (23-16), vs. Tulsa (28-23) and at Boise St. (21-20) by only 13 combined points. Baylor has covered the number in three straight games and seen the ‘over’ hit in three in a row. The Bears beat up on three pancakes to start the season before holding off Iowa St., 31-29, in Week 4. They’re getting great QB play from Gerry Bohanon, who has connected on 73.0 percent of his passes for 828 yards and seven TDs without an interception. Baylor is 13-8 ATS as a road underdog since 2012 and won 45-27 in its last trip to Stillwater in 2019.
8-Boston College at Clemson: BC is 17-6-1 ATS as a road underdog in its last 24 such spots. The Eagles led 28-10 at one point in the second quarter at Clemson last year. They had a 28-13 advantage at halftime, but the Tigers rallied to win 34-28. Nevertheless, Jeff Hafley’s team easily took the money as a 24.5-point ‘dog. The Tigers have injuries galore, while BC is without star QB Phil Jurkovec. However, Dennis Grosel is making his 11th career start and is more than capable. The Eagles played three easy games before knocking off Missouri in overtime last week. Dabo Swinney’s bunch has already lost twice and is in must-win mode.
9-Michigan at Wisconsin: Despite a dreadful 1-2 start, Wisconsin still controls its own destiny to win the Big Ten West. The Badgers are ranked second in the country in total defense and #1 against the run. However, they’re #114 in scoring with their 19.0 PPG average. Graham Mertz hit only 18-of-41 throws vs. Notre Dame for 240 yards and one TD with four interceptions and a pair of pick-sixes in the fourth quarter. Since throwing seven TD passes without an interception in wins at Illinois and at Michigan to start last season, Mertz has an atrocious 3/11 TD-INT ratio in eight games. Michigan is looking to avenge a humiliating 49-11 home loss to the Badgers last season.
10-Arizona St. at UCLA: Huge game in the Pac-12 South, especially with USC and Utah struggling so much in September.
HONORABLE MENTION: Western Kentucky at unbeaten Michigan St., Oregon at Stanford, Oklahoma at Kansas St., Ohio St. at Rutgers, Nevada at Boise St., BYU at Utah St. and Texas at TCU.