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The 5-0 Tigers, Yellow Jackets and Fighting Illini are among college football’s best stories.
There have been several surprise teams through five weeks of the college football season, and three at the top of the list would be unbeaten Clemson, Georgia Tech and Illinois. The Fighting Illini are 5-0 for the first time since 1951, and Ron Zook’s squad has a good shot at being 9-0 before a November 12 meeting with Michigan. Georgia Tech is 5-0 for the first time since 1990 (when it shared the national championship with Colorado), and the Yellow Jackets are steamrolling opponents with their run-option attack that ranks second in the nation in total offense. Perhaps the best 5-0 resume belongs to Dabo Swinney and Clemson, as the Tigers have defeated Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech over the last three weeks. Quarterback Tajh Boyd and freshman receiver Sammy Watkins have become a lethal combination, and the defense shut down the Hokies on Saturday.
First victim this season: Illinois, Georgia Tech or Clemson?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
That’s an interesting mix of teams. We have one program that always seems to have a tough time handling the hype and meeting expectations (Clemson). We have another program that has been wildly inconsistent in recent seasons, led by a coach that no one seems to trust (Illinois). And then, we have Georgia Tech, a program that has consistently exceeded expectations under still-underrated coach Paul Johnson. We, at Athlon Sports, made the mistake of predicting the Yellow Jackets to finish fourth in the ACC Coastal Division this season. Bad move. To specifically answer the question, I will go with Clemson, which visits Georgia Tech on Oct. 29, to be the first team of the three to lose a game. Illinois hasn’t been dominant — its last three wins have come by a total of nine points — but the Illini keep finding ways to win. Over the next month, they have three road games, but they are all very winnable — at Indiana, Purdue and Penn State. Georgia Tech still has to go to Miami, but that is a game the Jackets can definitely win. That leaves us with Clemson, which is no doubt good enough to win the rest of its games. But the guess here is that the Tigers will lose in Atlanta in late October.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
The latest possible answer to that question is, of course, October 29 when Clemson visits Atlanta to take on the Jackets. But Georgia Tech has a rough slate leading up to that game with Maryland at home and Virginia and Miami on the road. Clemson will beat Boston College at home and will be tested by Maryland in College Park and North Carolina at home. Illinois' first chance at losing will be at home against what should be a full Ohio State depth chart for the first time all season on October 15. They also play at Penn State on October 29. I will say all three teams will have a loss by then with Illinois falling first.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Illinois’ schedule is very favorable the rest of the way, so I’m going to say the October 29 date between Clemson and Georgia Tech will decide which team loses first. The only obstacle to an undefeated matchup between these two teams would appear to be Georgia Tech’s Oct. 22 date at Miami. The Yellow Jackets have lost their last two matchups to the Hurricanes and neither has been close. However, Georgia Tech has looked like the better team this year. Clemson faces Boston College, Maryland and North Carolina the next three weeks, and should be a significant favorite in each contest. It wouldn’t surprise me to see any of these teams stumble before Oct. 29. After all, Clemson and Illinois have been underachievers in the past. However, all three teams have looked very good this season and should challenge for a division title in their conference.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Georgia Tech will be undefeated on October 29 when they host Clemson. The Tigers will probably travel to Atlanta unbeaten as well, although North Carolina could be a tough opponent the preceding week. Many believe that Michigan and Illinois will both be 9-0 when they meet in a huge Big Ten clash on November 12, but I believe the Illini may slip against Ohio State on October 15. The Buckeyes looked horrible last week against Michigan State, but getting senior left tackle Mike Adams back will help the offense tremendously. OSU may also have senior receiver DeVier Posey and senior running back Dan Herron back from suspension when they travel to Champaign. The Illini are a good story, but they have been squeaking by the likes of Arizona State, Western Michigan and Northwestern at home. Give them credit for winning by three in each of those games, but I see the perfect season ending for Ron Zook’s bunch against a resurgent Ohio State club.