Alabama, Oregon and Virginia Tech flexed their muscle this weekend.
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the five most important things to take away from this weekend.
1. Alabama makes a statement – Following Saturday’s victory over Florida, the gap between Alabama and the SEC looks pretty wide. The Gators were dominated by the Crimson Tide, managing less than 300 yards of offense and turning the ball over four times. Alabama’s rushing attack didn’t post huge numbers, but both sides of the ball combined for a methodical, dominating victory over Florida. The Gators were limited on offense with an injured Jeff Demps at running back and quarterback John Brantley still finding his way in his first season as the starter. The offensive line was supposed to be a strength for Florida, but has struggled in every game. Assuming both teams win out in SEC play, the Gators will have another crack at the Crimson Tide. However, this Florida team has a lot of improving to do before it can think about challenging Alabama. With the win over the Gators, the Crimson Tide now turns to a road contest at South Carolina. The Gamecocks played Alabama tough last season, losing 20-6 in Tuscaloosa. However, if Alabama continues to play like it did on Saturday night, don’t expect Nick Saban’s team to stumble along the way to a national championship appearance.
2. Oregon pulls ahead in the Pac-10 – Stanford-Oregon was hyped as one of the most anticipated games of Week 5 and didn’t disappoint. The Cardinal raced to a 21-3 lead, but the Ducks continued to fight back and pulled away in the second half behind the playmaking ability of quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James. Oregon’s offense wasn’t the only factor in the victory, as the defense pitched a shutout in the second half and picked off Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck twice. With the win over Stanford, the Ducks have separated from the rest of the conference and the upcoming schedule is favorable. After taking on Washington State and UCLA, the Ducks hit the road for a game against USC, before facing key games against Arizona and Oregon State in the final two weeks. As long as Oregon keeps winning, this is a team that could have something to say about the national title picture.
3. Virginia Tech, Miami win key conference road games – The ACC’s season got off to a rough start with disappointing losses in non-conference play, but the race to win the Atlantic and Coastal divisions is about to heat up. Virginia Tech rallied from a 17-0 deficit to knock off previously unbeaten NC State. The Hokies have won three in a row, with their next four games at home. The offensive line is still a major question mark, but the Hokies seem to have found some answers on defense. The last three meetings in the Miami-Clemson series needed overtime to decide the outcome, but extra time wasn’t needed this time around. Quarterback Jacory Harris certainly takes some risks with eight interceptions on the year, but also makes up those mistakes with touchdowns and big plays. The Miami defense struggled to stop Clemson running back Andre Ellington, but ranks sixth in the nation in pass defense and 12th in total defense. The Hurricanes have a big test against Florida State this Saturday, and an improving Virginia Tech waiting for them on November 20.
4. Oklahoma takes control of Big 12 South – The annual matchup at the Cotton Bowl between Texas and Oklahoma plays a major role in deciding the Big 12 South champ and usually has an impact on the national title race. However, some of the luster surrounding this matchup wore off with Texas’ defeat against UCLA and Oklahoma’s struggles against Cincinnati last week. After going 1-4 in its last five games against the Longhorns, the Sooners used 115 rushing yards and two scores from DeMarco Murray to earn a 28-20 victory. The Sooners have been involved in some close calls this year and nearly let Texas steal the victory with a sloppy fourth quarter. However, the Sooners were simply the better team, particularly on offense and Saturday’s win puts them in the driver’s seat for the Big 12 South title. After a bye week, the Sooners take on Iowa State, before heading on the road for a key game against Missouri. The Longhorns opened up the offense for quarterback Garrett Gilbert in the second half, but it was too little, too late. The bye week comes at a good time for Texas, with a date at Nebraska on October 16. The Longhorns need to decide if they can continue to use a power rushing attack that isn’t working, or open up the passing game for Gilbert. Should the Longhorns drop that contest to Nebraska, it will be the first three-game losing streak since 1999.
5. Michigan-Michigan State setup showdown – With Michigan posting below .500 records over the last two seasons, this rivalry hasn’t garnered much national appeal. However, that’s about to change this Saturday. Both teams come into this game 5-0 and riding momentum following last week’s victories. The Spartans are powered by a deep backfield, a solid quarterback in Kirk Cousins and a stingy run defense that is allowing 101 yards per game. The Wolverines have been a mess on defense all year, but continue to ride sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson. The Spartans have won the last two matchups in this series, but have to travel to Ann Arbor this Saturday. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has watched his seat cool with each Robinson touchdown, but a win over the rival Spartans would be a huge boost for the program. Will the Wolverines’ leaky defense finally come back to haunt them? Will the Spartans have an answer for Robinson? There’s a lot of questions surrounding Saturday’s game, but this is easily one of the most intriguing matchups on the schedule.
Other thoughts from Week 5
BYU is off to a 1-4 start and after Friday night’s loss to Utah State, defensive coordinator Jaime Hill was fired. Hill was named BYU’s coordinator in 2008 and due to his departure, head coach Bronco Mendenhall will assume the playcalling duties on defense.
An under the radar win from this week was Utah State’s victory over BYU on Friday night. This was the Aggies first win in the series since 1993 and a big one for coach Gary Andersen. Although Andersen is 6-11 in his tenure in Logan, the Aggies have made significant progress and should contend for a winning record this year.
Is quarterback Jerrod Johnson’s shoulder an issue for Texas A&M? In Thursday night’s loss to Oklahoma State, Johnson threw four interceptions, giving him eight on the season. The senior had eight interceptions all of last year. Johnson had shoulder surgery in the offseason and appeared to struggle at times with arm strength in Thursday’s game.
Six teams remain without a win this season – Akron, Eastern Michigan, Florida International, New Mexico, New Mexico State and Western Kentucky. By next Saturday, this list will be cut by at least two teams, as New Mexico takes on New Mexico State and Florida International plays Western Kentucky.
A rough start for the Big East didn’t get any better with Rutgers falling to Tulane. The Scarlet Knights continue to struggle in each area on offense, putting too much pressure on the defense. The loss to Tulane is even more disappointing when you consider the Green Wave will probably struggle to reach four wins and squeaked by FCS foe Southeastern Louisiana in the season opener.
Although LSU beat Tennessee 16-14 and stands 5-0, the seat under Les Miles continues to heat up. The Tigers rotated Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson at quarterback with mixed results and continue to underutilize receiver Russell Shepard. Another clock blunder is embarrassing for Miles, which is something that has to be corrected with Florida, Auburn and Alabama coming up on the schedule.
Should there be a running back controversy in Pittsburgh? With Dion Lewis sitting because of a shoulder injury, Ray Graham rushed for 277 yards and three scores in Saturday’s win over Florida International. Lewis has struggled all season, rushing for 143 yards and averaging 3.0 yards per carry. Graham has 492 yards and five scores, with an average of 9.5 yards per carry. Although coach Dave Wannstedt continues to insist Lewis is the starter, Graham has proven he is the better option due to the offensive line issues.
Looking ahead to Week 6
A small sample of what’s ahead
Nebraska vs. Kansas State (Thursday)
Nebraska run defense has struggled and now faces one of nation’s best backs in Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas.
Connecticut vs. Rutgers (Friday)
After losing to Tulane, it’s hard to imagine Rutgers contending for the Big East title.
Alabama vs. South Carolina
Can the Gamecocks slow down Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson?
Michigan State vs. Michigan
Can the Spartans find an answer for Denard Robinson?
Florida State vs. Miami, Fla.
Last nine matchups have been decided by eight points or less – expect another tight one on Saturday.
Tennessee vs. Georgia
Volunteers and Bulldogs a combined 3-6 and both desperately need a victory.
LSU vs. Florida
LSU’s anemic offense faces uphill battle against Florida defense.
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M
Looking for offense? Jerrod Johnson vs. Ryan Mallett should be one of the top quarterback matchups from Week 6.
Oregon State vs. Arizona
Are the Beavers starting to find their rhythm after a traditionally slow start?
Pittsburgh vs. Notre Dame
If the Panthers can’t find any improvement on offense, it will be a long afternoon against the Irish.
USC vs. Stanford
Shaky USC defense will be tested once again by Andrew Luck.
Taking a look at some of the key players suffering injuries this weekend.
Boston College QB Chase Rettig (ankle)
Colorado State RB Raymond Carter (knee)
Florida QB John Brantley (ribs)
LSU DE Sam Montgomery (knee)
Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor (quad)
Rutgers QB Tom Savage (hand)
Stanford WR Chris Owusu (undisclosed)