We are approaching the mid-season mark and to say this college football season has been filled with surprises would be an understatement.
Just last week we saw Georgia survive a scare against Missouri — because as Kirby Smart alluded to, in the SEC no road games are easy. Alabama found its way back into the top spot of the AP polls, but at what cost? As it’s possible the team may have lost quarterback Bryce Young to an AC joint sprain for some time. Of course, the most surprising thing of the week had to be the fact that 10 AP Top 25 teams lost last week.
The question is now, what does week six have in store?
How about a plethora of top-25 matchups that will play a prominent role in conference success later on in the season. An unofficial PAC-12 take over, and despite either team being ranked possibly one of the most important Red River Rivalry’s in recent memory. So buckle up and let the games begin.
Tennessee vs LSU:
- Time: 12:00pm EST
- Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana — Tiger Stadium
- Network: ESPN
Prospects to watch:
– Hendon Hooker (QB, Tennessee – Senior)
– Cedric Tillman (WR, Tennessee – Senior)
– Kayshon Boutte (WR, LSU – Junior)
– BJ Ojulari (EDGE, LSU – Junior)
Are you ready for some SEC football? For the first time since 2016, the Tennessee Volunteers are ranked in the top ten, with the Vols looking for their third 5-0 start in 24 years.
The team is coming off a bye week where under Head Coach Josh Heupel, the unit has been absolutely dominant. A 6-1 record, averaging 45 points per game but in front of them is an LSU Tiger team that has won five straight games against them, dating back to 2005.
This season, however, on their side the Volunteers have quarterback Hendon Hooker, who could be an early favorite for the Heisman Trophy. Over the last seven games played Hooker has passed for 285.7 yards per game, 17 touchdowns, and zero interceptions, completed 69% of his passes, and is a factor on the ground as well. With Hooker leading the way for this Tennessee offense, the Vols ranked tied for second in the country in points per game (48.5).
Despite Hooker’s recent dominance he may be forced to go to war in ‘Death Valley’ without his number-one receiver. Speedster Cedric Tillman is nursing an ankle injury he suffered against Akron.
Speaking of wide receivers, LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels recently initiated a players-only meeting in an effort to fix LSUs broken passing attack that was limited to 85 yards against Auburn. Wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, who many expected to take the next step has been a forgotten man for much of the season.
While Boutte missed one game due to the recent birth of his child, in games he has been available he’s only produced 11 receptions, 97 yards, and four drops on 21 targets, giving him a 19% drop rate. And that 19% drop rate would be the worst of any SEC player through a season in 19 years. For context, Boutte only had three drops last season on 53 targets.
This should be a game that Tennessee should have the opportunity to prove this quick start is no fluke. While playing at Tiger Stadium is no easy feat, it’s worth noting that LSU is 3-7 versus ranked opponents through their last ten games. Will the Hooker show continue, or will the LSU defense prevail?
TCU vs. Kansas:
- Time: 12:00pm EST
- Location: Lawrence, Kansas — David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium
- Network: FOX Sports 1
Prospects to watch:
– Quentin Johnston (WR, TCU – Junior)
– Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (CB, TCU – Senior)
– Jalon Daniels (QB, Kansas – Junior)
This is probably the biggest matchup of the weekend. Kansas has sold out its third straight home game and for the first time in history, ESPN College Gameday is making an appearance in Lawrence, Kansas.
Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!
In the only battle between two unbeaten teams in all of Division I or II this weekend, we find out: is Cinderella’s days are numbers or will the beautiful story of this Kansas team end.
How could you not be invested in this matchup? For the first time since 2009, Kansas is 5-0. These five wins are the same amount the team has won through the years 2019-2021 (the Jayhawks have a 5-28 record through that span). Their quarterback Jalon Daniels is a big reason why the team has been so successful. With a 68% completion percentage, 11 touchdowns, and quality performances against Houston and Duke, Daniels is ready to show the Jayhawks belong on the big stage.
“It’s beautiful. We love the amount of attention that’s coming to our program. It feels great to finally be recognized for all the work we’ve been putting in. We were talking earlier, seasons still young. There’s a lot of room for improvements for us. We’ve done good, but the fact we haven’t reached our ceiling yet allows us to keep on going in with that one percent daily mentality.” JALON DANIELS VIA THE ATHLETIC
However standing in the way of Jayhawk immortality, is head coach Sonny Dykes and a TCU offense that is explosive. The unit is tied for second in the nation in points per game with 48.5 and produced four touchdowns of 60+ yards last week alone. Quarterback Max Duggan is playing some of the best ball of his career, coming off a performance against Oklahoma that saw him produce 302 passing yards, add another 116 yards on the ground along with four total touchdowns. However, this is a different Max Duggan than the three career games versus Kansas, where he has put up 362 passing yards with five touchdowns, with 135 yards rushing and four more touchdowns.
TCU is 9-1 against Kansas since joining the Big 12 but this week they’re playing against a Jayhawk team that, with a win, is bowl eligible for the first time in 14 years. Kansas feels like they have yet to play their best ball but if they plan on coming away with a victory on Saturday, now might be the time to show their hand.
Texas vs Oklahoma:
- Time: 12:00pm EST
- Location: Dallas, Texas — Cotton Bowl Stadium
- Network: ABC
Prospects to watch:
– Eric Gray (RB, Oklahoma – Senior)
– Anton Harrison (OT, Oklahoma – Junior)
– Bijan Robinson (RB, Texas – Junior)
– Ja’Tavion Sanders *24 (TE, Texas – Sophomore)
The Red River Rivalry; a highly anticipated matchup between these two Big 12 (soon to be SEC) pillars takes center stage as the two hour and 48-minute drive dead in the center of both Norman, Oklahoma and Austin, Texas leads us to Dallas and the home of the legendary Cotton Bowl.
This is the first time since 1998 and only the third time in 50 years both of these teams come into the game unranked. However, that doesn’t take away from the significance of the meaning of the matchup historically and how the result may be the final nail in the coffin of what was thought to be a bright season for the loser.
A loss for Texas and they can kiss a trip to the Big 12 championship goodbye citing the fact that Oklahoma would take a commanding game and a half lead over the Longhorns in conference play because of a head-to-head victory.
A loss for Oklahoma and well, the honeymoon for Brent Venables comes to a crashing halt as OU will have suffered its first three-loss season since 2014 when the team went 8-5.
The key to this matchup will mostly be quarterback play.
For Oklahoma, transfer quarterback Dillon Gabriel left last week’s matchup and is currently in concussion protocol. The team is still unsure about his status heading into Saturday’s matchup.
As for Texas, the return of quarterback Quinn Ewers appears to be on the horizon which could spell terrible news for a Sooners defense that has been horrific this season. For context, not only has Oklahoma given up 509 (Kansas State) and 668 (TCU) yards in consecutive games but there was a stretch that spanned from the second half of the Kansas State game and the first half of the TCU game that saw the Sooners’ defense give up seven touchdowns in nine possessions.
To make matters worse Bijan Robinson is coming into town to play against a rushing defense that hasn’t been much better as the team allowed 275 yards against Kansas State and 351 against TCU.
Despite eight of the last nine meetings being decided by eight points or less, this matchup is clearly trending in the direction of the Longhorns and this could end up being a long day for a Sooners defense having to defend the likes of Xavier Worthy and Ja’Tavion Sanders for 60 minutes. History is on Texas’ side as the team has won four matchups in a row where the teams are unranked, will they make it five?
Utah vs UCLA:
- Time: 3:30pm EST
- Location: Los Angeles, California — Rose Bowl
- Network: FOX
Prospects to watch:
– Zach Charbonnet (RB, UCLA – Senior)
– Jake Bobo (WR, UCLA – RS Senior)
– Clark Phillips (CB, Utah – Junior)
– Dalton Kincaid (TE, Utah – Senior)
The PAC-12 may very well be the most exciting conference in college football this season, and this matchup right here is no different. UCLA is out for respect and for the second time in two weeks the Bruins have the opportunity to prove themselves against a formidable foe.
Last week Dorian Thompson-Robinson put the country on notice with his PAC-12 leading completion percentage and his highlight reel juke moves.
This week he’s put Utah on notice.
“I circled like three or four games before the start of the season. Utah being one of them, I have yet to beat Utah,” Thompson said earlier in the week.
This makes sense given that Utah has won five straight games against UCLA. The Bruins should feel bad. Utah has dominated the entire PAC-12 recently with a 21-4 conference record over the last four years. However, there is a multitude of things pointing in the favor of the Bruins to pull off the upset.
For starters, this has been a different UCLA team over the last eight games, producing an 8-0 record, averaging 44.4 points per game, while winning both the turnover (+6) and point (+184) differential during that time.
Maybe Cam Rising and the Utes get off to a fast start and put the Bruins in a situation where Zach Charbonnet and the running game are a no factor? Well, UCLA has also won six straight games in which they’ve trailed at some point and three straight games when the team has trailed by double digits.
It doesn’t help that this matchup is a situation of strength on strength, as Utah’s defense has been among the best but then again UCLA’s offense has proven to be high-powered in its own right.
Despite recent success, Utah can ill afford to look past this matchup, even with the high-profile game against the USC Trojans looming next week. Especially given the fact that the Utes haven’t been very good on the road against teams that finish with a winning record as of late, going 2-7 during that time (2-8 assuming Florida finishes with a winning record).
For this game being the first matchup in history between the two where both teams are ranked, the stage is set and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Washington State vs USC:
- Time: 7:30pm EST
- Location: Los Angeles, California — Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
- Network: FOX
Prospects to watch:
– Cam Ward (QB, WASU – Sophomore)
– Daiyan Henley (LB, WASU – Senior)
– Jordan Addison (WR, USC – Junior)
– Travis Dye (RB, USC – Senior)
Everybody loves the Trojans; despite a brief scare against Oregon State a few weeks back and some offensive line issues that may or may not become a problem down the line — it’s been California Love for the Lincoln Riley and the USC Trojans.
At 5-0 looking for one more win to match their best start since the golden days of 2006, this USC offense has been explosive with Caleb Williams leading the way, Travis Dye and Austin Jones forming one of the better duos in college football, and Jordan Addison looking like possibly the best receiver in the nation. The Trojans feel that they can compete with just about anyone.
This week we find out just how good that USC offense is, as they find themselves matched up with the number three defense in the entire nation in Washington State.
This Cougars defense knows how to get off the field allowing a 31.9% conversion rate on third downs and only giving up 18.2 points per game; a number that has been inflated that’s to an early season showdown against Oregon. That was a game that Washington State probably could have and should have won, as the team held a 12-point lead with just over four minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Offensively while quarterback Cameron Ward is one of the bright young stars across all of college football, there’s a lot left to be desired from that unit. Much in part due to its inability to take care of the football, as the Cougars rank 20th in the nation in terms of giveaways with 2.3 per game.
Something that could prove costly against a USC defense that knows how to take the football away. Expect a heavy dose of the ground attack of Ward and running back Nakai Watson.
This could be the final meeting between these two schools as USC is scheduled to leave for the Big Ten in 2024, and there are currently no plans to face Washington State in 2023.
If this is the final time these teams meet barring any future plans the Cougars will look to pick up their first win in Los Angeles since 2013 and their first win versus USC since 2017 which happens to be the last time that they’ve beaten an AP Top 10 opponent (1-19 in 20 games).
Florida State vs. NC State:
- Time: 8:00pm EST
- Location: Wake Country, North Carolina — Carter-Finley Stadium
- Network: ACC Network
Prospects to watch:
– Devin Leary (QB, NC State – Senior)
– Dylan McMahon (IOL, NC State – Senior)
– Akeem Dent (S, Florida State – Junior)
– Jordan Travis *’24 (QB Florida State, Junior)
Two of the ACC’s best go head to head, as both teams look to rebound from their first loss of this young season. Both of these two teams were essentially beaten at their own games last week. Despite a quality game from Jordan Travis and pulling within a touchdown early in the fourth. Quarterback. Sam Hartman, Justice Ellison and the Wake Forest offense proved to be too much for the Noles to handle.
On the other side what lived up to what was supposed to be a defensive struggle saw Clemson oust NC State, as DJ Uiagalelei continued his coming of form.
While this week’s matchup offers much more strength versus strength opportunity with Florida State’s offense averaging 34.2 points per game and just over 480 yards per game compared to an NC State defense that only allows 15.4 points per game and allows just 280 yards per game.
This game will ultimately come down to quarterback Devin Leary and this NC State offense’s ability to clean up the many problems that have plagued them most of the season. The Wolfpack offense ranks 95th in the nation in plays over 20 yards (19). As for Leary, a player who headed into the season which much hype, it’s disappointing to see him not produce against Power 5 competition.
Leary has 10 touchdowns on the season, eight of which have come against FCS competition — in games against Power 5 schools Leary has only completed 58% of his passes for two touchdowns and two interceptions.
It’s highly likely that NC State will have to rely heavily on their defense this week against a quarterback in Jordan Travis who is on pace to have the best season for a Florida State quarterback since Jameis Winston’s Heisman Trophy season.
These two teams are 5-5 in their last 10 meetings but NC State is in the midst of a 13-game home winning streak (fifth in NCAA). One of these teams will come a step closer to ACC domination while the other will be forced to pick up the pieces of a once-promising season gone wrong.
Cover Image Credit: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez