In the five weeks of the college football season, the picture of the national championship seems to be wide open.
Although teams like Michigan, Texas and Oregon played very well on Saturday, no really dominant team has emerged so far this season. And some of the country’s top teams showed serious cracks in the foundation this weekend.
These are the biggest flaws we see in some of the top teams in the country.
Georgia just doesn’t look like the same dominant self. If you are the two-time national champion, you will be held to a different standard. And that pattern is definitely not falling behind South Carolina 14-3 at halftime and then needing a late touchdown to beat Auburn. But that’s what we’ve seen from the Bulldogs in their two SEC games this season.
Injuries have certainly played a role in Georgia’s disappointing game up to this point in the season, but slow starts and uneven offensive performances raise doubts that this team can win everything again. The Bulldogs also seem to lack some of the first-round defensive talents they’ve had in recent years.
The second half against Auburn was encouraging, Brock Bowers made a number of incredible plays, but Georgia seemed to be vulnerable.
The Trojans added talent through the transfer portal during the off-season, but some of the same underlying issues remain on defense as of the 2022 season.
USC’s lack of physicality and fighting ability was evident in losses to Utah and Tulane at the end of last season, and there is cause for concern after Saturday’s 48-41 win over Colorado. The Trojans had won the game in the first half, but the Buffaloes had a very easy time gaining yards and breaking tackles in the second half as USC was forced to recover an onside kick with 1:43 left to secure the win.
After the game, coach Lincoln Riley cited the team’s catch-up as the reason that the victory was much closer than it should have been, and USC needs to figure out how to knock out opponents as soon as possible. Four teams in the top 11 of the AP Top 25 are still on the program.
Penn State Nittany
Penn State defeated Northwestern by a score of 41-13, but the victory was far from as dominant as the final result suggests. PSU was 10-3 behind at the end of the first half and it was 10-10 at halftime. In the second half, PSU built up a lead thanks to the short fields created by some misses on Northwestern’s fourth down. Later, PSU piled up two TDs in the final five minutes to turn a somewhat competitive game into a blowout.
The end result was misleading. Penn State had only 353 yards of offense, averaging 4.8 yards per game. Again, this is against Northwestern, one of the worst power five teams in the country. Penn State is 5-0 and the defense is dominant, but the offense can’t produce explosive plays. When entering the action on Saturday, PSU had only nine plays of more than 20 yards. Wyoming and East Carolina were the only two teams with fewer.
This figure is now up to 12, but the lack of explosion in the racing game is a big problem. The longest run of the season for Penn State is 21 yards, and that came in the garbage time of backup QB Beau pribula. In addition, Keandre Lambert-Smith was the only one who emerged as a consistent target for QB Drew Allar. With a bye week and UMass, the power supply has a few things to figure out before heading to Ohio State in October. 21.
The Utes have played in the first five games of the season against Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson as a quarterback, while Cameron Rising is recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in the Rose Bowl. The absence of Rising was felt in the first four weeks of the season and was especially noticeable on Friday night during Oregon State’s 21-7 win against the Utes.
Johnson started the game and was replaced by Barnes in the third quarter. None of the quarterbacks had much success, and the impotent offensive performance came a week after Utah scored only one offensive touchdown in a 14-7 win over UCLA.
The Utes are still a contender for the Pac-12 title… as long as rising yields return soon. He shouldn’t be speeding up his ACL injury before he’s ready, and it seems pretty clear that Utah is being cautious. But with games remaining against USC and Oregon in October, Utah will need him on the field to have a chance to defend its conference title.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
There’s a lot to like about Notre Dame, but there’s also cause for concern as it moves forward. The defense played very well and the offensive line is one of the best in the country. The Fighting Irish have also made a big upgrade at quarterback by adding transfer Sam Hartman, the all-time leading ACC in touchdown passes. However, Notre Dame continues to lack reliable passers-by.
Tight end Mitchell Evans has popped up in the last two weeks and some of the underclassmen wideouts, like Tobias Merriweather and Jaden Greathouse, have shown flashes against less competition, but can these guys consistently win one-on-one matchups?
It didn’t look like that in games against Ohio State and Duke. In the loss to Ohio State, Notre Dame’s wide receivers caught a total of eight passes for 98 yards. And in the win over Duke, ND Wideouts caught four passes for 56 yards as several fell out injured. That’s it.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide showed just how tough the offense can be in an easy win over Mississippi State on Saturday night. QB Jalen Milroe caught only 12 passes compared to 37 attempts before he was able to watch the final minutes of the 40-17 victory from the sidelines.
Milro was effective – he completed 10 passes for 164 yards – but it was 2023, not 1993. It’s hard to be a national title contender without a passing game you can always rely on. Just ask Nick Saban. Look at how your offense has developed over the past decade.
The crime will continue to develop again in 2023. Alabama’s defense is an elite one, but as the loss to Texas and the ugly win over South Florida showed, Alabama will need a reliable air strike to be a serious contender.
Michigan: After some underperforming performances early in the season, Michigan appeared to be about to kick off another March Saturday at Nebraska. The No. 2 Wolverines upset the hapless Huskers 45-7 in their best performance of the season. The Wolverines scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and never looked back as they put up 436 yards while keeping Nebraska out of the end zone until the final five minutes of regulation. Michigan will be back on the road to Minnesota next week as it continues to gain momentum before facing Penn State and Ohio State in November.
Texas: Texas quickly turned a seemingly close game into a dominant victory. At the end of the third quarter, the third-ranked Longhorns had only a 20-14 lead over Kansas. The Jayhawks had the ball with a chance to take the lead and decided to go from their own 1 to the fourth 38. Ut blew up the game and caused a fumble. The Longhorns took over, scored goals quickly and never looked back in an eventual 40-14 victory. When the dust settled, Texas amassed 661 yards of offense, which limited Kansas to just 260. It was an emphatic performance by UT on the way to next weekend’s Red River showdown with Oklahoma. Texas leads the score 5:0 for the first time since 2009.
Oklahoma: Speaking of Oklahoma, the Sooners are also starting their last season in the Big 12 with a 5-0 record. Or it was 6-7 in Brent Venables’ first season as head coach, but this team looks greatly improved. In In Saturday’s victory over Iowa State by a score of 50–20, Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel rushed for 366 yards and scored three touchdowns. The defense had a slow start, but ISU’s field goal at 9:06 in the second quarter was the last points the Cyclones would score in the game. Last year’s Red River game was a 49-0 Texas victory. Now the Sooners can take revenge.
Kentucky RB Ray Davis: Kentucky blew out No.22 Florida, 33-14, thanks in large part to Ray Davis’ phenomenal performance. Davis, a transfer from Vanderbilt, entrenched himself in Kentucky’s record books and rushed for an impressive 280 yards and three touchdowns to win. Davis’ rushing total was the third-highest in Kentucky history, just 19 yards short of Moe Williams’ 1995 record, and Davis also caught a touchdown pass in the win. Now the “Wildcats” have a score of 5:0 and will travel to Athens to meet with Georgia next week. Can Great Britain make a splash in the SEC East race?
75-yd run to the house @Ray_Davis07 💨
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) September 30, 2023
Texas A&M: Could Texas A&M be an under-the-radar contender in the SEC West? The Aggies start the conference game 2-0 thanks to a 34-22 victory over Arkansas on Saturday. The Aggies outgained Arkansas 414 to 174 yards in the win. While the a&m defense limited the razorbacks to just 42 yards, Max Johnson threw for 210 yards and rushed for 57 yards. Johnson made his first start of the season in place of the injured Conner Weigman, and he seemed to be very comfortable on offense. Will that carry over to next weekend’s home game against Alabama?
Clemson: It would have been easy for Clemson to wrap it up after falling to 2-2 with a painful loss to Florida State last week. Instead, the Tigers took to the streets and pushed Syracuse to a 31-14 victory. Clemson had a good start from freshman Tyler Brown, who caught nine passes for 153 yards in the win. Clemson’s defense also completely stifled Garrett Shrader and Syracuse’s offense. The Orange, now 4-1 on the year, were limited to just 286 yards while committing three turnovers. Clemson will continue to play an important role in the ACC race.
Louisville: Speaking of ACC races, Louisville looks like a viable contender in its first season under Jeff Brohm. The Cardinals improved to 5-0 with an ugly 13-10 win over NC State on Friday night. UL fell behind 10-0 at halftime and made some ugly turnovers, but was able to come back and win in a very difficult place. Next weekend Louisville hosts Notre Dame at Cardinal Stadium. It will be a great opportunity for the UL program.
West Virginia: At the start of the season, WVU was ranked last in the Big 12 and coach Neal Brown was in the hot seat. With the end of September, the Mountaineers are 4-1 with their only loss on the road to Penn State. Since this week’s 1 loss, WVU has won four games in a row. The last was a 24-21 victory over TCU on Saturday. WVU trailed TCU 21-14 at halftime, but shut out the Horned Frogs in the second half to put the win on the road.
James Madison: JMU is still not eligible for the postseason game and the Sun Belt Championship, but continues to win. NCAA rules don’t allow teams moving from the FCS to the FBS to be eligible for the postseason, but that hasn’t taken the motivation away from the Dukes. JMU improved to 5-0 after winning over South Alabama by a score of 31-23 on Saturday. This victory came after three consecutive wins over Virginia, Troy and Utah State. The Dukes are 13-3 in 16 games as a member of the FBS. How impressive is that?
LSU: The Tigers gave up more than 700 yards of offense to Ole Miss in a 55-49 loss to the Rebels on Saturday night. The second loss of the season probably ended any chance LSU had of playing for a national title, and further exposed the team’s defensive frailties when Ole Miss QB Jaxson threw darts for 389 yards. LSU QB Jayden Daniels threw for 414 yards and four TDs, but his pass to the end zone fell incomplete after time expired.
UCF: UCF somehow gave up a 28-point lead with 8:08 to go in the third quarter in a 36-35 loss to Baylor. UCF led 35-7 and seemed to be heading for an easy win after a quick 21-0 lead. But UCF’s next four drives resulted in an interception, two punts and a fumbled snap that returned for a 72-yard touchdown after the Knights had gone to a wildcat formation. Timmy McClain made a heroic effort to get UCF into the field goal to get the chance for a game-deciding kick, but the long field goal attempt was wide and short. It’s a heavy loss.
— Baylor Football (@BUFootball) September 30, 2023
Virginia: It looked great for the Cavaliers to get their first win of the season at halftime when they led Boston College 21-7. The final result was a 27-24 victory by Boston College. Virginia had just 39 yards of offense in the second half, while Boston College scored 27 points in the third quarter. Virginia’s drives in the second half were punt, interception, punt, punt, field goal and turnover at downs. The longest of these trips was 12 meters. Maybe Virginia will get its first win against William & Mary next week.
Pitt: The Panthers are now 1-4 after a 38-21 loss at Virginia Tech. Hokies QB Kyron Drones scored a total of five touchdowns – three passes, two rushing – as VT had a 21-7 halftime lead. The Panthers were only 2 of 10 on third down and rushed for only 38 yards on 24 attempts. Some had Pitt as a sleeper in the ACC before the season, but former transfer QB Phil Jurkovec struggled in his first season with the Panthers. Jurkovec completed only 50 percent of his passes and 75 of the 225 yards he passed on Saturday night were completed.
Illinois: The Illini don’t seem to be on the right track to continue the success they achieved in 2022. Illinois fell to 2-3 after a 44-19 loss at Purdue on Saturday. QB Luke Altmyer continued his turnover-prone ways with a fumble that Purdue returned for a TD to take the lead in the first quarter. The boilermakers then scored 21 unanswered goals in the third quarter to take control of the game. Illinois is already 0-2 in the Big Ten, and while the Big Ten West is a mess, the Illini need to improve to be in the running. The point difference can be a good barometer of team strength and Illinois’ point difference is already at -45th man.
Georgia Tech: All signs of progress in Atlanta were blunted by the 38-27 loss to Bowling Green on Saturday. Georgia Tech led 14-0 in the first quarter before Bowling Green took control of the game. The Yellow Jackets turned the ball over three times and had the ball for only 17 minutes when Bowling Green made a masterpiece of possession time. Connor Bazelak threw for 263 yards for the Falcons, while Finn Hogan had six receptions for 102 yards and a score. The Yellow Jackets are now 2-3 and need to recover quickly with games against Miami and North Carolina on Oct.
Boise State: The Broncos are now 2-3 after a 35-32 loss at Memphis. Boise State led 17-0 in the second quarter before Memphis missed four consecutive TDs to take a 28-17 lead in the fourth quarter. Boise State coach Andy Avalos made a switch at QB after Taylen Green was 12 of 24 for 200 yards and Maddux Madsen was 11 of 14 for 175 yards and two scores in the second half. The good news for the Broncos is that the non-conference portion of their schedule is over. Boise State was 1-3 against teams from outside the Mountain West.
UConn: The Huskies lost to Utah State 34-33 in a rousing way on Saturday. UConn took a 17-0 lead in the second quarter before Utah State scored 24 consecutive points and took a 24-17 lead with 3:52 left in the third quarter. After recovering the ball for a 34-27 lead with 2:41 left, UConn was going 85 yards in nine plays when 6-foot, 303-pound defenseman Jelani Stafford hit on a one-yard TD run. The Huskies and coach Jim Mora got the extra point of the game and well, you can guess what happened next.
IKE LARSEN! THAT IS ALL!!
— USU Football (@USUFootball) September 30, 2023
UTEP: The Miners fell to 1-5 with a 24-10 home loss to Louisiana Tech on Friday night. Three UTEP QBS combined to pass 9 of 28 for 101 yards, and the Miners were a terrible 3 of 17 on third down attempts. UTEP was 5-7 in 2022 after a 7-6 season and the school’s first appearance in seven seasons in 2021. Things got even worse in 2023 and one can wonder if coach Dana Dimel’s tenure is coming to an end. UTEP is now 18-45 since Dimel took over before the 2018 season.