College Football Week 5: Bulldogs, Bearcats, and a Broken Curse in Lexington

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If college football had a defining theme in September, it was that there were two obviously great teams—Alabama and Georgia—and that it was difficult to sort out everyone else. College football Week 5 (the first weekend of October) reinforced that theme. The No. 3 team in the AP Poll, Oregon, lost to an unranked Stanford, while Bama and Georgia destroyed the ranked opponents on their own plates. As the season approaches its halfway point, here’s a sampling of who came out of the weekend looking better and who didn’t.

 

 

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College Football Week 5 Recap

Winner: Kirby Smart

Smart’s No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs walloped Arkansas in Athens, 37–0. It was an ideal Smart victory in that Georgia passed the ball 11 times, allowed zero points, and ensured the under hit. Smart’s happy place is to win bullyball-style games that don’t involve newfangled developments like “spread passing” and “downfield receiving threats,” even though UGA has dabbled in those spaces from time to time.

An apparent injury to starting QB JT Daniels meant backup Stetson Bennett had to step in. He’s a former walk-on who’s been entrusted with not messing up on arguably the most talented roster in college football. He has succeeded in that pursuit so far, but it would be better for Smart if Daniels returned to health quickly (and stayed that way).

Loser: Other Former Nick Saban Assistants in the SEC

Smart, a former Alabama defensive coordinator under Saban, had a good weekend. What about the other ex-Saban understudies who now have their own SEC teams? They did not. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, who served as Bama’s offensive coordinator from 2014–16, was on the receiving end of a 42–21 shellacking by the Crimson Tide. Kiffin attempted to convert five fourth downs and only made two of them, hastening his team’s demise—although punting probably wouldn’t have made much difference anyway.

Elsewhere, Saban’s long-ago LSU offensive coordinator, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, lost at home to Mississippi State, 26–22. The Aggies entered the year with plausible national title hopes, but those are now a thing of the past.

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Winner: Cincinnati

The still-unbeaten Bearcats bolstered their case to be the Group of Five’s first-ever College Football Playoff team by convincingly beating Notre Dame in South Bend by a score of 24–13. Luke Fickell’s defense was suffocating as usual, and some Notre Dame turnovers helped Bearcats QB Desmond Ridder and the offense get into the 20s against their team’s former defensive coordinator, Marcus Freeman, who now holds that gig at Notre Dame.

The Playoff selection committee will probably find a way to devalue Cincinnati and exclude it from the field even if UC wins out, but for the first time ever, there’s at least a flicker of a reason to think a non-power-conference school makes the cut. (A win over Notre Dame would be a headliner most elite G5 teams lack, as long as the Irish don’t fall apart in the back half of the season.)

But Cincy’s validation needn’t come from some suits on a committee. Anyone who watches them knows they’re serious.

Loser: Oregon

Part of Cincinnati’s optimistic outlook comes down to the Pac-12’s lone Playoff contender, Oregon, dropping a 31–24 decision at Stanford in overtime. The Ducks have what might be the best win of any team this year—they pounded Ohio State in Columbus back in Week 2—but they haven’t looked elite outside of that. Quarterback Anthony Brown struggled in Palo Alto, and the offense never looked right with coordinator Joe Moorhead not present. (Moorhead was ill, though not with COVID-19.) The Cardinal look better than they did in the season’s first few weeks, but this still constitutes a capital-b Bad loss for Mario Cristobal and his team.

Winner: Kentucky

Kentucky plays Florida in football every year, and the games alternate between Lexington and Gainesville. The last time the Wildcats beat the Gators in Lexington was in 1986. What followed was a streak of 16 straight losses, but it’s over now that UK won on Saturday, 20–13. In addition to burying a persistent demon, Mark Stoops’ team is 5–0 and has a decent chance to finish second in the SEC East behind Georgia.

Loser: Maryland

Here’s one team that did not bury a demon. Maryland has consistently struggled to break into college football’s upper tier. Going back several head coaches, the Terps have often started well, broken into or near the top 25, and then face-planted while trying to establish themselves as a good team. The classic of the genre is a 63–0 loss to Florida State in 2013, when the Terps were briefly ranked 25th. A close-enough remake occurred on Friday night, when the 4–0 Terps hosted No. 5 Iowa and had an opportunity to prove they’d leveled up under head coach Mike Locksley. It did not go well. Maryland passers threw six interceptions, and Iowa won in College Park, 51–14. The lesson? Never dream.

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