2023 College Football: Week 5 Takeaways

In college football terms, this was a fairly calm week. We didn’t have any big upsets (though we had a close call; more on that later). Some of the games were exciting, and we get to all of those. But many of them were business as usual for the perceived superior teams. Heisman cases were strengthened out west, and a few teams separated themselves from the rest…for better or worse. Let’s see what we can learn from all of these games in my week 5 takeaways!

Cincinnati Has Fallen Far Since Peak Luke Fickell Days

To expect the Bearcats to sustain their success with players like QB Desmond Ridder and WR Alec Pierce moving on to the NFL would be foolish. However, losing HC Luke Fickell to Wisconsin did this team in. Scott Satterfield is a fine replacement, but he isn’t quite as in tune with the program and its circumstances as Fickell was. This year, the Bearcats moved to the Big XII, bringing improved competition as another challenge. Worst of all, they brought in QB Emory Jones as a transfer to start. You might remember Jones as a Gator, in which case you know why this is bad.

After two wins against an FCS team and Pitt, Cincinnati suffered a shocking upset loss to Miami OH in OT before looking feckless against Oklahoma. Jones and the offense scored just 6 points in that game. His accuracy and field vision remain major problems. Things were better against BYU, another new Big XII team, but the defense didn’t hold its end of the bargain this time. Keep in mind that the Bearcats made the CFP a couple of years ago; a 2-3 record is not up to that standard. This team needs to enhance its recruiting to compete again. For now, a rough season appears to be in the cards.

(17) Duke Suffers First Loss After Surprising 4-0 Start

Duke put the ACC and the college football universe at large on notice during week 1. Facing highly touted Clemson, the Blue Devils smoked their conference foes. They immediately became ranked and steadily moved up while beating awful teams. We’re talking Lafayette, Northwestern, and UConn here. Finally competing against a strong foe, (11) Notre Dame), Duke struggled early. They fell into a 13-0 hole as QB Riley Leonard had his worst outing of the season (12/27, 134 yards, TD, INT). HC Mike Elko‘s team stayed in the game with solid defense, eventually taking a 14-13 lead in the 4th quarter.

The Irish and QB Sam Hartman (15/30, 222 yards) refused to go down though, putting together a 10-play, 95-yard TD drive that left 31 seconds on the clock. Duke could not overcome that, falling 21-14. The Blue Devils actually look decent coming out of this game. Against a powerful team, they acquitted themselves well, especially on defense. Their ranking didn’t fall as the AP recognized that they played a good game. I still think Duke needs a bit more to win. I’m nowhere near as high on Leonard as Mel Kiper Jr is, and more playmakers would help. This team is definitely headed in the right direction though.

(8) USC, (20) Ole Miss Survive Shootouts

Two of our most fun games were shootouts. Every fan loves offense right? The first one wasn’t actually supposed to be a shootout. USC was heavily favored over Deion Sanders‘ Buffaloes, and the game went according to the script for a half. The Trojans jumped out to a 21-0 lead and ended the half up 34-14. Reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams was dealing, and he’d finish 30/40 for 403 yards, 6 TDs and 1 INT. His counterpart, Shedeur Sanders, struggled behind a porous offensive line. One play saw pressure force him into an INT.

Missing DB Shilo Sanders and 2-way star Travis Hunter with injuries, it didn’t seem like Colorado could slow USC down. Somehow, they did just that in the second half. Shedeur Sanders went crazy, throwing 4 TD passes of his own and 371 yards while running for 50 yards and another score. Pitching a 14-0 4th-quarter shutout, Colorado got to 48-41, but their onside kick attempt failed, thwarting the comeback bid. USC’s defense is still the team’s weak point. Colorado has defensive problems as well, but we knew they were a year away from a talent standpoint. The Trojans need to be better to realize their CFP dreams.

Over in the SEC, (13) LSU and (20) Ole Miss provided our highest-scoring game of the weekend. Defense was nowhere to be found. Both teams reached 6 yards per carry on the ground, with the Rebels’ Quinshon Judkins (33/177/1, rec. TD) shining brightest. QBs Jayden Daniels (LSU) and Jaxson Dart (Ole Miss) each threw 4 TDs and no INTs. TDs were traded in bunches, and it seemed like whoever had the ball last would win. In actuality, Ole Miss took a 55-49 lead with too much time remaining, but their defense stiffened once LSU reached the 26 yard line.

LSU can kiss the playoffs goodbye with 2 losses. Ole Miss isn’t in fantastic shape either; that 1 loss to Alabama isn’t as negligible as it has been for the last decade. Winning out is the Rebels’ only hope, and they might still need some help. The SEC is proving as rugged as ever, even if some of the teams at the top aren’t who we’re used to seeing. Missouri, Kentucky, and Georgia are all 5-0 on the East side of the SEC. While we’re on the subject of those last two teams…

(1) Georgia Shaky; Kentucky Looks Great

Georgia has started slowly on offense in the majority of their games. I haven’t thought too much about this. Why wouldn’t a team breaking in a new QB (Carson Beck) need some time to jell? Besides, this issue hasn’t caused the Bulldogs to come close to losing a game. Falling into a 10-0 hole against Auburn this week didn’t seem like cause for concern. For once, it was. Despite throwing for just 88 yards, Auburn stuck with Georgia all the way into the 4th quarter. The Tigers racked up 219 rushing yards, enabling them to keep the score 20-20 with 6 minutes left in the game.

Georgia survived this challenge 27-20, but against a 2-loss opponent, this was hardly a showing befitting a #1 team. The Bulldogs are still #1 until they fall in my opinion because they’ve earned that right. We just can’t expect them to steamroll their opponents as they have the last two years. Several teams will provide worthy challenges in the weeks ahead. One such squad is Kentucky, who moved to 5-0 by drubbing (22) Florida 33-14 at home. QB Devin Leary hasn’t consistently been the guy the Wildcats thought they were getting from NC State, but he’s been better than Will Levis (now with the Tennessee Titans).

Mark Stoops is still coaching a great defense, and his team runs a pro-style offense that operates through the ground game. This week, RB Ray Davis went berserk, taking 26 carries for 280 yards and 3 TDs. His one catch went for a 9-yard TD. What makes this team good is that they can win even if one phase isn’t doing well. Kentucky plays complementary football in a way that few schools do. That makes them a tough out any given Saturday. Georgia and Kentucky play each other next week. SEC supremacy is surprisingly up for grabs with Georgia in its most vulnerable position since 2020.

There’s More Than Just One Good Tagovailoa

Among all FBS teams that are 5-0, very few aren’t ranked. One of these teams is Maryland. HC Mike Locksley, formerly the OC at Alabama, has established the best program in school history. A lot of that has to do with one player he took with him from Tuscaloosa. His last name might be familiar to you if you follow my NFL takeaways. Tua’s brother, Taulia Tagovailoa, is a quality college QB. Regardless, Nick Saban only took him at Alabama to secure a commitment from Tua. Once Tua went to the NFL, Taulia had to leave to find a starting role.

At 5’11”, he’s a bit shorter than his brother. He also throws right-handed. With that in mind, he’s still easily the best QB Maryland has ever possessed. Taulia comes with the trademark Tagovailoa accuracy, and his arm is good enough. He played one of his best games ever this week against Indiana, finishing 24/34 for 352 yards and 5 TD passes and adding 15 yards and a 6th score on the ground. Tagovailoa was flawless in this Big 10 matchup, which Maryland dominated 44-17.

The one knock on the Terrapins is that their schedule has been weak. They’ve played an FCS team (Towson), a Group of 5 team (Charlotte), a winless ACC team (Virginia), and two struggling Big 10 programs (MSU and Indiana). For those with questions, Maryland gets a chance to answer them this week with a test against (4) Ohio State this upcoming weekend. Recent history suggests that the Buckeyes will dominate. Maryland’s improved play and OSU’s offensive struggles tell me this matchup might be more compelling than it would appear.

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