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Auburn quarterback Bo Nix (10) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half against Mississippi State, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in Auburn, Ala.
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix (10) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half against Mississippi State, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in Auburn, Ala. (Butch Dill/AP)

Welcome to the college football overreaction index, where we examine the most important storylines from the past weekend of games to determine what’s worth paying attention to and what’s getting a little too much attention.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Week 5.

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Auburn and Penn State are playoff contenders.

Verdict: Not an overreaction.

Talk about taking care of business.

The Tigers and Nittany Lions each faced what were thought to be tricky matchups, entering their respective games as roughly seven-point favorites. Instead, they delivered a pair of blowouts, with Penn State thumping Maryland, 59-0, and Auburn crushing Mississippi State, 56-23.

Considering both teams entered the season relying on first-year starting quarterbacks — with junior Sean Clifford taking over for Trace McSorley at Penn State and Bo Nix getting the nod as a true freshman at Auburn — their dominant starts are a bit of a surprise. Clifford was masterful Friday night in College Park, throwing for the third-most passing yards in a single game in school history (398), including a school-record 287 in the first half, and scoring four total touchdowns. Nix accounted for 391 total yards and three touchdowns and set a season high with 335 passing yards.

Auburn and Penn State have climbed into the top 10 in ESPN’s Football Power Index and Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings, a tier that includes top playoff contenders like Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Clemson. But the case against both teams’ playoff hopes remains their daunting schedules. While the Nittany Lions have games remaining against four ranked opponents (Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State), the Tigers will face four top-10 teams (Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama). FPI gives Auburn just a 1.8% chance of winning out, while Penn State’s odds of finishing perfect are at 3.4%.

But given how well their respective quarterbacks and defenses are playing, each team has a chance (ESPN’s playoff predictor puts Auburn’s odds of making it at 25%, while Penn State sits at 17%). It’s not even October yet, but early performances have shown the Tigers and Nittany Lions are forces to be reckoned with.

Clemson's Trevor Lawrence (16) passes during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
Clemson's Trevor Lawrence (16) passes during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Chris Seward/AP)

Even in a watered-down ACC, Clemson is vulnerable after all.

Verdict: Overreaction.

The top-ranked Tigers were a 2-point conversion away from losing on the road to Mack Brown and North Carolina, hanging on for a 21-20 win.

While it’s easy to get caught up in Trevor Lawrence’s early struggles — five interceptions in five games after throwing just four all of last season — there just isn’t enough evidence yet that this Clemson team is in danger of losing a regular-season game.

The defense, despite losing three first-round picks to the NFL draft, hasn’t regressed. Saturday’s game was the first time the Tigers allowed more than 14 points this season. And even with Lawrence slow to find his footing, Clemson still boasts one of the best receiving corps in the nation with Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers and a dynamic running back in Travis Etienne. Perhaps most importantly, the ACC just doesn’t have the talent right now to offer much resistance.

The Tigers get a week off to clean up what went wrong against North Carolina. While there are some potential challenges left on the schedule — a home game vs. Florida State in two weeks and late-season matchups against Wake Forest and South Carolina — the odds lean heavily in Clemson’s favor to stay unbeaten. And the Tigers might have to be perfect to reach the playoff, considering their weak strength of schedule.

Minnesota linebacker Carter Coughlin (45) plays against Purdue tight end Garrett Miller (88) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. Minnesota defeated Purdue 38-31.
Minnesota linebacker Carter Coughlin (45) plays against Purdue tight end Garrett Miller (88) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. Minnesota defeated Purdue 38-31. (Michael Conroy/AP)

It’s time to get serious about Minnesota, SMU, Baylor, Memphis and Wake Forest.

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Verdict: Not an overreaction.

What do all five teams have in common? A big ol’ goose egg in the loss column.

Minnesota: Let’s start with the Golden Gophers, who handled Purdue on the road to move to 4-0, their best start since 2013. Quarterback Tanner Morgan was nearly perfect, completing 21 of 22 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns as Minnesota averaged nearly 9 yards per play, with 12 plays going for 16 yards or more. If Morgan and the Gophers can keep that up, a 10-win season and a run at the Big Ten West title are well within reason.

SMU: All aboard the Pony Express? The Mustangs are 5-0 for the first time since 1983, and all of the sudden an American Athletic Conference title looks possible in Sonny Dykes’ third season. Texas transfer quarterback Shane Buechele is in command of an Air Raid offense averaging 43.5 points per game, and Xavier Jones is one of the nation’s leading rushers. ESPN’s FPI projects SMU to win 10 games, something the school hasn’t done since 1984. The Mustangs reaching a New Year’s Six bowl game would be among the biggest surprises of the season.

Baylor: All Matt Rhule does is turn around middling programs. In his first year at Temple, the Owls went 2-10. In his final two seasons, Temple won 10 games. In his first year at Baylor, the Bears went 1-11. After going 7-6 with a bowl victory last year, Baylor is 4-0, having outlasted Iowa State on Saturday. The Bears have a tough road ahead that includes back-to-back home games vs. Oklahoma and Texas, but there are already clear signs of progress in Waco. An eight-win season would be cause for celebration as Rhule continues to rebuild, and that’s why the school extended his contract through 2027 on Sunday night.

Memphis: The Tigers have passed two early tests with wins over Ole Miss and Navy. Memphis suddenly has a formidable division challenger in SMU to deal with, but quarterback Brady White and the offense look good enough to handle it. How the Tigers defense handles the AAC schedule will determine whether they’re a Group of 5 contender.

Wake Forest: What to make of the Demon Deacons? Well, they have one of the nation’s best dual-threat quarterbacks in Jamie Newman, who passed for 243 yards and ran for 102 in Saturday’s win over Boston College. Dating to last season, Wake Forest has won seven straight, tying a 75-year-old school record. The last time the Deacs started 5-0, they went to the Orange Bowl in 2007. A similar run this year isn’t that far-fetched.

Duke defender Leonard Johnson (33) intercepts a pass in the end zone intended for Virginia Tech's James Mitchell (82) in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in Blacksburg, Va.
Duke defender Leonard Johnson (33) intercepts a pass in the end zone intended for Virginia Tech's James Mitchell (82) in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry | The Roanoke Times/AP)

Virginia Tech is in trouble.

Verdict: Not an overreaction.

It’s hard to follow a legend.

Frank Beamer turned the Hokies into a Big East and then ACC power during his long tenure, setting the expectation for success in Blacksburg.

Justin Fuente, who was widely praised as a smart hire following Beamer’s retirement at the end of 2015, has failed to meet that standard.

Virginia Tech suffered its worst home loss since 1974 on Friday night, falling 45-10 to Duke. It wasn’t Florida State, Clemson or Miami that delivered the big blow, but a Blue Devils team that, while improving, has won 10 games just once in school history.

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The Hokies are 0-2 in conference play for the first time and haven’t exactly taken care of business elsewhere, trailing FCS Furman at halftime in an eventual 24-17 win earlier this season.

Fuente’s job is likely safe for now, considering he led the team to 10 wins in 2016 and nine in 2017 before the bottom fell out last year. But he’ll have to make more strides recruiting (Virginia Tech’s current 2020 class ranks 72nd in the nation after it pulled in the No. 26 class in 2019, per the 247 Sports Composite) and show some improvement on the field the rest of the season for the Hokies to have any hope of getting back to prominence. If he doesn’t, it will be up to someone else to carry on Beamer’s legacy.

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