Let’s take a closer look at the matchups (odds as of Tuesday).
No. 1 Alabama (-16½) at No. 24 Texas A&M
Chance for an upset: Unlikely
Alabama hasn’t been tested yet, and that might not change until its big matchup with LSU on Nov. 9. But the Crimson Tide face their first ranked opponent this season, and do so on the road, to boot. Jimbo Fisher’s 3-2 Aggies might not be worthy of that ranking, but they are battle-tested, having already played a pair of top-10 teams in Clemson and Auburn. Quarterback Kellen Mond hasn’t been the Heisman Trophy candidate many predicted he could be, but he’s steadily improved and can apply what he learned playing a pair of strong defenses against a unit that gave up 31 points and 476 total yards to Ole Miss. Will that be enough to keep up with Tua Tagovailoa and Co.?
If anyone in the ACC can match Clemson’s talent on the field, it’s Florida State. The problem is, second-year coach Willie Taggart hasn’t gotten the most out of that talent, with the Seminoles missing a bowl game for the first time in 36 years last season and already losing twice this year. The hope for Florida State is that Clemson is vulnerable, considering star quarterback Trevor Lawrence has struggled and the Tigers almost lost to North Carolina. Florida State plans to play both James Blackman and Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook at quarterback in this game. Will either be able to test Clemson’s defense?
South Carolina at No. 3 Georgia (-24½)
Chance for an upset: Unlikely
Georgia fell behind 14-13 to Tennessee on Saturday, but it was hardly cause for concern as the Bulldogs scored 30 straight points to end the game. South Carolina, on the other hand, hasn’t given any indication it can compete against the SEC elite, other than its competitive first quarter against Alabama. But if Rico Dowdle and Tavien Feaster can run the ball as well as they did against Kentucky, the Gamecocks might be able to control the clock and keep the Bulldogs offense off the field. Considering how well Georgia has played against the run, though, it will probably be up to freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski to make plays. Can he outperform Jake Fromm between the hedges?
No. 6 Oklahoma (-11) vs. No. 11 Texas: More on this game a little later.
Michigan State at No. 8 Wisconsin (-10½)
Chance for an upset: Very possible
Michigan State’s defense held off Ohio State for as long as it could Saturday night, but the dam eventually burst as the Buckeyes scored 24 points in the second quarter in a 34-10 victory. Good news for the Spartans: Wisconsin’s offense, as efficient as it has been thus far, is not nearly as explosive as Ohio State’s. The Badgers rely on superstar running back Jonathan Taylor to move the ball, and against a team that has limited opposing rushers to 3.0 yards per carry, that might be a problem. Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan has been reliable and avoided mistakes, but he hasn’t shown he’s capable of carrying the offense yet. If the Spartans are able to take Taylor out of the game and force Coan to throw, the Badgers might not have any answers.
No matter who has played quarterback, the Trojans have had one of the best passing attacks in the nation, led by a trio of outstanding receivers in Michael Pittman, Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. Notre Dame has given up just 183.2 passing yards per game, but this receiving corps will be its toughest test of the season. Pittman is capable of breaking the game open all on his own, and quarterback Kedon Slovis, who will start Saturday, looked like a rising star before he was injured two weeks ago. Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book can keep up if it becomes a shootout, but a high-scoring game favors USC.
No. 10 Penn State (-3½) at No. 17 Iowa
Chance for an upset: Very possible
On its face, this game looks like a mismatch. Penn State has one of the nation’s most potent offenses, averaging 500 yards and 47 points per game. Iowa, on the other hand, has the nation’s 81st-ranked scoring offense and was just held to three points in a loss to Michigan. So why such a small spread? For starters, Kinnick Stadium is a tough place to play, and even more so at night. In 2017, the last time they played at Iowa, the No. 4 Nittany Lions needed to score a touchdown on the game’s final play to survive. Though Penn State has won the past five meetings in this series, few Nittany Lions fans can forget Penn State’s three straight losses to Iowa when ranked No. 3, No. 5 and No. 22, respectively, from 2008 to 2010. If the Nittany Lions’ dream season is going to be derailed, this would be an all-too-familiar setting.
Can Texas keep up with Oklahoma despite a banged-up defense?
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow torched the Longhorns defense for 471 yards and four touchdowns in Week 2, and given how many injuries Texas has suffered in its secondary since, it’s safe to assume similar numbers for Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts this Saturday in the Red River Rivalry.
Lincoln Riley’s offense helped turn Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray into back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners and No. 1 overall draft picks, and Hurts is well on his way to continuing that legacy. It’s Week 6, and Hurts has almost as many total touchdowns (21) and incompletions (27) and has already surpassed 2,000 total yards. Forty-nine FBS schools haven’t even reached that mark.
Fortunately for the Longhorns, their offense is capable of putting up points in bunches, too. Sam Ehlinger has been among the nation’s best quarterbacks this season, completing 69.4% of his passes with 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions. His receiving corps, led by athletic marvel Devin Duvernay, has also been impressive and will get back Collin Johnson, Texas’ second-leading receiver last season, on Saturday.
But all of that firepower might not matter if Texas can’t at least slow down Hurts and Co. Not to mention, Oklahoma’s defense has been much improved under first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, allowing just 19 points per game after giving up 32.4 in 2018. If Texas can’t move the ball, it could be a long day for the Longhorns.
LSU’s offense is good. But is it good enough to win the SEC?
It’s not just good, it’s the best in the nation. Let that sink in for a second.
The Tigers, better known for their hounding defenses and conservative quarterbacks, are averaging 54.6 points per game. Burrow is the big reason why, throwing 22 touchdown passes in five games, just six shy of the school’s single-season record, under new passing game coordinator Joe Brady.
But we haven’t seen LSU face a good defense yet, as the Tigers have feasted on two Group of 5 teams (Georgia Southern and Utah State), a bad FCS team (winless Northwestern State) and the SEC’s punching bag (Vanderbilt). Even Texas ranks among the nation’s worst in yards per game (442) and yards per play (6.0) allowed.
Florida is a different beast. The Gators enter Baton Rouge having allowed just five touchdowns all season, and just harassed Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix into throwing three interceptions. Florida leads the nation with 12 picks and is tied for third in the country with 26 sacks.
On Saturday, we’ll not only find out just how good Burrow and this LSU offense really are, but whether Florida’s defense can carry the Gators all the way to the SEC title game.
Some smaller questions worth asking
Will we see any first-time bowlers this year? Keep an eye on Liberty (4-2), Coastal Carolina (3-2), Texas State (2-3) and Charlotte (2-3). All are relatively new to the FBS level, and have never reached a bowl game. Wins this weekend would go a long way toward that goal.
Who’s going to emerge as the top Group of 5 contender? Consider this the biggest week to date for the G5. No. 14 Boise State (5-0) hosts Hawaii (4-1). Temple (4-1) hosts No. 23 Memphis (5-0). San Diego State (4-1) hosts Wyoming (4-1). Coastal Carolina (3-2) hosts Georgia State (3-2). Houston (2-3) hosts No. 25 Cincinnati (4-1). And that’s after Appalachian State beat Louisiana, 17-7, on Wednesday night to move to 5-0. Who’s going to the Cotton Bowl?
Did we dismiss Arizona and Missouri too quickly? Both lost strange road games to Group of 5 teams in Week 1, with Arizona falling to Hawaii and Missouri dropping a heartbreaker to Wyoming. All they’ve done since is win, moving to 4-1 to get back into their conference championship races. It’s unlikely either team can get through the rest of its schedule unscathed, but the Wildcats’ Khalil Tate and the Tigers’ Kelly Bryant are starting to show why they’re considered among the most talented quarterbacks in the nation.
Who’s the third best team in the Big 12? Likely No. 22 Baylor, but the Bears face a challenge this week from a Texas Tech team that just upset Oklahoma State, which until that loss had a pretty good case to be the team right behind Oklahoma and Texas. The conference has six teams with two losses. Which of them are any good?
Which teams at the bottom of the Top 25 are pretenders? The top 10 is a pretty good indicator of strength, but teams at the bottom of the poll often dip in and out. No. 18 Arizona State (vs. Washington State), No. 19 Wake Forest (vs. Louisville), No. 20 Virginia (at Miami), No. 22 Baylor (vs. Texas Tech), No. 23 Memphis (at Temple) and No. 25 Cincinnati (at Houston) should all win this weekend, but there’s a good chance one of them won’t. Who’s it going to be?