Last weekend was the most exciting yet in this young college football season, with two top-10 teams going down and another making a miraculous comeback in the final minutes.
This weekend only offers a handful of big-time matchups, highlighted by No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 4 Georgia, but there’s plenty to get excited about. Here are the storylines to watch heading into Week 5:
A tale of two offenses: Things could not be any different for No. 4 Georgia and No. 7 Auburn. Sophomore Bo Nix showed improvement as a passer in Auburn’s season-opening win over Kentucky, throwing three touchdown passes, while D’Wan Mathis struggled in his first start for Georgia before being replaced by Stetson Bennett, who helped right the ship with 211 yards and two touchdowns. JT Daniels might be back in the mix for the Bulldogs, with the former five-star prospect and Southern California transfer getting medical clearance to return after a season-ending knee injury last year. This is going to be a slugfest, pitting the nation’s two most efficient defenses against each other. Whichever offense can avoid turning the ball over and hit some chunk plays through the air will be the winner, but it’s nearly impossible to predict how these quarterbacks will fare under pressure — and in Georgia’s case, which quarterback is going to take the most snaps.
Alabama is back: The Crimson Tide never really left, though a season without a playoff berth is a disappointment in Tuscaloosa. With quarterback Mac Jones at the helm, the offense could be just as scary as it was with Tua Tagovailoa throwing passes thanks to a star-studded group of weapons in running back Najee Harris and receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith. The Tide dispatched Missouri and its talented defense with ease last week, 38-19. Even after struggling a bit in a 17-12 win over Vanderbilt, Texas A&M ranks 19th in efficiency, according to ESPN’s SP+, through two games. If Alabama beats the Aggies handily, look out.
More cowbell: What will Mike Leach and Mississippi State do for an encore against Arkansas after a thrilling upset of LSU? Stanford transfer K.J. Costello threw for an SEC-record 623 yards and five touchdowns in Leach’s debut, proving his Air Raid offense not only works in the nation’s top conference, but it can be downright devastating. Expecting Costello to keep up this kind of production week-to-week is a fool’s errand, but he clearly feels comfortable directing Leach’s passing attack. Things will get really interesting for the Bulldogs when they face Texas A&M and Alabama in back-to-back games in October, but until then, let’s savor the “Mad Scientist” experience down south.
Kyle Trask’s rise: The senior entered a season as the full-time starting quarterback for the first time since ninth grade. It was worth the wait, as he torched Mississippi for 416 yards and an SEC-record-tying six touchdown passes in Florida’s 51-35 win. The Gators jumped to No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll this week, putting bigger expectations on Trask’s shoulders. Can he make a Joe Burrow-esque leap? With LSU and Georgia looking vulnerable, the path to an SEC title looks clearer for Florida. Trask will have to prove he can continue to perform at a high level, but he has enough playmakers around him, including star tight end Kyle Pitts, to keep the offense humming.
Texas' time? The Longhorns seemed headed toward a disappointing loss to Texas Tech last weekend, trailing by 15 with 3:13 to play. Then preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Sam Ehlinger led a stunning comeback, throwing two touchdown passes in the final minutes to send the game into overtime and hitting Joshua Moore for an 18-yard score on the Longhorns' first extra possession to secure the victory. It doesn’t get any easier this week with a matchup against a feisty TCU squad that is 6-2 against its in-state rival since joining the Big 12 in 2012, including 3-1 in Austin. No. 9 Texas' title hopes are still alive, but it needs to avoid a slip-up in conference play to have a realistic chance of making the playoff.
Pressure’s on, Oklahoma: The Sooners' 38-35 upset loss to Kansas State brought out the best and the worst from young phenom Spencer Rattler, who threw for 387 yards and four touchdowns but also had three interceptions and a fumble. Rattler is going to go through some growing pains in his first season as the starter, but Oklahoma can’t afford another loss if it wants to reach the playoff for the fourth consecutive season under Lincoln Riley. Iowa State isn’t the Top 25 team it was expected to be entering the season, but the Cyclones are still dangerous at home and have a quarterback capable of keeping up with Rattler in a shootout in junior Brock Purdy.
Battle for Group of 5 supremacy: No. 11 Central Florida and No. 15 Cincinnati are the two clear front-runners in the race, but two teams who could push them meet this weekend. No. 25 Memphis, which has not played since beating Arkansas State on Sept. 6, faces SMU, which has already played three games and is averaging 48.7 points, fifth best in the nation, behind gunslinger Shane Buechele. The Tigers have plenty of firepower themselves, led by quarterback Brady White, who threw for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdown passes last season. These teams combined for 102 points and 1,067 yards of total offense last year, a 54-48 Memphis victory. Let’s hope we see just as many fireworks this time around.
Boston College better? The addition of coach Jeff Hafley and Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec has added some life to an Eagles program mired in mediocrity under Steve Addazio. Jurkovec is completing 70.5% of his passes and helped lead BC back from a 14-point deficit in Saturday’s win over Texas State to move to 2-0. The Eagles are 14-point underdogs against No. 12 North Carolina on Saturday, but the Tar Heels might be a bit rusty after their game against Charlotte was canceled last weekend because of COVID-19 concerns. We’ll see how Jurkovec measures up against UNC star quarterback Sam Howell.
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Just enjoy Trevor: Saturday night’s game between No. 1 Clemson and Virginia is a rematch of the ACC title game, but it’s likely to end the same way it did last season, with another Tigers blowout. Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, has only a few more college games remaining before he’s making millions at the pro level. With plenty of stars opting out this season, and fewer high-level prospects expected to play three or more seasons in the years to come, a talent like Lawrence might become a rare sight in college football. Savor the experience while you still can.