2023 NCAAF: Week 6 Preview

October 6, 2023

As summer cedes to fall and the weather finally begins to turn in various pockets of the country, the college football landscape is beginning to solidify.

Some teams have already faced scares in conference play (see: Southern Cal and Washington), but as the saying goes, “survive and advance”. Few will remember a single touchdown victory over Arizona at the end of September if it is buried within an unbeaten record.

While CFP contenders are emerging, so are some dark horses that will look to crash the party, or perhaps even become the ones for which the party is being thrown. This coming weekend, Ohio State and Notre Dame both face unbeaten opposition that are either unranked or barely ranked, and No. 13 Washington State is the underdog against an unranked foe.

It feels as though chaos may be brewing.

But before we preview the potential for any of that, let’s take a look back at what we found out during Week 5.

3 Things We Learned in Week 5

Billy Napier is back on the hot seat

The lull period for this hot seat lasted approximately two weeks (the time between Florida’s surprisingly convincing victory over Tennessee and its ugly, non-competitive loss to Kentucky last weekend).

While it was already known that Florida’s offense was serviceable at best behind Graham Mertz, it was the defense that some (including Around The Corn) were starting to get vocal about. Scratch that, too. The Gators came into the game against Kentucky with the SEC’s best run defense and proceeded to give up 206 yards to the Wildcats’ Ray Davis in the first half. Kentucky ended up with 329 yards on the ground and coasted to a comfortable victory, and Florida slinked back into national irrelevance territory, which is the last thing Napier needed to keep his rear end cool.

Top teams are beginning to emerge, but Georgia isn’t separating itself from the pack

The Bulldogs are still the top team in the country, and outside of an unexpected loss, nothing is likely to change that. But for as difficult as a three-peat is, it feels like Georgia has looked vulnerable at times this season, and this has come before the meat of its conference schedule.

Kirby Smart’s team has experienced slow starts in both of its SEC games this season, trailing South Carolina at the half and deadlocked with Auburn at the midpoint. In fact, the Bulldogs have only scored 17 first quarter points all season. But while the performances have been far from dominant, one thing Georgia hasn’t looked is out of control. For all of the slow starts, Georgia is still very efficient on third down (54.6 percent conversion) and at preventing opponent third down conversions (24.6 percent success rate). Perhaps Georgia’s success this season will serve as proof that style points in college football are no longer relevant.

Offensively, things went from bad to worse for Iowa

If it’s hard to believe that things could get more dire for an offense that has already been shut out once this season and average 133.8 yards per game passing (No. 131 in the country, ahead of only service academies), it’s time to adjust your belief system.

Iowa’s offense lost Cade McNamara for the season with an ACL injury against Michigan State last Saturday, seemingly amping up the pressure on Brian Ferentz to achieve his contractual goal of averaging at least 25 points per game. Granted, McNamara wasn’t exactly lighting it up behind center, but he’s replaced by a sophomore in Deacon Hill that has actually managed to connect on fewer of his passes (42.9 percent on 35 total attempts this season) than McNamara (51.5 percent on 90 attempts). Best of luck with your KPI, Brian.

5 Games You Need to Watch This Weekend

#12 Oklahoma vs. #3 Texas [game in Dallas, TX] (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ABC)

This game is somewhat bittersweet for the Big 12. Yes, both Texas and Oklahoma are ranked, unbeaten and still very much alive in terms of securing a CFP bid. But this is also the last time the two rivals will face off against each other as members of the conference, a fact that may also doubly serve as a precursor to the end of the league’s run of consistent national relevancy.

The Dillon Gabriel puzzle has seemingly been solved in Norman – the senior has been the most prolific passer in the Big 12 through five games, his struggles from last season a distant memory. Much of Gabriel’s success has come against less than stellar pass defenses, however, and this weekend the Sooners face the Big 12’s best in Texas. It will take a monumental effort for Oklahoma not only to decode Texas’s secondary, but also for its own defensive back end to slow down Quinn Ewers & Co.

My Pick: 34-28 Texas (covers -5.5 spread)

#13 Washington State at UCLA (Saturday, 3 PM ET – Pac-12 Network)

In a somewhat rare scheduling scenario, both the Bruins and Cougars received a week off in between this tilt. Last time we saw UCLA, Chip Kelly’s offense sputtered against a Utah defense that did everything it could to bail out the Utes own offensive deficiencies. Washington State, meanwhile, outlasted what appears to be a pretty good Oregon State team in an offensive shootout.

Questions were raised about UCLA’s offense two weeks ago, but the Bruins also had plenty of offensive opportunities in the game against Utah that they simply didn’t seize. Washington State’s defense is unlikely to be as stifling, so Dante Moore should be more effective in this one. The Cougars have a playmaker of their own at quarterback in Cameron Ward, but aren’t quite as balanced offensively as the Bruins. While the Cougars are for real, UCLA is favored in this game and for good reason – this one will be close.

My Pick: 40-38 Washington State (covers +3.5 spread)

#11 Alabama at Texas A&M (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – CBS)

The SEC’s most interesting pseudo rivalry is renewed for another edition when the Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide travel to College Station to take on Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies. This is a difficult game to predict, because both teams have been incredibly inconsistent this season and the major statistical guideposts are effectively useless. Alabama’s questionable passing offense should struggle against Texas A&M’s strong pass defense, right? Not so fast – the Aggies were destroyed through the air by Miami a month ago.

Despite the shout out to unreliable past results, Texas A&M’s recent performances against Alabama suggest that Fisher could become the first apostle of Saban to beat his old boss twice. The verdict is certainly still out about Alabama’s offense as a whole, and Kyle Field is a very tough place for a less than supremely confident signal-caller to thrive.

My Pick: 28-27 Texas A&M (covers +2 spread)

#20 Kentucky at #1 Georgia (Saturday, 7 PM ET – ESPN)

The Wildcats looked like a complete football team last weekend, stifling the Florida offense for the majority of the game and making a mockery of the Gators’ “top” run defense. Running back Ray Davis is  a grown man, and is separating himself from the rest of the boys in the SEC, already leading the conference in rushing touchdowns and rushing yards. Georgia’s run defense is solid, but it’s hard to tell if Mark Stoops will employ a similar game plan in this one. Surprisingly, Kentucky is last in the conference in rushing attempts per game.

While Kirby Smart’s squad has raised some questions about its impenetrable nature, the Bulldogs are still undefeated and haven’t allowed more than 340 yards in a single game. For Kentucky to pull off the huge upset, it’ll need to beat Georgia at its own game – churning up clock and keeping the opposing offense off the field. The Wildcats proved they aren’t a pushover in the SEC East, but this doesn’t feel like an upset waiting to happen.

My Pick: 27-10 Georgia (covers -14.5 spread)

#10 Notre Dame at #25 Louisville (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – ABC)

Louisville has shot out of the gate in Jeff Brohm’s first season back as head coach of his alma mater, starting 5-0 and sneaking into the Top 25 just in time for a primetime matchup against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish found a way to win on the road at Duke last weekend, getting a last minute victory over their own just a week after losing on the last play of regulation against Ohio State. For the third week in a row, Marcus Freeman’s squad will need an answer for a potent offense.

Brohm’s influence on the offense has been immediate for the Cardinals. Quarterback Jack Plummer is a gunslinger in every sense of the word and leads the ACC in passing yards. Unfortunately for Louisville, he is also tied for the league lead for interceptions thrown. The Fighting Irish have done a good job limiting talented quarterbacks this season, and are opportunistic defensively, forcing six interceptions thus far. Louisville will need to do more than hope for an offensive shootout if it expects to pull an upset on its home turf.

My Pick: 23-14 Notre Dame (covers -6.5 spread)

5 Games to Keep an Eye On This Weekend

Maryland at #4 Ohio State (Saturday, 12 PM ET – FOX)

The Big Ten’s top two offenses square off in Columbus in a battle of unbeatens. The Terrapins are in this position largely thanks to the health of Taulia Tagovailoa, who leads the conference in passing touchdowns (13) and passing yards per game (292). Ohio State’s defense has already shut down one early season Heisman contender this season and will be tasked with doing it again.

#23 LSU at #21 Missouri (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

Had LSU beaten Mississippi in last Saturday evening’s shootout, this would have been a Game to Watch This Weekend. However, Brian Kelly’s team is all but cooked in terms of CFP contention, and Eli Drinkwitz’s Tigers still need to prove that they can beat decent SEC competition before the country will take Missouri seriously.

Rutgers at Wisconsin (Saturday, 12 PM ET – Peacock)

The Badgers are still figuring things out under Luke Fickell, who oddly brings the shakier of the two defenses into this game. While Rutgers won’t give up points easily, to win this game the Scarlet Knights will need to outduel Wisconsin with its run game, always a tall task at Camp Randall.

Arkansas at #16 Mississippi (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – SEC Network)

Collectively, these two teams average 78.2 points per game offensively and surrender an average of 48.4 points per game to opponents. Smash the ‘Over’ and don’t be surprised if this game looks a lot like the one the Rebels played last weekend against LSU.

#24 Fresno State at Wyoming (Saturday, 8 PM ET – FOX)

A lot of fans will pass this one over without a second thought, but there’s a reason that this early Mountain West fixture will be broadcast by FOX. If the Cowboys were to win this game, they deserve to replace the Bulldogs in the Top 25. This has all the makings of a Mountain West title game preview and one of these teams may end up playing in a New Year’s Six bowl.

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