We are very early in an admittedly strange and unpredictable season, but it’s worth asking: Does Florida have the potential to be this year’s LSU?
Two games is a small sample size, but we’ve seen enough of the Gators’ offense to know that they’re going to score and score and score and score. Though their defense is still a question mark, that was the formula LSU used last year to rampage through the SEC, setting all kinds of offensive records while allowing a ton of points until their defense caught up later on in the season.
Gators quarterback Kyle Trask is probably not on the level of Joe Burrow, but he’s played well through two weeks and there are some pretty interesting comparisons between the Florida receivers group and the deep roster of playmakers LSU had last season.
Kyle Pitts, the best pass-catching tight end in the country, had four receptions and two touchdowns in Saturday’s 38-24 win over South Carolina while Kadarius Toney had six receptions for 86 yards. Four other players caught at least one pass of more than 10 yards. Trask has a ton of options, and coach Dan Mullen is one of the best at building an offense that makes opponents cover the whole field. How good? Florida has had 21 offensive possessions this year against South Carolina and Ole Miss. Of those, 11 have resulted in touchdowns, four in field goals, three in punts and three in turnovers.
We’ll learn everything we need to know about whether Florida’s offense is sustainable at this level over the next month or so, which includes games against LSU on Oct. 17 and Georgia on Nov. 7.
But so far, they look unstoppable enough to be the favorite coming out of the SEC East — for now.
Here are nine other takeaways from Week 5 in college football:
►There’s something wrong with Oklahoma. Anyone can be the victim of an upset in college football, as the Sooners were last week against Kansas State. But to back it up the following week with a 37-30 loss to Iowa State in which they looked thoroughly mediocre in pretty much every aspect of the game?
That’s a big warning sign, and given that Oklahoma’s College Football Playoff hopes are done, it’s something Lincoln Riley and athletics director Joe Castiglione are going to have to face realistically and figure out what needs to be done.
Oklahoma has an entire roster of mostly four and five-star recruits, and yet that talent level just doesn’t come through visually in watching this team. We’ve known Oklahoma has deficiencies, especially on defense. And we knew they were going to play a young quarterback this year in Spencer Rattler. But where’s the next great group of wide receivers? Why is the offensive line not really getting the job done?
And about that defense … well, it’s still not good enough. Leading 30-23, Oklahoma gave up an 85-yard kickoff return that set up a tying touchdown. Then the Sooners failed to tackle Breece Hall, who finished with 139 yards on 28 carries including a 36-yarder that set up the winning touchdown.
Put it all together, and we’re in five-alarm fire territory. This isn’t an isolated incident. Here’s a stat worth pondering: In Oklahoma’s last 10 games, the Sooners are just 6-4.
►As the story goes, TCU’s entry into the Big 12 back in 2012 was contingent on earning the support of Texas, which it secured over afternoon cocktails between former Texas athletics director DeLoss Dodds and Chris Del Conte. As TCU’s plans to join the Big East at that time were falling apart, Del Conte drove to Ausin in desperation to make the pitch in person for why Texas would benefit from adding another in-state program to replace Texas A&M.
In retrospect, it looks like the Longhorns got hoodwinked.
Since TCU joined the league, the Horned Frogs have won seven of nine against Texas including Saturday’s 33-31 win in Austin, a trend that would be inexplicable in any context other than the fact that TCU has a future Hall of Fame coach and Texas has a coach.
For whatever reason, Gary Patterson simply has Texas’ number in a way that would seem almost impossible given how TCU plays against the rest of the league. In fact, since joining the Big 12, Patterson is 1-8 against Oklahoma, 3-5 against Oklahoma State, 4-4 against West Virginia, Kansas State and Texas Tech and 5-3 against Iowa State and Baylor. But against the Longhorns, TCU is always ready to play and somehow finds a way to win — even on a scratchy day like Saturday when the Horned Frogs committed 14 penalties and had to settle for four straight field goals in the middle of the game when it looked like they were blowing opportunities to put Texas away.
Even though it seems like an upset given Texas’ No. 9 ranking in the Amway Coaches Poll, history said this result was entirely predictable.
►Texas, meanwhile, came out of its miraculous overtime escape last week against Texas Tech living on borrowed time. As bad as the Longhorns’ defense was last year — a performance that led to Tom Herman overhauling the entire staff — it may be worse now. Though it’s not always fair to compare scores, Texas gave up 56 points in regulation to Texas Tech while Kansas State held the Red Raiders this week to 21 points. So when you really can’t stop anyone, you’re always living on the margins. And the margin in this game came with 2:32 remaining when Keaontay Ingram committed a cardinal sin on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line by trying to reach the ball into the end zone when he was well short of it, resulting in a fumble. Had Texas punched it in there, they’d have taken a 36-33 lead and needed probably just one stop to win. Instead, TCU got the ball and was able to run out the clock on a win that reinforces the notion that almost anyone besides Kansas can win the Big 12 this year.
►Georgia’s response to a mediocre effort in its season opener against Arkansas was to flex all over Auburn in a game that has felt like it was decided on National Signing Day the past couple years. The Bulldogs just have better players, particularly on the line of scrimmage, and their 27-6 victory was a reminder of why so many people buy into Georgia despite red flags about their offense over the years.
The speed on defense, the brutally effective pass rush, the running game that you can rely on? It’s all there. They always look like a traditional powerhouse SEC team. And when it works as well as it did on Saturday, it’s incredibly impressive to watch.
The Bulldogs throttled Auburn in every way, allowing just 216 yards and making Tigers quarterback Bo Nix (21-of-40 completions, 177 yards, 1 interception) look like he hasn’t progressed at all from last season.
At the same time, Georgia looks like this several times a year. But in the big games at the end, we frequently look up and realize that its offense is too pedestrian and doesn’t generate enough big plays in the passing game against the top-level opponents you have to beat to win a national title.
Stetson Bennett, the former walk-on, did a nice job at quarterback. He didn’t make any big mistakes and completed 17-of-28 passes for 240 yards. It was good enough against Auburn, but will it be good enough against Alabama? We still have our doubts.
►Though it was always going to be a longshot for an American Athletic Conference team to make the Playoff, the league’s chances were hurt pretty badly by UCF’s surprising 34-26 loss to Tulsa. Had UCF and Cincinnati remained unbeaten until their meeting on Nov. 21, both teams would have likely been in the top-10, creating the kind of game that the entire country would have been invested in watching. Obviously the winner of that game would’ve needed some help. But in this crazy season, it’s a scenario that wasn’t out of the question.
But with UCF now devalued significantly, it’s hard to imagine the American getting that kind of benefit of the doubt.
►The number everyone focuses on with Jimbo Fisher is $75 million: The value of his 10-year guaranteed contract at Texas A&M, which has not come close to being worth it up to this point. But the other number we should be talking about is five. That’s the number of quarterbacks Fisher has recruited and/or developed since he sent Jameis Winston off to the NFL, and none of them have come close to the level of play that once earned Fisher a reputation as a guru at the position.
Without question, Fisher’s failure to continue a pipeline of elite quarterbacks is the biggest reason his tenure at Florida State was in decline when he left in 2017 and why it’s so far been a flop at Texas A&M.
After a run of high NFL draft picks at quarterback including Winston (No. 1 overall), EJ Manuel (No. 16 overall) and Christian Ponder (No. 12 overall), the well has run dry. Since Winston, he’s started Everett Golson, Sean Maguire, Deondre Francois, James Blackman and Kellen Mond.
At some point, that has to be on Fisher. In a sport that is increasingly dominated by quarterbacks, he’s gotten nothing but average play at the most important position since 2015.
Mond, the Aggies’ current starter, has had some moments over the last few years. But has he really developed much since his sophomore year, when he made some splashy throws in the second half of a marquee game against Clemson that nearly helped the Aggies pull off an upset?
Against Alabama in Saturday’s 52-24 loss, Mond started strong but was erratic during the middle of the game and threw a crucial pick-six that sparked Alabama’s runaway after it was 14-14 early. Mond is a solid quarterback, but he seems to have hit a ceiling.
Fisher needs to find his next Winston to break through to the next level in the SEC, but it’s unclear whether that player is coming anytime soon. Haynes King was a four-star recruit with a lot of promise who enrolled this year, and Eli Stowers is another four-star who is committed for the 2021 class. He needs one of them to hit it big, or his reputation as one of the best quarterback coaches in the game will be severely tarnished.
►SMU’s 30-27 win over Memphis was impressive but also potentially costly. The Mustangs had every reason to fold after blowing an early 24-3 lead and losing their best running back (TJ McDaniel) and receiver (Reggie Roberson) during the game to injuries. Instead, SMU forced a turnover by pressuring Memphis quarterback Brady White with 1:25 left and kicked a game-winning 43-yard field goal with just a handful of seconds remaining.
It wasn’t immediately clear how severe the injuries to McDaniel and Roberson were, but they did not look great on replay and both had to be carted off the field. Roberson’s loss was particularly tough to overcome, as he had racked up 243 receiving yards on just five catches before leaving the game. SMU will hope McDaniel and Roberson are not out for the long term, but the immediate inferences weren’t promising.
►Nobody will be happier about winning a game this weekend than Arkansas fans, who had not seen their team beat an SEC opponent since Oct. 28, 2017. Over the following 35 months, the Razorbacks fired two coaches and an athletics director and dug themselves a hole that seemed almost impossible for coach Sam Pittman to escape.
Pittman, by the way, was roughly the 15th choice for the Arkansas job last December after a number of higher-profile coaches said no. Around the college football industry, the general consensus was that Pittman — the former offensive line coach who was also a stalwart recruiter at Georgia — had no chance to turn this thing around.
But Pittman made one extremely smart decision when he hired Barry Odom as his defensive coordinator. Though Odom’s tenure as Missouri’s head coach didn’t meet the school’s expectations, his unit’s performance in Arkansas’ 21-14 win at Mississippi State was Exhibit A for why he’s one of the elite assistants in the game.
After a week of Mississippi State coach Mike Leach being anointed as the SEC’s hottest ticket after destroying LSU in his debut, Arkansas forced four turnovers (including three interceptions by K.J. Costello) and held Mississippi State to an acceptable 400 yards and 6-of-17 on third down. Unlike LSU, which tried to play press coverage and got burned repeatedly, Odom dropped a lot of defenders into a zone and really bottled up Leach’s offense. They were also good on short-yardage runs when they had to be late in the game.
Arkansas still has a ways to go, but that’s a truly great win for a program that had lost 20 in a row in the SEC.
►There’s a reason Navy wasn’t thrilled about Air Force being able to play their rivalry game as scheduled even though the Mountain West Conference isn’t going to be up and running until Oct. 24.
While Navy has been on its regular season plan for several weeks and played twice already, Air Force has had the luxury of locking in on the Midshipmen — and it showed in a lopsided 40-7 win.
Last month, coach Ken Niumatalolo wasn’t happy that the Pentagon allowed the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series to continue this year, even though at the time Air Force wasn’t going to play a full season. His argument was that it wasn’t fair to play for the highly coveted trophy when his team was playing a full schedule and Air Force only had two games to prepare for. Eventually, Air Force will play its regular season, and it’s certainly possible the Falcons are just a far better team this year. But it seems Niumatalolo’s fears were justified as well.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken
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