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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
Week 5 of the 2020 college football season was tumultuous. Even though there were only two games pitting ranked teams, eight AP Top 25 squads tasted defeat. Perhaps most surprising was No. 16 Mississippi State scoring just 14 points at home in a loss to Arkansas seven days after hanging about a million passing yards on the defending national champions.
What drastic twists and turns could Week 6 have up its sleeve?
With No. 7 Miami paying a visit to Death Valley, could No. 1 Clemson suffer a regular-season loss for the first time in three calendar years?
Will No. 14 Tennessee at least put up a fight against No. 3 Georgia after three consecutive years of blowouts?
Is Oklahoma going to lose for a third straight week?
And keeping with the theme of threes, will the third game of Jimbo Fisher’s third season at Texas A&M be a positive turning point for the program or a negative turning point for his support from the Aggies faithful?
Bleacher Report’s college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Joel Reuter and Brad Shepard—have predictions for each of those questions and more in advance of what should be another stellar weekend of collegiate pigskin.
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Sean Rayford/Associated Press
After several years of the Miami Hurricanes thriving defensively and falling short on offense, the script has sort of flipped in 2020. While I’m still a bit hesitant to buy Miami’s improvement on offense—tight end Brevin Jordan is a star, but the wide receivers lack a true standout—my larger concern is the defense.
Can the Hurricanes cover well enough? I’m not confident in any corner beyond Al Blades Jr. to consistently handle Clemson. Plus, the linebackers have the inglorious task of trying to contain Travis Etienne both on the ground and as a pass-catcher.
Miami’s safeties—Bubba Bolden in particular—are good at attacking downhill and tackling in the open field, but Etienne is incredibly difficult to bring down. His combination of speed and contact balance is stellar. His production and a clean game from Lawrence should carry Clemson to a valuable win. I have the Tigers in a hard-fought 48-31 victory.
I like this Miami team a lot. The Hurricanes have a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in D’Eriq King, a matchup nightmare in Jordan, probably the best college kicker in the country in Jose Borregales and, per usual since coach Manny Diaz arrived in 2016, a relentless pass-rushing unit.
This 3-0 start is no joke, and I’ll probably be picking the Hurricanes to win every other game they play the rest of the way, potentially setting up a rematch with Clemson for the ACC title.
However, Clemson will win, and win big.
Miami’s 12th-ranked running game has put up marvelous numbers, but it will have a tough time trying to establish the run against this Clemson front seven. And getting pressure on the quarterback against this offensive line will be a whole lot harder than it was against Louisville and Florida State. Lawrence will have his usual high-efficiency type of performance in a 38-21 Clemson victory.
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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
North Carolina’s scoring attack has not played up to expectations. Last year, the Tar Heels had 31 passing plays that gained 30 or more yards. That’s 2.4 per game. This season—despite getting back quarterback Sam Howell and top receivers Dazz Newsome, Dyami Brown and Beau Corrales—the offense has only had two such passing plays through two games.
If and when that changes, though, UNC will be dangerous. Call me stubborn, but I’m not altering my perception of the offense yet.
Virginia Tech has a chance to expose the arrogance of my stubbornness this weekend. However, I’m struggling with the offense’s outlook. Hokies head coach Justin Fuente has not announced whether Hendon Hooker or Braxton Burmeister will start this game at quarterback. Hooker hasn’t played yet this season and Burmeister hasn’t performed well.
That unknown—combined with a sturdy UNC defense—is enough for me to stick with the Tar Heels, even though their offense isn’t excelling as anticipated.
North Carolina gets the win, but the margin largely depends on Virginia Tech’s COVID-19 situation.
Welcome to 2020.
The Hokies beat Duke on Saturday despite playing without most of their starting secondary. Per The Athletic’s Andy Bitter, Virginia Tech’s “first- and second-team defensive backs Saturday included four freshmen and three walk-ons, with few reps among them.”
While we likely won’t find out until Saturday morning who is available for Virginia Tech, Howell is tough enough to stifle when your defense is at full strength. Anything less than 100 percent, and he’ll be dropping dimes all over the defensive backfield.
Kansas transfer running back Khalil Herbert has been Virginia Tech’s biggest star, rushing for 312 yards in just two games. But North Carolina boasts the nation’s best rushing defense at a meager 54.0 yards allowed per contest. Herbert might do a little damage, but not enough for Virginia Tech to win. Give me the Tar Heels in a 35-24 type of game.
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Michael Woods/Associated Press
Georgia is searching for four consecutive wins against Tennessee, which is a testament to both how well Kirby Smart has recruited in Athens and the mess Jeremy Pruitt inherited in Knoxville from Butch Jones. But the Vols have turned a corner with eight consecutive wins, although none of those would be considered a marquee victory.
Beating Georgia certainly would count as marquee. Unfortunately for the Vols, they’re significant underdogs, and the talent discrepancy between the two rosters is probably a bit much for UT to pull out the upset.
This still has the trappings of a good, old-fashioned grinder that will be won or lost in the trenches. Both teams are excellent along the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense. And with rain expected in Athens, this should be a low-scoring game.
But UGA’s defense is a little too stout, and wide receiver George Pickens will make enough plays to pace the Dawgs offense. The Vols should keep the final margin to 10 points or fewer, but the Bulldogs will do enough to pull out a win and stay on a collision course with Florida for the SEC East title.
Georgia has owned Tennessee’s soul lately, winning each of the past three meetings by at least 26 points. But the Volunteers have made large strides since last October and should at least make things interesting in Athens.
During its eight-game winning streak, Tennessee has held opponents to 16.5 points per game, and it has not allowed 400 total yards in a contest since its last meeting with the Bulldogs. And Georgia’s offense is still figuring things out. Stetson Bennett had several clutch third-down conversions in the win over Auburn, but I’m still far from convinced he is Georgia’s answer at quarterback.
Tennessee has held five of its last eight opponents below 100 rushing yards, too, so throwing the ball will be imperative for the Bulldogs.
But while Tennessee’s defense has improved, Georgia’s remains a brick wall, and that will be the difference in this game.
Since allowing a 91-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter against Arkansas, the Bulldogs have held their competition to 406 total yards and no touchdowns. Tennessee has enough offense to find the end zone once, but it won’t be able to win. Georgia prevails 24-13.
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Mark Rogers/Associated Press
The Sooners saw their College Football Playoff hopes evaporate with back-to-back losses to Kansas State and Iowa State, but that will do little to water down the intensity of the Red River Showdown against the Texas Longhorns.
Oklahoma has allowed 75 points and 817 total yards the last two weeks, while Texas surrendered 89 points and 898 yards during that same stretch, so this one will be an offensive showdown between teams with nothing to lose after disappointing starts.
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger has completed 63.3 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions, and the experience he brings will be the difference in a Texas win.
Oklahoma signal-caller Spencer Rattler has displayed the raw ability to be a star, but he has also been turnover-prone in critical situations. He’ll make one or two mistakes in this one that cost the Sooners the game. That said, expect a 400-yard day from both quarterbacks and some big numbers on the scoreboard in a good, old-fashioned Big 12 shootout.
In each of the last 21 editions of the Red River Rivalry, either Oklahoma or Texas was ranked in the AP Top 20, including 14 instances in which both teams fit that description. For the first time in more than two decades, that won’t be the case this year. It might also be the first time since 1998 that Oklahoma loses at least three games in a row. During that streak of futility, the Sooners lost to the unranked Longhorns by an embarrassing margin of 34-3.
It won’t be anywhere near that ugly, but Oklahoma will fall to 1-3.
Ehlinger has had at least four passing touchdowns in each of his three games played this season, and he has put up solid numbers in this rivalry. In three games against Oklahoma in the past two years, Ehlinger has 873 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and seven rushing touchdowns. Expect more of the same against an Oklahoma secondary that has had a bad habit of parting like the Red Sea in the third quarter of Big 12 games.
Rattler will do enough to keep the Sooners close, but Texas’ senior will show more poise than Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman, resulting in a 41-35 Texas victory.
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Thomas Graning/Associated Press
First things first: We have to consider Mother Nature.
Hurricane Delta could impact this game. It’s already moved the start time. It could also postpone it or impact the conditions. At the moment I am writing this, we just don’t know. (On a more important, non-football note, everyone in its path, please stay safe.)
Nick Saban said this week that his team has been practicing with a wet football to get ready. And if the game does happen, the conditions could be challenging, to say the least.
If weather weren’t a factor, I would feel much more confident in taking the over. The Alabama secondary has issues, and this Lane Kiffin-led Ole Miss offense seems to have the firepower to expose those issues.
The Alabama defense will get better, though. Those strides will happen during the season, and they may start here. As for this game, with the unknown of what the elements will bring, I will say under 28.5 points for Ole Miss. (And Alabama covers the spread.)
Over, but barely.
Despite scarcely using mobile QB John Rhys Plumlee—aka one of the few bright spots for the Ole Miss offense in 2019—Kiffin has breathed serious life into these Rebels. They weren’t supposed to move the ball at will against the defenses of Florida and Kentucky, but they did, averaging 536.0 yards and 38.5 points in those two contests.
Now they face Alabama, which has allowed three garbage-time touchdowns in its first two games, and which has given up at least 31 points in three of its last five contests against Ole Miss. Matt Corral and Elijah Moore will continue their impressive start for an offense that will score four touchdowns and one field goal.
Even if Ole Miss does get to 30 points, it won’t matter to anyone aside from over/under bettors, because this Rebels defense is a train wreck. It gave up six passing touchdowns to Florida and six rushing touchdowns to Kentucky. With stars like Najee Harris and Jaylen Waddle, the Crimson Tide will be more than capable of destroying them in both departments. Alabama cruises 56-31.
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Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
I’ll say LSU over Missouri, but this isn’t easy.
Notre Dame will comfortably handle Florida State too. The Seminoles struggled early with Jacksonville State last Saturday, and with Jordan Travis getting the nod at quarterback over James Blackman, it’s anybody’s guess how FSU’s offense will look.
Travis completed 12 of 17 passes against JSU and led FSU to touchdowns on six of seven drives in a 41-24 comeback win, but there’s a fine line between chucking missiles against an FCS opponent and doing it against a top-11 Fighting Irish defense.
However, Notre Dame isn’t built offensively to blow teams out (the destruction of South Florida notwithstanding).
LSU, meanwhile, will be going against a Missouri team that may have found a quarterback last week in a 35-12 loss to Tennessee. Connor Bazelak makes the Tigers better in the vertical passing game, but they just aren’t good enough in the trenches to hang with the defending champions.
The Bayou Bengals have too many weapons and will eventually pull away from Mizzou, winning by at least three touchdowns. Eliah Drinkwitz’s team doesn’t have enough offensive firepower to make this a close fight.
Got to go with the ACC game because Missouri’s defense is at least somewhat respectable.
The Tigers have held each of their last 23 opponents below 40 points and have not lost a game by 30 or more points since September 2017. Now, that doesn’t mean I expect Missouri to have LSU on upset alert deep into the second half. This offense is not good enough to hang with the Bayou Bengals. But Missouri won’t lay an egg.
Meanwhile, Florida State has allowed at least 40 points in eight of its last 21 games and has lost by a margin of least 23 points in each of its last six games against AP Top 15 opponents. As demonstrated two weeks ago against Miami, things can snowball out of control in a hurry for the ‘Noles. And Notre Dame has more than enough talent to get that snowball rolling.
LSU beats Missouri 35-14, and Notre Dame embarrasses Florida State 49-17.
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Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
If it wanted to, Alabama could score 100 points against an Ole Miss defense that has allowed an absurd 1,201 yards through two games. Despite that gaudy number, the Rebels pulled out a 42-41 victory over a good Kentucky team last week, and they put 35 points on Florida in their opener, so they won’t go down quietly.
That’s easily the pick for highest-scoring game.
As for the lowest-scoring game of the week, points figure to be at a premium in a Pitt vs. Boston College matchup that features two underrated defensive squads.
Pitt has allowed just 15.0 points and 232.3 yards per game during its 3-1 start. Boston College is allowing 17.7 points per game after holding a high-powered North Carolina offense in check in a 26-22 loss last week. Plus, neither team has an offense capable of lighting up the scoreboard. The first to 21 points is probably the winner.
Weather concerns or not, I have to go with Alabama at Ole Miss for the most points, since I’m already on record for a 56-31 Alabama pick.
Oklahoma vs. Texas could make a push for 90 or more points, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Central Arkansas vs. Arkansas State has some fireworks. But give me the combo of Kiffin’s gadget plays against his former boss and Alabama’s skill-position stars against a woeful Ole Miss defense.
For fewest points, let’s go with Temple at Navy.
The former has not played a game yet this season and wasn’t anything special on offense last year anyway. It’s unlikely the Owls will be firing on all cylinders right away. And the latter has been a nightmare on offense, averaging 246.7 total yards and 12.3 points per game. That game has 17-10 snoozefest written all over it.
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David J. Phillip/Associated Press
THE MAN IS IN THE FIRST FEW YEARS OF 10-YEAR, $75 MILLION CONTRACT. IT IS FULLY GUARANTEED. ALL OF IT. EVERY SINGLE PENNY. IT IS A TRULY AMAZING CONTRACT, AND IT’S ONE I AM DEEPLY JEALOUS OF. SORRY FOR YELLING.
So, I guess my answer is “not that hot,” because I don’t think Jimbo Fisher’s seat can be. Regardless of how much money Texas A&M has—or how much it had pre-pandemic—the boosters won’t be able to handle this one. Nor would they want to yet.
That said, the results have been underwhelming given the expectations and the money attached. That’s stating the obvious. But there isn’t much Texas A&M can or will do for the foreseeable future other than hope the positive recruiting continues and the results start to turn.
This game will not impact that decision. It won’t help the narrative if Florida cruises here, that’s for sure. But barring something unforeseeable, Fisher will be at Texas A&M beyond this year.
For what it’s worth, I like Texas A&M in this game. A loss won’t cost him his job, but a win—which could happen—wouldn’t hurt.
Fisher isn’t going anywhere anytime soon because of his deal.
Even if the Aggies could kick him to the curb without a gargantuan buyout, they would be foolish to do so on account of his immediate success on the recruiting trail. Per 247 Sports, A&M had the fourth-best recruiting class in 2019 and the sixth-best class in the most recent cycle. Got to give those seeds a few years before they produce crops.
Moreover, Texas A&M was gutted by COVID-19 opt-outs, losing 2019 leading receiver Jhamon Ausbon and several key defensive players in linebacker Anthony Hines III, and cornerbacks Elijah Blades and Clifford Chattman. Maybe A&M isn’t a Top 10 team if those four guys are still on the roster, but their collective absence somewhat explains the Aggies’ pitiful start.
If A&M no-shows against Florida, though, the relationship between the fans and Fisher will begin to turn in an acrimonious direction.
The Aggies ponied up the big bucks to become a consistent contender capable of beating the best the SEC has to offer and challenging Alabama for SEC West supremacy. Thus far, however, A&M is 1-8 against AP Top 10 teams under Fisher, and the lone victory was a seven-overtime affair at home against No. 8 LSU in 2018.
The reminders about opt-outs and the recruiting pipeline will be of little consolation if the Gators win by my projected score of 42-21.
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