The difference between college football and the NFL is like the difference between World Wars I and II. College football is trench warfare — it’s about attrition, resolve, staying put and outlasting everyone else. In the NFL, you can think in the long-term, fighting on multiple fronts. But the college game is about surviving from week-to-week. As the calendar flips to October, we’ll start to see a few more upsets as teams succumb to the grind. Here are college football’s studs and duds for Week 6.
Stud: NC State
It’s looking more and more like the Wolfpack’s Week 1 loss against South Carolina was a fluke for both sides. Dave Doeren’s squad has won four in a row, including one in Tallahassee against Florida State. NC State is a well-rounded team that will move the ball against a Louisville defense which has struggled in terms of efficiency. The Wolfpack defense ranks tenth in the nation in rushing success rate, per Football Study Hall. If they can force Lamar Jackson to carry the Cardinals, he can only take them so far.
Dud: Florida State
We are learning very fast that the Seminoles were very overrated in the preseason. This has less to do with quarterback Deondre Francois getting hurt in Week 1 than you might think — James Blackman has done an admirable job in his absence. However, running back Cam Akers is averaging just a pedestrian four yards per carry. The offensive line has struggled. The defense can’t stop giving up big plays. Good luck beating a Miami team that’s won three straight blowouts and has an extra day of rest.
Stud: John O’Korn, quarterback, Michigan
After Wilton Speight went down two weeks ago in West Lafayette with Michigan down three to Purdue, the Wolverines’ season felt like it was on the line. A backup quarterback, on the road, against a tough opponent rarely adds up well. But O’Korn — while unspectacular — was just fine. He completed 69 percent of his passes for 270 yards and a touchdown, leading Michigan the win. Things won’t get easier with rival Michigan State coming to Ann Arbor this weekend. However, with two weeks of rest — and preparing for the starting job — O’Korn should be just fine.
Dud: Kelly Bryant, quarterback, Clemson
Clemson shouldn’t have much trouble at home against Wake Forest this weekend. And Bryant has proven a lot of people (this scribe included) wrong in the first five weeks of the season. However, some regression could be coming. Wide receivers Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow — who rank second and third on the team in targets — both have catch rates above 80 percent. It doesn’t matter if Tom Brady is playing quarterback. That’s unsustainable. Bryant is in for some regression and could struggle against a Demon Deacon defense which ranks 15th in S&P+.
Stud: Kirby Smart, head coach, Georgia
It’s hard not to love what Smart is doing at Georgia in just his second season as head coach. Holding Mississippi State and Tennessee to just three points combined(!) in consecutive weeks is pretty unbelievable. The man who helped build Nick Saban’s Alabama into a defensive juggernaut is already doing the same with the Bulldogs. It looks like Georgia should cruise to the SEC East title.
Dud: James Franklin, head coach, Penn State
It may not be this game, it may not be next game, but Franklin’s playcalling will cost Penn State a game at some point this season. Franklin has the best offensive player in the country at his disposal in running back Saquon Barkley, and he knows that. He should consider using him. It seems almost impossible that Barkley, the current Heisman leader, is averaging less than 18 carries per game. Yes, Franklin is finding other ways to get him involved. Barkley has 27 receptions, returns kicks, and he threw a passing touchdown last week. But these games should not be in the hands of quarterback Trace McSorley. The offense should be all Barkley, all the time.
Kirk Ferentz’s squad is ready for a bounce-back win after two straight one-score losses. Luckily, they play Illinois at home this week. The Illini rank 97th in S&P+ below the likes of Tulane, New Mexico State, Marshall and North Texas. This is the perfect opponent for the Hawkeyes to play right now. If Iowa struggles to put away Illinois at Kinnick Stadium, it’s time to get really worried.
Dud: Ole Miss
The Runnin’ Rebels are a fascinating experiment of motivation this year. After a truly depressing 66-3 loss at Alabama last week, that motivation just may run out. Ole Miss is playing for nothing but pride and they laid down not just against Alabama, but at California in Week 3. Their defense looks godawful. Asking them to stop quarterback Jarrett Stidham and running back Kerryon Johnson at Jordan-Hare is like asking Garfield to run a marathon.
West Virginia may manage enough big plays to keep it close. However, TCU should not lose this game. The Horned Frogs are at home in Fort Worth and their offense should churn out first downs like butter against the Mountaineers. Defensively, they may give up some big plays, but TCU has been fairly efficient. If they force some 3-and-outs, then hold onto the ball and wear out West Virginia’s defense, this could be another statement win.
Dud: South Carolina
Without star receiver Deebo Samuel, the Gamecocks’ offense just seems lost. South Carolina has scored just 17 points in both games since he’s been out, including against Louisiana Tech at home. Ironically, that had a lot more to do with the run than the pass last week. However, their offense was below-average with Samuel. Now, not only is the run game struggling badly, but the Gamecocks have lost their best receiver. Things won’t get better against Arkansas this week.
The Boilermakers may not have pulled the upset against Michigan two weeks ago, but head coach Jeff Brohm has this program playing at a different level. Purdue matches up against P.J. Fleck’s (another first-year Big Ten head coach) Minnesota Golden Gophers this week. If we’re comparing the two, Brohm has easily been the more successful, despite Minnesota’s superior record. With the game in West Lafayette, the new-look Boilermakers should win.
Dud: SEC marquee matchups
Three years ago, the slate of SEC games this weekend would have been mouth-watering: LSU-Florida, Ole Miss-Auburn, Alabama-Texas A&M. Now, unless you have a connection to any of those schools, it’s hard to find a reason to watch. LSU and Florida will be lucky to combine for a single touchdown. Ole Miss is playing for nothing. Alabama is rolling over everyone. It’s time to stop pumping up this conference when all of these games induce more boredom than intrigue.
Stud: Sam Darnold, quarterback, USC
The consensus No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft before the season has not looked himself. Through five games, USC’s offense has been, well, fine. It’s never a bad thing to rank 15th in the country in offensive S&P+, but we expected more from the Trojans and, in particular, from Darnold. Instead, we’re being treated to rumors that Darnold will stay at USC next year. If that narrative is going to change, it will be this week. USC faces a hapless Oregon State defense in the Coliseum. Look for Darnold to get back on track.
Dud: Ty Johnson, running back, Maryland
The junior running back has been the Terrapins’ only productive skill position player for most of the year. You can get away with that against a lot of teams, but not Ohio State, Maryland’s opponent this week. The Buckeyes rank ninth in havoc rate, per Football Study Hall, and will no doubt load the box to try and goad the Terps into passing. That likely means Johnson is in for a rough Saturday.
The Wildcats have quietly put together a 4-1 record, the lone loss coming by one point against Florida in a game they should have won. Against a reeling Missouri team at home this weekend, Kentucky may romp. The Tigers are completely hopeless on defense and Barry Odom may be coaching for his job. Don’t be shocked if you look up next week and see Kentucky in the top-25.
This week’s game against Kansas State feels like a fork in the road for Texas. If they can beat the Wildcats in Austin, the Longhorns will have momentum heading into the Red River Showdown. A win against Oklahoma would undoubtedly make Tom Herman’s inaugural season a success, but that’s a long way away. It’s hard to know what to make of Kansas State right now, but Bill Snyder’s Wildcats are nothing if not well-rounded. They may have to rely on big plays, but Texas has made a habit out of coughing them up. Another frustrating loss could be on the way.
Stud: Washington State
The Cougars just won the toughest game on their schedule until the Apple Cup. It’s time to take them seriously as a playoff contender. In typical fashion for a team coached by Mike Leach, Washington State’s offense is awesome. However, it’s the defense that gives them a chance to compete at such a high level. Right now, they’re 28th in defensive S&P+ with star junior defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa anchoring the unit. Expect them to dispose of Oregon — a team missing quarterback Justin Herbert — with some ease, even with the game in Eugene.
Dud: Mike Riley, head coach, Nebraska
With athletic director Shawn Eichorst gone, it feels like Riley is on borrowed time. The Cornhuskers are about to go into a tough part of the schedule — Wisconsin and Ohio State visit Lincoln in consecutive weeks. Nebraska’s bye week is right after the Ohio State game. Assuming they don’t pull an upset, that may be when the bell tolls for Riley.
Stud: Central Florida
UCF has played just three games because of Hurricane Irma, but the Knights utterly dominated all three opponents. These weren’t mid-major pushovers either — UCF crushed Maryland 38-10 in College Park, then whacked Memphis 40-13. In other words, it’s time to take UCF seriously as a Group of Five New Year’s Six bowl game representative. Three cancelled games may complicate their case, however, the Knights did make the top-25 this week. They play at Cincinnati this week and should win easily.
The Utes ran away with the Week 5 “Hold on, that team is in the top-25?” award, but it’s hard to see them staying ranked after a bout with Stanford this Saturday. Utah tends to grind out wins by attrition — churn out yardage, win the field position battle, stop the run. But slowing down Stanford running back Bryce Love is a whole different ballgame. Look for the Cardinal to pull an upset in Salt Lake City.