Week 5 was a tough one for the Big 12 in the playoff hunt. Two midwestern Big 12 teams that dropped season openers to Sun Belt opponents -- Kansas State and Iowa State -- have now both defeated the league's preseason favorite Oklahoma. Texas lost to TCU for the seventh time in nine years since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12. Returning runner-up Baylor was dropped in overtime by West Virginia 27-21. The league is in a precarious position in terms of fielding a playoff team unless Oklahoma State can continue their undefeated run or Texas can avoid any more losses.
In the SEC, Mike Leach's Mississippi State Bulldogs followed up their opening win over LSU with a loss against Arkansas, Georgia whipped Auburn, and Alabama demolished Texas A&M. It appears that the SEC East might be the stronger overall division for the first time in a long time; we'll find out more on that front in Week 6.
Elsewhere around the country, a pair of Group of Five teams are emerging as playoff possibilities depending on how the Big 10 season goes. BYU and SMU are both currently undefeated after dropping Louisiana Tech and Memphis respectively. The AAC champion, if undefeated, could be hard to keep out of the playoff this season. BYU doesn't have a murderer's row of a schedule, but they will play Houston and Boise State. Their season will be an interesting one to watch.
For Week 6, we have the Red River Shootout between Texas and Oklahoma, with both teams' seasons hanging in the balance; a few big ACC matchups; and then a few other battles that should help shake out the order in the SEC East.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Florida (-6.5) at Texas A&M -- Saturday 12 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Florida (2-0)||Texas A&M (1-1)|
|When Florida has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|Rushing success rate||9||7|
|Passing success rate||3||63|
|When Texas A&M has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|Rushing success rate||72||53|
|Passing success rate||47||29|
There was a point in the offseason when 2020 appeared to be a potential breakthrough year for head coach Jimbo Fisher's time at Texas A&M. Then COVID opt-outs removed starters at cornerback (Elijah Blades), linebacker (Anthony Hines), and wide receiver (Jhamon Ausbon). On top of those losses, the Aggies also suffered injuries to two of their top three tight ends, Baylor Cupp and Blake Smith. Finally, the new SEC scheduling replaced a relatively easy non-conference slate of four games with a road trip to Tennessee and this home date against the Florida Gators.
All of a sudden A&M's 2020 season was looking like a tough row to hoe. Fisher's formula at A&M has typically been to emphasize size and versatility on the perimeter of the box. On offense that has meant double-tight end sets that can help the Aggies run the football and also set up play-action to talented tight end targets such as Jace Sternberger in 2018 and now star sophomore tight end Jalen Wydermyer. On defense, the Aggies move around their big safeties Leon O'Neal (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), Devin Morris (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), and Demani Richardson (6-foot-1, 215 pounds).
That has not materialized into a consistent run game for the Aggies yet this season, in no small part due to the loss of their two better blocking tight ends Cupp and Smith. They've played great run defense thanks to a large and talented defensive line and those safeties, but have been vulnerable to the big play in the passing game. Their offense has been solid, though, with an improved line and the depth of weapons they have in the passing game with tight end Wydermyer and running back Ainias Smith (eight catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns) offering explosive options in the middle.
Florida has a similar approach on offense with their own star tight end Kyle Pitts. The future NFL draft pick has 12 catches for 227 yards and six touchdowns through just two games. He's an impossible matchup at 6-foot-6 and 246 pounds and can line up in the backfield, attached on the line, flexed out in the slot, or as an outside receiver. The easiest answer is to try and double him, but the Gators have dangerous receivers around him and quarterback Kyle Trask has improved in the offseason at finding them.
The Gators defense has been solid this year but has tended to rely on big-play prevention and opposing mistakes. As it happens, that's not a bad strategy against an A&M team that gets inconsistent play at quarterback from senior Kellen Mond. The Gators had a slow start on defense, getting rocked by Ole Miss in their SEC opener for 613 total yards, but rallied and cleaned up against South Carolina last week in a 38-24 win in which the Gamecocks averaged just 4.5 yards per attempt in the passing game.
Both teams should play cleaner games in this one and the contest will come down to matchups and likely the play of the two quarterbacks. The Florida defense is vulnerable to the run game, but will Mond be able to make big plays in the passing game to put the Gators away? Texas A&M is more vulnerable to the passing game, which is where the Gators have shown brightest this year.
- A pair of NFL-caliber tight ends in A&M's Jalen Wydermyer and Florida's Kyle Pitts.
- Can Texas A&M get their run game going and avoid asking quarterback Kellen Mond to match Kyle Trask in a duel?
- Texas A&M's improved offensive tackles against Gators pass-rusher Brenton Cox.
FEI Outright Pick: Florida by 4.5
Virginia Tech at North Carolina (-5.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
|Overall||Virginia Tech (2-0)||North Carolina (2-0)|
|When Virginia Tech has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|Rushing success rate||18||16|
|Passing success rate||60||10|
|When North Carolina has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|Rushing success rate||50||40|
|Passing success rate||6||21|
Virginia Tech has had a strong initial showing in 2020 with wins over North Carolina State and Duke achieved mostly by their offense. Longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who came up under Frank Beamer learning the 4-4 Robber defense that eventually became a 4-2-5, retired at the end of 2019. Head coach Justin Fuente was brought to Virginia Tech to coach offense and the Hokies have struggled to really get going on that side of the ball amidst frequent transfers and quarterback turnover. For 2020 they brought in Oregon transfer quarterback Braxton Burmeister and initial returns have been quite positive.
They're mostly a power-spread team, mixing in a variety of different gap and zone running schemes. Some of them make use of Burmeister's athleticism, others ask the tight ends to block on the edge from H-back alignments. Kansas transfer Khalil Herbert is the lead running back with 26 carries for 312 yards at a remarkable 12.0 yards per carry and three touchdowns. He has broken a few big runs with his speed and punished Duke late in the fourth quarter a week ago when the Blue Devils snuck their safeties close to the box and then over-pursued against outside zone and got creased. The Hokies also still have Hendon Hooker who could take back over at quarterback now that he's healthy and a full go. Hooker is a bigger runner at 6-foot-4, 228 pounds with more expertise in the Hokies passing game.
The matchup between their run game and the North Carolina defense is a potentially bad one for the Hokies. Virginia Tech has a high IsoPPP mark on offense because of Herbert's knack for breaking long runs in their spread run game, but the Tar Heels defense has excelled at inflicting negative plays of the sort that can shut down a spread rushing team and doing so without exposing themselves to big plays. The Fox brothers, Tomon and Tamari, have combined for 12 tackles for loss in two games while middle linebacker Chazz Surratt has 3.5 tackles for loss, three of them sacks. Their zone-blitzing schemes and pressures up front are a nightmare for a spread running team and will need to be countered with RPOs and passing unless the Virginia Tech offensive line can be trusted to consistently pick up blitzes and stunts and spring Herbert for more big gains.
On the other side, North Carolina has had a few hiccups on offense but also landed a lot of big blows with quarterback Sam Howell. The sophomore gritted out a close win over Boston College last time out, taking four sacks but throwing for 8.6 yards per attempt with a pair of touchdowns. Virginia Tech's secondary has been depleted by opt-outs, off field issues, and COVID-related quarantines which could put them in a precarious position against the North Carolina passing game. Virginia Tech has generated a lot of press up front though, with four different players registering at least two sacks, three of them starting defensive lineman and the fourth inside linebacker Rayshard Ashby.
If the Hokies can cover well enough against North Carolina's vertical RPOs and then bother Howell and move him off his spots without blitzing too aggressively, they could dull the Tar Heels passing game and play this game within a more comfortable scoring range.
- Will Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker be back behind center for the Hokies?
- Who comes out ahead in the battle between North Carolina's aggressive defensive front and Virginia Tech's home run-hitting run game?
- Can Virginia Tech's pass rush bother Sam Howell and avoid allowing a depleted secondary to be attacked?
FEI Outright Pick: North Carolina by 3.6
Texas vs Oklahoma (-2) at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas -- 12 p.m. (FOX)
|Overall||Texas (2-1)||Oklahoma (1-2)|
|When Texas has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|Rushing success rate||34||17|
|Passing success rate||12||14|
|When Oklahoma has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|Rushing success rate||25||23|
|Passing success rate||40||7|
Neither of these two teams can really afford a loss in this contest. For Oklahoma to get down 0-3 in Big 12 play would be a disaster from which it would be very difficult to recover. A 6-3 record in conference play might be enough to get into the Big 12 Championship Game, but the Sooners would come out as losers in tiebreaker scenarios with Iowa State, Kansas State, and Texas. The Sooners also still have Oklahoma State left on the schedule, plus road trips to West Virginia and TCU down the line. To be 1-2 would very much keep them in the hunt; to fall to 0-3 would all but eliminate them.
Texas has a similar dynamic at play; getting down 1-2 with games remaining at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State, and hosting Iowa State isn't an enviable situation either. What's more, this team has shown a fragile mentality in the past and head coach Tom Herman is facing a lot of pressure from the boosters and fanbase to start producing championships in Year 4 of his program with senior Sam Ehlinger at the helm. Exacerbating that issue is former boss and current nemesis Urban Meyer sitting on the Fox Sports college football analyst team diagnosing his failures and building a case as a potential replacement if the Texas boosters should manage to pool the money to buy Herman out.
The matchups in this contest are certainly intriguing. On paper the Sooners should have a powerful rushing attack after returning four starting offensive linemen from the 2019 team that propelled quarterback Jalen Hurts and running back Kennedy Brooks to over 1,000 rushing yards apiece. They also have put more emphasis on fullback Jeremiah Hall and tight end Austin Stogner in 2020, both of whom are strong blockers with hybrid skill sets that can also do work as receivers. For all that, the Oklahoma run game has not been up to their normal standards in 2020, has missed Hurts and Brooks (COVID opt-out), and now faces a very big and difficult Texas offensive front.
Texas' defensive line stars nose tackle Keondre Coburn (a 6-foot-2, 348-pound plugger in the middle) next to senior Ta'quon Graham, with leading tackler and star pass-rusher Joseph Ossai on the outside. The Longhorns linebacker corps is less impressive, but they have some speed behind the big boys up front in outside linebacker DeMarvion Overshown (a converted safety) and nickel Chris Adimora. The Sooners need to get their run game on track to ease some load off redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler and to help create better play-action opportunities, but the Texas defensive front will be a tough challenge. In the passing game, the Longhorns will be counting on star junior safety Caden Sterns to help cover up Stogner and/or Oklahoma's explosive slot receivers Marvin Mims and Charleston Rambo. Whether the Sooners can generate play-action or not, they'll be taking shots down the field on the Texas safeties to make sure they're up for this matchup against Oklahoma's speed at wideout and Rattler's arm strength.
On offense, Texas has struggled this season to establish the running game without using tempo and to beat good coverage outside with a constantly revolving door of outside receivers. On the flip side, when they've been aggressive in the passing game and utilized four- and five-wide sets at tempo, Ehlinger has been deadly. The senior has thrown for 924 yards at 8.5 yards per attempt with 14 touchdowns to two interceptions in three games and added top slot receiver Jake Smith against TCU last week (six catches for 49 yards and a score) and hopes to add their other star slot receiver Jordan Whittington against Oklahoma.
Oklahoma's secondary and linebackers have struggled to match up with good receivers this season, and after LSU torched them in the 2019 playoff from empty formations, other teams have followed suit. If Herman can overcome his preference for the running game -- and in big games he normally has -- there's an opportunity for Texas to win by attacking the Sooners with spread passing sets and aiming to win the Red River Shootout by embracing a shootout of a ball game.
- Oklahoma's talented but struggling offensive line and run game against a big, talented, but inexperienced Texas defensive front.
- Will Texas use quarterback Sam Ehlinger to air the ball out against Oklahoma's struggling secondary?
- A high-stakes shootout in which both teams will be bringing in a carefully constructed game plan and intensely focused football team.
FEI Outright Pick: Oklahoma by 3
Tennessee at Georgia (-12) -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
|Overall||Tennessee (2-0)||Georgia (2-0)|
|When Tennessee has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|Rushing success rate||21||9|
|Passing success rate||27||1|
|When Georgia has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|Rushing success rate||28||6|
|Passing success rate||32||30|
The season has gotten off to a promising start for the Volunteers, who've been waiting a long time to emerge in the SEC East but picked a difficult year in which to try and achieve that breakthrough. Their offensive line is massive and stocked with former five-star recruits, and that has paid early dividends in establishing their run game. Running backs Ty Chandler and Eric Gray have combined for 60 carries for 321 yards at 5.4 yards per carry with three touchdowns. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano often joins the act near the goal line and has added another three rushing touchdowns while throwing for 449 at 8.3 yards per attempt with a pair of touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
They aren't an overpowering offense, but they're definitely improved from a year ago. Of course, that might not matter this week. Georgia is one of the premier defensive programs in the nation under Kirby Smart and has already tapped out Arkansas (37-10) and Auburn (27-6) in fantastic defensive performances. Weakside linebacker Nakobe Dean (a former five-star recruit himself) has been strong early, the closest they've come yet to matching what Roquan Smith did back in 2017, and he joins senior middle linebacker Monty Rice and big junior nose tackle Jordan Davis in guaranteeing a run defense that simply doesn't give up much. The Bulldogs secondary is loaded with talented options and Smart can package the unit in 3-4, 3-3-5, and 3-2-6 defenses with relative ease while erasing matchups for opposing passing games.
That shouldn't particularly matter in this game though; the Bulldogs will sit back in coverage that doesn't yield gimmes for Guarantano and the Vols passing attack and they will dare Tennessee to try and consistently run the ball on this front and these two linebackers. It's simply not a good bet. But then, this is why Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt and his staff made such a point of trying to assemble the most talented offensive line in the SEC.
Tennessee's best chances in this game will come more from their own defense. Pruitt is also a former Nick Saban defensive coordinator with a national championship ring from his time in Tuscaloosa (2017) as well as back in 2013 with Jimbo Fisher (another former Saban assistant) at Florida State. The Vols have their own rangy young linebacker in Henry To'o To'o and a star pass-rusher in Deandre Johnson who has 3.5 sacks in two games. They will also aim to play good, base defense and make the Bulldogs execute their way down the field.
That makes this a great test of Georgia's new-look offense, whose prognosis this season is likely to have national championship implications. New offensive coordinator Todd Monken has them in a spread and former three-star recruit Stetson Bennett has emerged as the unlikely hero in the new offense. Bennett took over during the opening game and guided them by Auburn throwing for 240 yards at 8.6 yards per attempt with a touchdown pass and zero interceptions. The Bulldogs have some explosive talent at wide receiver in Kearis Jackson and George Pickens but are still running the ball fairly well inside; Zamir White is their new lead running back.
If Tennessee trusts their defensive backs to play man coverage they could challenge the Georgia run game with an extra defender in the box and dare Bennett to beat them on the perimeter. If that went successfully, this could be a defensive slog in which the Volunteers have a chance to pull out a victory.
- Can Tennessee's big, talented offensive line make headway against Georgia's elite defense?
- Will Georgia continue to ride with Stetson Bennett at quarterback and can he beat the Tennessee secondary and pass-rush?
- Does this game have the potential to become a low-scoring battle or will Georgia continue to improve on offense and pull away?
FEI Outright Pick: Georgia by 16.8
Kansas State at TCU (-8) -- 4 p.m. (FOX)
|Overall||Kansas State (2-1)||TCU (1-1)|
|When Kansas State has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|Rushing success rate||67||30|
|Passing success rate||37||19|
|When TCU has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|Rushing success rate||60||44|
|Passing success rate||61||22|
One of the big stories from TCU's upset win over Texas was the Horned Frogs quarterback, Max Duggan, who threw for 231 yards and ran for 79 more along with a pair of touchdowns. The Longhorns attacked TCU's offensive line and hit Duggan repeatedly, often just after he managed to launch big passes that yielded major gains for the Horned Frogs. He's a gritty competitor with a big arm and legitimate speed; with Oklahoma State's Spencer Sanders injured he's probably the most physically gifted quarterback in the Big 12.
Kansas State has had good quarterback play as well from senior Skylar Thompson, but the Wildcats signal-caller is questionable for this game after injuring his throwing arm last week against Texas Tech. The severity of the injury is unknown and head coach Chris Klieman has suggested Thompson might be able to go, but reading the tea leaves it seems less positive. Freshman Will Howard stepped in for Thompson against the Red Raiders and led multiple touchdown drives for the Wildcats, mostly by distributing the ball to some of Kansas State's key new playmakers.
The Wildcats added two new weapons to their offense that have made a big, early impact. One is transfer tight end Briley Moore, who has had 12 catches for 163 yards and two scores. The bigger (or smaller) is freshman running back Deuce Vaughn, who has taken 36 carries for 212 yards at 5.7 yards per carry with three touchdowns and then eight catches for 234 yards and another score. At 5-foot-5 and 170 pounds he's the spitting image of Kansas State legend Darren Sproles (5-foot-6, 185 pounds) and an absolute demon in open grass.
Corralling the Kansas State offense has proven trickier for opponents than expected because of their spread passing dimensions. Klieman brought a power run game and the I-formation to Manhattan from North Dakota State but the Wildcats have made the most of their excellent pass-catching tight end and running back to spread teams out and punish them with quick, short passing to their two new stars. TCU's defense has struggled early with teams that can move their running back and tight end around in this fashion, first getting gashed by Iowa State in their Big 12 opener and then repeatedly beaten by Texas for explosive plays in the same fashion before escaping with a win when Texas' running back stretched the ball for the goal line on first-and-goal and fumbled.
You'll notice the Horned Frogs already rank 72nd in IsoPPP on defense; this is due to their early proclivity for busts and big gains yielded on defense. Their defensive line in head coach Gary Patterson's vaunted 4-2-5 has struggled early this season both in applying pressure (one sack by the defensive line, one more from a linebacker) and in holding the point of attack inside at defensive tackle. A failure to control things up front leads to creases that the speedy backfield struggles to patch up while staying on top against the run/pass conflicts presented by Big 12 offenses.
The Kansas State defense tasked with controlling Duggan and the Horned Frogs offense has been changing heavily this season. The starting secondary has changed multiple times due to injuries and COVID-related losses. Up front things have been steadier and revolved around a defensive end tandem of Wyatt Hubert and Khalid Duke and senior linebackers Elijah Sullivan and Justin Hughes. They've stabilized the overall unit since dropping the season opener against Arkansas State and have a few strong spots in exactly the areas where TCU has proven to be vulnerable. The Horned Frogs offensive tackles have really struggled this season and will be hard-pressed to fend off the Kansas State pass rush, while their run game is heavy on option schemes that will be harder to sneak past Kansas State's disciplined linebacker tandem and senior strong safety Jahron McPherson.
For all that, TCU has more and better athletes across their team. Speedy receivers Taye Barber and Quentin Johnson have shown well early. Kansas State's success in this league has come from scheming up favorable matchups, playing great third-down defense, and converting in short-yardage and the red zone by using Thompson in the run game. If Howard can match that final dimension, maybe they can get the formula right against a young TCU team.
- Will Skylar Thompson be able to play quarterback for Kansas State? If not, how will freshman Will Howard hold up against TCU's defense?
- Can TCU effectively run the ball against Kansas State's veteran-heavy defensive front?
- The struggling TCU offensive tackles matched up against the Kansas State's excellent pass-rush.
FEI Outright Pick: TCU by 4.3
Miami at Clemson (-14) -- 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Miami (3-0)||Clemson (3-0)|
|When Miami has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|Rushing success rate||61||14|
|Passing success rate||16||17|
|When Clemson has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|Rushing success rate||26||15|
|Passing success rate||20||4|
Miami should provide Clemson with their first big test of the season, and potentially the biggest test of their season depending on how things shake out with Notre Dame and the rest of the ACC. As you can see from the numbers, the Hurricanes took an enormous leap on offense this season by making a couple of significant additions to their offense. The big additions were quarterback D'Eriq King and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
King has allowed the Hurricanes to run a zone-option offense while Lashlee has brought clever spread spacing and also some creative use of tight ends such as star Brevin Jordan, who now has a team-leading 15 catches for 212 yards and three touchdowns. Using 12 personnel (two tight ends) and moving Jordan around while running zone-option from the shotgun has allowed Miami to play around with formations to create wide alleys for the run game or to release the tight ends down the field on play-action and RPOs, often resulting in the athletic Jordan running wide open when linebackers lose track of him while concerned with the option run game.
It's a very difficult offense to handle, but Clemson is surely the most qualified unit to take it on. The Tigers have continued to experiment with the "flyover defense" they used to shut down Ohio State in the playoff a year ago. It's the three-down, three-deep safety scheme that places safety/linebacker hybrid Mike Jones in a more comfortable alignment as a middle safety that can play downhill in the run game while filling out the underneath zone with some of defensive coordinator Brent Venables' many well-trained linebackers. For Miami it will be a challenge to scheme the looks they want in the run game or for their play-action tosses to the tight end against that confusing and swarming set-up.
On the other side, Miami continues to be an effective defense under head coach Manny Diaz that can dial up confusing blitzes on third down. Clemson has a retooled offensive line with four new starters that could prove vulnerable in pass-protection if the Canes can stop the Tigers run game on early downs and confuse Trevor Lawrence so that he has to hold onto the football. Transfer defensive end Quincy Roche from Temple has been big for Miami here with two sacks already on the year.
The other challenge for Clemson this season is incorporating new receivers after losing Tee Higgins to the NFL and Justyn Ross to injury. Amari Rodgers has led the way for them and tight end Braden Galloway has had a strong start; beyond that the Tigers are trying to incorporate youngster Frank Ladson, a 6-foot-4 target on the outside. If Miami can clamp down on the Tigers' outside receivers in man coverage, that will give them some margin for getting numbers inside against the Clemson run game, slot receiver (Rodgers), and Galloway.
- How will Clemson's young offense handle their first major test of the year against the Miami defense?
- Can Rhett Lashlee scheme Miami's offense opportunities against Clemson's confusing new "flyover defense?"
- Miami's disguised zone blitzes on third downs against Trevor Lawrence and his retooled offensive line.
FEI Outright Pick: Clemson by 18.5
FEI PICKS: WEEK 6
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||FEI Pick||FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Against the Spread
|Florida||6.5||at Texas A&M||Florida||Texas A&M||Florida|
|at North Carolina||5.5||Virginia Tech||North Carolina||Virginia Tech||North Carolina|
|at TCU||8||Kansas State||TCU||Kansas State||Kansas State|
FEI picks against the spread in Week 4: 4-2
FEI picks against the spread this year: 13-9-1
Ian's picks against the spread in Week 4: 4-2
Ian's Picks against the spread this year: 12-10-1