It wasn’t a flashy week of football, or one with much drama—unless you consider Big Ten teams manhandling one another to be dramatic. (In that case, you were in luck, thanks to Penn State and Ohio State’s takedowns of Maryland and Nebraska, respectively.) That said, Week 5 marked the first time the top team in the AP Poll has shifted this year, and the playoff race feels a bit more open than it did even three days ago after big games from Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Wisconsin and Auburn.
Saturday also brought the most disappointing injury thus far in 2019 (more on that below), the end of Virginia’s undefeated status, a pitiful follow-up by Pitt to its defeat of UCF and the best game Arkansas has played in years. Sunday brought the first termination of the season: Chris Ash at Rutgers. Let’s call him an honorary loser, because it’s not worth devoting an entire paragraph to the 8–32 record he racked up over the past three seasons and change.
With that, here’s a look at the week’s biggest winners and losers:
1. Ohio State and Oklahoma
Yes, I’m pairing two teams with not much in common—but it’s for a reason. Since Week 2 of the season, these two have traded places between the No. 5 and No. 6 ranking after LSU edged its way into the top four. And on a week when Georgia and LSU were both off, the Buckeyes and Sooners pled their respective cases effectively to be considered among the top four teams in the game. Ohio State’s offense was as efficient as usual, and its defense played so well that it edged Wisconsin out of first place in the FBS in terms of average yards allowed opponents. Meanwhile, Oklahoma held onto its top offensive ranking while holding its third opponent in four tries to fewer than 20 points; it did that only twice in 14 games a year ago.
It also helped both teams’ cases that Clemson nearly lost to North Carolina (and lost its No. 1 ranking in the process), and Alabama played fine against Ole Miss, though it did allow the Rebels 31 points. Without question, Ohio State (which defeated Nebraska, 48–7) was the sharpest of the top-10 teams that played Saturday, and Oklahoma came as a close second with its 55–16 takedown of Texas Tech. That was enough to push the Buckeyes to No. 4 in the new AP Poll, though the Sooners remain at No. 6.
2. The not-quite Ohio State tier of the Big Ten
Let’s assume, for now, that Ohio State is the Big Ten team with the best shot at staying in the top five for the next month. In that case, Wisconsin and Penn State look like the next-best teams in the conference—and they look pretty darn good, too. Penn State blanked a confusing Maryland team on Friday night, 59–0, and Wisconsin proved it’s able to win even when Jonathan Taylor isn’t running all over the competition; it beat Northwestern, 24–15, on the back of two defensive touchdowns for a unit that’s still looking like college football’s best. Neither team jumped in the rankings this week (the Badgers are No. 8 for the second straight week, the Nittany Lions stay at No. 12), but big games loom: Wisconsin goes to Ohio State on Oct. 26, and the Buckeyes host Penn State Nov. 23.
3. Auburn’s offense
The Tigers started off the season with a big win over Oregon, 27–21, and they haven’t slowed down since, coasting to 5–0 after manhandling Mississippi State Saturday. The most noteworthy thing about the 56–23 victory was the version of Auburn’s offense that took the field. It was the most efficiently the unit has played yet, and Bo Nix completed 16 of 21 pass attempts for 335 yards and two touchdowns. We know the Tigers, who stayed at No. 7 in Sunday’s AP Poll, can run the ball, but if they can err a little bit more toward balance, that’ll bode well through the heart of SEC play, when Auburn will hope to keep hold of its top-10 ranking and playoff hopes.
1. Purdue’s offense
In the first quarter of Saturday’s game against Minnesota, Purdue lost its quarterback and best wide receiver on the same play, to what appeared to be a shoulder and a knee injury, respectively. Elijah Sindelar had just been cleared after missing a game with a concussion when he went down, but the bigger blow was the loss of Rondale Moore, one of the best pass-catchers in the game. Purdue hasn’t given additional information about the injuries, but losing both players would likely derail a Boilermakers season that the team was hoping to right after a shaky start.
It’s fair to point out that Sindelar’s backup, freshman Jack Plummer, performed better against Minnesota than he did in his first game, against TCU on Sept. 14. That day, he completed just 44.8% of passes for 181 yards; Saturday, he netted 245 yards while completing 56.1% of the passes he attempted. Still, the Boilermakers had hoped to establish a more consistent attack—one that could exploit some of the more complex schemes coach Jeff Brohnm is known for—with Sindelar and Moore in the mix, and it’s looking less likely we’ll see the best version of the coach’s attack in 2019. Moreover, Moore is one of the most fun players in the game to watch, and if we have to wait until 2020 to next see him suit up, it’s a loss for the game.
Yes, Clemson won. But it came closer to losing than it has since 2017, against a North Carolina team that had no business nearly upsetting the reigning national champs. That said, the Tar Heels exposed some of the Tigers’ weaknesses, containing their offense better than any team has since Trevor Lawrence took over a year ago at quarterback.
Earlier this season, critics worried about the sophomore’s new proclivity for tossing interceptions, but that wasn’t the issue Saturday in a game that the Tigers’ offense just seemed… off. (It finished the day with 331 total yards, averaging 6.9 yards per pass and 4 yards per rushing attempt.) Still, Clemson has a manageable (read: easy) path to the ACC championship game, so it has plenty of time to right whatever ails it, but for the first time in a year, it looked something like fallible.
3. Texas A&M
How are the Aggies still ranked? I argued in a roundtable last week that the Aggies should be booted from the top 25, and that was before they nearly handed Arkansas its first conference win in 23 months. Sure, Texas A&M did end up winning Saturday’s game, 31–27, but Jimbo Fisher’s team still looked as exposed as it has all year against a Razorbacks team that was in the hole early and lost its quarterback before staging a comeback. Right now, the Aggies are ranked by virtue of the fact that they’ve beaten a Sun Belt team, an FCS team and the SEC’s worst team while losing by a combined 22 points to the country’s No. 2 team and No. 7 team. It’s officially safe to say Texas A&M will not be a sleeper to contend in the SEC West this fall.
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