Believe it or not, Week 4 was already the one-month mark of the 2022 college football season, and as usual, brought plenty of drama, suspense, and surprises. The one-month mark is always a good chance to take stock of teams, because with 4 games in the books (for most), teams generally have shown their true identities. Sure enough, we learned a lot this week about some of the top CFP contenders.
With Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio State seemingly on autopilot and a step above the rest (don’t read too much into the closer-than-expected Bulldog win over Kent State), many of the teams vying for the 4th CFP spot were put to the test in Week 4. Michigan, Clemson, USC, Tennessee, and Oregon all found a way to win close games – even if it was ugly – while Arkansas and Oklahoma faltered.
Now, let’s get to the action.
CLEMSON 51 WAKE FOREST 45 (OT)
The aggressive Clemson defense had dominated the Wake Forest “slow mesh” offensive scheme over the past 5 years, holding the Demon Deacons to an average of just 12 PPG, but in the first meeting without defensive coordinator Brent Venables on the Tiger sideline, Wake Forest moved the ball at will against a young Clemson secondary. QB Sam Hartman threw for 337 yards (16.9 YPC) and 6 TDs, but unfortunately for the Demon Deacons, the Clemson offense was able to match them score-for-score.
DJ Uiagalelei played his best game since his first start at Notre Dame in 2020, throwing for 371 yards and 5 TDs, and B.T. Potter drilled a 52-yard field goal with 4:01 remaining to tie the game at 38 and send it to overtime. After trading touchdowns in the first overtime period, Uiagalelei found Davis Allen for a 21-yard touchdown and the Tiger defense kept the Demon Deacons out of the end zone to secure the overtime win.
Clemson overcame 10 penalties for 120 yards in the victory but will need to figure things out in the secondary quickly with Devin Leary and #10 NC State visiting next weekend.
TEXAS A&M 23 ARKANSAS 21
Texas A&M ripped off 23 unanswered points – aided by a wild 97-yard fumble return for a touchdown – to knock off Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. It wasn’t pretty – A&M had only 343 yards of offense, missed a field goal, and only escaped when Arkansas kicker Cam Little missed the game-winner from 42 yards with 1:30 left – but for the second week in a row since the stunning loss to Appalachian State, the Aggies were able to find a way to win ugly.
Though Max Johnson has been steady at QB since assuming the starting role, Jimbo Fisher needs to find a way to get more explosive plays out of an offense that ranks 108th in the nation in total offense and 99th in the country in plays of over 20 yards. A&M kicks off a stretch of three straight road games next week at Mississippi State before they travel to Tuscaloosa for the grudge match against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
TENNESSEE 38 FLORIDA 33
Hendon Hooker continued his great start to the season with 349 passing yards, 122 rushing yards, and 3 total touchdowns to lead Tennessee to a 38-33 victory over Florida in Knoxville. Both offenses ran wild – the Volunteers were actually outgained by Florida 594-576 – but two second-half turnovers by Florida in Tennessee territory ended up being the difference in the game. There was only one punt in the game, as every other drive ended in either a score, a turnover, or a turnover on downs.
Despite the loss, there are silver linings for the Gators. After looking lost as a passer in back-to-back weeks against Kentucky and South Florida, Anthony Richardson played the best game of his career, throwing for 453 and 2 TDs, while adding another 62 yards and 2 scores on the ground. Richardson led a touchdown drive to cut the score to 38-33 with 17 seconds remaining and the Gators recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Richardson was intercepted on the last play of the game to give the Volunteers the victory.
~ With one month in the books, there are 13 teams ranked in the latest AP top-15 that still have an undefeated record. Who has shown the chops to be a true contender, who has a flaw that will lead to multiple losses down the road, and which teams do we still not know enough about?
- Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State – All three of these teams have lived up to preseason expectations and though each will be tested in upcoming weeks, it would still be a surprise if any of them failed to reach the CFP.
- Clemson – Despite the struggles in the secondary against Wake Forest, Sam Hartman is the best QB that Clemson will face in the regular season and the Demon Deacons also have one of the top offensive lines in the nation and had the personnel to keep the dominant Clemson defensive front at bay. With that in mind, there were more positives than negatives in the Tiger performance Saturday, the biggest of which was the re-emergence of DJ Uiagalelei as an offensive weapon. The Tigers will be favored in every game the rest of the season, though they do have what now figures to be a tough matchup at Notre Dame in early November.
- USC – The Trojans showed on Saturday that they can win a hard-fought, physical game relying on their defense, which was a major question coming into the season. A road trip to Utah and the season finale against Notre Dame figure to be the biggest tests remaining, but Caleb Williams and Jordan Addison will be the two best players on the field in both matchups. If their supporting cast continues to rise to the challenge, USC will be tough to beat.
- Tennessee – Any team with a QB playing as well as Hendon Hooker that has the top-ranked offense in the nation is a contender. The short history of the CFP has shown that to be a true contender, you need to be able to score, and Tennessee can score in bunches. The Volunteers get Alabama and Kentucky at home before a road trip to Georgia, and though a couple of losses are probably in their future, their offense will at least give them a chance in every game.
- Kentucky – QB Will Levis may end up being a first-round pick, but the Wildcat offense has still been underwhelming this season. Kentucky ranks 8th in the SEC in plays over 20 yards and 11th in total offense. Even though the Wildcat defense can turn games into slugfests, this team doesn’t have the offensive firepower to make it through road games at Ole Miss and Tennessee unscathed – not to mention a home date with Georgia. Furthermore, teams that struggle to score are more prone to upsets, so look out for that matchup against Mississippi State.
- NC State – The Wolfpack are another team led by a trendy QB (Devin Leary) that has underachieved on offense. NC State ranks 9th in the ACC in total offense and the schedule has not exactly been a murderer’s row (East Carolina, Charleston Southern, Texas Tech, and UConn). This team wouldn’t even be undefeated if East Carolina could make a field goal or extra point. NC State has been living on borrowed time and reality sets in for the Wolfpack this weekend against Clemson.
- Penn State – A CFP berth is a lot to ask for a Penn State team that still has to play Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio State (though the Gophers and Buckeyes need to travel to Happy Valley). Penn State has shown it will be a tough out and already owns a conference road win over Purdue and a road win over an SEC team (albeit a bad one). Sean Clifford is experienced, and this team does have playmakers, led by freshman RB Nicholas Singleton, but the defense has been suspect, ranking 9th in the Big Ten.
- JURY IS STILL OUT
- Michigan – The Wolverines played arguably one of the easiest non-conference schedules in modern college football history, with home games against Colorado State, Hawaii, and UConn – who all have a strong argument to be the worst team in the FBS this season. A sluggish start against the first real competition of the season was expected, but Michigan found a way to beat Maryland 34-27. We’ll find out much more about this team next weekend in Iowa City.
- Oklahoma State – The Cowboys had an early bye and sit at 3-0 with wins over Central Michigan, Arizona State, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Spencer Sanders has been dynamic this season with 916 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air in just 3 games, but we’ll learn whether this offense is for real next weekend at Baylor.
- Ole Miss – Lane Kiffin’s offense looked great in wins over Central Arkansas and Georgia Tech, but a closer-than-expected win over Tulsa in Week 4 gives some pause. If the Rebels can knock off Kentucky this week, they have a good chance of heading to Texas A&M undefeated on October 29th. A win in that game would set up a massive showdown with Alabama in Oxford.
- Washington – The Huskies exploded on the scene behind the left arm of Michael Penix Jr. and made a statement with a 39-28 victory over Michigan State in Week 3. However, the Spartans turned around and got blown out 34-7 at home by Minnesota, calling into question how good that win really was.
STOCK UP FROM THE WEEKEND
~ Minnesota – The Golden Gophers are the only undefeated team remaining in the Big Ten West and dominated Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday en route to an easy 34-7 victory. Tanner Morgan had one of the best games of his career, completing 23 of 26 passes for 268 yards and 3 TDs. Morgan’s success was complemented by a strong rushing attack – the Gophers rushed for 240 yards, with Mohamed Ibrahim breaking the 100-yard mark in his first conference game since returning from a torn Achilles. The Gophers miss both Ohio State and Michigan in cross-divisional games and get Iowa in Minneapolis.
~ USC – It was ugly, but Caleb Williams led an 11-play, 84-yard drive that culminated with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Addison with 1:13 remaining to give USC the 17-14 win over an Oregon State team that is better than people realize. The Trojans had been one of the most impressive offensive teams in the country to this point in the season, but this gutsy win on the road in a conference notorious for cannibalizing itself will serve as a confidence boost for Lincoln Riley’s team. With Williams scuffling most of the night, the Trojan defense rose to the challenge, forcing 4 turnovers and holding Oregon State to just 320 yards. This is a game USC would have lost in previous seasons, but on Saturday, they found a way to win even without the offense clicking.
~ Notre Dame – Speaking of offenses clicking, Notre Dame’s 45-32 win over North Carolina was a breath of fresh air for the team heading into the bye week. Against a struggling Tar Heel defense, the Irish put up 289 yards through the air and 287 yards on the ground, with all three running backs – Audric Estime, Chris Tyree, and Logan Diggs – going for over 100 total yards. With an offense beginning to gel combined with a defense that outside of four big plays shut down a powerful Tar Heel offense, Notre Dame remains in the mix for a sixth consecutive double-digit win season and a New Year’s Six bowl appearance.
~ The state of Kansas – Saturday was a great day to be a college football fan in the Sunflower State. Kansas continued its hot start and moved to 4-0 with a 35-27 win over Duke. QB Jalon Daniels had over 400 total yards and 5 TDs to pace what is the nation’s fourth-ranked scoring offense through the first month of the season. Meanwhile, Kansas State scored the biggest upset of the day with a stunning 41-34 victory over Oklahoma in Norman. One week after losing to Tulane, the Wildcats – led by QB Adrian Martinez who accounted for 5 total TDs – put up 509 yards to win at Oklahoma for the fourth time in the past decade.
~ Tennessee – The Volunteers overcame a slow offensive start and furious fourth quarter rally to survive Florida 38-33 and stay undefeated. Saturday surprisingly marked just the second win for Tennessee over the rival Gators in the past 18 years. We’ll find out whether the Volunteers are for real in the next month – Tennessee travels to LSU next weekend before hosting #2 Alabama, and then after a game against UT Martin, hosts #7 Kentucky before a road trip to #1 Georgia.
STOCK DOWN FROM THE WEEKEND
~ Oklahoma – Saturday’s loss to Kansas State must feel all-too familiar for Sooner fans. Despite a powerful offense, defensive miscues consistently prevented Oklahoma from truly challenging the college football elite during the Lincoln Riley era, and Brent Venables was tasked with changing that. The loss to the Wildcats was a step backward, as despite putting up 550 total yards and 34 points on offense, Oklahoma surrendered 509 yards and 28 first downs to Kansas State. The Wildcats’ ability to move the chains (8-17 on third down and 2-2 on fourth down) allowed them to dominate the time of possession and limit touches for the Oklahoma offense.
~ Miami – One week after losing a hard-fought game at Texas A&M, Miami returned home for a “get right” game against Middle Tennessee State. Instead, the Hurricanes allowed the Blue Raiders to put up 408 yards passing on an absurd 25.5 yards per completion. The Hurricane offense was not up to the challenge either, turning the ball over 3 times, resulting in the benching of QB Tyler Van Dyke, considered one of the top quarterbacks in the country during the preseason. You can bet Miami will be using next week’s bye to focus on the secondary with North Carolina coming to town on October 8th.
~ Wisconsin – While no one expected the Badgers to win in Columbus (the line was 19.5 points), a primetime blowout on national TV will only serve to increase the grumblings coming from Madison about the direction of the program. Graham Mertz again struggled in a big game, going just 11-20 passing for 94 yards with an interception, raising further questions about Paul Chryst’s ability to develop a consistent passing attack. The inability of the Badger offense to threaten Ohio State exposed the defense, and Ohio State attacked early and often, jumping out to a 31-7 halftime lead. Should Wisconsin fail to rebound and win a very weak Big Ten West, changes could be on the horizon in Madison with popular defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard waiting in the wings.
~ Arkansas – Undefeated, ranked 10th in the country, and holding a 14-0 lead over Texas A&M at Jerryworld with Alabama coming to town next weekend, the Razorbacks allowed the Aggies to score 23 unanswered points and missed a gigantic opportunity to make a national statement in the 23-21 loss. With a chance to go up 21-7 shortly before halftime, QB KJ Jefferson fumbled while reaching for the end zone, and two Aggie defenders returned the fumble 97 yards for a TD on a wild play that featured one defender handing it to another right before being tackled. With the Crimson Tide coming to Fayetteville next weekend before three challenging road games at Mississippi State, BYU, and Auburn, the Arkansas season outlook could look wildly different in a few weeks.
~ Boston College – Boston College was never going to compete for the national title this year, but the Eagles had always been a tough team and shown improvement in Jeff Hafley’s first two seasons. However, despite the return of QB Phil Jurkovec and WR Zay Flowers, Boston College ranks last in the ACC and 121st in the country in total offense. On Saturday, the Eagles were blown out 44-14 by Florida State to drop to 1-3. The main culprit has been abysmal offensive line play – BC ranks 128th in the country having already allowed 15 sacks, and 119th in the country with 31 TFLs allowed. If that doesn’t improve, it will be a long season in Chestnut Hill.
BEST GAMES OF WEEK 5
- #15 Washington at UCLA, 7:30 PM, ESPN (Friday)
- #4 Michigan at Iowa, 12 PM, FOX
- #7 Kentucky at #14 Ole Miss, 12 PM, ESPN
- #18 Oklahoma at TCU, 12 PM, ABC
- #2 Alabama at #20 Arkansas, 3:30 PM, CBS
- #9 Oklahoma State at #16 Baylor, 3:30 PM, FOX
- #22 Wake Forest at #23 Florida State, 3:30 PM, ABC
- #10 NC State at #5 Clemson, 7:30 PM, ABC
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