If you’ve read this column for the past year and change, you know I love one thing above everything else in college football.
I don’t really care how it’s served; I simply want more of it. Specifically, I want it when it comes to the Heisman and the College Football Playoff.
So, let’s talk about Cincinnati. For months we (well, at least me) circled this stretch of games as the stretch of games: at Indiana and at Notre Dame. For a Group of 5 program trying to finally break through the playoff barrier, this was the most meaningful spot.
And they delivered. The Bearcats first beat Indiana as a short favorite a few weeks ago. On Saturday, they validated that win with a more meaningful 24-13 victory against Notre Dame.
Cincinnati, which closed as a two-point road favorite in that matchup, beat the Irish by double digits thanks in part to a large helping of defense. It wasn’t utter domination, although it was plenty impressive. With that, Cincinnati passed one of its biggest tests of the year on a weekend when others couldn’t do the same.
Oregon lost outright as a touchdown-ish favorite to Stanford. Ole Miss and Arkansas, two unbeatens, fell to mighty Alabama and Georgia.
With the exception of an Oklahoma loss, this was as good of a weekend as Cincinnati could’ve hoped for. The Bearcats are now 25-1 to win the national title -- behind only Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Penn State. Quarterback Desmond Ridder is also now the No. 4 selection on the Heisman odds board at 10-1.
They have a shot. Let’s not talk about the fact that Cincinnati would still have to beat Alabama or Georgia to cash that 25-1 ticket -- at least not yet.
The fact that a Group of 5 team has those kinds of odds as we enter Week 6 is welcomed.
Here’s what Cincinnati has remaining: Temple, UCF, at Navy, at Tulane, vs. Tulsa, at USF, vs. SMU and at East Carolina. The matchup against SMU certainly jumps out at first glance, although each one of these games feels extremely winnable.
Barring injury, the Bearcats will likely be sizable favorites from that point forward. And with Oregon’s loss, CFP vacancy is beginning to open.
The problem? Perfection is needed. Anything less and the playoff dream is likely undone. But for now, embrace the possibility of chaos and hope there is more to come.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. Although I would love to see Cincinnati in the playoff, this feels like a season that is destined to end with Alabama-Georgia, right? Both have been the most impressive teams in CFB this year, and the updated future odds reflect that. Alabama and Georgia are now essentially 2-1 or less, which is somewhat amazing given how much football there is still to play. I get it, though. Both teams, while different, are enormously talented.
2. If you asked a random friend what they thought about Kenny Pickett, they would likely stare back at you in confusion. But given how well he’s played, it’s time for us to start talking about Pittsburgh’s starting QB. Pickett threw for four more touchdowns on Saturday in a blowout win over Georgia Tech, and he has now accounted for 21 touchdowns and thrown for only one interception in five games. While it’ll be a challenge for a QB at Pitt to win the Heisman -- and that’s putting it mildly -- the performance is noteworthy. I checked on his Heisman odds late Saturday, and he was still at 75-1. (I couldn’t help but throw in a bet.) By Sunday afternoon, he was down to 50-1. To be continued.
3. Good for Jim Harbaugh, and I mean that sincerely. While Wisconsin looks nothing like the team we’re used to seeing, these are the kinds of wins that have eluded Michigan’s head coach. Although they closed as a short underdog, the Wolverines clobbered the Badgers in their own building. How unusual is this? It was the first time Harbaugh has won as underdog at Michigan. That is, well, baffling.
4. I missed big on Texas A&M. I had the Aggies at 35-1 to win the national title this year, and that ticket has more value as toilet paper at this point. Their game against Alabama next Saturday had the chance of being one of the biggest games of the year. But now? Not so much. The good news, however, is I might not be as wrong as others were about this team. Texas A&M just extended Jimbo Fisher until 2031 and gave him a raise that will pay him $9 million a year.
5. Let’s talk about Miami. The Hurricanes lost in Week 5 to Virginia -- a loss made possible because the Hurricanes missed what would have been a game-winning field goal. Manny Diaz is almost certainly going to be fired, and I have spent the weekend thinking about coaches that might fit what Miami needs, which is a lot. Lane Kiffin, of course, would be a match made in heaven. But that feels unlikely. Outside of that, there aren’t a ton of great candidates and Miami might be a tough sell on a lot of good coaches. Given how great they were for so long, that’s almost hard to believe.
The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend
1. Iowa (-3, 41.5) vs. Penn State
Back in August, I did not believe that this would be one of the best games of the football season. Now? It unquestionably is. The total says a lot about the type of game we’re going to get, and the nation’s No. 2 and No. 3 scoring defenses are likely to be the story of this matchup. One thing to watch is turnovers; Iowa leads the nation with 16 takeaways, and that was certainly a theme against Maryland. As a whole, both teams have been kind to bettors, covering four of the five games played. Both have also hit the under in four of five games played as well. The two teams, while different in makeup, seem like a very even matchup. The big variable, of course, is that Iowa City will play host. Weird things happen when these two teams play football. Seriously, they once played a game that ended in a score of 6-4. Weird things will happen once again.
2. Oklahoma (-3.5, 63.5) vs. Texas
The rivalry always has intrigue, although this particular installment is ripe with storylines. For starters, this is Steve Sarkisian’s first helping of the Red River Shootout. And his offense, led by running back Bijan Robinson (35-1 to win the Heisman), seems to be hitting its stride. With the win and cover against TCU, the Longhorns have now won and covered in all but one game this season. (The lone loss being Arkansas.) Oklahoma, while still unbeaten, has covered just once in five games. Still, the Sooners seemed to find a little rhythm in the win over Kansas State last week. The Texas defense is still a bit of a concern, although the Longhorns’ rushing attack is going to present an issue. I lean Texas, although this rivalry hasn’t been kind to the team in orange. Maybe a new voice will change that.
3. Ole Miss (-6, 66) vs. Arkansas
Well, that escalated quickly. Although Ole Miss and Arkansas both dominated headlines heading into Week 5, both played the part of massive underdogs by the best teams in football -- and looked like massive underdogs. Hey, it happens. Alabama and Georgia look that good. What I am curious to see is just how both respond. Before Week 5, Ole Miss and Alabama were unbeaten outright and against the spread. My concern with the Razorbacks in this game is the offense. Matt Corral, while held in check by the Crimson Tide, is likely to respond with a massive game. And although I still love what Arkansas has accomplished this year, I wonder if Ole Miss is simply too explosive. Since the line opened, it has already moved in the Rebels’ direction. I certainly see why.
4. Georgia (-14.5, 45) at Auburn
Bo Nix is not just a quarterback -- he is an experience. The quarterback at Auburn delivered some of the most remarkable drop backs I have ever seen against LSU on Saturday night, and I can’t say that all of them were good moments. They were exciting, and kudos to Auburn on a great win. It’s been a weird year, but winning in Death Valley at night is still meaningful. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Georgia is coming to town, and the Bulldogs have allowed one—yes, one—offensive touchdown all season. Georgia, playing with its backup QB, was dominant against Arkansas. The status of JT Daniels, who missed Saturday’s game due to injury, is certainly worth monitoring. Regardless, this is a tall order for Auburn, although playing at home will likely help a great deal.
5. Kentucky (-3.5, 52.5) vs. LSU
If LSU loses to Kentucky on Saturday, every Tigers’ message board server will likely collapse as the calls to fire head coach Ed Orgeron grow louder. For a head coach less than two years removed from a national championship, that might seem a bit extreme. But that is life as the head coach of LSU. Indeed, a loss to Auburn at home doesn’t help. And the loss to UCLA earlier this year looks worse every week. Kentucky, meanwhile, is experiencing the opposite emotions after upsetting Florida as a 7.5-point underdog. While it’s still unknown just how good this team is, Mark Stoops has done a remarkable job making this group competitive. And playing at home against a team still shell-shocked by its latest defeat is an interesting spot. Still, I lean LSU early.
Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note
Michigan (-3, 52) at Nebraska: Although they have found some really bizarre ways to lose games, Nebraska is actually playing quite well. Both coaches really can’t afford to lose this game with their fan bases, which alone is worth watching.
Alabama (-17.5, 50.5) at Texas A&M: How do the Aggies plan to keep up? Let’s start there. While I don’t want to overreact to one week, it’s pretty hard not to. And after watching Mississippi State win in this building, it’s hard to get excited for this game.
Notre Dame (-1, 46.5) at Virginia Tech: After losing to Cincinnati, this is not a place you want to travel to in order to get right. Notre Dame certainly feels like a very beatable team at the moment, and the Hokies are poised to take advantage.