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Week 5 college football takeaways

The cost of firing a head coach in today’s college football landscape is higher than ever. Massive buyout payments that come with the early termination of a contract means that schools pay millions of dollars just to get their coaches to leave. After his exit in 2021, former LSU coach Ed Orgeron received a buyout of $17.1 million. In a recent interview, Orgeron acknowledged the massive paycheck he received, joking that his response to losing his job was to ask, “What time do you want me to leave and what door do you want me out of, brother?”

With this huge amount of dead money being par for the course with coaching changes, schools do whatever they can to make it work with their staff. In addition, they only fire their coach if they believe new leadership to be absolutely necessary. A pair of programs that recently parted ways with their head coaches received validation that their decision was correct by earning upset victories with interim coaches at the helm.

In 2018, longtime Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson announced his retirement. For his replacement, the school tabbed former Temple head coach Geoff Collins, with the intention of replacing Johnson’s preferred triple option attack with a more conventional offensive scheme. Less than four full seasons later, the Yellow Jackets are back in the coaching market. Collins’ firing was announced last week after three consecutive three-win seasons and a 1-3 start to this year that did nothing to inspire confidence of a turnaround in the near future. In their first game without Collins, the Yellow Jackets went on the road and stunned No. 24 Pitt. The Panthers outgained Georgia Tech by almost 100 yards. But, an opportunistic defense that forced three turnovers and 157 rushing yards from running back Hassan Hall were enough to scrape out a 26-21 upset victory.

Nebraska had been trying to recapture its 90s magic for nearly two decades when it hired Scott Frost as its new head coach in 2017. Frost, a former national championship-winning Husker quarterback and a former national championship-winning UCF head coach, seemed like a perfect fit in every sense of the word. The pairing ended up being anything but perfect; Nebraska, once a powerhouse, posted losing records in each of Frost’s four seasons and did not qualify for a single bowl. After years of speculation of his seat getting hot, a home loss to Georgia Southern was the last straw and Frost was fired after a 1-2 start to the season. 

In their first game without Frost, Nebraska’s struggles continued in a blowout loss against Oklahoma, but the Huskers turned things around this week, ending their nine-game losing streak against FBS opponents with a 35-21 win over a solid Indiana team. It remains to be seen how the rest of the season will play out for Georgia Tech and Nebraska, but the trajectories for both teams’ seasons have improved significantly since their midseason coaching changes. This week, another high-profile coach was let go when Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst. The Badgers will look to continue the trend of teams improving their play without a permanent coach and they will have their first chance to do so against Northwestern this weekend.

Georgia needs late comeback to escape Missouri

Defending national champion Georgia’s season-opening 49-3 domination of Oregon (which now somehow looks even more impressive given how well the Ducks have played since) gave way to a litany of premature questions about the Bulldogs’ greatness. Is Georgia’s defense somehow even better than last year’s unit, which was one of the greatest of all time? Will quarterback Stetson Bennett, who many expected to be benched last year, win the Heisman? Can anyone beat Georgia (or even score a touchdown against them)?

After a sloppy 39-22 win over Kent State and a nail-biting 26-22 victory against Missouri, during which Georgia trailed by ten early in the fourth quarter, those questions can begin to be answered. No, Georgia’s defense is not better than last year’s, which allowed over twenty points just once (in the SEC Championship against Alabama). No, Bennett is probably not a Heisman contender after throwing for zero touchdowns in the last two games combined. We still do not know if anyone can beat Georgia, but it certainly looks much more plausible now than it did after the Oregon game.

The Bulldogs’ recent performances could simply be a case of them overlooking a pair of weaker opponents, but they revealed a blueprint for how Georgia could be beaten. Georgia out-gained Kent State and Missouri by about 200 yards each, but their turnover margin was a combined -4. This allowed less talented teams to hang around with them, and in Missouri’s case, nearly defeat them. In Georgia’s first three games, all wins by over 30 points, the Bulldogs did not have a single turnover and recorded six takeaways. Their overwhelming talent has thus far given them a large enough margin for error to remain undefeated, even when they fail to take care of the ball. But they could be in trouble later in the season if they lose the turnover battle against an elite opponent.

Texas A&M and Oklahoma stumble again

Every year, we see teams with sky-high preseason expectations fail to live up to the hype. Last season, Iowa State and North Carolina were ranked No. 7 and No. 10, respectively in the preseason AP Poll before finishing with records of 7-6 and 6-7. In 2020 preseason polls, No. 6 LSU and No. 7 Penn State both failed to post winning records.

These teams pop up every year to serve as a stark reminder that no one can really predict how a season will turn out and 2022 has been no exception. Notre Dame began the season ranked No. 5, but a shocking 0-2 start dropped them out of the rankings entirely. After Week 5, it looks like the Irish might have company, as preseason top-ten teams Texas A&M and Oklahoma each suffered their second loss of the season in blowout fashion.

Texas A&M’s playoff chances took a dent in week two when they were upset by Appalachian State. The back-to-back wins against ranked opponents Miami and Arkansas that followed, though, gave the Aggies hope that they could get back in the hunt. Those hopes have now been erased, as they were defeated decisively on the road against Mississippi State, 42-24. Texas A&M’s defense, their calling card earlier in the season, had no answer for the Bulldogs’ dynamic passing attack. Quarterback Will Rogers continued his excellent start to the season by posting 329 yards and three touchdowns. The Aggies could still theoretically win the SEC West, but it is difficult to imagine them beating Alabama this week.

Despite losing their head coach, quarterback and several other key players and recruits, Oklahoma breezed to a 3-0 record in non-conference play and looked impressive while doing so. Everything came crashing down when Big 12 play began, and the Sooners’ conference slate started with consecutive losses against Kansas State and TCU. The TCU loss on Saturday was particularly backbreaking for a team coached by Brent Venables, a renowned defensive specialist; the Horned Frogs scored 41 points in the first half alone en route to a 31-point win, 55-24.

Texas A&M and Oklahoma still have time to right the ship and avoid the ignominious finishes that the teams mentioned earlier experienced, but it is not a good sign that their preseason goals are already out of reach less than halfway through the season.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.