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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.

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Top 5 college football games to watch in week 3

Last week was another amazing week of college football full of upsets and extremely fun matchups. Texas gave Alabama a big run for their money. BYU got a marquee win over Baylor. Washington State got a shocking upset in Big 10 country against Wisconsin. Nebraska lost to Georgia Southern, resulting in the firing of head coach Scott Frost. Texas A&M fell victim to another monumental upset by Appalachian State. Notre Dame was stunned by Marshall. The slate this weekend provides us with a ton of action, so let’s get into the top five.

5. No. 6 Oklahoma at Nebraska (Oklahoma -11.0) noon, FOX

The former Big 8 rivalry is coming to Memorial Stadium for the first time since 2009. Oklahoma is at the beginning of the Brent Venables era, looking to contend for a playoff berth. However, there have been some hiccups already. The Sooners led by a score of just 7-3 at halftime against Kent State before a 24-point third quarter put the game away. Venables, the former defensive coordinator at Clemson, will surely be looking for a better performance against a big rival.

Nebraska is currently wandering in the wilderness after firing head coach Scott Frost on Sunday. Even though Nebraska could have waited until October 1st for Frost’s contract buyout to go from $15 million to $7.5 million, they decided to pull the trigger anyway. Interim head coach Mickey Joseph inherits a Husker team with talent but a penchant for falling short time and time again. Last week, the Huskers gave up 642 yards in a 45-42 upset by Georgia Southern.

Emotions are running high in this rivalry game. Last year, Nebraska struggled to a 3-9 record. But they played 11-2 Oklahoma extremely tight, ultimately losing by a touchdown. This one could be closer than records would predict.

4. No. 13 Miami at No. 24 Texas A&M (TA&M -6), 9 p.m., ESPN

This game would have had a great case for number one if not for the events of last week. If the Aggies took care of business against the Mountaineers, it would have been a colossal showdown with College Gameday in town. One has to wonder if the Aggies weren’t looking ahead to their marquee matchup this week against the Hurricanes. They shouldn’t have been, considering A&M is paying head coach Jimbo Fisher 75 million dollars over 10 years.

What is even more infuriating to Aggie fans is that Fisher is 35-15 in his first 50 games, whereas the man he replaced (Kevin Sumlin) was 36-14. A&M’s offense has been concerning, scoring just 14 points against Appalachian State, who allowed 63 points to North Carolina the week prior.

Miami comes in with two wins against inferior competition in Bethune-Cookman and Southern Miss. However, the Hurricanes were beating the latter just 10-7 at halftime. New head coach Mario Cristobal is looking for a big win to set a potential campaign for the ACC title. In order to win, both teams need to put together what they haven’t been able to do so far: a complete game.

3. No. 12 BYU at No. 25 Oregon (Oregon -3.5) 3:30 p.m., FOX

The other matchup between two ranked squads is in Autzen Stadium, where the Oregon Ducks face surging BYU. The Cougars are coming off an impressive 26-20 win over a ranked Baylor team in double overtime. Their defense came in clutch, making plays down the stretch to win the game. The Cougar offense was hurting, literally. Starting receivers Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney were injured, which ended up leading to a breakout game from Chase Roberts. Roberts caught eight passes for 122 yards, including a highly acrobatic catch for a touchdown.

BYU certainly grinded out an impressive win. But now they face an Oregon team looking to reassert themselves. Oregon took good use of their get-right game against FCS opponent Eastern Washington, winning by a score of 70-14. After getting shut down at every level in a 49-3 drubbing by Georgia in week 1, quarterback Bo Nix and the Oregon offense responded by amassing over 600 yards. Nix made much better decisions in his second game, crucially avoiding a turnover as well. Are the Ducks ready to get back on track and derail a BYU team that is riding high? Or can the Cougars keep their momentum rolling?

2. No. 11 Michigan State at Washington (Washington -3) 7:30 p.m., ABC

The Spartans go out west to face a Washington team that has a lot to prove. Michigan State is looking to continue its resurgence under head coach Mel Tucker, finishing 11-2 and ranked No. 9 in the country in Tucker’s second season behind the helm. Although the Spartans lost star running back Kenneth Walker to the NFL, new transfer running back Jalen Berger has filled his shoes admirably in routs of Western Michigan and Akron. Defensive end Jacoby Windmon has 5.5 sacks in two games for the Spartans, making him a player to watch.

Washington is in the third game of the Kalen DeBoer era. DeBoer came to the Huskies by way of Fresno State, after the Huskies fired Jimmy Lake. The Huskies finished 4-8 last season but have convincingly beat two inferior schools in Kent State and Portland State to open the year. The new quarterback for the Huskies, Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr., has experience beating the Spartans (back in 2020).

The Vegas line favoring Washington is a bit of a surprise. But they do have a tremendous home-field advantage. A win for DeBoer and the Huskies would be a major shift in the program. But Tucker and the Spartans need the win for national implications.

1.  No. 22 Penn State at Auburn (Penn State -3) 3:30 p.m., CBS

Big Ten and SEC powers clashing in non-conference play: I love it! The Nittany Lions are 2-0, coming off of an easy win vs. Ohio which was preceded by a barnburner against Purdue. Quarterback Sean Clifford has been busy fending off incoming freshman Drew Allar for the job. His game-winning drive against Purdue seems to have locked it up for the time being. But it will be interesting to see if head coach James Franklin pivots to the freshman if Clifford struggles.

Auburn also enters at 2-0 under head coach Bryan Harsin. The Tigers opened with a 42-16 win over Mercer and won 24-16 over San José State last week. The latter game was a bit of a wake-up call, as Auburn was actually losing at halftime. Although the Tigers have had struggles, they have been lights out in the red zone. Every trip to the red zone for Auburn has led to a touchdown.

Last fall, Auburn went up to Penn State and played at Beaver Stadium for the annual White Out game. The Nittany Lions came out on top by a score of 28-20. This year, both schools want to send a message that they are here to contend for their respective conferences. A win for either would be a major boost.

The views in this Sports Authority are the views of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney@nd.edu