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Alabama QB Bryce YoungVasha Hunt/Associated Press
In case it wasn’t already abundantly clear in September, the first college football Saturday in October showed that everyone else is fighting for third place behind Alabama and Georgia.
AP No. 1 Alabama jumped out to an early 35-0 lead over No. 12 Ole Miss before cruising to a 42-21 victory. That game followed No. 2 Georgia blanking No. 8 Arkansas in a 37-0 laugher.
Throw in No. 3 Oregon losing to unranked Stanford on a day where six Top 15 teams bit the dust, and that gap between the top two and the rest of the country now feels like the Grand Canyon.
But, friends, that race for third-best has been and continues to be all sorts of fun, and Cincinnati is very much a part of that conversation following its road win over Notre Dame. Penn State and Iowa are also in the mix in advance of a gigantic head-to-head clash in Week 6. And though they haven’t looked impressive yet this season, the zero in Oklahoma’s loss column keeps the Sooners in the fight.
We’re talking more than just top five here, though. There was an awful lot of Week 5 carnage to sift through, but Bleacher Report CFB experts Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller and Brad Shepard put together a new Top 25 ranking.
Kentucky, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were big-time risers, Florida and Texas A&M dropped like a lead balloon and Texas, Arizona State and SMU each jumped into our Top 25 after missing the cut one week ago.
B/R’s Post-Week 5 Top 25:
1. Alabama (Last week: 1)
2. Georgia (2)
3. (tie) Iowa (6)
3. (tie) Penn State (4)
5. Cincinnati (5)
6. Oklahoma (11)
7. Ohio State (10)
8. Michigan (13)
9. Arkansas (7)
10. Kentucky (18)
11. Oregon (3)
12. Notre Dame (9)
13. BYU (15)
14. (tie) Coastal Carolina (14)
14. (tie) Ole Miss (12)
16. Michigan State (17)
17. Florida (8)
18. Oklahoma State (24)
19. Auburn (20)
20. Texas (NR)
21. Wake Forest (22)
22. (tie) Arizona State (NR)
22. (tie) SMU (NR)
24. San Diego State (23)
25. (tie) NC State (NR)
25. (tie) UTSA (NR)
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Cincinnati QB Desmond RidderIcon Sportswire/Getty Images
Over the past several years, every time a Group of Five team has been good enough for at least a little bit of College Football Playoff consideration, the conversation eventually ran into a “They didn’t play anyone good” brick wall.
Basically, for a little guy like UCF, Boise State, Houston, Coastal Carolina or Cincinnati to have any hope of playing for a national championship, it had to not only run the table but also beat a couple of Power Five foes along the way.
It has long felt like Mission: Impossible.
But the AP No. 7 Cincinnati Bearcats have now cleared the two tallest hurdles on the path to an unlikely spot in the playoff.
Two weeks ago, they went into Bloomington and walked out with a solid 14-point road win over Indiana. And in the biggest game of Week 5, Desmond Ridder and Co. picked up a colossal, program-defining 24-13 road win over No. 9 Notre Dame.
In both of those games, an opportunistic defense played a massive role. They forced four turnovers against Indiana and had another three takeaways in the first 20 minutes against Notre Dame. Ahmad Gardner picked off Jack Coan at the goal line on the game’s opening possession. Early in the second quarter, a Deshawn Pace interception returned to the Notre Dame 8-yard line set up the Bearcats for their first touchdown. And the Chris Tyree fumble of the subsequent kickoff put the Bearcats in a perfect position to take an early two-score lead.
From there, Cincinnati simply outplayed a team that entered the afternoon with a 37-5 record and two trips to the CFP since the beginning of 2018.
Ridder threw for 297 yards, rushed for 26 more and accounted for all three of Cincinnati’s touchdowns—keeping himself very much in the mix for the Heisman Trophy. The defense shut down Kyren Williams (77 all-purpose yards) and frustrated the Fighting Irish passing game for four quarters.
It’ll be a few more weeks until the first CFP Top 25 rankings of the 2021 season, but handle their business against the likes of Temple, UCF, Navy and Tulane, and the Bearcats should debut in no worse than fifth place.
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Oregon head coach Mario CristobalAndy Nelson/Associated Press
As impressive as Cincinnati has been thus far, the real reason the Bearcats have a puncher’s chance at reaching the College Football Playoff is that both the ACC and the Pac-12 have already played themselves out of the conversation.
Between those two Power Five leagues, the only team that entered this week ranked higher than 20th in the AP poll was No. 3 Oregon. And the Ducks are sure to plummet in the next batch of rankings following their 31-24 overtime loss at Stanford.
Oregon was wisely committed to the run against a Cardinal defense that had allowed at least 185 rushing yards in each game this season. They ended up with more than twice as many rushing attempts (54) as passing attempts (26). However, the Ducks didn’t run it anywhere near as well as they did a few weeks ago in that monumental victory over Ohio State.
CJ Verdell was the star against the Buckeyes, but he managed just 63 yards on 17 carries before exiting the game late in the third quarter with an apparent left knee injury. Travis Dye (19 carries for 96 yards) was a little more efficient, but even he was just OK against a defense that allowed both USC and Vanderbilt to average 5.6 yards per carry.
Oregon’s run game was fine, though. Not elite, but fine. And it would have been enough for a win if they hadn’t made so many back-breaking and bone-headed mistakes.
The only turnover of the game (an Anthony Brown interception) set up Stanford with a short field to take an early 10-0 lead. At the end of the first half, the Ducks squandered an 80-yard drive when Brown was tackled for a loss on a 4th-and-goal keeper from the 1-yard line. They inexplicably threw the ball (for a clock-stopping incompletion) on 2nd-and-18 late in the fourth quarter while trying to bleed the clock with a 24-17 lead. Then with Stanford backed up to its own 4-yard line, Oregon’s defense committed three massive penalties—including defensive holding on what should have been the final play of regulation, subsequently allowing the Cardinal to score the game-tying touchdown on an untimed down.
It just wasn’t pretty football, and it resulted in the season’s first case of a Top 5 team losing to an unranked opponent. Maybe Oregon could still mess around and reach the CFP if it rallies to win eight in a row from here. Given how they looked in this game and last week’s home game against Arizona, that feels unlikely at best.
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Georgia’s Nolan SmithTodd Kirkland/Getty Images
Despite playing without regular starting quarterback JT Daniels (lat injury), Georgia put up 37 points against what had been a stout Arkansas defense throughout September. Four different Bulldogs running backs carried the ball at least 10 times each en route to 273 rushing yards against a defense that had held three consecutive opponents below 273 total yards.
But the real story here was Georgia’s Herculean effort on defense in yet another shutout.
Arkansas had averaged 261 rushing yards over its first four games, but they picked up just 75 yards on 29 carries in this one—and it was actually 23 carries for 34 yards until a few meaningless runs in the final four minutes.
It’s not like Arkansas had any better luck throwing the ball, either, managing just 162 yards of total offense and nine first downs in the 37-0 loss.
When the Bulldogs held Vanderbilt to 77 yards of total offense one week ago, the overwhelming response from most of the naysayers was, “Big deal. Vanderbilt stinks.” The UGA haters have also been quick to point out that the Week 1 shutdown of Clemson doesn’t look as impressive now as it did back then, given the nauseating state of Clemson’s offense in recent weeks.
Holding Arkansas without a first down on six of its first seven possessions, though?
Are you still not entertained?
You have to go back to the fourth quarter of Georgia’s Week 3 win over South Carolina to find the last time this defense allowed any points. It was a garbage-time touchdown more than 130 minutes ago, and it was the only touchdown this defense has allowed all season long.
Georgia led the nation in scoring defense two years ago (12.6 points per game), but its current mark of 4.6 is just plain silly. The last team to end a season with a scoring defense of 10 PPG or better was Alabama in 2011, which won the national championship 21-0 to finish at 8.9.
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Iowa QB Spencer PetrasGreg Fiume/Getty Images
Incredibly, the Week 6 slate of games might be even more jam-packed with awesomeness than Week 5 was.
At the top of the list, you’ve got AP No. 4 Penn State traveling to No. 5 Iowa for some still-early bragging rights in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions still have three crucial games remaining against Ohio State (Oct. 30), Michigan (Nov. 13) and Michigan State (Nov. 27). Meanwhile, Iowa could take a gigantic step toward clinching its spot in the Big Ten championship by holding serve at home. After this game, the Hawkeyes will finish the regular season with six straight against the Big Ten’s West Division, in which they are currently the only ranked team.
The Red River Rivalry will also be a huge one. Texas’ offense looked really good for a third consecutive week, and that 32-27 win over TCU will likely be enough to vault the Longhorns back into the AP Top 25. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s trend of barely winning continued in a 37-31 victory at Kansas State. It was the fourth time already this season that the Sooners won by six points or fewer, but they could make up for some lost time and close calls with a statement win over Texas.
In the SEC, Arkansas and Ole Miss are hoping to recover from blowout losses to Georgia and Alabama, respectively. Still, one of the two will be on a two-game losing streak after the Rebels host the Razorbacks.
There’s also Alabama at Texas A&M in a game that will either all but eliminate the Aggies from the SEC West or bring the Crimson Tide back to the pack and set the stage for a thrilling seven-week sprint to the finish line. And that’s not all in the SEC. We’ll also get Georgia at Auburn and LSU at Kentucky for quite the four-pack of showdowns.
And last but definitely least, Connecticut at Massachusetts in a clash between two of the four remaining winless FBS teams. If you spent any portion of your Saturday night watching UConn-Vanderbilt, here’s another one right up your alley.