If you were asked in August to pick five teams that would be undefeated at this point, you’d probably be quick to name the traditional powerhouses: Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, USC, Alabama. And you’d be wrong on Alabama. But you get the point.
Who in the world thought Louisville, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri and Washington State all would be unbeaten now? Sure, maybe one or two because of the early-season schedule. But not all the wins were expected — who thought Kentucky would wallop Florida?
Our reporters preview Week 6 with a look at the surprising undefeated teams and quarterback matchups to watch, plus some of the week’s best quotes.
Surprise! Look who’s still undefeated
Louisville: When Louisville hired native son Jeff Brohm, you could feel the excitement build not only among the fan base but among the football program. He then overhauled the roster and brought in several key transfers who have paid off in big ways, starting with quarterback Jack Plummer, who played for him at Purdue. Plummer ranks No. 3 in the ACC in passing, no surprise considering Brohm’s background and history, and transfer Jamari Thrash ranks No. 2 in the league in receiving. Perhaps the biggest revelation has been the Cardinals’ rushing offense behind Jawhar Jordan, who leads the league with 510 yards and six touchdowns. Defensively, transfers Devin Neal (Baylor) and Cam’Ron Kelly (UNC), tied for second on the team with 24 tackles, have been big additions, too. But returner Ashton Gillotte has taken the next step with five sacks.
Brohm described his team’s 13-10 win over NC State last week as his defense’s best performance of the season. But it will take a complete team effort to beat Notre Dame and end the Irish’s 30-game regular-season winning streak against the ACC.
“We’ve done just enough to win five games,” Brohm told ESPN. “And we’ve shown some toughness and some grit to come back and win a few, so that’s been really good to see, our guys play that hard. To this point, everything’s been good. I know as a coach that our schedule will just continue to get tougher and tougher, and we’re going to have challenges ahead, starting this week.” — Andrea Adelson
Maryland: Winners of its first five games in a season for the first time since Ralph Friedgen coached the program to the ACC title in 2001, Maryland heads into a major spotlight Saturday when it visits the Horseshoe to tangle with No. 4 Ohio State. Taulia Tagovailoa spearheads a Terrapins offense that leads the Big Ten in total offense (454.8 YPG) while sitting behind only Penn State in scoring offense (38.6 PPG). Tagovailoa, who tops the conference with both 1,464 passing yards and 13 touchdown passes, has three games of at least three touchdown tosses, led by last week’s 352-yard, five-touchdown effort in a 44-17 dispatching of Indiana. Led by Jeshaun Jones‘ 19 receptions, six receivers have caught at least 11 passes and eight players have found the end zone, as Tagovailoa has done a stellar job of spreading the wealth and not letting opposing defenses key on one player. Defensively, Brian Williams’ unit has forced 10 turnovers combined over the past three weeks in convincing victories over Virginia, Michigan State and Indiana. It faces its stiffest challenge yet with a Buckeyes offense itching to sustain momentum from their win in South Bend on Sept. 23. — Blake Baumgartner
Kentucky: The schedule has been more than manageable, and even the most blue-hearted Kentucky fan would acknowledge as much. Three of the Wildcats’ wins have come over teams (Ball State, Akron and Vanderbilt) with a combined 4-12 record, and a fourth win came over FCS foe Eastern Kentucky. That’s not to diminish the fact the Wildcats are doing the things it takes to win at a high level, in particular running the ball, stopping the run, eliminating explosive plays and forcing turnovers. They’re averaging 6.48 yards per rush (second nationally) and limiting opponents to 2.54 yards per rush (eighth nationally). Ray Davis, a transfer from Vanderbilt, rushed for 280 yards last week in the 33-14 win over Florida, the most rushing yards by an FBS player this season. Kentucky dominated the line of scrimmage, as quarterback Devin Leary attempted just 19 passes, completing nine for 69 yards. He’s a better passer than he’s shown to this point and will have to make more plays down the field in the passing game if the Wildcats are going to keep it going, and that starts Saturday against No. 1 Georgia. Leary’s top two receiving targets, Tayvion Robinson and Barion Brown, left the Florida game in the second half with injuries. Their status is up in the air. Some younger receivers may need to step up, but the Wildcats are going to need more out of their passing game as they tackle an October stretch that includes Georgia on the road and then Missouri and Tennessee at home. — Chris Low
Missouri: The short version for why Mizzou is 5-0 is simple: Brady Cook to Luther Burden III. But here’s the longer version. The Tigers began the season with wins over South Dakota and MTSU, but the offense disappointed terribly in the process. The Tigers averaged 4.9 yards per play against MTSU, worse than Murray State (5.7) and everyone else on the Blue Raiders’ schedule, and a couple of fourth-and-short punts both revealed Eliah Drinkwitz’s general lack of confidence and nearly proved costly in the 23-19 win. But the frustration emanating from that evidently lit a fire. The Tigers scored at least 30 points in wins over Kansas State, Memphis and Vanderbilt — all teams better than MTSU — in recent weeks. And Cook has been one of the best QBs in the country in the process, averaging 364 passing yards per game with eight TDs. He’s set an SEC record for consecutive passes without an interception, and he’s thriving both because of Burden, the nation’s leading receiver, and because other targets like Theo Wease (118 yards vs. Vanderbilt) have begun to thrive. The Tigers’ defense is still a top-30 or so unit, and suddenly the offense is dynamite. And now they return home to host an LSU team that is equal parts dangerous and flawed. — Bill Connelly
Washington State: With half the Pac-12 ranked in the top 18 of the AP poll, the Cougars remain under the radar despite climbing from unranked to No. 13. Yet, when laying out the best wins by Pac-12 teams, it’s the Cougars — Wisconsin, Oregon State — who stand out. Both of those win margins were by single digits, but WSU controlled both games and has impressed on both sides of the ball. There is a lot of credit to spread around, but it begins with quarterback Cam Ward. In new offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle’s offense, Ward has made significant strides to become one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He’s accurate, he makes good decisions, and he’s playing with a general sense of calm that evaded him at times last year. Plus, the additions of Josh Kelly and Kyle Williams at receiver have given him a deep, talent group of receivers, joining Lincoln Victor. This is a team without a major problem area, which makes it a tough out each week. — Kyle Bonagura
QB battles: Who has the better day?
It might be easy to pick Plummer based on what happened last season alone. Hartman, playing for Wake Forest, had the worst game of his career at Louisville — throwing three interceptions, losing three fumbles and taking seven sacks in a 48-21 loss. He was benched to start the fourth quarter in a game Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson called a “disaster.” But Hartman is in a different spot now with the Irish — and a different offense that is not asking him to put as much on his shoulders as he did at Wake. His late-game heroics last week against Duke led Notre Dame to a 21-14 comeback victory. Meanwhile, Plummer faced all sorts of pressure from the NC State defense a week ago and did not play his best game, throwing two interceptions and getting sacked four times. Expect Notre Dame to bring the same type of pressure as NC State did, and Hartman to have a much better performance than a year ago. — Adelson
Gabriel notably missed this game last year due to a concussion, leading to disaster for Oklahoma. Five different players attempted a pass, including two running backs and a punter, as the Sooners managed just 39 passing yards in a historic 49-0 blowout loss, the worst in any game in school history. But this season, he’s leading the Big 12 in QBR, with Ewers second. Gabriel is third nationally with eight completions of 40 or more yards, while Ewers has been inconsistent on deep balls, though he’s improved in that area. Both defenses have taken huge steps this season, but Gabriel has been more consistent and will be asked to do more. In what could end up as another Texas-OU shootout, Gabriel likely will have the better numbers. — Dave Wilson
McCord finished the Notre Dame game on an encouraging note, but Tagovailoa had five touchdown passes last week and eight in his first two Big Ten games. Maryland’s receiving corps doesn’t generate the attention Ohio State’s does, but there’s real depth with Tai Felton and West Virginia transfer Kaden Prather emerging alongside Jeshaun Jones. “Very similar to when I was at Alabama, I had [Henry] Ruggs and [Jerry] Jeudy] and [Jaylen] Waddle and Smitty [DeVonta Smith],” Terrapins coach Mike Locksley told me. “Your offense is more dynamic when the ball is spread around.” — Adam Rittenberg
Leary, who passed for 6,807 yards during his career at NC State, is due for a breakout game. He’s thrown 10 touchdown passes and five interceptions in his first five outings for Kentucky, which really hasn’t needed to throw the ball much. The Wildcats could be short-handed at receiver with Tayvion Robinson and Barion Brown both being banged up, and that won’t help matters against a Georgia defense that has already intercepted eight passes and is tied for third nationally in allowing just 4.8 yards per pass attempt. Carson Beck, in his first season as Georgia’s starter, is completing 72 percent of his passes and averaging right at 300 passing yards per game. The Bulldogs got star tight end Brock Bowers going in the win over Auburn last week, and that’s a connection that gives Beck (and any quarterback) the edge. — Low
Billy Napier: The Florida coach was blunt when it came to assessing his team’s 33-14 drubbing by Kentucky.
“There is no sugarcoating this thing. We have no excuse. We can coach better and we can play better. Hopefully, we will do that.”
Deion Sanders: There’s no question that celebrity has surrounded the Buffaloes, and the coach was more than happy to help Snoop Dogg deliver a message to Omarion Miller, who caught seven passes for 196 yards in Colorado’s Week 5 loss to USC.
“A dear friend called me and summoned me to get him on the phone to FaceTime. [He] wanted to talk to him and wanted to let him know that he has a tremendous gift. I don’t know what the conversation was, but I know I just handed him the phone. I said, ‘Somebody wants to talk to you.’ He looked at the phone like, ‘Oh my god.’ Yeah, it was Snoop. Snoop wanted to talk to [Miller]. He wanted to challenge him.”
Dave Clawson: The Wake Forest coach, whose team plays at Clemson on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network), hasn’t forgotten last year’s 2OT loss to the Tigers.
“There are certain games in your career you never, ever get over. That’s one of them. When I’m on my deathbed, that game will still bother me. Hopefully, our players feel the same way.”