It’s been an interesting week of college football, with several top-25 matchups and a couple of upsets, and we’re starting to get an idea of which teams are legitimate competitors for a national title and which are not. Here are the winners and losers from Week 6 of college football:
Winner: North Carolina
Who would have thought that just three games into the season the North Carolina Tar Heels would crack the top five in the AP Poll? Facing their toughest game of the season last week against then 19th-ranked Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels (3-0, 3-0 ACC) exploded on offense, putting up 56 points and gaining nearly 700 yards through four quarters. Sophomore quarterback Sam Howell had a solid outing, throwing for 257 yards and three touchdowns on just 23 attempts, and the Tar Heels’ ground game dominated the match, combining for 399 yards and five touchdowns. UNC didn’t have a flawless performance defensively, but if the first three games of the season are any evidence, the defense doesn’t need to be flawless. For the next few weeks, the Tar Heels’ schedule is pretty simple, so don’t be surprised if they remain undefeated a month from now and remain in the top five.
For the first time in nine years, the defending national champion has slipped out of the AP Top 25. This happened after the LSU Tigers (1-2, 1-2 SEC) lost a close, back-and-forth game against unranked Missouri. Once again, LSU’s offense was not the problem, as it scored more than 30 points as per usual. But for the second time this season, the Tigers conceded more than 40 points in defeat, this time to a team that had previously been winless. Nobody can be surprised that LSU has taken a step back this season, given how many players it lost in the offseason. But, to fall twice in three games to two currently unranked teams is a steeper fall than what was expected. LSU still has Auburn, Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M to play this season, and it seems that the Tigers may have to win one or two of those games just to reach a .500 record this season. Not what Ed Orgeron wanted from his team this season.
I mentioned last week that the ACC has increased in competitiveness this season, with the Tar Heels, No. 13 Miami (FL) and No. 4 Notre Dame all posing credible challenges to No. 1 Clemson’s domination of the conference. Well, the Tigers (4-0, 3-0 ACC) faced their first big challenge from one of these programs last week when they hosted the Hurricanes, and Clemson calmly dispatched them without much difficulty. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables once again put in place an effective game plan, stifling the Miami offense and electric redshirt senior quarterback D’Eriq King. Junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence was as effective as ever on the other side of the football, connecting on 29 of 41 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns — not to mention, he also ran for a TD. I never really expected Clemson to fall short of another ACC title this season, but perhaps the Tigers will have an easier time of it than expected.
I held high hopes for Florida this season. Prior to the season starting, I thought they would beat Georgia and secure a spot in the College Football Playoff (CFP). But the Gators’ loss last week to No. 21 Texas A&M has me rethinking my optimistic outlook for them. Obviously, nothing is certain in a conference as tough as the SEC, but it seemed that Florida’s schedule was favorable enough that it could have gone undefeated heading into the SEC Championship Game. Had the Gators (2-1, 2-1 SEC) made it there, even a close loss to Alabama should have been enough to send them through to the CFP. Now that they have a loss, however, they’ll have to beat both No. 3 Georgia and likely No. 2 Alabama in order to make it to the CFP — an extremely difficult task. To succeed in the SEC, a conference with so many top-tier teams, it is imperative that you beat the teams that are inferior to you, and No. 10 Florida failed to do so. The Gators’ path toward CFP contention is now much harder because of that.