A New Heisman Contender, Ohio State Resurgence, and More Takeaways in Week 5

The number 1 and 2 college football teams in the country look stronger than ever, while three other top-10 teams lost.

Our reporters are trying to understand what happened in Week 5 of the college football season and what to look forward to.

The great wide gorge

The story around college football, at least in some places, is that the sport gets boring with the same teams winning over and over. Something says we’ll be hearing more of that as Alabama and Georgia keep steaming everyone. The chances of those two schools playing in the SEC championship game and then turning around and playing again in the College Football Playoff are real. Very real. About as real as the fact that those two schools are investing tons of resources and then reinvesting even more resources into their football programs.

But don’t blame Alabama and Georgia or any of the regular College Football Playoff players for the sport getting supposedly boring every year. Blame the conferences for not bearing their weight.

We’re not even halfway through October here (again), and the Pac-12 seems to be looking from the outside in when it comes to the playoff. Oregon’s overtime loss to Stanford on Saturday was crushing for the league, and there are no more undefeated in the Alliance’s ‘West Coast division’. Of course, the sport is more fun when USC is elite, and for that matter, even just relevant. But it’s up to everyone to catch up.

Let’s not forget that the goal when we went into the playoffs was to bring in the best four teams and not the best four teams from every part of the country.

Who knows? Maybe there will be new blood this year. If Cincinnati goes undefeated and doesn’t come in, it’s safe to say that a Group 5 team will never make it to the playoff in a four-team format. — Chris Low

It’s time to pay attention to the state of Ohio again

Penn State, Iowa and Michigan have stolen the spotlight since the Buckeyes lost to Oregon in Week 2, but while everyone has been arguing about whether Penn State or Iowa deserves to be ranked higher, the Buckeyes are quietly starting to seem capable to beat them both.

“These were tough times here, but we’ve grown through it,” said coach Ryan Day after beating Rutgers 52-13. “We weren’t panicked, and we could have a good team in that as we go into October, November.”

That’s exactly when it matters most.

Quarterback CJ Stroud threw five touchdown passes and no interceptions after missing a game with a shoulder injury. The Buckeyes found their offensive groove, scoring on their first six possessions against Rutgers, and the defense got stuck on a pick six. It was arguably the most complete game they’ve played, and while the competition will get tougher, Ohio State seems more prepared for it.

Ohio State currently generates more offense than Penn State, Iowa, and Cincinnati, averaging 555.6 yards per game, 39.4 points per game, and 8.57 yards per game.

According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, Ohio State still has the best chance of making the Big Ten (37%), followed by Iowa (31%), Michigan (17%) and Penn State (8%). The Buckeyes are also still favorites to win the Big Ten East (51%), followed by Michigan (26%). There are plenty of opportunities for the state of Ohio to make up for the loss to Oregon, and right now ESPN’s Football Power Index is projecting the Buckeyes will win them all. — Heather Dinich

Pitt’s QB turns heads

Before the season kicked off, the preseason buzz at quarterback in the ACC focused on North Carolina’s Sam Howell—so much so that Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi wondered if everyone had forgotten his veteran returning quarterback, Kenny Pickett.

Five weeks into the season, Pickett makes sure no one forgets. In Saturday’s 52-21 win over Georgia Tech, Pickett threw for 389 yards and four touchdowns, putting himself in some pretty elite company. In his last three games, Pickett has thrown 15 touchdown passes, breaking Dan Marino’s school record for most TD passes in three games (13 in 1981).

Additionally, Pickett has thrown at least four touchdown passes in three consecutive games, the longest streak by an ACC quarterback since Russell Wilson did it for NC State in 2009. Pickett ranks in the top five in the nation in seven different statistical categories, including passing yards per game (346.2), pass efficiency, passing yards (1,731), passing touchdowns (19), total offense (374.6 YPG), total QBR and touchdowns responsible for (21). Oh, and he only has one interception.

Pickett made the decision to return to Pitt instead of entering the NFL draw. As it stands, Pitt (4-1) is the current ESPN FPI favorite to win the ACC. The biggest reason is Pickett and the offense. Pitt has now scored more than 40 points in five consecutive games, a first in school history.

“This is what I expected to come back and do,” Pickett said in a telephone interview with ESPN on the team bus after the game. “I thought this would be the most talented, most experienced team I would be part of, and it showed. All the work we’ve put into it is paying off, so we have to keep going.”

After Georgia Tech’s win, Narduzzi mentioned the H-word when discussing his quarterback with reporters.

“He should be a Heisman candidate,” Narduzzi said. “It is what he is now. The man is so smooth, he is so calm. … He is a smart footballer and it takes time to get that where you want it. He put in the work and he deserves what he’s getting right now.”

Pitt hasn’t had a Heisman-caliber player since Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. When asked if he deserved to be in the Heisman conversation, Pickett chuckled.

“You can figure that out,” Pickett said, referring to the media. “I’ll just keep playing. We still have seven games to go. I want a championship. That’s why I came back.” -Andrea Adelson

Cincinnati’s CFP hopes likely rest on Ridder’s shoulders

Desmond Ridder was not Cincinnati’s best player in Saturday’s win at Notre Dame. If the Bearcats’ signature defense hadn’t made three first-half turnovers, Cincinnati wouldn’t have had the comfortable lead it enjoyed most of the afternoon. But the Knight-led touchdown drive in the fourth quarter and the way Coach Luke Fickell spoke of the senior quarterback after the game made it clear who will lead Cincinnati the rest of the way.

If Cincinnati becomes the first Group 5 team to make it to the CFP, Ridder will be the reason.

“They made it very difficult for him all day,” Fickell said of Notre Dame. “They did a really good job taking out Des and his run game. But he’s just really hard to stop. He’s just so consistent. He keeps working, and if there’s an inch, he’ll find it. That’s the kind of leader we want in this program.

“We feed on him.”

Knight thrives with the deeppass game orchestrated by quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Gino Guidugli. He was good for 201 of his 297 passing yards Saturday on just six completions.

Cincinnati’s run game is average (4.5 yards per carry) and the team converts just 31% of its chances of a third down. The offense can be more efficient, which ultimately falls to the starting fourth-year quarterback. Ridder accepts the challenge.

“Sometimes the team needs a vote,” Ridder said. “People say it has to be the quarterback. It doesn’t have to be the quarterback. That’s just who I’ve been as a person and I’m proud to be the leader of this team, and just keep leading them to victory. ” –Adam Rittenberg

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