5 Breakout Freshman
Drake Maye -North Carolina A loss to Notre Dame proved why the Tar Heels were America’s most frustrating 3-0 team, as they pair a top-10 offense with a bottom-10 defense. Maye helms the better half, where a freshman actually leads UNC in passing, rushing and receiving. With preseason All-American Josh Downs returning out wide, the chances are very real for Maye to improve on 307 yards passing per game and a national-high 16 touchdowns. The only thing that might slow him down is his coaches getting heated about another NC State joke in front of the media (it wasn’t that good a burn and no one should care but whatever).
Nicholas Singleton – Penn St It’s actually a lot harder than it might seem to live up to 5-star status on the recruiting trail when a player goes from Fridays to Saturdays. No such problems for Singleton the last 3 weeks, piling up 345 yards and 4 touchdowns in wins over Ohio, Central Michigan and Auburn.
Ja’Lynn Polk – Washington Taking the top off of defenses is quickly becoming a Husky specialty. When Michael Penix Jr looked deep against Michigan State 2 weeks ago, Polk was the chief recipient with 6 catches for 153 yards and 3 TDs.
Roman Hemby – Maryland You expected the Terps to throw the ball for big yards this season with Taulia Tagovailoa, Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus and Jeshaun Jones back. You probably didn’t see the run game complimenting that passing prowess. Yet, here comes the Turtles, averaging almost 174 yards per game on the ground. Hemby is one part why, averaging 7 yards per rush on 48 carries.
Quinshon Judkins – Ole Miss Zach Evans is the highly-touted transfer with All-American talent. Ulysses Bentley IV is the hammer at the goal line. But nothing seems to indicate more that the Rebels have transformed into a run-first team than a backup who might be the best of the bunch. It’s not a Lendale White-Reggie Bush dynamic yet, but the 220-pound Judkins is definitely the thunder to Evans’ lighting, racking up 429 yards and 5 scores on 70 carries and coming off his best game of the season (170 yds, 2 TD) against Tulsa.
5 Instant-Impact Transfers
Jordan Addison – USC Shocking, I know, but last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner is still very good. Stanford was the spectacle (7 catches, 172 yards, 2 TD), but he’s been solid and steady by averaging nearly 12 yards per catch in the wins over Rice, Fresno State and Oregon State.
Michael Penix Jr – Washington When healthy at Indiana, Penix did some spectacular things. After torching Michigan State and passing for at least 300 yards for a fourth straight week in the win over Stanford, it looks like the new Huskies quarterback is, at the very least, physically in a good place.
Charlie Jones – Purdue Another example of what happens if you run as fast as possible away from the team that doesn’t throw the ball and right to the nearest one that does. Jones had at least 130 yards receiving in the first 3 games; already has 20 more receptions than he had all of 2021 at Iowa; and owns the second-most receiving yards and touchdowns of any player in the country. Now if only the Boilermakers hadn’t choked away fourth-quarter leads against Penn State and Syracuse (and nearly lost to FAU).
Bo Nix – Oregon Listen carefully, children: Georgia is going to win the national championship, and there is nothing we can do about it. There is no use trying to discern anything from how a person or team plays against them. The Ducks and their new QB are the best example of this policy. The Bad Bo that went 0-3 against UGA while at Auburn showed up in Week One. But not only are the ‘Dawgs going to make everyone look like that; since that trip to Atlanta, it’s been all Good Bo. The senior threw almost as many touchdowns (7) as incompletions (10) in wins over Eastern Washington and BYU. And then came the masterstroke against Washington State, going absolutely nuts in a fourth-quarter comeback (423 yds, 3 TD). Getting closer to reckoning with Round 2 versus Georgia as a reality.
John Rhys Plumlee/Isaiah Bowser – UCF Other than a puzzling trip-up against Louisville, the transfer portal has allowed Gus Malzahn to duplicate his 2013 Auburn offense to perfection. The former Ole Miss quarterback and Northwestern running back are playing the parts of Nick Marshall and Trey Mason, with both carrying the ball 69 times already but still combining to average better than 4.5 yards per rush and score 9 touchdowns.
5 Large Humans to Watch this Week
Desmond Watson – Florida Having a 400-pound defensive tackle should be a good thing. But it hasn’t been the Jordan Davis effect yet for the Gators. If anything, he’s missing even more snaps than Davis did. UF defense needs him on the field more.
John Michael Schmitz – Minnesota The Golden Gophers are running at will, averaging almost 294 yards per game on the ground. The Rimington Award candidate is leading that charge, but it’s also good to see 4 new starters on the offensive line are paving over opponents.
Brandon Dorlus – Oregon Losing Kayvon Thibodeaux didn’t end up being a massive blow because of deep talent at linebacker and defensive back. That said, the Ducks have gotten plenty of help from the 290-pound junior, who is proving he’s more than just a good running mate to another elite defensive end.
Bryan Bresee – Clemson The preseason All-American keeps ending up in the backfield. Glad the Tiger sophomore was back after the tragic loss of his sister, and excited to see if his 305-pound frame can wreck NC State and Devin Leary.
Jalen Carter – Georgia While Mykel Williams and Jamon Dumas-Johnson have made more of the impact plays through the first 4 games, you have to figure at some point the consensus top NFL Draft prospect is going to have a big night. Even then, just watch him throw 300-pound lineman around like Wacky Wavy Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tube Men. He doesn’t have to pile up the tackles for loss and sacks to be entertaining.
5 Quarterbacks with Something to Prove this Week
Will Levis – Kentucky The Florida win has lost its luster, and thus the Wildcats are looking at Ole Miss as the first chance to validate their top-10 ranking. But the senior especially can make a statement. Chris Rodriguez Jr., last year’s leading rusher with 1,379 yards, is only just now coming back from suspension this week. In his absence, UK has become pass-heavy. Coaches have said it was a natural progression that they would throw more this year, with Levis around for a full offseason and looking to build on mild NFL Draft buzz. But, borne out of necessity, Levis has had to prove he can sling it. 1,185 yards and 10 touchdowns is pretty good work, and he saved his best game for last week in fending off a Northern Illinois upset (303 yds, 4 TD). If Rodriguez Jr. is slow out of the gates, Levis will have to prove it again against Ole Miss.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson – UCLA Not many people firmly believe that the Bruins’ 4-0 start means they are Pac-12 contenders, with 3 easy wins against overmatched opponents and a one-point escape against South Alabama, the best team on the schedule so far. Thompson-Robinson has been steady, throwing for 896 yards and running for another 170. The Bruins are thus averaging just over 8 yards per play when the senior either keeps the ball or passes it. DTR will likely need a similar pace to keep up with the conference’s hottest QB and team in Penix Jr and Washington.
Blake Shapen – Baylor The sophomore was spectacular in the first half of last season’s Big 12 Championship Game with 3 touchdown passes. He impressed more in the spring, winning the job from returning starter Gerry Bohanon and hastening his exit to USF. But the final numbers from that December game were ultimately just okay, averaging about 6 yards per attempt. Heading into the rematch with Oklahoma State, Shapen has been nothing more and nothing less than that: just okay. He’s coming off his best game of the season in the Iowa State win (238 yds, 9.2 YPA, 3 TD). But the Bears have mostly leaned on their ground game, averaging almost 207 yards rushing. If they struggle to establish the run, Shapen will have to prove he and a young group of receivers can sic ’em.
Spencer Sanders – Oklahoma State It’s not just the Baylor starter who can make some noise in Stillwater. Sanders fell under the “game manager” label during his first 3 seasons at OSU. Not so much in 2022, where he’s averaging 305 passing yards per game and has accounted for 13 total touchdowns. Other than giving up too many points to CMU in Week One, it’s been smooth sailing for the Cowboys, and a big part of that is Sanders and the offense kicking it up a notch from last season. That needs to continue in a crucial Big 12 showdown.
Kyle Vantrease – Georgia Southern It’s been shocking how Clay Helton showed up in Statesboro and took a team whose entire history is built around the triple option, then, not only changed the offense, but actually made them an extremely dangerous passing attack. The senior transfer from Buffalo has been a big part of making that unlikely swap work, piling up almost 1,300 yards through the air already (for reference, his career high last year was 1,861). Coastal Carolina looks more vulnerable than ever, meaning a huge win to start Sun Belt play is in the cards for the Eagles. Vantrease would do well to duplicate his efficiency against Ball State (completed 66.7% of pass attempts, 7.9 YPA, first game with no interceptions).
5 (or More) Stone-Cold Locks for Week Four
Utah State (+24) at #19 Brigham Young (O/U 59.5) This one’s here only to note that last year’s Mountain West champions are now one of FBS’ worst teams. Not a good look for Blake Anderson. BYU 42, Utah St 17
Tulane (+2.5) at Houston (O/U 54.5) It’s where we start to find out how real this fast start for the Green Wave is, as well as how poisoned the well might be at UH. The fact that the Cougars have done nothing but play close games or get blown out by Kansas(!!!) is not encouraging. But Willie Fritz Only Plays Bangers, and that means sometimes losing by three at home to a Southern Miss team that doesn’t always use a quarterback. True toss-up, but I feel like Dana Holgorsen was snorting mad enough this week to get conference play started right. Houston 31, Tulane 30
Texas-San Antonio (-4.5) at Middle Tennessee (O/U 63) The defending C-USA champs would have the best reputation in the Group of 5 if leads against Houston and Texas had held. Instead, it’s the Blue Raiders that everyone’s buzzing about after they averaged better than 25 yards per pass completion in the win over Miami. That is an absurd number that can’t possibly become a trend. MTSU quarterback Chase Cunningham was averaging better than 6 yards per attempt prior, so the Raiders can still throw it a bit. But not enough to beat what might be the best 2-loss team in the country. UTSA 45, Middle Tennessee 28
#15 Washington (-3) at California-Los Angeles (O/U 64.5) All the attention is on the Huskies’ offense, and for good reason, but Kalen DeBoer’s team is also 22nd in the nation in yards allowed. 2 spots ahead of them? The Bruins. Surprisingly good starts to the season on defense are at least a small part of why both teams are 4-0, so maybe be wary of the over. But the more explosive offense has been UW, and there will be enough big plays to get the job done. Washington 35, UCLA 31
Illinois (+7) at Wisconsin (O/U 43.5) How bad is it in Madison? We’re about to find out. Even if it’s ugly, just winning averts crisis. But if the Fighting Illini can get Chase Brown some room to run, one of the nation’s best backs might be all Bret Bielema needs to come into his old stomping grounds and get his current team to 4-1. The Badger offense appears crippled unless Braelon Allen runs for 200 yards every week. Not a formula for success. Illinois 20, Wisconsin 16
Navy (+14) at Air Force (O/U 37.5) And you thought the number on Iowa-Rutgers was small. This one deserves it as well, mostly because the Midshipmen are a shell of what they were a decade ago. If the Falcons hadn’t lost a rock fight in Wyoming, they’d be the Group of 5’s best team right now. Guess they’ll just have to settler for another Commander in Chief’s Trophy. Air Force 31, Navy 7
Temple (+19) at Memphis (O/U 50.5) Maybe the Tigers are the best team in the American. This week will not give us answers, but it will get them to 2-0 in conference play. Memphis 37, Temple 13
Texas Tech (+8) at #25 Kansas State (O/U 57) Don’t let the glitz and glamour of the Oklahoma win distract you from how recent a 17-14 loss at home was. The Wildcats are still very capable of grinding their gears on offense. Meanwhile, Joey McGuire has the Red Raiders in it every week. That might translate to an upset here. But I think, even if TTU plays well, they’ll come up short of a refocused K-State. Kansas St 31, Texas Tech 21
Purdue (+12.5) at #21 Minnesota (O/U 52) The most dominant team in the land not named Georgia wears maroon and gold. The Gophers are absolutely obliterating opponents, leading the nation in total defense and second in points allowed and rushing yards gained. If Aidan O’Connell plays and is relatively healthy, the Boilermakers can move the ball and make this interesting. But very little already seems to stand in the way of Ski-U-Mah’s first Big Ten West division title. Minnesota 35, Purdue 24
#4 Michigan (-11) at Iowa (O/U 42) At least Maryland posed a threat to the Wolverines last week and could follow through on that threat because they, ya know, score points. No such concerns in Iowa City for the Champions of the West. Michigan 38, Iowa 7
#18 Oklahoma (-6.5) at Texas Christian (O/U 69) Even while they wallow in the disappointment of yet another loss to Kansas State, we know the Sooners can move the ball and score points. There’s far more unknowns with the Horned Frogs, although Max Duggan has looked solid at QB and Derius Davis is a big play waiting to happen. Oklahoma 49, TCU 38
#7 Kentucky (+7) at #14 Mississippi (O/U 54) Chris Rodriguez Jr coming back will change the dynamic of this matchup. If you can pair a big day from the Wildcat star on the ground with the improvements in the passing game, UK can move it and keep up if a track meet ensues. While we have mentioned the Rebels running wild, and perhaps this is the week Jaxson Dart breaks out, the ‘Cats are the team that’s 17th in the nation in total defense; 11th in points allowed; and fifth in the SEC against the run. They’ll be the team to get more stops. Kentucky 34, Ole Miss 24
Oregon State (+10) at #12 Utah (O/U 54.5) Vegas doesn’t seem to realize that Saturday night’s near-upset of USC is not a fluke. Jonathan Smith has built the Beavers into a consistent tough out. The Utes have to figure out how to move the ball without Brant Kuithe. So far, that’s meant a lot of the other tight end, Dalton Kincaid. We’ll see if it’s enough to escape a proverbial (and literal) chainsaw Utah 28, Oregon St 24
Virginia Tech (+9) at North Carolina (O/U 52) The Vegas Airball of the Week. The Hokies are in shambles; the total and a Tar Heels cover can rocket up hand-in-hand. North Carolina 49, Virginia Tech 28
Iowa State (-3) at Kansas (O/U 59) Does the dream stay alive? Jalon Daniels feels like a problem for defenses that’s here to stay. As long as Xavier Hutchinson doesn’t have a monster day for the Cyclones, the Jayhawks have the better offense here. But the ‘Clones also have the better defense. Give me a KU cover at least, but winning the tougher of your first two Big 12 games seems too much. Now, if they do? We can start talking about WILD possibilities. But this is probably where tapering off back to 6-6 status (which is still a huge improvement!!!) begins. Iowa St 34, Kansas 33
Rutgers (+40.5) at #3 Ohio State (O/U 59) I do not doubt the Buckeyes’ prowess nor their ability to even remotely play with their food here. But Greg Schiano has made the Scarlet Knights, at the very least, competent. Feels too big a number to cover. Ohio St 52, Rutgers 17
Northwestern (-25.5) at #11 Pennsylvania State (O/U 51) Now, this number? Not high enough. Penn St 59, Northwestern 6
#22 Wake Forest (+7) at #23 Florida State (O/U 63.5) First of all, hope everyone in Florida stays safe this weekend as storms push through, and hopefully this game gets played. We are back to the days of a home-favorite FSU against a ranked opponent, which feels even longer-gone that when the Seminoles themselves would be ranked. Sam Hartman proved last week that, so long as his offensive line keeps him upright against teams with a fearsome pass rush, the Demon Deacons can score against anybody. The ‘Noles will have a tough time getting that rush into Hartman’s face if Jared Verse is still out, and that looks like it will be the case. That said, FSU is top 15 in the country running the ball, and the Deacs can’t stop a nose bleed. Feels like Jordan Travis could throw maybe 15 passes in this one and the Seminoles will be fine, either running to play keep-away from Wake or just because it can’t be stopped. Florida St 42, Wake Forest 38
#9 Oklahoma State (+2) at #16 Baylor (O/U 56.5) Feels like a toss-up again between these two, with last time being decided by literal inches. The Bears proved they hold up pretty well against a similar offense when they played BYU, but that night ended in a loss because they didn’t move the ball themselves. This is the first real test for the Cowboys, and keep in mind their defense has already allowed 44 points to Central Michigan. In the end, I always lean towards the team with more offensive playmakers. Not only are the Pokes the older team, they have more big-play guys. Oklahoma St 31, Baylor 30
#2 Alabama (-17) at #20 Arkansas (O/U 61) There’s something wrong with ‘Bama’s offense. It lacks skill players that explode off the tape. Bryce Young seems to be doing more heavy lifting than last year. It’s a good thing the Crimson Tide are only getting better on defense. Still, hammer that under. Alabama 31, Arkansas 17
Georgia Southern (+10.5) at Coastal Carolina (O/U 64) The hiccup to UAB is excusable. The reality is that Clay Helton has the Eagles winning right now. If there were ever a time for the Chanticleers to look like the juggernaut of 2020, it would be now. This one could end up determining the Sun Belt East winner, assuming the James Madison postseason ban holds. I’m shaky on it, but give me Grayson McCall to make one more play. Coastal Carolina 45, Georgia Southern 41
#17 Texas Agriculture & Medicine (+4) at Mississippi State (O/U 45) Now here’s a game where Vegas is paying attention. This trip never goes well for the Aggies, even in a win. Now you’re telling me a team that can barely score 23 points is going up against Will Rogers and his 37 PPG and is going to come out a winner? No thanks. Mississippi St 38, Texas A&M 21
California (+4) at Washington State (O/U 53.5) Who’s 3-1 start is more real? The Cougs very well should be 4-0 and have played Wisconsin and Oregon tough. That feels more tangible, and that’s before you realize the best opponent the Golden Bears have played is Notre Dame [shudders] Wazzu 38, Cal 28
Louisiana State (-8) at Auburn (O/U 46) [Mad cackling] BOY, SURE HOPE SOMETHING STUPID DOESN’T HAPPEN HERE, HOPE EVERYBODY STAYS LEVEL-HEADED AND DOESN’T RUSH INTO ANY CONCLUSIONS. LSU 28, Auburn 21
Cincinnati (-9.5) at Tulsa (O/U 58.5) Sneaky tough for the Bearcats if Desmond Ridder were still at quarterback. Outright tough these days. Thank goodness Ben Bryant is working with a surprisingly deep group of skill players. Cincinnati 34, Tulsa 28
Indiana (+5) at Nebraska (O/U 60) If it somehow gets worse for the Huskers, you’ll know because the team who least feels like their 3-1 record comes into Memorial Stadium and wins a night game. And, well, it’s not like things in Lincoln are getting better. Nebraska 28, Indiana 27
Virginia (+3) at Duke (O/U 52) The Blue Devils are also a team that doesn’t feel 3-1, yet here we are. The Cavaliers feel like a team that frittered away a chance to start ACC play strong with the Syracuse loss. Brennan Armstrong and Keytaon Thompson will make enough big plays. Virginia 34, Duke 21
#1 Georgia (-28) at Missouri (O/U 54) [sighs] Who keeps asking for this Georgia 52, Mizzou 14
West Virginia (+9.5) at Texas (O/U 62.5) A low-key Anxiety Bowl. Everything was going wrong in Morgantown until the Mountaineers dismantled Virginia Tech, and most things were going right in Austin until they lost in overtime at Texas Tech. Now, the loser is 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big 12. The Longhorns have the better team and therefore can’t afford defeat. Texas 38, West Virginia 21
Stanford (+17) at Oregon (O/U 64) Are the Ducks truly back unless they squander a home game to the Cardinal? Maybe Bad Bo shows up and it’s a sloppy first half, but David Shaw’s team is not stingy enough on defense for the Good Bo we’ve seen most of the year to completely disappear. Oregon 45, Stanford 20
Colorado (+17.5) at Arizona (O/U 57) This one’s here because the Buffs are historically bad. Being that big an underdog to a team that might not go bowling is a good example. Arizona 38, Colorado 14
Arizona State (+25) at #6 Southern California (O/U 60.5) Herm Edwards getting fired doesn’t make the Sun Devils immediately competent. The line can only go higher. USC 59, Arizona St 21
Southen Methodist (+3) at Central Florida (O/U 64.5) Wednesday football that isn’t #MACtion due to the hurricane, but that shouldn’t keep the offenses in check. The Knights are third in the American and 19th in the nation against the pass, which is what the Mustangs will look to do first and foremost. But the Ponies give up over 180 rushing yards per game. Both teams will score, but only one gets enough stops. UCF 45, SMU 38
#10 North Carolina State (+6.5) at #5 Clemson (O/U 42.5) The big one Saturday night basically boils down to 2 things: how often is Devin Leary on his backside, and was DJ Uiagalelei’s brilliant performance against Wake Forest sustainable. If the answer is yes on both, the Tigers are back to running the ACC. The likely outcome to many is a yes on Question One. But let’s say Question Two is the lone true answer and Leary avoids the pass rush. Clemson’s back end has not been overwhelmingly impressive to start this season, and the Wolfpack have weapons aplenty, headlined by Devin Carter and Thayer Thomas. The Pack’s problems protecting Leary through the first 4 games don’t bode well, but, while it will keep the boys from Raleigh from winning, I think Leary makes enough plays to make it entertaining. Clemson 28, NC St 27