As the 2023 college football season nears its midway point, Week 5 delivered another exciting slate of games. It saw three top-10 teams get pushed to the brink by unranked competition, including top-ranked Georgia needing a last-second defensive stand to get by a very game Auburn squad.
No. 7 Washington was a heavy favorite against an Arizona team down its starting quarterback, but the Huskies had to make a late stop of their own in a narrow 31-24 win. Eighth-ranked USC led 48-27 entering the fourth quarter of its game against Colorado but took its foot off the gas offensively. The Trojans didn't score in the final 15 minutes, while Colorado found its footing and rode a 14-point surge to a near upset.
Just outside the top 10, No. 11 Notre Dame held off No. 17 Duke, thanks to a 30-yard touchdown run with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The biggest upset was No. 20 Ole Miss knocking off No. 13 LSU in a game that saw 104 points -- the highest-scoring FBS game yet -- and over 1,300 total yards of offense between the two teams.
Even though none of these results will cause a major shift on the college football landscape, there's still plenty to unpack after what could have been a seismic day.
This season is as wide open as we've seen in a while
For the first time in what seems like an eternity, there isn't one team clearly pulling away from the rest of the pack. Georgia is No. 1, and should be until someone finally beats it, but the Bulldogs look more fallible than they have at any point during their recent run. Washington was on an absolute tear before it struggled with Arizona's backup quarterback Saturday, raising some red flags.
Texas is taking care of business, though the offense has had some concerning lulls that could hurt the Longhorns against elite competition. Ohio State and Michigan have both had some lackluster performances this year. This could go on. Every early playoff competitor has its flaws.
That's a good thing. College football is better when parity is high. It's fitting that, in the last year of its current format, the race is more exciting than it has been since the College Football Playoff's early days.
Lincoln Riley needs to get serious about his defensive staff
It's hard to believe that Riley watched his USC defense surrender 41 points and 560 yards against a Colorado team that couldn't even move the ball against Oregon's starting lineup and thought "Yeah, that's okay." But that's the impression he gave during his postgame press conference, where he refused to admit that his team has the same defensive issues it has always had with Alex Grinch as the coordinator.
It's a shame that what should be a special USC team, led by one of the best quarterback prospects we've ever seen in Caleb Williams, is doomed to fail because of its coach's blind faith in an assistant that has never delivered. It wasn't just Saturday. Grinch has been the one thing holding Riley's teams back since the two first teamed up at Oklahoma in 2019.
With the likes of Washington and Oregon on the schedule, things aren't going to get better. Making a midseason change won't matter at this point either. That was a decision that needed to be made several months ago, before USC's Pac-12 hopes hinged on a miraculous turnaround.
Brock Bowers is a Heisman Trophy finalist
Brock Bowers is the best non-quarterback in college football. That statement isn't open for debate. It should take something disastrous -- knock on wood -- to keep him from reaching New York as a Heisman finalist at the end of the year.
It's hard to find a single player, outside of the aforementioned Williams, that consistently has a bigger impact on his team. Georgia can feel confident in any deficit it faces so long as Bowers is on the field. Just watch the Auburn game.
He singlehandedly willed the Bulldogs to victory in the fourth quarter, hauling in 130 receiving yards over the final 15 minutes. That included a decisive 40-yard touchdown catch-and-run in which he showcased a rare brand of speed for a 240 pounder.
TCU at a crossroads
No one thought TCU would be as good this season. The Horned Frogs shocked with a Cinderella run to the College Football Playoff national championship in Sonny Dykes' first year and then lost almost every standout player that got them to that point. Regression was obvious, but it was hard to foresee things going this bad.
The Horned Frogs fell against West Virginia, a team that likely wanted nothing more than a reason to fire its coach entering the 2023 season. That marked TCU's second loss of the season at home as a 14-point favorite, following a season-opening setback against Colorado. This is Dykes' real test. What the program does from this moment sets the tone for the rest of his tenure.
Saturday cost us a potentially special run
Duke lost more than just a game Saturday night; the Blue Devils may have seen their hopes for a truly special season fade away. Mike Elko's squad had a 14-13 lead late in the fourth quarter, but that evaporated when Irish running back Audric Estime plowed through defenders for a 30-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left.
Then, on Duke's final offensive play of the night, quarterback Riley Leonard was pressured by Howard Cross III, who got a hand on the ball and forced a fumble. As Cross fell to the turf, he landed on Leonard's right leg, bending it at an awkward angle. Leonard stayed down on the turf for a while, the pain apparent on his face. He couldn't put any weight on his right foot as trainers helped him off.
He came out of the medical tent on crutches after the game, refusing a cart to the locker room. The severity of the injury is unknown. It's possible he comes back at some point this year. If he does so soon, this is (fortunately) a moot point. There's no denying any time he's gone is a huge blow for a Duke team that seemed ready to make a run at the ACC championship for the first time since 2013. Now their outlook, for the foreseeable future, hinges on redshirt freshman Henry Belin IV.