Is USC a true College Football Playoff contender, has the SEC taken a step back?

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SEC teams have won the last four CFP national championships. Is that streak in danger? Chris Vannini joins us today with more.

Here’s what happened in college football on Saturday.

Did Trojans Blow It … In A Win?

Is USC a true CFP contender?

USC beat Colorado 48-41 in a game that ended much closer than it should have. Caleb Williams had 403 passing yards and matched a career-high with six TDs, yet his team had to hold off unranked Colorado. As our Antonio Morales writes, “It’s extremely difficult to view USC as a legitimate College Football Playoff contender because of its defense.” Just look at how this game played out:

  • USC had a 20-point halftime lead and led 48-21 in the third quarter. The Trojans then allowed the Buffaloes to score 20 unanswered points.
  • USC surrendered eight plays of 20-plus yards.
  • Colorado entered the game ranked last in the Pac-12 with 1.9 yards per carry and 55.8 rushing yards per game. The Buffs ran for 193 yards on 45 carries (a 4.3-yard average) on Saturday.

The Trojans dropped in the rankings last week after a slow start against Arizona State. Saturday’s performance won’t inspire much more confidence … especially as more explosive Pac-12 offenses await.

Scores Across The Country

Ole Miss-LSU shootout steals the show

Ole Miss-LSU was the game of the day. The Rebels scored the go-ahead TD with 39 seconds left, but their win wasn’t guaranteed until they got a defensive stop. The teams combined for 1,300-plus yards of total offense as Lane Kiffin walked away with his biggest Ole Miss win to date, 55-49.

Georgia should be extra thankful for Brock Bowers after he bailed out the Bulldogs in a close call against Auburn to win 27-20. The game was tied at halftime, and Georgia allowed third-quarter points for the first time this season. Auburn scored 14 points off Georgia’s turnovers. But Bowers had the game-winning catch-and-run with less than three minutes to play. As Seth Emerson writes, always get the ball to Bowers.

Notre Dame escaped 21-14 at Duke after the Blue Devils led late. Riley Leonard suffered an apparent leg injury during the final seconds and was using crutches as he exited the medical tent after the game, where Sam Hartman was waiting.

Michigan safely handled Nebraska 45-7 in the Wolverines’ first road trip. Michigan was 5-for-5 in the red zone, and J.J. McCarthy looked comfortable in his 156-yard, two-touchdown performance.

Penn State’s first-half performance in Evanston was its worst of the season. The game was tied at halftime before Penn State woke up and beat Northwestern 41-13. Is it time to be worried? Audrey Snyder says not yet.

It was a bummer for Kansas to play Texas without starting QB Jalon Daniels, but the Jayhawks didn’t go down without a fight. Kansas’ Cornell Wheeler intercepted Quinn Ewers to snap the second-longest streak without an interception in Texas history at 245. The Longhorns outscored Kansas 27-7 in the second half for a 40-14 win. It wasn’t perfect for the No. 3 team, but that’s OK, our Sam Khan Jr. writes.

Iowa QB Cade McNamara went down with a lower-body injury in the first quarter against Michigan State. Sophomore Deacon Hill stepped in as the Hawkeyes won 26-16.

Florida took a big step back in its 33-14 loss at Kentucky. Wildcats RB Ray Davis rushed for 280 yards, second to LSU’s Tye Davis-Price for the most-ever against the Gators and third-most in Kentucky history. The sloppy Gators committed 10 penalties for 86 yards.

Through Week 5, three SEC teams remain undefeated, including two you probably wouldn’t expect. Should CFB’s most dominant conference be worried? Let’s ask Chris Vannini.

SEC Takes Step Back

Will it matter?

Five weeks into the season, it’s clear the SEC is not nearly as good as it has been for the past decade-plus of national championships. That doesn’t mean the league won’t finish with another natty at the end of the year, but this league really lacks the elite play it has had in recent years, especially at quarterback.

Georgia escaped against an Auburn team that can’t do anything in the passing game, coming back for a seven-point win. LSU, a Playoff dark-horse pick, already has two losses after its six-point defeat at Ole Miss. Alabama has a loss to Texas and an embarrassing performance against USF. Texas A&M was blown out by Miami (Fla.) a few weeks ago. Florida got bullied by Kentucky and has two losses. Tennessee lost to that Florida team. South Carolina got pushed around by North Carolina.

The only SEC teams that look better than anticipated are Missouri and Kentucky, both 5-0. The SEC’s two best nonconference wins belong to Mizzou, which beat Kansas State and Memphis. You maybe could include Ole Miss’ win against Tulane’s backup quarterback. Maybe Georgia or Alabama can figure things out and win it all again, but we can admit this league is really down compared to its high standard. — Chris Vannini

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Roman Wilson, right, made this touchdown catch Saturday against Nebraska. (Steven Branscombe / Getty Images)

Saturday Superlatives

Big plays in big moments

Best TD catch: Michigan’s Roman Wilson caught this 29-yard TD by reaching over Isaac Gifford’s helmet and bringing the Nebraska defender down with him.

Best TD run: Kansas’ first TD against Texas came amid chaos. QB Jason Bean ran the ball 25 yards and fumbled, but the ball bounced right to Daniel Hishaw Jr., who finished off the TD.

Best comeback: Baylor completed the largest comeback in program history to beat UCF 36-35. The Bears trailed 21-0 in the first nine minutes and 35-7 midway through the third quarter. This scoop-and-score TD really made this comeback start to look realistic.

Most chaotic play: UCF QB Timmy McClain scrambled 30 yards back to the end zone and still completed a first-down pass.

Max Olson has more superlatives here.

Quick Snaps

Stewart Mandel’s Final Thoughts take a look at a wide-open championship race.

Michigan made a big statement in Nicole Auerbach’s top 10.

David Ubben and Ari Wasserman break down everything they saw Saturday on our Until Saturday podcast.

The Athletic’s CFB staff reacts to Saturday’s biggest results.

With its magic wearing off, where will Colorado turn? David Ubben details the Buffs’ outlook.

Caleb Williams threw his first INT of the season against Colorado, but he still has a strong grip on the No. 1 spot in the 2024 NFL Draft class.

(Top photo of Lincoln Riley: Dustin Bradford / Getty Images)

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