Welcome to October, college football fans. This is the month when conference play heats up, and the matchups become all the more intense. This weekend promises to be among the best in 2021.
The Week 5 slate features five clashes of ranked opponents, three of those in one conference (you can probably guess which one). Saturday’s menu also includes a pivotal non-conference battle of Top-10 playoff hopefuls as well as yet another Big 12 contest with sneaky-good potential.
As always, there almost certainly will be other games capable of producing tight finishes and surprising outcomes, but here are the top five, submitted for your viewing approval.
No. 12 Mississippi at No. 1 Alabama
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Why watch: At the start of the season, we figured upon at least one Top 25 showdown in the SEC on this date. As it turns out, there are three, headlined by this clash of QBs in the midst of the early Heisman picture. We can’t promise another 63-48 track meet like last year’s meeting in Oxford, but there still will be a bright spotlight on the matchup of signal-callers. Both teams should be sharp as the Crimson Tide are coming off essentially a tune-up against Southern Mississippi, while the Rebels had the week off.
Ole Miss triggerman Matt Corral has eclipsed the 1,000-yard passing mark in just three games and has yet to throw an interception in 2021. His primary weapons are WRs Dontario Drummond and Jonathan Mingo as well as RB Jerrion Ealy. Alabama’s Bryce Young was picked for the first time last week but also has 15 scoring throws.
All-purpose threat Jameson Williams provides a constant breakaway threat, but the Tide passing game is also making more use of the TE position this season, with Jahleel Billingsley and Cameron Latu combining for six TD grabs.
Why it could disappoint: During the Nick Saban era in Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s most elite teams have been able to impose their will on the ground. This group wasn’t able to do it in Gainesville a couple of weeks ago and it nearly proved costly as Florida mounted a rally that fell two points short, but it might manage it this week. Mississippi’s defense has improved over last year but still might not be able to get enough stops. The Rebels are more than capable of keeping up, but they can’t afford to fall behind by multiple possessions.
No. 11 Arkansas at No. 2 Georgia
Saturday, noon ET, ESPN
Why watch: Before the potential offensive show in Tuscaloosa, the SEC’s huge day kicks off with this tilt in Athens between two of the nation’s best defenses. Georgia hasn’t been tested since its opening week triumph against Clemson. In the meantime, the Razorbacks earned two high-profile wins against Texas and Texas A&M. Bulldogs’ QB J.T. Daniels has been getting better results from his receivers since Week 1, but the Arkansas defense, keyed by LBs Bumper Pool and Hayden Henry, will pose a much bigger challenge, especially as the Bulldogs try to get RB Zamir White’s ground game established.
Why it could disappoint: The problem for Arkansas is the Georgia defense is even better. Razorbacks’ QB K.J. Jefferson is good to go as is WR Treylon Burks after both were banged up a bit last week, but their big-play opportunities will be limited by LB Channing Tindall and the Bulldogs’ rock-solid front.
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Why watch: It is not hyperbole to say this could be the biggest game in Cincinnati football history. The Bearcats and their fans have had this one circled since the schedule was released. It’s just as big for the Fighting Irish, who got through September unscathed and remain in the playoff picture despite some close shaves. The special teams and defense saved Notre Dame last week in a 41-13 win against Wisconsin that was much closer than the final score. QB Jack Coan left the game with an apparent ankle injury but is expected to be back to take on a rested Cincinnati squad. Bearcats’ QB Desmond Ridder is difficult to contain, but he must not add to his total of two picks in what is sure to be a raucous road environment.