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College Football Picks 2021: Week Five

Matt Corral, Ole Miss

Current Picks Record: 24-12

Upset: 2-2

Superdogs: 4-0

(#8) Arkansas Razorbacks @ (#2) Georgia Bulldogs

There has not been a better story in college football this season than Arkansas, who enters the weekend 4-0 just two years after a winless SEC record. The Razorbacks are hoping to further shake up the College Football Playoff race, and beating Georgia at home would certainly do so. The Bulldogs have been one of the most impressive teams in college football over the season's first month and enter this game fresh off beating Vanderbilt 62-0.

The Georgia offense appears to be the strongest it has been all season, with numerous players returning from injury. Arian Smith has returned after a one-week hiatus, Kearis Jackson is at full strength, and tight end Darnell Washington is expected to make his season debut. That gives quarterback J.T. Daniels an abundance of options, an exciting possibility for a QB who also has dealt with nagging injuries this fall. With that being said, others have managed to step up and fill the playmaking void for this offense, including freshman tight end Brock Bowers, Jermaine Burton, Adonai Mitchell, and a deep and talented backfield. It will be an interesting watch to see how successful that Bulldog backfield ends up being in this one. Arkansas might not boast the most talented linebacker corps in the country, but it's an experienced, physical group that has handled the rush well all season. With the passing game now healthy, Daniels and company can air things out more than past Arkansas opponents, but the ground game is still going to have to be a factor. Daniels also has to prove that he can take care of the football; the Razorback secondary is a hungry and experienced group. 

The Razorback offense is far from flashy, but features one of the nation's most effective rushing attacks. A punishing offensive line clears the way for the two-headed monster of QB K.J. Jefferson and tailback Trelon Smith, who have both been a revelation in 2021. Jefferson is a little bit beat up after the Texas A&M game, but the expectation is that he will start this Saturday. Even if he doesn't, youngster Malik Hornsby gives defenses a reason to worry, as he's an explosive open-field runner. On the perimeter, Treylon Burks is coming off a signature performance against the Aggies and the rest of the weapons are good, even if they aren't great. My big question with this Arkansas offense is pretty simple: can they handle the Georgia pass rush? This Georgia defense is unsurprisingly an elite group, with a powerful front seven that will hound opposing quarterbacks all game. Sure, this is a strong Arkansas O-Line, but even the nation's best blockers can be swallowed up the menace that is the Bulldog pass rush. Even getting good push against the UGA defense can be a difficult task, which may put Jefferson and company in situations they aren't comfortable with. While the Texas and Texas A&M defenses were no jokes, Georgia's defensive group is playing at an entire different level right now. There's NFL guys at every single level, and enough depth to stay fresh the entire sixty minutes.

So far, I've had no luck picking this Arkansas team in 2021. I had them losing to both Texas and A&M, and they went out and soundly beat both teams. It may be wrong to pick against them yet again, but I think heading into Athens is where their undefeated season concludes. Not only is Sanford Stadium an absolute beast to handle, even for a fellow SEC school, but I just don't think the Razorbacks have the weapons to hang with UGA for an entire four quarters. They'll play the Bulldogs tough, and might end up being the biggest test for Georgia left on their schedule, but I still like the 'Dawgs.

The Pick: Georgia, 24 Arkansas, 14

(#7) Cincinnati Bearcats @ (#9) Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Cincinnati has one goal in 2021: become the first Group of Five to crash the College Football Playoff party. If they want to realistically do it, they absolutely need to beat Notre Dame, an imperfect, but undefeated, Top 10 team. On the flip side, the Irish still have a legit Playoff path of their own, especially with all the chaos that has already unfolded in front of them.

The Bearcat offense resembles past Cincy teams; they're far from flashy, but an effective and methodical group. Quarterback Desmond Ridder has had a tremendous start to the season and continues to garner NFL attention, while former Alabama transfer Jerome Ford leads a physical ground attack. This will never be an offense that spreads you five-wide and aggressively attacks through the air, but Ridder has shown an improved deep ball and OC Mike Denbrock has given him more opportunities. Alec Pierce is the top wide out for Cincy, but Tyler Scott and Jadon Thompson have also had strong seasons. My concern for Cincinnati's offense is whether they can keep the ball away from two Irish impact players: Kyle Hamilton and Isaiah Foskey. Hamilton in particular has asserted himself as a game-changing piece on the back-end, making him the Jim Thorpe Award favorite. Cincinnati did face a good Indiana defense previously, but this Irish group is the most star-studded they've seen. 

There are quite a bit of questions for Notre Dame's offense entering the weekend, with Jack Coan's status still up in the air. Coan is now listed as probable for this game after being taken out of last Saturday's contest. Even so, he will not be at 100 percent and this is a superb Cincinnati defense. They're particularly strong in the back-end, with Ahmad Gardner and company leading the way. They have instinctive linebackers who are pretty useful in coverage, which could be a matchup against Notre Dame star Michael Mayer. Notre Dame absolutely has to get their run game going at some point, and that relies heavily on an inconsistent offensive line. We knew this group was in store for a regression with all the pieces they lost over the off-season, but it's been tough to know what you're getting week to week. The Irish will have a size advantage up front, but it remains to be seen whether they'll get the push necessary to spring Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree. There will be a chess match between Notre Dame OC Tommy Rees and Cincinnati's defense, but this game is also going to come down to the war in the trenches and which team is able to take the upper hand.

One other factor to consider is that first-year Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman just came over from the same role at Cincinnati this off-season. He's spent years getting to know Luke Fickell and his strategy, plus learning Desmond Ridder's game. I'm not sure how big of a factor that will be in the long-run, but it's something to consider.

Notre Dame has been a tough team to pick this fall, even if their 4-0 start can't be disregarded. They've won multiple close games and haven't been able to separate from opposing foes the way past Irish teams have. With that being said, I still think they're the smarter pick at this spot. They're a slightly more proven team at this point in the year and have more playmakers on both sides of the ball than Cincinnati. A neutral site between these two I might flip to the Bearcats, but in South Bend I'm rocking with the Irish.

The Pick: Notre Dame, 23 Cincinnati, 20

(#12) Ole Miss Rebels @ (#1) Alabama Crimson Tide

After giving the 2020 Alabama Crimson Tide one of their toughest challenges of last season, Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss are out to finish the job this weekend. They face a Tide group that is once again No. 1 in the nation but they haven't looked invincible. With Kiffin and Nick Saban's past relationship and the Rebels' success over Alabama the last decade (when compared to other SEC foes), this one is really intriguing.

Alabama is still searching for their rhythm offensively, even after dropping 63 points against Southern Miss last Saturday. Quarterback Bryce Young has been impressive in his first starts for the Tide, but they're still identifying which weapons are going to emerge as his top options. Jameson Williams and John Metchie have been productive, but neither has really grabbed the reins as the top guy at wide out. Perhaps tight end Jahleel Billingsley could begin to emerge as that guy; after missing time early in the year he's arguably been their most productive piece. The ground game includes a deep and talented running back room, but the unit has paled in comparison to what Najee Harris was able to do last fall. Brian Robinson is still the lead guy, but don't be surprised if Jase McClellan begins to become the feature option. He's more explosive than Robinson and a dangerous receiver out of the backfield, the type of guy that can give this Ole Miss defense problems. Alabama's offense in general is certainly far from the 2020 edition, but that doesn't mean they won't be able to move the ball. While the Rebel defensive group has improved, this unit was absolutely slashed for an entire four quarters last season. There's obviously still serious need for improvement.

The more interesting matchup for me in this game is between the Ole Miss offense and Tide defense. The Rebels have one of the most exciting offenses anywhere in the country. Quarterback Matt Corral has a huge arm and is a fearless competitor, which has been enough to earn him early Heisman consideration. He's joined by a trio of productive backs in Jerrion Ealy, Henry Parrish Jr., and Snoop Conner. Then there's the weapons on the outside, which include Dontario Drummond, Jonathan Mingo, and converted QB John Rhys Plumlee. This offense is averaging nearly 53 points per game and currently has the nation's fourth-ranked rushing attack. It's a load to handle for any defense, even a group that is considered as strong as Alabama's. This was supposed to be the best Tide defense we've seen in years, but their struggles against Florida indicated there is work to be done. They were hit hard by the Gator rushing attack in that one and Ole Miss is even more explosive on the ground. However, there is a difference here that has to be noted: Florida's offensive line is significantly better than the Ole Miss offensive line, or at least as far as we know right now. Ole Miss could certainly change that perception, but Florida's play in the trenches was the most important part of their near upset of Alabama. One other concern I have for the Rebels is Corral's tendency to turn the ball over. He's done an excellent job of taking care of the ball this season, but there have been times in his Rebel career that he's taken them out of the game with his decision-making. Even just one or two badly placed balls could be the momentum changer Alabama desperately needs.

Even before the season began, you got the feeling that this was going to be one of the most interesting games of the year. After a month, the fascination I have with this matchup is even more significant. Ole Miss has looked very dangerous but is yet to play a truly elite opponent, while Alabama has looked good, but not unbeatable. The Kiffin-Saban factor is worth a watch on its own, but you also have to factor in last year's game and the fact Ole Miss has had more success against 'Bama in the past decade than nearly any other SEC West team. Before the year, I predicted that Ole Miss would beat Alabama, causing them their only defeat of the regular season. I hate to betray the Rebels and go with the safe pick in 'Bama, but this has the makings of a Tide escape to me. Bryant-Denny Stadium will be rocking and I'm just not sure the Rebel defense has made the strides they need to in order to spring the upset. Either way, I think this is going to be a fun, high-scoring game.

The Pick: Alabama, 42 Ole Miss, 38

Other Picks

Wisconsin, 21 (#14) Michigan, 20 -- The Badgers have had Michigan and Jim Harbaugh's number the last several seasons and this game is in Camp Randall. While the Wisconsin offense is terrible right now, their elite defense helps them finish off the Wolverines.

(#6) Oklahoma, 38 Kansas State, 17 -- Kansas State has won two straight in the series and is playing a Sooner team that has been incredibly underwhelming in 2021. However, I like Oklahoma's chances to get back on track with a big game from their receiver corps.

(#19) Oklahoma State, 31 (#21) Baylor, 24 -- Frankly, I'm not sold on either one of these teams being Big 12 Title contenders, but the Cowboys answered a lot of questions by dominating K-State last weekend. They're a better team than Baylor at this point in the season, even if the Bears have been a good story.

(#3) Oregon, 35 Stanford, 27 -- This game really worries me if I'm a Duck fan. Stanford has been significantly better under Tanner McKee than Jack West, and the Cardinal program has always been tough for UO. I still like the Ducks on the road, but things could be interesting.

Upset: Kentucky, 24 Florida, 20 -- The Gators impressed a lot of people when they went toe-to-toe with Alabama, but I still think is an imperfect team. I'm not sold on the offense going into Lexington and coming out on top against a physical Kentucky squad.

Superdog (covers > 21 spread): Kansas (+34.5) vs. Iowa State -- The Cyclones will be awfully motivated after losing to Baylor last Saturday, but the offense has not been very good this fall. The Jayhawks are a lock to finish last in the Big 12 once again, but this team has displayed more feistiness than past KU editions.

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