With Week 5 of the college football season in the books, we're seeing some intriguing storylines beyond the Big Two conferences of the SEC and Big Ten.
The Red River Rivalry is lined up to be one of the biggest games in the series' recent history, West Virginia has emerged as a surprise in the Big 12 and Louisville is experiencing a resurgence in the ACC. (But can the Cardinals slay Notre Dame?)
Here's a look at our reporters' key takeaways from this weekend's action.
Texas-Oklahoma could be a return to its classic form
The Longhorns and Sooners are heading to Dallas for a matchup that feels, on paper, more like their legendary early 2000s heavyweight fights.
In 2009, No. 3 Texas versus No. 20 Oklahoma rumbled to a 16-13 Longhorns win that then-Texas coach Mack Brown said "was more like a fight" a year after Texas' 45-35 victory.
This year, following a historic 49-0 blowout of the Sooners, No. 3 Texas faces No. 12 Oklahoma in a matchup that will mark just the third time both teams are at least 5-0 (2008 and 2002).
Last year, Oklahoma fell to 6-7 after allowing 461 yards and 30 points per game. The Sooners signed seven ESPN 300 defensive recruits, their most since the rankings began in 2006. One of those signees, safety Peyton Bowen, the No. 17 overall player in the class, leads Oklahoma with four passes broken up and has blocked two punts. OU has allowed just 54 points this season, fewest by a Big 12 team over the first five games since ... 2009, when Oklahoma and Nebraska both did it.
Texas, meanwhile, is 5-0 for the first time since 2009, the last time it won the Big 12. The Longhorns beat No. 24 Kansas by 26 points on Saturday, their largest win in an AP-ranked matchup since 2009 against Oklahoma State.
The two offenses had huge days this past weekend. Oklahoma lit up Iowa State with 523 yards, while Texas had 661 yards, its most in a conference game since the Big 12 began in 1996. Oklahoma has scored 50 or more points in three of its first five games of a season for the first time since 2008.
It looks like a fitting throwback matchup for the teams' final Big 12 version of their historic rivalry, once again with massive implications: According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, the winner of the 2023 edition will have better than a 70% chance to reach the College Football Playoff, while the loser will have about a 30% chance. -- Dave Wilson
West Virginia heats up, cooling off Neal Brown's seat
So much for preseason polls and coaching hot seat lists. Neal Brown and West Virginia have deposited both in the rubbish bin with a 4-1 start, capped by an impressive road win on Saturday at TCU. West Virginia was picked last in the Big 12 preseason media poll, a forecast that Brown duly noted, saying in July, "Looking forward to proving everybody wrong on that front. We won't finish there."
Brown certainly faced pressure to win, and a seemingly daunting September schedule included Penn State, Pitt, Texas Tech and TCU. But many forget that even though last season didn't go well overall, West Virginia swept the Oklahoma schools and beat defending Big 12 champion Baylor. The Mountaineers returned some experienced players, especially on defense. Brown told me last week that he especially likes his defensive front, which includes junior Sean Martin and promising redshirt freshman Tomiwa Durojaiye. WVU's defense has shined during its start, allowing only 19 points per game and 3.3 yards per rush. Although Brown has a background on offense, a unit that has struggled for much of his tenure, he has found ways to generate wins and positive vibes.
The Mountaineers get a well-timed open week -- they emerged from the TCU outing fairly banged up -- before facing struggling Houston and Oklahoma State. They miss Texas on the schedule, so a solid bounce-back season and some stability for Brown seem well within reach. -- Adam Rittenberg
Football moves to the forefront in the Bluegrass State
For the first time, Kentucky and Louisville are both 5-0 to start the season. (No, we're not talking hoops.) Both teams are also about to get a much better test of how good they really are.
Kentucky, coming off a 33-14 beatdown of Florida on Saturday at home, will travel to No. 1 Georgia. Louisville, which slipped past host NC State 13-10 on Friday, will return home to face Notre Dame.
The Kentucky program is as healthy as it's been under Mark Stoops, who is in his 11th season. Winning three in a row over Florida would have sounded like a fairy tale during the Wildcats' 31-game losing streak in the series from 1987 to 2007. But Stoops has stayed the course, made adjustments (such as getting Liam Coen back as offensive coordinator and plugging in key transfers such as QB Devin Leary, RB Ray Davis, WR Tayvion Robinson, OT Marques Cox, S Zion Childress and PK Alex Raynor) and maintained a tough, blue-collar approach that has served this team well. The Wildcats are averaging 6.5 yards per rush and holding their opponents to only 2.5 yards per rush.
The Cardinals, in Jeff Brohm's first season back at his alma mater, are 3-0 in conference play for the first time as an ACC member. They've teetered at times against their Power 5 opponents and squeaked past NC State thanks to a 53-yard field goal by Brock Travelstead in the final six minutes. But they've also found different ways to win. Louisville averaged 237 rushing yards in its first four games, but with the running game stuffed last week, it leaned on its defense. The Cardinals held the Wolfpack scoreless in the second half and forced two turnovers.
Louisville has only two road games remaining on its schedule. Kentucky has four road dates left, including three of its last four contests. It's a stretch to think either of these teams is going to contend for a playoff berth, but their season-ending clash on Nov. 25 could be the most anticipated in years, with the winner potentially having a chance to win nine-plus games. -- Chris Low
Will anybody in the ACC beat Notre Dame? Ever?
Speaking of Louisville, the Cardinals have a chance to do something no other ACC team has done in the regular season since Miami in 2017: Beat Notre Dame.
Duke was two minutes away from doing it Saturday night. Its defense then gave up two big plays on the final drive, Notre Dame scored the winning touchdown with 31 seconds left and a long winning streak was extended. The Fighting Irish have won 30 straight regular-season ACC games, passing Florida State (1992 to 1995) for the longest such streak.
Notre Dame takes a lead on Audric Estime's 30-yard touchdown against Duke with 31 seconds left.
There are two key differences here: (1) Nobody will ever confuse the Notre Dame teams of the past five years with those dominant Florida State teams (no offense Irish, these are just facts) and (2) unlike Florida State, Notre Dame is not actually an ACC member in football, which is the biggest gut punch of all for the league.
The ACC literally asked for this when the Irish joined the league for the 2013-14 season in all sports but football and men's hockey. A football scheduling partnership -- in which Notre Dame would play five or six ACC teams annually -- seemed like a win-win decision at the time. Notre Dame would get help filling out its schedule; the ACC would get help by boosting its nonconference scheduling and creating more attractive matchups for TV.
But this has been a losing proposition in recent years. Though Clemson did defeat Notre Dame in the 2020 ACC championship game and has previously beaten the Irish both in the regular season and the College Football Playoff, nobody else has had close to the same success. That speaks more to the state out of the league outside Clemson, as the ACC works to enhance its football teams.
This year has been a much better start, with six undefeated teams through the first four weeks. But even undefeated Duke could not get the job done. Undefeated Louisville is up next. The rest of Notre Dame's ACC schedule for this season? Pitt, at Clemson and Wake Forest. Someone in the ACC has to find a way to step up and end the streak once and for all, for the good of the conference. -- Andrea Adelson
Cameron Rising can't return fast enough
With the Pac-12 home to four of the top six offenses nationally (Washington, Oregon, USC and Washington State), Utah knew its quest for a three-peat would be a daunting one. Friday's performance at Oregon State, where Utah couldn't crack 200 total yards in a 21-7 loss, only strengthens the fact that the Utes need Cameron Rising back fast.
Utah's offense ranks last in the conference (297.6 yards per game), and Rising would provide some much-needed stability to a unit that went five straight quarters without scoring prior to tight end Thomas Yassmin's TD reception in the fourth against the Beavers. The schedule is about to get amped up to another gear, with two of Utah's next three games following a bye week coming against USC and Oregon. If Rising (18-7 career record with 45 touchdown passes) can make his 2023 season debut on Oct. 14 against California and get his feet wet for the stretch run, the Utes' quest to keep the Pac-12 title in Salt Lake City for another year will receive a serious boost. -- Blake Baumgartner
Alabama's progress was noticeable
In a decisive win over Mississippi State, quarterback Jalen Milroe was efficient, the Crimson Tide got its running game going and the defense had four sacks. This is all a positive push toward Alabama reasserting itself on the national stage, but as coach Nick Saban said after the game, the team isn't where it wants to be or needs to be.
Milroe throws a nice deep ball, but nobody is going to mistake him for the nation's most prolific passer -- especially when he only threw it 12 times on Saturday. If this is Bama's identity, though, then embrace it and continue to make it better. No two-loss team has been to the CFP, which makes this Saturday's game between Alabama and Texas A&M critical. They each have a nonconference loss and are squarely in the mix to win the SEC West. The winner will have a huge edge. -- Heather Dinich