Week 5 college football winners, losers: Bowers powers Georgia; Central Florida melts down

Georgia is No. 1 because the Bulldogs have won the past two national championships, losing just one game along the way. There have been and will be worse reasons to rank a team first in the US LBM AFCA Coaches Poll.

But whether the Bulldogs — meaning this year's Bulldogs — deserve to stay No. 1 is something voters will have to consider after another uninspiring SEC win as a heavy favorite. After struggling to put away South Carolina in its conference opener, Georgia needed a late touchdown from All-America tight end Brock Bowers to sneak out a 27-20 win against Auburn.

The Bulldogs are clearly struggling in the transition from last year's starstudded cast. Auburn's 219 rushing yards more than doubles the most gained by any SEC opponent last season and is the most Georgia has given up in a game since allowing 275 yards to LSU in 2018. Georgia's own offense lacks spark and explosiveness outside of Bowers, a spectacular talent who continues to put this unit on his back.

Georgia tight end Brock Bowers (19) runs into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown against Auburn during the fourth quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2021.
Georgia tight end Brock Bowers (19) runs into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown against Auburn during the fourth quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2021.

As against the Gamecocks, Georgia was slow out of the gate. Auburn led 10-0 after the first quarter following an 84-yard drive that sputtered in the red zone, resulting in a field goal, and punched in a touchdown after picking off Carson Beck, his second interception on the year.

The slow starts and sluggish comebacks might be the biggest worry. What happens when the Bulldogs stumble out of the gate against a legitimate contender? We might find out in a week, when Georgia hosts Kentucky.

A vintage performance against the Wildcats would be a reminder: Georgia is the Bowl Subdivision's best. But the team we've seen so far might not warrant that title.

Georgia, Michigan and Florida top this week's winners and losers in college football:

Winners

Michigan

The No. 1 team in the FBS is sitting right here. Michigan destroyed overmatched Nebraska 45-7 by giving the Cornhuskers the paycheck-game treatment: 23 attempts through the air, with the Wolverines dipping way down the depth chart behind starter J.J. McCarthy, compared to 51 carries for 249 yards. Michigan committed no penalties, converted 8 of 13 third-down tries and held Nebraska to just 46 offensive snaps.

Notre Dame

The No. 13 Fighting Irish know a thing or two about having your heart broken at home with seconds on the clock — just think back to seven days and 10 defenders ago and the 17-14 loss to No. 3 Ohio State. This time, the roles were reversed: Notre Dame drew 95 yards in two minutes and scored with 30 seconds left for a 21-14 road win against No. 16 Duke, a game and upset-minded opponent that very much grasped the spotlight provided by this prime-time matchup. The Blue Devils were up to the physical challenge and then some, even controlling the tempo and style of play in the second half, but couldn't get key late stops and force Sam Hartman and the Notre Dame offense to the sideline in the final minutes. Hartman threw for 222 yards and had a key scramble on the game-winning drive while the Irish bottled up Duke quarterback Riley Leonard as a passer, though Leonard did run for a game-high 88 yards. Notre Dame can't be counted among the best teams in the FBS at this point but survived a big test to remain a playoff contender.

Clemson

Clemson jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and scored a 31-14 win against previously unbeaten Syracuse, snapping a two-game ACC losing streak and regaining at least some hope of rallying toward a likely rematch with Florida State in the conference championship game. The defense got it done with five sacks and three forced fumbles while giving up just 2.9 yards per carry against an opponent that entered the weekend ranked eighth nationally in yards per game. Offensively, the Tigers were better but still not great: Cade Klubnik averaged 7.1 yards per throw while the running game had 35 carries for 126 yards, with 55 yards coming on two plays.

James Madison

It's truly a shame that James Madison is again ineligible for the Sun Belt championship or the postseason while making the transition from the Championship Subdivision, because one thing is obvious: the Dukes are damn good. JMU is now 5-0 after beating South Alabama 31-23 thanks to a passing game that remains potent on a per-throw basis: Jordan McCloud averaged an even 11 yards per pass with three scores after going for 10.7 yards per throw with four touchdowns in last week's win against Utah State. Eligible for the postseason or not, JMU is one of the best teams in the Group of Five.

Air Force

Another Group of Five team to watch is Air Force, which has played like a ranked team all season and deserves way more than the small cluster of votes it picked up in last week's coaches poll. The Falcons are 5-0 after destroying San Diego State 49-10 — the Aztecs are not an easy team to blow out of the water, by the way — and have won 10 in a row overall, one of the longest active streaks in the FBS. Air Force ran for 287 yards and four touchdowns, to no surprise, but also threw for 189 yards on 27 yards per attempt. Between the Falcons, Fresno State and Wyoming, the Mountain West is really good at the top.

Texas A&M

A&M has rebounded from an ugly non-conference loss to Miami with three wins in a row, the last two in SEC play. Saturday's 34-22 defeat of Arkansas was also the Aggies' first game without quarterback Conner Weigman, who is done for the season with a foot injury suffered in last week's victory against Auburn. Former backup Max Johnson — luckily for A&M, he's maybe the most experienced backup in the Power Five — had 210 passing yards and two scores and another 57 yards on the ground, while running back Le'Veon Moss added 107 yards on 17 carries as the Aggies cracked the 200-yard mark as a team for the second game in a row.

Losers

Central Florida

UCF led Baylor 35-7 with 3:30 left in the third quarter — and lost! Stuck in what only seemed like an insurmountable hole, the Bears scored 29 points in the final 18-plus minutes to hand the Knights an avoidable, brutal, unforgettably bad loss. The breaking point was a fumble scooped up by Baylor's Caden Jenkins and returned 72 yards for a touchdown to cut the Knights' lead to 35-33 with 6:02 left. The Bears then notched the game-winning field goal with 1:21 remaining before weathering UCF's final drive, which saw a wacky, improbable fourth-down conversion by quarterback Timmy McClain but ended with a missed field goal from 59 yards out.

Florida

Children in Gainesville were born, went to school, graduated, got a job, met someone, had children and bought a home without seeing No. 23 Florida lose to Kentucky. That was then, from 1987-2017; this is now, with the Wildcats pulling off a third win in a row in the series and doing it in style, with a 33-14 rollover that saw running back Ray Davis go for 280 yards and three scores on 10.8 yards per carry. Let's make sure this sinks in: Kentucky threw for 69 yards on 3.5 yards per attempt and still bulldozed the Gators into absolute submission with a one-dimensional offense. The Wildcats are not only the better team at this moment but also the better program, and that's obvious.

LSU

For the second time this month, No. 12 LSU has allowed at least 40 points in an eyebrow-raising loss. The first, in the opener against No. 4 Florida State, might've said as much about the Seminoles as the Tigers. But a 55-49 shootout defeat to No. 20 Mississippi says this pretty loud and clear: LSU is not a playoff contender and doesn't even seem equipped to repeat atop an SEC West that remains undefined heading into October. The Tigers gained 637 yards but gave up 706, ran for 223 yards but gave up 317, and had opportunities to close out the Rebels late in the third quarter and again in the fourth but couldn't get stops.

Southern California

No. 6 USC stormed out to a 31-7 lead at Colorado and seemed on the verge of handing the Buffaloes another runaway loss, following last week's 42-6 debacle at No. 9 Oregon. Shedeur Sanders and Colorado would rally, though, and even draw within a possession after scoring a touchdown with just under two minutes left, forcing the Trojans to recover the ensuing onside kick to seal the 48-41 victory. That's the good news, along with the continued brilliance of quarterback Caleb Williams — he finished with 403 yards and tied a career high with six touchdowns. The bad news: USC gave up 564 yards and seemed much more Colorado's equal after the Ducks had the Buffaloes on the ropes just minutes after kickoff.

Big 12 newcomers

It's been tough sledding for the Big 12's four new teams. Brigham Young, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are a combined 1-7 in league play, with the one win coming from inside the house: BYU topped Cincinnati 35-27 on Friday night. Of this bunch, Houston has been the least competitive and the most likely to bring up the rear in a conference that might have just one or two playoff contenders but doesn't lack for teams set to finish at or above bowl eligibility.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football Week 5 winners, losers: Georgia rides Brock Bowers