The Top 25, Week 6: College football games and players to watch, plus early bowl projections

Each week, The Baltimore Sun will break down the top games, players and teams to watch, from the Power Five to the Group of Five. Here’s what to know for Week 6:

5 games to watch 1) — No. 8 Tennessee at No. 25 LSU (Saturday, noon, ESPN): Since a season-opening loss to Florida State on a blocked extra-point attempt, LSU has won four straight under first-year coach Brian Kelly. Tennessee’s offense has been nearly impossible to stop with quarterback Hendon Hooker leading the way, but the Tigers’ defense ranks 13th in efficiency, according to ESPN’s SP+. If the Volunteers are truly a threat to win the SEC, they need to show it here.

5 games to watch 2) — No. 17 TCU at No. 19 Kansas (Saturday, noon, Fox Sports 1): How big is this game for the undefeated Jayhawks? “College GameDay” will be in Lawrence, Kan., for the first time in the show’s nearly 30-year history. Kansas has been more than just a feel-good story, building a legitimate case to win the Big 12 title behind breakout star Jalon Daniels. TCU, coming off a 55-24 throttling of Oklahoma, could spoil the fun if it gets another big game from quarterback Max Duggan.

5 games to watch 3) — Texas at Oklahoma (Saturday, noon, ABC): Red River isn’t as enticing as it could have been if both teams had managed to stay undefeated, but it’s still one of the best rivalries in the sport. The Longhorns are expected to get quarterback Quinn Ewers back from his shoulder injury, giving Texas the edge in a matchup that should feature plenty of points.

5 games to watch 4) — No. 11 Utah at No. 18 UCLA (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Fox): Utah’s playoff hopes were written off after a disappointing season-opening loss at Florida, but the Utes responded by outsourcing their next three FBS opponents by an average margin of 25 points per game. UCLA is averaging 41.4 points per game behind quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who ranks seventh in the country in Total QBR, one spot behind Utah’s Cameron Rising.

5 games to watch 5) — No. 16 BYU at Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBC): BYU quarterback Jarren Hall will be 25 years old when the 2023 NFL draft begins in April, but he’ll catch the attention of pro scouts with his arm strength, ability to throw on the move and leadership. Notre Dame has bounced back from its 0-2 start with wins over California and North Carolina and is talented enough on defense to make things difficult for Hall and the Cougars’ offense.

5 players to watch 1) — James Madison QB Todd Centeio (at Arkansas State): Now in his sixth season after stops at Colorado State and Temple, Centeio has been one of the nation’s most efficient quarterbacks, ranking 11th in raw QBR (80.7), 14th in passer rating (169.63) and fourth in Pro Football Focus’ passing grade (90.6). The Dukes are way ahead of schedule in their first year in the FBS thanks in large part to the West Palm Beach, Fla., native.

5 players to watch 2) — UTSA QB Frank Harris (vs. Western Kentucky): The left-handed Harris produced one of the most thrilling stat lines of the season in last week’s 45-30 win over Middle Tennessee State: 414 passing yards, four total touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) and three interceptions. He ranks third nationally with 344.8 passing yards per game.

5 players to watch 3) — Alabama RB Jahmyr Gibbs (vs. Texas A&M): The Georgia Tech transfer had 18 carries for 204 yards in last week’s 49-26 win over Arkansas, including touchdown runs of 72 and 76 yards in the fourth quarter. If quarterback Bryce Young continues to be bothered by a shoulder strain, Gibbs could have an even bigger workload.

5 players to watch 4) — Kent State RB Marquez Cooper and WR Dante Cephas (at Miami-Ohio): Cooper had 40 carries for 240 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 31-24 win over Ohio, while Cephas caught 13 passes for 246 yards. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Golden Flashes became the first team in FBS history to have a 240-yard receiver and 240-yard rusher in the same game. What will they do for an encore?

5 players to watch 5) — East Carolina WR C.J. Johnson (at Tulane): Johnson tied the single-game American Athletic Conference record with four touchdown receptions in last week’s 48-28 win over South Florida. He caught seven passes for 197 yards from his high school teammate Holton Ahlers, who threw six touchdown passes.

5 teams flying under the radar 1) — Illinois (4-1): Bret Bilema and the Fighting Illini beat Wisconsin so badly last week that the Badgers swiftly fired coach Paul Chryst. Illinois not only has one of the nation’s best running backs in Chase Brown, but a truly dominant defense that ranks ninth in efficiency. That might be enough to win the Big Ten West.

5 teams flying under the radar 2) — Tulane (4-1): The Green Wave beat Houston, 27-24, in overtime last week on a touchdown pass by their third-string quarterback. That should tell you all you need to know about a team that continues to outperform expectations under coach Willie Fritz.

5 teams flying under the radar 3) — James Madison (5-0): Led by the aforementioned Centeio, the Dukes are not only surviving at the FBS level, but thriving. They rank 34th in SP+, a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of efficiency, while ranking top 10 nationally in scoring offense (44.8 points per game) and scoring defense (13.8 points per game).

5 teams flying under the radar 4) — UNLV (4-1): Coach Marcos Arroyo went from being on the hot seat to leading one of the hottest teams in the country. The Rebels have beaten up on some light competition, but they’re just two wins away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2013.

5 teams flying under the radar 5) — South Alabama (4-1): The Jaguars nearly upset UCLA in the Rose Bowl and now sit comfortably in first place in the Sun Belt West. Former Indiana defensive coordinator Kane Wommack has done a remarkable job building a defense that’s allowing just 4.64 yards per play, 18th-best in the country.

5 interim coaches to know 1) — Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin: The former star safety for the Badgers and 10-year NFL veteran has been on the Wisconsin staff since 2016, when he was hired as defensive backs coach. Since taking over as defensive coordinator in 2017, his units have consistently ranked among the best in the country.

5 interim coaches to know 2) — Mike Sanford, Colorado: The former Boise State quarterback has been an offensive coordinator at Notre Dame and a head coach at Western Kentucky, all before the age of 40.

5 interim coaches to know 3) — Brent Key, Georgia Tech: A former guard for the Yellow Jackets and offensive line coach at Alabama, Key made a strong first impression by leading a 26-21 upset win over Pittsburgh in his first game as interim coach.

5 interim coaches to know 4) — Mickey Joseph, Nebraska: Joseph, the first Black coach in any sport at Nebraska, played quarterback for the Cornhuskers and has served as an assistant head coach at LSU. He earned his first win last week, 35-21 over Indiana.

5 interim coaches to know 5) — Shaun Aguano, Arizona State: The former running backs coach was very successful at the high school level in Arizona, leading Chandler to an 88-19 record and four state championships in eight seasons.

5 bowl projections Note: The Peach and Fiesta bowls will serve as the College Football Playoff semifinals this year. 1) — Rose (Big Ten vs. Pac-12): Michigan vs. Utah 2) — Cotton (at-large vs. at-large): Southern California vs. Coastal Carolina

5 bowl projections 3)— Sugar (SEC vs. Big 12): Tennessee vs. Oklahoma State 4) — Orange (ACC vs SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame): Wake Forest vs. Penn State 5) — Citrus (Big Ten vs. SEC): Minnesota vs. Ole Miss


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