The CFP committee released their first official rankings on Tuesday, and as usual, they messed things up. This seems to happen every year, so each week, I’m going to dedicate one of my takeaways below to analyzing their rankings. I’ll explain where they went wrong (or right if that miraculously happens) and why, as well as what I’d do differently. For my initial top 4, click here. Don’t worry; the draft nuggets shall remain. Late in the season, draft preparation and playoff positioning take centerstage, and my posts will reflect that, but we’ll still talk about other topics. For example, SMU and Houston scored 140 points. That’s fun. Here they are: my week 10 takeaways!
Return of Midweek MACtion!
I can already see what you’re thinking as you read this heading. “The MAC is one of the two worst FBS conferences. Why are you talking about them?” First of all, I promised I’d cover everyone at various points, and I’m keeping that promise. Second and probably more importantly to you, around the 10th week of each season, the MAC gives us something that no other conference does: Tuesday night football. The conference plays some or all of its games on Tuesday and Wednesday during these weeks, and although the Sun Belt has been great with Wednesday games, we all love some MACtion.
Have you watched any of their intraconference games? They’re often fantastic. Defense can be a bit lacking, but they tend to produce back-and-forth shootouts that really heat up in the 4th quarter. They may not be the best teams, but they’re fairly evenly matched, which makes their games a lot of fun. We had some competitive contests on both days, but the best performers played on Tuesday. In their honor, let’s check out a couple of the top performers from these two days of MACtion.
First, we’ve got Ball State RB Carson Steele. He is a workhorse for the Cardinals, with 22+ carries in every game since week 2. This week, he ran 29 times for a career-high 192 yards and a TD. Steele moved the chains all game, extending drives and running out the clock in the final minutes. Did you know that he leads the FBS in yards after contact at over 640? I don’t have exact figures because ESPN doesn’t list those stats publicly. Steele has also shown his receiving ability over the last couple of weeks, but he isn’t thrown passes often; he had 4 catches for 57 yards and a TD a week ago, and though he had just 1 catch this week, it was a nice one-handed snag. Only a sophomore, Steele has time to develop into an even more complete back.
Our other standout MACtion performer this week is Ohio QB Kurtis Rourke. The junior QB played one of his best games of the season, going 20/29 for 317 yards, 5 TDs, and 1 INT. This was his 3rd game this year with 4+ passing TDs. He also contributed 6 carries for 45 yards on the ground. Rourke has made a huge leap in his second season as the Bobcats’ starting QB. He has completed 68.4% of his passes for 2725 yards, 21 TDs, and just 4 INTs. Though he has quality size at 6’3″ and an adequate arm, his level of competition is a question mark; his two worst games of the season have both come in Ohio’s lone Power 5 matchups. Within the MAC though, he’s the leader in completion percentage, yards, and TDs, so he’s been enjoying the bulk of his schedule.
Georgia Shows Tennessee Who Really Belongs at #1
I did say last week that the Bulldogs are the champs until they’re not. I suspect that head coach Kirby Smart told his team something similar in preparation for the biggest game of their season, as Georgia dominated the Tennessee team that the CFP committee thought was more deserving of the #1 ranking. The final score was 27-13, but that was only because Georgia took their foot off the gas and played prevent defense in garbage time.
Volunteers QB Hendon Hooker had thrown a TD pass in 20 straight games but was shut out in this one. He seemed flustered all game long, but I don’t really blame him since Georgia pressured him on nearly every snap. He’ll feel this game for a while, as he took 6 sacks and countless more hits while throwing for 195 yards and an INT. The loud environment led to 7 pre-snap penalties, which constantly put Tennessee behind the sticks. The defense was bullied at the point of attack by the Bulldogs, and the game quickly became a 24-6 contest at the half.
Georgia’s defense was somehow as elite as ever despite losing 5 first-round NFL picks from last year. That’s reflective of Kirby Smart’s recruiting and the staying power of this program. QB Stetson Bennett, the one big question mark on this team, played well. He went 17/25 for 257 yards and 2 TDs, and he added a 13-yard rushing TD. The Bulldogs played ball control instead of attacking in the second half, which gave Tennessee a little life. Then, in Georgia fashion, they snuffed that life out with more relentless pressure. With Ohio State struggling this week (see below), Georgia should return to their rightful #1 ranking.
Northwestern Pushes Ohio State, and This Sounds Familiar…
In one of the surprising games of the day, 1-7 Northwestern gave 8-0 Ohio State a real challenge. The result, a 21-7 win for the Buckeyes, wasn’t the shocking part. Somehow, the Wildcats managed to completely shut down the Buckeyes’ offense until midway through the second quarter. OSU was shut out in the first quarter, and managed just one touchdown in each of the final 3 quarters. The Buckeyes ended up running well, but they had no air attack. Heisman candidate CJ Stroud completed just 10 of his 26 attempts for 76 yards and no TDs. Ohio State scored less than 44 points in just 1 other game (week 1 vs. Notre Dame).
If this all rings a bell to you, that’s because this particular matchup has given OSU trouble before. You might recall their meeting in the 2020 Big Ten championship game, where Justin Fields posted his worst game as a college QB. Fields was just 12/27 for 114 yards and 2 INTs in a tight 22-10 win. This week, Stroud avoided the backbreaking turnovers that plagued Fields, but the result was very similar. Pat Fitzgerald’s team knows how to counter this Ohio State system, and it’s the same blueprint that NFL teams use to neutralize OSU QBs once they’re drafted: suffocate the WRs on routes and force the QB to throw outside the numbers with precision. Stroud is a likely #1 pick at this point; whoever plans on taking him should review this week’s tape very carefully.
Alabama and Clemson Fall in Stunning Fashion
Two playoff mainstays might both have been knocked out of the race on the same night. Alabama suffered its second loss of the year and likely won’t be participating in the SEC title game, while Clemson got destroyed by Notre Dame in an embarrassing display. Let’s look at what on earth happened here.
Alabama and LSU both struggled on offense in the first half, as the score was just 7-6 in favor of the Tigers. The 3rd quarter was pretty quiet as well, but LSU stretched their lead to 14-9. Then, both teams caught fire. Aside from a kneel down by LSU at the end of the 4th quarter, the two teams scored on every possession in that quarter. The lead changed 4 times, including once when Alabama QB Bryce Young played Houdini before throwing a TD strike.
A clutch field goal by the Crimson Tide sent the game to OT, where Alabama scored an opening TD. LSU scored in just 1 play (a Jayden Daniels run), but then they went bold: they went for 2. A quick toss to the flat converted the try, and LSU stormed the field. This loss all but eliminates Alabama from the CFP, as no 2-loss team has ever made it. That’s particularly true for a team that doesn’t win their conference.
Almost simultaneously, Clemson was being pummeled by the Fighting Irish. The game started ugly for Dabo Swinney’s team, with Notre Dame taking a 14-0 halftime lead. QB DJ Uiagalelei was ineffective, leading to another 3rd-quarter benching. Backup Cade Klubnik proceeded to throw an INT on his first pass attempt, setting up the Irish with an instant red zone opportunity. After another Notre Dame TD, Swinney turned back to Uiagalelei, who led the Tigers to the ND 19 before throwing a 96-yard pick six.
Clemson scored TDs on their final two drives, but it was much too late. Notre Dame already had a 28-0 lead, and they finished with a score of 35-14. The Tigers’ path to the CFP is not as bleak as Alabama’s, but it’s not great. As this was a nonconference game, Clemson can still run the table and win the ACC as a 1-loss champion. However, if the committee must choose a 1-loss Clemson team or a 1-loss Pac-12 champion (say, Oregon or USC), who would get in? In the past, it would always be the ACC squad, but the Pac-12 is better this year, and these QB games won’t reflect well on the Tigers. Then again, with this level of play, Clemson might not win out anyway, making this a moot point.
Weekly CFP Update and Analysis
I’ve been taught to balance negative feedback with positives in the interests of politeness and professionalism. So let’s try that here with the CFP committee’s first official rankings. Uhh…we agreed on Ohio State at #2? I also concurred with their Pac-12 ordering of Oregon>USC>UCLA, and I guess they were right about LSU. And…that’s pretty much it. I already said my piece about Georgia and Tennessee above, so let’s start at #4, where Clemson somehow landed despite a dysfunctional QB situation. The defense has been spectacular, as it was last year, but do we trust this offense? Dabo Swinney sure doesn’t.
I ranked TCU 4th in my own rankings, and they validated that decision again this week. Losing star WR Quentin Johnston to an injury before he could record a single reception, the Horned Frogs showed that they could win a defensive battle without as much explosiveness on the offensive side. This was against a tricky Texas Tech team, and yes, they came from behind once again. I just can’t punish a team for digging itself into some holes when it gets out of them 100% of the time. TCU is now 9-0 in the Big XII, and they really belong at #3 after Tennessee’s loss. The committee might not even move them up 1 spot.
As Joel Klatt commented during the TCU game, it seemed like the committee once again cared too much about teams’ “brands” than their actual performance. Why else is a 1-loss Alabama team who nearly fell to Texas without Quinn Ewers and an awful Aggies squad at #6, ahead of an unbeaten (how does that look now)? What is Michigan doing at #5 when their out-of-conference schedule is among the worst in the FBS? Texas, a 3-loss team, got put at 24 They earned it this week, but not before then. Only two Group of 5 teams were ranked at all. This doesn’t include Coastal Carolina, who is 8-1 and in complete control of the Sun Belt East.
The answer to all of these questions is the same: even though the committee says they’re looking at each team within the context of this season only, they’re not. Pedigree still matters more. CFP expansion can’t come soon enough.
Is There a Top TE Prospect for the 2023 NFL Draft?
We’ve had just one first-round TE selection since 2019 (Atlanta’s Kyle Pitts in 2021), and it doesn’t look like we’re going to have another this year. Scouts are mostly underwhelmed by the available talent at the position, and because tight ends are not considered premium players, necessity isn’t going to drive anyone up draft boards. Still, tight ends provide great safety valves for QBs, can create mismatches against defenses, and often contribute as blockers. I’d like to highlight 3 prospects that probably won’t go in rounds 1 or 2 but who could really help NFL teams.
First is Iowa’s Sam LaPorta. At 6’3″, LaPorta is viewed mostly as a receiving TE due to his smaller size, but he is a willing blocker as most Iowa TEs are. He might be able to hold off LBs, but defensive ends will give him trouble. His receiving ability is why you’d draft him. LaPorta has 387 receiving yards so far this year despite living in a QB wasteland. He had 670 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2021, giving you a better indication of what he can do when he plays with someone who can deliver the ball. Iowa has been a TE factory, producing players like George Kittle, TJ Hockenson, and Noah Fant. LaPorta could be the next Hawkeye to impress.
Next, we have Utah’s Dalton Kincaid. Like LaPorta, Kincaid is viewed as a bit undersized, so he probably doesn’t offer too much as a blocker. However, he’s been wildly productive as a receiver. His 614 receiving yards lead all FBS tight ends so far this season. He put up big numbers in 2021 and 2019 as well (the Pac-12 only played 5 games in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic), demonstrating his quality route running and sure hands. Kincaid has been a major factor in the Utes’ recent rise, and he might be able to provide a boost to his future NFL team, too, as a day 2 or day 3 draft selection.
Finally, let’s talk about Georgia’s Darnell Washington. Unlike my first two picks, Washington has PLENTY of size at 6’7″ and 269 pounds. He’s arguably the most complete TE in the class, as he is a decent receiver and an excellent blocker. Washington flies under the radar and will continue to do so unless he stars at an all-star game or the combine because he is in the unlucky situation of being stuck behind Brock Bowers. Bowers is the best TE in college football (not draft-eligible this year). That has kept Washington’s production low, but it might result in him being a major steal in April.