We only had a little bit of movement in the college football hierarchy. The favored teams in the top 15 all won except two, and the teams occupying playoff positioning shouldn’t change this Tuesday. CJ Stroud and Hendon Hooker, the two top Heisman candidates, both held serve. Other than QB Brennan Armstrong throwing pick sixes on Virginia’s first two plays from scrimmage and two upsets in one conference that we’ll discuss below, we had a relatively calm week. Don’t expect that to continue, but for now, here are my week 11 takeaways!
Oregon, UCLA See Their Playoff Hopes End
The Pac-12’s chances of returning to the CFP took a major hit this week, as their highest-ranked and third-highest-ranked teams were upset. (6) Oregon fought (25) Washington in a shootout, but the Huskies came out on top. The score was 37-34, and the game was as fun as that score indicates. QBs Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr. dueled all night, alternating touchdowns in the 3rd quarter. The only blemish for either player was an ill-advised interception thrown by Penix in the end zone. To his credit, Penix bounced back, throwing an absolute laser for a 62-yard TD. Few players in college football could make that throw.
Oregon’s ensuing drive went 3 and out…or not. They went on 4th and 1 at their own 34, but RB Noah Whittington slipped. Despite a great defensive stand, Washington was already in FG range, and they connected to take the lead. The Ducks couldn’t score in the final 51 seconds, handing the win to UW. This all but eliminates Oregon from CRP contention. There was already a question about how the committee would view Oregon’s 49-3 opening game drubbing against Georgia. Some felt as though a team couldn’t have that kind of loss on their resume, whereas others thought that the Ducks were a greatly improved team since then and that their loss was to the #1 Bulldogs.
The Ducks are still in the Pac-12 race, as this week’s game is currently their only conference loss. Going forward, Oregon winning the Pac-12 could spell disaster for the conference, as they’d once again be submitting a multiloss champion for playoff consideration. Although it seems like a 2-loss team has the best chance in CFP history to make it, I think only LSU could do that (and even that would require winning the SEC, which is no small task). Coach Dan Lanning will be second-guessing that overaggressive 4th-down call for weeks, as well he should. It knocked his team out of the playoff chase.
Meanwhile, (12) UCLA lost a worse game. They fell at home to 3-6 Arizona by a score of 34-28 after a Hail Mary fell incomplete. The Bruins have faced close calls due to their poor defense all season long, but this one finally bit them. Chip Kelly’s team could not stop QB Jayden de Laura, who went 22/28 for 315 yards and 2 TDs. RB Zach Charbonnet’s brilliant night for UCLA went wasted, as his 24 carries for 181 yards and 3 TDs weren’t enough, nor were his 9 catches for 38 yards.
UCLA is out of the playoff hunt with 2 losses; they’re likely to fall outside of the top 15. Their 2nd conference loss might doom them in the Pac-12 as well. Utah, USC, and Oregon all have only 1 conference loss each, leaving the Bruins in need of a lot of help to make the title game. Their one saving grace is that the Pac-12 did away with divisions one year earlier than other conferences, so they don’t have to be at the top of the Pac-12 South. They just need to be in the top 2 overall. That will require beating USC and California, watching Oregon lose twice, and having Utah fall to lowly Colorado. In other words, they need a miracle.
Vanderbilt Snaps Dubious Steak Against Will Levis and Kentucky
For the first time since October 19, 2019, the Vanderbilt Commodores are winners against a fellow SEC team. Losers of their last 26 conference matchups, Vanderbilt went to Kentucky and beat the #24 team in the country 24-21. The Commodores actually controlled this game for most of the first three quarters before faltering late. A 72-yard TD run by Kentucky RB Chris Rodriguez, which was a result of awful tackling, put Kentucky up 21-17 with 5 minutes to go. Normally, this is the part where Vanderbilt folds and loses a heartbreaker to a more talented team. Not this Saturday.
QB Mike Wright led a drive to the Vanderbilt 39 but failed to convert a 4th and 7. Kentucky committed a personal foul on the play though, keeping the drive alive. Facing a 4th and 11 three plays later, Wright completed a pass to WR Quincy Skinner Jr. for 40 yards to set up first and goal. After two ineffective plays, Wright fired a TD pass to WR Will Sheppard to take a 24-21 lead with half a minute left on the clock. Kentucky’s top QB prospect (Will Levis) was given a chance. Vanderbilt snuffed it out. The Commodores sacked Levis and then picked off his desperation heave, clinching a well-earned win.
On the topic of Levis, I’m STILL struggling to see why the scouts are so high on him. I admit that his experience in a pro-style system is nice, but there’s a lot more to look at here. Levis put up another poor stat line this week, completing 11 of 23 passes for 109 yards and an INT. He once again held the ball way too long, opening himself up to 4 sacks. He also hasn’t reached 250 yards in any of his last 5 games. Inaccuracy continues to be a problem spot, but he could fix some mechanical issues to help with that. Overall, I still view him as a project QB that would be a major draft risk in the first round.
UCF Reclaims Title as Best Group of 5 Team
Over the last few seasons, Cincinnati has been viewed as the best team in the Group of 5. Central Florida experienced coaching turnover, with both Scott Frost (Nebraska) and Josh Heupel (Tennessee) poached by Power 5 schools. They also haven’t had a top-tier QB since McKenzie Milton’s catastrophic injury, while Cincinnati has enjoyed Desmond Ridder. However, with Ridder in the NFL and the underwhelming Ben Bryant taking his place, the top spot among Group of 5 teams is back up for grabs. Coastal Carolina had a shot, but Grayson McCall’s injury ruins that.
This week, the only two Group of 5 teams in the top 25, ACC foes Tulane (17) and UCF (22) played one another. With another good coach in Gus Malzahn, UCF torched Tulane’s previously vaunted defense for a 38-31 win. The Knights ran for 336 yards at 6.2 yards per carry. QB John Rhys Plumlee managed the game as a thrower while contributing 176 yards and 2 TDs on the ground. I still think the offense is more capable of moving through the air with Mikey Keene, but Plumlee provides the much greater rushing threat. DC Travis Williams has led a quietly resurgent unit. Although UCF has allowed more points recently, they held all of their opponents to 20 points or less through their first 7 weeks.
Sitting at 8-2 and almost certainly the top-ranked Group of 5 team come Tuesday, UCF is looking great for a New Year’s Six Bowl. One slot is reserved for the best Group of 5 conference champion, and easy games against Navy and South Florida are the only things standing between UCF and the title game. That would likely be against the winner of the regular season finale between Cincinnati and Tulane. Though they’re not the 2017 undefeated version of the Knights that declared themselves national champions (which was warranted by the way), they’re back atop the Group of 5 where they feel they belong.
Weekly CFP Update and Analysis
This may sound shocking, but I actually don’t have much to quibble about with this week’s rankings. I’d argue for ranking TCU over Michigan, and I expect Tennessee to finish ahead of the Wolverines as well. As of right now though, the top 4 are about where they should be. In light of Oregon’s loss, LSU will probably be just 1 spot behind Tennessee, who crushed them. I wouldn’t have a 2-loss team in the top 6 yet. Alabama dropped only 3 spots, which speaks to their pedigree. I imagine that teams will jump above them and drop below them without Alabama moving much themselves, as there is no path for the Crimson Tide to the playoffs with two losses and no title game appearance.
The lowest-ranked 1-loss team, UNC, is all the way down at 15. I think this 9-1 squad should move up quite a bit. Their defense is lackluster, yes, but the offense is fantastic. UNC’s lone loss was against Notre Dame, who was really turning their season around at that point and is now ranked. I don’t think that loss looks nearly as bad as it did at the time. So why are they still this low? The CFP committee prefers complete teams with as few blemishes as possible. This argument hurt TCU last week and then hit Clemson this week. If North Carolina wins out and claims the ACC, they probably get left out, and I’m not sure that they should.
Many are suggesting that UCLA is ranked too low, but I think #12 is about right. Their defense is rather poor, surrendering 30+ points in 6 games this season. The Bruins have impressive wins over Washington and Utah, but their other victories are against lowly teams, including Alabama State and Colorado. That Oregon loss may not age as well after this week either. The Arizona loss is damning. The Pac-12 will be rooting for USC to claim the conference title. A one-loss USC team likely makes the playoff and is the Pac-12’s last hope. No other team has less than 2 losses, as the Pac-12 squads are beating up on each other once again.
Fresno State DE David Perales Could Be a Sleeper
Sometimes you watch a team for a few weeks and a particular player jumps off the screen every time. The Fresno State Bulldogs play in the Mountain West, so they often appear on Friday night or late on Saturday. Therefore, I’ve been able to learn quite a bit about this team due to repeated exposure. Every game I watch, DE David Perales seems to make play after play. That made me want to look a little closer at him to see what kind of talent he is.
Perales started out at Sacramento State for a year before transferring to Fresno State. He had to sit out the 2019 season due to the NCAA’s old transfer rules. Since his debut with the team in 2020, he has increased his pass rush production each year. Perales had 4.5 sacks in 2020, 7 in 2021, and a career-high 9.5 so far in 2022. That total has him tied for 2nd in the FBS, behind only USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu (11.5). He’s no slouch in the run game either, with 13 tackles for loss in 10 games. His most glaring attribute is his relentless motor. Coaches love a player who puts in maximum effort on every snap, and Perales is reaping the results in his stats.
He might not be facing players with Bryce Young’s pocket presence every week, but the Mountain West has a decent group of mobile passers. The biggest complaint from scouts is that Perales is only 6’3″, which is a tad small for a DE. A pro team could move him to OLB in a 3-4 defense. I also don’t know if he’s the most athletic guy, and I don’t expect great testing numbers at the combine. However, the NFL will love his attitude and style of play. If a team finds a good scheme fit for him and uses him as part of a pass rushing rotation, he could wind up as a mid-round steal in the 2023 draft.