For once, we had a pretty calm week! There was only one true top-25 upset that we probably should have seen coming (LSU over Ole Miss; 10 over 9 doesn’t qualify), while two of the top teams (Georgia and Michigan) were idle. I’ve decided that I’m going to try and put a draft-related discussion at the end of each of these posts as we approach the later stages of the season, and each will typically focus on a particular player or position group (I started last week with WR Quentin Johnston, who was brilliant once again). Let’s check out my week 8 takeaways before week 9 overcorrects and causes absolute mayhem!
The ACC Now Goes Through…Clemson?
Every ranked team in the ACC resides in the Atlantic division, but only one of these teams can play in the title game (until next year anyway), where they would instantly be favored. Thus, the matchup between (14) Syracuse and (5) Clemson will go a long way toward deciding which team comes out on top at the end of the season. The one remaining undefeated in the ACC after this game is Clemson after a 27-21 victory, but you’ll notice the question mark in the section title. That’s because this team has a major question on offense.
The defense has carried the Tigers for 2 years running now. The loss of DC Brent Venables to Oklahoma did nothing to wreck this unit, as Wes Goodwin has done a masterful job optimizing the skills of players like linemen Bryan Bresee and Evan Murphy. Though it has been better than in 2021, the offense is still the weak point on this team. Specifically, the concerns surrounding QB DJ Uiagalelei have been amplified in the wake of his benching this weekend for top recruit Cade Klubnik. Coach Dabo Swinney says this is not a long-term move and that Uiagalelei remains QB1, but that might be because Klubnik did nothing of note himself.
Uiagalelei was scattershot and careless with the football for two and a half quarters, throwing 2 INTs and losing a fumble (the latter in scoring range). He went just 13/21 for 138 yards before Swinney went to Klubnik for a spark. Klubnik threw just 4 passes, completing 2 for 19 yards. The running game was solely responsible for Clemson’s comeback (and maybe a couple of Syracuse penalties). The key was that Klubnik didn’t turn the ball over. It’s not a stretch to say that Uiagalelei has underperformed since taking the reins from Trevor Lawrence. He possesses talent, but he has to play better for Clemson to go far.
After week 3, I discussed whether certain 3-0 teams were real, and I was emphatic about Syracuse being legitimate. They’ve certainly proven that, but the one thing I didn’t mention in that blurb was their passing game. Garrett Shrader has brought QB stability to the Orange, but they don’t move the ball through the air with ease. The operation feels clunky, with Shrader looking at one read before pulling the ball down to run. Elite defenses like Clemson’s will snuff that out, as the second half showed. This team has made a ton of progress and saved coach Dino Babers’ job, but they’re still a step below the best.
Home Version of Bo Nix Takes Down UCLA, Pac-12’s Last 0-Loss Team
Oregon QB Bo Nix has a really weird trend: he can be absolutely fantastic at home while ranging from average to abysmal on the road. That doesn’t seem to vary based on what “home” is, as this has followed him from Auburn to Oregon. In a battle between (9) UCLA and (10) Oregon, it comes as no surprise then that the Ducks had an advantage as the host team. Throughout his career, Nix has a 65.03 completion percentage with 37 TDs and just 2 INTs at home, while in games on the road or in neutral locations, he has completed 57.81% of his passes for 19 TDs and 17 INTs.
Nix was practically flawless in this one, going 22/28 for 283 yards and 5 TDs while chipping in 51 yards on the ground. UCLA’s offense wasn’t bad; they put up 30 points and only turned the ball over once. The defense just couldn’t hold up against Oregon’s 45-point onslaught. The Ducks were probably unfairly judged for their blowout loss in week 1 to Georgia, who might be a superteam. They haven’t dropped a game since. UCLA was unbeaten with their last 2 wins coming against top-15 teams. I think this game is simply a case of good losing to great.
Looking at the big picture, this is great news for USC, who now has much more control over their own destiny in the Pac-12 South, but it’s terrible for the conference at large, as they will once again have no undefeated conference champion. Where does that leave them for the CFP? For the first time in a while, the overall level of play in the Pac-12 is really good. Schools like Utah, USC, UCLA, and Oregon can all be considered premier teams and not just “pretty good”. That boosts the conference’s chances of earning one of the 4 coveted spots with a 1-loss champion for the first time since 2016.
BYU, Miami, and Texas A&M in Free Fall
These three teams have one trend in common: they all started the season ranked in the top 25 and have since collapsed to records of .500 or worse. Let’s take a look at each of them and see what’s going on.
BYU was the lowest-ranked among these teams in week 1, but they had some of the highest hopes. Last year’s strong team was largely intact, including QB Jaren Hall. After shocking Baylor in week 2, expectations rose, but they had a poor showing against Oregon (who we know is better than their #25 ranking at that time). The Cougars bounced back with wins against 2 Mountain West foes, but then the wheels fell off. They’ve lost 3 straight to Notre Dame (not good), Arkansas (pretty good), and Liberty (mediocre). This week’s game against the Flames was a 41-14 blowout.
The main problems have been on defense, as the offense actually hasn’t played as badly as the scores indicate. Hall has 19 TDs and just 3 INTs on the season, so he’s taking care of the football and playing efficiently. Allowing 52 points to the Razorbacks is just unacceptable, while allowing 41 to the Flames is even worse. Coverage has been lackluster, but the pass rush has been practically absent. QBs are able to stand comfortably in the pocket and survey the field for easy completions. Next week’s matchup against East Carolina is their hardest remaining game, but they have to prove that their defense can stop anyone.
Miami came into 2022 dreaming of an ACC title with returning star QB Tyler Van Dyke and new coach Mario Cristobal, who they managed to poach from Oregon. Two easy wins did nothing to dispel those hopes, as fans knew that their third game against Texas A&M would be their true test. The Aggies, coming off a disappointing loss, stifled Miami in a defensive battle. Van Dyke struggled mightily, but he was also hurt by his young receivers all game. He played even worse in a stunning home loss to Middle Tennessee, and he was even benched in the second half. However, in the past 3 weeks, Van Dyke has been great.
The Hurricanes started off with an offensive problem, but that has shifted to purely a defensive issue. Van Dyke threw for nearly 800 yards against UNC and Virginia Tech, but Miami could only beat the Hokies as the defense could not handle the Tar Heels. Quarterbacks are able to abuse Miami’s secondary, and the pass rush is not getting home. Everything collapsed this week against Duke. Van Dyke played well but left with a shoulder injury, at which point Jake Garcia came in and committed 5 turnovers. The team has 8 total turnovers, the most in a Power 5 game since 2009, in a 45-21 loss.
It’s hard to say what the biggest issue is. If we assume that Van Dyke is back on track and ignore the Garcia debacle, then the skill-position players and defense are the most likely culprits. The running backs have been stifled in recent weeks, with Jaylan Knighton acting as a fumbling machine, and receivers aren’t running good routes. They’ve allowed 45 points each to MTSU and Duke, two teams with middling offenses. Virginia should give Miami a chance to get right before a big game against Florida State. The Hurricanes need to be much more prepared (and that finger is pointed at coaching) to win that one or their later game against Clemson.
Texas A&M is the most surprising team on this list, as they’ve been a tough out for anyone despite any deficiencies (just ask Alabama). The thinking for Jimbo Fisher’s team was that a returning defense that shut down SEC opponents last year could combine with transfer QB Max Johnson or returning starter Haynes King (who lost 2021 due to injury) to produce a juggernaut. In actuality, the offense might be worse than it was with Zach Calzada at QB last year, the defense is showing cracks, and fans are questioning Jimbo Fisher in public.
After a week 1 win over Sam Houston State, the first shocker of the season saw the Aggies fall at home to Appalachian State. They rebounded in an ugly showing against Miami before narrowly defeating Arkansas because the Razorbacks missed a go-ahead field goal. They’ve lost every game sense, though they’ve all been against SEC opponents. Texas A&M was blown out by Mississippi State and nearly conquered Alabama but fell short. A loss this week to South Carolina, who couldn’t throw the ball much better themselves, yielded a 3-game losing streak and a new low in Fisher’s tenure.
Max Johnson breaking his hand destroyed this season because King is not a competent QB. He does not see the field well and puts the ball in harm’s way. The offense struggles to move when the running game isn’t mauling opponents, and that in turn is wearing out the defense. They only gave up a pile of points to the air raid offense of the Bulldogs, but they’ve surrendered a few too many points for this offense, which has not topped 25 points since week 1, to overcome. Fisher’s contract is his best chance to stay, because this on-field product would get lesser-paid men fired.
Four of the Worst Teams in College Football Play Each Other
You can’t just talk about the teams that are doing well. Sometimes, you need to talk about the squads struggling at the bottom because those teams have fans that love them too! Every so often, two such teams play each other; ESPN’s Ryan McGee likes to call these games “pillow fights“. Luckily for us, we didn’t have just one but TWO pillow fights this week! FIU went to Charlotte and Hawai’i went to Colorado State to play games that won’t impact any bowl games or conference races, but we still care about them!
FIU has been a mess for several years. Former coach Butch Davis, who has NFL head coaching experience and a great coaching stint at Miami on his resume, accused the administration of sabotaging the football team. The Panthers won 1 game in 2020 and 2021 combined. First-year HC Mike MacIntyre clearly has his work cut out for him, as shown by a 73-0 demolition at the hands of Western Kentucky earlier this season. FIU was probably happy to see Charlotte on their schedule, as the 49ers came in at 1-6 with a 1-point win over Georgia State and multiscore losses to teams including William and Mary (at home in that case).
FIU finally found a team they could blow out. The Panthers won 34-15, but it was 34-0 in the 4th quarter before some garbage time points. Charlotte turned the ball over 5 times; their two QBs were responsible for all of them. The 49ers couldn’t find success rushing (2.1 yards per carry) or passing (3 INTs). FIU didn’t do anything special, but they took advantage of turnovers and won the time of possession battle. In a season with bad losses to teams like UConn, FIU is probably happy to be sitting at 3-4.
In our other pillow fight, the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors took on Colorado State, pitting two offensively challenged teams against one another. This wasn’t a very exciting game to watch. Neither team hit 20 points (CSU won 17-13), and neither QB reached 200 passing yards. Hawai’i took an early 13-3 lead to the half, looking like new coach Timmy Chang had finally figured things out in their 31-16 win over Nevada in their last game. The Rainbow Warriors were shut out in the second half. Crucially, the Rams held onto the football. Hawai’i only had one turnover (an INT), but they put the ball on the turf 3 times. CSU has now won 2 of their last 3 (curiously, they too beat Nevada) with tougher conference games ahead.
Texas RB Bijan Robinson is a Generational Talent
Running backs have been devalued lately as NFL teams focus more on throwing the ball, so first-round RB selections are becoming increasingly rare. However, scouts believe that Bijan Robinson has a chance to not only go in round 1 but also to be the first RB taken in the top 10 since Saquon Barkley in 2018. I agree with them. Robinson is a rare combination of speed and power. He can fight through contact for tough yards or blow by people in open space. His contributions in the passing game are also strong, as he is a good blocker and an excellent pass catcher. All of this makes him a well-rounded back.
With another quality back in Roschon Johnson also on the team, Robinson hasn’t had to receive too many carries, so there’s plenty of tread left on his tires. Despite a somewhat limited workload, Robinson has compiled some great stats. He has never dropped below 5.5 yards per carry or 15 receptions in a season. The Longhorns should use him more in the passing game, as he would provide QB Quinn Ewers some easy completions with great yards after the catch due to his elusiveness. This year, he has 162 carries for 920 yards rushing and 11 TDs, plus 17 catches for 280 yards and 2 TDs.
The position that he plays is the only thing that could prevent him from being a premium selection. Three-down workhorse backs are still valued by some teams, but players like Najee Harris (24th) have fallen to the end of the first round. The NFL teams that need RBs the most (like the Rams) aren’t picking in the top 10, and the teams with these high picks might be lured by the talent at other positions, thinking that they can take a quality RB in round 2 or later. This line of thinking is actually not wrong, but Robinson could be really special. His kind of ability might make someone pull the trigger much earlier than usual for an RB.