The CFP committee released their first official rankings on Tuesday, and as usual, they messed things up. 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. I will also try to provide a draft nugget each week, focusing on a particular player or position group. Late in the season, draft preparation and playoff positioning take centerstage, and my posts will reflect that, but we’ll still talk about other stuff! Let’s start now with my week 10 takeaways!
Last Winless FBS Team Gets on the Board!
At this time last year, I was celebrating the return of midweek MACtion. It returned again this week, and although I’m still excited to have it, we haven’t been devoid of weekday college football this year, with the Sun Belt and C-USA filling the void. Therefore, I’m going to discuss another Group of 5-related topic: the Sam Houston State Bearkats. Four weeks ago, we discussed their struggles during their first year in the FBS. Unfortunately for SHSU, they didn’t win in any of the following 3 weeks. They entered week 10 as the last winless team in the FBS (0-8), and I’m happy to report that the streak is over.
I can’t say they made things easy though. Hosting current FCS team Kennesaw State, who came in 2-5 themselves, this should’ve been a cakewalk. However, SHSU seems closer to their former FCS selves than a true FBS program. The start could not have gone worse, with 4 drives ending in an INT, a punt (3 and out), and 2 lost fumbles. The Owls missed a field goal; otherwise, their lead would’ve been larger than the 14-0 they posted in the first quarter. SHSU recovered to score a TD but then allowed one before halftime. Trailing 21-7, the Bearkat defense stepped up. It pitched a second-half shutout while the offense found its legs.
That part took a while. Although QB Keegan Shoemaker completed 30/38 passes for 242 yards and 3 TDs, he also committed 3 turnovers (1 INT and both of the team’s lost fumbles). In the end though, it was Kennesaw State’s inability to throw the football that decided the game. Tied 21-21 late in the 4th, CB Da’Marcus Crosby nabbed a pick, setting up the SHSU offense near midfield. The Bearkats kicked a field goal and celebrated their first ever FBS win. Maybe this will be a springboard to future success. For once, the team played a close game and won it. I’ll keep tabs on them and the other struggling programs you may root for!
Iowa Wins Despite Botched “Firing” of OC Brian Ferentz
Some of the bigger news in the Big 10 came during the week, when interim AD Beth Goetz announced that Iowa would terminate the contract of OC Brian Ferentz at season’s end. Before I get into why this move was foolish, let me give some background. First, I’m not arguing that Ferentz should remain the OC; this is one of the worst offenses in the country, and it’s very stale. Second, I must point out that his dad is Kirk Ferentz, the team’s head coach and the longest-tenured coach in the FBS. Due to nepotism laws, Brian reports directly to AD Goetz and not to his father.
The main issue I have here is the timing. Why would you make this announcement in the midst of a 6-2 season? The team is succeeding despite a lack of points, and they won another defensive struggle 10-7 over Northwestern this week. Kirk Ferentz is no stranger to ugly wins during his more than 20 years at the school. Iowa has always been a team that wins with defense first and then tries to supplement it with running and tight end play. So it’s not like the Hawkeyes’ failure to score was something new and alarming. All Goetz has done is create an awkward situation for the remainder of the year.
The other problematic aspect is this: if Brian Ferentz is such a problem, why are you letting him finish out the season? Nothing is going to change at this point; if anything, a bad situation will be made worse. Brian isn’t going to feel like he has any credibility with his players anymore now that he’s a lame duck. There’s also the issue of Kirk. How is the elder Ferentz going to feel about a non-permanent (yet) AD firing his own son? He’ll say the right things, but you KNOW that’s going to fester. I’ve learned one key thing from this: Goetz has shown with her management that she CANNOT be the official AD. I doubt Iowa likes that.
Aggression Saves Houston, Costs (23) Kansas State
Two coaches made notable aggressive decisions near the goal line this week. One of them is very straightforward. After a sluggish 17-17 game against Baylor during regulation, the Bears scored a TD in OT to take a 24-17 lead. Houston responded with a TD of their own but decided to forgo the PAT and try for 2. Everyone seemed to know what play was coming: a QB draw by Donovan Smith. It worked anyway, and the Cougars avoided 2OT and instead won the game 25-24. I don’t really like doing that, especially when your offense has struggled. However, there’s a school of thought that going for the win is the right play, so I can live with it.
What I can’t tolerate is what Kansas State HC Chris Klieman decided to do against Texas. After making a miraculous 20-point comeback in the second half, the teams went into OT tied at 30. Texas got the ball first and kicked a field goal. KSU then made it to the 4 yard line, but it was 4th and goal. The obvious choice here was to kick and force 2OT. Instead, Klieman lined up to go for it. Texas, who seemed as shocked as I was, called timeout, but Klieman still went for it. He had QB Will Howard pass, but his line collapsed and the throw had no chance. That decision deserves a thank you note from the Longhorns.
I don’t really know how to comprehend this. I GUESS I could accept it had the Wildcats been at the 1. At that point, trusting your offense to get a yard for the win might be very reasonable. But the 4?? That told Texas immediately that the play would be a throw, and the defensive line is where the Longhorns shine. Furthermore, KSU was the better team in the second half, and Texas had a backup QB in. Had the game gone to a second overtime, I think the odds would’ve favored Kansas State. This failure will cost the Wildcats their spot in the top 25 despite the great game from their players. What a shame.
Weekly CFP Update and Analysis
Sigh. Why do I watch the initial rankings with great eagerness, knowing what lies ahead? Every year, I expect the CFP committee to improve and take lessons from seasons past. Alas, every year, history repeats itself. In 2022, the committee put the undefeated defending national champions, the Georgia Bulldogs, at #3. That was clearly a whiff, so they showed restraint this time around…and dropped Georgia to #2 instead. They also had no respect for the Pac-12 (as usual), though I can’t be too mad at that; the conference doesn’t even respect itself.
(1) Ohio State stuck to their pattern: struggle badly for a half and then pull away late. They actually trailed Rutgers 9-7 at halftime even though the Scarlet Knights can’t throw or execute in the red zone. This offense is still a weakness, and with all due respect to Rutgers, the Buckeyes haven’t played a major threat yet. (2) Georgia earned a nice win against (12) Missouri, who you might remember gave the Bulldogs more trouble than anyone last season. (3) Michigan predictably stomped a poor Purdue team, while (4) Florida State had a tough time putting away Pittsburgh before dominating the 3rd quarter.
The 5th- and 6th-ranked teams, Washington and Oregon, respectively, showed their stuff. The Huskies faced (20) USC, who can score with anyone, and won 52-42 behind a stellar performance from RB Dillon Johnson (26/256/4). Oregon embarrassed California 63-19 to the point that QB Bo Nix (4 passing TDs and 2 rushing TDs) was pulled. Nix is now probably the Heisman frontrunner. (7) Texas squeaked away in a game that made Big XII officials sweat; see below for more on that weird one. They’re the last Big XII team alive now that (9) Oklahoma has lost their 2nd game in a row…in the final Bedlam for a long time.
The only other teams with a prayer are the remaining 1-loss Power 5 schools. Those include (8) Alabama, who got a strong victory over (14) LSU; however, the game was close until Tigers QB Jayden Daniels got hurt. The Crimson Tide and (10) Ole Miss, who barely survived Texas A&M due to a missed Aggies FG, can probably only get in if they win out and claim the SEC title. (11) Penn State is technically a 1-loss team, but talk to me if they get through Ohio State AND Michigan. Last, we have (13) Louisville, who has a viable path. Winning out would involve beating Miami, Kentucky, and FSU. That would make for quite the resume.
No Likely First-Round RBs This Season
Although running backs have been greatly devalued in recent years, the 2022 draft was an anomaly. Two RBs were drafted in the top 12. One, Bijan Robinson, is a generational talent, so that makes sense. The other, Jahmyr Gibbs, isn’t quite as sturdily built to consistently handle a heavy load, so that pick was a surprise to me. For those wondering if we might see more RBs selected in the opening frame this year (we’ve had at least one in every draft since 2015 except one (2022) after all), the answer is trending toward no. Nobody I’ve spoken to has a first-round grade on any of this year’s backs, even those who think highly of the position.
The two backs with the best chance come from rival schools: Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson and Michigan’s Blake Corum. As a true freshman in 2021, Henderson made it impossible to keep him off the field. He ran 183 times for 1,248 yards and 15 TDs while catching 27 passes for 312 yards and 4 more scores. An injury-plagued 2022 season limited his production, but he has bounced back so far this year. Corum redshirted his freshman year but played well in 2021. His best season came in 2022 (247/1,463/18), but he tore his ACL late that year. He too has rebounded in 2023.
Despite how good these backs look, no one is declaring them “special”, which caps their draft stock at 2nd-round picks. The last RBs drafted in round 1 were either elite 3-down starters or Alvin Kamara-level contributors in the passing game. The problem this year is that absent such a player, there are too many similar talents for any one of them to rise above the others. RBs such as Oregon’s Bucky Irving, Alabama’s Jase McClellan, and UCLA’s Carson Steele are all quality players that can be had in round 3 or later, limiting the need for NFL teams to reach at the position. Expect plenty of mid-round steals who outperform their draft slots.