2023 College Football: Week 11 Takeaways

No top-8 teams lost, so don’t expect to see much movement in the CFP rankings. That doesn’t mean we didn’t see or learn anything though! (2) Georgia showed off again versus a top-10 foe, (3) Michigan got its first test against a legitimate opponent, and the best QBs found ways to win even if they weren’t at their best. Other teams really struggled; some lost in unexpected fashion, while others continued their dark descents. I cover the good and the bad here in my week 11 takeaways, with another weekly draft nugget at the end of course!

(13) Tennessee, (15) Oklahoma State Embarrassed

Tennessee and Oklahoma State are considered second-tier teams in the SEC and Big XII, respectively. That is, they’re very good teams but not among college football’s elites. If they were trying to prove that notion wrong, both schools failed miserably in week 11. You could’ve seen Tennessee’s 36-7 loss to (14) Missouri coming. QB Joe Milton is not Hendon Hooker, and after losing their top 2 WRs to the draft, the Volunteers are not nearly as explosive as they were last year. They struggle against good defenses, and Missouri qualifies. These Tigers are legit, and they’re a top 12-quality team.

Oklahoma State’s debacle came out of nowhere. UCF lost 5 straight games, which happened to be their 5 first ever conference games as members of the Big XII, before snapping the streak last week against a bad Cincinnati team (another Big XII newcomer). The Knights feature a typically turnover-prone offense, which doesn’t pair well with a defense that has surrendered 40 points on 4 separate occasions this year. Their 4-5 record coming into their OSU matchup is a testament to their easy first few games. Somehow, everything I just described fit the Cowboys instead of the Knights in week 11.

In a 45-3 drubbing, OSU QB Alan Bowman imploded, tossing 3 INTs and never reaching the end zone. The defense was helpless against RB RJ Harvey (24/206) and WR Kobe Hudson (3/96), each of whom scored 3 TDs. UCF hasn’t looked this good since week 1, when they played a MAC team. A lone field goal to start the second half (already down 24-0) sparked false hope, but every other aspect of this game was ugly. This team is worse than in years past. The Big XII must be furious at OSU for winning Bedlam, which the Cowboys clearly treated as their Super Bowl. Had that game gone differently, Oklahoma would be providing the conference another playoff hopeful.

Washington State, Colorado in Complete Free Fall

A pair of Pac-12 teams started their seasons with so much progress. Since then, the wheels have come off. I’m talking about Washington State and Colorado, both of whom spent time in the top 25 while looking like offensive juggernauts. Let’s see if we can figure out what went wrong for these teams, as each would be eliminated from bowl eligibility with just one more loss. Next week is do-or-die for both squads: Colorado hosts Washington State in week 12.

Washington State is the owner of the more surprising fall from grace. This team got off to a 4-0 start and made it all the way to #13 in the AP rankings. QB Cameron Ward was on fire, with 13 TDs and no INTs. In the last 6 games (all losses), Ward has 7 TDs and 4 INTs, and the team did not top 30 points until this week. Discounting the 10-7 loss to Stanford (that was a weird outlier), the Cougars have been leaking points defensively, putting undue pressure on the offense. I think the offense is buckling under that pressure at times, but even against California this week, when WSU scored 39 points, it wasn’t enough.

Colorado is a much easier to team to figure out: everyone jumped the gun. We saw warning signs earlier in the year suggesting that this team would struggle in certain areas of the game. Most notably, the Buffaloes are very small on their offensive and defensive lines, allowing opponents to play bully ball. QB Shedeur Sanders remains excellent, as does two-way star Travis Hunter. Those two can’t cook together though if the team can’t run the ball or stop opponents’ rushing attacks. Sanders is being sacked at an alarming rate, eliminating many downfield shots. I love what Coach Prime has done, but this team is a year or two away in terms of talent.

Who is the Best Group of 5 Team?

With all due respect to (23) Tulane, the only Group of 5 team ranked in the top 25, I do not consider the Green Wave the best team from these conferences. They have won one-score games against supposedly inferior teams for 4 straight weeks. In contrast, Liberty and James Madison have been dominant all season long. The only two 9-0 teams entering the week unranked, both schools won easily to move to 10-0, so let’s try to pick which of them is superior.

Liberty lost QB Malik Willis last year and then lost coach Hugh Freeze to Auburn this offseason. Rather than collapse, the Flames hired Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell in a terrific move. As good as Freeze was for this team, Chadwell is starting his tenure in even better fashion. Behind star dual-threat QB Kaidon Salter, Liberty has steamrolled most of their conference foes and a pair of MAC teams. This is Liberty’s first year in C-USA, as they were independents prior to 2023. Their offense is getting hotter (35+ points in each of the past 4 games), while the defense is yielding more points as the schedule toughens.

James Madison smashed an FCS team to start the year, showing that they have evolved from that level of team in under 2 years since moving to the FBS. They followed that up by beating an ACC team (Virginia) on the road. Perhaps their best win came in week 3, with a 16-14 defensive victory at defending Sun Belt champion Troy. Last season, JMU faded after a 5-0 start, but not this time. The Dukes have won every game, and the last two have been blowouts. This is a balanced team with an explosive offense and a defense that can impose its will when necessary.

I think the pick for best team comes down to which you think plays in the better conference. For my money, the Sun Belt is much tougher than C-USA, so the Dukes have played against superior competition. As they are still thriving in that setting, I give the edge to JMU. In light of that, while we’re here, can the NCAA please stop being stupid and let the Dukes play for their conference title game, enjoy a bowl game, and be included in the CFP rankings? I’ll spare you the rant about the weird rules for teams jumping from the FCS to the FBS, but only because I already went on a tirade about this last year.

Weekly CFP Update and Analysis

My issues with this week’s rankings are pretty much the same ones I had last week. I can’t really complain too much though because if you had the top 5 in a particular order before week 10, nothing you saw last week likely changed your mind about anything. Every team in the top 8 won, and there wasn’t an incredibly dominant victory against a quality opponent among them. This week, the same 8 won again, but we did see a couple of teams show out.

(1) Ohio State beat up on a bad Michigan State team, while (2) Georgia flexed their muscles against (9) Ole Miss. Missouri’s dominating victory over Tennessee makes Georgia’s win last week even more impressive. (3) Michigan beat (10) Penn State, who I continue to insist is overrated. (4) Florida State didn’t look great in a home win over a Miami team who benched their QB for the game, but (5) Washington didn’t do enough in their game against Utah’s backup QB to overtake them if you didn’t already think they belonged in the top 4. (6) Oregon won in a routine affair, and (7) Texas hung on against TCU.

(8) Alabama is suddenly looking very dangerous. QB Jalen Milroe is minimizing his mistakes while taking advantage of his two best attributes: his running and his deep ball. They’ve already wrapped up the SEC West, and a win over Georgia in the SEC Championship game would be tough for the committee to ignore. With their 2nd losses, Ole Miss and Penn State are done. That’s true not just for the playoffs but also their conference races. The two teams above them losing helps (11) Louisville’s cause, as they’ll likely move up to #9. The Cardinals have steadily risen each week, and their playoff chances obviously depend on them winning out.

One big question the committee will have to answer is whether to favor Washington or Oregon. They’re actually hoping NOT to have to make that call, and the Pac-12 Championship game could grant their wish. If you asked me who I thought was the better team right now, it’s definitely Oregon. And yet, that undefeated record and head-to-head win prevent me from jumping the Ducks. The other question concerns what to do with a 1-loss ACC or Big XII champion. I think that may depend on when that loss comes and whose loss it is. FSU would probably be left out for losing this late. Texas should still control their own destiny.

Top DTs at Different Spots in the Draft

Defensive tackles don’t always get as much love as their flashier edge-rushing brethren. However, they’re crucial in the run game. Additionally, if you ask any QB, he’ll likely tell you that he can handle edge pressure. It’s an interior rush that makes him uncomfortable. Even Tom Brady can verify this statement. Thus, DTs that can push the pocket and disrupt the middle of an offensive line are extremely valuable pieces. Examples include players like Aaron Donald of the Rams or KC’s Chris Jones. With this idea in mind, I thought I’d look at which DTs in the 2024 NFL Draft fit that mold, as well as traditional nose tackles.

Among the premium prospects, I’m not overthinking the choice. Many boards have Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton as their top DT, and I do as well. When you watch him play, it’s easy to see why. Newton is very explosive, and he has 15 career sacks to back that up. His best year as a run defender came last season, when he had 14 TFLs. That may be a product of circumstances though, as he’s plenty active in the run on tape. Newton is also rushing the passer a bit more, and he has improved in that department. At 6’2″ and 280 lbs, he is just 1 inch taller and 4 pounds lighter than Donald. I like that comp a lot.

On day 2, I’m eyeing Texas’ T’Vondre Sweat. A monster of a man at 6’4″ and 340 lbs, my physical comp for him is Tampa’s Vita Vea. They are similarly explosive, but Vea converts more of his rushes into pressures and sacks. Sweat is a natural run defender due to his size, filling gaps without much effort. He helps teammates get sacks but earns almost none himself. Questions remain regarding his work ethic, but we saw that with Jalen Carter last year, and he’s doing just fine with the Eagles. I don’t believe Sweat comes with any serious character concerns. He has TONS of upside, and the right scheme fit will be crucial here.

If you’re looking for a late-round value pick, take a look at Georgia’s Nazir Stackhouse. A classic NT at 6’3″ and 320 lbs, Stackhouse really needs you to watch him play because he does not stuff the stat sheet. The Bulldogs have produced 3 first-round DTs in the past 2 years (Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis, and Devonte Wyatt), so you’d think the well has run dry. This is untrue, though I don’t see THAT level of talent. Stackhouse doesn’t offer much in the passing game, thus his low draft grade. However, he excels at filling gaps against the run. If you pick him to be a 2-down run stuffer, you’ll be very pleased with what you get.

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