2023 College Football: Week 12 Takeaways

Just one more week of the regular season remains, and things are coming into focus. The playoff race is down to 9 teams, with Georgia and Oregon seeming the most dangerous. Ducks QB Bo Nix made a Heisman statement with 6 TD passes this week (all in 1 half!), but LSU’s Jaylen Daniels won’t cede that title so quickly. James Madison lost their first game in 13 contests, not so coincidentally right after the NCAA denied their waiver to play in a bowl game. I’ve said my piece on that already, so for everything else, here are my week 12 takeaways!

(3) Michigan Clearly Feeling Impact of Jim Harbaugh Suspension

I count myself among those that view Wolverines HC Jim Harbaugh receiving a 3-game ban a mere slap on the wrist. For all the problems with this program, this is barely a punishment. He can even travel with the team and coach them every day except game days. In spite of that, it seems like Michigan is really struggling to deal with the distraction. OC Sherrone Moore, the interim head coach, is doing a fine job. None of this is really about him. However, the two games Michigan has played without Harbaugh have been much greater challenges than the 5 games that preceded his suspension.

Look at the numbers. In those 5 prior games, the Wolverines scored 41 points or more in every contest. They won those games by an average margin of 40.4. Without Harbaugh, the team has scored 24 and 31 points, winning by an average of 8. I can’t even say that the quality of the last two opponents has been so much better. While ranked, Penn State is wildly overrated, and Maryland is reeling, having lost 5 of their last 6. Regardless, Michigan’s defense yielded their two highest point totals of the season in these games, while the offense scored their fewest and second-fewest points.

The Wolverines deserve credit for managing to win when facing adversity. Simply doing that won’t be enough to take down (2) Ohio State next week though. Harbaugh will miss the last of his 3 games, and that is terrible timing. The Ohio State game is the biggest on Michigan’s calendar every year. It will determine the winner of the Big 10 West as well as the likely recipient of a playoff spot (no offense to (16) Iowa). To put it lightly, Michigan has had a joke of a schedule, and this is their one true challenge. All phases will need to be at their very best. If they aren’t, then maybe this Harbaugh punishment will be impactful after all.

Frank Harris Dazzles in Final Home Game for Roadrunners

UTSA QB Frank Harris might mean more to his program than any other player to any other school. Given that the Roadrunners have been in the FBS for only 11 years and Harris has been there for 7 of them, that’s pretty understandable. After taking a redshirt in 2017, he missed all of 2018 with knee injuries. Then, a separated shoulder ended his 2019 season after just 4 games. Harris stayed healthy for the next 3 years, but after 2022’s bowl game, he suffered an infection in his surgically repaired left knee. He needed 4 more procedures to overcome that, and he nearly medically retired from football.

It hasn’t been an easy year in 2023 either, as he missed a couple more games, but he got a well-earned moment this week. In UTSA’s final home game of the year against South Florida, Harris was constantly applauded by an appreciative crowd. Out of eligibility, he had one more night to play for the home fans, and he put on a show. Harris went 31/46 for 411 yards and 3 TDs, adding 10 carries for 112 yards and 3 more scores on the ground. His 523 total yards set a school record, and Harris did this without committing a single turnover in a 49-21 victory.

Early in the 4th quarter, with the Roadrunners cruising, Harris was pulled from the game. He gave the crowd one last curtain call before Owen McCown came in. I don’t know what the future holds for Harris’ football career. With his injury history and age (24), his draft prospects aren’t great. That said, this is a stellar leader who has carried his team to two consecutive C-USA titles and can clinch a spot in the AAC Championship game next week against (24) Tulane. Someone may give him a shot, and there’s definitely a path to coaching if he wants it. This week though, let’s just celebrate his remarkable career.

Caleb Williams Plays Possible Final Game at USC

If QB Caleb Williams follows the path that many previous college players who were projected to be top draft picks took, then we may have just seen him play his final college game (USC played in week 1 and did not have a bye, so this was already their 12th game). Should that be true, this is not the way he wanted to go out. A 7-5 season is a bitter disappointment for a team with such high hopes, especially after a 6-0 start. Losing the last of those 5 against a bitter rival in UCLA stings even more. The truth is though, Williams is almost blameless for this loss, as he has been all season.

If you take a look at his numbers in comparison to the ones he put up during last year’s Heisman-winning campaign, you won’t notice massive differences. In fact, some of Williams’ 2023 numbers reflect favorably. His passing TDs (30 vs. 42) and yards (3,633 vs. 4,537) are down, but his completion percentage is up to 68%, and his INTs remained flat at 5. This is not an appreciably different player other than the fact that he has had to carry an atrocious defense. The 2022 Trojans were bad defensively, but this version of the team is on another level. Since week 5, they have not allowed less than 34 points in a game.

One loss came when Williams put up 42 points. It’s no wonder then that he has felt a need to play hero ball more than ever. That has led to some misfires while still delivering the same dose of magic that has come to define Williams. This week’s 38-20 loss included his fewest points of the season, but his RBs earned just 23 rushing yards, and they lost 2 fumbles. Williams still threw for 384 yards and a TD, but the load was too heavy. His draft prospects haven’t changed: this is still your likely #1 overall pick in April. It’s just a shame that one of college football’s best players didn’t have a chance to compete for a title.

Weekly CFP Update and Analysis

FINALLY! If you take a look at this week’s rankings, you’ll only notice one change in the top 8. That change is quite glaring though, as it gives us a new #1. Georgia has supplanted Ohio State, and they should’ve been the top team all along. If the committee needed any more evidence, the Bulldogs thoroughly trashed (18) Tennessee 38-10, and that’s even with the Volunteers scoring a TD on the very first play from scrimmage. Ohio State looks fine, and they may even be the favorites against Michigan next week, but I don’t think they’re at Georgia’s level. In fact, nobody is just yet.

Elsewhere in the top 8, some teams ran into trouble. (4) Florida State had a nightmare evening despite a 58-13 win. QB Jordan Travis suffered a gruesome lower leg injury and required an ambulance. The team got into a 13-0 hole against North Alabama (an FCS team) at home before figuring things out with Tate Rodemaker, but Travis was this team’s best player and will be sorely missed. (5) Washington had a tough opponent in (11) Oregon State, but it’s concerning that they were shut out for the entire second half. Winning 22-20 over a top-15 foe is nice, but the Huskies probably didn’t make a great argument to overtake FSU.

(6) Oregon continues to look stellar. Remember that their loss to Washington came because of a missed field goal, and they might have a chance to avenge it in the Pac-12 championship game. I still think the Ducks control their own destiny if they keep playing this great. (7) Texas navigated a tricky road game against Iowa State, but they haven’t looked particularly impressive for several weeks. Even with a Big XII title, they could be left out in favor of the Pac-12 winner without help. (8) Alabama rolled over an FCS team; their season comes down to the SEC title game against Georgia.

The last team with a shot is (10) Louisville. They beat Miami in game that had the Hurricanes as the favored team. Based on that, it’s clear to me that people still aren’t sold on the Cardinals despite some great wins over Notre Dame and a then-healthy Duke team. It makes me wonder whether winning out would even be enough. Their chances to win the ACC have improved based on Travis’ injury. However, the ACC is weaker than it has been in years past. A 1-loss champion Louisville team probably wouldn’t make the CFP over 1-loss Texas or Oregon and surely wouldn’t pass an SEC-winning Alabama. As in 2022, the ACC has issues.

QBs KJ Jefferson and Grayson McCall Hurting Their Draft Stock

Our draft nugget this week concerns QBs because it’s abundantly clear to me that people care about that position most. We aim to please here at Takeaways (but we will definitely cover other positions as always!). Two QBs who considered entering the 2023 draft but returned to school are Arkansas’ KJ Jefferson and Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall. Both took a calculated gamble that they could improve this season, thus boosting their draft stock. For reference, both were viewed as potential day-2 picks coming into 2023. Reduced effectiveness and injury have impacted their draft stock.

The plan with Jefferson was to improve his pocket passing, as he was already an elite rushing threat at the QB position. Ignoring this week’s game against FIU, one of the worst teams in the FBS, Jefferson’s numbers are down across the board. Coming into week 12, Jefferson had already passed last year’s 5 INTs with 8, and his completion percentage is down 3 points. His rushing has decreased as opponents have dared him to throw, and it has had an impact. After two winning seasons, the Razorbacks are 4-7 now. I can easily see Jefferson sliding to day 3 if NFL scouts are worried about his accuracy and consider him a project.

McCall’s got hurt through no real fault of his own. On October 21, he took a big hit to the head against Arkansas State and was knocked unconscious. McCall remains out to this day, and nobody knows when he’ll be cleared to play. Making matters worse, the stats he has posted in 7 games this season are not impressive. A notoriously accurate QB, McCall has thrown 6 INTs, doubling his previous season high. He only has 10 TD passes, less than half than he has produced in any other season. McCall has 1 year of eligibility left, and he should use it. Perhaps a transfer is also in order now that Jamey Chadwell is no longer coaching CCU.

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