It’s rivalry week! Teams have a knack for showing up in ways they haven’t all year when playing their rivals. These matchups often bring out the best in players and coaches, and this week was no different. (8) Alabama survived in improbable fashion against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. (20) Oklahoma State got up off the mat to stun BYU. (13) Oklahoma and TCU combined for 114 points. Finally, numerous 5-6 teams rallied to even their records and earn bowl berths. Enjoy my week 13 takeaways, as this is the last week of the regular season. Conference championships are up next!
(3) Michigan Earns Threepeat Over (2) Ohio State
The Jim Harbaugh suspension didn’t mean anything after all. Michigan won all 3 games that he missed, including their season-defining rivalry game against Ohio State. Perhaps the most hyped regular-season game of the year, this game had a TON at stake. The winner advances to the Big 10 title game against Iowa and has the inside track of the CFP. Maybe that led to some tension because neither team scored until the 6th drive of the game, when Michigan got a TD on a short field (7 yards) due to a Kyle McCord INT. McCord had an awful 4/10 start, but he settled in and played better as the game progressed.
As you know, I don’t completely trust McCord or Michigan’s JJ McCarthy. I’m not sure their teams do either, and I believe this game came down to a difference in philosophy. Ohio State relied on their erratic signal caller, while Michigan built a plan around insulating their QB with strong defense and a bruising rushing attack. RB Blake Corum did the bulk of the damage, running 22 times for 88 yards and 2 TDs. Up 14-10 at the end of the first half, the Wolverines tried to ice K Jayden Fielding. It worked splendidly; he nailed his 52-yard practice attempt but hooked the real thing to keep OSU off the board.
Ohio State competed in the second half, briefly tying the game at 17. They never once held a lead, nor would they tie the score again. Michigan mostly neutralized the Buckeyes’ run game, and even though WR Marvin Harrison Jr (8/118/1) did his usual damage, the Wolverines made sure nobody else could thrive. Still, OSU had a chance to win with 1 minute left. Down 30-24 and needing a TD, the Buckeyes marched to the Michigan 37 before firing an INT under pressure. While Michigan only required McCarthy to throw for 148 yards, Ohio State needed their QB to be a hero, and it doomed them.
Michigan will be heavily favored next week against Iowa, as the Hawkeyes are inept on offense. That will launch them into the CFP once again, but I still think they’re overrated. This is a top-10 program, but they aren’t the most elite group out there. They just happened to face an even more overrated team this week. Ohio State is simply frustrating. This team would easily win the National Championship if it still had CJ Stroud; the rest of the roster is that good. Instead, HC Ryan Day has to reckon with his 3rd straight loss to his rival. It makes you wonder if changes are coming because OSU doesn’t appear built to take the next step.
How Did Conferences’ New Teams Fare This Year?
In this transformative year of conference realignment, 14 teams either switched or joined new FBS conferences. Only three conferences felt the impact this time around: the AAC, the Big XII, and C-USA. With the regular season fully completed, it’s time to visit each of those teams and see how their first year went. We’ll start with the strongest conference, as it’s the one that started the domino effect felt by the other two. Then, we’ll shift to the others that had to react.
Big XII: With Oklahoma and Texas moving to the SEC next year, the Big XII needed to expand. They poached the 3 best AAC teams (Houston, UCF, and Cincinnati) while also inviting independent BYU. These teams did not adapt well to the Power 5. UCF, on the downswing for a couple of years, was the only new member to qualify for a bowl at 6-6. All four teams were 3-6 or worse in conference games. Houston (4-8) had its worst season in years. BYU started 3-0, but conference play wrecked them. They lost this week to drop to 5-7. Cincinnati (3-9) would’ve been just as bad in the AAC with Emory Jones at QB.
AAC: After the Big XII poached 3 of its members, the AAC went with quantity to fill the void, bringing in UTSA, UAB, FAU, North Texas, Charlotte, and Rice from C-USA. Charlotte (3-9), FAU (4-8), and UAB (4-8) all struggled, but they were likely to be worse than last year no matter what conference they played in. North Texas (5-7) was competitive but still a step below the conference regulars. Rice (6-6) acquitted itself well; the AAC knew it had a team on the rise here. UTSA (8-4) was the star among this bunch. At 7-1 in conference play, the Roadrunners competed for the title until the final week. They fight right into the AAC.
C-USA: Completely raided by the AAC, C-USA didn’t even have enough members to play the season and continue to exist. Needing to move quickly, they brought in Liberty and New Mexico State, two independents, and elevated Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State from the FCS. SHSU (3-9) had a horrible start but came on late with 3 wins in their final 4 games. Jacksonville State (8-4) had a much better FBS transition, even playing a competitive game against South Carolina of the SEC. Once 2-10 in 2021, NMSU had thrived under HC Jerry Kill. (25) Liberty (12-0) is the class of the conference; they’re undefeated and playing in the title game against NMSU.
As you can see, these transitions have been a mixed bag. The stronger the new conference is, the tougher it is for a team to rise up and be competitive early on. Those that jumped to the Power 5 did much worse on average than the teams that shifted to/within the Group of 5. It’s important to note though that not every team you associate with a given conference has always been there. The dynamics of the CFB landscape change over time even when conferences aren’t shifting to the extent we’re seeing now. The teams that thrived immediately are truly impressive, but those that didn’t can still excel in the future.
DJ Uiagalelei vs. Cade Klubnik: Did Clemson Make the Right Choice?
Last year, Clemson HC Dabo Swinney made a big move by benching QB DJ Uiagalelei and inserting Cade Klubnik. Uiagalelei had been ineffective, and Klubnik was meant to provide a spark. That didn’t happen right away, but the former 5-star recruit was the clear starter moving forward. Thus, Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State, and we’ve been able to watch both players’ seasons unfold. That got me thinking: did Clemson make the correct call in switching signal callers? Now that the regular season is over, the answer is…unclear at best. I haven’t been too impressed by either QB, though Uiagalelei is better now than he was at Clemson.
Clemson is 8-4 and ranked 24th, but they’d have beaten Miami and likely NC State with better QB play. For the second straight year, the offense has held the Tigers back. Klubnik was supposed to fix that, but he has been maddeningly inconsistent. Ironically, he does the same thing Uiagalelei was guilty of doing: holds the ball too long trying to make a decision before firing it late into traffic. He threw 19 TDs and 8 INTs, improving a bit as the season went on. Maybe there’s still hope for him, but he isn’t the next Trevor Lawrence for this team.
Uiagalelei threw 21 TDs and 7 INTs, but his completion percentage was a poor 57.1%, showing his continued inaccuracy. The Beavers also finished 8-4, albeit against a tougher schedule. He definitely upgraded what OSU had last year, but a full resurgence didn’t happen. Uiagalelei is still a strong rushing threat, but teams are starting to stack the box and make him win with his arm. The results aren’t great. Both of these teams are mired in QB purgatory, and neither is likely to contend for titles with their current passers. To answer the original question, the Tigers had to try SOMETHING, so yes. But they should now try something else.
Weekly CFP Update and Analysis
We got another flip at the top of this week’s rankings, and I applaud this one as well. I’ve long lobbied for (4) Washington to overtake (5) Florida State. The committee claims that the injury to Jordan Travis had nothing to do with the swap. My reasoning is not impacted by that either; Washington simply brings the better resume to the table. I’m not naïve though. The Huskies have faced some scares the past few weeks, including this week. They’ll need to be better to win the Pac-12 and secure their playoff spot, but they continue to win, and that’s why they still control their own destiny.
Things are really simple now for (1) Georgia and (2) Michigan: win your conference title games, and you’re in. I could actually make a strong argument for UGA even with a loss (not so for Michigan). I wanted to say that (3) Ohio State is out in light of their loss to Michigan, but the CFP committee showed us just last year that they’d take an OSU team that lost to the Wolverines and didn’t play in a conference title game. They simply declared the Buckeyes one of the 4 best teams in the nation. Given that they put OSU at #1 in the initial rankings, it’s possible that Ohio State isn’t quite done if everything breaks their way.
Florida State is in trouble. They looked terrible with Tate Rodemaker at QB, and they barely beat Florida with a backup QB over their own. I have a hard time envisioning them winning the ACC, which would spell doom for the conference in terms of the CFP. (6) Oregon continues to roll, and they can definitely win their rematch with Washington and make the CFP if FSU falters. (7) Texas looked better against Texas Tech than they have in weeks (Arch Manning even played!), but they need to get past (20) Oklahoma State in the Big XII title game. I imagine the Cowboys want to ruin the season of both teams abandoning the conference.
(8) Alabama is somehow alive, though their miracle win over Auburn doesn’t inspire confidence. I think their placement at 8 tells us that the committee wouldn’t consider them a top-4 team even with a win over Georgia. Finally, we can say goodbye to (10) Louisville. Falling to unranked Kentucky killed their already faint playoff hopes and puts the ACC on thin ice. Even a conference title wouldn’t get the Cardinals anywhere close to the CFP. That leaves us with 7 teams with reasonable chances to make the CFP: the top 7 in the rankings. The conference title games should give us much more clarity.
Jayden Daniels and Bo Nix: Heisman Contenders, but 1st-Round Picks?
LSU QB Jayden Daniels and Oregon QB Bo Nix are likely to finish 1-2 in the Heisman race in some order. Daniels’ late charge suggests he could snag the hardware, but Nix’s all-season dominance makes him the player I’d choose. Now that I’ve successfully used this takeaway to sneak in a Heisman discussion, let’s shift to what you’re expecting here: a draft question! When a player wins or finishes highly in Heisman voting, a common thought is that he will be a sure-fire 1st-round pick in the following draft. If he did so well during his last year of college, he must be a star prospect, right?
That’s not always the case. Though that notion did in fact hold for all Heisman finalists in 2020 and 2021, we can look to last year to find a counterexample. USC’s Caleb Williams won the award and will certainly be a first-rounder in the 2024 draft, but the runners-up, Georgia’s Stetson Bennett and TCU’s Max Duggan were selected in the 4th and 7th rounds of the 2023 draft, respectively. From what I’m hearing, Daniels has a better shot than Nix to go in round 1. Teams love his dual-threat ability and his play against tough SEC competition. He’s fast, can be accurate, and has excellent production.
He isn’t without flaws though. I personally question the durability of his slight frame. Daniels is listed at 210 lbs, but I’d be shocked if that number isn’t inflated. He has been nicked up several times this year, and NFL players hit harder. One concern he and Nix both face is that they didn’t start out great in their college careers. Daniels had to leave Arizona State to reach his potential, while Nix had to transfer from Oregon. This does not matter to me. We used to have patience for QBs to develop. Joe Burrow was not a special prospect at Ohio State or LSU before breaking out, and he became excellent.
It’s a little harder to figure out what teams don’t like about Nix. His running ability is better than you might have thought, and he has the arm talent to make every throw. Since he came to Oregon, his decision making has improved immensely, leading to a drastic decline in his turnover rate. If you judge him only based on this season, you probably view him as a first-round talent. Nix’s inconsistency at Auburn for several seasons probably has people hesitating. Both of these passers have high upsides, so remember that it only takes one team to love a player to make him an opening night selection.