Another exciting week of college football has come to a close! Outside of (10) North Carolina, we mostly saw near-upsets rather than converted upsets. (5) Washington, (6) Oklahoma, (8) Texas, (11) Alabama, (14) Utah and (23) Tulane all faced close calls but came through as the victors. The rest of the results were mostly what we expected. I’ll remind the teams that squeaked by though: how you win matters as much as if you win now that the first CFP rankings are less than 10 days away. Let’s check out my week 8 takeaways below!
(7) Penn State Still Cannot Overcome Top-10 Opponents
Every year, it seems like Penn State stays the same, and I don’t just mean because their jerseys have no names. The Nittany Lions are a perennial top-10 team, but they can’t get over the hump of beating OTHER top-10 squads. Under current HC James Franklin, that issue is even more glaring. Coming into this week’s game against (3) Ohio State, Franklin’s Penn State teams were 3-15 against top-10 opponents. Now they’re 3-16 after their 20-12 loss. As usual, the defense played tough, but the offense didn’t do its end of the bargain. I thought I saw Sean Clifford on the field, but it was Drew Allar at QB.
Allar exhibited the same lack of accuracy, completing just 18 of 42 passes. Penn State went 3/16 on 3rd down, and aside from a garbage-time TD late, the team scored just 2 FGs all game. Both came in the first half. Ohio State scored just 20 points themselves, but it felt like the game was never in doubt. PSU never threatened the Buckeyes despite not turning the ball over. With an assist from porous pass protection, Allar destroyed almost every drive. He’s supposed to be PSU’s missing piece, and as a sophomore, maybe he still can be. He’s definitely not now though, and PSU still ranks 3rd in the Big 10 behind OSU and Michigan.
Houston Robbed of Chance to Topple (8) Texas
The Longhorns won a long, hard-fought battle 31-24 over Houston. Many will argue, however, that the game wasn’t long enough. That’s because in the 4th quarter with 1:57 left, Houston faced a 3rd and 1. RB Stacy Sneed ran up the middle and appeared to easily convert. There was just one problem: the refs ruled him short. The commentators were in disbelief, but at least the play would be reviewed. Then came another problem: they let the previous ruling stand. One announcer, Tim Brando, called the spot the officials used a “left foot spot”, aptly describing the spot of Sneed’s left foot rather than the football.
QB Donovan Smith threw an incomplete pass on 4th down, and with just 1 timeout, the Cougars fell. Smith (32/46, 378 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) played great and clawed his team out of a 21-0 hole. It would’ve been great to see this game extended to OT. To be clear, there’s no guarantee that Houston would have scored a TD on the drive (though it would’ve been 1st and goal at the 10). Also, I don’t want to take anything away from Texas. The Longhorns played well, too, and no game comes down to just 1 play. I imagine the way this game went down doesn’t sit well with Houston fans though, and I’m not very pleased myself.
(14) Utah Defeats (18) USC for the 4th Straight Time
You might recall that Utah ruined USC’s playoff chances last year. Deja vu has struck again, with the Utes taking down USC for the 4th time in a row. No 2-loss team has made the CFP, and considering their loss to Notre Dame last week, USC has given us no reason to believe they should be the first (assuming they even win out). This time was different though; not only was Utah actually the higher-ranked team, but they didn’t have QB Cam Rising. While the starter continues to recover for a shredded knee, Bryson Barnes played instead of Nate Johnson, and that was a wise decision by HC Kyle Whittingham.
Trojans QB Caleb Williams (24/34, 256 yards) didn’t have a Heisman-level day, but he was good enough to win. In fact, the entire offense deserved this game. They stormed back from a 28-14 deficit to take a 32-31 lead with just 1:46 to go. As usual, the team’s defense cost USC greatly. Barnes (14/23, 235 yards, 3 TDs, INT, 57 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD) went right down the field, aided by a roughing the passer penalty. USC showed little resistance, and Utah made it to the 21 with enough time to center the ball. K Cole Becker’s 38-yard FG was good, and the Utes walked off with a 34-32 road win.
Utah’s lone loss, a 21-7 defeat against Oregon State, stands as a blemish, but the Pac-12 title (the final one?) is within their grasp. The two-time defending champions play Oregon next and Washington a couple of weeks later. Those games will decide their fate, and winning out could even yield a playoff berth. Rising won’t return this year (I agree with him taking 2023 as a medical redshirt), but Barnes has proven he can get the job done. USC, meanwhile, could drop out of the rankings entirely. That seems crazy, but they’re already #18, and half of the team (the defense) is not a top-25 unit. It’s a rude awakening in LA.
Kansas State Rotates QBs Will Howard and Avery Johnson
Avery Johnson replaced Will Howard as Kansas State’s QB midway through last week’s game against Texas Tech. He showed out, running for FIVE touchdowns. However, I didn’t want to jump to conclusions too soon. A great showing in relief against a team that didn’t game-plan against you is impressive, but it’s not a harbinger of future success. One notable outlet reported that teams had been impressed with Howard and were considering spending a day-3 pick on him. I, too, sang his praises last season. People fawned over UCLA’s Dante Moore when he excelled in relief, and he has since been benched.
I was very curious how the Wildcats would handle the two passers this week against TCU. Howard came out first and immediately led a TD drive, but Johnson went in on the next series. He too led a TD drive, and then Howard came back and led another. During the middle part of the game, the constant switching seemed to throw both QBs out of rhythm. Johnson (5/10, 90 yards, TD) never really recovered, and Howard (10/16, 154 yards, 3 TDs) got more work in the second half. Interestingly, while Johnson (76 yards) is known as the runner, Howard also earned 62 rushing yards on 12 fewer carries.
I’d give the edge to Howard if what we saw today was a real-time QB competition. Neither QB threw the ball a ton; KSU ran the ball 52 times. However, when he was throwing, Howard looked much more comfortable commanding an offense from the pocket. He showed enough mobility to make an impact if necessary, and last week was really his only subpar outing of the season. Johnson is a freshman, so Kansas State can get him involved at select times while letting him learn for next year. I think KSU’s best chance to win comes with Howard, and he shouldn’t have to look over his shoulder for the remainder of 2023.
Power 5-Worst Virginia Shocks (10) North Carolina
I tried to wait before being too harsh about Virginia. Their 2022 season ended early after 3 players were shot dead as part of a mass shooting, and I knew they wouldn’t get right back on their feet after such a tragic event. Their 1-5 record was tied with Arizona State’s mark for the worst among the 5 major conferences coming into week 8, but ASU at least played Colorado tough last weekend and gave USC a fight. UVA’s only victory came last week against FCS foe William and Mary, and that 27-13 win wasn’t as easy as expected. With backup QB Anthony Colandrea for 4 games, the team lost every one of them.
Mostly noncompetitive against Power 5 opponents, the Cavaliers’ closest shot at a win came against NC State (who isn’t as good this year themselves). A comedy of errors, including an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after taking a late lead and a leaping penalty on the Wolf Pack’s game-winning FG attempt, led to a 24-21 defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. The following week, UVA lost to Boston College, who I also considered one of the worst Power 5 teams. This week, my patience finally paid off. UVA went into Chapel Hill and gave UNC everything they had. For once against an FBS opponent, that was enough.
Back from an injury for the second consecutive game, QB Tony Muskett (20/30, 208 yards, TD, INT, 66 rushing yards) looks much more poised than his freshman substitute. A functional offense gave the Cavaliers a chance against UNC’s porous defense. Mistakes were made still. Muskett’s INT came in the end zone, and RB Mike Hollins lost a fumble at the goal line. The ball went through the back of the end zone to give North Carolina a touchback and life. The defense held strong though. Leading 31-27, Virginia bent but didn’t break on two straight drives. One ended with a turnover on downs, and the other concluded with an INT.
This seems to be a common problem for UNC: slipping up against an inferior opponent. Today’s loss may have ramifications down the line, and the Tar Heels can forget about the playoffs. Let’s give Virginia full credit though. HC Tony Elliott inherited a team on the decline when he took the job. He still needs time to rebuild the roster. But he got them to believe they could defeat a top-10 opponent on the road. Having won 2 consecutive game, this team now has momentum. Hopefully they can continue their growth, but regardless, the Cavaliers are no longer the doormat of the ACC.