2023 College Football: Week 9 Takeaways

The first official College Football Playoff rankings of the season come out on Tuesday, so I thought I’d do something a little different. I’m going to discuss each team that I think belongs in the initial top 4 below. I probably won’t agree with the CFP committee (I almost never do), but that’s too bad. We’ll examine why each of these teams belongs where they are and what makes them the best teams in the nation. To finish, we’ll discuss why one team didn’t make the cut and what that means for their conference. Enjoy my week 9 takeaways!

1. Georgia Bulldogs

I’ve been consistent in my belief that the defending champs are #1 until they’re not. Though Georgia had a shaky start to the season relative to their last two years, it appears that they’re now firing on all cylinders. Even without elite TE Brock Bowers, who is out with an ankle sprain, the offense is looking its best. Georgia struggled to put away South Carolina and Auburn, but as the schedule toughens, so do the Bulldogs. A 51-13 win over Kentucky two weeks ago and a 43-20 win over Florida have shown us that this team can put up major points behind QB Carson Beck when necessary.

As expected, the defense has been the key to Georgia’s continued dominance. I can’t even count how many players this unit lost to the draft last year and the year before, but they still haven’t allowed an opponent to exceed 21 points in a game in 2023. Their next 3 opponents, all of whom are currently ranked, will surely provide stiffer tests. I fully expect Georgia to rise to meet them, as HC Kirby Smart has built a recruiting factory that no other team can rival. His staff also develops defensive talent supremely well. I anticipate seeing the Bulldogs win the SEC, which would make them a lock for the CFP once more.

2. Michigan Wolverines

Michigan has made a compelling case to be ranked #1. They’ve scored 30+ points in every game this season, and no opponent has gone over 10 points against them. The problem is that these opponents aren’t very good. The Wolverines haven’t played one ranked team, and Rutgers might be their best win thus far. This certainly isn’t their fault, but until they get to the meat of their schedule, which doesn’t include much except Ohio State and Penn State, I can’t in good faith leapfrog them over Georgia. The good news is that if they play the way they have all season against better teams, they’ll write their own narrative.

The bad news is that a couple of factors suggest that they might not be able to maintain this pace. First, two NCAA investigations are ongoing. Coach Jim Harbaugh‘s recruiting violations, which led to a self-imposed 3-game suspension, are still under review. More recently, the Wolverines have found themselves embroiled in a sign-stealing scandal. If these issues are at all distracting, the on-field product could suffer. Second, I still don’t trust QB JJ McCarthy. He hasn’t been forced to be great against Michigan’s weak opponents. When the game is on the line against a contender, can he deliver? I’ll need more proof before I can say “yes”.

3. Washington Huskies

I’m probably diverging from the CFP committee starting right here. Though the committee doesn’t have to agree with the AP, that poll has Washington at #5. I have them higher because they look much better to me than Ohio State and also because they have survived a tougher schedule to this point. More than that, they have QB Michael Penix Jr. Probably the Heisman frontrunner at this point (if not him then Oregon’s Bo Nix), Penix is leading one of the highest-scoring offenses in the nation. The lefty QB seems to go for 4 TDs a game, and the offensive line is letting him pick defenses apart.

Admittedly, there have been a couple of hiccups. I don’t know why they let Arizona State and Stanford hang around in close games, but those two teams are more competitive than their records indicate. Washington also has a signature win, outlasting Nix’s Ducks. The gauntlet still lies ahead, with USC, Utah, and Oregon State on the schedule in succession. If anyone is going to emerge from the Pac-12 undefeated, it has to be Washington. With a defense that always produces good CBs and can tighten up when necessary, as well as an offense that can hang with anyone, the Huskies can be the first team from the conference to reach the CFP since…the Huskies.

4. Florida State Seminoles

This spot would have belonged to Oklahoma had they squeaked out a win against Kansas. We’ll discuss that game in our last takeaway. As it stands though, in these first rankings, I’m only considering teams with records of 8-0. Undefeated teams from Power 5 conferences always get in, so #4 came down to FSU and Ohio State. Despite the great year-over-year improvement exhibited by OSU’s defense, the offense has gone in the opposite direction. QB Kyle McCord has been a major downgrade from CJ Stroud. Florida State’s offense, on the other hand, is a well-oiled machine.

The Seminoles opened their season with a statement win over then 5th-ranked LSU. Some of their subsequent wins, such as close victories over Boston College and Clemson and even their recent thrashing of Duke (who lost their QB midway through the game), don’t look as stellar as they did at the time. Still, they’ve won every game, and they looked great this week at Wake Forest. QB Jordan Travis is an explosive play waiting to happen through the air or on the ground. Receivers like Keon Coleman are stars, as are the pass rushers led by Jared Verse. Traps remain in rivalry games against Miami and Florida, but FSU has the talent to emerge unbeaten.

Big XII in CFP Trouble as Last Unbeaten Falls

By all accounts, the Big XII is the 3rd-best conference. They’re viewed more favorably than the ACC and Pac-12 but are ranked below the SEC and Big 10. Irrespective of all that, the conference’s best shot at the College Football Playoff was to produce an undefeated conference champion. I say “was” because that is no longer possible now that (6) Oklahoma has lost to Kansas. A one-loss champion can still advance of course (TCU had a loss and didn’t even win the conference last year), but every team has already reached that threshold with 4 games each remaining. Losing one more game is not out of the question.

The Sooners were the last unbeaten team in the Big XII after their somewhat surprising win over Texas in week 6. Facing a Kansas team without QB Jalon Daniels, Oklahoma probably expected to easily move to 8-0. Behind a pick six from CB Mello Dotson, the Jayhawks actually took a quick 14-0 lead. A lightning delay allowed OU to regain all the momentum, and they scored 21 straight points. Kansas’ defense did well against the pass, but Oklahoma RB Tawee Walker (23/146) ran for a TD, while QB Dillon Gabriel (14/64) ran for 3 more. The teams went back and forth from there, but neither could score a 2-point conversion.

Leading 32-27 in the 4th quarter, KU backup QB Jason Bean, who had played a clean game to that point, melted down. He threw INTs on consecutive drives, but OU could only convert one of them into points (a TD). Bean bounced back to lead a go-ahead TD drive with 47 seconds remaining. Down 38-33, Oklahoma had to get down the field in a hurry, and Gabriel hit a big pass WR Brenen Thompson. However, his last-second end zone throw fell incomplete, and Kansas had their first win over OU since the 90s. The Sooners aren’t cooked, but Texas will jump back ahead of them in the rankings.

Any route to the CFP must now involve a Big XII title. That holds for both schools, who happen to be the only conference members ranked in the AP top 25. It is rather ironic that the Big XII’s playoff hopes rest with the two schools leaving the conference next year. I can’t yet say whether the Big XII is in better shape than the Pac-12. The Pac-12 has teams all over the top 25, but they tend to beat each other up and send damaged goods for the committee to evaluate. If Texas and OU can hold serve from here on out, they’d meet again in the conference championship game, with a playoff berth likely on the line.

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