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One more full month of college football. That is all that remains of the 2023 season (before conference championships and bowls).
With Week 9 in the books, there are just eight unbeaten teams remaining at the FBS level and one isn’t eligible to play for a conference title or qualify for a berth in the College Football Playoff, while another hasn’t cracked the Top 25.
Conference title races are more decided than ever, especially in the Big Ten and ACC (to a lesser extent in the SEC and Pac-12), as the real contenders are starting to get some separation from the pack.
BYU, Utah and Utah State are all in a similar boat now, playing for bowl games and not much else.
(The kind of boat the Utes, Cougars and Aggies are in is different of course, as Utah is already bowl eligible and the rest of its season will determine the prestige of its bowl game, whereas BYU and Utah State have yet to become bowl eligible).
Week 9 was as entertaining as any of the previous weeks, with top 10 upsets, post-game controversy and well anything else you can think of.
Here are six takeaways from the weekend in college football:
Selective amnesia needed for BYU and Utah
Week 9 was one to forget for both the Utes and the Cougars. The Utes were completely handled at home by the Oregon Ducks, 35-6, with head coach Kyle Whittingham telling reporters afterward, “The score wasn’t indicative. The game was a mismatch. It was worse than what the score indicated.”
The Cougars didn’t fare any better on the road against Texas, losing 35-6.
Said head coach Kalani Sitake afterward, “The thing that stands out to me is the missed opportunities that we had in all three phases, and the inability for us to weather some things and also to take advantage of the opportunities that we had.
“When you are playing against great teams, you can’t make the amount of mistakes we made and hope to get a victory out of that.”
Were there lessons to be gleaned from both Utah’s and BYU’s losses? Of course. Chief among them being that neither the Utes nor Cougars — right now, in their current states — are anywhere close to being CFP-caliber teams like the Ducks and Longhorns.
And you can bet that both Whittingham and Sitake will have a long lists of things that their respective teams need to improve upon ahead of games against Arizona State and West Virginia this coming weekend.
It would also benefit both Utah and BYU to move on from their blowout losses, though. Completely. And not dwell on the defeats.
The Utes have only one team left on the schedule that is in the realm of Oregon and Washington hasn’t been nearly as dominant in recent weeks.
(Arizona is rising fast, however, and the Utes do travel to Tucson).
As for the Cougars, outside of Oklahoma, none of their remaining opponents are at or near the CFP level like the Longhorns, though trips to Morgantown, West Virginia, and Stillwater, Oklahoma, won’t be easy.
Week 9 was a brutal one for BYU and Utah. But when things are that bad, it is best to move on and forget.
Oregon is the best team in the Pac-12, right?
Speaking of the Ducks, they have solidified themselves as the best team in the Pac-12.
But wait, Oregon and Washington played head-to-head and the Ducks lost to the Huskies.
While that is accurate, the teams have gone on completely different trajectories since that game.
Oregon has handily defeated Washington State and Utah in the two weeks following the loss in Seattle, while Washington has struggled mightily in wins over Arizona State and Stanford.
Washington remains unbeaten and its win over Oregon is likely the best win by any team this season, per ESPN’s Heather Dinich.
“Assuming the (CFP) committee has Oregon in its top 10 — and ahead of LSU and Alabama — it will arguably be the best win in the country, at least right now,” she writes.
The Huskies will be ranked higher than the Ducks in every poll this week.
But, Oregon appears to be the much more complete team through nine weeks and only gets better and better every week.
“Oregon has one of the nation’s top offenses, led by Heisman-contending quarterback Bo Nix, who threw only two incomplete passes through the Ducks’ first six drives against Utah,” writes Dinich. “The Ducks also have three wins against Power 5 teams .500 or better (Colorado, Washington State and Utah) and one victory against what should be a ranked CFP team in Utah. Four road wins is a detail the committee will notice, especially Saturday’s against the Utes. The Ducks have turned the ball over twice all season, and they entered Week 9 with one of the top defenses in the Pac-12. Oregon has a league-high 25 sacks.”
It is likely that Oregon and Washington will meet again in the Pac-12 title game. If they met again right now, it sure looks like the Ducks would walk away champions.
Is the Big 12 the new Pac-12?
Pure and utter chaos. That is the best way to describe the Big 12 Conference this season.
Five teams have a 4-1 record in conference play — Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Iowa State.
Two teams have a 3-2 record — Kansas and West Virginia.
Four teams have a 2-3 record — TCU, BYU, Texas Tech and Baylor.
That means it is possible that 11 of the conference’s 14 teams could still play for and win the conference championship this year.
Eliminate the 2-3 teams and that still leaves seven teams that should have legitimate title aspirations, especially after Kansas upset previously unbeaten Oklahoma on Saturday.
Do Oklahoma and Texas appear to be the best teams in the conference? Sure, but the Jayhawks’ win (and the Sooners’ upset of Texas before that) has the Big 12 looking eerily similar to the Pac-12 in recent seasons.
No one or two dominant programs like the SEC or Big Ten. Instead there are more than a few good teams and all are in real danger nearly every week of being beaten.
To say that this kind of parity is anything but fun would be disingenuous. Each and every week a new team in the Big 12 can lay claim to being the best, or close to it.
For years, that has been what has made the Pac-12 highly entertaining — think Pac-12 After Dark — but it also hurt the conference when it came to the CFP access.
The same could very well happen to the Big 12 this season, but it will be a lot of fun before that happens. It has been fun already, after all.
From worst FBS team to conference title contender in the same season
Not even a month ago Nevada was considered one of, if not the worst teams in college football.
And that isn’t exaggeration.
The Wolfpack were dismal to start the season. Just dismal. Nevada started the year 0-6 with a blowout loss to Idaho, an FCS opponent.
It got so bad that head coach Ken Wilson was considered by many to be on the hot seat only a couple of weeks ago.
Wrote Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer, “For Ken Wilson, still in just his second season with Nevada, he likely needs some help to keep his job. Since taking over for Jay Norvell, things have not been trending in the right direction. Wilson is just 2-15 since taking over, and Nevada is winless thus far this year.
“The schedule hasn’t exactly been easy, and a handful of wins could be coming. But will a few wins be enough to generate the necessary buzz to get a third season? For a program that has enjoyed some sustained success over the past two decades, the answer is unclear. At the moment, however, Nevada’s regression is undeniable, and change is likely being pondered already.”
Today, though, the Wolfpack are riding a two-game winning streak, with a real chance for a third consecutive win with Hawaii next up.
At 2-6, overall (2-2 in Mountain West Conference play), Nevada still has a chance to make a bowl game, and actually has a genuine shot at playing for the conference title.
Here are the games remaining for the Wolfpack:
vs. Hawaii (2-7).
at Utah State (3-5).
at Colorado State (3-5).
vs. Wyoming (5-3).
Each one of those games is winnable for Nevada, especially after Wyoming was humbled by Boise State.
And if enough chaos happens across the rest of the conference, a very real possibility this season outside of Air Force and maybe Fresno State, Nevada could sneak into the MW title game if it wins out.
Is that likely to happen? Of course not. Sagarin.com still rates Nevada No. 127 in the country among all FBS teams, and third-worst among all MW teams.
Still, nine weeks (10 weekends) into the season and Nevada still has a chance. That would have been unbelievable only a couple of weeks ago.
Which unbeaten’s will remain that way?
Only eight FBS teams are undefeated through Week 9. Many are the usual customers, others less so and other still complete surprises.
Here’s the list, in alphabetical order:
Air Force (8-0)
Florida State (8-0)
James Madison (8-0)
Ohio State (8-0)
For some of those teams, this is very much the norm. Think Georgia, Ohio State and Michigan.
Florida State and Washington are crashing the party, after years of not being at a CFP-type level.
And then there are the Group of Five upstarts, with Air Force, James Madison and Liberty, none of whom likely to make the CFP (James Madison cannot, as the Dukes are ineligible as part of the transition from the FCS level).
Which of those teams has the best chance of remaining unbeaten come season’s end?
You can immediately eliminate one of Ohio State and Michigan, as they play each other. One will likely end the season undefeated, the other with a loss, though the Wolverines do still have to play Penn State.
Georgia seems like a good bet to finish the year undefeated, especially after the Bulldogs handled rival Florida, though UGA does have three consecutive games against ranked opponents upcoming, plus a potential showdown with Alabama, LSU or Ole Miss in the SEC title game.
Washington has a tough draw to end the year, with trips to USC and Oregon State, plus visits from Utah and Washington State. Make it through that and the Huskies will likely play rival Oregon again in the Pac-12 title game. An undefeated season for the Huskies would be impressive.
Florida State might have the easiest road ahead of all the undefeated Power Five schools, with only a road game at rival Florida and maybe a home game against rival Miami standing as possible roadblocks, plus a likely meeting with Louisville in the ACC title game.
Could there be at least three undefeated teams in the College Football Playoff? It seems fairly likely this year, with potential unbeaten champions in the SEC. Big Ten and ACC, leaving room for a single one loss team, possible the Pac-12 or Big 12 champ.
As for the Group of Five unbeatens, Liberty seems more and more like a shoe-in in Conference USA. Air Force still has to play UNLV and Boise State, but the Falcons have simply been better than anyone they’ve played this year and it hasn’t been all that close most weeks.
As for James Madison, an undefeated season in the strongest Group of 5 conference seems a real possibility. Unfortunately it will all be for naught when it comes to the postseason.
Coaches hear what people say about their programs
College football coaches are clearly listening to what is being said about their teams this season (and in many cases they are watching ESPN’s “College GameDay” on Saturday morning).
Be it Ohio State’s Ryan Day taking umbrage with statements made by Lou Holtz, Deion Sanders keeping receipts or Washington State’s Jake Dickert having a blood feud with Pat McAfee, there have been plenty of coaches to express their unhappiness with things said about their teams.
You can add NC State head coach Dave Doeren to that list.
Doeren was not pleased in the slightest with former Utah wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.’s comments on “GameDay” on Saturday.
Smith, a guest picker on the show, picked Clemson to defeat NC State, saying of the Wolfpack, “NC State, unfortunately, they are waiting for basketball to start.”
Smith’s comment drew immediate laughter from McAfee and swift agreement from Kirk Herbstreit.
The Wolfpack, though, went on to defeat the Tigers 24-17, handing once vaunted Clemson its fourth loss this season, and Doeren let people post-game know he wasn’t pleased with Smith’s comments.
Not at all.
“Tell Steve Smith in the studio this ain’t a basketball school. He can kiss my (expletive),” Doeren said.
Foot in one’s mouth, the Pat Narduzzi version
No coach had a worse weekend than Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi.
Not only did his Panthers get obliterated by Notre Dame — the Fighting Irish won 58-7 — but Narduzzi threw his own players under the bus for the loss (and a difficult season) and was excoriated for it.
Narduzzi told reporters following the game that, “We lost a lot of good players last year. We thought we’d replace them and we obviously didn’t do a good job with that.”
here’s Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi’s full answer from today’s postgame press conference when he was asked why this isn’t a great situation his team is going through.
(from our partners at @PghSportsNow) pic.twitter.com/J3olaN1G3o
— Jenna Harner (@JennaHarner11) October 29, 2023
Many Pitt players subsequently posted on X (the social media platform formerly known as Twitter) and Instagram, expressing their disbelief, including tight end Malcom Epps who wrote, “Naw ain’t no way I’m reading this right.”
Narduzzi attempted to do a little damage control on X himself, writing later Saturday night, “I am 100% responsible for today’s loss. Like I said after the game, it starts with me. I didn’t do a good enough job coaching today. Put it on me! I remain committed to finishing the season strong with our team!”
Still not a good look for a program only a few years removed from being ACC champs. This season, Pitt is 2-6 overall with games remaining against Florida State and Duke, among others.