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Another weekend of college football has come and gone, and Week 4 was something.
There were six matchups between Top 25 ranked teams, and included in those were some of the most thrilling contests of the season thus far.
The top tier of the sport now seems to be a little clearer, though the more you look at it, the more opaque things can turn.
In other words, is Washington the best team in the country? Or maybe it is Florida State? Texas?
Utah remains unbeaten, one of five remaining Pac-12 teams at 4-0, and four of them appear to be genuine threats to make a run to the College Football Playoff.
BYU lost its first Big 12 Conference game and the season isn’t over, which feels weird after so many years of independence.
Oh, and Utah State may want to petition the NCAA to make some new rules about quarters and the requirements of playing all four.
Here are six takeaways from Week 4 (aka the fifth weekend) of the college football season:
Utah keeps winning, but expectations can be a cruel mistress
First things first, the Utah Utes are undefeated at 4-0 and are ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll with wins over three Power Five opponents, including a win over the now-ranked Florida Gators (No. 22) and another over formerly ranked UCLA.
Moreover, Utah has done all of this while being severely depleted due to injuries, the most notable of which — of course — is to quarterback Cam Rising.
Given the circumstances, there should be nothing but elation up on the hill.
Kyle Whittingham has managed a program that has accumulated enough talent — on the field and in the coaching ranks — to be considered a top 10 program in college football, despite the Utes’ most important player not playing a single down this season, to say nothing for the many other snaps and games missed by key contributors.
Let it sink in a little while longer...
The thing is, though, the Utes’ success under Whittingham has raised the bar for what matters at Utah.
Before the run of back-to-back Pac-12 championships, the start to this season by the Utes would have been viewed as one of the best stories in college football.
Now, though, with Utah viewed as a top Pac-12 team in a year when the conference is arguably the best in college football, 4-0 is much less of an accomplishment and more of an expectation, no matter how it happened.
Expectations for Utah have changed dramatically, and look no further than Nate Johnson’s apology for his play on social media after the win over UCLA, or fans’ responses to a slightly less than dominant win over Weber State the week before.
Utah is now expected to win and win a lot, and more importantly do so impressively.
It is a different world for Ute fans — one many longtime supporters are still uncomfortable with — but it is a requirement for any blue blood program, which Utah aspires to be.
Florida struggled with Charlotte on Saturday, winning 22-7, and the response wasn’t about how the Gators pulled out a hard fought win, indicative of a strong culture for a rebuilding program.
Nope, it was about how they’ll never be a contender again because they couldn’t handle the 49ers.
Alabama and Clemson — recent national title winners with national title winning coaches still at the helm — are now believed to have fallen from the ranks of elite (some have pronounced the Tigers dead completely) because they’ve lost games to Texas, Florida State and Duke this season, all of whom are Top 25 teams.
Welcome to big time college football, Utah. Results are the only thing that matters, regardless of circumstance, and anything less than winning it all is supposed to result in complete devastation.
Utah State needs to do something to get over its first quarter issues
It is difficult to express just how bad Utah State has been in first quarters this season.
Well, maybe not that difficult.
Here are some numbers:
Utah State has been outscored 60-7 in the first quarter of its games this season.
That includes a 53-0 mark by FBS teams. Yes, the Aggies have been shut out by FBS teams in the first quarter so far.
USU has been outgained 593 total yards to 183 total yards in the first quarter this season.
It is much worse than that though, because the Aggies’ three FBS opponents have outgained them 472 yards to 14 yards in the first quarter this season.
The thing is, though, this isn’t a new thing for Utah State football.
Since Blake Anderson took over the program after the 2020 season, the Aggies have trailed after the first quarter in 19 of 31 games. During those 31 games, USU has been outscored in the first quarter by 136 points.
The Aggies are nothing if not bad — often awful — to start games.
The adjustments do come, as evidenced by the Aggies’ thrilling comeback against James Madison Saturday night, when USU crawled back from a 24-0 deficit to tie the games at 38-38 in the fourth quarter.
But first quarters have been brutal.
Anderson said after the loss to the Dukes that he doesn’t want to do anything quirky as a quick fix. It is a real problem that requires a real solution.
What the solution is, though, no one really knows.
It has gotten to the point that USU would be better off spotting its opponents 10 points at kickoff and not playing first quarters at all, since the Aggies have trailed 17-0, 22-0 and 17-0 after a quarter in three of four games played this season.
Just something to think about.
BYU at long last can revel in the joys of conference play
For years, BYU’s loss at Kansas on Saturday would have been the end of interest in the college football season for a subset of Cougar fans.
Not all supporters, of course, but losses in the independence era were devastating. Without something more to play for than win-loss record and bowl eligibility, losses quickly took the shine off things.
Analytics backed it up, too, with interest in the team dwindling each month of the season, faster and faster when losses added up.
Now, though, even after a conference-opening loss at Kansas on Saturday, the Cougars still have everything to play for.
Will BYU win the Big 12 this season? The odds are stacked against them, but the Cougars still have every chance to pull off the improbable — on paper at least — especially with games remaining against Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Cincinnati, Texas Tech, Iowa State and West Virginia.
BYU could only win half of those games and still finish fairly high in the conference pecking order, depending on how chaotic Big 12 play goes.
Win a couple of games as an underdog, and the Cougars could play the role of spoiler, something BYU hasn’t been able to do for a long time.
BYU had its chances against Kansas — and its warts — and injuries now loom as a potential bogeyman going forward, but for the first time in over a decade, one loss or even two or three won’t be reason enough to abandon Cougar football in 2023.
Not yet anyway.
Is Washington the best team in CFB?
Per the newest edition of the AP Poll, the Washington Huskies are seventh-best team in college football, behind Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Ohio State, Florida State and Penn State.
And yet, there was considerable noise Saturday, after the Huskies demolished Cal, that UW should be ranked higher. Far higher, in fact.
Here’s some of the recent thoughts nationally on the Huskies:
I've been thinking for a minute now that Washington might be the best team in the country.
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) September 24, 2023
At what point do we start to take the Washington Huskies serious? They are absolutely annihilating everyone they play.
— Matt Leinart (@MattLeinartQB) September 24, 2023
Washington might be the best team in the country.
— Barrett Sallee 🇺🇸 (@BarrettSallee) September 24, 2023
Is Washington the best team in the country?
I think they might be.
— Adam Breneman (@AdamBreneman81) September 24, 2023
Is Washington the best team in the country through four games?
— Brendan Moore (@bmoorecfb) September 24, 2023
The Huskies haven’t really played anyone yet — their best opponent may have been a Michigan State program embroiled in controversy. Either them or recently vanquished Cal — but UW has been dominant in every game, particularly on offense.
Is Washington the best team in the college football? Probably not at this moment, but Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wolken did have an interesting thought provoking observation.
I think I’m asking this seriously but is Washington doing a 2019 LSU and we haven’t quite figured it out yet?
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) September 24, 2023
The 2018 LSU Tigers weren’t elite — they defeated UCF in a New Years Six Bowl but Joe Burrow wasn’t considered an elite QB yet, but LSU took a leap in 2019 behind one of the best offenses CFB has ever seen, thanks in part to a leap by Burrow.
Washington wasn’t elite last season and quarterback Michael Penix Jr., wasn’t the best quarterback in the sport — although he was very good — but right now the Huskies’ offense and Penix do share some similarities with that LSU team and Burrow.
Time will tell of course, but we could be witnessing another historic and unexpected CFB season.
The best QB in CFB has to be in the Pac-12, right?
Speaking of Penix, the Washington QB is off to a blistering start to the season.
For your viewing pleasure:
Michael Penix Jr. has been UNREAL 🔥
Week 1: 450 YDS, 5 TD
Week 2: 409 YDS, 3 TD
Week 3: 473 YDS, 4 TD
Week 4: 304 YDS, 4 TD
Huskies are 4-0 ‼️ pic.twitter.com/SNJXgU4dW2
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 24, 2023
Penix hasn’t even been playing complete games to record those numbers — Washington has beaten all of its opponents this year by at least 27 points — making it all the more impressive.
The thing is, he isn’t the only Pac-12 quarterback that has impressed.
There’s the obvious, like USC QB Caleb Williams — the reigning Hesiman Trophy winner — who has thrown for 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns through four games this season.
Then there is Oregon’s Bo Nix, who has thrown for 1,169 yards, 11 touchdowns and an interception through four games for the Ducks.
Also, Washington State’s Cam Ward has blossomed in his second season at the FBS level.
List of NCAA quarterbacks with 1,300+ passing yards and zero interceptions through week 4:
Cam Ward, WSU
End of list
— Matt Loveless (@MattLoveless) September 24, 2023
And then there is Shedeur Sanders and DJ Uiagalelei, who both lost this week but were cruising through the first three weeks.
The Heisman Trophy has become an award for quarterbacks, and it sure seems that the best QBs in the sport all play in the Pac-12 currently.
What a swan song for the Conference of Champions (as presently constituted).
Coaches causing controversy?
Some of the best games of the weekend were overshadowed Saturday by the actions of head coaches.
There was Ryan Day, who lambasted Lou Holtz for criticisms made of the Buckeyes prior to Ohio State’s thrilling last-second victory over Notre Dame.
Ohio State HC Ryan Day just went OFF on Lou Holtz in his postgame interview after a walkoff win over Notre Dame.pic.twitter.com/QHoQwn1AUp
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) September 24, 2023
There was Dan Lanning, whose pregame speech to his team prior to Oregon’s beatdown of Colorado went viral.
Oregon head coach Dan Lanning didn't hold back in his pregame speech against Colorado 👀
"They're fighting for clicks, we're fighting for wins." pic.twitter.com/imo4OHA4fA
— ESPN (@espn) September 23, 2023
There was also Curt Cignetti, whose actions on the sideline during the Utah State-James Madison game — he attempted to prove the need for a replay review with video on a cell phone — went, you guessed it, viral.
JMU Head Coach Curt Cignetti pulled a cellphone out to show officials they got a call wrong pic.twitter.com/0f0YHlGHvm
— Barstool College Football Show (@BarstoolCFB) September 24, 2023
There were plenty of exciting college football matchups Saturday that were overshadowed by the actions of a few coaches and, to be completely honest, give us more of it.
Coach speak and conservative, respectful coaching behavior is the worst part of college football.
There is a reason Steve Spurrier was/is both beloved and reviled. Same for Dabo Sweeney, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and yes, Deion Sanders.
Some of it has to do with winning. The rest of it has to do with them actually having personalities. Personality is fun in sports, and for a week at least, coaches across the country showed some of it, enlivening an already exciting sport.