How did we get here?
It was just yesterday that Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson was a leading Heisman candidate, that Oregon was a complete fraud because it lost by 46 to Georgia, that Texas was going to dominate the Big 12 because it lost by one to Alabama.
Ah, what foolish things we say in our youth. Now that this season’s in its wizened old age, and the time’s flown by.
I already miss the absolute bonkers nonsense that was college football in 2022, and the year’s not even over! How is that possible? Can you be nostalgic for a thing you’re still living through?!?
I mean, two of the likely College Football Playoff teams are complete newbies, and one just made it for the first time last year. (As a sidenote, please tell me again that the new transfer rules don’t create parity in college football. I dare you.)
Maybe you miss the years where everything was predictable and the blue bloods won. That’s fine. I’m not here to shame anyone for liking anything. But for me, I’ve never had more fun as a college football fan. Give me novelty, new people in new jerseys winning new things against other new people. This great sport constantly renews and reconfigures itself while maintaining the same patchwork of verve and excitement, and I can’t get enough.
But soon, it’ll be over. We’ll need to wait for seven-plus months to enjoy college football again. So let’s watch the leaves fall from the tree of this season and be grateful for the gorgeous hues and colors. Come along with me and check out Championship Week.
(Oh, and before you ask, there is no Window Of Opportunity this week. There are stakes everywhere, and I can’t shortchange any of these games.)
Utah vs. USC
The Pac-12 does weird things sometimes. Case in point: putting your championship game on a Friday night. I guess it worried it wouldn’t be able to compete with other conferences, but that’s certainly not true this year! A random Twitter poll I saw said this is the championship game most Americans think could end in an upset. Good enough for me!
No, just messing with you. It actually makes a ton of sense when you review the stats. USC capped off an incredible year with a victory over Notre Dame last week. Quarterback Caleb Williams is a legitimate Heisman contender, and he leads a devastating offense. The Trojan defense, though, can be charitably described as “fine.” The underdog Utes bring a top-10 offense and a top-20 defense to the table too, so that could be a problem. Running backs Ja’Quinden Jackson and Tavion Thomas have racked up yards from the backfield and quarterback Cam Rising looks more surehanded in the pocket.
Oh, and did I mention that Utah already handed the Trojans their lone loss this year? And that USC really needs a big win to solidify a Playoff bid?
Saturday Early Games
Kansas State vs. TCU
The Wildcats would love to spoil the Horned Frogs’ good time. They’ve got revenge on their mind after TCU rallied in the second half to defeat them in Week 8. Thing is, they might have a good chance. Since that loss, KSU’s gone 4-1, handling themselves with maturity and confidence reminiscent of the Bill Snyder years. They combine a run-heavy offense that can pass when it needs to with a stingy defense that toughens in the red zone. The Frogs, meanwhile, have only the Wildcats to defeat before they can get that kiss from the Playoff Princess (I’m sorry. That was terrible.) Quarterback Max Duggan leads a really balanced and ferocious offense that averages over 40 points per game, and if TCU reaches that benchmark, it doesn’t matter how middling its defense is. A tough matchup with upset potential? I’m in.
Saturday Afternoon Games
LSU vs. Georgia
The Bayou Bengals would very much like to forget last week, when Jimbo Fisher’s decidedly awful Texas A&M Aggies surprisingly handed them a loss. They have a chance to play spoiler in Atlanta and put the Bulldogs’ Playoff hopes at risk. Thing is, there’s not a single major statistical category on either side of the ball where the Tigahs are better than Georgia. Don’t get me wrong; that’s a high bar to clear. Georgia’s really good at everything this year, especially chaining together long drives and defending the run. Heck, the Dawgs only allow opposing teams 11 points per game on average. LSU’s offensive line has to step up, and the Tigahs must master ball control to have a chance here.
UCF at Tulane
This game likely determines which Group of 5 team goes to a New Year’s Six bowl game. UCF is no stranger to this spotlight. The Knights rack up yards and keep their offense on the field, with quarterbacks Mikey Keene and John Rhys Plumlee co-leading the No. 6 rushing attack in the nation. But for a Gus Malzahn team, the Knights lack anything special on defense. They do enough to keep themselves ahead most of the time, though. Tulane will be really hard to handle. UCF defeated the Wave once before. But if it weren’t for that loss and a tough 3-point defeat against Southern Miss early in the year, Tulane could possibly be in the Playoff conversation. The secret sauce for the Wave is their secondary, which holds opposing quarterbacks to under 200 yards passing on average. Can Tulane make UCF one-dimensional? We’ll see.
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Saturday Evening Games
Clemson vs. North Carolina
No, this game doesn’t have any Playoff implications, but it is probably going to be the better one in this timeslot. Only teams with consistent elite production like Clemson could be disappointed with a 10-2 year, but I bet that’s what many fans wearing orange and purple are feeling. Last week’s loss to South Carolina was a gut punch, taking the Tigers out of Playoff contention for good. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei sure would like to throw for at least 100 yards this week, and the Tiger secondary would enjoy playing a QB that occasionally doesn’t complete a pass. Well, I have good news and bad news for the Clemson faithful. North Carolina is absolutely horrible at playing defense in general. That’s good! But quarterback Drake Maye has heroically done just enough under center all year, carrying the Tar Heels on his arm to an incredible six wins by a margin of seven points or less. In other words, UNC can handle itself in close games. That’s bad. Clemson needs to start fast, blow this one out, and not look back.
Purdue vs. Michigan
This game is here for a single, solitary reason. Michigan needs to avoid messing this up. Don’t get me wrong, if the Wolverines lose they’re likely still Playoff bound, as they’d have a win over one-loss Ohio State and a better resume than USC. But dropping one to the Boilermakers would be ridiculously embarrassing. Now, don’t get mad, Purdue fans. Just by looking at your schedule, it’s obvious that you have a decent-to-good squad who took advantage of chaos in your division and beat who you were supposed to, slipping into a conference title bid. Nice job, sincerely! But you took it on the chin against Penn State, Syracuse, Wisconsin, and even the disgusting spectacle that is Iowa. You let the Hawkeyes score 24 points. Twenty-four. I don’t know how you managed that. If Purdue manages to keep this close, let alone win, it will be incredible. Which is exactly why I’ll be watching.