The Complete Guide to College Football, Week Four Edition

Who's a contender? Who's a pretender? Some more early guesses as we reach the conference play...

Last week, I asked readers not to overreact too much if their team isn’t playing “lights-out” in Week 1 or Week 2. The season isn’t over after your team loses a game, especially since most teams aren’t harboring legitimate Playoff hopes. Only the teams hoping to make the Playoff need to fret over a single loss.

Now, when is it time to overreact to results? Well, my friends, the time is now. Almost all FBS teams are now entering intra-conference play, where they will finally play teams of their caliber. No longer will Michigan get to schedule soft matchups with schools that have no business playing in Ann Arbor. No longer will Alabama and Georgia get to play the dregs of the Group of Five teams and the occasional FCS school. Finally, we will see how well some of these teams with big hype trains perform in higher-pressure situations.

Feel free to scream profanities (within reason) when your team plays a crummy half against a conference opponent. Scream and jump for joy when your team has a 7-point lead against Alabama before the Tide take their first drive. It’s overreaction time, and you’ve earned it!

 

Recapping Week 3

 

The Good:

(Most of) The Pac-12: It was mostly dominant showings from the Pac-12’s top teams. First, Oregon crushed #12 BYU to really kickstart their redemption arc:

After one quarter, the Ducks led 10-0. At halftime, they were ahead 24-7, which is all they needed to show the Cougars the door. Of course, the Ducks stacked on a pair of TDs in the third quarter to grow the lead to 38-7. Oregon QB Bo Nix was excellent, going 13/18 for 222 yards and 2 TDs. Oh, and he also tallied 35 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns on 9 carries. But the real stars of the show were the running backs. Between Oregon’s top two running backs, who almost evenly split carries, the Ducks racked up 163 yards. If not for Nix, the two RBs, Mar’Keise Irving and Noah Whittington, probably would’ve had a touchdown or two each.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s defense showed out to stop the run and stifle BYU’s offense for most of the game. BYU’s rushing attack had 24 carries for just 61 yards, an average of just 2.5 yards per carry. BYU QB Jaren Hall had a pretty decent game, completing 29 of 41 passes for 305 yards and 2 TDs, with 19 more yards added on the ground. But, it just wasn’t enough to keep pace with Oregon’s offense, which finally had its gears turning at full speed.

Meanwhile, over in Seattle, Washington cruised to a win over #11 Michigan State, pulling away before halftime:

The Huskies led 9-0 after the first, and then exploded for 20 points in the second quarter to make it 29-8 at halftime. From there, all Washington had to do was sit back and run the clock out, and Michigan State tacked on a few touchdowns in the fourth quarter with the game already out of reach. Like with Oregon, Washington didn’t need to force a bunch of turnovers to score points; they only had one interception against MSU QB Payton Thorne and didn’t force any fumbles. The Huskies’ points came from Michael Penix Jr., who completed 24/40 for 397 passing yards and 4 TDs. Washington’s rushing attack was decent, as the RB room/Penix combined for 36 carries, 106 rushing yards (2.9 yards per carry), and 1 TD.

Again, like with Oregon’s defense, Washington didn’t make life for MSU’s QB very difficult. Thorne completed 30/42 for 323 yards, 3 TDs, and an INT. Where the Huskies excelled on defense was stopping the Spartans’ running game, which had 29 carries for just 42 rushing yards (an ugly 1.4 yards per carry) and a TD. Washington dared the Spartans to beat them through the air, and it worked out pretty well.

Finally, in South Central, USC stomped all over Fresno State:

(First of all, I love their “victory” font)

USC manhandled Fresno State for four quarters, stacking up 284 passing yards and 233 rushing yards. No, that’s not a typo, the Trojans really ran for 233 yards on 38 carries (6.1 yards per carry) and four TDs. USC QB Caleb Williams didn’t need to do a whole lot when Trojan RBs Austin Jones and Travis Dye carried the freight with ease. That was about as good a victory as we’ve seen from ‘SC in quite some time, and it was a dominant enough win to convince me that the Trojans are Top 10 material. They face another intriguing opponent next week in Oregon State.

Back to the Good:

Penn State – The Nittany Lions smoked Auburn in Alabama to improve to 3-0. PSU’s running backs were the main contributors to the team’s 41-point outburst, as freshman RBs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen carried most of the early weight, and then Penn State went down the depth chart to rack up some more yardage. In all, the Nittany Lions rushed 39 times for 245 yards (6.3 YPC) and 5 TDs. Penn State is now 3-0 and may be meeting Michigan in Ann Arbor at 5-0, as the Nittany Lions host Central Michigan and Northwestern in the next two weeks.

Texas A&M – One week after an embarrassing loss to App. State, the Aggies rebounded nicely against the #13 Miami Hurricanes, winning 17-9 in College Station. The defense punished Hurricanes QB Tyler Van Dyke, as he completed 21/41 for just 217 yards. Miami was able to gash the Aggies on the ground for some of the game, so it’s a little strange that the ‘Canes didn’t try rushing the ball a little more, but Aggies fans aren’t complaining!

Kansas – The Jayhawks dispatched of the formerly-ranked Houston with little issue on Saturday, and deservedly received some votes for the Top 25! As I said last week, it looks like new coach Lance Leipold has this group moving in the right direction, and the season should already be considered a massive success. But, being the greedy college football fan that I am, I want more. I want five Jayhawk wins this season. Perhaps they can achieve bowl eligibility for the first time in forever?

 

The Bad:

Teams with Moral Losses But Real Victories:

  • UCLA 32, South Alabama 31 — Needing a late miracle FG against South Alabama? For a team that won 8 games last season? Oy vey.
  • Florida 31, South Florida 28 — Needing a late miracle interception against South Florida? For a team in the middle of the SEC? Oy vey.
  • Rutgers 16, Temple 14 — Rutgers is technically 3-0, but the way they played against Temple sure didn’t feel like Rutgers was a team deserving of 3-0.
  • Wake Forest 37, Liberty 36 — I’ll give Wake a pass, since Sam Hartman is still working his way back after a long absence, but a Top 25 team shouldn’t really be struggling with Liberty.

FBS teams losing to FCS Opponents:

  • Southern Illinois 31, Northwestern 24 — ¡Qué lástima!

Arizona State — The Herm Edwards era ends with a thud, as Arizona State fell to Eastern Michigan at home, 30-21. The Sun Devils are on the hunt for a new head coach, yet again. ASU hasn’t won 10 games since 2014, and are still looking for their first 11-win season since 1996, when they lost in the Rose Bowl.

Nebraska — The post-Scott Frost era began with a thud, as Nebraska was hammered by #6 Oklahoma in Lincoln, 49-14. The Sooners ran all over Nebraska’s poor defense.

 

Ranking the Top 25 Teams and the Bottom 10

Top 25:

Adam’s Top 25 Ranking

This ranking is a blend of my model and real-life results. Some teams grade very favorably on the model that haven’t performed up to standards — Nebraska — and some teams perform well above their model rating. One team that I’ve been very pleased by, which is still outperforming its model rating by just a smidge, is Florida State. (All aboard the Seminoles hype train!) They took care of business against Duquesne, then beat LSU and Louisville in some gritty, tight games to improve to 3-0. They get another easy matchup against Boston College this weekend.

Also “Receiving Votes” (in no particular order):

  • Utah
  • Cincinnati
  • Washington State
  • LSU
  • Syracuse?

A few teams I’m more optimistic about than AP voters are: Minnesota, Florida State, Penn State. Dominant showings from Minnesota and Penn State (although Minnesota played the Power 5’s worst team, Colorado) against Power 5 opponents help these teams stay up in the rankings. Minnesota is now 3-0 heading into conference play, and I currently have them competing with Wisconsin for the Big Ten West crown. I think the ‘Noles are going to roll into conference play and keep on rolling.

Teams I’m pessimistic about: Florida, Texas, and BYU. Oregon slapped BYU around at Autzen Stadium, as the Cougars looked outmatched from the jump. All that hard work against Baylor and South Florida unraveled once the poop hit the fan. They’re going to need to show me something soon to avoid getting booted out of the Top 25 completely. Likewise, Florida has not shown any improvement last week; if South Florida had taken care of business in the fourth quarter, the Gators would’ve been cleanly into the “Receiving Votes” section. The Gators now have a win against Utah, a dud against Kentucky, and a dud of a win against South Florida, which makes me think the days ahead won’t be so great for the Gators in SEC play.

Upset with my rankings? Call me out on Twitter at @MrAdster99.

 

Bottom 10:

Adam’s Bottom 10 Ranking

 

Projecting the CFP

 

1. Georgia

The Bulldogs showed absolutely no mercy against South Carolina. The Gamecocks scored just 7 points, with that lone touchdown coming in the fourth quarter, in garbage time.

Now, the ‘Dawgs get a matchup against hapless Kent State. See ya at 4-0!

2. Ohio State (2a)/Michigan (2b)

Same as last week. This isn’t going to change until one of these teams slips up or we have a result from The Game in November. See my previous writings for a longer explanation for the 2a/2b setup.

3. Alabama

Don’t let Alabama’s close win at Texas fool you: this team isn’t going anywhere. Hoping for an Alabama upset is a fool’s errand and too much of an emotional drain. They’ve only moved because I have to look like I care about the result of the Texas game. In reality, Alabama’s going to be a machine for the next 13 weeks. The big win over ULM wasn’t enough to change this ranking.

4. Oklahoma

This could also be Clemson’s spot. Both teams are going to be good, but they don’t strike me as strong contenders; I’m waiting for one of the two to slip up and make this ranking easier.

 

Potential CFP teams to watch: USC, Tennessee, Clemson, Oregon, Oklahoma State, Minnesota

 

Week 3 Bowl Projections, Including New Year’s Six Matchups

 

Bowl projections are still really hard to do at this stage of the season because we don’t have a good sense of each team’s overall strength. As previously mentioned, overreactions are easy to come by at this time, especially since most teams haven’t played a quality opponent yet and conference play hasn’t started yet, so these bowl projections are based on an incredibly small sample size that has a lot of noise. They’re subject to a lot of guessing about how teams will perform against their conference opponents.

Furthermore, bowl projections are difficult enough to do even 6 weeks into the season because it requires a lot of guesswork about the Playoff Committee’s views of Playoff-contending teams, which is famously made up of humans, not computers with predictable algorithms. Bowl matchups, especially the ones closer to New Year’s Day, are heavily dependent on the Top 25 and Playoff rankings from the Committee. When one team moves up into the top four in the country, it creates a ripple effect that changes several other bowl matchups.

Further adding to the bowl projection guesswork is the lack of transparency behind the bowl selection process. Many conferences choose to move teams around to different bowl matchups based on factors like geography, travel time, opponent (which makes bowl matchup selection confusingly circular), TV timeslot, and payout. There’s no strict connection between record and bowl placement. Some bowls do have “tie-ins,” where the bowl will specifically agree with a conference to only select teams from that conference to play in the bowl game. For example, the Rose Bowl generally features the best team from the Pac-12 and the best team from the Big Ten. However, those games are few and far between.

ESPN has the right to move certain teams into one of their own bowl matchups, so even though certain conferences have a specific number of tie-ins to fill, they may not meet that obligation because ESPN could move a team out of an official bowl tie-in and into one of ESPN’s own bowls at a more advantageous time slot. Bowl season is big money, folks.

So, with all of that out of the way, here are my initial bowl projections for the 2022-23 bowl season:

Bowl Projections After Week 3
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)

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