After a one-week hiatus, six takeaways are back and just in time with Week 8 standing as one of the most eventful weekends of the 2023 season to date.
There were top 10 showdowns, near upsets of multiple top 10 teams, plus an actual top 10 upset.
A real race has begun among three Group of Five teams for a spot in the New Year’s Six, the Pac-12 is slowly starting to embrace its true self — aka chaos — and a bunch of the usual subjects are slowly trying to put to bed the idea that parity has come to CFB.
Only five weeks remain until conference championship weekend, which means every game going forward carries more and more import. Losses at this point can and will likely ruin seasons.
Oh and the College Football Playoff rankings are just over a week away from making their debut this season.
Here are six takeaways from the weekend in college football:
Count out the Utes (and Kyle Whittingham) at your own peril
The Utah Utes are something to behold. Truly. And it is all a testament to what Kyle Whittingham has built up on the hill.
Utah is 6-1 this season, coming off its thrilling victory at USC Saturday night.
The Utes — who as a reminder are back-to-back Pac-12 champs — have wins over two ranked Power Five opponents — USC and UCLA — another win over a plus .500 P5 team (Florida) and their lone loss came on the road against the No. 11-ranked team in the country (Oregon State).
All that without numerous stars and starters, who have now been lost for the year to injury, or who never played in the first place.
The prevailing narrative right now is that the Utes are doing something amazing and unexpected, and that this is Whittingham’s best coaching job to date, what with him leading a group of bruised and battered underdogs to win after win after win.
That narrative is mostly fair (except the underdog part). Whittingham has cemented himself as one of the best five coaches in all of college football this season, if he hadn’t done so previously, and the fact that Utah keeps winning in spite of everything is impressive.
The Utes host Oregon this coming Saturday and the No. 8-ranked Ducks will be favored, but if the past few seasons have taught us anything it is that Utah can beat a talented Oregon team. Soundly.
There is every real chance Utah can and will win each and every one of its remaining games this season (yes, even at Washington) and win the Pac-12 for a third consecutive time.
And the thing is, after what the Utes have done this season and over the last couple of years, they should win their games. They should be considered the power in the Pac-12.
Utah wins. It doesn’t really matter how. When stars go down, others arise in their place and the team continues to have success.
That is what elite programs do.
Ohio State is undefeated and has struggled in both of its games against real competition this season, but you don’t see people saying the Buckeyes aren’t a CFB power. Georgia hasn’t been impressive in every game this season, but the Bulldogs win and are consistently a top 3 or 4 team.
Under Whittingham, especially the last few seasons, Utah has won and won a lot. And should be afforded the respect and expectations given to consistent conference champions.
One win away from bowl eligibility with room for more? If final results are all that matters, BYU is having a dream first season in the Big 12
Through eight weeks of football, BYU is 5-2 overall with 2-2 record in the Big 12. In four conference games at the Power Five level, the Cougars are a .500 team.
It hasn’t been pretty, almost ever. And Saturday’s win over Texas Tech was a near perfect example of that.
No one is sitting here saying that the Cougars are Big 12 title contenders, or that they’ve taken the Power Five ranks by storm. No one thinks that Kedon Slovis is a Heisman Trophy contender.
BYU’s offense hasn’t been the best the Big 12 has seen, while the Cougars’ defense remains a real work in progress.
There have been mistakes, poor performances and more week after week. But somehow the Cougars are three games over .500 and a win away from being bowl eligible in their first year at the P5 level.
Let’s put that in perspective for a second:
- TCU, in its first season transitioning from the Mountain West to the Big 12, finished the regular season 7-5 and then the Horned Frogs went on to lose their bowl game to Michigan State.
- Utah, in its first season transitioning from the Mountain West to the Pac 12, finished the regular season 7-5 overall, before defeating Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
- West Virginia, in its first season transitioning from the Big East to the Big 12, finished the regular season 7-5 overall, before losing to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl.
- Rutgers, in its first season transitioning from the AAC to the Big Ten, finished the regular season 7-5 overall, before defeating North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl.
There are more examples, but BYU is right on par with some of the more notable programs that have made the jump to the P5 ranks over the last decade-plus.
The Cougars are faring better than Cincinnati, Houston and UCF this season, three other upstarts who are a combined 8-13 this season.
The back end of BYU’s schedule doesn’t do the Cougars any favors, with only two home games remaining, plus games against the top best teams in the conference (Oklahoma and Texas), but 7-5 feels achievable, which would make BYU’s move to the P5 ranks nothing if not a success.
Is this the future for Utah State?
At 3-5 overall, 1-3 in Mountain West Conference play, the Utah State Aggies have work to do this season. That is if they don’t want to miss out on the postseason.
The Aggies squandered a real opportunity to solidify their chances of becoming bowl eligible on the road at San Jose State on Saturday, by playing their worst game of the season.
In order to become bowl eligible now, USU must win three of its final four games this season, contests against San Diego State, Nevada, New Mexico and Boise State.
Given how the Aztecs, Wolfpack and Lobos have played this season (they are a combined 7-15 overall), it certainly is possible.
USU could go 3-1 to end the year (with a loss at home against Boise State) and finish the season 6-6 and going bowling.
That would be near exact repeat of the 2022 season.
If that happens, you have to start to wonder if that is what the Aggies will be during the Blake Anderson era.
Anderson started his time in Logan with a bang, going 11-2 in 2021 and winning USU’s first MW championship.
But during his time at Arkansas State, Anderson was nothing if not consistent, winning between 7 and 9 games six consecutive seasons.
Another 6-6 year would seem to signify that consistency at Utah State for Anderson is more in line with fighting for bowl eligibility, rather than competing for conference titles.
The Aggies have struggled, historically, to have consistent good to great seasons. A 10-win season has almost always been followed by a six- or seven-win campaign and then a further drop the next year to three or four wins (that is when things are rebuilt).
So far, it seems that the Anderson-led Aggies will be able to avoid the drop to three or four wins, but will regular six-win seasons be enough in Logan?
The curse of the No. 10 ranking
The biggest upset of Week 8 came in the ACC, when the unranked and fairly woeful Virginia Cavaliers took down the previously undefeated and top 10-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels.
On its own, it was a major story. The first signature win of the Tony Elliot era in Charlottesville. The exposing of potential ACC champion UNC.
But in the wider context of college football, it was another loss for the No. 10 ranked team.
Yep, this season the No. 10 ranking has been a disaster.
It was North Carolina this weekend, but before that it was USC falling at Notre Dame. Before that was Notre Dame losing on the road to Louisville. Before that, it was Utah losing on the road to Oregon State.
Yep, since Week 5, whichever team was ranked No. 10 in the AP Poll has been upset by a lower ranked opponent, though the Tar Heels were the first to lose at home.
Penn State is ranked No. 10 now, after its loss to Ohio State, and host unranked Indiana this weekend. Will the curse continue? Probably not, but then again...
The usual suspects appear to be in better and better shape
For a time it appeared that this college football season was one of newish faces rises to the top.
Florida State, forgotten for a decade, was back.
Texas too, but for real this time.
Washington, Penn State, USC and Oregon were all viewed as real threats to make the College Football Playoff, at the expense of the Alabama’s, Ohio State’s, Michigan’s and Georgia’s of the world.
As the season has progressed, some of those programs have remained in the hunt.
FSU and Washington are still undefeated. Oregon could conceivably win the Pac-12 with only one loss. Penn State just lost to Ohio State, again, but maybe the Nittany Lions upset Michigan and things get a little crazy in the Big Ten East.
But eight weeks in, Georgia, Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State are a combined 29-1.
The Crimson Tide looked shaky after losing at home to Texas, but a win over Tennessee has Alabama 5-0 in the SEC and the favorite to come out of the SEC West.
Michigan hasn’t played anyone and is now being investigated for stealing signals from opponents, but the Wolverines just keep winning and winning.
Georgia has a lot of new faces but the Bulldogs just seem to chug along, with no real threat in the SEC East (unless Missouri is for real or Florida can channel some rivalry game magic).
Oh and Ohio State has beaten two good teams in Notre Dame and Penn State and handled everyone else, with Michigan looking like the only real challenge remaining.
NIL was supposed to bring more parity, and it may, but the traditional powers haven’t been surpassed just yet it seems.
A compelling Group of Five race
Arguably the most interesting race to end the season, outside of which four teams are selected to play in the College Football Playoff, is which Group of Five team will make it to a New Year’s Six Bowl.
Why is it compelling?
Well right now there are three teams, from three different conferences, that all have a legitimate chance to earn the coveted spot.
There is No. 19 Air Force, currently the highest ranked of the three teams. The Falcons are 7-0 and have looked impressive all season. The Falcons still have tough games ahead against Colorado State, Army, UNLV and Boise State, plus the Mountain West Conference title game. But if the service academy wins out, a NY6 bowl awaits.
But then there is No. 22 Tulane of the AAC. The Green Wave went to a NY6 bowl last season and defeated USC and their only loss this year is to No. 12 Ole Miss. The Green Wave are the clear favorite in the AAC, though SMU, UTSA or Memphis could all play the role of spoiler.
And finally there is No. 25 James Madison. The Dukes, per NCAA rules, aren’t eligible for the postseason (which includes a NY6 bowl), but at 7-0 and as the clear favorites in the Sun Belt, arguably the best Group of Five conference, an undefeated JMU might be hard to pass up, even if such a decision went against NCAA rules.
Will all three teams wins out? Probably not. And that is where the interest lies. Which ones messes up first or again? Can a fourth team come out of nowhere and steal the spot?
It is something to watch as the season draws to a close.