The Number One QB Matchup:
Pac-12 Championship Friday 8pm at Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas
# 3 Washington Huskies (12-0) vs #5 Oregon Ducks (11-1)
The Pac-12 may be going out, but it’s going out in a blaze of glory. The top two conference teams happen to be in the top five nationally ranked (AP) teams. They also happen to have two of the best three Quarterbacks in the nation. This game is a rematch of the shootout staged by these two schools back on October 14 in Seattle. Both went in undefeated and the Huskies scored with 1:38 left to sink the Ducks 36-33.
The firepower for both these teams is anchored by two Heisman worthy QBs, Michael Penix for Washington and Bo Nix for Oregon. In the first meeting Nix delivered 33 0f 44 for 337 yards and 2 TDs with zero pics. Penix was equal to the task with 22 of 37 for 302 yards and 4 TDs with 1 pic.
Since that game Washington has had to work hard to remain undefeated. Their largest margin of victory since Oregon has been 10 points (52-42 over USC) and the last two weeks the Huskies have been pressed. First by #23 Oregon State, 22-20 on November 18, and just last week Washington was nearly upset by unranked Washington State 24-21. Penix was out-gunned in the latter by the Cougars’ Cam Ward and in the previous week vs Oregon State Penix was held to only 162 yards in a virtual monsoon.
On the other hand, Oregon’s offense has been explosive ever since the Washington loss and Nix has been virtually unstoppable. The Ducks have averaged a 26 point win differential since that loss. Last week vs #21Oregon State Bo’s line was 33 of 40 for 367 yards and 2 TDs with zero pics. He also ran for a score. The week prior vs Arizona State Bo Nix destroyed ASU with 24 of 29 for 404 yards and a staggering 6 TDs.
So how do these heady passing stats line up nationally? Well, as you might guess, right at the top. Lets look at a few key categories:
Michael Penix may have the best overall arm and release in college football. He can bring it. But his trending has been on a downward slope the last several weeks. In part, this is because he has a huge load to bear. The Washington Huskies are ranked 103rd in team rushing yardage; averaging 4.55 yards per attempt. While the Oregon Ducks have a much better balanced attack with an average rush per attempt at 5.84 yards, which ranks #23 in the FBS. Clearly, defensive game plans vs Washington will be designed to stop Penix first and to hell with the rush. I’m certain this is why Vegas has established Oregon as a 9.5 pt favorite in-spite of Washington’s win earlier in the season.
According to ultimate sports source, Wikipedia, “Rematches that occur in conference championship games have winners of the first game possessing a record of 34-23 in the rematch.” So, it’s not exactly a slam-dunk to beat a team twice. In this case I like Oregon’s balance and I’m giving the edge to Bo Nix. Both QBs should be Heisman finalists and are very high on NFL Draft watch lists. But, Bo has the Mo and I don’t see Washington’s defense slowing him down.
The Number Two QB Matchup:
SEC Championship Saturday, 4:00pm at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
#1 Georgia Bulldogs (12-0) vs #8 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1)
The Quarterback Rooms at the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia have a great deal in common in 2023. Both starters, Jalen Milroe at ‘Bama and Carson Beck at Georgia, have been waiting for years to get their shot at the QB1 slot. Both have sat, watched, and learned behind Quarterbacks that would win a Heisman Trophy and two national championships. And now both are on the brink of fulfilling their childhood dreams.
Jalen Milroe, 6’2” and 220lbs, grew up in Katy, Texas and originally committed to the University of Texas. In high school he tallied 3,825 yards passing, 559 yards rushing and had touchdown responsibility of 53 total TDs. Eventually Jalen would switch his commitment to Alabama. In his freshman year in 2021, he found himself backing up the Heisman winning Bryce Young, and eventually Jalen was redshirted. Young would resume his QB1 status in 2022 with Milroe seeing limited action throughout the season. When Bryce Young moved on to the NFL in 2023, Milroe would have only 53 passing attempts (5 TDs vs 3 Ints) on his resume for the QB1 job.
Carson Beck would need to display even more patience. After leading his high school in Jacksonville to the Florida State Championship, the 6’4” Beck would first commit to Alabama only to change his mind and enroll at Georgia. His first year in 2020 was a redshirt year for Carson and 2021 and 2022 would find him in a crowded Quarterback Room in Athens with everyone sitting behind the wunderkind walk-on Stetson Bennett lV. Entering 2023 Carson Beck would have a grand total of 58 pass attempts (6 TDs vs 2 Ints) as his building block for the QB1 position.
Patience Paying Off
So essentially, both teams playing in the SEC Championship game this Saturday are fielding QBs who came in to 2023 with little to no prior experience. Clearly the QB developmental process at both schools is working to perfection, as they are both performing at the upper echelon level of FBS Quarterbacking.
The road for Jalen Milroe was just a bit bumpier this season. He played admirably in the opening game of 2023 in a blowout win over Middle Tennessee, but the following week in the 34-24 loss to #11 Texas he was tentative and indecisive. While he threw for 2 TDs he was victimized by the Longhorn secondary for two crucial interceptions. Jalen was benched the next week vs USF, and the Bama offense looked lost against USF without Milroe in the lineup. He would be reinstated as QB1 for the SEC opener vs Ole Miss and responded with a 17 of 21 game for 225 yards and a TD in the 24-10 win. Two more weeks into the schedule and Jalen led Alabama over Texas A&M with 321 passing yards and 3 TDS. His real “coming of age” win would be out-dueling LSU’s Jalen Daniels in Tuscaloosa 42-28. Milroe hit 15 of 23 for 219 yards and added an astounding 155 yards and 4 TDs rushing.
Alabama would run the table since that loss to Texas in week two until the season ending Iron Bowl. In last week’s game against Auburn it looked like their luck had run out. The Tigers were in upset mode and had the Tide down 24-20 with 0:32 remaining. Worse, it was 4th and goal from the Auburn 31. Jalen Milroe took the snap, stepped up, bought some time and threw a prayer (albeit a bullet) to the corner of the end zone. Miraculously, Alabama’s receiver, Isaiah Bond, was behind the Auburn secondary in the back corner of the end zone and came down with the game winning catch. Alabama 11-1. Alabama wins the SEC West. Alabama still has a shot at the CFP if they beat Georgia in Mercedes Benz Stadium Saturday. Jalen is averaging an astounding 10.4 yards per attempt (think long ball) and has only 6 pics against his 22 TD passes.
Carson Beck has not blinked since opening day in Athens, Georgia. He took over the controls of QB1 with a 17 game win streak on the line. Georgia has now won 29 straight. He went 21 of 31 for 294 yards and a TD in his first game vs UT Martin. He hit 27 of 35 for 269 yards in his first SEC start vs South Carolina. He hit 28 of 35 for 389 yards and 4 TDs vs Kentucky. And it goes on and on for Carson Beck. Twelve straight wins. Down the stretch he beat #9 Missouri, #11 Mississippi, and Tennessee in Knoxville. Carson is ranked #8 in FBS passing efficiency and #6 in completion percentage (.724). He is accurate and protects the football (22 TDs vs 6 pics).
Shootout at the Benz
One of these Quarterbacks is going to play in the College Football Playoffs. Who, will be decided Saturday night. Jalen Milroe is only 20 years old but extremely athletic and is now making plays because he’s making good decisions with the football. He will beat you with his arm and his legs. The comparisons include Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. Carson Beck looks like an NFL first rounder right now. He is big, stays calm, has enough mobility to work off-platform and delivers with a cannon arm. Las Vegas has positioned Georgia as a 5.5 pt favorite. Even after two successive national championships, Kirby Smart is still 1-4 head to head vs his old mentor Nick Saban. Frankly, I think Georgia will win, but I’d take the Tide and the points. I also think the over/under at 56.5 is a joke. Both of these QBs are going to light it up. Somebody tell the Dawgs that if it’s 4th and 31 they better not go to sleep!
The Number three QB Matchup:
Big10 Conference Championship Saturday, 8:00pm at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
# 2 Michigan Wolverines (12-0) vs #18 Iowa Hawkeyes (10-2)
Ok, you’re thinking, “This is supposed to be a piece about classic Quarterback matchups, and Iowa’s quarterback is the much-maligned Deacon Hill?” A 6’3” 256 lb Quarterback, Hill has played 11 games in 2023 and has posted a completion percentage of 48.3% for 976 total passing yards with 5 TDs and 6 interceptions. Now, if the story was about the Quarterback he replaced we’d have a great matchup. You see, Hill is filling in for Cade McNamara. Sound familiar? McNamara was the highly recruited prospect out of IMG Academy in 2020 who signed with Michigan. In fact Cade started 2021 as QB1 for the Wolverines and took the team to the 2021 Big10 Championship and eventually to the CFP semi-final game loss to Georgia 34-11 in the Orange Bowl.
These QBs Have a History
In 2021 McNamara posted passing yardage of 2,576 yards with 15 TD passes against only 6 pics. His Michigan team finished 12-2. But JJ McCarthy was also recruited by Jim Harbaugh. The QB1 competition between McNamara and McCarthy in 2022 was so tight Harbaugh announced the competition would extend into the first two regular season games and each QB would get a start. In his audition in the second game vs Hawaii McCarthy won the job by completing 11 of 12 for 229 yards and 3 TDs all in the first half. It was McCarthy’s job to keep through the 2022 season. He would lead Michigan back to the CFP semi-final, this time vs TCU where the Wolverines would lose 51-45. JJ posted 20 of 34 for 343 yards and 2TDs in the loss.
Cade McNamara hit the transfer portal and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was thrilled to grab him. Iowa wasted little time in naming Cade QB1 to start 2023. In his opening game vs Utah State Cade completed 17 of 30 for 2 TDs and no pics in the 24-14 win. Entering the Michigan State game Iowa was 4-1, but Cade McNamara went down with a season ending torn ACL. McNamara has already announced he will return to Iowa for his final year of eligibility in 2024, but his season is over and the classic matchup of McNamara vs McCarthy will not be renewed in this year’s Big10 Championship Game.
Defense, Defense, Defense
So what is the matchup? Well, I’m calling it JJ McCarthy vs the Iowa Hawkeyes’ defense. Have you paid any attention to Iowa’s defense over the past several years? Ferentz keeps molding defenses and crafting winning seasons. He’s been at Iowa as head coach since 1999. He’s the longest tenured coach at an FBS school and has a 196-117 record at Iowa. Plus, he’s getting better. While he’s won two Big 10 Championships (2002, 2004) he’s also won the Big10 West in 2015, 2021, and 2023. He does it with defense.
JJ McCarthy is up against an Iowa defense that is ranked #7 in total defense (223 yds per game), #4 in scoring defense (12.17 pts per game) and #3 in red-zone defense. The Hawkeyes also play almost flawless football, ranking #3 in fewest team penalties in the FBS (39). Field position? Yup, Ferentz is on it. Iowa is #1 in the country in net punting yardage at 44.51 yards per punt. Need special teams? Iowa has blocked two punts and two field goals in 2023. And get this, in the past two seasons Iowa’s defense has not allowed a touchdown in ten games!
JJ’s Got Game
The beauty of Michigan’s offense is that JJ McCarthy completely understands his role. He commands a very balanced (with emphasis on the run) offense anchored by one of the best offensive lines in college football. McCarthy does not throw the ball 30-40 times per game. He doesn’t need to. But when he passes he is very efficient. In fact, he enters this game ranked #5 in the FBS in passing efficiency. He also protects the football as his 19 TD passes vs only 4 pics demonstrates. He is #2 behind only Bo Nix in passing accuracy with a .743 completion percentage.
Is Michigan favored to win this game? You bet. Vegas has the Wolverines as a 22.5 pt favorite. But the over/under is only 35 total points. Not expecting a lot of points on either side. We have not discussed Michigan’s defense but it is also one of the best in the country. Just ask Ohio State. If JJ McCarthy doesn’t try to do too much, Michigan will prevail. Iowa’s only chance is to force turnovers and break a big play on special teams. I think McCarthy sticks with the game plan and puts Michigan back into the CFP. But against this Iowa defense it will be earned.
Bonus Matchup: Who gets the Heisman?
I see the 2023 Heisman Trophy competition down to two players: Bo Nix of Oregon and Jayden Daniels of LSU. But first, let’s make sure we understand what the Heisman stands for and how we get to our winner. According to Urban Dictionary “The Heisman Trophy is awarded to any man that gets rejected by multiple women in a night. It is called the Heisman because that’s the pose a woman makes when pushing away from the awardee’s advances.”
Ok, that’s not it. The real Heisman Trophy is awarded to the outstanding player in college football by the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City. It is named in honor of football pioneer John W. Heisman (1869-1936). It’s further defined by its “…winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.“ Also, the Heisman is voted on by 870 members of the media, plus the 57 past winners still alive cast votes. Ballots go out on Monday November 27 and have a deadline for submission on December 4. So, the Conference Championships are a factor, but Bowls and the Playoffs are not.
Timing is Everything
The timing is important this year as LSU will not qualify for the SEC Championship Game (Alabama won the SEC West), nor for the four team national playoffs. Oregon, of course, is playing in the Pac-12 title game and has a shot at the CFP with a decisive win over Washington. So when Jayden Daniels was lining up against Texas A&M this past Saturday he did so knowing this would be his final audition for the Trophy. Plus, he was lining up against a defense that was ranked #8 in the country. The Aggies got Jimbo fired for his lack of developing a QB and not the team’s lack of defense.
Jayden Daniels put up a monster performance during his Heisman audition. The Tigers scored 21 points in the 4th Quarter to run away with the 42-30 win. Along the way Jayden completed 16 of 24 for 235 yards with 4 TD passes and zero picks. But he didn’t stop there. Daniels also ran for 120 yards on 11 carries for a 10.9 yard average. Daniels has been redefining the term dual threat all season long. Let’s see how my two Heisman Finalists stack up:
As you can see, Nix has the edge in the pure passing categories with the exception of passing TDs. Bo Nix has been THE most accurate passer in the FBS this regular season. He has also been the best at protecting the football with an unbelievably low 2 interruptions. All this ball protection while leading the country in yardage gained. Plus his team is 11-1 and playing for the conference Championship. Based on passing, Bo Nix is the leader in the clubhouse.
But! Jayden Daniels has redefined the “dual threat.” He is not only his team’s leading passer, he is also his team’s leading rusher. Jayden has rushed for 1,134 yards and 10 TDs. Looking for balance? LSU is ranked #1 in FBS total offense averaging 547.8 yards per game. The team has scored 73 offensive touchdowns in route to their 9-3 record. The number two ranked offense in the country? Yup, Oregon. The Ducks are averaging 540.2 yards per game and have scored 72 offensive TDs. Wow, what a shootout! Wouldn’t you love to see these two teams play each other twice in a season?
In the final analysis, Jayden Daniels’ rushing dynamics along with touchdown responsibility (50 to 43) will win him the 2023 Heisman Trophy.
Bo Nix will go down as having one of the greatest seasons ever that did NOT win the Heisman Trophy. .