Saturday 9/23: QB Shedeur Sanders and the #19 Colorado Buffalos vs #10 Oregon Ducks and Heisman candidate QB Bo Nix

So let me get this off my chest. I don’t like the way Deion Sanders “Cowboyed” his way into Boulder Colorado and kicked a ton of Buffalo football players to the curb. Only 10 incumbent players survived the purge. Eighty-six new players were brought in either as new recruits or through the transfer portal. Yes, I know Colorado was a terrible football team in 2022 (1-11) and has the 4th worst points margin (they lost by an average of 29.1 pts) in the last 30 years across all Power 5 schools. And yes, I know Colorado has had only one winning season since 2011. They needed change.

But, 76 young men committed their football careers to the University of Colorado and they were unceremoniously shown the door. Many have reported they never even spoke to the new coaching staff after being informed in a general team meeting that they should look for a new home to play college football. These are young men who dreamed of playing football at Boulder and made the commitment over other options they had during the recruiting process. Now you’re telling 76 players to go back out and market themselves to schools who, in some cases, they had already rejected. “Hi, remember me? I’m back. Have any jerseys available? How about any extra NIL deals laying around?”

What Will Be their Coming of Age Story at Colorado?

The University of Colorado is still supposed to be an institution of higher learning and growth experiences. It is not the NFL. Granted, the face of college football has changed a great deal since the introduction of NIL money. It’s easy to say college football is a business. I get it. But does college football need to sell out everything? Should it drop all premise of being an educational and coming-of-age environment? Do we need to give the cold shoulder to 19 and 20 year old players for the sake of winning at any cost? I prefer to think not. I prefer to believe there would have been a better way to treat these players. And yes, it may have cost Colorado a year or two more to hit the “PrimeTime” stage, but it might have made a big difference in how 76 young men and their families value commitment, trust, and fair play for the rest of their lives.

So when Colorado hits Eugene, Oregon this Saturday, they will be led by Deion Sanders’ son, Shedeur. Shedeur Sanders was one of the dozen or so players who transferred in from Jackson State with Coach Prime. After his first two games it’s pretty clear that he belongs on the national stage. He is running an offense that ranks #2 in FBS passing offense and has passed for 10 TDs with only one pic. Faced with being upset by rival Colorado State last week, Shedeur took the team on a 98 yard touchdown drive and converted the two point conversion to tie the game as time ran out. The Buffalos would win in double overtime. Shedeur demonstrates all the physical tools of a Heisman type candidate as well the calm composure of one of his idols, Tom Brady. Shedeur remarked after the game, “I was in Brady mode on that last drive.” It so happens that Shedeur has an NIL deal with TB’s clothing line. It also happens that Shedeur Sanders is the only college football player driving a Rolls Royce Cullinan around campus. Values, right?

These Ducks Don’t Work for Aflac

Even with all the hype and the successful performances on the field early in 2023, Colorado will come into Eugene to face the Ducks as a three touchdown underdog. Frankly, I don’t get it. Yes, their star two-way player (and another transfer from Jackson State) Travis Hunter, is out for three weeks following a lacerated liver injury in the State game, but the Buffalos appear to have more than two great skill position guys. For their part, the Oregon Ducks are building off a 10-3 season last year under new head coach Dan Lanning. Lanning took the Oregon job after serving as the DC for Georgia during its 2021 National Championship. But after last week’s Texas Tech game, I see no reason for Lanning to be overly confident about his defense stopping Shedeur and company. Texas Tech registered twenty five 1st downs with 7 of 12 third down conversions to go with 456 total net yards. Oregon’s 14 penalties didn’t help. What did rule the day was the play of Duck’s QB Bo Nix. Nix is off to a great 2023 and last week he simply took charge of the game, completing 32 of 44 for 359 yards, two TDs and zero pics. He also added another 46 yards on 9 carries with his legs. For the season Nix has 10 TD passes vs 0 pics.

This game is going to be another Pac-12 Quarterback shootout as both QBs can burn you with both their arm and their legs. Nix has a huge edge on the national stage having started at Auburn as a true freshman before later transferring to Oregon. His experience includes 49 Power 5 games started (34-16 record) with 11,737 yards, 76 TDs passing vs 23 Ints. He also rushed for 1,439 yards and 32 TDs. Wow. On the other hand Shedeur was 21-3 as the starter at Jackson State and 3-0 this year at Colorado. Those starts have generated 80 TD passes vs only 15 pics. He’s averaged only 2.0 yards per carry as a runner, but is capable of big plays.

Pass for Show and Run for Dough?

I think the Vegas line, currently at Oregon -21, is based on Oregon’s experience on the national stage as well as a more balanced offense. Ironically, given all the passing firepower, this game could be decided by the run game. Oregon comes in with much better balance having averaged 7.2 yards per rushing attempt with 11 TDs while the Buffalos are averaging only 2.0 yards per attempt and have generated only 4 TDs on the ground.

This game will have a huge national audience on ABC and should be a pivotal turning point in the season for both teams. One up one down. Colorado will need to suck it up either way as they host USC and the returning Heisman winner Caleb Williams the following Saturday. Oregon might have a breather with Stanford but then is on the road at Washington for the Michael Penix show. Personally, I think Bo Nix will shred the Colorado defense, but I’d take Colorado and the 21 points.

#6 Ohio State with QB Kyle McCord vs # 9 Notre Dame and QB Sam Hartman

This is the story of two QBs: the “haves” and the “have nots.” Namely, Kyle McCord and Sam Hartman. McCord has waited in the wings for two years behind All-American and 1st round draft pick CJ Stroud. He had very limited playing time behind the 3rd pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Consequently, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day made him earn it. He battled for the QB1 job with redshirt freshman Devin Brown. Both QBs were 5 star recruits coming into Columbus with McCord two years ahead of Brown. When Buckeye training camp broke, Coach Day was not ready to name his starter, and announced both QBs would play in the opener vs Youngstown State. In that 35-7 victory McCord completed 14 of 20 passes for 258 yards and 3 TDs. Following the game, Ryan Day named McCord Ohio State’s QB1.

Sam Hartman is at the opposite end of the career spectrum. We have noted his accomplishments in earlier Quarterback Connection stories, but in summation Sam has become one of the most prolific passers in college football history while at Wake Forest and now for his final year at Notre Dame. Suffice it to say his 14,028 yards passing with 123 TD passes rank in the top echelon of career marks. He’s now at Notre Dame to win a National Championship and/or enhance his NFL Draft position. Oh, yeah, he might also increase his Heisman candidacy.

The Stage for Buckeyes vs Irish

The # 9 Irish lead the country in defensive passing efficiency. What does that mean? Well, it’s a formula and includes stats like opponents having completed only 44.3% of passes, and opponents average a meager 5.2 yards per pass attempts plus the Irish lead the nation with 70 QB pressures. By comparison, the leading QB in passing efficiency is Caleb Williams at USC who is averaging 16.0 yards per attempt and 78.6% completions. So if Kyle McCord wins this game he’s going to do it against a very tough passing defense that will come at you with a ton of pressure.

Notre Dame’s passing efficiency rating comes from a secondary led by Ben Morrison a preseason 2nd team All-American after picking off 6 passes last year as a freshman. He has a lot of gifted help with Cam Hart, Jaden Mickey and freshman Christian Gray. As we mentioned upfront the Irish like to pressure the QB and it makes sense they will come after the young McCord with linebacker pressure from veterans JD Bertand and Jack Kiser. All this efficiency adds ups to the Irish only giving up a stingy 11.8 points per game.

Ohio State has Weaponized the Forward Pass!

Whether it’s been CJ Stroud, Justin Fields, Dwayne Haskins or Cardale Jones the Buckeye QBs have been pitching to the likes of Chris Olave, Garret Wilson, Jaxson Smith-Njigba and Devin Smith. And 2023 is no exception as Kyle McCord takes over. Kyle has some very formidable weapons on his side of the ball including Marvin Harrison JR , the namesake of NFL Hall of Famer, Marvin Harrison. Junior is a dominant All-American at the WR position. Both McCord and Harrison played HS ball at St Joseph’s prep in Philly. At OSU Harrison already has 102 receptions for 1,706 yards and 20 TDs. Add Emeka Egbuka on the other side and the Buckeyes have two returning 1,000 yard receivers. Cade Stover, the TE, is a highly rated NFL prospect as well. The Buckeyes are always loaded at the skill positions.

Shootout at the OK Corral?

But in the end, this is a gunslinger shootout. Will Kyle McCord step up in his first real test on the national stage and utilize all that talent around him? One big question mark is the Ohio State offensive line vs that Irish pressure. The Buckeyes have three new starters at center and the two guard positions. This game might come down to how well they protect the rookie McCord.

I’m putting my money on the ’slinger with the most notches on his sidearm, Sam Hartman. He’s been described by opposing coaches as “another coach on the field.” He, first and foremast, is a leader. His impact on Notre Dame football goes beyond his flashy stats. His greatest impacts are the intangibles. With Touchdown Jesus looking down on the field in South Bend I’m certainly not going to call Sam Hartman a Messiah for Irish football. But until someone stops the Irish offense, Sam Hartman will continue to be in the final Heisman discussion. I’m taking Notre Dame and the 3 pts.

#14 Oregon State (3-0) vs # 21 Washington State (3-0)

This game is really not about the Quarterbacks. True, both Oregon State’s DJ Uiagalelei the Clemson transfer and Washington State’s Cam Ward are off to great starts in 2023. But this game is about legacy and survival. You see Oregon State was one of the four charter members of the Pacific Coast Conference formed in 1915. Washington State would join two years later. The conference eventually morphed into what we know today as the Pac 12. At the end of 2023 the conference will only have two teams left; the Beavers in Corvallis, Oregon and the Cougars in Pullman, Washington.

Why? Well it seems money runs thicker than blood. What a surprise, right? You see first USC and UCLA announced they were leaving the Pac 12 for the Big 10 and a much richer payout. But, did you know this conference craziness all started in 1981 when the board of regents at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Georgia challenged the NCAA’s football TV monopoly? The case went to the Supreme Court which ruled that the NCAA was in violation of the Sherman Anti-trust Act by preventing schools and conferences from owning their own TV rights. Over the next 25 years the conferences crafted their own TV deals, but it wasn’t until 2007, when the Big 10 Network was created, that it became truly a big media rights phenomenon.

Rivalries take a backseat to Cash

The old conference alignments were built on regionality and rivalries. The Old Oaken Bucket, The Red River Shootout , and The Iron Bowl to name a few. But in today’s college football media world it’s about market size. It’s about reach, to use a term from my media past. So the SEC was interested in expanding west, the Big 10 to the West Coast, and the Big 12 anywhere outside the Midwest. The Pac 12 was slow to move. It has cost them. In 2021 the SEC signed a 10 year $3 billion deal with Disney (ABC/ESPN). In 2022 the Big 10 signed a package with Fox, NBC and CBS for $7 billion plus. The Big 12 moved defensively and secured a six-year deal with ESPN and Fox for $2.3 Billion. The ACC was already locked up with ESPN through 2036 in a deal that has Florida State and perhaps others looking to exit.

So what happened to the Pac 12? The conference came to the table late and found little left on the bone. After all these deals, the inventory (meaning time slots) at the majors was bone-dry. This left the Pac 12 to negotiate with… Apple TV. And not at SEC or Big 10 guarantees. Quickly, USC and UCLA announced they were leaving the Pac 12 for the Big 10. Blasphemous, right? Who’s going to play Michigan or Ohio State in the Rose Bowl?? And then, Oregon and Washington announced their exit from the Pac 12 to the Big 10. Why? Well for guarantees between $35-40 million per year. Substantially more than anything the Pac 12 was trying to cobble together. Soon, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona Sate, and Utah announced their migration to the Big 12. Finally, just a few weeks ago Stanford and Cal inked with the ACC. Leaving Oregon State and Washington State as the sole surviving members of the famed Pac 12.

Norman Rockwell Where Are You?

Why are two of the oldest members of a revered conference left standing alone? Well, it seems that Corvallis, Oregon and Pullman, Washington are not exactly huge TV markets. You see these towns are a throwback to simpler times. Nostalgic times. Places where the schools are bigger than the town and they are the beating heart of the community. The pep rallies are not only for the students but a rallying place for the residents. However, after the 2023 season the Pac 12 will have only two teams (as of now) and an expired television contract. Washington State and Oregon State apparently want to carry on as the Pac 12. On Sept 11 they were awarded a temporary restraining order against the Pac 12 which prevents the 10 departing schools from making conference decisions.

And I Thought Quarterbacks Sell?

Ironically, the Pac 12 has arguably the strongest Quarterback Rooms of any conference in college football. The returning Heisman winner Caleb Williams at Southern Cal, The dual threat Bo Nix at Oregon, Michael Penix leading the country in passing yardage at Washington, All-Conference Cam Rising hoping to come off the injured list at Utah, as well as DJ and Cam at Oregon State and Washington State. And yet, with all that appeal the conference couldn’t hold it together. My, oh my.

Whoa, Nellie

One has to think that Keith Jackson (ask your dad) is scratching his head and wondering why Texas will no longer play Oklahoma annually. Or why Stanford will be traveling to play in North Carolina several times each year? Or how about who IS going to play in the Rose bowl next year since the contract was historically pitting a Big 10 team against the best from the Pac 12? What now? And should we care? Well, I care. I just don’t know what to do about it. One thing I can do and I’m going to do is tune in to Oregon State vs Washington State this Saturday on Fox at 7pm Eastern. They need the ratings. These teams are auditioning for a new future. Both teams are 3-0 and this is the first time in 97 years that they are playing with both teams nationally ranked. I think you’ll see both Quarterbacks and their teammates are worthy of the national spotlight. Now they just need to find a new home.

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