Oftentimes, we hear about the “witching hour” on NFL Sundays. It refers to the hour between roughly 3 and 4 PM when games are won and lost around the league, the chaos happening all at once.
College football has its own version, but it’s the entire month of November. There’s no more consequential month than November. Coaching careers are made and destroyed in November. You can’t win a national championship in November, but too many teams to count have surely lost one in the eleventh month. And, as the weather gets colder, the games take on added importance as almost every team enters the month with bowl eligibility on the table. For playoff contenders, this is make-or-break. The great first two months mean nothing if you can’t get it done during the witching month of November.
In Week 11, some teams got it done, and some felt just short. After fourteen straight hours of watching college football, here’s what I saw in Week 11.
We’ve seen it before in Eugene. The Oregon Ducks play great football for most of the season and put themselves in place to make the BCS National Championship Game, and now the College Football Playoff. They’re better than the teams left on their schedule, and all they need to do is take care of business.
And yet, they seemingly never do it. The Ducks had November meltdowns every year from 2011-2013 and blew it in 2019 and 2021 as well. All they needed to do was simply beat teams they were favored against in those years, and they couldn’t do it.
But, this year they may have had the most complete team the program had since they lost in the national title game in the 2014 season. The offense, led by surprise Heisman contender Bo Nix and offensive wunderkind Kenny Dillingham, was among the best in the country. And, new head coach Dan Lanning, a defensive mastermind himself, was unleashing those great Duck linebackers Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell to help a defense with personnel issues at other levels be a nice unit.
We all know how this story ends, don’t we? Oregon let a golden opportunity slip away once again, and lost to Washington at home, 37-34, Saturday night. Oregon looked to have the game firmly when they piked off Husky quarterback Michael Penix at the goal line early through the 4th quarter to help preserve a 31-27 lead. And, they looked ready to ice the game when a long drive got them deep into Washington territory. But, their twenty-play, 91-yard drive stalled out, and after a made field goal, Washington struck back with a long touchdown pass to tie the game.
And, when Oregon got the ball back, they immediately faced a crucial 4th and 1. Of course, Washington stopped them, and they kicked the game-winning field goal, putting a big damper on the PAC 12 playoff hopes. Those hopes were lessened further when UCLA lost a clunker to Arizona at home.
Here’s the deal with Oregon. They’ve shown us they’re a choker program. I will continue to believe they are who they’ve shown us they are over the last fifteen or so years, and you should too.
TCU Keeps Winning
The Texas-TCU game in Austin was supposed to be a classic Big-12 shootout. After all, the two offenses came in averaging over 950 yards a game, and can really light it up. What did we get? A 17-10 TCU win where there were a combined two offensive touchdowns, both by the Horned Frogs.
This is mostly going to be about Texas, but I have to give TCU some credit here. This was a defense that came in ranked 89th in the country in total defense and they held the Longhorn offense to three points. For a team that has been out-scoring people with big-time offense in most games, it’s encouraging to see them win a game a different way. They’re inching closer and closer to a playoff berth, now just three wins away, in what would be one of the great one-year turnarounds of all time. Sonny Dykes inherited a program undoubtedly trending downwards and has them 10-0 in a pretty decent Big East. With respect to people like Jim Mora, Josh Heupel, and Kalen DeBoer, Dykes is the clear-cut national coach of the year for me.
As for Steve Sarkisian’s Longhorns, this was a dreadful performance. I have been open in this column throughout the year with my thoughts that I was sure this program was turning a corner. Yes, they had three losses coming into this week. But, two were without Quinn Ewers for most or all of the game, and the other was a blown lead late in which they were the better team. Even if a Big 12 title in which they controlled their destiny for heading into the TCU game didn’t happen for them this year, I figured this was a preseason top-ten, maybe top-five team heading into next year.
Here’s the problem. Texas stinks. They’re not a good football team. Do they have stretches of play where they look like a playoff team? Yes. And that’s something you really haven’t been able to say about the program since the Colt McCoy days. But, they just make too many mental mistakes, and Quinn Ewers simply isn’t the quarterback I and many others thought he was.
Ewers was especially terrible Saturday. He was just 17/39 for 171 yards and no touchdowns. He threw this terrible pick, too.
That pick was part of a horrific start for the former top-recruit in America. He started 0/7 with that pick. Early in the game, the Longhorns' defense was dominant, and Ewers and company simply couldn’t get it going. Quinn never settled in, and his mechanics and footwork are getting worse every week even to the untrained eye.
A lot of the putrid offensive performance was on the quarterback, but responsibility has to fall on Sarkisian as well. He’s supposedly one of the sport’s best play-callers. But, Bijan Robinson, likely the top running back off the board in the upcoming draft, only carried the ball 12 times. That’s malpractice on its own, but then consider how bad the passing game was. Why wasn’t Sarkisian, in a game where Texas was within a score for all but one drive in the entire contest, relying on his best player to make plays against a subpar TCU run defense?
But, thanks to a late TCU fumble that resulted in a scoop-and-score when they were on track to run out the clock and win the game, 17-3, the Longhorns had a lot of life, down just a touchdown with roughly 4:30 remaining. Naturally, the defense couldn’t get the ball back for the offense.
It’s another embarrassing loss for a program that refuses to get a signature win. And for me, I’ve seen enough. I’m putting them in the Texas A&M category where I think the culture is so bad that it’s just not going to happen until things change.
That is until I see Arch Manning throw a pass in burnt orange. I’m sure I will be a believer once again.
Alabama Squeaks One Out
When the Crimson Tide fell behind Ole Miss 10-0 on Saturday, I was ready to write a scathing section about the state of the program and this being the most disappointing Tide team in the modern era. They simply have too much talent to be playing this poorly. And, it sure as heck looked like the Rebels were about to hand them their third conference loss. Alabama looked like it didn’t want to be there after LSU almost certainly eliminated them from playoff contention a week ago.
But, credit to Nick Saban’s bunch. They responded to that Ole Miss early lead, cutting it to 17-14 at halftime and playing what may be their best half of the season in the 2nd half for a reassuring 30-24 win.
The Tide started to control the trenches for the first time all year against a good opponent. Byron Young had his best game on the defensive interior of his career, and running back Jase McLellan churned out a ton of tough yards late.
They showed guts, too, getting a late stop they had not been able to get in their losses against Tennessee and LSU. It’s likely too little, too late for this Tide team, a team that is two plays away from staring down an undefeated season. But, it was nice to see them respond after getting punched in the mouth.
As for Ole Miss, if Lane Kiffin ever gets elite resources, look out. He’s a top-five coach in the sport right now, and I’m not sure there are three coaches I’d take over him.
Michigan and Ohio State are on a collision course for the most important version of The Game since 2006 when both teams entered undefeated. They will likely both be undefeated this year and they rolled Nebraska and Indiana, respectively.
We go from the bluest of the blue bloods to UConn football. But, they deserve a shoutout. Jim Mora’s bunch beat a ranked Liberty team that just beat Arkansas and clinched bowl eligibility with a win to spare. It’s been quite the turnaround in Storrs in what was thought of as an impossible situation. Mora should be a candidate for bigger jobs as this is quite the performance at an impossible place to win.
Georgia rolled again, despite Mississippi State keeping it close for a half. The Dawgs’ defense shut down a potent Mississippi State passing attack and they’re slowly peaking at the right time once again for Kirby Smart
UCF took a big step towards getting the automatic NY6 slot for the G5 as they went on the road and beat Tulane in what was the biggest home game for the Green Wave in quite some time. Gus Malzahn has done a great job there.
Texas A&M lost again. They’re now 3-7, which means they have more losses than their preseason ranking of 6. But, that’s not the big story. Star receiver Moose Muhammad III took to Twitter to reveal the reason he did not play against Auburn was due to him wanting to wear an armband he’s worn multiple times this year and Jimbo Fisher not letting him. Texas A&M just misses out on being the Down Bad Team of the Week.
The Down Bad Team of the Week goes to the Maryland Terrapins, who got the boogers beaten out of them by Penn State. In a game that the Terps so badly want to be a rivalry, They were outgained 413-134, and even that is generous to Maryland as they were much worse than that in the 30-0 loss. They’ve now lost the last five non-pandemic matchups to the Nittany Lions by over 30 points a game.
Speaking of Penn State, they’re quietly putting together a really excellent season. The program took a step back in the pandemic year and was decimated by injuries last year after a 5-0 start. But, they look likely to go 10-2 and earn a NY6 berth, possibly the Rose Bowl. Losses to Michigan and Ohio State are disappointing, especially to the Buckeyes, a game Penn State led for quite a bit. But, they had the lead in five of the eight quarters against those two teams, and are a few steps above every team in the Big Ten other than those two. The computers love them, and with a ton of players coming back next year, the future is bright again in Happy Valley.
It was the final game as the mascot for Smokey X at Tennessee, and the Vols gave him a game to remember. The vaunted offense scored a whopping 66 points against Missouri, 38 after Mizzou made it a 28-24 game in the third quarter. The playoff hopes are still alive. His son, Smokey XI, will take over.
Clemson looked wholly uninspiring in their 31-16 win over Louisville at home. They don’t belong anywhere near the playoff. Yet, here we are.
Oklahoma lost again, this time to lowly West Virginia. Before the season on aarontorresonline.com, I picked the Sooners to go 7-5. I was wrong. They’re worse than that.
Speaking of bad football, look no further than Virginia and Virginia Tech. There is no state with two power five programs having a worse year than the commonwealth of Virginia. That’s incredible, considering their close proximity to a ton of talent.
The Big Ten West is a complete dumpster fire as Iowa beat Wisconsin Saturday. Who knows who will be the best loser to come out of that division. Everyone but Northwestern and Nebraska is still alive with just two weeks to play.
My Heisman Ballot
1. Hendon Hooker
2. Drake Maye
3. Blake Corum
My Playoff Top Four
This is not a prediction of what the playoff will be, but is where I would currently rank the teams. In this scenario, I’d hope the committee would be smart enough to break up the conference matchups.
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 1 Georgia
No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Michigan
Follow Garrett Carr on Twitter - @RealGarrettCarr