Michigan title hopes, Caleb Williams’ dynamic and more college football midseason takeaways

Now that we’ve reached the midway point of the season, I thought it would be a great time to share some takeaways from what we’ve witnessed and heard so far. Take a look at Feldman’s CFB coaches hot seat temperature check here.

1. USC star quarterback Caleb Williams has significantly improved his QB rating this year, scoring 20 points higher than last year when he won the Heisman. However, his three interceptions in the first half of the Trojans’ blowout loss to Notre Dame have dealt a major blow to USC’s season. It seems unlikely that Williams will be able to repeat as the Heisman winner like Archie Griffin. Although Williams remains a threat, the team’s problems this season extend beyond their shaky defense. The offensive line also seemed outmatched against Notre Dame, indicating that USC may not be a title contender. These circumstances create an intriguing situation surrounding the USC star. As an old NFL scout whom I deeply respect said, “It’s like he’s trying to hit a five-run home run every time.”

2. One preseason prediction that I am feeling more confident about halfway into the season is that Michigan will win it all.

3. J.J. McCarthy, Michigan’s quarterback, has looked sharp and comfortable this season, despite not having faced any notable opponents. The success of the Wolverines largely hinges on whether McCarthy, a former five-star recruit, can elevate his game and enhance Michigan’s passing attack. So far, he is exceeding expectations. On third downs, McCarthy has connected on 81 percent of his passes and has a QB rating of 247, significantly higher than any other player in FBS.

4. On the flip side, there’s a preseason prediction that I am feeling less optimistic about at the midway point of the season: Texas Tech being a top-20 team and making noise in the Big 12. Losing to a talented Oregon team is not a big concern, but unexpected losses to Wyoming, West Virginia, and a significant defeat by Kansas State have raised doubts about Texas Tech’s potential.

5. The Penn State-Ohio State showdown in Columbus is the most intriguing matchup of the weekend. I’m particularly interested in how the Buckeyes’ offensive line handles a highly athletic Nittany Lion front. The revamped Ohio State front has struggled this season, particularly evident in their game against Maryland two weeks ago. Penn State’s formidable defense, led by Adisa Isaac, Chop Robinson, Zane Durant, Curtis Jacobs, and Abdul Carter, is the number one defense in the nation, allowing just 3.42 yards per play. In comparison, last year with CJ Stroud and two NFL offensive tackles, the Buckeyes gained an average of 7.53 yards per play in Happy Valley.

6. LSU has had a disappointing start, with losses to FSU and Ole Miss, but quarterback Jayden Daniels has been exceptional. Without him, the Tigers would likely have a 3-4 record. Daniels leads the nation in total offense and deserves to be in the Heisman race. He has shown great toughness, mobility, and decision-making throughout his career. This season, his accuracy and downfield passing have significantly improved. His coaches praise his work ethic, which translates into chemistry with his talented teammates and exceptional game management. Daniels is the main reason I haven’t given up on LSU’s College Football Playoff hopes.

7. Jedd Fisch, the head coach of Arizona, has proven to be one of the best coaching hires in the last five years. When he took over, Arizona was in disarray, coming off a 12-game losing streak and a humiliating loss to Arizona State. Initially, Fisch’s hiring was met with criticism locally. However, he wasted no time rallying the football community and making the right moves. While his debut season was challenging (1-11 record), Fisch earned the trust of his inherited players and assembled a competent staff. In 2022, the Wildcats showed improvement, finishing with a 5-7 record and winning two of their last three games. This year, Arizona already has a 4-3 record and delivered a convincing 44-6 victory over No. 19 Washington State. Fisch’s team has only improved since their starting quarterback, Jayden de Laura, suffered a leg injury in Week 4. Redshirt freshman Noah Fifita has stepped up admirably. Despite losing some star players through the transfer portal, Arizona continues to make progress. While they may not be ready to compete for a spot in the Pac-12 title game, Fisch certainly deserves consideration for Coach of the Year.

8. Jimbo Fisher’s winning percentage as a college head coach is notably higher with Jameis Winston (96 percent) compared to without him (68 percent).

9. If Texas A&M buys out Jimbo Fisher, keep an eye on Duke’s Mike Elko, the former Aggies defensive coordinator who has achieved remarkable success at Duke.

10. An NFL scout made an intriguing comparison between Washington’s star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. This is high praise, as Cousins is regarded as a skilled pocket passer. Penix has impressed this year with his arm strength and ability to make deep throws.

11. Scouts who are wary of Penix’s draft stock due to his injury history still praise his ability to throw the deep ball. Penix is more athletic than he is given credit for. He has thrown for over 300 yards in 16 of his 19 games at Washington, showcasing his remarkable development. Over the previous four years, Washington only had six 300-yard passing performances combined.

12. James Madison University’s football team is one of the best-kept secrets in college football, and they deserve more attention. With a perfect 6-0 record, they boast a dominant defense. They have defeated an ACC team, Virginia, and won against Troy, a strong Group of Five team. JMU leads the nation in rush defense, holding opponents to just 1.49 yards per carry. Their defensive coordinator, Bryant Haines, has consistently produced top-10 ranked defenses since taking over at JMU. The team’s defensive prowess deserves recognition.


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