Monday Out West: Oregon’s Playoff viability is Bo Nix’s Heisman candidacy
I have a fun fact for you on this Monday, courtesy of our friends at SportsBettingDime.
When the 2022 season began, Bo Nix was +9000 to win the Heisman Trophy.
After Oregon’s Week 1 loss to Georgia, Nix’s Heisman odds plummeted to +20000.
Now? Six weeks and six wins later, Nix is sitting at +3550. The first-year Oregon quarterback has the sixth-best odds of any player in college football of claiming the most prestigious individual award in all of sports.
If you plotted weekly points on a chart, Nix’s Heisman odds would pretty closely resemble Oregon’s College Football Playoff chances. The curve is swinging back in favor of the Ducks after a 45-30 win over then-No. 9 UCLA on Saturday.
And that’s been the story of the season for me in the Pac-12 so far. The Pac-12’s return to the CFP hinges on someone’s quarterback being a legitimate Heisman-worthy player. And so far this season, we’ve seen more than a few prove capable of being exactly that. Early it was Caleb Williams. For a bit it was Michael Penix Jr., then Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Right now, it’s Bo Nix.
The quarterback play in the conference this year has been excellent.
Currently, there are four Pac-12 quarterbacks who rank in the top nine nationally for Total QBR. Utah’s Cameron Rising sits fourth (89.3) after an absolutely splendid performance in the Utes’ 43-42 win over USC on Oct. 15. Nix is up to sixth nationally (88.3).
Williams sits eighth (86.5) and Thompson-Robinson is ninth (86.5).
By expected points added, Penix jumps into the mix to give the Pac-12 five of the top 12.
Nix’s play in particular has been something straight out of a movie script.
In his three prior seasons at Auburn, Nix never finished higher than 30th in Total QBR. He was the SEC’s Freshman of the Year in 2019 and then Kenny Dillingham left to take the offensive coordinator job at Florida State and Nix went bipolar.
Bill Connelly put it perfectly: Nix showed “a faith in his own playmaking abilities that his actual stats never consistently backed up.”
Some might say the same about DTR in Westwood, and yet this season both have been remarkably efficient with the football.
Nix and DTR both are constantly putting themselves in the right position and evading problem spots like they’re two Washington defenders ready to hug each other at the goal line.
Even from those quarterbacks who aren’t exactly beaming with efficiency, the play has been wildly entertaining. Washington State’s Cameron Ward is must-see TV, improvising behind an offensive line that sort of forces him to. Arizona’s Jayden de Laura this season is sort of what Nix was early in his career — bravado en excess. There’s not a throw de Laura doesn’t think he can make. He was leading the country in explosive pass plays before the idle weekend, and he also leads the Pac-12 in turnover-worthy throws (per PFF).
The Pac-12 doesn’t have an unbeaten team left standing after Utah knocked off USC two weeks ago and Oregon did the same to UCLA this past week.
But the CFP dreams aren’t dashed because there are still a few quarterbacks who have Heisman campaigns in the tank.
Nix and Williams in particular are going to be crucial figures in determining how the four-team field shakes out.
Might Oregon’s 46-point loss to Georgia in Week 1 preclude it from making the CFP even if it runs the table? In the eyes of some, sure. Might USC’s defensive warts turn the committee of? Possibly. Where the Ducks and Trojans land in the first batch of CFP rankings (released next Tuesday) will tell us a lot.
Since 2016, the lowest initial ranking of a team that still made the field was Oklahoma at No. 9 in 2019.
- Lowest ranked team to make it in 2016: No. 6 Ohio State
- Lowest ranked team to make it in 2017: No. 5 Oklahoma
- Lowest ranked team to make it in 2018: No. 7 Oklahoma
- Lowest ranked team to make it in 2019: No. 9 Oklahoma
- Lowest ranked team to make it in 2020: No. 4 Ohio State
- Lowest ranked team to make it in 2021: No. 7 Michigan
If the Pac-12 is getting in and ending its yearslong slide, it’ll need style points down the stretch.
And this is why the quarterback play is so crucial.
Nix is going to be held to account for his Week 1 showing against Georgia, and that’s perfectly fine, but he has undoubtedly been one of college football’s best quarterbacks since.
During the Ducks’ six-game winning streak, Nix has posted the following:
- 74.5% completion rate
- 9.2 yards per pass
- 8.6 yards per run
- 9.1 yards per play (runs and passes)
- 23.7% explosive pass play rate
- 25 total touchdowns
- 1 turnover
Among FBS quarterbacks averaging at least 15 pass attempts a game, of which there are 122, the national average for explosive pass play rates right now is 18.0%. Nix’s mark would land him in the top 10 of all FBS quarterbacks.
Nix’s 25 total touchdowns are the fifth-most among FBS quarterbacks. The guys ahead of him: Ohio State’s CJ Stroud (Heisman favorite), North Carolina’s Drake Maye (Heisman potential), Western Kentucky’s Austin Reed, and Toledo’s DeQuan Finn.
Stroud has three more touchdowns and one more interception than Nix. Has he faced a defense anywhere close to the quality of Georgia’s? Maye has two more touchdowns and UNC’s schedule so far doesn’t come close to that of Oregon’s.
“I don’t think anyone can sit here and watch football right now and watch our quarterback play and tell me he’s not an elite quarterback,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said after the game. “This guy’s playing at an extremely high level.
“You can’t watch a football game right now and say that guy’s not elite. He’s an elite competitor, he’s an elite leader, he has phenomenal character, he’s throwing the ball really well, and he’s making great decisions. He’s humble and I think everybody on our team is excited about his success.”
Oregon has topped 40 points in every game during the winning streak. Nix is having big-time moments — an 80-yard touchdown run, a 49-yard beaut of a delivery to Troy Franklin — every week.
If he keeps playing this way, Oregon is going to continue to generate momentum. If the Ducks have a quarterback at the end of the season in the top four or five for Heisman consideration and only one loss, it makes them infinitely more attractive to the CFP selection committee than if Oregon had simply a game-manager taking snaps.
Same goes for USC, which will have its say before this is all said and done. Beat UCLA on Nov. 19, get some help from Oregon when it hosts Utah the same day, and then you set up what could very well be a win-and-you’re-in Pac-12 championship game.
Remember, USC set the college football world on fire over the first three weeks of the season. Against Utah, Williams threw for 381 yards and five touchdowns without a turnover. It’s certainly not hard to construct a narrative in Los Angeles.
Let’s say UCLA beats USC to go to the Pac-12 title game and then Thompson-Robinson hurdles another few defenders and the Bruins capture a Pac-12 title. They’d have ranked wins over three teams and possibly a revenge win over Oregon in the title game. Remember, DTR had the internet drooling when he was bullying Washington and Utah. So much of this comes down to perception and narrative.
With some of the best quarterback play we’ve seen in a league that’s as deep as we’ve seen in some time, why couldn’t the Pac-12 still make noise?
It’s shaping up to be an entertaining November.
Rank Oregon State, you cowards
Oregon State moved to 6-2 on Saturday night with a 42-9 win over Colorado, the best start for the program since 2013.
Despite that, the Beavers remain in the “receiving votes” category of the AP Top 25. Oregon State got 25 votes in the latest media poll, good for 28th. Texas (5-3) and Liberty (7-1) were right ahead as the highest vote-getters to not be ranked.
The Beavers landed at No. 21 on one AP ballot, at No. 22 on another, and No. 23 on another. Three writers had Oregon State at No. 24 while seven had them at No. 25. (You can see every ballot here.)
But Oregon State hasn’t shown enough.
Oregon State hasn’t beaten enough good teams.
Oregon State doesn’t have a ranked win.
Oregon State doesn’t blah, blah, blah.
If Oregon State had played USC to a 17-14 result on ESPN instead of the Pac-12 Network, the Beavers would be No. 24 in the polls.
The presence of a three-loss Texas team in the poll is actually a perfect foil for the Beavers here. It’s about perception. Texas is an institution. It’ll get the benefit of the doubt. Oregon State was a doormat for years and years. And even now that it’s not, it’s still working to buck the perception. Playing five games on the Pac-12 Network and a sixth on the CBS Sports Network doesn’t help that cause.
With each passing week, I grow more and more “the AP poll doesn’t matter.”
It doesn’t decide the national champion anymore. It doesn’t really have any bearing on the College Football Playoff rankings. A portion of the voters view it as a predictive exercise instead of what it’s actually supposed to be — a snapshot at that point.
If The South Bend Tribune’s Mike Berardino can rank one-loss Alabama three spots ahead of unbeaten Tennessee a week after Tennessee BEAT Alabama, why do I have to care about the poll?
If The Mercury News’ Jon Wilner can move Clemson up from No. 2 to No. 1 on his ballot — swapping spots with Tennessee — a day after Tennessee won a game 65-24 and Clemson benched its quarterback, turned the ball over four times, and entered a fourth quarter at home down 11 points, why do I have to care about the poll?
Oregon State will have a chance after its bye week to enter the poll. The Beavers play Washington in Seattle on Nov. 4. The Huskies are also 6-2 heading into a bye. They’ve been ranked at times this season. A Beaver win would make it pretty hard to leave them out any longer.
To that end, fretting about the Beavs being left out now feels like much ado about nothing. And yet…
This is a program that hasn’t made a single appearance in an AP poll since the preseason iteration in 2013. Jonathan Smith deserves more attention for the job he’s done.
If they lose to Washington next week, they probably don’t come close again. And if they do lose, folks will say, “See, they didn’t deserve the spot in the first place.” But that’s not the way to look at it.
The last five, 10 spots in the poll are just toss-ups each week. South Carolina is No. 25 this week. Oregon State is nine spots higher in FPI, 20 spots higher in Sagarin, has a better strength of record, and has two wins over teams who currently have a winning record whereas the Gamecocks have just one.
Oregon State is largely battling perception at this point, and that program deserves better for the work it has put in.
The Road to Las Vegas (Around the Pac-12)
Oregon 45, UCLA 30
UCLA’s 59% success rate in its Week 8 loss to Oregon ranked in the 98th percentile of all FBS teams at play on Saturday. The offense being able to move the football wasn’t an issue.
The defense was certainly concerning, though. It broke in a way we hadn’t seen yet this year. Containment was poor, the pass-rush was non-existent, and the secondary was taken advantage of by Oregon’s Kenny Dillingham.
Oregon was at a 56% success rate on offense, buoyed by 19 explosive plays.
“One of our goals coming into this game was to make sure we had more explosive plays than they had,” said Dan Lanning after. “If you want to do that, you have to eliminate explosive plays downfield. Coach (Chip) Kelly does such a good job of lulling you to sleep and then challenging your eyes. We wanted to make sure we didn’t have a lot of eye violations in this game and our guys did a good job of that.”
UCLA could not say the same of its secondary.
“Any time they needed to get a first down, they got a first down, whether it was fourth down, third down,” Bruins safety Stephan Blaylock said after the game. “One thing we just couldn’t do today was get off the field.”
Added Chip Kelly: “I thought our defense has been really good all year. Sometimes you’ve got to give credit to the other team.”
That was Kelly’s mood in the postgame. Asked for his first-blush impressions, Kelly said he needed to watch the tape. Asked if the onside kick attempt from Oregon changed the game, Kelly rebuked the notion. The notoriously-frisky-with-media head coach probably didn’t enjoy watching his defense submarine yet another strong offensive performance.
UCLA scored six times on its seven drives. They traded touchdowns with field goals in spots, but that was as efficient an offensive performance as a team can have in a 15-point loss. They lost the possession game. Lanning and Dillingham had the perfect gameplan from that perspective.
How does UCLA bounce back defensively against a Stanford team that hasn’t scored a single touchdown in its last seven quarters of play?
Stanford 15, Arizona State 14
Two weeks ago, Shaun Aguano got a letter of recommendation from just about every high school football coach in the state sent to the Arizona State athletic department for helping the Sun Devils to knock off then-No. 21 Washington.
This weekend, Aguano showed the other side of it. He showed the inexperience that might make ASU a bit more hesitant about leaning all the way in on the interim coach.
ASU was out-leveraged and out-coached.
We have enough evidence to suggest it’s not quite clicking with Emory Jones at the controls, and we got enough of a flash in the Washington game to warrant giving Trenton Bourguet a chance.
In four full games against Power Five teams this season, Jones is completing 59.8% of his passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions while the overall offense has averaged 17.3 points a game.
And yet, even while the offense sputtered in the loss to Stanford, Aguano remained attached to Jones. He said after the game Jones did a fine job. He said again on Monday he thought Jones did “OK.” During the game, there looked to be a disconnect at times between Jones and his coach.
This isn’t the guy he came to Tempe to play for. This isn’t the situation he probably envisioned when he picked ASU out of the transfer portal. The culture Aguano has talked about is going to be tested after a loss like this.
Especially so considering the fanbase seemed to sour on Aguano as a possible permanent candidate afterward. ASU needs to ask itself if this is the best it can do. There are other coaches who can recruit the state.
Offensive Player of the Week
Bo Nix, Oregon QB
Another huge day for @BoNix10 🔥
— Oregon Football (@oregonfootball) October 23, 2022
Defensive Player of the Week
Bralen Trice, Washington EDGE
The Husky pass-rusher was the third-highest-graded Pac-12 defender in Week 8 (per PFF). In a game where Washington had five sacks, Trice had two of them. He got to Cal quarterback Jack Plummer on a possession-and-10 play with four minutes left in the game and Cal trailing by just a score. That set the tone for the drive and Zion Tupuola-Fetui got to Plummer for another sack on third down to force a punt. UW’s pass-rush is rounding into form.
Freshman of the Week
Damien Martinez, Oregon State RB
I’m just happy that, after listing him in my “Most Important Freshmen” column before the season, Martinez is finally getting his chance to shine. It sounded in the offseason like he’d have a big role in the offense, and that just wasn’t there through the first few weeks of the year.
Oregon State is starting to lean more on the tailback and he’s producing. Martinez had 178 yards and three scores on 22 carries in the Beavers’ win over Colorado. That was a week after running for 111 yards on 16 carries in the win over Washington State.
Play of the Week
Oregon’s onside kick attempt, executed to perfection by kicker Andrew Boyle.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 22, 2022
After the game, Lanning joked that media who were allowed to observe practice last week saw the Ducks practicing the play and were sworn to secrecy.
“I told you, ‘Don’t tell anybody or I’ll never let you come to practice again,’ right?” he said with a smile. “You guys saw us practicing that and appreciate that you guys kept your lips sealed. We knew that was something that we wanted to do and we wanted to practice it in pressure situations throughout the week.
“It was there, we saw it after the first kickoff and we felt like that’s the look we want. The second kick-off we thought it was there as well. The third one was actually the worst look we had and we still felt really confident.”
And it flipped the game. UCLA was chasing from then on.
Photo of the Week
ESPN’s College GameDay was in town. Lee Corso put on Oregon headgear one more time and was handed a live duck. When the Duck flew out of Corso’s hands, we got one of the best moments of the season.
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 22, 2022
Game of the Week
Oregon vs. UCLA
If you like offense, this was the Power 5 game of the weekend. Kenny Dillingham was impressive. Bo Nix was impressive. The Oregon offensive line mauled UCLA’s front. It was a show of force.
Quote of the Week
Former Cal running back Marshawn Lynch:
“I’m from the Bay area, but when I look around the stands and I see these motherf—-… Oh! I mean, these stands aren’t how they were when we were here, that s– kind of got me on tilt. I ain’t feeling that.”
Lynch swore on ESPN, then realized he swore, then swore again.
Week 9 Game I’m Most Looking Forward To
Utah at Washington State (Oct. 27, 7 p.m. PT, FS1)