College football Week 12 overreactions: Why Beck for 2024 Heisman, Lincoln Riley hot seat talk is premature

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It was the perfect season for the 12-team College Football Playoff. There’s a lot of hand-wringing about an expanded playoff field — with concerns that it will devalue the sport’s regular season — but a four-team playoff seems like a no-brainer when the potential field is so crowded.

There are eight teams that can make a real case for the playoffs, and plenty on the fringes that would deserve a place if a couple of breaks go their way. The conference championship weekend could – and probably will – create a nightmare scenario for the selection committee. Georgia seems to be the only team you can bet the house on making it at this point. The Bulldogs should finish their third regular season 12-0 and, if that happens, could lose in the SEC Championship Game.

Everything else is up in the air. Washington, Florida State, Michigan and Ohio State all remain undefeated. The Seminoles likely lost Jordan Travis for the year to North Alabama, which greatly hinders their outlook, but they have better roster strength than Texas, Georgia and Alabama to the this level. Michigan and Ohio State have to play each other to end the regular season, so at least one of them is guaranteed to lose. Even then, both the Wolverines and the Buckeyes have enough talent and enough coaching to push for a national title if given the chance.

How about promoting teams like Louisville? The Cardinals could finish the year 12-1 with a win against Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. Oregon, meanwhile, has played as well as any team in the country since losing to Washington. He could avenge that loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game and present a situation where both are 12-1.

We could sit here all night and present teams that deserve a shot at the playoff stage, running through various assumptions that create a false logjam in the four-team CFP model. Why wait a year? Let’s get this 12-team party started in a much-deserved season.

Carson Beck will be a Heisman finalist in 2024

That is, if he comes back for another year. With the way Beck has been playing with Georgia the last few weeks, he is starting to gather some hype as a legitimate pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. It’s not hard to see why.

The 6-foot-4 and 220-pound Beck has excellent size for the position with a big arm and an unmatched ability to make plays with his feet. He rushed for a few touchdowns in Saturday’s 38-10 win against Tennessee while also cerebrally picking apart the Vols’ secondary with 24 completions on 30 attempts for 298 yards and three touchdowns.

Beck averaged 312 passing yards in Georgia’s last four games against ranked opponents, and threw for 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions in that span. He has thrown for 250 yards in Georgia’s 11 games this season. If he comes back and keeps up that kind of production, there’s no doubt he’ll be positioned for a Heisman Trophy run.

Lincoln Riley doesn’t belong on the hot seat — yet

The accounts were flying on social media after USC’s 38-20 loss to UCLA on Saturday. The general consensus, from this writer’s understanding, is that fans around Los Angeles are well over the Lincoln Riley era already. Some leading experts were even throwing around the heated discussion.

This all seems awfully early. There’s no denying that this season has mostly been an embarrassment. Any team that wins just one game over the past six weeks after starting the year 6-0 deserves a lot of criticism. It’s also fair to question Riley’s faith in some members of his staff, and his reluctance to make moves — like firing defensive coordinator Alex Grinch — before it was too late to have any meaningful effect. Wasting a talent like Caleb Williams pretty much counts as another strike.

But smart money says Riley has a rebound in him. He has won at least 10 games in five of his seven years as a head coach. He should have no problem continuing to attract talent to Los Angeles, a place that does a good job of selling itself. It’s fair to say that this upcoming defensive coordinator hire could define the rest of his tenure. But it’s premature to put him anywhere near a hot seat.

It’s time for Tennessee to make a big change

There is no upside to playing Joe Milton at quarterback anymore. It’s not like he’s raising the ceiling for this team. The Vols have seen a major rebound in the passing attack, and there’s not much left to play for with a 7-4 record and no wins against ranked opponents. Milton in the sixth year. At this point, it is what it is.

The Vols would benefit from getting freshman Nico Iamaleava — the No. 2 overall prospect from the class of 2023 — some meaningful playing time. There’s no excuse not to, really. He still has one more game before losing his redshirt. That means he could play in a low-pressure situation against Vanderbilt and in the Tennessee bowl game (the postseason doesn’t count toward a player’s jersey total) without the -year counts against eligibility.

Give him a chance to pick up steam near 2024 — when he’s expected to be Tennessee’s full-time starter — and give Vol fans a reason to be excited about the future after an overall disappointing outing in 2023.

David Braun is the Big Coach of the Year

And he should be in the running for national coach of the year. In contrast, he has done as good a job as any coach in the country. Northwestern won a total of four games since 2021-22. Pat Fitzgerald, the program’s all-time winningest coach, was fired just under two months before the start of the season after reports of a hazing scandal rocked the program. The Wildcats are now bowl eligible with one game left in the regular season.

Northwestern, which entered the year with preseason win numbers as low as 2.5, has the nation’s biggest win improvement after improving to 6-5 with Saturday’s 23-15 victory against Purdue. Fittingly, Northwestern removed Braun’s interim title three days ago and officially named him as Fitzgerald’s successor.

Braun’s work this season is made even more impressive by the fact that he is on the rise quickly. Before 2023, he had never coached at the FBS level. He was hired as Northwestern’s defensive coordinator in January after four seasons in the same position at North Dakota State. He made the jump to the FCS level in 2015 as the defensive line coach at UC Davis. Given the situation at the beginning of the year, it seemed unlikely that Northwestern would be so sniffier in the postseason. But here it is.

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