Assessing college football’s 9 undefeated teams, plus analyzing Penn State’s peak

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Another undefeated team (Liberty) survived another week last night. What about the rest of them? Also, I’m joined today by Stewart Mandel, who answers the question: What is Penn State’s peak?

Here’s what’s happening in college football Until Saturday …

CFB’s Undefeated

Nine teams lead the way

Yesterday, The Athletic’s David Ubben ranked the nine remaining undefeated teams in college football from pretenders to contenders: Air Force, Florida State, Georgia, James Madison, Liberty, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Washington.

My thoughts on some of the nine:

  • First to lose? Oklahoma and Air Force have the toughest opponents on deck. The Sooners travel this weekend to 5-2 Kansas, which fell out of the AP Top 25 after a loss to Oklahoma State. Air Force hits the road to face Colorado State (3-4 but with two one-score losses against winning teams).
  • Last to lose? For two of the most prominent teams, it will come down to Nov. 25, when either Michigan or Ohio State remains. Who else? Maybe it’s Florida State (its schedule looks favorable before the ACC title game). The Pac-12 has plenty of tests waiting for Washington, and Georgia has to play without Brock Bowers.
  • Top contender? David says it’s Michigan. I’ll change it up. If Washington survives and wins out in Pac-12 play, the Huskies have the most impressive team (and fewer ongoing investigations that could end up mattering more than any game’s result).

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James Franklin’s Penn State Nittany Lions host Indiana on Saturday after losing last week to Ohio State. (Matthew O’Haren / USA Today)

Mandel’s Mailbag

Has Penn State reached its peak?

As a Penn State fan, do I just need to accept the fact that we will never be an elite team and enjoy my 10-win seasons and New Year’s Six bowl appearances? — Anthony, Columbus, Ohio

Penn State can’t be like LSU because the state of Pennsylvania is not the same recruiting gold mine as the state of Louisiana. But as a program that has won national championships in the modern era (1982 and 1986), regularly recruits top-10 to top-15 classes, plays in a 110,000-seat stadium and whose athletic department is in the top 10 in revenue, it absolutely should aspire to win national championships.

Love him or hate him, James Franklin is going to be Penn State’s coach for as long as he wants to be there. The school gave him his own Jimbo Fisher/Mel Tucker contract in 2021. Since Saturday’s loss, I’ve heard people suggest Franklin should be fired because he can’t win big games, but that would cost a mere $65 million. He’s the one who has to figure out how to crack the ceiling.

But there’s a big factor that’s going to change the equation soon: the 12-team Playoff. Going 10-2 and losing your two biggest games but beating Utah in the Rose Bowl may not be as satisfying as it once was, but going 10-2 and beating Utah in a CFP quarterfinal would be. And then who knows, maybe once every four or five years Franklin fields a team that can make a serious run to the championship game. But he’ll have to actually beat a top-10 team or two to do so.

Read the rest of the mailbag here.

Take Your Pick

Caleb Williams or Drake Maye?

NFL Draft writer Dane Brugler joined Max Olson and Sam Khan Jr. on the Until Saturday podcast to discuss the biggest 2024 draft storylines. With the guidance of Brugler’s expertise, here are the players to watch:

  • Williams vs. Maye for QB1: We shouldn’t let the recency bias of USC’s downturn and North Carolina’s disappointing loss to Virginia cloud the storyline entering the season: Williams and Maye are still the top QB prospects. Williams’ issue could be holding the ball too long, but in the Trojans’ system, that works. Still, Williams is by no means a lock at No. 1. As for Maye, he’s “cut from the same cloth as Justin Herbert,” Brugler said. “If Maye is not the second overall pick, I think it’s because he goes No. 1.”
  • So who’s QB3? J.J. McCarthy leads the country with 56 percent of his pass attempts ending in a first down or touchdown. He’s at the top of the conversation with honorable mentions of Shedeur Sanders, Quinn Ewers and Riley Leonard.
  • Who’s moving up? At quarterback, it’s LSU’s Jayden Daniels. He has the arm confidence and has risen from a mid-round pick to potentially the first senior QB to go, Brugler said. As for others, Oregon State’s Taliese Fuaga and West Virginia’s Zach Frazier are making strides on the offensive line.
  • Group of 5 prospects: Western Kentucky’s Malachi Corley could be a Day 2 receiver pick. His catch-and-run capabilities make him “look like a running back with the ball in his hands,” Brugler said. Colorado State’s Tory Horton is another receiver prospect with prime athleticism. It’s a crowded QB class, but Tulane’s Michael Pratt has the control some teams may look for in late draft selections.

Listen to the full podcast here.

Speaking of Prospects …

Georgia class leads 2024 rankings

Here’s a quick update on the commitments of the 2024 class, per the 247Sports Composite rankings:

1. Georgia, 27 commits: 4 five-stars, 18 four-stars

2. Ohio State, 23 commits: 5 five-stars, 14 four-stars

3. Florida, 22 commits: 2 five-stars, 15 four-stars

4. Florida State, 22 commits: 3 five-stars, 12 four-stars

5. Alabama, 20 commits, 2 five-stars, 11 four-stars

Four uncommitted five-star prospects remain in the 2024 class, including wide receiver Ryan Wingo (St. Louis). 247Sports has reported that Wingo will announce his commitment today between finalists Georgia, Miami, Texas, Missouri, Texas A&M and Tennessee. Mizzou is favored. Things are going well on the field (7-1) and off for the Tigers.

Quick Snaps

Chris Vannini and Nicole Auerbach break down the accusations of Michigan’s in-person scouting rule violation on today’s Until Saturday podcast.

From Michigan beat writer Austin Meek: Jim Harbaugh promised a “gold standard” for his program’s NCAA compliance. That rings hollow now, doesn’t it?

How special is Air Force’s current run? Vannini answers in his Group of 5 mailbag.

Luke Fickell will coach against his alma mater when Wisconsin hosts No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday. Jesse Temple talked with the head coach’s former teammates to learn more about his time as a Buckeyes player.

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(Top photo of Zac Larrier, front: Mark Goldman / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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