We couldn’t possibly enter conference championship week without one more week of madness in the 2020 college football season, and that’s precisely what we got on Saturday.
The day started with a big Utah win over a previously undefeated Colorado; North Carolina then blew out a Miami team that ranked inside the top 10, and it all closed with LSU pulling off the shocking upset over Florida.
The 2020 College Football Playoff race just got a little bit more interesting.
Now that the first run of our analysis is finalized and available in PFF's CFB Premium Stats+, we get to fill you in on everything you might have missed while providing further analysis on this week’s games. Here, we present to you the PFF Team of the Week, along with our big takeaways and player awards from Week 15 of the 2020 college football season.
PFF TEAM OF THE WEEK
QB: Zach Wilson, BYU
RB: Michael Carter, North Carolina
RB: Javonte Williams, North Carolina
WR: Quentin Johnson, TCU
WR: Jaivon Heiligh, Coastal Carolina
WR: Dillon Stoner, Oklahoma State
TE: Greg Dulcich, UCLA
LT: Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
LG: Justin Shaffer, Georgia
C: Mike Novitsky, Buffalo
RG: Logan Zchernitz, Northern Illinois
RT: Teton Saltes, New Mexico
DI: Ralph Holley, Western Michigan
DI: Tony Fair, UAB
EDGE: Durell Nchami, Maryland
EDGE: Raymond Johnson III, Georgia Southern
LB: Ventrell Miller, Florida
LB: Jabril Cox, LSU
CB: Kyler McMichael, North Carolina
CB: Kaiir Elam, Florida
S: Jaylen McCollough, Tennessee
S: DeShawn Gaddie, North Texas
FLEX D: Quentin Lake, UCLA
THE BIG TAKEAWAY
Another CFP contender bites the dust…
The Gators were favored against the Tigers by over three touchdowns. It was expected to be a good warmup for their CFP play-in game next week against Alabama. After all, Florida entered Week 15 with the second-most-efficient passing offense in the Power 5, while LSU came into the week ranked 119th in explosive pass play rate allowed.
But instead of that expected blowout, we saw an LSU 37-34 victory that featured Kyle Trask looking like his 2019 self, LSU’s formally struggling defense capitalizing on the Heisman candidate’s mistakes and the Tigers true freshman quarterback Max Johnson playing clean ball.
This was just the second time of the 2020 season that we saw Trask produce multiple turnover-worthy plays in one game, something that was a routine occurrence back in 2019. He did come up with six big-time throws that tied for his career-high in a single game, but the quarterback also had more negatively graded dropbacks than in any other game this year.
There were misreads left and right from Trask early on in the game, and his overall decision-making was suspect. This was evident in his pick-six early in the second quarter.
The offensive line clearly did him no favors, either. Trask was under pressure on 30% of his dropbacks, over three percentage points higher than his season average. And on those plays under duress, he barely squeaked out a passing grade above 40.0. Across those 15 pressured dropbacks, Trask took three sacks (fumbling the ball once) and completed just two of his 12 pass attempts. Some of those pressured dropbacks were on Trask inviting it in, but it wasn’t a crisp night from the big men up front.
Before Week 15, Trask had been finding immense success when under duress. In fact, he entered the week as the highest-graded passer in college football when under pressure. In his five games before Saturday, Trask had earned a 92.3 passing grade when under pressure, nearly 20 grading points higher than any other qualifying player at the position. Given the instability of passing when under pressure, it was only a matter of time before that bubble burst, and last night just happened to be that night.
At times, Trask did look like the quarterback we saw in 2019, and a couple of mistakes on his end handed 10 points to LSU. It certainly wasn't all bad, though, as he still led college quarterbacks in 20-plus-yard completions (six), passing yards (232) and big-time throws this week.
While there are several people to blame for this upset loss — from Marco Wilson chucking a shoe downfield to the subpar pass-protection — Trask’s handful of brutal decisions in the first half of action made the biggest dent.
Given how the CFP committee operates, it wouldn’t be a total shock if Florida still finds its way into the playoff if they beat Alabama next week and Notre Dame beats Clemson. But beating Bama is seemingly a pipe dream with the way they played on Saturday.
- Kyle Trask wasn’t the only Heisman front-runner not to play up to snuff on Saturday. Alabama quarterback Mac Jones had his lowest-graded game of the season against Arkansas — by a considerable margin. Jones was still accurate on a throw-for-throw basis and limited mistakes — excluding the interception he had trying to create off structure that was negated by a penalty — but he didn’t create a lot of positives, either. He had his lowest positively graded throw rate of the season and failed to record a big-time throw for the first time in 2020.
- DeVonta Smith had his least productive game of the season as a receiver. Smith generated exactly one yard per route run, 3.45 yards less than what he averaged per game entering Week 15. He did, however, have a huge punt-return touchdown.
- Led by the two-headed monster Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, the Tar Heels generated the fifth-most-efficient rushing attack of the 2020 season on Saturday. Each of the two had five 20-plus-yard runs on the day, the most of the week. In particular, Williams continued to show off his elusiveness with a week-leading 0.48 broken tackles per attempt.
- San Diego State entered Week 15 No. 1 in the FBS in successful pass rate allowed, but Zach Wilson ended that on Saturday. BYU has the seventh-highest successful pass rate of Week 15, at 55%, and Wilson recorded another passing grade in the 80s. He has recorded a PFF grade above 75.0 in every game this season, something no one has done in the PFF College era. Wilson now leads the FBS in passing grade by a good margin at 95.0, 1.4 grading points higher than Mac Jones.
- JT Daniels didn’t play too bad in Georgia’s blowout win over Mizzou, but it was also nothing spectacular. He finished the day with a passing grade in the low 70s with one big-time throw and one turnover-worthy play.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
TE Greg Dulcich, UCLA
UCLA may have fallen short to USC, but they did have the best performer of the week on the offensive side of the ball. Tight end Greg Dulcich — a 2018 walk-on — had one of the most productive games of the season by a tight end with 4.39 yards per route run (fifth-highest of the season).
Dulcich has some impressive wheels on him, which was quite apparent on his 69-yard touchdown down the seam. And when you consider that most of this production came against Trojans safety Talanoa Hufanga, who entered the week the highest-graded safety in coverage, it makes it that much more impressive. Dulcich caught all five of his targets against Hufanga — two of which were contested — for 61 yards and three first downs.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
EDGE Durrell Nchami, Maryland
Nchami posted a 95.4 pass-rush grade on Saturday, with a 36% pass-rush win rate and eight total pressures. Three of those total pressures were strip-sacks. None of those ended up resulting in a turnover for the Terps, but it was quite clear Nchami did everything he could to avoid a loss to Rutgers.
TRUE FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
The true freshman recorded an elite PFF grade above 90.0 against Illinois in Week 15, leading all offensive linemen. He didn’t give up a single pressure and tied for the most positively graded run blocks of the week. Skoronski now ranks eighth among all FBS left tackles in PFF grade this season and is performing at the same level as highly viewed 2021 prospects like Liam Eichenberg and Alijah Vera-Tucker. Northwestern has to be ecstatic that they get this guy for another two years after this.
OFFENSIVE LINE OF THE WEEK
Yeah, this one wasn’t even close. For the second time in three weeks, the Buffalo Bulls take home PFF Offensive Line of the Week for another dominant performance in the run game. Buffalo ran the ball on 83% of their plays on Saturday, and they still managed to lead the week in successful rush rate, at 58.8%.
All five starters ranked in the top five at their respective position in run-block grade this week and led Buffalo to an overall unit PFF grade of 93.4, over 12 grading points higher than any other line of Week 15.
SECRET SUPERSTAR OF THE WEEK
Before Western Michigan-Ball State finished with one of the wildest endings of the 2020 season, Broncos defensive tackle Ralph Holley had his way with the Cardinals' offensive line. He was routinely causing disruption in the run game, producing a 76.8 run-defense grade and a couple of run stops, and he was also routinely winning as a pass-rusher. Holley recorded seven total pressures on 34 pass rushes, adding in two batted passes for good measure.
PLAY OF THE WEEK
ELI RICKS intercepts Kyle Trask for the pick-6????
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 13, 2020
One of the 2020 season's biggest upsets likely wouldn’t have occurred on Saturday without this play.
While it was a poor decision from Trask, this is an unbelievable play by true freshman cornerback Eli Ricks. He lured Trask right into throwing the ball and robbed him for a pick-six just like the coverage was designed for. This is just one of many great plays made by the first-year corner this season.
AN EARLY LOOK AHEAD TO CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK…
The conference championships are set, and the CFP race is likely down to just six teams: Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson, Ohio State, Iowa State and Cincinnati. Of course, that is barring the kind of chaos that we have grown accustomed to in this crazy year of 2020.
The one conference championship that matters more than any is the ACC’s, which will be played between the Fighting Irish and Tigers. Notre Dame took down a Trevor Lawrence-less Clemson earlier this year in double OT but will have to face the 2021 No. 1 overall pick this time around.
Lawrence didn’t quite play up to his lofty standards in this last outing against Virginia Tech, but he still stands as the sixth-highest-graded quarterback in college football (91.8). Meanwhile, Notre Dame QB Ian Book has been a completely different player ever since that Clemson game in Week 10. He has busted off four straight PFF grades above 80.0, all of which are the highest of his year and four of his five highest in his career against Power 5 schools. Book is tied for eighth in PFF grade at 91.2 since Week 10.
If Book continues this hot stretch of play — and he’ll need to in order to win — and comes away with the W, the committee cannot justifiably put Clemson in the CFP. And that would leave us with either a two-loss Iowa State team (if they can beat Oklahoma) or an undefeated Cincinnati team (if they can beat Tulsa).
The Cyclones will have to beat Oklahoma for the second time this season in order to give themselves a shot, and that’s not going to be an easy thing to do. The last time they squared off, there was quite a bit of luck involved, with numerous key Oklahoma drops deep in Iowa State territory that would’ve likely lost them the game had they been caught. The Sooners may be out of the CFP race, but they are still fourth in the Power 5 in passing success rate and have the seventh-highest-graded quarterback in the FBS.
Then, in the Big Ten, Ohio State needs to convince the committee that they are a playoff team with a massive win over Northwestern. Even if they do smash the Wildcats — as they should — there’s no telling how the committee will value the Buckeyes, considering that’d be their sixth game of the season.
We started the year with chaos, and we are bound to end 2020 next weekend with even more of it.