New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Top: USC QB Caleb Williams. Bottom L-R: Washington QB Michael Penix, UNC QB Drake Maye, Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy (USA Today)

2024 NFL Draft quarterbacks. Top: USC QB Caleb Williams. Bottom L-R: Washington QB Michael Penix, UNC QB Drake Maye, Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy (USA Today)

We’re into the final month of the 2023 college football regular season. That means the top players in the 2024 NFL Draft Class – especially the quarterbacks – have just a few chances left to really make their case and put together positive film before the pre-draft process really begins in earnest in January.

When it comes to evaluating prospects on tape, not every game of film is the same. Quality of the opponent is the biggest factor to take into account (duh), but variables such as an intense road crowd environment or hostile weather can be telling as well.


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As it just so happens, this weekend’s college football slate – Week 11 – has a number of the top quarterbacks in this upcoming class in matchups that will hold significant weight in terms of their draft evaluation. Six of the top quarterbacks in this class have games this weekend that will certainly be talked about quite a bit leading up to the draft. Five of those games are also just big games in the college football landscape, with conference championship or College Football Playoff implications, raising the stakes that much more.

For those enjoying this Saturday off and want a chance to watch the quarterbacks, more good news – five of those six games are all kicking off at different times! They’ll each have their own individual windows at times. So, ahead of what should be a major day (and long day) both for both college football fans and draft nerds, let’s take a look at each of these highlight matchups.

  • Caleb Williams (USC at No. 6 Oregon)

    Nov 4, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) looks to pass against the Washington Huskies during the first quarter at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Credit: Jonathan Hui-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 4, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) looks to pass against the Washington Huskies during the first quarter at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Credit: Jonathan Hui-USA TODAY Sports

    With USC having lost three of its last four games, the questions about Williams’ place as QB1 in this upcoming draft are as loud as ever. In a spot where both he and the Trojans could use a get-right game, they head on the road to take on an Oregon team chasing a Pac-12 Championship spot and College Football Playoff bid.

    Although USC has lost three of its last four games, Williams did play well individually last week throwing for 312 yards and three touchdowns (and rushing for another). Right now, results aside, he’ll need to continue to show he can perform at a high level even when USC’s defense can’t (the Trojans actually dismissed DC Alex Grinch after last week’s 52-42 loss to No. 5 Washington).

    Williams also needs a big-time performance against an elite defense. After struggling against No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 18 Utah last month, Williams’ splits against Top 25 teams were a regular talking point. This week he’ll have a chance to push back on that narrative, facing an Oregon defense that ranks 11th nationally in points allowed while giving up just 204.6 passing yards per game.

    With a good performance against the Ducks, Williams would remind everybody why he’s expected to be the first player off the board this spring. If he struggled against another top defense, that could be what it takes to flip both the quarterback board and overall big board in favor of another player.

    USC at Oregon: 10:30 p.m. ET on FOX

  • Drake Maye (No. 24 UNC vs. Duke)

    ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 28:  Drake Maye #10 of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks to pass against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the second quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 28, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    ATLANTA, GEORGIA – OCTOBER 28: Drake Maye #10 of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks to pass against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the second quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 28, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    With Williams’ recent struggles Maye has moved up draft boards, and with Williams facing Oregon his week has a chance to really establish himself as the new QB1. That being said, the 21-year-old has a daunting task ahead of him in his own right this Saturday, at home against Duke.

    The Blue Devils have a top-20 defense in the country by just about every major metric this year. They rank eighth in opponent points per game (15.7) and 15th in passing yards per game allowed (179.3).

    This will be the toughest test yet for Maye, who hasn’t faced a top-50 passing defense yet this year. It’s also a good bounce-back spot. Maye struggled three weeks ago in UNC’s upset loss to a two-win Virginia team, playing one of his worst games of the year. Two weeks ago he was better but the Tar Heels lost again to Georgia Tech, before a 59-7 win over FCS Campbell last week.

    Adding to the stakes for Maye is the fact that UNC needs to win out to keep its slim chances at an ACC Championship Game appearance alive. Heading into the week there are six two-loss teams in the conference, all looking up at one-loss Louisville and unbeaten Florida State.

    UNC vs. Duke, 8 p.m. ET on ACC Network

  • Michael Penix (No. 5 Washington vs. No. 18 Utah)

    LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 04: Michael Penix Jr. #9 of the Washington Huskies at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 04, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 04: Michael Penix Jr. #9 of the Washington Huskies at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 04, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    Last week, Penix won the quarterback duel against Caleb Williams, as his Huskies outlasted the Trojans at the Coliseum. This week he faces a different kind of test, in the ‘giant-killer’ that is Kyle Whittingham’s Utah defense, on what is supposed to be a rainy day in Seattle.

    For the past few years, Utah has been the thorn in the side of just about any elite Pac-12 quarterback (Williams himself is 0-3 against them the last two seasons). The Utes have another strong unit this year, ranking 10th in the nation in overall scoring allowing just 15.9 points per game. As for their pass defense, the Utes are allowing 201.1 passing yards per game. Those numbers include having already faced two of the top offenses in the Pac-12 in USC and Oregon.

    As Penix looks to secure his spot as a first-round lock, this game could go a long way. It’s also a big spot for the Huskies, who are the only unbeaten team left in the Pac-12 and find themselves right in the middle of the College Football Playoff picture.

    Washington vs. Utah, 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX

  • Shedeur Sanders (Colorado vs. No. 21 Arizona)

    BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 4: Shedeur Sanders #2 of the Colorado Buffaloes passes the football in the fourth quarter against the Oregon State Beavers at Folsom Field on November 4, 2023 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

    BOULDER, CO – NOVEMBER 4: Shedeur Sanders #2 of the Colorado Buffaloes passes the football in the fourth quarter against the Oregon State Beavers at Folsom Field on November 4, 2023 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

    As we discussed when we took our initial look at this year’s quarterback class a few weeks ago, there’s a real chance Sanders foregoes the 2024 NFL Draft and returns to Boulder for his senior season next year. Keeping that in mind, he is a draft-eligible quarterback with a big game coming up this weekend.

    On Saturday, Sanders and the Buffs host a red-hot No. 23 Arizona team that has won three games in a row – all against ranked teams – after a 3-3 start. Arizona, led by former Patriots quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch in his third year as the head coach – have dominated on defense during that stretch holding Washington State, Oregon State, and UCLA to an average of 13.3 points per game. For the season the Wildcats rank 28th as a scoring defense, allowing 19.8 points per game.

    Heading into the week the Buffaloes have allowed the second-most sacks in college football, with 46 in nine games. Meanwhile, Arizona is tied for 31st in the country with 23 sacks in nine games. Sanders will likely be under pressure for most of this game, and still need to find ways to create plays against a tough overall defense.

    Having lost three games in a row and five of six, the Buffaloes need to win two of their last three games to reach bowl eligibility. That means Sanders needs to figure out a way to crack the Arizona defense, or pull out a road in against Utah in the final week of the season (the Buffaloes are at Washington State in between).

    Colorado vs. Arizona, 2:00 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Network

  • J.J. McCarthy (No. 3 Michigan at No. 10 Penn State)

    Michigan Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) runs the offense against the Michigan State Spartans during first-half action at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. (Kirthmon F. Dozier/USA Today Network)

    Michigan Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) runs the offense against the Michigan State Spartans during first-half action at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. (Kirthmon F. Dozier/USA Today Network)

    Heading into Week 11 of the college football season, McCarthy is one of the hardest quarterbacks to project. Yes, Michigan is undefeated and the Wolverines’ offensive numbers as a whole are great (they’re fifth in the nation in scoring, averaging 40.7 points per game). At the same time they’ve yet to play a true quality opponent and McCarthy’s individual workload has been limited (Michigan on average runs 11 more rushing plays than passing plays, with McCarthy attempting just 22.8 passes per game).

    That all changes this week, when McCarthy and the Wolverines head into Beaver Stadium to take on a Penn State team that has to win to keep its hopes at a Big Ten Championship Game appearance – and with that a College Football Playoff appearance – alive. That home crowd, usually one of the best in the sport, will fuel a defense than ranks third in the nation this year allowing 11.9 points per game.

    Penn State is particularly dominant against the run. No school in the country is allowing fewer rushing yards than the Nittany Lions, who are giving up just 60.3 rushing yards per game. If Michigan wants to win this game McCarthy will need to make plays in the passing game.

    That won’t exactly be easy either – Penn State ranks 12th in the nation in pass defense, allowing 173.9 passing yards per game. The Penn State defense has 10 interceptions this year, the second-most in the Big Ten. Those 10 are just to the players opposing quarterbacks throw at – starting cornerback Kalen King, a projected first-round pick, has been targeted just 38 times in 232 coverage snaps this year.

    Right now McCarthy has the makeup of a second-round pick – mainly because he hasn’t faced a top defense yet. This is his chance to show how ready he, competing against one of the best defenses in the nation. If he has a big game on Saturday, he should be discussed more as a legitimate first-round option.

    Finally, some are questioning how much McCarthy was helped by Michigan’s sign-stealing system that was revealed last month. A big win, on the road, against a good team, despite all the outside noise around the program right now would certainly be worth plenty of attention for McCarthy, and set up another major test in a few weeks against Ohio State with a spot in the Big Ten championship game on the line.

    Michigan at Penn State, Noon ET on FOX

  • Jordan Travis (No. 4 Florida State vs. Miami)

    Oct 21, 2023; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis (13) looks to throw during the first half against the Duke Blue Devils at Doak S. Campbell Stadium. Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 21, 2023; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis (13) looks to throw during the first half against the Duke Blue Devils at Doak S. Campbell Stadium. Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

    Some early-season injuries may have knocked Travis out of the top-100 quarterback conversation. And while at 6-foot-1, 201 pounds those injury questions will remain a knock on him as a prospect, his level of play is another story.

    After lighting up No. 19 LSU in the season-opener, Travis has put together a very efficient season. He’s completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 274.3 yards per game with 19 passing touchdowns and just two interceptions (one since Week 1). On the ground, Travis has added another seven scores himself.

    Travis already has a couple of big performances against good defenses under his belt with wins against LSU and Duke, but can add another one this week in a rivalry game against Miami. The U ranks 30th nationally allowing just 20 points per game, and also ranks 30th in turnovers force with 15 in nine games.

    Rivalry games are always tricky, which is compounded by the fact that if FSU is going to make the College Football Playoff it needs to win out. That puts Travis in the spotlight here.

    Between his age, size, and the talent level of the players around him, scouts may not consider Travis as a potential first-round pick. That being said, a big performance on Saturday would be very helpful in solidifying his spot in the Day 2 conversation.

    Florida State vs. Miami (FL), 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC

  • Other top quarterbacks in action this Saturday

    EUGENE, OREGON - OCTOBER 21: Bo Nix #10 of the Oregon Ducks throws the football in the second half of their game against the Washington State Cougars at Autzen Stadium on October 21, 2023 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Lydia Ely/Getty Images)

    EUGENE, OREGON – OCTOBER 21: Bo Nix #10 of the Oregon Ducks throws the football in the second half of their game against the Washington State Cougars at Autzen Stadium on October 21, 2023 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Lydia Ely/Getty Images)

    Again, those are the top quarterbacks playing in some of their biggest games of the year this week. Other top quarterbacks are in action too, just in games with less gravity.

    Bo Nix will be on the other side of that USC-Oregon game, opposite Caleb Williams. A duel with Williams is certainly notable, but with the way that USC defense has played this year (they rank 124th of 133 teams with 34.5 points allowed per game) Nix should be expected to carve them up.

    Down in Texas, Quinn Ewers is expected to return after missing two games due to injury to lead the No. 7 Longhorns against TCU. Texas needs a win to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive, and will be on the road against a reigning playoff team. TCU hasn’t quite been the same team as it was last year (the Horned Frogs are 4-5, and 2-4 in Big 12 play) but it’s a rivalry game on the road, which is never easy.

    Then there’s LSU’s Jayden Daniels. Daniels was playing well against Alabama last week before suffering a concussion, and his status for Saturday remains up in the air. If he does play, it will be at home against Florida.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.

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