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2024 NFL Draft preview: College Football Recap, Conference Championship Edition

Chaos, controversy, and championships

2023 ACC Championship - Louisville v Florida State Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

The College Football Conference Championship weekend of 2023 generated plenty of hype heading into the weekend and it didn’t disappoint, with the sport having one large ongoing spotlight throughout the course of the entire weekend. It was filled with plenty of controversy and discussion with the selection of the four-team College Football Playoff (CFP). Let’s discuss what unfolded.

The weekend kicked off with a pivotal contest between No. 3 Washington and No. 5 Oregon — a battle that was sure to declare the winner locked in as a participant in the playoff. Many assumed an Oregon win was coming. But the Huskies had other plans jumping out to a 20-3 lead in the first half. Washington looked rejuvenated — playing with a ton of energy and looking like a team that felt they’d been disrespected heading into the matchup. Oregon had nothing to stop Washington’s passing attack led by the best receiver trio in college football. For that, the Huskies locked their spot up in the playoff with a 34-31 victory.

Georgia has perennially had issues with Alabama in recent years in the SEC Championship Game. Those woes continued on Saturday afternoon with the previous No. 1 Bulldogs going down to the No. 8 ranked Crimson Tide. It was truly an evenly played game all the way through. But it was one that felt like Alabama controlled from the second quarter and on. It seemed like the Tide won the battle in the trenches most of the afternoon — especially with their offensive line against Georgia’s defensive front. With Alabama’s marquee SEC Championship win, they were controversially inserted into the College Football Playoff during Sunday’s selection show.

In games that felt like they were over as soon as the ball kicked off, No. 7 Texas put a whooping of epic proportions on No. 18 Oklahoma State. The Cowboys had zero answers defensively for what Texas wanted to do as the Longhorns put up 662 yards of offense. They did whatever they wanted on the offensive side of the ball — especially through the air where the Cowboys were non-competitive. It was a massive talent disparity. Texas was rewarded by their 49-21 thrashing with a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Second-ranked Michigan handled Iowa a 26-0 zero burger behind a couple of big defensive/special teams plays. The Wolverines recovered three fumbles and nearly took a punt return to the house. Iowa’s offense remained a complete disaster and any lead in this game felt insurmountable. The Wolverines’ offense is sputtering some heading into the College Football Playoff, but they do have about a month to get right.

And now — controversy. No. 4 Florida State went to Charlotte feeling like a win-and-in player for the CFP after a 12-0 regular season. The Seminoles were forced into playing a third-string true freshman quarterback against No. 14 Louisville in the ACC Championship Game. The ‘Noles defense dominated while the passing offense struggled mightily — something that should have been expected with a true freshman making his first start. But those offensive struggles doomed FSU despite a 16-6 win that saw Florida State complete a perfect 13-0 season. That surely was enough.... right? Wrong — the CFP committee decided that FSU looked decidedly different without starting quarterback Jordan Travis since he went down with an injury against North Alabama a few weeks ago. Despite winning all of their games, Florida State was left out with the subjective narrative of the “four best teams” being the protruding idea for leaving them out. The Seminoles were punished for their quarterback getting hurt. Winning all of your games used to mean something. It’s hard to believe that’s entirely true after what happened Sunday during the CFP selection.

With that, a very fun and chaotic weekend has come to a close. Let’s indulge and discuss who planted their flag in the big moment for each of these teams in their championship moments.

FSU EDGE Jared Verse and DL Braden Fiske leave it all on the field

Florida State had the door slammed shut on their College Football Playoff hopes on Sunday. But, before that, the Seminoles had a pair of seniors go off against Louisville in a game where they needed every play.

Verse has been a known name in college football for some time and was a projected first-round NFL Draft selection in last year’s class before declaring his intentions to come back to school. It had been a bit of a quiet season through the first half of the year as he attracted a ton of attention in regards to double teams and chip assistance. He’s broken through the last couple of weeks with dominant reps to show for it. Verse had two sacks and three tackles for loss against Louisville on Saturday — continuing to prove himself as a closer in the big moment. It was dominant rep after dominant rep for the strong first-round contender.

Defensive tackle Braden Fiske is a lesser-known commodity — a senior transfer from Western Michigan. Fiske is in his first year with the Seminoles, but he’s been proving his worth the second half of the season as well. He saved the best for last with a monster three-sack performance along with 4.5 tackles for loss. Fiske couldn’t be blocked as he repeatedly came off stunts with Verse showcasing a ton of speed for a 300-pound player. Fiske’s calling card in the NFL will be his explosiveness and speed. His sack production has been special in the past five games, with six sacks in that span. There should be plenty of draft excitement for Fiske as a pass-rush specialist in the NFL.

Washington WR Jalen McMillan is so back

One of the better receivers in America has been shelved most of the season with a nagging injury — but he looked quite healthy with his performance on Friday night against a very solid Oregon defense. McMillan proved why he was looked at as WR2 in the Huskies’ loaded receiver corps running a multitude of routes on all three levels of the field.

McMillan led the team in receiving Friday night and came up clutch multiple times to lead the Huskies to victory. McMillan should be a full go for the College Football Playoff — and that could be a scary thought for Texas in the semifinal.

Michigan CB Mike Sainristil makes the right plays at the right times

There may not be a more naturally clutch player in college football than Michigan nickel Mike Sainristil. All he does is make plays. Despite his limited size at a listed 5’10” and 182 pounds, he plays much larger than that. His game is reminiscent to that of current Raiders cornerback Amik Robertson with the ability to play above his weight class.

One of the few time Iowa threatened for points Saturday, Sainristil was there to slam the door with a fantastic “low man wins” play to force a fumble on an Iowa ball carrier. He’s going to get drafted in the coming 2024 NFL Draft and the team that pulls the trigger won’t be disappointed in what he brings to the table to an NFL defense.