The beauty of college football is that it’s Ground Zero for raw athletes being molded into gems every week before our very eyes. However, pressure doesn’t always make diamonds. Welcome to the D-List, Deadspin Dean’s acknowledgment of the most woeful performances on any given Saturday. This is a nod to the unrefined talents, gridiron underachievers, notorious figures, galaxy-brained coaches, canceled Heisman campaigns and any ugly blemishes across college football’s landscape.
For most of the season, the Pac-12 has been the epicenter of high-octane quarterback play. The 2023 class is led by Michael Penix, who seemed like he has been in college long enough to play behind Antwaan Randle-El and challenge Eric Gordon for BMOC at Indiana before eventually transferring to Washington in 2022. Since becoming a Huskie, Penix hasn’t done much wrong. Sure, the sixth-year senior’s lack of zip will restrict his NFL upside and draft prospects, but he has finally taken center stage in the Pac-12’s twilight.
Washington holds the unofficial lineal college football belt and Penix has taken the lead in 2023’s Heisman marathon.Throughout the first month and a half of the season, the Pac-12 was an impressive ensemble, but in dramatic fashion, the competition has melted away.
Caleb Williams’ Heisman campaign is now on life support
In one of those performances that will be overanalyzed incessantly come draft season, reigning Heisman recipient Caleb Williams threw a trio of interceptions to Notre Dame’s aggressive secondary that raised eyebrows and sank the Trojans. Those lofty hopes of him matching Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman winner are momentarily hampered. Williams’ ability to play outside the structure of his offense has gotten him into trouble against elite defenses in the past. That’s partially why he lost twice to Utah in 2022. Notre Dame’s top-15 defense had all the answers.
Notre Dame used Williams’ freewheeling style against him by harassing him wherever he moved, forcing him to play more frantically than usual. And Williams succumbing to the toughest defense he’ll face this season wasn’t the only meteor to hit Pac-12 quarterbacks this week.
Shadeur Sanders’ boneheaded play
The Pac-12’s celebrity quarterback putting up prolific numbers has become a regular occurrence. In a matchup against the ghost of Stanford, Sanders was cooking in the first half, leading Colorado to a seemingly insurmountable 29-0 lead. However, the Buffaloes forgot to save some of that for the second half.
From that point forward, the Buffs offense was bottled up and outscored 43-14. Colorado’s porous defense was as much to blame, but Sanders finally crumpled in a clutch situation, throwing an interception in the second overtime that essentially handed Stanford the win.
Sanders threw for 500 yards and four touchdowns, which may have led him to believe that he could complete any throw. He did it once before against Colorado State with a touchdown throw to Jimmy Horn Jr. in the waning second, but that was different. He wasn’t under pressure and Colorado trailed late.
On a third and goal, Sanders tried playing heroball, abandoning his pocket directly into the path of two pursuing lineman. On his way to the turf, he took a “Kobe!” fadeaway shot at the endzone, tossing a pass that was picked off. The sequence allowed Stanford to win with a field goal when their possession began. Sanders falls in love with the big play occasionally, but there’s a time and a place. Given the college football’s gimmicky overtime rules, a turnover in that moment was a death sentence. Sanders would have been better off taking the sack–which he does more often than any quarterback in the nation– or throwing it out of the back of the endzone. It never should have gotten to that point. Deion Sanders’ Colorado team has a higher ceiling and lower floor than any team in the nation. A week ago, they were being blasted by a top-10 USC team in the first half before putting their feet to the fire by the fourth quarter.
Colorado’s bowl eligibility now hinges on the Buffaloes pulling another upset out of their hats and then defeating Arizona. That seems unlikely and I can understand the dwindling belief in Colorado, but the other thing about their volatility is that for every subpar half, there’s another where they play to their potential.
Cam Ward’s return to anonymity
The state of Washington’s other quarterback left quite a mark in September, sneaking onto the Heisman’s House’s porch, but since the calendar swung to October, the Cougars have regressed to their rightful place in the Pac-12 hierarchy. Ward’s been expelled back to the front gates of the Heisman estate. In the process, Washington State’s once formidable Air Raid offense has flown off radar. Ward has thrown three times as many picks as touchdowns in the last two games and the Cougars have been outscored 69-23. The offense that was averaging over 500 yards per game in September bottomed out against a pair of unranked teams. Even their gadget plays couldn’t resuscitate a comatose passing attack. Ward got a bit of a break against UCLA’s No. 1 defense, but after a blowout loss to unranked Arizona, the hype train has derailed.
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