NCAA Football News
After Week 6, aka "Shakeup Saturday," it's becoming very difficult to forecast what will transpire on game day. Top teams are falling every weekend, and this is just the beginning.
Which team will impress the most?
Watch the video and let us know!
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With Week 6 in the books, the college football world turns its attention to another frantic slate of games.
Would you rather be Nick Marshall or Dak Prescott?
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When Virginia Tech pulled off its improbable upset last month, the Ohio State Buckeyes plummeted from their No. 5 ranking and became an afterthought in the College Football Playoff race. But after a trio of consecutive blowouts and a chaotic Week 6 that featured numerous upsets, Urban Meyer's squad has suddenly re-entered the fray.
That development is not lost on the Buckeyes head coach, who said he'll be discussing Ohio State's postseason prospects with the team because "everyone is talking about it," according to Todd Porter of The Repository.
If not for a wild week of upsets, college football's inaugural playoff would not have been a talking point in Meyer's "state of the union."
No. 2 Oregon triggered the madness last Thursday when it fell to then-unranked Arizona. The next day, No. 18 BYU lost to a 2-2 Utah State team. On Saturday, No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 8 UCLA, No. 16 USC and No. 17 Wisconsin all fell to lesser-ranked or unranked teams.
The Buckeyes also benefited from No. 15 LSU getting walloped by fifth-ranked Auburn and No. 19 Nebraska falling short against 10th-ranked Michigan State.
Despite the madness, Ohio State elevated just five spots in this week's polls and now sits at 15th nationally. Two teams jumped the Buckeyes (No. 9 TCU and No. 10 Arizona), while four of the teams that fell last week remain in the Top 14.
But an impressive performance against an overmatched Kent State team paired with blowout wins over quality Cincinnati and Maryland squads have Ohio State trending upward.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett—who stepped in when Braxton Miller was lost for the season—looked lost (as did the rest of the offense) when the Buckeyes fell at home in Week 2 against Virginia Tech. But Barrett bounced back, and now he's guiding one of the most efficient offenses in the country.
The defense is surging as well. Outside of a few broken plays against Cincinnati, the unit is responding well to new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash's aggressive 4-3 scheme.
Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network believes that if Ohio State continues to improve, it will boast a solid resume for the College Football Playoff.
"I think if the Buckeyes run the table and win the Big Ten with just one loss, they would have a good shot to make the playoffs," Dienhart wrote on BTN.com. "This team is getting better and better. It’s scary."
The Buckeyes, now at 4-1 on the year, are entering their second and final bye week of the season. They'll host Rutgers the following week before traveling to Penn State for a prime-time game in Happy Valley. Then, the Buckeyes will tune up against Illinois before their biggest showdown of the season—a November night game on the road against Michigan State.
Ohio State will close out November with games against improved Minnesota and Indiana teams before hosting Michigan in the regular-season finale. It's a manageable slate for Meyer and his Buckeyes.
But will the Virginia Tech loss be too big of a blemish for the selection committee to overlook?
ESPN.com's Heather Dinich writes that Miller's injury would come into consideration when the group evaluates Ohio State's resume.
The selection committee can't ignore the injury to quarterback Braxton Miller, and it could lend to some leniency by the 13-member group when evaluating the Buckeyes' 35-21 home loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2. It's the lone blemish on Ohio State's schedule, and it has looked worse since the Hokies lost back-to-back games after their upset. The committee, though, has said it will factor in injuries. It was the first home game of J.T. Barrett's career -- and he threw three picks.
The Big Ten's perceived weakness could ultimately cost the Buckeyes, but it does pave the way for a potential run at the College Football Playoff. And if Ohio State continues to look as impressive as it has the last few weeks—along with a few more upsets of higher-ranked teams—that's exactly where Meyer's team could be headed.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron went on the radio Tuesday and said a bunch of things to make Alabama fans angry, continuing a trend he started in the offseason. (Apparently, rehabbing his shoulder and backing up Andy Dalton and Jason Campbell in Cincinnati is not taking up too much of his time.)
Speaking his mind after the Crimson Tide lost their first game of the season at Ole Miss, McCarron questioned the leadership on the current roster.
"I think one of the things that this team is lacking that hurts them the most is not having the true leaders like we had last year and guys that, when things go bad, 'hey, let's calm everybody down, pick it back up and go back to work and get back on the right track,'" McCarron told Tuscaloosa's Tide 99.1 FM radio show, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com.
On the topic of wide receiver Amari Cooper, whose 52 receptions this season are 40 more than any other player on the team, McCarron wondered about the decision-making dichotomy between head coach Nick Saban and first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin:
I don't know if that's Lane doing that or if coach Saban is kind of putting the handcuffs on Lane like I've known Coach to do in the past on his offensive coordinator and we're going to be very bland and run this play and do this and we'll throw it on third down if we have to. It's going to be interesting to see how they bounce back against Arkansas this week and what kind of offense comes out this week.
I understand Coop is an unbelievable player. He was that for us when I was there, but when you target somebody so much ... I think that was one of the best things we did while I was there. We spread the ball around to everybody. I mean, I think in numerous games ... where we had almost everybody on offense catch the ball that was eligible to catch the ball. Teams could never really pinpoint and play their defenses to cover Coop and I think that's one of the things they're struggling with right now.
McCarron led Alabama to back-to-back national titles after the 2011 and 2012 seasons and the Sugar Bowl after the 2013 season. After losing the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma—the first season-ending loss of his career—McCarron said on TheJim Rome Show that the team was plagued by having too much success, which influenced the younger players.
His opinion holds weight in Tuscaloosa because of the legend he created the past three seasons, but at this point, McCarron is starting to become an unnecessary headache for the current players. Alabama lost a close road game against a team that is ranked No. 3 in the current Associated Press poll. Its offense is ranked No. 2 in the country according to the S&P+ ratings at Football Outsiders.
There is not exactly trouble in paradise. And even if there were, Saban—not McCarron—is the one who is best equipped to fix it.
On the point of Saban "handcuffing" his offensive coordinators—the point from McCarron's interview that will probably grab the most headlines—it is salient to look not just at Alabama's numbers but also at Michigan's. The Wolverines, after all, hired former Alabama coordinator Doug Nussmeier to run their offense this offseason, ostensibly unshackling him from the "binds" Saban had "tied."
In its first three games against power-conference teams (counting Notre Dame), Michigan gained 768 yards on 195 plays—an average of fewer than four yards per play. It didn't score an offensive touchdown against Notre Dame and Utah and looked even worse against Minnesota.
So much for Nussmeier's "liberation."
McCarron's comments will serve as a midweek distraction for the Alabama media and maybe even one or two players, but on the whole, the opinion of the former Crimson Tide quarterback has little to no bearing on the current team.
If Alabama loses at Arkansas this weekend, it will be because Arkansas is better than people realize. It won't be because the team "lacks true leaders," and it especially won't be because the team is distracted by what the Cincinnati Bengals' third-string quarterback had to say.
And rightfully so.
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For the first two-plus years in the SEC, Texas A&M has been all sizzle but no steak.
The Aggies have become one of the most high-profile teams in the conference thanks to the emergence of 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, a high-octane offense and a couple of signature wins along the way.
The elephant in the room is an SEC West title—or lack thereof.
Despite incredible success over the first two seasons in the conference, the Aggies haven't truly contended for the division title. While not out of it in 2014, they're again fighting an uphill battle following the 48-31 loss to co-No. 3 Mississippi State on Saturday.
Just how far away from contending for the SEC West title is head coach Kevin Sumlin's crew?
The defense is soft and young in the middle, which is a big reason why Arkansas and Mississippi State gashed the Aggies with 574 total rushing yards over the last two games.
Nose guard Hardreck Walker is only a sophomore, defensive tackle Alonzo Williams has experience but has been inconsistent and seven players on the depth chart on the defensive line are underclassmen.
Middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni has been fighting through an ankle sprain this year, and senior strong-side linebacker Donnie Baggs has been bouncing around from strong- to weak-side while sophomore Shaan Washington recovered from a broken collarbone.
Washington's return has settled the starters back in their rightful home but hasn't helped the rush defense.
"From a depth issue that’s probably the one area on our football team where we don’t have as many players as we do at every other position," Sumlin said during Tuesday's press conference. "Those guys are playing more plays than anybody and the [ankle] injury to [linebacker] AJ [Hilliard] really pushed things back."
With so much youth on the depth chart in the front seven and a lack of depth at linebacker, this is a problem that's only fixable with time. Had defensive tackle Isaiah Golden not been dismissed from the program this spring, maybe the defense wouldn't be in this position. Unless Sumlin has a flux capacitor, he can't go back in time and get him back.
The struggles in the middle of the defense are widely known and are overshadowing some positive signs from the Aggie defense. Freshman defensive end Myles Garrett has 6.5 sacks on the season, 1.5 fewer than former South Carolina standout Jadeveon Clowney had when he set the SEC freshman sack record of eight in 2011. He's helped the Aggies lead the conference in sacks (19) and post the third-most tackles for loss (39).
Add in a back end of the defense—which, while not great, has a solid foundation for the future with freshman free safety Armani Watts—and there are some bright spots.
Ten of Texas A&M's 22 signees in last season's recruiting class—including Garrett—were defensive players with four stars or more, according to 247Sports.com. Five of Texas A&M's 19 commitments in the class of 2015, including 5-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, are 4-star defenders.
Help is coming, and the foundation that is being built this season will only lead to depth in the coming seasons.
That's all Texas A&M needs.
Sumlin has proven throughout his career that his offense is going to click regardless of the name on the back of the quarterback's jersey or his strengths and weaknesses. Quarterback Kenny Hill didn't have the best day on Saturday, tossing three picks against Mississippi State, but he is third in the nation with 21 touchdown passes, sixth in yards per game (351.7) and 12th in passer rating (161.80).
Of the Aggies top six receivers, only one—senior Malcome Kennedy—is an upperclassman.
The foundation is there for success at the highest level of the SEC, just not this season.
The potency and potential of Texas A&M's offense gives defensive coordinator Mark Snyder some wiggle room. His defense doesn't have to be great, it just has to be adequate.
It has shown flashes of that this season, which is progress from last season. Not enough progress to handle Mississippi State's multi-dimensional rushing attack and contend for the division title, but certainly enough to build off of.
Barrett Sallee is the Lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.
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It’s hard to believe, but we’re nearing the halfway point of the 2014 season. By now, we have a solid handle on every team in college football as they’ve worked their way into league play with five or six games under their belts.
By now, the freshmen who were untested in August and early September have almost become veterans. They know how the game is played. They’ve made big plays, mistakes and adjustments, all in the name of improving their games.
While a number of talented freshmen have emerged, more are lurking just below the surface of stardom. Some have just earned a starting role. Others are playing behind veterans. Either way, they’ve proved that they deserve a longer look—a chance to show what they can do in critically important situations.
Here are some freshmen who deserve more playing time as the second half of 2014 unfolds.
WACO, Texas — He's a Heisman Trophy candidate who led Baylor to its first conference title since 1980. Still, the moment that shaped Bryce Petty's college career didn't occur on a football field.
It happened in a backyard swimming pool.
Only three people were present the day Petty was baptized in the summer of 2012. Chris Wommack, an ordained minister in Waco, dunked the quarterback under the water while Wommack's wife, Susan, stood near the edge and captured the occasion on camera.
Wommack had asked Petty—whom he'd mentored the previous seven months—if he wanted to invite friends and family to witness the occasion. He declined.
"Bryce wanted the moment to be very private between him and God," Wommack said. "It was the moment when he said, 'God, my life is yours.'"
Since that day, Petty has set numerous Baylor records while leading the program to unprecedented heights. The Bears went 11-2 last season and earned a BCS bowl berth for the first time in school history. Now a senior, Petty is the catalyst for a 2014 squad with a No. 5 ranking and realistic hopes of a national title entering Saturday's tilt with ninth-ranked TCU.
Blessed as he is with NFL size (6'3", 230 pounds), speed and arm strength, Petty said the main reason for his success is less about his physical attributes and more about what happened that day in the swimming pool.
And in the months leading up to it.
"Once I got big into my faith, everything changed for the better," Petty told Bleacher Report last month. "My self-worth used to be based on football. Now I realize it's about so much more."
Petty paused and smiled.
"Football is what I do," he said. "It's not who I am."
Countless times during his teens and early 20s, Bryce Petty said he was asked the same question: "How is your relationship with God?"
"Fine," Petty always said, without giving it much thought.
Something felt different, though, in January of 2012.
Petty had just finished a gym workout in his hometown of Midlothian, Texas with friend and former Seattle Mariners catcher Brandon Bantz. As the two sat across from each other at Kim & Jenny's Restaurant, Bantz asked Petty how strong he was in his faith.
"To be honest," Petty said, "It's not going very well. I'm not where I want to be."
It's not as if Petty was doing things that would bring embarrassment to himself or his team. Petty had never been a drinker or hell-raiser. His grades were solid and he was working hard on the field and in the weight room.
Still, even though he considered himself a Christian—Petty's mom, Dena, is a former youth pastor—he didn't pray regularly and rarely went to church. He was thinking of himself before others.
"Something was missing," Petty said. "Deep down, I just wasn't happy."
Part of the reason, Petty said, was a series of events that both jolted his ego and damaged his confidence in the main place he'd always felt secure: the football field.
Petty committed to Tennessee before his senior year of high school in 2008, but head coach Phil Fulmer was fired two months before February's National Signing Day. Instead of vowing to honor the university's scholarship offer, new coach Lane Kiffin sent an assistant to inform Petty in December that he'd be wise to re-open his recruitment.
Baylor, which had recruited Petty previously, hopped back into the mix and out-dueled Virginia Tech and others for Petty's services, but Bears coach Art Briles informed Petty he'd need to "grayshirt" in 2009. That meant Petty had to stay home and take classes at a local junior college in the fall before joining his new team in the spring.
While the rest of his high school classmates were off enjoying their freshman year of college, Petty spent his first semester taking 11 hours at a single-building campus a few miles from his home. The highlight of his week came each Tuesday when Petty drove to Waco to watch the Bears practice.
"The rest of the time I just worked out and threw on my own," Petty said. "I probably wasn't very fun to be around back then."
Petty redshirted in 2010 and backed up Heisman winner Robert Griffin III in 2011.
By the time he confided in Bantz in January of 2012, Petty had spent three years feeling like a non-factor in the Baylor locker room.
"I'm a people-pleaser," Petty said. "I don't get satisfaction unless I know you like what I'm doing. But [Briles] hardly talked to me. I'd have venting sessions with my mom and say, 'I can't tell if [Briles] even likes me.'
"You start to wonder if you're even a good quarterback anymore. For three years I didn't have anything on the field to judge myself off of. Doubt started creeping into my mind."
At lunch that day, Bantz suggested Petty call Wommack, then a minister at Woodway Baptist Church in Waco. Wommack had mentored Bantz during his college years at Dallas Baptist University and had a history of working with Baylor football players, as well.
Petty and Wommack, 61, began meeting twice a week; once at Wommack's house for a Bible study, and once for lunch at a local restaurant, where they'd discuss everything from school to girls to family to football to life.
In one of their first meetings, Petty repeatedly stressed to Wommack that he was "a very good football player."
"I believe you," Wommack said. "Now I want to help you become the type person that will make you an even better football player."
Wommack chuckles when recalling the conversation.
"Bryce wanted to have a certain image when it came to football," Wommack said. "But after three or four months, he realized he could trust me and he didn't need to have that image. He became honest about the things he was dealing with. That's when I began to see him feeling like his feet were on solid ground."
Wommack couldn't have entered Petty's life at a more ideal time.
With Griffin moving on the NFL, Petty felt confident about his chances of becoming Baylor's starting quarterback as a redshirt sophomore in 2012. Instead, Petty said it became clear during the spring and summer that Briles was leaning toward the older, more experienced Nick Florence as Petty's replacement. Petty said most of his reps with the starting offense were limited to a series or two each practice. He didn't think he was being given a fair shot.
Petty said he became a bad teammate, especially during the summer. He sulked inwardly, didn't smile or joke very often and quit being a vocal presence on the field.
"I was too into my feelings," Petty said. "I wasn't being myself. At the time, I felt I was better than Nick. I was ready to take over. Coach said it was a competition, but I got four reps at the end of each practice. It wasn't a healthy competition. Not to say I liked it when Nick messed up, but when I did better than him, it made me feel good."
The negative feelings didn't linger for long.
Petty listened to his coaches that summer and began to understand their vision. His mother, Dena, explained that immaturity meant reacting in the moment while maturity was seeing the bigger picture. Wommack helped, too, encouraging Petty to "take his relationship with God onto the football field."
By the first game of the 2012 season, Petty had done more than simply accept Briles' decision to start Florence.
He'd embraced it.
Petty said he realized being a starting quarterback was about more than arm strength and accuracy and speed. It was about being a commanding presence in the huddle, earning your teammates' trust and confidence and valuing winning more than stats and individual success. It was about having the right attitude.
"I completely bought in and dove into the role of being the best backup I could be," Petty said. "Once I started understanding that part of the game, everything changed for me. I started to realize and believe that my time was coming."
Briles certainly noticed. He commended Petty for how he reacted to a frustrating situation.
"I'm sure he might have had some (anger) inside, but he didn't let other people see it," Briles said. "I never noticed anything negative from him.
"When you go to work at a bank, you don't start out as the president. You work your way up and prove that you're worthy of sitting in a different chair someday. Nothing is ever going to be given to you here. If you want something, you've got to fight for it, and that's what Bryce did."
Less than two months before the 2012 season, Petty asked to be baptized.
"The changes that occurred his life were glaring," Wommack said. "He quit basing his happiness on how he performed in football. You could see a calmness take over him, a sense of peace, a sense of joy.
"He started feeling really good about who Bryce Petty is."
A few hours before the biggest game of his life—a home showdown against No. 12 Oklahoma—Petty telephoned Wommack with an urgent request.
"Chris, I need a favor," Petty said. "I need you to pick up C.J. and drive him to the stadium."
C.J. is a fourth-grader that Petty has spent the past two years mentoring through his affiliation with the Waco chapter of "Big Brothers Big Sisters."
Often that means picking C.J. up and taking him to Wommack's for a swim or to dinner at a restaurant near his home. Other days he may stop by C.J.'s elementary school for a surprise visit or take him to the Baylor football complex to play catch with him and his teammates.
Petty surprised C.J.—whose father has spent time in prison—with a trip to a Waco water park for his most recent birthday. C.J. had so much fun that, the next time Petty picked him up, he was waiting at the door wearing a swimsuit and holding a towel.
"C.J.," Petty laughed, "that was a special occasion for your birthday. We can't do that every time. That place is expensive."
With C.J. in the stands for last season's game against Oklahoma. Petty threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more in a 41-12 victory that moved the Bears to 8-0 while keeping them in the Big 12 and NCAA title hunt.
"It was so important to for him to have C.J. at that game," Wommack said. "I guess he just wanted to share that moment with him and show him what kind of things are possible with hard work."
Just as the onus is on Petty to lead his team, the sixth-year senior also feels a responsibility to set a good example off the field for Baylor supporters and for the Waco community.
Petty said he and Wommack talked about how important it is that younger fans see examples of athletes doing things the right way, too. That's one of the reasons he now brings a handful of Baylor teammates with him to Bible study each week.
"When he gets to the NFL he's going to be the face of a city, the voice of a city," Wommack said. "The quarterback of a pro team carries so much influence. I asked him one time, 'When the people of an entire city look at you, what are they going to see?'
"I think that stuck with him. He's guarding his reputation and establishing who he is."
Petty certainly made an impact on the life of Ethan Hallmark, a 13-year-old in Midlothian who died last month of neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of childhood cancer.
Upon learning in December that Hallmark was one of his biggest fans, Petty visited the boy's home on Christmas Day and spent hours talking with him and his family. As Petty prepared to leave, Hallmark's mother asked if he'd lead the family in prayer.
"Everyone stood in a circle and held hands," said Dena Petty, who was also present. "Bryce started praying and he had to stop for a minute. He broke down. It was a very emotional moment for everyone."
Petty and Hallmark starting texting almost daily, and Petty helped the teenager check an item off of his bucket list by arranging for him to attend Baylor's spring game. The heat forced Hallmark to watch the contest from a shaded area near the concourse instead of in the stands. But afterward, Petty trekked up the bleachers and spent nearly an hour talking with Hallmark before he returned home.
When Petty saw Hallmark again months later, he picked him up at his house at 7 a.m. and drove him to the hospital for chemotherapy treatment that lasted until 8 p.m. Petty stayed with Hallmark the entire day and then drove the boy home.
Petty returned to Midlothian to visit with Hallmark during Baylor's off-week late last month, just two weeks before the child died. Even though Ethan wasn't able to communicate, his mother told Dena Petty in a text that her son was very aware that Bryce was there.
"Bryce told me that he was confused why a kid like Ethan would look up to him," Rachel Hallmark wrote in the text. "His humbleness is amazing."
Petty doesn't publicize such actions. Not once during a 30-minute interview with Bleacher Report did Petty bring up C.J. or Ethan. His relationship with them was revealed during interviews with Petty's friends and families.
"It's important that athletes understand the pedestal they're on," Petty said. "It's not something you should run from or hide from. You can't just say, 'I'm 22, I can do whatever I want.' You have little kids looking up to you.
"Visiting hospitals and mentoring kids isn't for everyone. That's fine. It's whatever tugs at your heart. But at the end of the day, we can all be nice. We can all be good people. It's really not very hard."
That, more than anything, is how Petty hopes to be remembered at Baylor.
Using his character and faith to lead his team to another Big 12 title and a berth in the four-team national playoff would be more gratifying than winning the Heisman, he said. When Petty looks back on all he achieved, he'll have equal appreciation for the journey that led to the accomplishments.
By Petty's count, 1,786 days passed between his final high school game in 2008 and his first start at Baylor on Aug. 31, 2013. During that time he blossomed into a different player.
And a different person.
"It's all happening because of my faith," Petty said. "Everything I'm experiencing is happening for a reason. It's all part of a purpose. It's all part of His plan."
Jason King covers college sports for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.
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Jameis Winston's challenge was always that his record-breaking 2013 season set the bar too high—that whatever he did on the field in 2014 would not measure up.
His Heisman season was almost too good statistically, as Winston threw for 4,057 yards and set a school record for touchdown passes in a single season (40) while completing 66.9 percent of his passes.
With FSU losing two of its top receivers in Kelvin Benjamin (a first-round pick by the Carolina Panthers) along with Kenny Shaw, Winston's numbers in 2014 couldn't possibly stack up. The stats couldn't possibly measure up against one of the best years ever by a college football quarterback.
But through four games played in 2014, removing the game he missed due to suspension against Clemson, Winston's numbers are comparable. The sophomore has more passing yards this season (1,288 yards vs. 1,048 yards in 2013). His touchdown passes are down (12 TDs in 2013 vs. eight TDs in 2014) and interceptions are up (two INTs in 2013 vs. five INTs in 2014).
Search the Internet for Heisman polls, and Winston's name is often left off or not mentioned at all. While it's likely that voters are not considering Winston due to his off-field issues, or even the fact that he missed the Clemson game to suspension, it is surprising that a returning Heisman winner on the nation's No. 1 team isn't under consideration on many Heisman polls.
Bleacher Report's Michael Felder ranked Winston fifth in his Heisman video breakdown, and NFL.com's Mike Huguenin has Winston eighth, but they are in the minority in giving Winston a spot in the Heisman discussion this year. An ESPN.com poll by 10 panelists who provide votes for first through fifth place lists nine players (Winston didn't receive even a fifth-place vote). A 10-person anonymous poll conducted by Heismanpundit.com did not list Winston. And neither did lists compiled by CBSsports.com, the Sporting News or SI.com.
A look back at Winston's 2013 season
First, let's take a look at Winston's game-by-game numbers through the first four weeks of 2013:
A 25-of-27 performance in Winston's first college game certainly vaulted the redshirt freshman into the Heisman conversation. He followed it up with a good game against Nevada but then clearly played down to the competition against Bethune-Cookman of the Football Championship Subdivision. The Boston College game included a little bit of everything, from a lackluster first quarter to a sensational second quarter that ended with a Hail Mary touchdown pass to Shaw that put FSU ahead for good, 24-17.
For the season, Winston threw for 275 or more yards in nine of 14 games. It was that kind of consistency (both wins and stats) that helped Winston win the Heisman Trophy.
What Winston has done this fall
This fall, FSU is without Benjamin and Shaw, so Winston has had to establish a rhythm in the passing game with a group of new receivers like Jesus "Bobo" Wilson and Kermit Whitfield. And Winston had a veteran center in Bryan Stork in 2013, whereas this fall he had to adjust to a new starter in Austin Barron.
Now let's examine Winston's first four games of 2014:
Winston was hit-or-miss in a 370-yard passing game against Oklahoma State, where he had a Heisman moment with a dazzling 28-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He was accurate against The Citadel and then, after the suspension, returned at N.C. State to help rally the team from a 24-7 deficit with four touchdown passes and a TD run. The win over Wake Forest was shaping up to be a pedestrian game for Winston, but he had a 59-yard touchdown pass to Travis Rudolph in the fourth quarter and Winston ended the day just shy of a 300-yard game.
Also, FSU's 2013 schedule was criticized for being too easy. It featured early games against Nevada and Bethune-Cookman. The 2014 schedule was cited in the summer for being one of the nation's 10 toughest by FOXSports.com's Bruce Feldman. It's clear that Winston's four opponents of 2014 are more challenging than those first four from 2013.
FSU's road ahead is filled with opportunities for both Winston and the team to impress. The Seminoles face a potential Top 5 showdown with Notre Dame (5-0 going into Saturday's game against North Carolina) when the Fighting Irish visit Tallahassee, Florida, on Oct. 18. FSU's trip to Louisville for a Thursday night game against Louisville could be the Seminoles' most challenging ACC game left on the schedule.
And while FSU's young receivers are emerging, it's not clear if playmaker Rashad Greene (concussion) will play against Syracuse or if he will need more time to recover.
How does Winston stack up against other 2014 QBs?
There's no telling how much the combined effect of Winston's off-field issues have had on voters. But statistically speaking, Winston isn't far off from his 2013 numbers. Or those of a group of 2014 quarterbacks that are on Heisman lists.
Winston's numbers aren't gaudy, but they are right there with the group. And remember that almost all the quarterbacks in this group have played five games versus Winston's four games.
Statistically, Mariota has the best numbers—but he also suffered a loss last Thursday. But of the group of seven quarterbacks above, Winston is third in completion percentage and fourth in yards. He's tied for last in touchdowns and has the second most interceptions.
Why isn't Winston in the conversation? While the off-field issues weigh heavily for many Heisman voters, it's also clear that he is being judged through the lens of his 2013 season.
Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats are courtesy of seminoles.com and FSU's 2014 media guide.
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The College Football Playoff was supposed to take some level of urgency away from the regular season. Four teams getting to the end of the season undefeated was an impossible expectation, but a clear enough hierarchy should be formed that we have a general idea of what to expect.
Week 6 changed everything. Desperation is again a way of life around the nation, as a cascade of upsets threw the backs of supposed championship contenders against the wall. Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas A&M all went down in a blaze of whatever antonym you'd like to use for glory. Not for nothing, but those were four of the nation's top six teams.
What's left is a quartet of teams desperately clinging to the hope the teams above them will share a similar fate, while their replacements try to avoid just that. Given that three of the top four teams in the Associated Press poll reside in the daunting SEC West, well, good luck with that one.
Given that two of said teams play each other Saturday, all sorts of heck and hootenanny are sure to transpire. With that in mind, now is as good a time as any to take a look at the Top Four. You know, before the inevitable changes to next week's Top Four.
1. Florida State
Ahh, Florida State. The 25 percenter who does not reside within the world's most competitive football division. And the one who has looked by far the worst among the teams currently slated for the inaugural CFB playoff.
The Seminoles, after having not allowed a game to come closer than 14 points during the 2013 regular season, already have two one-touchdown wins under their belt in 2014. Their win against North Carolina State required a 17-point comeback, and they were down double digits until five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Even last week's 43-3 shellacking of Wake Forest featured a miserable first half highlighted by a mistake-prone and stagnant offense.
I've got to get us going, I've got to get us started fast. At the end of the day, that's what we've got that defense for. Sometimes they've got to have our backs. Sometimes we've got to have their back. At the end of the day when Florida State starts playing Florida State football and defense and offense is all on the same cylinder, we're going to be fun to watch.
Winston, in theory, is correct. On balance, the Seminoles are the most talented team in the country. That's why they were ranked No. 1 coming into the season and partially why they're still atop the standings despite looking less dominant than nearly every other power-five unbeaten.
Florida State has another muscle-flexing game coming up this week against Syracuse, but it's hard to not start looking ahead to its Oct. 18 clash with Notre Dame. The Irish, like their co-unbeaten, have gotten by with a series of solid, non-dominant wins. Their first four games were a cupcake-mashing party—yes, Michigan in its current form is a cupcake—and last week's home win over Stanford required fourth-down heroics from Everett Golson.
In 2012, many pointed to Notre Dame's dominant win over Wisconsin as the tipping point. It was the time when everyone realized that this wasn't just a flukish, nice little run they were having—that they would have a legit shot at a national championship.
The same storyline will carry over into this Florida State-Notre Dame matchup. For both teams. Florida State's toughest game after the Irish, before a potential ACC Championship Game, is against a below-average Louisville team Oct. 30. Notre Dame travels to Arizona State on Nov. 8.
All else should be smooth sailing for both teams. Two weeks from now, we may have our first playoff "lock."
2. Auburn and 3. Mississippi State
It only makes sense to write about these two teams in a pair. One will probably usurp Florida State as the No. 1 team in the country next week. The other will become a pit of SEC boa constrictors waiting to strangle the life from their playoff hopes.
Not that this game is a big deal or anything.
Auburn and Mississippi State each come into Saturday's showdown at Davis Wade Stadium after their most impressive wins of the season. The Tigers systematically picked apart LSU in a 41-7 blowout that was somehow worse than the final score. Nick Marshall accounted for four touchdowns as LSU imploded on both sides of the ball.
Dan Mullen's Bulldogs had exposed Les Miles and Co. two weeks earlier, but their real arrival came last Saturday when they invited Texas A&M into their house just to steal Kenny Hill's lunch money. The Aggies quarterback threw three interceptions and looked out of sorts before cobbling together two garbage-time touchdowns to make his stats look better in the 48-31 loss.
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, meanwhile, established himself (in my mind) as the clear Heisman favorite. Prescott threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns while adding 77 yards and three scores on the ground. The words "Tim" and "Tebow" were strung together at numerous points on the broadcast, both a nod to Mullen's roots as a Florida offensive coordinator and Prescott's unique brilliance.
Auburn defensive tackle Gabe Wright told reporters:
He puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you. He is a dual-threat quarterback and just saying that, I think that in itself already speaks volumes. Dual-threat means he can both run and pass. And he's mentally capable to run their offense now. I think he's more comfortable now.
The implications here are obviously huge. But Mississippi State especially can confirm its title hopes with a win. Visits to Alabama and Ole Miss are the only two remaining games against ranked opponents on its regular-season schedule. Sure, OK, that's hard as hell. It's also par for the course for an SEC team and much easier than the outlook for its opponent.
Auburn still has games with Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama remaining after Saturday. Even South Carolina could give the Tigers trouble if Steve Spurrier can somehow salvage his team's morale.
Good Lord, the SEC is good.
4. Ole Miss
The Rebels' prize for breaking their 10-game losing streak against Alabama is a trip to College Station. Not exactly as cool as, say, a piece of a goalpost.
It's the second straight major test for the Ole Miss defense, which came up huge in high-priority situations against the Crimson Tide. Senquez Golson's last-minute interception of Blake Sims on what looked like an Alabama steamroll down the field proved the clincher, but it's far from the only factor. The Rebels held Alabama to a 6-of-16 conversion rate on third down, committed three penalties to the Tide's eight and had Bo Wallace somehow avoid throwing an interception.
Wallace avoiding interceptions has become an increasingly rare occurrence. He's given away at least one pass in all but two games this season and seven of his last 10 dating back to 2013. The senior has long been very good when he's making the right decision; he at times is very bad at doing such a thing.
With Ole Miss' run attack essentially consigned to change-of-pace status, Hugh Freeze's team is essentially an updated version of the classic SEC model. Bigger, stronger, faster than any team defensively. Air-based and high-variance offensively. It's a model that can make the Rebels look like the nation's best team when all is running smoothly—or veer them off a cliff the moment Wallace or the defense shows a sign of weakness.
Hill, a Heisman candidate before last week's debacle, is as equipped as any quarterback to make the latter happen. Texas A&M opening drives are a thing of beauty. No coach in the nation is better at drawing up an opening script than Kevin Sumlin, as evidenced by the Aggies scoring first in 29 of their last 32 games. Sumlin is going to give NFL defensive coordinators nightmares next year if he ever decides to head to Sundays.
Ole Miss has scored first in all five games this season. Its comeback from a 14-3 deficit last week against Alabama gives me faith Wallace has matured enough to handle the pressure, but the 12th man can cause the walls to close in awfully fast. The winner of this game may be determined by which side gets on the board first.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter
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It is hard to imagine things getting any crazier than the past week of college football, but Week 7 will certainly try.
Week 6 saw a number of ranked teams go down, including five of the Top Eight teams in the country. This caused a major shift in the polls and in current projections for the College Football Playoff. The SEC West still has three teams near the top of the rankings, but they are not exactly the teams you would expect, as Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are the undefeated squads.
This week is certain to create just as much excitement with a few more big-time conference matchups throughout the weekend.
Here is a look at the complete schedule beginning Thursday to help you catch as many games as possible.
Schedule courtesy of ESPN.com. For games without national or regional coverage on a major network, check local listings.
Live Stream Info
Many of the games are also available online at one of these locations, although some require subscriptions:
Fox: Fox Sports Go
ABC: ABC Live
NBC: NBC Live Extra
Top Games to Watch
No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 3 Mississippi State
Many people have a problem with the preseason polls because they often keep more deserving teams from cracking the top until the teams ahead of them lose.
Heading into Week 7, Florida State remains the No. 1 team in the nation after winning last year's national title. However, Auburn has arguably been even better this season, excelling on both sides of the ball. The team showed off its complete effort with a 41-7 win over LSU.
ESPN's Paul Finebaum believes the Tigers should be the No. 1 team in the nation:
The statistics back this up, as ESPN's Football Power Index has a decent separation between Auburn and the rest of the country:
Auburn is the most efficient team in the nation and one of just five teams with a plus-10 rating on both offense and defense. That means each unit makes a big contribution toward blowing teams away, which makes it no surprise the Tigers have outscored teams by an average of 27.6 points per game this season.
However, another one of those five balanced teams is Mississippi State, which will look to continue its recent track record of knocking off Top 10 teams when it hosts Auburn.
The Bulldogs went on the road to beat then-No. 8 LSU before knocking off then-No. 6 Texas A&M at home. In both games, the squad went up at least three touchdowns before giving up some late scores to make it appear closer than it was.
It is no surprise ESPN will be on hand for the festivities in Starkville:
Auburn has been great this season, but this will be a tough battle on the road to remain undefeated.
No. 9 TCU vs. No. 5 Baylor
Baylor has done a good job running up the score on opponents once again to start this season, but the Bears have not faced anyone of note.
In fact, none of the opponents on the schedule so far have a winning record on the season.
On the other hand, TCU cared enough to put another power-conference opponent on the schedule, defeating Minnesota 30-7. Interestingly, that is the Gophers' only loss in five games.
TCU continued to impress with an upset win over No. 4 Oklahoma thanks to 318 passing yards and two touchdowns by Trevone Boykin. This was not a fluke for head coach Gary Patterson, who is used to this type of success against top teams, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:
The Horned Frogs have a lot of talent and have a chance to surprise a Baylor team that is not ready for this type of opponent.
There is also some extra motivation for the two teams in a game that has become a bit of a rivalry in the Big 12. Last season, Patterson had some choice words for Baylor coach Art Briles. "If that's what class is, then I don't want to be it," Patterson told reporters after the game.
Thus, it is no surprise Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has been looking forward to this game.
"Really even before, every time we play it seems like we don't like each other, I guess that’s the making of a rivalry," the quarterback explained in a press conference earlier in the week. "We circle them on the schedule when it comes out."
As if there wasn't enough intrigue already, this game could be physical from start to finish on Saturday.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.
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Don’t tell anybody, but the Georgia Bulldogs offense is spectacularly potent.
You probably didn’t notice over the condemnation of quarterback Hutson Mason, the general dismissal of everyone not named Todd Gurley and the “Fire Bobo!” chants. But this offense isn’t half bad. In fact, it’s not bad at all.
This offense is not only more competent than it's given credit for, but also more lovable than anyone seems to recognize.
Great Success, Even from Mason
If you measure Georgia’s efforts by something other than fan sentiment, it’s surprisingly easy to be impressed by the offensive unit. The Bulldogs rank sixth in the country in points scored per game, and all five of their to-date opponents hail from the FBS level.
In most scenarios, that level of production would be too good to be ignored. At Georgia, however, many are too consumed by what they think is missing to notice what is happening. The points scored are nice, but the more popular narrative is that Mason lacks chemistry with receivers, puts up shaky statistics and generally leaves everyone (himself included) disappointed.
And in fairness, Mason is a departure from former quarterback Aaron Murray and his SEC passing records. Mason is not going to touch any of those records. But while folks bemoan lack of arm strength, passing deficiencies and other perceived shortcomings of the fifth-year senior, he’s leading Georgia's offense to a 45.0 average scoring output.
Even Murray couldn’t touch that record; his best offense yielded 37.8 points per game in 2012.
The irony of the anti-Mason campaigns is rich. He’s not Murray, but he is completing a higher percentage of passes this season (68.3) than Murray ever did. He doesn’t throw the deep ball like Murray, but isn’t the point of the deep ball to score points or to keep the defense honest and set up the run? Isn’t Georgia scoring points and running the ball as well as it ever has?
Mason is receiving grief and the much-dreaded “game manager” title, but he’s quietly managinggames very well. Not only are the Bulldogs scoring tons of points, but they’re also winning.
If Georgia garners a victory this weekend against Missouri, the team will be 5-1 through the season’s first half. Murray’s big arm and prolific offenses only managed that good of a start once in his four years under center. Georgia hasn't opened with a better six-game record since 2005.
Hutson Mason is a winner. What’s not to love about that?
Embracing Todd Gurley
Ask any Georgia fan in the nation, and he or she will tell you the best football player in the country dons the red and black on Saturdays and wears jersey No. 3. Todd Gurley is not only the best running back in the fans' eyes, but the best player in the country.
They may not be wrong. They are often, however, misunderstanding.
Georgia relies heavily on Gurley—that much is undeniable. The junior running back has had a hand (either in running, receiving or passing) in nearly 40 percent of Georgia’s gained yards. The reason for this dependence is cause for debate, though.
While those accustomed to a prolific passing attack see a lack of one and assume the absence is a reflection of ineffectiveness, there’s danger to assuming that Gurley is Georgia’s only offensive hope. Working on the presumption that Gurley is depended upon because Georgia cannot pass the football sells the Heisman Trophy candidate far too short.
More valid is the notion that Georgia relies on Gurley because he gives the Dawgs an optimal chance to pick up yardage, first downs, points and wins. That’s much more a credit to his skills and determination than it is an indictment of Mason and Georgia’s passing game. Gurley isn't Georgia's only option, but he is the team's best option.
Gurley is a once-in-a-generation talent. That should be self-evident at this point. Calling for a greater emphasis on the aerial assault takes away from what he’s capable of doing on his own. And resigning him to the role of “Georgia’s only option on offense” negates the efforts he’s put in to earn his workload.
It’s easy to recognize Gurley for the beast that he is, but Georgia fans need to embrace his role within the offense as a fully good thing.
Of course, none of the lunacy or ironic inconsistencies quite hold their own in comparison to the Bobo firing campaign. After all, all Bobo has done is coordinate the most successful offenses in program history.
Confused as to why Bobo needs to go? You’re not alone. But tune in to Twitter this Saturday for a sampling of disgruntled rumblings. Keep your eye on your laptop or smartphone and watch the vitriol roll in while Georgia racks up points.
Truthfully, Bobo has given Georgia fans exactly what they want—a prolific offense. And he’s done so in incredibly entertaining fashion.
Though Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution turned Todd Gurley’s long pass completion into a negative commentary on Mason this weekend, the fact remains that it was one of the more exciting plays in recent Georgia history, as it was a true deviation from conservative play-calling.
Also a divergent from typical Georgia football is the regularity with which Georgia has kept its offense on the field on fourth down. Bobo's commitment to moving the chains and scoring points has vested itself in the best fourth down conversion rate in the country.
And along the way, Bobo has trotted out multiple quarterbacks (Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta in addition to Mason), sent Mason out wide as a receiver, gotten the ball into the hands of an electrifying freshman receiver (Isaiah McKenzie) in the backfield, used young talents like Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and otherwise dazzled with still injury-limited personnel.
Georgia is 4-1 because of its offense, and if the Bulldogs want to get back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, they're going to have to ride Bobo, Mason, Gurley and the rest of the unit. Despite a resounding lack of faith from what is (hopefully) a vocal minority, this group is up to the calling.
Maybe when the Bulldogs are back in the conference title game, this offense will get some love. They can take another step in that direction this weekend against Missouri.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all statistics courtesy of NCAA.com.
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