Experience—not to mention another year past an ACL injury—probably plays a part, but there's more to Branden Dawson's imminent emergence.
Confidence, perhaps at a career-high, has been his most visible attribute.
His heroics during late stages against then-No. 1 Kentucky and Columbia helped Michigan State reach No. 1 for the first time since 2001.
With an eight-point, 10-rebound effort Monday during the Spartans' 82-67 late dismissal of Portland, Dawson continued demonstrating advanced ability in several facets of the game.
His rebounding, for one, appears stronger.
As a sophomore, he averaged nearly six boards per game. This season, he's averaging nine per outing. Considering the competition, that stat's not all that impressive, but he grabbed nine rebounds against the Wildcats in Chicago, a game in which the Spartans won 78-74, thanks in part to a late tip from the 6'6", 220-pound junior.
Overlooked due to his athleticism, Dawson's touch on the pass has experienced an upgrade, too.
Averaging 3.3 assists per game, he's tripled his career average of about one per game. Again, it's early in the year, so it's important to note the level of opposition.
So far, though, his top game of the season has been against the best competition. Not only did he score eight points and grab nine boards vs. the Wildcats, but he also had four steals, two assists and just one turnover—not bad for his second go of the year, right?
The Spartans (4-0) will certainly get much more from Dawson. And it's only November.
The Time is Now
Upon arrival, Dawson was given, at most, three years by most Spartans fans. The former 5-star recruit, per Rivals, was viewed as a player who could easily jump to the Association after two winters in East Lansing.
Suffering an ACL injury late in his freshman year derailed that plan, and as a sophomore, Dawson was forced to play catch-up instead of advancing his game to the professional level, which will likely happen after this year.
So yeah, this is it for Dawson. If not now, it'll be never. The chances of him staying for his senior year are based on his performance—and if he plays up to the level that most expect him to, well, it's good-bye Mr. Dawson.
Playing up to par means also means satisfying Tom Izzo, who chose to "shake it up" by removing Dawson from the starting lineup prior to meeting Portland, per Diamond Leung of MLive.com.
Izzo's move was a way to motivate Dawson, who needs to be nudged every now and then. Izzo knows what this season has in store, and it's more than a future professional contract for an underclassman—it's a second national championship.
As one of the most athletic in the Big Ten, Dawson is absolutely the X-factor. He's been that and will continue to be for as long as he's at Michigan State. Shades of a stardom have been revealed by Dawson, who is a few breakout games away from becoming more than a hidden gem in the Big Ten.
Too Much Talent to Fail
There are teams that could only dream of having a contributor such as Dawson, let alone the amount of power that surrounds him.
He has an All-American power forward in Adreian Payne, an all-conference point guard in Keith Appling and a lottery pick flanking the wing in Gary Harris.
In reality, someone with much less skill and raw ability than Dawson could survive. No excuses. With a cast like that, there is no reason why Dawson shouldn't develop into one of the best juniors in college ball.
NBA Draft Express ranks Dawson as the No. 7 junior (No. 37 overall). He could finish as a top-three junior by simply going with the flow. He could be No. 1 in his class if he completes his apparent transformation from a decent piece of Izzo's roster to a cornerstone.
Michigan State's media guide contains the following Izzo-on-Dawson line, per Leung:
When I watched him this summer, he was finishing so much better. I think we will see a lot different kid this year. He's also worked on his shot a lot. He's still got work to go, but he's making strides.
With skill abundant, Izzo's team shouldn't have an issue earning a No. 1 to No. 3 seed in March. Already tops in the nation, the Spartans could be the undisputed No. 1 entering The Big Dance. Should that happen, it'd be safe to assume that Dawson had more than a little to do with it.
Sure, he has good teammates, but Dawson is the guy who'll push Michigan State over the edge.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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Overshadowing the few bright spots in the Texas Longhorns' 38-13 loss to No. 10 Oklahoma State were a flurry of dull ones, serving mostly as ugly reminders from exactly where this defense has come.
For Texas (7-3, 6-1), it marked the worst home loss in coach Mack Brown's 16-year tenure in Austin. But more importantly, it verified what many Texas fans may have been reluctant to realize.
The Longhorns, again, are dabbling in mediocrity.
The Cowboys (9-1, 6-1) presented a balanced offense that posted 380 total yards, including 183 rushing yards. The Pokes outscored the Longhorns 31-10 between the second and third quarters, another reminder that Oklahoma State is a legitimate contender for the Big 12 Title.
Texas' six-game winning streak, while glorious from 10,000 feet, looks more and more like a product of poor opposition in a weaker Big 12 than anything else.
The Cowboys simply dominated the Longhorns on Saturday afternoon, and the following breakdown shines light on nothing new.
Any casual observer of the Longhorns this season can tell you that they have serious trouble defending the running quarterback.
BYU's Taysom Hill and Ole Miss' Bo Wallace were able to rip off seemingly easy chunks of yards against Texas early in the season, and Oklahoma State's Clint Chelf was the latest to cash in against the 'Horns.
Chelf accounted for more than half of OSU's running game, posting 95 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries. That simply cannot happen, especially when Texas held the Cowboys' top running back in Desmond Roland to just 59 yards on the day.
For a little perspective, in Texas' six-game winning streak, opposing quarterbacks recorded 69 carries amounting to 53 yards and a touchdown. Sacks included, the numbers are impressive but do not show an intent to run the ball with the quarterback.
Texas failed in that regard on Saturday, and Texas Tech and Baylor should be looking to capitalize in that area in the coming weeks.
Oklahoma State's third touchdown of the day was the tipped pass that fell right into the hands of Tracy Moore, which gave the Cowboys a 21-10 advantage. From there, they never looked back. Texas managed to score just three points in the last 33 minutes of the game.
If Adrian Phillips can come down with that interception, which would have been Texas' second red-zone pick of the day, the Longhorns are looking at a four-point deficit with just over a minute to go in the half.
Instead, the Cowboys get a gut-wrenching touchdown to go up two scores. In an attempt to respond, Case McCoy threw a pick-six.
Effectively, that one missed opportunity turned a close four-point game into an 18-point contest that began teetering on blowout.
The Longhorns recorded zero sacks and zero quarterback hits.
In Texas' six-game winning streak, it averaged four sacks and over six QBH per game. Credit the Oklahoma State offensive line, but as well as Jackson Jeffcoat, Cedric Reed and Malcom Brown have been playing up front, their doughnuts on the stat sheet are a big disappointment.
Look for this group to bounce back against Texas Tech.
For what it's worth, the Texas defense got no help from its offense.
Three McCoy interceptions led to short fields and easy points for a Mike Gundy team that has great balance across the board.
Oklahoma State averaged 51 yards per scoring drive, while Texas had to march 73 yards per scoring drive. The Longhorns only had three scoring drives.
The Bottom Line
Oklahoma State is the better team, and Texas' efforts were mostly futile.
The Cowboys made the plays on defense to zap any momentum Texas may have had and converted those instances into points.
The Longhorns' defense, meanwhile, was not nearly as disruptive as it has been in recent weeks, and it all started up front.
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Marlon Humphrey is a 5-star cornerback who is one of the premier prospects in the nation. The Alabama native combines fantastic instincts with a 6'1", 175-pound frame.
Humphrey's length allows him to get his hands on balls, but he also has great speed and awareness in coverage. His father, Bobby, played running back for Alabama, which is why he seems destined to play in Tuscaloosa.
However, Florida State is thick in the mix, per a report by Chad Simmons of Scout.com (subscription required). The Seminoles boast more than a few reasons as to why they appeal to Humphrey.
Offensive football is changing, and one of the main positions being impacted is tight end. Teams used to love having a player who can block in the trenches, plus catch passes.
However, offenses now want tight ends who are basically big receivers. The 2014 class has several players who fit this profile.
A recruit in California has great speed in the seams, while a pair of prospects in Arizona will fit nicely in spread offenses. Plus, an undersized 'tweener is also on this list.
After going down with a separated shoulder against Georgia in Week 7, Missouri senior quarterback James Franklin will return to the starting lineup this weekend against No. 24 Ole Miss. Franklin did take snaps over the last couple of series of the No. 8 Tigers' blowout win over Kentucky a week and a half ago.
Franklin was very upbeat at media day this afternoon, saying that when he returned to the huddle against Kentucky, he "felt like a freshman" even though he only ended up missing five weeks of the season. The senior quarterback wasn't interested in talking about how his legacy would be affected by the last two games of the regular season.
The Tigers need to beat Ole Miss in Oxford and No. 12 Texas A&M at home to end the year to clinch the SEC East title and punch their tickets to Atlanta for the SEC title game.
Missouri could have clinched the SEC East title on Saturday had the Florida Gators held on to the 14-6 halftime lead that they had over No. 11 South Carolina. Had No. 6 Auburn not pulled off its miracle 4th-and-18 touchdown completion over previously ranked Georgia, the Tigers would need just one win over their final two games in order to clinch the SEC East.
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel stated that freshman quarterback Maty Mauk, who went 3-1 as a starter in Franklin's absence, would still see playing time this week. How much playing time he will see remains to be seen according to Coach Pinkel. Mauk threw for five touchdowns in the Tigers' win over Kentucky on Nov. 9.
All quotes from this event were obtained first hand. Full event coverage video of Mizzou's football media day can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hz3a8f-UaA&feature=c4-overview&list=UUrYR0yrNBZnw9s85Xux9kEA
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Halfway through the month of November, we've reached the point in the Heisman race where dark-horse candidates no longer exist. For the few players with a hat still in the ring, it's all about strengthening their overall resumes.
It's easy to look at a player's statistics and compare them against somebody else's, but the Heisman Trophy merits a little more discussion than looking at box scores. Make no mistake, numbers are incredibly important, but there are plenty of current players capable of putting up eye-popping stats.
Beyond what a player does well, it's also important to look at his weaknesses and determine how they stack up against those of another candidate. For the purposes of this discussion, we're not going to list "doesn't play in the fourth quarter very often" as a weakness. It's a cheap way of trying to hide a compliment, and many of the top candidates face that situation every week.
Remember, too, that this isn't about who might be the best player in the NFL. We're taking into consideration what attributes are important in winning the Heisman Trophy, so a quality like arm strength doesn't hold much weight.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the pros and cons of the top five Heisman Trophy candidates, per ESPN's Heisman Watch.
All stats via ESPN.
Week 12 set the bar incredibly high with several thrilling finishes in Los Angeles, Orlando and Auburn, but Week 13 promises some fireworks of its own.
No. 4 Baylor will travel to No. 10 Oklahoma State for a crucial Big 12 tilt, while No. 14 UCLA and No. 17 Arizona State will stage a matchup with similar Pac-12 Conference title implications.
No. 8 Missouri will be trying to hold on to its lead in the SEC East when it travels to take on No. 24 Ole Miss. Elsewhere in the SEC, Johnny Manziel and No. 12 Texas A&M will head into Death Valley to face No. 22 LSU.
In the Week 13 storylines, we'll take an early look at all of those matchups, several award races, while also breaking down every conference race and even the BCS rankings.
Note: All rankings based on Week 13 BCS standings.