Hogs still maintain shot at SEC title game berth

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Lost amid the hoopla surrounding the LSU-Alabama matchup Saturday night was another Top-Ten tilt involving a pair of SEC teams.

Thanks to No. 7 Arkansas’ win over No. 9 South Carolina, the Razorbacks have slipped into a virtual second-place tie with Alabama in the SEC West — the Tide at 5-1, the Hogs at 4-1. It’s long been assumed, though, that the representative from the West in the SEC championship game would come from either LSU or Alabama. Although that might ultimately be the case, it’s not a foregone conclusion.

If Arkansas were to win out against Tennessee, Mississippi State and LSU… if Alabama wins their two remaining conference games versus Mississippi State and Auburn… if LSU loses to the Razorbacks but wins their other remaining conference game against Ole Miss, those three would be tied for first place and we would head to the SEC’s system for breaking three-way ties.  Here’s the step-by-step process the SEC would go about deciding the West’s representative in the title game.

1. (Once the tie has been reduced to two teams, go to the two-team tie-breaker format.)
As you will see, this will take awhile.

2. Combined head-to-head record among the tied teams.
Based on the scenario laid out above, each team would be 1-1 against the others.  Thus, we move on to No. 3

3. Record of the tied teams within the division.
Based on the scenario laid out above, each team would be 4-1 against West opponents.  Again, we move on to the next step of the tiebreaking process.

4. Head-to-head competition vs. the team within the division with the best overall (divisional and non-divisional) Conference record and proceeding through the division. Multiple ties within the division will be broken from first to last.
Based on the scenario laid out above, each team would be undefeated against Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.  So, let’s skip to No. 5.

5. Overall record vs. non-division teams.
Only Arkansas has a game against an East team left, so, again, based on the scenario laid out above, each team would be 3-0 against the other division.  You know the drill at this point…

6. Combined record vs. all common non-divisional teams.
Again, provided the Razorbacks beat the Vols next weekend, all three would be unbeaten against the lone common East opponent this year — Tennessee.  And again, we proceed to the next step in the process.

7. Record vs. common non-divisional team with the best overall Conference (divisional and non-divisional) record and proceeding through other common non-divisional teams based on their order of finish within their division.
See any of the other steps that involve non-division records; all three would be unbeaten versus East teams.  So, we are down to the last step in the process, which involves everybody’s favorite system for determining a national champion.

8. The tied team with the highest ranking in the Bowl Championship Series Standings following the last weekend of regular-season games shall be the divisional representative in the SEC Championship Game, unless the second of the tied teams is ranked within five-or-fewer places of the highest ranked tied team. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the SEC Championship Game.
This is where it gets tricky for the Razorbacks.

Based on my interpretation of the eighth tiebreaker, which was subsequently verified by an SEC official, Arkansas would need to beat LSU and have both themselves and LSU — in any order as long as the Hogs are within five spots if behind the Tigers– finish higher than Alabama in the final regular season BcS rankings in order to become the West’s rep in the conference title game.  Arkansas’ loss to Alabama earlier this year necessitates both the Razorbacks and LSU finishing ahead of the Tide in that last set of BcS rankings before the start of the conference championship game.

Of course, this is all predicated on Arkansas going into Death Valley the final week of the season and beating LSU after winning their next two conference games.  If not?  This is all a moot exercise as LSU would skate to Atlanta in early December.

Provided the current No. 1 team in the country goes unscathed the rest of the way, of course.

Pitt RB James Conner declares for NFL Draft

STILLWATER, OK - SEPTEMBER 17 : Running back James Conner #24 of the Pittsburgh Panthers is pursued by linebacker Devante Averette #40 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys September 17, 2016 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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James Conner is taking his inspirational story and frightening running back skills to the NFL.

The Pittsburgh running back made the announcement Saturday afternoon through his Twitter account.

The Panthers immediately released a statement blessing the move.

Conner burst on the scene as a freshman, leading the Panthers with 799 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He exploded as a sophomore for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns before missing his junior season due to Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He returned to the field this fall with a body free of cancer and promptly returned to form, carrying a team-leading 208 times for 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Conner was named the winner of the Disney Spirit Award on Thursday night.

The Pitt running back will join a growing list of running back early entrants, including D'Onta ForemanLeonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey.

Cincinnati formally announces Luke Fickell as new head coach

CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 15:  Head coach Luke Fickell of the Ohio State Buckeyes watches as his team takes on the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 15, 2011 in Champaign, Illinois. Ohio State defeated Illinois 17-7.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The worst-kept secret in college football is no longer a secret. Luke Fickell is Cincinnati’s new head coach.

The school made the announcement Saturday afternoon after word had begun trickling in the Buckeye State since last night.

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Fickell is a true son of Ohio State. Born in Columbus, he graduated from high school there, attended and met his wife at Ohio State, began his coaching career there and spent all but two seasons as a Buckeye — and those two seasons were at Akron.

Now he’ll move down state to a program that has placed Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, Brian Kelly at Notre Dame and Butch Jones at Tennessee.

The current occupier of the job Fickell surely wants announced his blessing of the move shortly after it went official.

As Tom Herman and Kirby Smart did before him, Fickell will remain with the Buckeyes through their College Football Playoff run.

“It’s with much pride and humility that I accept the awesome honor of becoming the head coach at the University of Cincinnati,” Fickell said in a statement. This city, this school and my family are all Ohio. It’s a tough blue-collar state with hard-working, blue-collar people that respect an honest and complete effort. That’s what they will get from me personally and what they should expect from this football program. This team belongs to this city and we will make you proud.”

Reports: Lane Kiffin to FAU hits stumbling block

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide walks on the field before the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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As of last night, there was a deal in place for Lane Kiffin to become the next head coach at Florida Atlantic.

As of Saturday morning, it appears the deal is off.

FootballScoop, who broke the news of the two sides’ talking, reported Saturday morning that the talks hit a “stumbling block.” (Full disclosure: I also write for FootballScoop.)

ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit corroborated that report on SportsCenter.

Herbstreit went as far as saying Kiffin, back in Tuscaloosa, was back on the market pursuing offensive coordinator jobs. That would be good news for LSU, who has placed him as their top target to serve as Ed Orgeron‘s offensive coordinator.

How do Jackson, Mayfield and Watson stack up with recent Heisman QBs?

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 17:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals  runs for a touchdown against the Florida State Seminoles  at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The 82nd Heisman Trophy winner will be crowned tonight, and it will probably be Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. If not him, it will almost certainly be Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. And if some freak accident occurs where most of the votes from east of the Mississippi River somehow become destroyed, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield will take home the trophy.

With three quarterbacks among the five finalists, we thought it was time to trot out this old feature and compare this year’s signal-callers with recent Heisman-winning quarterbacks.

First, let’s recap the Heisman-winning signal callers since 2000, when college football’s most prestigious honor shifted to becoming a much more quarterback-centric award:

2000 – Chris Weinke, Florida State
2001 – Eric Crouch, Nebraska
2002 – Carson Palmer, USC
2003 – Jason White, Oklahoma
2004 – Matt Leinart, USC
2006 – Troy Smith, Ohio State
2007 – Tim Tebow, Florida
2008 – Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
2010 – Cam Newton, Auburn
2011 – Robert Griffin III, Baylor
2012 – Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
2013 – Jameis Winston, Florida State
2014 – Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Without further ado:

Passing Efficiency
1. Mayfield – 197.8
2. Griffin – 189.5
3. Winston – 184.9
4. Newton – 182.1
5. Mariota – 181.8
— Watson – 154.0
— Jackson – 153.3

Yards Per Attempt
1. Mayfield – 11.1
2. Griffin – 10.7
3. Winston – 10.6
4. Newton – 10.2
5. Mariota – 10.0
— Jackson – 8.9
— Watson – 8.0

Completion Percentage
1. Griffin – 72.4
2. Mayfield – 71.2
3. Mariota – 68.3
4. Manziel – 68.0
5. Bradford – 67.9
— Watson – 67.6
— Jackson – 57.6

Touchdown Percentage
1. Mayfield – 11.5
2. Newton – 10.7
3. Bradford – 10.44
4. Winston – 10.42
5. Smith – 9.6
— Jackson – 7.9
— Watson – 7.6

Interception Percentage
1. Mariota – 0.9
2. Griffin – 1.5
Leinart – 1.5
4. Bradford – 1.7
Tebow – 1.7
— Jackson – 2.4
— Mayfield – 2.4
— Watson – 3.1

Yards Per Carry
1. Manziel – 7.0
2. Jackson — 6.6
3. Mariota – 5.7
4. Newton – 5.6
5. Crouch – 5.5
— Watson – 4.1
— Mayfield – 1.9

Rushing Touchdown Percentage
1. Mariota – 12.0
2. Bradford – 11.9
3. Tebow – 11.0
4. Manziel – 10.4
5. Jackson – 9.0
— Mayfield – 8.1
— Watson – 4.7

Yards Per Play
1. Mayfield – 9.4
2. Winston – 9.08
3. Bradford – 9.06
4. Mariota – 9.0
5. Weinke – 8.8
— Jackson – 8.0
— Watson 7.21

So, what did we learn? Other than an appreciation for RG3’s 2011 season, not much.

Mayfield is clearly having a historically efficient season. For the year he’s 235-of-330 passing for 3,669 yards with 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions while adding 74 carries for 143 yards and six touchdowns. But that can be written away by a historically poor Big 12 schedule. Add in that Mayfield had his worst performance of the season in Oklahoma’s biggest game — he was 17-of-32 for 226 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 45-24 loss to Ohio State in September — it’s clear to see why Mayfield is running a distant third in Heisman projections.

Watson has had a nice year — he’s 329-of-487 for 3,914 yards with 37 touchdowns against 15 picks while rushing 129 times for 529 yards with six scores — but his candidacy is built around his career accomplishments. Two straight ACC championships and back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances say more than his numbers ever could.

Jackson’s argument is built around bulk numbers over efficiency. He’s 220-of-382 for 3,390 yards with 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions while rushing 234 times for 1,538 yards with 21 touchdowns. That 30/20 number — a club occupied only by Newton and Tebow until this season — is likely what will push Jackson over the top tonight.