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The Fifth Quarter: Week 5 Rewind

Baylor West Virginia Football AP

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

Geno-logy of a Heisman run
Here at the Fifth Quarter, we — I — won’t be making any type of Heisman watch lists for another couple of weeks.  However, if the stiff-armed trophy were handed out today, Geno Smith would be the winner in a veritable landslide — if it’d even be that close.  In further buttressing his case for the Heisman, all the quarterback  for No. 9 West Virginia did against a (literally) defenseless No. 25 Baylor squad was throw for 656 yards and account for 687 yards of total offense.  Smith also threw more touchdowns (eight) than incompletions (six) in the wild 70-63 win in the Mountaineers’ first-ever Big 12 conference game.  In four games, Smith has thrown for 1,728 yards and 20 touchdowns while completing a staggering 83.4 percent of his passes.  Most impressively, Smith has no interceptions amongst his 169 attempts.  Again, there’s a lot of time between now and the awarding of the Heisman in December.  Still, it appears that the most prestigious trophy in the sport is Smith’s to lose.

Attended an SEC game, and a Big 12 matchup broke out
Annually hailed as the top defensive conference in the country, the SEC prides itself on bringing it on that side of the ball.  Through some tiny rip in the space-time continuum, however, all Big 12 hell broke loose in Athens Saturday afternoon.  Between Georgia and Tennessee, there were 95 points scored; 1,038 yards gained; and 42 first downs earned as the No. 5 Bulldogs held on for a wild 51-44 win over the Vols.  There was also an “ugly” side to the game, with the two teams combining to commit seven turnovers.  Two of those late in the first half allowed the Vols to turn a 27-10 deficit into a 30-27 lead.  Three committed by UT quarterback Tyler Bray in the last six minutes prevented any hopes the Vols had of earning a road upset.

Urban renewal continues in Columbus
Undefeated through his first four games as Ohio State’s coach, Urban Meyer‘s Buckeyes had yet to be tested as the early-season schedule consisted of the likes of Miami of Ohio, UCF, Cal and UAB.  The first real measuring stick of the season, on the road no less, came in East Lansing against Michigan State in the Big Ten opener for both schools — and OSU passed with flying colors, albeit of a dull hue variety.  And despite the first uneven game of the season for star quarterback Braxton Miller.  In a game that was, for better or worse, the epitome of Big Ten football, and the exact opposite of anything that happens in the Big 12, the No. 14 Buckeyes churned, grinded and pounded out a hard-fought 17-16 win over the No. 21 Spartans.  It was far from pretty from an aesthetic point of view, but it was efficient in that it resulted in a fifth-straight win for Meyer and the Buckeyes.  While Miller accounted for 315 yards of offense (179 passing, 136 rushing), he accounted for three turnovers (one pick, two lost fumbles) that could’ve been OSU’s undoing in such a hostile — and stanky —  environment.  It didn’t, and that’s the mark of a good football team and one that Meyer’s rightly proud of.  Even in this lost season of sanctions, with no shot at a Big Ten championship game or bowl berth, the Buckeyes are clearly the class of the Big Ten.  Granted, that’s like proclaiming someone as the tallest midget, but it’s something for the Buckeyes to continue playing for.  Well, that and a shiny Leaders Division trophy.

Bill O’Brien
Through the NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, through the personnel defections wrought by said sanctions, through an ugly 0-2 start to the 2012 season, Bill O’Brien has persevered.  And, it appears, that perseverance is paying off big time for both O’Brien and the beleaguered Penn State football program.  For the third straight weekend following the laughable start, Penn State heads home on a Saturday with a win stuffed firmly into its back pocket.  The latest victim for O’Brien & Company was Illinois, with PSU coming away with an easy 35-7 win against the team that did the most over the summer to take advantage of the liberal transfer policies.  Quarterback Matt McGloin, one of the more pleasant surprises of the season, accounted for three touchdowns — one passing, two rushing — while the defense limited the Illini to just 74 rushing yards and forced three turnovers.  Certainly the stain of Sandusky’s crimes will linger over the university for years, or even decades, to come, but this coach and these players had nothing to do with either the illegalities or the cover-up that brought the program to its knees.  There are certainly rough times to be had in the coming years, thanks to the scholarship reductions that will hurt for the better part of a decade.  Still, it appears O’Brien was and is the right choice to captain the Nittany ship through the rough waters that lie ahead.

Ess-Bee-Cee!!! Ess-Bee-Cee!!!
One of the more fascinating storylines of the 2012 season has been the play of the Sun Belt Conference through the first five weeks of the year.  Specifically, how the Little Conference That Could has fared against SEC programs.  Louisiana-Monroe and Western Kentucky have already beaten Arkansas and Kentucky, respectively, while ULM — three-point overtime loss to Auburn — and Troy — six-point loss to Mississippi State — had near-wins against the conference.  Now, that ’12 magic has extended beyond the SEC, much to the detriment of the ACC.  In a stunning turn of events, Middle Tennessee State traveled to Georgia Tech and laid a whooping on the Yellow Jackets, heading back to Murfreesboro with a 49-28 win over Tech.  The loss, fueled in large part by MTSU running back Benny Cunningham‘s 217 yards rushing and five touchdowns, was the first by Tech to a non-BcS school since 1996.

Stephen Morris, QB extraordinaire
Wait, what?  Be that as it may, and not that anyone saw it (see below), but Miami quarterback Stephen Morris passed for 271 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter of the Hurricanes’ wild 44-37 win over North Carolina State.  The junior finished the game with a school- and ACC-record 566 yards and five touchdowns as the Hurricanes’ offense rolled up 651 yards of offense — and were outgained by the Wolfpack and their 664 yards.  Yes, defense is a significant issue for the Hurricanes — they gave up 419 yards and 36 points in a win over Georgia Tech; 498 yards and 52 points in a loss to Kansas State; have allowed less than 32 points once, to FCS-level Bethune-Cookman — but The U has started a season 4-1 for the first time since 2007.

Munchie Magic sweeping the ‘Nati
There’s not a better name in college football than Munchie Legeaux.  As it turns out, he has a pretty damn good game to go along with the name.  With just 13 seconds left in Cincinnati’s game against Virginia Tech, Legeaux tossed a 39-yard touchdown pass as the Bearcats stunned the Hokies 27-24 in a “neutral site” game in Landover, Md.  While Legeaux completed well under 50 percent of his 42 passes, he did throw for 357 yards on his 19 completions.  The Bearcats are now 3-0 and, with games against Miami (OH), Fordham and Toledo in between, could very well remain that way when they head into the Oct. 26 game with still-unbeaten Louisville.  The win was huge for the Big East as well, which entered Week 5 with two teams — the ‘Ville and Rutgers — ranked inside the Top 25.  Don’t be surprised that, come Sunday afternoon, another team from that conference is added to that ranked role.

Kain is very much able
In a 44-29 win over Indiana that kept Northwestern unbeaten on the season, Kain Colter finished with 100-plus yards rushing (161) and receiving (131).  Normally that wouldn’t be noteworthy, but, at the start of the season, Colter was the Wildcats’ starting quarterback.  While Colter is still officially listed as QB, he’s given way Trevor Siemian and is being utilized in a Wildcat-type role.  In addition to the 294 yards of total offense — he had two yards passing — Colter accounted for four touchdowns, with all four scores coming on the ground.  Along with Ohio State, and thanks to Minnesota’s loss, the school known more for its academic prowess is one of just two teams in the Big Ten without a loss five weeks into the season.

Catch of the day
And, thanks to the right hand of Middle Tennessee State’s Anthony Amos, it’s not even close:

AIRBHG no match for walk-on
Yes, it might be best not to tempt the patience of the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God.  Yes, it’s just two games.  But, yes, after years of unbelievable bad luck at the position, the Hawkeyes may have found their backfield savior.  Last week, former walk-on and Air Force transfer Mark Weisman rushed for 217 yards and three touchdowns in Iowa’s stunning upset loss to Central Michigan.  This week, the “Weisman for Heisman” bandwagon likely got a whole helluva lot more crowded as the sophomore “fullback” (winkwink nudgenudge) ran for 177 yards on 21 carries as the Hawkeyes knocked Minnesota from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 31-13 win.  After rushing for just eight yards the first two games of the season, Weisman has bulled his way to 504 yards the past three.

LOSERS

And on the sixth day, the defense rested
If you are a fan of a little something called “defense” being played in a game of college football, Baylor-West Virginia likely induced night terrors and/or convulsions.  If you’re a fan of offense?  College football porn as far as the eye could see.  Filthy, unadulterated, unfiltered pornography.  The two teams combined for 70 points , 32 first downs and 736 yards of offense — and then they came back out of the locker room at halftime and played two more quarters.  The offensive carnage for the game reads as follows: 133 points (see photo below), 1,507 yards, 66 first downs and 22-of-30 on third-down conversions, with Geno Smith and Nick Florence combining to throw for 1,237 yards and 13 touchdowns.  The game featured a pair of 300-yard receivers (WVU’s Stedman Bailey and BU’s Terrance Williams), while the Mountaineers also had a 200-yard (Tavon Austin) and 100-yard receivers (J.D. Woods).  Baylor had three receivers go over 100 yards in the same game for the first time in school history.  There were a total of three punts in the game on a day that old-school souls will likely lament for years to come.  Yes, it was a smashing debut for the Mountaineers in their official Big 12 coming-out-party.  Word of warning, however: no FBS football team can or will win a BcS title — hell, maybe even a Big 12 title — with a defense like that.  Until Joe DeForest and company get a handle on the defensive side of the ball, WVU will be nothing more than an entertaining sideshow while we await the real national title contenders to emerge.

The voters
No, not the ones who will decide which lesser of two evils will serve as POTUS the next four years.  No, the voters we are referring to are the ones who make up the Associated Press and coaches’ Top 25 polls.  The first three games of the season — the opener against Texas A&M was postponed due to Hurricane Isaac — Louisiana Tech rolled through Houston, Rice and Illinois.  For that effort, the Bulldogs were rewarded with seven votes in the AP poll and none in the coaches’ following Week 4.  In Week 5, Tech went out and slayed another BcS-level team, dropping Virginia 44-38 on the road.  Is Tech a Top 10 team?  Hell no, or at least probably not.  But no one should be able to sit there with a straight face and state that there are 25 better teams in 2012 than the Bulldogs.  Hopefully, when the polls are released Sunday afternoon, the voters in both polls will show some common sense and do the right thing by looking beyond how BcS conference schools fared this weekend.  I won’t hold my breath, though.

Player safety?
Over the past several years, the NCAA has made tremendous strides in improving player safety.  Then, Saturday night, one of the Association’s members did this:

That was the scene at Southern Miss for the Conference USA team’s 21-17 loss against No. 19 Louisville, played in what amounted to a monsoon that a duck, Oregon or otherwise, would avoid like the plague.  At various points of the game, and on various areas of the playing field, there looked to be an inch or more of standing water, leading us to openly wonder if there would be a yards-after-hydroplane stat for the game.  Why the non-conference match-up was played in such conditions is unclear, although it was very clear that such weather issues most certainly created a situation that could’ve been very dangerous for each and every player who slopped his way around that field for 60 minutes.

Tale of two Techs
And it was a woeful twin tale, non-conference-wise, for the ACC.  Early on in the day, Georgia Tech inexplicably stubbed its toe — or, more accurately, kicked itself in the groin — against Middle Tennessee State in a 21-point humbling at the hands of the SBC school.  Three hour later, Virginia Tech allowed a last-second touchdown to Cincinnati as the Hokies dropped their second game of the season, both, oddly enough, to teams from the Big East.  In fact, that conference has had the ACC’s number all season long, leading the head-to-head meetings 4-2 and setting up for what should be a very interesting bowl selection process as it relates to the two conferences.

U-S-A!!! U-S-AAARGH!!!
FCS-level Stony Brook 23, Army 3.  We love ya, ‘Merica, but…

Weekly Miami “fan” update
And, yes, it’s just as — or arguably more — embarrassing this week as it has been the past few seasons:

The above photo was taken less than 20 minutes prior to kickoff by South Florida Sun Sentinel beat writer Michael Casagrande.

This wasn’t Bethune-Cookman, either; this was an ACC game against 3-1 North Carolina State.  The lack of “fan” support for the Hurricanes football program is absurd and shameful.  Oh, and embarrassing as well.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

– No. 2 Oregon 51, Washington State 26: The Ducks were up on the Cougars just 23-19 at halftime.  After that, order was restored as the Ducks we’ve come to know and love/loathe emerged from their first-half slumber for a comfortable win.

– No. 3 LSU 38, Towson 22: It doesn’t matter the final score, a comfortable 16-point margin.  When the third-ranked team in the country is trailing an FCS school at home deep into the second quarter, it makes the cut.  Add this lackluster first-half performance to a lethargic two-point win over a below-average Auburn team last week, and the Tigers may not be who we thought they were after all.

– No. 4 Florida State 30, USF 17: We’ll just chalk this up to a post-Clemson hangover.  As late as six minutes left in the third quarter the Seminoles clung to a 13-10 lead over the now-2-3 Bulls.  17 unanswered points put the game out of reach.

– No. 5 Georgia 51, Tennessee 44: It wasn’t pretty defensively — and UGA could very well have been looking ahead to next Saturday’s showdown with No. 6 South Carolina — but the Bulldogs were able to stave off the game Vols and remain unbeaten through five games.

– No. 6 South Carolina 38, Kentucky 17: The Gamecocks were on the ropes in the first half, trailing 17-7 heading into the locker room  before pulling away for the road win.  Like UGA, USC may have been peeking ahead to next weekend’s game that will be dripping with SEC East implications.

– No. 12 Texas 41, Oklahoma State 36: The Cowboys aren’t your normal unranked opponent, so this was still a very impressive win for the Longhorns.  It’s also a win that could propel UT into the Top 10 of the rankings for the first time since Week 4 of the 2010 season.

– No. 15 TCU 24, SMU 16: In the battle for the coveted Iron Skillet, the Horned Frogs were never in any real danger of losing but still allowed a one-win team to hang around in the same neighborhood much longer than expected.  TCU does, though, own the nation’s longest winning streak at 12 straight games.

– No. 17 Clemson 45, Boston College 31: We’ll just chalk this up to a post-Florida State hangover, part II.

– No. 18 Oregon State , Arizona : A 17-0 lead begat a 21-17 deficit begat a back-and-forth trading of scores begat a thrilling three-point win for the unbeaten Beavers.  The Nov. 24 Civil War matchup with Oregon could be a very, very fascinating affair this season.

– No. 19 Louisville 21, Southern Miss 17: We almost didn’t include this one, given the weather conditions involved.  The Cardinals trailed 17-6 late in the second quarter, but showed tremendous heart in coming back in those conditions and protecting its unbeaten start to the season.

– No. 22 Nebraska 30, Wisconsin 27: Much the same as with Texas’ opponent, the Badgers were not your or the Cornhuskers’ ordinary foe.  After falling behind 27-10, NU ripped off 20 unanswered points to come away with a huge conference home win and the second-biggest comeback in school history.

– No. 24 Boise State 32, New Mexico 29: The Broncos jumped out to a 32-0 halftime lead, only to see the Lobos storm back to nearly pull off the upset.  BSU’s return to the Top 25 last week will likely be short-lived.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Alabama — The Tide has been biding its time until a date with LSU by outscoring its five 2012 opponents 201-35.  Clearly, UA is far and away the class of the current season. (Last week: No. 1)
Up next: at Missouri

2. Oregon — Speaking of domination, Oregon has outscored its five 2012 opponents (262-99).  A Ducks-Tide BcS title game would be a helluva lot of fun, and is definitely a very realistic possibility at season’s end. (Last week No. 3)
Up next: vs. Washington

3. Kansas State — The combination of an impressive bye week showing, the lingering impressions left by the upset of Oklahoma last week and some rather lackluster performances around them pushes the Wildcats up a couple of spots. (Last week: No. 5)
Up next: vs. Kansas

4. Florida State — The post-Clemson malaise notwithstanding, the Seminoles remain a viable BcS title contender. (Last week: No. 2)
Up next: at North Carolina State

5. Georgia — At this point in time, we prefer to view the 44 points given up to Tennessee as an anomaly.  We reserve the right, though, to change our mind. (Last week: unranked)
Up next: at No. 6 South Carolina

COACHING HOT SEAT
A weekly look at some of the current head coaches who could most likely be an ex-head coaches by season’s end — if not sooner.

– Arkansas’ John L. Smith: There’s really not much need to go into the well-chronicled train wreck that’s been the start to the season, other than to say the trigger should be pulled sooner rather than later.

– Cal’s Jeff Tedford: Already with cheeks planted firmly on the proverbial hot seat entering 2012, Tedford has done nothing to turn down the temperature through Week 5.  In fact, it may be hotter than ever as the Bears have stumbled their way out of the gate at 1-4, the worst start in Tedford’s 10-plus seasons at the school.  The latest setback for the Bears was a 27-17 loss to Arizona State that dropped Cal to 0-2 in Pac-12 play.

HE SAID IT
“I might need more gun powder for this game.” — Jon Kimble, WVU’s mascot, very appropriately writing on Twitter at halftime of the Baylor-WVU game.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“I felt like Clemson’s defense or something.”  — WVU defensive back Darwin Cook after allowing 63 points — seven points less than the Mountaineers scored on the Tigers in the Orange Bowl earlier this year — to be put on the board by the Bears.

PIC OF THE WEEK

That was the “Stripe the Stadium” scene in Morgantown Saturday afternoon as West Virginia made a very successful debut in Big 12 conference play.  And that photo comes courtesy of Mike Florio, who some of you may know from a lil’ website called ProFootballTalk.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

– No. 1 Alabama fell behind Ole Miss 7-6 early in the second quarter on a Jeff Scott touchdown run, the first time the Tide has trailed in a game — regulation or overtime — since the Nov. 5 loss to LSU.  The streak ended at 33 straight quarters, but the defending BcS champions started a new one 15 seconds later as Christion Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for both a touchdown and a lead the Tide wouldn’t relinquish.

– Baylor wide receiver Terrence Williams‘ 314 yards broke the Big 12’s minutes-old record set moments earlier by West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey, who finished the game with 303 yards.  Bailey’s five touchdown catches, incidentally, broke the school record.

– The last FBS quarterback with at least 550 yards and five touchdowns in a game was Houston’s Case Keenum against Southern Mississippi on Oct. 31, 2009.  Saturday, there were three who hit that mark: WVU’s Geno Smith, Baylor’s Nick Florence and Miami’s Stephen Morris.

– Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel broke the SEC record for total yards in a single game, accounting for 557 (453 passing, 103 rushing) in the Aggies’ shellacking of Arkansas.  Manziel’s total broke the record of 540 shared by Archie Manning and Rohan Davey.

Sean Mannion passed for 433 yards and three touchdowns in Oregon State’s win over Arizona.

– True freshman Keith Marshall rushed for 164 yards on just 10 carries in Georgia’s close win over Tennessee.  UGA also got five touchdowns from a pair of true freshmen — Marshall’s two and Todd Gurley‘s three.

– Miami of Ohio quarterback Zac Dysert threw six touchdown passes and had a ridiculous 624 yards of total offense in a 56-49 win over Akron.

– Baylor’s 63 points against West Virginia tied the record for the most scored in regulation in a loss by an FBS school, joining Rice (2004) and Toledo (2011) in that infamous grouping.

– Stat of the Day, SID Division: With the 5-0 start, Urban Meyer becomes the third first-year Ohio State coach to start their career 5-0. Only two other first-year coaches have started a season 5-0: Carol Widdoes went 9-0 in 1944 and eventually won his first 12 games; and Meyer mentor Earle Bruce opened 11-0 in 1979.

– Runner-up Stat of the Day, SID Division: AJ McCarron passed Brody Croyle’s Alabama record of 190 consecutive pass attempts without throwing an interception when he connected with Brent Calloway in the latter part of the second quarter. McCarron entered the game with 176 attempts and entered the locker room with the new record of 195 attempts without an interception.

– North Carolina’s 66 points in a shutout win over Idaho set a school record, surpassing the standard set back in 1928.

– BYU totaled 540 yards of total offense in the shutout win over Hawaii Friday night; in the previous two games, both losses, the Cougars had a combined 512 yards.

– Duke has started a season 4-1 for the first time since 1994.  Oddly enough, that was the last time the Blue Devils qualified for a bowl game.

– After Week 4, there was one team that had yet to throw a touchdown pass.  After Week 5?  There are none as Air Force’s Connor Dietz tossed two of them in the Falcons’ easy win over Colorado State.

(Writer’s note: The Fifth Quarter will be taking a one-weekend sabbatical next Saturday as we officially move into the new CFT West Virginia headquarters.  Try not to miss me too terribly much.)

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Amari Cooper likely to become Alabama’s first Biletnikoff winner

Amari Cooper

And then there were three. The competition for the Biletnikoff Award is down to three of the nation’s top wide receivers. Alabama’s Amari Cooper is the lone player from a College Football Playoff contender in the running, although that should not diminish the accomplishments of two others up for the award.

Colorado State wide receiver Rashard Higgins and West Virginia’s Kevin White are also finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top wide receiver in college football. No player from any of these three schools has ever won the award, which was first awarded in 1994.

Last year’s award went to Brandin Cooks of Oregon State. This year’s award will be presented on December 11 during The Home Depot College Football Awards Show on ESPN.

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Les Miles will worry about LSU’s QB future, in the future

Les Miles

LSU has one more game to play in the 2014 regular season before going to a bowl game. Some are already wondering what head coach Les Miles is going to do with the quarterback position in the future, but Miles is not ready to make any long-term decisions. He still has a game at Texas A&M to prepare for after all. But he will make those decisions at the appropriate time. When he does, freshman Brandon Harris appears to be getting a chance to make his case for the starting job.

“We’ve chosen not to make the decision on our future quarterback until down the road,” Miles said during his weekly radio show Tuesday night, according to The Advocate. “That’s why he’s getting 50 percent of the reps.”

Harris has appeared in eight games this season. In those games, Harris has completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 452 yards and six touchdowns. He has been intercepted twice. Harris has not been seen much since an early October game against Auburn.

“We like Brandon Harris, and he’s coming. We’re not going to put parameters on that,” Miles added. “What we’re trying to get accomplished is put him in a position where he can go on the field and give us some explosive plays and not necessarily encumber him with the full offense, the whole thing. If we can do that, we might be able to get him on the field.”

Anthony Jennings, a sophomore, is the other quarterback in the mix, of course. Jennings has completed 47.9 percent of his passes in 11 games for 1,353 yards and nine touchdowns. He has been picked off six times this season.

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Ohio State’s Spence declared permanently ineligible by Big Ten

Ohio State Buckeyes v Michigan State Spartans 12-7-2013

We will not see defensive end Noah Spence wearing an Ohio State football uniform this season, and we may not see him in any Big Ten uniform anytime soon. The Big Ten has declared Spence permanently ineligible from all intercollegiate athletics competition. Ohio State released a statement with that decision Tuesday night.

Spence was suspended by Ohio State earlier this season following a failed drug test. It was not the first time Spence failed a drug test at Ohio State, which led to an automatic suspension by the program and the threat of the NCAA wiping out the remaining two years of his eligibility.

Spence was guided through an appeals process by Ohio State, which is customary when filing appeals to the NCAA. That appeals process played out today, and it did not go well for Spence.

“While we are disappointed in the outcome, we are pleased that Noah has come a long way and we are very proud of the progress he has made with regard to his health,” Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith said in the released statement. “The Department of Athletics will continue to assist Noah through his pursuits and provide the academic resources necessary to help him complete his degree program.

Spence took to Twitter to express his feelings as well.

What is next for Spence is unknown at this point. Hopefully the troubles are behind him and he can find a way to thrive on and off the football field.

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College Football Playoff Rankings: No change in top four, but hello Boise State and Marshall!

Oklahoma State v Florida State Getty Images

The top of the latest College Football Playoff rankings look the same as they did a week ago, but this week’s rankings saw a significant development toward the bottom of the order.

Alabama remains on top of the playoff ranking, followed by Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State in that order. This is the same top four from last week. TCU remains sitting in fifth place, waiting for a shot to creep into the top four, just as it did last week.

Boise State and Marshall made their respective debuts in the playoff ranking this week, and this is notable. The highest-ranked conference champion from a non-power conference will be given a spot in an access bowl. If Boise State wins the Mountain West Conference, it will be difficult for Marshall to make up enough ground to pass the Broncos despite trailing Boise State by one in the rankings.

The Top Four

1. Alabama

2. Oregon

3. Florida State

4. Mississippi State

No change here, perhaps as expected. The question was whether or not the committee would drop Florida State after another close loss during a week that saw Mississippi State blow away Vanderbilt. This was not the case, although that precedent had already been set. The big question the next two weeks will be whether or not Mississippi State without a conference championship can stay ahead of a one-loss Big 12 and/or Big Ten champion.

Who Is On Deck?

5. TCU

6. Ohio State

7. Baylor

Ohio State remains one spot behind TCU, which means it looks like the Buckeyes could need a little help to move up two spots. The good news for Ohio State is the Buckeyes could have a Big Ten championship game match-up with a rising Wisconsin team to help push them up in the final rankings if things go Ohio State’s way. We also need to know when the committee might feel the time is right to move Baylor ahead of TCU with a head-to-head result in favor of the Bears.

The Full Ranking

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 7.39.15 PM

Some Quick Thoughts

We finally got a glimpse of the non-power conference representation in this week’s ranking, yet it does not come without some potential controversy. Boise State, if it wins out, would have a more impressive overall body of work compared to a potentially undefeated Marshall, but what about Colorado State? If Boise State slips, Marshall is set up to stay ahead of a one-loss Colorado State team at a late point in the season. The committee will have to hope Boise State runs the table, because Colorado State with one loss has an even stronger case than a two-loss Boise State does against an undefeated Marshall. Colorado State has two victories against power conferences away from home compared to zero for Marshall, and the Rams only lost one game, at Boise State.

At what point does the committee remember that Baylor beat TCU? It has to happen at some point, right? Although TCU’s non-conference drubbing of Minnesota clearly looks better now, and may be a key win to hold over Ohio State as well. TCU defeated Minnesota by a wider margin of victory compared to the Buckeyes.

Minnesota avoided being dropped from the committee’s top 25 last week despite losing, and a win against Nebraska helped move them up seven spots this week. This is great news for TCU and Ohio State.

Take a look at UCLA. The Bruins continue to wiggle up the rankings, and could still be within reach of making the top four with a little help. If UCLA wins this weekend against Stanford, the Bruins will play Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. UCLA has struggled to get over the hump to be an elite team in the Pac-12, but they seem to be surging at a very good time. It may be a lot of ground to make up in two weeks, but it is far from impossible.

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Maxwell Football Club award finalists include Mariota, Prescott, Gordon and Beasley

Dak Prescott

The Maxwell Football Club has announced the three finalists for each of its individual awards, the Maxwell Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon have been named finalists for the Maxwell Award. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III have been named finalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award.

the Maxwell Award is presented to the top player in college football as determined by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel. The award does not always go to the player that wins the Heisman Trophy. Last year, for example, the Maxwell Award went to Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. Mariota, Gordon and Prescott may be likely names to be heading to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation at the end of the season, but the odds may be good the Maxwell Award goes to another player. No Oregon or Mississippi State player has ever won the Maxwell Award, but Wisconsin has one. The last running back to iwn the award was Penn State’s Larry Johnson in 2002.

The Chuck Bednarik Award is in its 20th season and goes to the top defensive player as determined by the Maxwell Football Club and its voters. Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald won the award last season. Whichever player wins the award this year will be doing so for the first time in school history.

this year’s winners for each award will be announced on December 11 during The Home Depot College Football Awards Show on ESPN. The awards will be formally presented in Atlantic City, New Jersey in March as part of the Maxwell Football Club’s Awards Gala.

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Doak Walker Award finalists filled by Big Ten trio

Melvin Gordon, Desmond King

The Big Ten has a handful of really good running backs, and it shows with the naming of the finalists for the Doak Walker Award. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman were each named finalists for the top running back award, filling all three finalist spots.

Gordon held the single-game rushing record for just one week, but his production this season has been steady. Gordon leads the nation in rushing with 2,109 rushing yards with one more regular season game to play and possibly two more if Wisconsin plays in the Big Ten Championship Game and Gordon plays in Wisconsin’s bowl game.

Abdullah is also one of the top running backs in the country, but he has been slowed by injuries at times. Abdullah is still on track for a possible 2,000-yard season with 20 rushing touchdowns with one regular season game left and a bowl game.

Indiana’s offense may have been a disappointment this season, but this does not apply for Coleman. Coleman is the nation’s second-leading rusher behind Gordon with 1,906 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Coleman has carried the Hoosiers offense for much of the season, and he has handled it well.

Wisconsin’s Montee Ball was the last Big Ten running back to win the Doak Walker Award, two seasons ago. As good of a running program Nebraska has been through the years, the Cornhuskers have never had a Doak Walker Award winner. Indiana is also looking for its first Doak Walker Award winner. Gordon looks to be the favorite in this pack though.

If Gordon wins the award, he will become the third Wisconsin running back to win the award. That total would also tie Texas for the most Doak Walker Award winners.

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FSU’s Aguayo highlights 2014 Lou Groza Award finalists

Roberto Aguayo

Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo has been named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award. This should come as little surprise after the Seminoles kicker won the award in 2013 and has put together another dependable season kicking field goals and extra points for the defending national champions.

Maryland kicker Brad Craddock and West Virginia’s Josh Lambert join Aguayo as finalists for this year’s award for best kicker.

Aguayo is looking to become the second repeat winner of the Lou Groza Award. He would join another former Florida State kicker sharing that honor if he wins the award again. Sebastian Janikowski won the Lou Groza Award in 1998 and 1999. No other player has ever won the award multiple times.

Craddock is the only kicker in the country who has been perfect on all of his field goal attempts, and he has kicked a bunch of them. Craddock is a perfect 17-for-17 this season and the Australien kicker has shown great range at times as well.

No kicker in the country has kicked more field goals than Lambert though. The West Virginia kicker has kicked 24 of 32 kicks for the Mountaineers this season, and his 24 field goals made this season already surpasses the regular season high for kickers in the 2013 regular season.

All three finalists will be honored at a banquet on Tuesday, December 9 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The winner will be revealed during The Home DepotCollege Football Awards Show on Thursday, December 11 in Disney World.

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Auburn loses sacks leader for season before Iron Bowl

Auburn v Mississippi State Getty Images

If Auburn was hoping to find ways to bring down Alabama quarterback Blake Sims, the Tigers may have to look for someone else on the defensive line to step up. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn announced Tuesday defensive end DaVonte Lambert will miss the Iron Bowl and Auburn’s bowl game after undergoing season-ending surgery on his left knee on Monday.

“That’s a big blow for us,” Malzahn said, per The Montgomery Advertiser. “We’re going to need some guys to step up.”

Lambert led the defense with 3.5 sacks this season. Montravius Adams and Angelo Blackson each have three sacks. Adams is also second on the team in tackles for loss, so he may be the most likely name to watch try and fill the void left by Lambert.

Lambert had been listed as the starting defensive end for Auburn on this week’s depth chart for the Alabama game. Sophomore Elijah Daniel (3.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sacks) is listed as his back-up.

“He’s a factor,” Malzahn said. “But we need some other guys to step up. Football’s a team game and when you’re playing against your rival, it’s got the ability to have guys step up and play better than they have all year, and that’s what we need.”

Getting sacks against Alabama is tough enough. The Crimson Tide have allowed just 10.0 sacks all season. Auburn has just 19.0 sacks this season as well. Losing one of their better sack specialists could be tough to overcome.

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Alabama and Florida State in mix for 2017 Atlanta game? Yes please

Boise State v Georgia Getty Images

Florida State and Alabama have met just four times dating back to 1965, although we could be heading to a postseason head-to-head clash between the Seminoles and Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff. We could also be on the verge of seeing the two southern powers collide in Atlanta to open the 2017 season, and that would be awesome.

The Palm Beach Post reports Alabama and Florida State are discussing a potential 2017 season opener in Atlanta, which would likely be a part of the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff. The game typically features a team from the SEC and the ACC often fills the other spot for the high-profile game. Alabama has been a frequent visitor to Atlanta for these games as well, so hearing about the possibility of the Tide once again playing in Atlanta to open the season is no shock.

According to the report, Alabama had also been in discussions about playing a game in 2017 with Penn State and USC, although the extent of those talks is unconfirmed. Penn State’s 2017 non-conference schedule is already filled, and USC has one spot to fill. The Trojans are also set to open the 2016 season against Alabama in Arlington.

By 2017, both the ACC and SEC will have a non-conference scheduling requirement in place that requires all conference members to schedule at least one game against another power conference opponent. Florida State has this requirement fulfilled by playing Florida each season. A game with Florida State would fulfill the requirement for Alabama in 2017.

Alabama leads the all-time series 2-1-1. The last time the teams played was in 2007 in another neutral site game in Jacksonville. Florida State won the September game, 21-14. Alabama has hosted the other three meeting in the series, winning two, between 1965 and 1974.

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Hugh Freeze to Florida? Rumor mill is turning out unlikely scenarios

Hugh Freeze

There is no question the Florida coaching vacancy that will soon officially become available will be one of the top landing spots for some coach in this season’s edition of the coaching carousel, and the rumor mill should be working at high speed in the coming weeks as Florida looks to find a replacement for outgoing Will Muschamp. One name that has been thrown out there in the coaching rumor mill already is Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze.

On the surface, it would seem to make sense Freeze would be on the list of potential targets for Florida, and why not? Freeze has shown signs of solid recruiting and development with the Ole Miss program in his short time in Oxford, and the Rebels looked to be one of the top teams in the country until the last few weeks. Despite a couple of losses in recent weeks, Ole Miss still looks to be in a better position than Florida right now, and that alone should be enough to keep Freeze in Ole Miss.

This time of the year always seems to turn out rumor after rumor, and sometimes those rumors may be leaked by agents representing coaches ready to either make a move or make a power move to get a brand new contract signed. Ole Miss is already working to put an end to any potential coaching rumors tied to Freeze. The school is already in the process of working on a new contract for Freeze, which both sides previously were reported to be in agreement to finalize after the regular season. The job security for Freeze at Ole Miss also appears to be very good, as he has already had his contract extended twice before.

Freeze leaving Ole Miss may not necessarily be out of the question, but leaving a job at one SEC school with as much job security as Ole Miss has provided for a bit of a rebuilding project at Florida does not appear to be the likely scenario to bank on. Coaches rarely make a move from one school to another within the same conference too. It is even more rare to see a coach at a strong program leave to rebuild another in the same conference.

Florida announced last week Muschamp will be removed as head coach at the conclusion of the regular season. It was Muschamp’s decision, apparently, to not coach the Gators in any potential bowl game the program will be invited to play. This makes sense, as it gives him plenty of time to focus on his next job, whatever and wherever that may be. It also gives the entire program a chance to move in a new direction and the players a chance to play without the distractions that could come with the Muschamp sideshow.

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Texas’ Espinosa won’t seek sixth year

Mississippi v Texas

As it turns out, an injury occurred early on in the season has played a significant role in one of the most experienced Texas offensive linemen calling it a career.

Starting center Dominic Espinosa sustained what turned out to be a very significant ankle injury in UT’s season-opening win over North Texas.  Because a health issue kept him off the field as a true freshman in 2010, it was thought that the offensive lineman would apply for a sixth season of eligibility and return to the Longhorns in 2015.

That won’t be the case, however, as Espinosa himself confirmed, via a very heartfelt letter penned to the fans of the football program and posted on social media, that he is retiring from the game of football.

Prior to the injury in the opener, Espinosa had started 40 straight games at center for the Longhorns.

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Stanford won’t have Ty Montgomery for game vs. UCLA

Ryan Murphy, Ty Montgomery AP

Stanford’s offense has been bad enough with Ty Montgomery on the field.  Without him?  That’s far from optimal, yet that’s the position the Cardinal will find itself this weekend.

Tuesday afternoon, David Shaw confirmed that the all-purpose wide receiver will not play in Friday’s regular-season finale against UCLA.  Montgomery sustained an injury to his right shoulder very early on in last weekend’s win over Cal.

It’s the same shoulder that nearly kept him out of the opener after undergoing surgery earlier in the offseason.  Shaw did say there’s a “distinct possibility” he’ll be healthy enough to play in a bowl game.

Montgomery leads the Cardinal in receptions (61) and receiving yards (604), and is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (three).  Montgomery’s absence will also hurt the Cardinal on special teams as he’s their leading kickoff (25.2 yards per return) and punt returner (19.8 ypr).  He’s returned two punts for touchdowns this season.

The Hornung Award finalist being unavailable could also impact the Pac-12 South race.

If UCLA wins Saturday, they claim the division title and the spot opposite Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.  If UCLA loses, the winner of the Arizona-Arizona State game earns the berth.

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Gophers’ David Cobb ‘very questionable’ for B1G play-in game

Minnesota v Nebraska Getty Images

The winner of Saturday’s Minnesota-Wisconsin game will move on to face Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game the following weekend.  Unfortunately for one of the participants, they could very well be missing a very key piece of its running game.

Tuesday afternoon, Gophers head coach Jerry Kill was asked about running back David Cobb‘s status for the play-in game. “Very questionable,” Kill responded.

Cobb sustained a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter of the Week 13 win over Nebraska in Lincoln.

Especially when it comes to a game with such high stakes, losing Cobb would be a significant blow for the Gophers.

Cobb has rushed for 1,430 yards this season, over 1,000 yards more than the team’s No. 2 rusher, quarterback Mitch Leidner (407).  The top back besides Cobb?  Berkley Edwards and his 140 yards.

While Cobb is ninth nationally in rushing, his Gopher teammates on the defensive side of the ball will be tasked with stopping the nation’s leading rusher (2,109 yards) and scorer of rushing touchdowns (25) in Melvin Gordon.

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Christian Hackenberg’s dad ‘won’t even touch’ transfer talk

Christian Hackenberg, Adolphus Washington

To say that Christian Hackenberg‘s second season in Happy Valley has been underwhelming would be an understatement.

As a true freshman, Hackenberg completed 59 percent of his passes and tossed 20 touchdowns vs. 10 interceptions in Bill O’Brien‘s final year at Penn State.  In James Franklin‘s first season with the Nittany Lions, Hackenberg has thrown just eight touchdowns against 14 interceptions in completing just over 55 percent of his passes.  In 2013, he threw for 2,955 yards on 392 attempts; in 389 passes this season, he’s totaled 2,411 yards.

Certainly not all of the struggles are on Hackenberg — the offensive line has allowed 39 sacks and even more quarterback hits — but those struggles, alongside public squabbling with teammates and just overall frustration, has led some to speculate that the Freshman All-American could be looking to transfer from the  Nittany Lions at season’s end.  In a telephone interview with Lancaster Online, Hackenberg’s father, a former college quarterback himself, didn’t exactly refute the speculation, although he did allow that leaving is not a talking point for the family.  Well, at least for now it’s not.

I won’t even touch that,” Erick Hackenberg told the paper when asked about the rumors. “That’s everyone else’s $64,000 question. The $64,000 question in the Lasch Building (PSU’s football facility) and in this household is how can we get better every week and at the end of the year be in a better place than now — or three weeks from now, or a month from now, at a bowl game, be at a better place than we are now. Everything else will handle itself.

“I don’t really have a comment on that at all. I think that’s a lot of conjecture. … It’s the outside, looking in. Out of respect to Coach (James) Franklin and the team, out of respect to Christian and everybody else, that’s not fair to a lot of people, so I’m not going to touch that. That’s something that doesn’t even need to be talked about at this point. He loves being at Penn State.”

It seems highly unlikely that Hackenberg, a five-star recruit rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2013 coming out of high school in Virginia, would leave the Nittany Lions after this season.  Stranger things have happened, though so it at least bears monitoring.

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Irish won’t have two starting defensive linemen for USC game

Rice v Notre Dame Getty Images

Notre Dame will head into its annual rivalry game with USC very shorthanded along its defensive line.

Tuesday afternoon, head coach Brian Kelly confirmed that Sheldon Day (pictured, left) and Jarron Jones (pictured, right) have been ruled out of Saturday’s game with the Trojans due to injuries. Day will miss a second consecutive game because of a sprained knee, while Jones is out with a Lisfranc injury.

Day could return for a bowl game, Kelly said, but Jones is out for the remainder of the season. Jones will undergo surgery next week and be sidelined for anywhere from 4-6 months, which means his availability for spring practice is certainly up in the air.

Jones had started all 11 games this season and totaled 12 for his career.  Day started the first 10 games before suffering his knee injury.  He has 17 career starts.

The injury news is not limited to the defensive line, unfortunately, as freshman defensive back Drue Tranquill sustained a torn ACL in the loss to Louisville and will, obviously, be out for the remainder of the 2014 season.  As is the case with Jones, Tranquill’s availability for spring practice is in jeopardy.

Tranquill had started two of the last three games at safety for the Irish.

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