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The Fifth Quarter: Week 4 Rewind

Kansas State v Texas Getty Images

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

WINNERS

Mack’s back?
At least for the time being, the Longhorn Nation mob can put away its pitchforks and torches.  After a week that saw even more speculation about his job and the confirmation of rumors that Texas was indeed very interested in Nick Saban, Mack Brown was staring square in the face of Texas’ first 1-3 start since 1954.  Instead, the Longhorn players stepped above the ineptness of the past couple of weeks and moved to 2-2 with a 31-21 win over Kansas State.  Whether it was the increased heat on their coach or just the fact that the Wildcats aren’t that good, the players seemed to play with a spark, an enthusiasm, a sense of urgency that hasn’t been seen at all in 2013  Certainly one win doesn’t change all that’s gone wrong over the past three-plus years, and K-State 2013 is not the K-State of recent years, but it’s definitely a baby step in the right direction.

Hilluva football player
Forget about whether or not Jeremy Hill should even be on a football field; that’s another argument for another day.  When he is on the playing surface, the LSU running back is one helluva football player.  Hill rushed for a career-high 151 yards… and then headed back onto the field for the start of the third quarter.  Hill finished with 183 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers’ 35-21 win over previously unbeaten Auburn.  The Bayou Bengals certainly have a stable full of high-quality runners, but Hill is clearly the class of the backfield and will continue to serve as an important piece of the offensive puzzle as LSU continues its run toward what should be another epic showdown with Alabama.

Johnny be good at football
If someone other than Johnny Manziel is going to win the 2013 Heisman, they’re going to have to rip it from his cold, dead hands.  Or something.  In less than three-and-a-half quarters of playing time against SMU, Manziel passed for 244 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another 102 and two more scores.  Through four games this season, Manziel has accounted for 1,483 yards of total offense (1,228 passing, 255 rushing) and 15 touchdowns; in the first four games of the 2012 season, the numbers were 1,460 (1,094 passing, 466 rushing) and 16 touchdowns.  Whether or not voters, given the Texas A&M’s rocky offseason, give him serious consideration again this December remains to be seen.  Based on his play on the field this year, though, he damn well should be given just that.

Arizona State v StanfordCardinal rules
Stanford got off to a rather ho-hum start to the 2013 season, beating San Jose State by 21 in the opener and then getting by Army by 14 in Week 2.  In its first true test of the year, however, Stanford got back to real Cardinal football in building up a 29-0 halftime lead before pushing it to 39-7 and ultimately cruising, relatively speaking, to a 42-28 win over No. 23 Arizona State.  As is ofttimes the case, the Cardinal did most of their damage on the ground in rushing for a season-high 238 yards, with three of their touchdowns on the day coming on the ground.  Stanford is nothing if not consistent as they’ve rushed for 197, 205 and now 238 yards in their first three games.  We’re still six weeks away from their colossal showdown with Oregon down on The Farm, and yes Stanford allowed ASU to make it closer than what it could’ve/should’ve been, but it appears the trajectory of both the Cardinal and the Ducks is pointing straight toward an instant classic.

Plow on, Badgers
If anyone thought Wisconsin would turn its back on its running ways under Gary Andersen, you couldn’t have been more wrong.  In the Badgers’ 41-10 win over Purdue in their Big Ten opener, UW ran for 388 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry.  UW came into the game fifth in the country averaging 337 yards per game, rushing for 393 and 387 yards in the first two games under Andersen; their low-water mark for the season has been 210 in the controversial loss to Arizona State last weekend.  The Badgers are now averaging eight yards per carry, a figure that’s third in the country behind a pair of teams that are in an offensive league of their own: Oregon (9.3) and Baylor (9.2).

Non-offensive fireworks
Iowa put up a season-high 59 points on the board in a romp over Western Michigan, and the offense was responsible for just 31 of them.  B.J. Lowery returned two interceptions for a touchdown, becoming the first player in Hawkeye history to perform that feat.  Not to be outdone, Kevonte Martin-Manley became the first Iowa player ever to return two punts for a touchdown in a single game.  Martin-Manley is just the third player in the long history of the Big Ten to do that.  Iowa is now 3-1 on the year, the fifth time in the last six seasons it has started a season at 3-1 or better.

Spunky punter
We here at CFT don’t normally refer to punters as “real” football players.  San Jose State’s Harrison Waid, though, might consider such a label fightin’ words… literally.  Waid took exception to being blocked by a Minnesota player following one of his punts and, in very non-punter-like fashion, went after the Gopher that laid him out.  While the SJSU coaching staff likely appreciated the fire shown by Waid, they probably didn’t like the fact that he was ejected from the game as a result of what was closer to a cat fight than actual fisticuffs.

BCS buster still alive
Thanks to losses through the first three weeks of the 2013 season by, among others, Boise State and Utah State, Fresno State was looking like the lone non-AQ school left that could crash the BCS’ postseason party.  The hopes of BCS busters across the country were looking even more dire Friday night as the Bulldogs sat at their own 13-yard line with just over seven minutes left and trailing the Broncos by six.  Five minutes and 87 yards later, Fresno State put a game-winning touchdown on the board that kept their perfect record — and BCS hopes — intact.  While there are still potential stumbling blocks along the way, such as back-to-back games against San Diego State and Nevada in a month as well as a possible conference championship game appearance — rematch with Boise? — Fresno State is looking like as good a bet as any of the non-AQ schools to finish the season unbeaten and put themselves in a position for a BCS bowl bid.

LOSERS

The Devin’s in the detailsMichigan v Connecticut
Devin Gardner has been in a very giving mood of late for Michigan.  Off the field, that’s a positive; on it, it’s a decidedly negative trait.  Through four games this season, the Wolverines’ starting quarterback has thrown eight interceptions in 92 attempts, including two more against UConn.  Last season, in his first year as a starter, Gardner tossed five picks in 126 attempts.  Gardner also coughed up a fumble early in the third quarter, one that was returned for a touchdown in the too-close-for-comfort win over the winless Huskies.  A bye week could be coming at the perfect time for UM in general and Gardner specifically.  As a team, the Wolverines must clean-up whatever has gone wrong in two very unimpressive and uninspiring wins the past two weeks.  As a player, Gardner needs to some how, some way extract his cranium from his rectum and start playing smart football, especially with the start of Big Ten play on the horizon.

This could leave a mark
Miami had little problem in dispatching heavy underdog Savannah State, but the cupcake win could have come at a steep cost.  In the middle of the first quarter, starting quarterback Stephen Morris suffered what was initially described as a lower-leg injury.  Morris did not return to the game, and it was later revealed that the initial diagnosis is a sprained ankle.  It’ unclear if that would be the dreaded high-ankle type of sprain, although head coach Al Golden sounded decidedly optimistic in his postgame talk.  What’s also unclear is whether Morris will be available for the USF game next week or, more importantly, the ACC opener against Georgia Tech the week after.  The only good news for the ‘Canes if Morris were to miss any playing time is that they have an experienced backup in Ryan Williams.

DOH!gorsen
What in the name of Red Bull shooters is going on in Morgantown?  While the Mountaineers started 2013 2-1, their two wins came against FCS programs, while they scored just seven points in a loss to Oklahoma.  That downward offensive trend spiraled further out of control after WVU was shutout in an embarrassing 37-point road loss to Maryland.  It was the first time a Mountaineers team had been shutout since 2001, Rich Rodriguez‘s first season at WVU.  The Mountaineers recorded the same number of turnovers (six) as first downs, and they completed a grand total of one pass to a wide receiver.  Yes, replacing a quarterback like Geno Smith and a playmaker like Tavon Austin is a tall task, but there’s no excuse for a Dana Holgorsen-coached team to get shut out.  It may not be on the national radar quite yet, but the howls from the locals around me here in the middle of WV calling for Holgorsen’s head are growing in frequency and intensity.  Holgorsen’s built his reputation on offense; his players had better start playing up to that résumé.

Marshall, Marshall, Marshall
Staying in God’s Country, what could have been for Doc Holliday‘s football program.  A pass that could’ve went the other way for a pick-six instead slipped through the hands of a Marshall defender and into the arms of a Virginia Tech receiver, tying the game at 21-all with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter.  After Tech missed a pair of field goal attempts in the first two overtimes — and after the Herd had one of its FGs blocked in the second overtime — the Herd was in position to tie the game in the third overtime — the Hokies had scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion on their third possession of extra time — only to watch a blatant pass interference in the end zone go uncalled.  Add it all up and it was a heartbreaking 29-21, triple-overtime loss for the 2-2 Herd… and a huge escape for a very average Hokies football team.

Florida International v LouisvilleFIUBAR
In December of this year, FIU stunned most college football observers by firing head coach Mario Cristobal.  At the time, athletic director Pete Garcia defended the indefensible by claiming the program had “gone backwards over the last year and a half.”  So, how have the Panthers fared in their first season under new head coach Ron Turner?  FIU has lost their first four games by a combined score of 187-23, including the 72-0 whipping Saturday at the hands of Louisville.  Even more embarrassing for the Panthers is the fact that the officiating crew ordered a running clock in the second half in an effort to speed up the embarrassment.  Excellent work, Mr. Garcia.  You’ve turned around this FBS football program in much the same way you and Butch Davis turned around my Cleveland Browns early last decade.  You should be proud.

$avannah $tate
Over the past two seasons, Savannah State has been 60-point-plus underdogs to three FBS teams: Miami (Sept. 21, 2013), Oklahoma State (Sept. 1, 2012) and Florida State (Sept. 8, 2012).  The FCS program lost those three games by a combined score of 216-7… and that was with the FSU game featuring a running clock in the second half and weather ending the game in the third quarter as well as the Miami game Saturday having the fourth quarter shortened to 12 minutes.  For that trio of eviscerations, Savannah State added $1.235 million to its athletic department’s coffers; in 2010-11, the department’s total athletic budget across all sports was $5.1 million.  Sometimes when you lose, get a beatdown even, you win and win big.

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

– No. 3 Clemson 26, North Carolina State: Thanks to some very questionable officiating, the Tigers were able to get out of Raleigh with its fourth consecutive win to start the 2013 season.

– No. 9 Georgia 45, North Texas 21: The Bulldogs may have won going away thanks to ripping off 24 unanswered points, but they were actually tied with the Conference USA program at 21-all midway through the third quarter.

– No. 15 Michigan 24, UConn 21 — For the second straight week, the Wolverines not only allowed an inferior opponent hang with them, they were actually outplay for the better part of 60 minutes.  UM may be unbeaten at 4-0, but it’s as wobbly a 4-0 that you’ll ever see.

– No. 19 Northwestern 35, Maine 21: You beat an FCS team, even a previously unbeaten one like the Black Bears, by a mere two touchdowns when you’re ranked inside the Top 25, you deserve a mention for escaping.

– No. 22 Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 13: Were it not for an inexplicable trick play late in the third quarter by the Spartans, the Irish could’ve very easily been on the receiving end of its second loss of the season.

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.Colorado State v Alabama

1. Alabama — Call it a letdown coming off a huge win last week or having some pity on a former coordinator, but the Tide looked rather meh-ish in the 25-point win over Colorado State in their home opener.  Expect a much different Tide team as it faces a ranked SEC foe. (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: vs. No. 21 Ole Miss

2. Oregon — Despite a bye week, I believe the Ducks still somehow managed to put up 56 points with just 15 minutes of time of possession. (Last week: No. 2)
Next up:  vs. Cal

3. Clemson — You could feel and almost see the Clemsoning hanging in the Raleigh air Thursday night, but it never transpired.  Is this year different for the Tigers?  It’s certainly looking that way and holy hell I just jinxed it. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: vs. Wake Forest

4. Ohio State — After four wins over creampuffs by an average score of 52-15, the Buckeyes have seen the preseason officially come to an end and will face its first real test of the regular season by opening up Big Ten play at home next Saturday. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: vs. No. 24 Wisconsin

5. Stanford — I was very tempted to put LSU here following their win over previously-unbeaten Auburn, but the Cardinal’s win over an unbeaten and ranked Arizona State was enough to trump that in my mind. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: at Washington State

(Dropped out: No. 5 Louisville)

HE SAID IT
“I can talk about our crowd today for probably an hour in terms of the energy that they brought to the game, getting in there at an earlier time I think than we usually do; staying even when the game seemed very hard at times, and as disruptive a crowd as we’ve had here probably since the 2006 Louisville game. It was deafening loud.” — Kyle Flood, following Rutgers’ come-from-behind win over Arkansas.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“Obviously, I appreciate our fans. I’ve said it and I’ll say it again. We have great fans. I think everybody involved knows that what came out is not indicative of how I felt or how I feel about them. I think our fans understand that. They’re great fans. They’ve been around me for five years. I think they know who I am as a person.” — Bo Pelini, following a rather rough week for him and his Nebraska football program.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“That was a bizarre game.” — David Cutcliffe, after watching his Duke team lose a 58-55 first-round ACC hoops tourney game to Pittsburgh.

HE SAID IT, BONUS EDITION
“We exposed them at times.” — Earnest Wilson III, after watching his Savannah State team get shellacked 77-7 by Miami.

HE SAID IT, LES MILES EDITION
“If not, a stiff dew was out there.” — The LSU head coach’s response to someone who asked him if it rained in Tiger Stadium.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK
As a loyal follower of everything and anything Duck Dynasty, I’m fascinated by how far the reach of that family-centric show has grown over the past year.  The latest example?  In the run-up to their game against Louisiana-Monroe — Duck Dynasty‘s Robertson clan hails from West Monroe La., with the elder statesman Phil a former starting quarterback at Louisiana Tech — Baylor posted the following photo on their Twitter account earlier this week:

Baylor Duck Dynasty

RGIII and Art Briles — looking eerily and creepily similar to Uncle Si sans eyeglasses, incidentally — sporting a flowing and glorious redneck face mullet?  Outstanding work, Baylor.  Outstanding.

SAY WHAT?
College football teams one-upping each other when it comes to helmet designs has officially jumped the shark.  Here’s a photo (via the Roanoke TimesAndy Bitter) of a future Virginia Tech helmet that’s currently in the design stage:

Virginia Tech Helmet Design

There’s no word yet on if the Flintstones and/or the Rubbles will serve as the honorary captains when/if those things debut.

TRUE STORY
Ohio State’s 76 points in the Week 4 scrimmage against FAMU were the most for the Buckeyes since an 83-21 win over Iowa in 1950.  The 76-point margin of victory was the largest for an OSU since downing Drake, 85-7, in 1935.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

– Through four weeks, there are 29 teams at the FBS level with perfect records, with six of them coming from the Pac-12 and four each from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC.  Missouri, incidentally, is the lone SEC East team with no losses.  On the opposite end, 14 teams have yet to win a game.  Three of those hail from the American Athletic Conference: Temple, UConn and USF.  Iowa State is the only team from the so-called Big Five conferences that’s yet to win a game.

Pittsburgh v DukeTom Savage‘s six touchdown passes in Pittsburgh’s wild 58-55 win over Duke was the most for a Panthers’ quarterback since Tyler Palko tossed five way back in 2004 and tied an ACC record.  It was also the most since Pete Gonzalez set a school record with seven in 1997.  The 113 points scored by both teams was the highest total ever in a game involving Pitt.

– The 98-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Murray to Reggie Davis in the win over North Texas was not only the 100th of Murray’s career, but it was also the longest pass play in Georgia history.  It’s also tied for the third-longest passing touchdown in SEC history.  Murray’s 445 yards of offense — 408 passing, 37 rushing — moved the senior to No. 3 on the all-time SEC list for total offense with 11,352 yards.

Kenny Guiton set a single-game Ohio State record with six touchdown passes, and the senior did that in just the first two quarters.  It was the first time an OSU quarterback had thrown at least five scoring passes in a single game since Bobby Hoying in 1995.  Guiton has now tossed 10 touchdown passes the past two weeks; he had five career touchdown passes prior to his first career start against Cal last Saturday.

Derek Carr‘s 460 yards passing in Fresno State’s 41-40 win over Boise State Friday night was the fifth 400-yard-plus performance of his career, setting both the school and Mountain West records in the process.

– Nebraska’s Stanley-Jean Baptiste has intercepted a pass in four straight games, becoming the first Cornhusker player since Josh Bullocks in 2003 to accomplish that feat.  Baptiste’s 140 return yards on his picks are 47 shy of NU’s single-season record.

– In a losing effort to Minnesota, San Jose State’s David Fales threw for 439 yards and three TDs.  He had 296 in the first half alone.

–BYU quarterback Taysom Hill is completing just 35.1 percent (40-114) of his passes this season.   An 18-of-48 performance in the loss to Utah actually upped his completion percentage by nearly two percent.

– This is just weird: Alabama did not convert its first third-down try until there were three minutes left in the fourth quarter of their 31-6 win over Colorado State.  Up to that point, the Tide had been 0-8 on third down.

– Baylor is the first FBS team since Ohio State in 1996 to score 70-plus points in back-to-back games.  Baylor has scored 209 points through three games, the most to start a season at this level in the past 10 years.  They are also the first FBS/Div. 1-A team to score at least 60 points the first three games of the season since LSU in 1930.

– Unbelievably, Texas’ win over Kansas State was its first over the Wildcats since Oct. 3 of 2003.De'Onte Arnett

– Maryland has started a season 4-0 for the first time since 2001.  The Terps had won a total of six games in Randy Edsall‘s first two seasons at the school.

– Including the 17-14 loss to USC Saturday, Utah State’s last five losses have been by a combined total of 13 points.

– UCLA’s 692 yards of total offense in the 59-13 win over New Mexico State was a new school record.

– Kansas’ 13-10 home win over Louisiana Tech on a field goal as time expired was the Jayhawks’ first over an FBS team since Sept. 10, 2011, a streak of 21 straight games.  KU has not beaten a member of an AQ conference since dropping Colorado in November of 2010.  That was also the Jayhawks’ last Big 12 win; they haven’t beaten a current member of the Big 12, however, since defeating Iowa State in October of 2009.

– In its 35-point win over Tulane, Syracuse’s special teams blocked three kicks — two punts and a field goal attempt — and recovered a fumbled punt.

– In the first half of their pasting of Florida A&M, Ohio State ran 47 plays and scored 55 points; FAMU had fewer yards of total offense (54) than the Buckeyes had points, and was able to manage just a single first down in the first two quarters.  OSU was leading the FCS Rattlers 48-0 before FAMU was able to muster its initial first down.

– Minnesota totaled 14 rushing touchdowns in 12 games last season; after six in the 43-17 win over San Jose State, the Gophers have 16 rushing touchdowns in four games this season.

– Prior to their loss to Clemson Thursday night, North Carolina State had beaten the last three teams ranked inside the Top 20 that had ventured into Carter-Finley Stadium: No. 3 Florida State (17-16 on Oct. 6, 2012), No. 7 Clemson (37-13 on Nov. 19, 2011) and No. 16 FSU (28-24 on Oct. 28, 2010).

– The game against Rutgers in Piscataway Saturday was Arkansas’ first in the Northeast since 1940, a 27-7 loss to Fordham.

– Cincinnati and Miami (OH) were scoreless through more than 55 minutes of clock time before the Bearcats scored two touchdowns in the last 4:55 to claim the non-conference win.

Lee Corso BisonIN CLOSING…
Yes, it spoke volumes about the level of games across the country, but kudos to not only ESPN for taking their College GameDay show on the road to Fargo, but to the thousands of Fargoites in attendance who created such a tremendous atmosphere for a national television audience.  It was a great scene and great exposure for an FCS program like North Dakota State, which remains unbeaten and is coming off back-to-back national championships.  Well done by everyone involved.  Hopefully it won’t take another five years to get back to a lower-level campus.

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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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