Anthony Barr

Mid-season Butkus check: Who’s leading the pack?


Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o ran away with last year’s Butkus Award, the honor given to the nation’s top linebacker. He beat out such quality players as Kevin Minter of LSU, C.J. Mosely of Alabama, Jarvis Jones of Georgia and Dion Jordan of Oregon.

With the 2013 season at the mid-way point, here’s a look at the top candidates for this year’s Butkus Award:

1. Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA — Barr has been lights-out for the Bruins thus far and is setting himself up to possibly be the first defensive player selected in the next NFL draft. Yes, he might get selected before Jadeveon Clowney. Why? Because he’s got size, speed, playmaking ability and, best of all, none of the drama that Clowney brings to the table. So far this season, he has 27 tackles, 10 of them for losses, four sacks and a nation-leading four forced fumbles. His disruptive presence has been one of the main reasons for UCLA’s first 5-0 start since 2005.

2. Shaquil Barrett, Sr., Colorado State — Barrett might be the best player you’ve never heard of. The senior leads the nation with 12.5 tackles for loss in his first six games. He’s also third nationally with 6.5 sacks, to go with two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. He had five tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, with a quarterback hurry, when the Rams played No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, then followed that up with three sacks and two forced fumbles against UTEP.

3. Kyle Van Noy, Sr., BYU — Van Noy was one of the favorites for the Butkus Award coming into the season and he has not disappointed. Thus far, the senior has 38 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, four pass break ups and an interception return for a touchdown. The likely first-round pick is a big reason why BYU’s defense is among the best in the nation.

4. Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford — Murphy has been lights out for the Cardinal this season, collecting 22 tackles, eight tackles for loss, five sacks, two pass breakups and an interception that he returned for a touchdown. He’s one of the best pass rushers in the nation and, at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, he still has the agility to drop into coverage or chase runners out of the backfield.

5. Khalil Mack, Sr., Buffalo — Mack is an underrated player who NFL scouts are drooling over. He showed his value early in the season with nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and a pick-six for a touchdown against Ohio State. On the year, he has 41 tackles, eight tackles for loss, five sacks, a forced fumble, three pass breaks ups and one interception.

Honorable mention: C.J. Mosely, Alabama; Ryan Shazier, Ohio State; Chris Borland, Wisconsin.

Jimbo Fisher: I’m staying right here at Florida State

Jimbo Fisher
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The whole LSU thing never panned out, but Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher is going on the record to shut down any potential coaching rumors tying him to other job openings still left to fill.

“You’re exactly right,” Fisher said Tuesday to Mike Bianchi during a radio interview. “I’m staying right here at Florida State.”

Fisher went on to acknowledge there are some good jobs on the open market for coaching candidates, but said his job is a pretty good one as well. He’s not wrong.

“There is no doubt I do (have one of the best jobs in America),” Fisher said. “This is a tremendous place. The Florida State people have been wonderful. This is a great place to live, a great place to coach; we’ve got great players, great tradition and great history. This is a tremendous job and a heckuva place. I love it here.”

It should be noted Fisher is already one of the highest-paid coaches in college football. The USA Today database of coaching salaries for 2015 listed Fisher as the fifth highest-paid coach in the country behind Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops. All of those coaches, besides Harbaugh, have won at least one national championship. Florida State is also situated well for years of success with solid recruiting and will for be one of the top programs in the ACC far more often than not. So yes, Fisher does have a good job right now in Tallahassee.

College Football Playoff: What happens if Clemson or Alabama lose?

Ezekiel Elliott

Coming into championship week in college football this week it appears the four-team College Football Playoff is nearly set. Oklahoma, 11-1 and champion of the Big 12, appears to be locked into one of the four available playoff spots with no more games to play. The winner of the Big Ten championship game between undefeated Iowa and 11-1 Michigan State appears to be a playoff qualifier, with the Big Ten champion getting one spot. As long as top-ranked and undefeated Clemson and once-beaten Alabama come through with wins in their respective conference championship games, the field is set. Right?

But what if Clemson loses? What if Alabama loses? Who gets in then?

A Clemson loss would make for a pretty good case for North Carolina. The Tar Heels would be ACC champions with a 12-1 record, capped by the win against Clemson. A 12-1 ACC champion would seem like a very ideal playoff candidate, although aside from the hypothetical Clemson victory, what else is there to show? The ACC Coastal was a relatively weak division this year, although Pittsburgh didn’t have a terrible season and Miami somehow strung together a better season that it seemed might be possible earlier in the year. North Carolina’s biggest hurdle is having played two FCS opponents, which was a result of some scheduling obligations beyond their control forcing them to fill the schedule with an extra game against an FCS opponent. But does it really matter UNC played two FCS schools when they ripped through their division down the stretch and would have beaten Clemson?

Stanford is a rising candidate as well, despite having two losses. If the Cardinal get by USC in the Pac-12 championship game, they will have just the kind of late push needed to sneak into the argument and hope having a Pac-12 championship is what pushes them ahead in the end. A win against Notre Dame helps, but Stanford also lost twice, once to Oregon at home and once on the road at Northwestern. Oregon and Washington State aside, Stanford was fairly dominant in Pac-12 play, but two losses puts them behind the pack depending upon whom you ask.

Then there is Ohio State. The Buckeyes are defending champions, but what happened last year should have absolutely no bearing on what happens this season. The only loss suffered by the Buckeyes came two weeks ago against Michigan State, and it is fair to suggest Ohio State has not exactly been a dominant force all season long. It did, however, score better wins during the regular season than North Carolina will claim (well, besides Clemson under these scenarios), and one of those wins came on the road against one of North Carolina’s division rivals, Virginia Tech. If comparing similar opponents, Ohio State’s performance against the Hokies was also superior to the victory UNC had in Blacksburg. Advantage, Ohio State?

You can make an argument for all three options discussed above,but it is clear one of two things needs to happen to start opening the door for the Cardinal, Tar Heels or Buckeyes. Clemson or Alabama needs to lose. UNC will get a chance to do what they need to do against Clemson, but otherwise folks in Columbus and Palo Alto will be rooting hard for an SEC championship game upset by Florida. The higher-ranked team in the SEC Championship Game has won five straight times and 17 out of 23 seasons.

Senior vote to determine SEC Championship status for suspended Gators WR Demarcus Robinson

Demarcus Robinson

Just hours before kicking off against in-state rival Florida State, Florida announced wide receiver Demarcus Robinson had been suspended for the game for a violation of a unspecified team rule. Now, as the Gators prepare to take on Alabama in this week’s SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, the status of Robinson has yet to be determined. Florida head coach Jim McElwain says he will leave Robinson’s fate in the hands of his teammates, or at least the seniors.

“I’m going to visit with the seniors. They’ll determine which direction we’ll go,” McElwain said Monday, according to The Gainesville Sun.

“Look, he made a choice, OK. He made a choice,” McElwain said. “You know what, our family needs to make this decision and those guys are the leaders of our family.”

McElwain’s leaving a player’s fate up to the team is certainly not unprecedented. Les Miles of LSU was criticized at length for allowing the fate of players be handled by a team vote. There are pros and cons to allowing such decisions be handled in such a manner, and there may be no right way to go about it. On one hand, a coach allowing players to make these types of decisions may show trust in a team’s leaders, which can be good for morale and establishing trust. On the other hand, it may lead to players having their way and being disgruntled with a coach’s decision if they do not get a say. Of course, McElwian already stepped his foot down for the Florida State game.

Robinson is Florida’s second-leading receiver with 505 yards and two touchdowns this season.

UCF hires Oregon OC Scott Frost to be head coach

Chip Kelly, Scott Frost

Tuesday morning will start with one fewer coaching vacancy to fill. Multiple reports Tuesday morning say UCF will hire Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost to fill its role as head coach of the Knights.

Frost was a part of two national championship teams as a player for Nebraska under Tom Osborne. His coaching career began in 2002 with the Huskers as a graduate assistant and continued as a graduate assistant four years later at Kansas State. After two seasons as an assistant coach with Northern Iowa, Frost joined Chip Kelly’s coaching staff at Oregon as a wide receivers coach. He has worked and played for a number of football-rich minds like Bill Walsh, Osborne, Bill Parcells, Bill Bellichick, Jon Gruden and Chip Kelly. After Kelly left Oregon for the NFL in 2013, Frost was given a promotion to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after Mark Helfrich received a promotion to head coach in Eugene. This will be Frost’s first job as a head coach, but he has been a rising name among coordinators and it was only a matter of time before he landed a head coaching job.

Frost will be taking over a UCF program coming off a season with a record of 0-12, but the potential for a quick rebuild is in place with the kind of talent pool UCF can tap into in the state of Florida. Remember, UCF won a Fiesta Bowl just two seasons ago, which is evidence you can win meaningful games with the program. With Frost bringing Oregon’s offensive flair into the state of Florida, UCF could become dangerous quite quickly, and that could easily lead to UCF being a top contender in the Group of Five, if not just the American Athletic Conference.

That Orlando bar may not have to be giving away too many more free beers in 2016, although here’s hoping they come up with a nice little advertising campaign for some Frosty beverages.

UPDATE (9:34 a.m.): UCF has made the official announcement to introduce Frost as its new head coach.