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

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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.

Akron earns second-ever spot in MAC championship game

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Akron came into Week 13 needing to either win or rely on someone else to lose.  In the end, the Zips decided to just go ahead and punch their own ticket to the Motor City, thank you very much.

Jumping out to a 24-7 halftime lead Tuesday night, that margin proved to be more than enough for Akron as they easily cruised past rival Kent State in a 24-14 win.  Kent actually outgained its hosts 246-191, but a fumble return for a touchdown with less than 20 seconds left in the second quarter essentially sealed the win for Akron.

Both Akron and Ohio entered this week tied atop the MAC East at 5-2.  However, the Zips beat the Bobcats in Week 12, meaning Akron is the first MAC team to claim a spot in the conference championship game at Detroit’s Ford Field next weekend.

This will mark the Zips’s second-ever title-game appearance, with the first coming in 2005.  That season, Akron beat Northern Illinois 31-30 for its first-ever conference championship.

Akron will play either NIU (6-1) or Toledo (6-1) in this year’s title game, although it’s trending heavily toward the Rockets as they own the head-to-head with the Huskies.  So, the possibilities?

Toledo wins the West with either a win over Western Michigan OR an NIU loss. Northern Illinois needs to beat Central Michigan AND have Toledo lose to WMU at home to win the division.

Report: Florida appears ready to move on from Chip Kelly pursuit if deal isn’t consummated soon

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Florida’s search for a new head coach could very shortly be ready to take another twist.

Despite a certain former Head Ball Coach saying UF’s new head coach would be a current one, speculation on Jim McElwain‘s replacement has seemingly centered on Chip Kelly over the last few days. In fact, a group of UF officials headed by athletic director Scott Stricklin and president Kent Fuchs visited with Kelly in New Hampshire over the weekend to discuss the job.

While it walks, talks and smells like the university has targeted Kelly as its top choice, it appears they want an answer, one way or the other, from the former Oregon head coach sooner rather than later. From Yahoo! SportsPat Forde:

But with other potential candidates becoming available for discussion this weekend, Florida officials appear to be ready to move on shortly after Thanksgiving if a deal has not been struck with Kelly.

Potentially mucking up the works in Gainesville is UCLA, which fired Jim Mora Sunday and is also said to be targeting Kelly as a replacement.  In fact, it’s being reported that the Bruins’ search contingent has already met with Kelly.

UCF’s Scott Frost, who is believed to be Nebraska’s top choice when/when it moves on from Mike Riley, and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen are thought to be likely targets should either Kelly snub the Gators or they move on.

One very likely reason for UF’s reported urgency for a decision from Kelly is the revamped recruiting calendar. This year marks the first time that there’s an early signing period in football, with Class of 2018 recruits given a 72-hour window from Dec. 20-22 to sign their National Letters of Intent.

The sooner UF can wrap up its search, the sooner its new coach and his staff can try to hold together some semblance of a first recruiting class with the program – especially with two SEC programs, Tennessee and Ole Miss, already looking for a head coach while a couple of others (Arkansas, Texas A&M) could be on the hunt as early as this coming weekend as well.

Miami jumps Clemson, Wisconsin remains No. 5 in latest CFP rankings

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The third-to-last edition of the College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night, and the only changes in the top 12 came at spot No. 2, where Miami jumped Clemson ahead of the pair’s ACC title clash on Dec. 2.

USC remained the highest-ranked Pac-12 team at No. 11, dimming any hopes the Pac-12 could back-door its way into the top four should chaos reign elsewhere. The Trojans were one spot ahead of TCU and two spots ahead of the Pac-12’s second-highest ranked team in Washington State. Central Florida again led all Group of 5 teams at No. 15.

Virginia Tech re-joined the rankings at No. 25, one spot behind the debut rankings for South Carolina.

The top 25:

1. Alabama
2. Miami
3. Clemson
4. Oklahoma
5. Wisconsin
6. Auburn
7. Georgia
8. Notre Dame
9. Ohio State
10. Penn State
11. USC
12. TCU
13. Washington State
14. Mississippi State
15. Central Florida
16. Michigan State
17. Washington
18. LSU
19. Oklahoma State
20. Memphis
21. Stanford
22. Northwestern
23. Boise State
24. South Carolina
25. Virginia Tech

Report: LSU victory would not save Kevin Sumlin’s job

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Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday afternoon he expects to be Texas A&M’s head coach in 2018. A report Tuesday night says otherwise.

Sumlin will be fired in the day or days following Saturday’s game with No. 20 LSU, win or lose, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle. The Aggies are 0-5 against LSU under Sumlin and double-digit underdogs for Saturday’s game in Baton Rouge. The Chronicle‘s report is not the first to proclaim Sumlin’s future firing, but it is the most definitive.

Sumlin is 7-4 (4-3 SEC) this season and 51-25 overall, a mark that ranks in the top-third of the SEC since joining the league in 2012 — but Sumlin is not paid to deliver top-third results. His program failed to live up to the standard set in that debut campaign, with an 11-2 mark, a win in Tuscaloosa, a Cotton Bowl blowout of Oklahoma and a Heisman Trophy for Johnny Manziel.

The Chronicle reported that Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher will be A&M’s top target to replace Sumlin.