Paxton Lynch

Deshaun Watson earns Manning Award as nation’s top QB

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Late last night, Dabo Swinney took home honors as the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year.  A day later, a player who was instrumental in the Clemson head coach’s 2015 success has been honored as well.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl announced Thursday that true sophomore Deshaun Watson has been awarded the Manning Award, given annually to the nation’s top quarterback.  The award, named in honor of the quarterbacking Mannings — Archie, Peyton and Eli — is the only one to take into account a player’s performance in the postseason.

There were 11 other finalists for this year’s trophy: Brandon Allen (Arkansas), Trevone Boykin (TCU), Connor Cook (Michigan State), Brandon Doughty (Western Kentucky), Kevin Hogan (Stanford), Chad Kelly (Ole Miss), Paxton Lynch (Memphis), Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), Dak Prescott (Mississippi State), Keenan Reynolds (Navy) and Greg Ward, Jr., (Houston).

“We are honored to present this year’s Manning Award to Deshaun Watson,” Archie Manning said in a statement. “Deshaun led his team to a perfect regular season and then an impressive win in the Playoff Semifinal before his 478-yard performance in the national championship. He may not have won the title but he showed the world what an outstanding talent he is and what a tremendous competitor he is.”

Watson, a consensus All-American and Heisman finalist, becomes the third player from the ACC to win the Manning, joining Boston College’s Matt Ryan (Boston College, 2007) and Florida State’s Jameis Winston (2013).

North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz ready to prove doubters wrong

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Just days after helping FCS power North Dakota State win its fifth straight national championship, with a victory over Jacksonville State, Bison quarterback Carson Wentz had the opportunity to discuss his rising NFL Draft stock with Dan Patrick on The Dan Patrick Show (simulcast on NBC Sports Network). Wentz was asked about his return from injury, his height and more by the veteran sports radio host.

“What the writers have to say, it is what it is. You try not to focus on that, everyone has a different angle, a different approach,” Wentz said. “What really matters is what the teams think of you, what the scouts and the ownership thinks of you. I’m not concerned with what writers have to say to be honest with you.”

Wentz said the best thing that’s been said about him is that he is a winner, which is always a nice character trait to have when looking to make a splash in the NFL. On the flip side, Wentz said he is no fan of the FCS bashing done by some. Asked if he feels he belongs in the conversation along with players like Jared Goff of Cal and Paxton Lynch of Memphis, Wentz said “I definitely believe in that group, no doubt about it.”

Wentz will get a chance to play with some of the top seniors in college football later this month at the Senior Bowl.

Cal QB Jared Goff officially off to the NFL

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As expected, California quarterback Jared Goff will enter the 2016 NFL Draft. Goff made his decision official on Thursday and he will skip his final year of eligibility at Cal.

Goff is expected to be one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL Draft, which will also include early entrants Paxton Lynch from Memphis. Goff is the first Cal quarterback to leave for the NFL early since Aaron Rodgers left following the 2004 season. Josh Norris of Rotoworld ranked Lynch as his number one quarterback in his quarterback rankings in mid-November. Goff was ranked second.

“Goff’s worst two performances have come against Utah and Oregon, Norris said at the time. “65 percent of his attempts are thrown in the middle of the field, a huge percentage. Part of that could be due to Cal’s tendency to cut block on run/pass reads, forcing Goff to get the ball out of his hands or face plenty of pressure.”

Goff is coming off a record-setting performance in the Armed Forces Bowl victory over Air Force. Goff tossed six touchdowns to set a Cal and Armed Forces record for most touchdowns thrown in a (bowl) game and he passed Oregon’s Marcus Mariota for most touchdown passes in a season.

So Cal head coach Sonny Dykes will need a new starting quarterback in 2016. That could be freshman Chase Forrest, who appeared in just three games this season. Forrest attempted just 18 pass attempts, and he completed 10 for 162 yards and a touchdown with one interception.

Auburn throttles Paxton Lynch, exits disappointing season with win

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Auburn’s defense disappointed and underwhelmed for most of the 2015 season, but it was that unit that played a pivotal role in sending the Tigers into the offseason on a high note.

Facing one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country, Auburn (7-6) almost completely shut down Paxton Lynch in claiming a 31-10 win over Memphis (9-4) in the Birmingham Bowl Wednesday afternoon.  The win snapped a mini two-game bowl losing streak for the SEC Tigers and gave them their first postseason win since the Chick-fil-A Bowl following the 2011 season.

Lynch, projected by many observers to be the first quarterback selected in the next NFL draft if he leaves the Tigers early as expected, came into the game in the top 15 nationally in both passing yards and passing touchdowns; against AU, Lynch completed just 17-of-38 passes for 104 yards, zero touchdowns and a critical end-zone interception early in the third quarter on a drive that could’ve given the Tigers their first lead of the game.  Shut out of a touchdown or even a field goal on that drive, the U of M watched as AU scored on three straight possessions to break open what had been a tie ballgame.

The passing yards by Lynch were his worst against an FBS team this season, with the previous low of 156 coming in a loss to Temple Nov. 21.  The junior had thrown for more than 300 yards in eight games this season — AU came into the game 73rd in pass defense, giving up an average of 232.2 yards per game — and topped 400 yards twice.  What might most alarm NFL scouts is the fact that Lynch completed just 44.7 percent of his passes on the day.  His previous low was 61.9, and he had a completion percentage of exactly 69 in the regular season.  The SEC Tigers had allowed quarterbacks to complete 62 percent of their passes the first 12 games of the season.

AU managed a double-digit win despite losing the turnover battle 3-1.  The U of M converted the three turnovers — a trio of interceptions — into 10 points, seven coming on a pick-six by Reggis Ball.  Ball, incidentally, had two of the interceptions for the Tigers, his team-leading fourth and fifth on the season.  All of those turnovers came in the first half, but AU managed to head into the locker room knotted up at 10-all.

Auburn, despite the score, didn’t put up a pile of yards, although they did outgain their football feline counterparts 403-206.  A big reason for that, though, was Marcus Davis giving them a shortish field on a handful of occasions, averaging 15.5 yards on six punt returns.

Jovon Robinson did top the 100-yard mark for the SEC Tigers, leading all rushers with 121 yards.  Peyton Barber, meanwhile, rushed for 44, pushing him over 1,000 yards on the year (1,020) and giving AU back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers.

While the win gives Auburn some much-needed momentum heading into what will be a pivotal — and perhaps final — offseason for Gus Malzahn on The Plains, the loss for Memphis was one final punch in the gut in a season that began with much promise.

The Tigers started 2015 by ripping off eight straight wins, with a 13-point triumph over Ole Miss — one month after the Rebels beat Alabama — bringing the word “playoff” into the conversation for the U of M.  However, the Tigers lost their first three games in the month of November to not only extinguish any playoff talk, but also put the kibosh on an expected New Year’s Six bid.

Add in the fact that they lost their head coach, Justin Fuente, to Virginia Tech, and 2015 will end on a decidedly down note for the AAC program.

CFT Previews: Birmingham Bowl

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WHO: Memphis (9-3) vs. Auburn (6-6)
WHAT: The 10th Birmingham Bowl
WHERE: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
WHEN: Noon ET, ESPN
THE SKINNY:  Here’s the stat that just about perfectly sums up each of these teams’ seasons – a Memphis win will give that particular set of Tigers as many SEC victories (two, in two tries) as Auburn won in eight.

A popular SEC and College Football Playoff championship pick, Auburn should consider itself extremely fortunate to be in the lowly Birmingham Bowl. If you can remember way back to Sept. 12, that was the day the mighty Jacksonville State Gamecocks had Auburn on the ropes in Jordan-Hare Stadium before the Tigers escaped with a 27-20 overtime victory. Without that win, Gus Malzahn and company would be watching this game from home today. (Okay, they probably wouldn’t actually watch this game, but you get the gist.)

Auburn beat Louisville in the opener and won at similarly dysfunctional Texas A&M on Nov. 7 to represent its only victories over FBS teams with winning records this fall. They rank 90th nationally in yards per play and 64th in yards per play allowed and sit at 2-9-1 against the spread this season. And still they are 2.5-point favorites as of this writing.

Memphis had the type of season that will spring its principals onward to success… at places other than Memphis. Head coach Justin Fuente already left for Virginia Tech, and Paxton Lynch is but 60 minutes of action away from becoming a first-round draft pick. This particular set of Tigers started the year 8-0, running their overall winning streak to 15 games, including a program-defining 37-24 dumping of Ole Miss on Oct. 17. They quickly fell out of CFP and AAC contention with consecutive losses to Navy, Houston and Temple, but there are worse sins to commit in 2015 than losing to Navy, Houston and Temple.

Lynch will represent the best quarterback Auburn faces this season, and the orange-and-blue Tigers weren’t great at defending the pass against the SEC’s mediocre offering of passers to begin with.

THE PREDICTION: Memphis 31, Auburn 23