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Biletnikoff Award watch list highlighted by 2017 finalist David Sills

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You know how I know we’re getting closer to the start of a new season?  Yet another watch list.

The latest to release theirs is the Biletnikoff Award, with the honor going to the nation’s top receiver issuing a list consisting of 50 players from all nine FBS conferences as well as one independent (UMass).  Headlining this year’s preseason list is West Virginia’s David Sills, who was a finalist for the 2017 award claimed by Oklahoma State’s James Washington.  One other 2017 semifinalist is included as well, Ole Miss’ A.J. Brown.

A total of seven teams placed two receivers each on the watch list: Cal (Kanawai Noa, Vic Wharton III), Louisville (Dez Fitzpatrick, Jaylen Smith), Nebraska (Stanley Morgan Jr., JD Spielman), North Texas (Jalen Guyton, Michael Lawrence), Oklahoma (Marquise Brown, CeeDee Lamb), Toledo (Diontae Johnson, Cody Thompson) and West Virginia (Gary Jennings Jr., Sills).

Three conferences totaled seven players apiece, the ACC, Big 12 and MAC.  That trio is followed by five each from Conference USA and four apiece for the AAC, Pac-12 and Sun Belt.  The Big Ten and Mountain West each placed three.

Below is the complete list of 2018 Biletnikoff Award preseason watch listers:

JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford
Tyre Brady, Marshall
A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
Trevon Brown, East Carolina
Ryan Davis, Auburn
Greg Dortch, Wake Forest
Terren Encalade, Tulane
Dez Fitzpatrick, Louisville
James Gardner, Miami-Ohio
Jonathan Giles, LSU
Marcus Green, ULM
Jalen Guyton, North Texas
Emanuel Hall, Missouri
Justin Hall, Ball State
Kelvin Harmon, North Carolina State
N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
Penny Hart, Georgia State
Justin Hobbs, Tulsa
Andy Isabella, Massachusetts
Gary Jennings Jr., West Virginia
Anthony Johnson, Buffalo
Collin Johnson, Texas
Diontae Johnson, Toledo
KeeSean Johnson, Fresno State
CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
Michael Lawrence, North Texas
Ty Lee Middle, Tennessee
McLane Mannix, Nevada
Scott Miller, Bowling Green
Denzel Mims, Baylor
Stanley Morgan Jr., Nebraska
Kanawai Noa, California
James Proche, SMU
T.J. Rahming, Duke
Ahmmon Richards, Miami
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
David Sills V, West Virginia
Steven Sims Jr., Kansas
Jaylen Smith, Louisville
Kwadarrius Smith, Akron
JD Spielman, Nebraska
Cody Thompson, Toledo
John Ursua, Hawaii
Teddy Veal, Louisiana Tech
Jamarius Way, South Alabama
Nick Westbrook, Indiana
Vic Wharton III, California
Malcolm Williams, Coastal Carolina
Olamide Zaccheaus, Virginia

Mistakes doom No. 1 Georgia as No. 10 Auburn runs away with an upset to shake up playoff race

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Four years after the fact, No. 10 Auburn didn’t need another prayer at Jordan-Hare to beat rival Georgia.

They probably caused a few to be said on the other sideline though, as the Tigers capitalized on numerous mistakes to throttle the top-ranked Bulldogs 40-17 on a lovely Saturday afternoon in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry and shake up the College Football Playoff race in the process.

No. 1 Georgia looked like they were ready to roll in the game after an impressive touchdown-scoring drive on their opening possession, but things spiraled out of control in a hurry not long afterward. Gus Malzahn’s crew dominated the final three quarters to take control of the contest and in the process rolled over the SEC East leader with a balanced offensive effort.

Quarterback Jarrett Stidham had perhaps his best outing in an Auburn uniform, looking sharp through the air (214 yards, three touchdowns) while also protecting the ball and not turning it over. He formed quite the combo in the Tigers’ backfield with stud tailback Kerryon Johnson, who outplayed his highly touted counterparts in UGA uniforms to the tune of 167 rushing yards on a whopping 32 carry day while also adding a 55 yard touchdown reception to boot.

More than anything the combo took advantage of big mistakes by their rivals from across the border to seal the victory in the second half. The Bulldogs muffed a punt early in the third quarter, which Stidham converted into a touchdown run on an easy keeper. Following a big defensive stop and long kick return on the next series, he then found Ryan Davis for a nifty 32 yard scoring pass to put the score out of reach.

The effort was also remarkable for how well Auburn played on defense, recording four sacks and limiting the dynamic duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to under 50 yards rushing on a day where every inch was hard to come by. Chubb did wind up passing Bo Jackson on the SEC career rushing yards list early in the first quarter but that feat was quickly forgotten about as the team suffered their first loss of the season in blowout fashion.

Young freshman quarterback Jake Fromm also struggled with all the pressure in his face, throwing for only 184 yards (with one TD pass) and being forced to throw the ball away constantly as the offense converted only three of 14 third downs.

The outcome in the game should result in an interesting set of rankings on Tuesday from the College Football Playoff committee. The Bulldogs are still ticketed to Atlanta for the SEC championship game but will assuredly slip from the top spot in the polls and could fall behind fellow one-loss teams like Clemson and the winner of the TCU-Oklahoma game later on. Auburn remains in control of their destiny too, as the Iron Bowl against No. 2 Alabama will be for the division title and possibly a playoff spot as well.

Offense clicks for No. 13 Auburn in waltz over No. 24 Mississippi State

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When it all clicks, this is what a Gus Malzahn team is supposed to look like.

The 13th-ranked Tigers got an ultra-efficient night from quarterback Jarrett Stidham, a 100-yard effort from running back Kerryon Johnson and a ferocious defensive effort to pound No. 24 Mississippi State 49-10 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn accepted the ball to open the game and immediately raced 75 yards in seven plays — all of them runs. Johnson had the key run, a 59-yarder to take the ball from the Auburn 36-yard line to the Mississippi State 5, and the finisher, a 1-yard plunge. After a fumble on their next possession, Auburn made atonement by again racing nearly the length of the field. This time they moved 77 yards in five snaps, culminating in a 7-yard strike from Stidham to Ryan Davis.

Stidham’s second touchdown pass, a 47-yard strike to Will Hastings, effectively put the game out of reach, staking Auburn to a 21-3 lead with 13:38 left in the second quarter.

The Bullodgs posted their best offensive possession of the night in their final touch of the first half, a 77-yard march capped by a Nick Fitzgerald 5-yard toss to Justin Johnson.

Auburn (4-1, 2-0 SEC) shut the door for good on its first possession of the second half. Just like the start of the game, the Tigers moved the length of the field — literally this time, moving a full 99 yards — to set up a 2-yard Johnson plunge. Johnson added one more 1-yard burst early in the fourth quarter and Javaris Davis put the exclamation point on the night with a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown on the next possession. Backup quarterback Malik Willis completed the scoring with a 67-yard scoring dash with 3:04 to play.

The Tigers’ offense played its best night of the season, as Stidham connected on 13-of-16 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns while Johnson carried 23 times for 116 yards and three scores. The defense punished Fitzgerald throughout the night, limiting him to 13-of-33 passing for 157 yards with a touchdown and two interception plus 13 carries for a hard-earned 56 yards.

For Mississippi State (3-2, 1-2 SEC) the loss serves as a severe and bruising humbling. The Bulldogs were riding high after a 37-7 blowout of LSU in Starkville — a win that has aged like a sippy cup of milk left in your child’s car seat on a July afternoon — Mississippi State has lost consecutive games to top-15 opponents Georgia and Auburn by a combined score of 80-13.

This was a game that looks as we sit here five weeks into the season as a battle for the right to be the second-best team in the SEC West, and it’s clear that Auburn holds that distinction. And with a performance like this, No. 2 may not be all Auburn has to settle for.

Auburn handling Mississippi State at the break

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In a game that looks as we sit here on Sept. 30 every bit like a Second Place Game in the SEC West, Auburn appears to have a clear advantage. The Tigers hold a 21-10 lead over Mississippi State at the break at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn accepted the ball to open the game and immediately raced 75 yards in seven plays — all of them runs. Kerryon Johnson had the key run, a 59-yarder to take the ball from the Auburn 36-yard line to the Mississippi State 5, and the finisher, a 1-yard plunge. After a fumble on their next possession, Auburn made atonement by again racing nearly the length of the field. This time they moved 77 yards in five snaps, culminating in a 7-yard strike from Jarrett Stidham to Ryan Davis.

The Tigers’ third score also came from Stidham’s arm, this time on the first play of a drive, a 47-yard connection to Will Hastings. Stidham is 8-of-10 for 148 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, while Johnson led the Tigers on the ground with 102 yards on 14 carries.

Mississippi State’s offense finally came alive on its final possession of the half. Nick Fitzgerald appeared to race in from 17 yards out at the 2:37 mark of the second quarter, but the ball was pulled back to the 1-foot line upon review. Fitzgerald lost yardage on first-and-goal, and second-and-goal was moved back to the 5-yard line after a false start. The Bulldogs’ second down play went for no gain, but Fitzgerald finally put Mississippi State in the end zone on third-and-goal with a 5-yard toss to Justin Johnson with 59 seconds left. It was the Bulldogs’ first touchdown in six quarters and counting of this top-15 road trip against Georgia and Auburn. Fitzgerald closed the half hitting 8-of-17 passes for 87 yards while rushing five times for 24 yards.

Mississippi State will receive to open the second half.