Top Performances

Marcus Mariota wins Heisman Trophy, first in Oregon history

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Thirteen years after Oregon incorrectly identified quarterback Joey Harrington as “Joey Heisman” on a gigantic billboard in the middle of Times Square, the school finally received the recognition it so sorely craved long ago.

The Ducks’ current quarterback, Marcus Mariota, became the runaway winner for the 2014 Heisman Memorial Trophy.

For weeks leading up to the presentation of the award by the Downtown Athletic Club at the Best Buy Theater in New York City, the question wasn’t whether or not Mariota would claim the hardware. His coronation was inevitable. Would it be a landslide victory, though?

Voters answered that question with the highest percentage of votes in Heisman Trophy history. And the Oregon product deserved to win in such a fashion. Mariota has been as good this season as any quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy since 2000.

The quarterback posted absurd numbers during his junior campaign. Mariota completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 3,783 yards, 38 touchdowns and a minuscule two interceptions.  He also led the nation in passing efficiency (186.3) and yards per pass (10.17).  The dual-threat signal-caller even ran for 669 yards and 14 more touchdowns.

Along the way, Mariota shattered Oregon records and became the Pac-12 Conference’s all-time leader in touchdowns account for.

Mariota’s victory isn’t simply important for Oregon football. It’s a major step in the right direction for an entire region.

Ten previous Heisman Trophy winners played for west coast schools. Seven of those came from USC. A Heisman Trophy in Eugene takes Oregon’s program to another level. And Mariota is the first player from the Hawaiian Islands to be honored.

Oregon should consider honoring Mariota in the same way the school once prematurely anointed Harrington:

Navy extends win streak in 115th meeting with Army

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Thirteen games and counting.

The 115th edition of Army-Navy ended the same way the previous 12 meetings did…with the Midshipmen defeating the Black Knights.

Saturday’s meeting at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland, appeared to be a step in the right direction for Army despite a 17-10 loss. It’s the third time in the past four years the game was decided by only one score.

During his first year as Army’s head coach, Jeff Monken put a team on the field that nearly played Navy to a standstill. Army amassed more rushing yards than Navy — the NCAA’s top rushing team — until the final seconds of the game. Navy only had one more first down during the contest. And 50 yards of total offensive separated the two teams.

Army dominated the first quarter and a half. The Black Knights built an early 7-0 lead when wide receiver Xavier Moss returned a block punt seven yards for a touchdown.

In the end, a crucial fourth-down stop with two minutes remaining in the second quarter proved to be the turning point of the game.

After Navy stopped Army quarterback Angel Santiago from gaining one yard, momentum swung in the Midshipmen’s favor and it came courtesy of the right arm of quarterback Keenan Reynolds.

During the ensuing drive, Reynolds was 3-for-3 passing and connected with sophomore wide receiver Jamir Tillman for a nine-yard touchdown with only 18 seconds before halftime.

Reynolds finished the game 6-of-8 passing for 77 yards plus 100 rushing yards. The deciding score came early in the fourth quarter when Reynolds plunged into the end zone for a rushing touchdown.

With the victory, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo became the first Navy coach to start his career 7-0 against Army, and he passed George Welsh (1973-81) as the winningest coach in Navy history.

The gap may have been closed by Monken and his Black Knights, but the Midshipmen will enjoy another year of bragging rights before Army gets another chance to end the current streak.

The Fifth Quarter: Week 15 Rewind

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

FOUR TEAMS, TWO SPOTS, ONE CFP HEADACHE
All of the various scenarios entering weekend, with the potential for complete and utter chaos lurking on the horizon, and what did we get?  Chalk.  Chalk as far as the eye can see.

That, though, doesn’t mean all four playoff spots have been decided and everything was wrapped up in a nice, neat bow.  Far from it, in fact, as we got chaos, just not the kind of chaos that ensues after upsets.  What we do know: Alabama and Oregon have locked up two of the spots.  The only question when it comes to those two teams is which one will be the top seed and which will be the No. 2 seed.  Regardless, though, the Tide will be playing in the Sugar Bowl and the Ducks the Rose Bowl.

After that?  Let the debating and campaigning and jockeying commence in earnest.

After 15 weeks of play, the remaining two playoffs spots will come down to four teams: unbeaten, fourth-ranked Florida State and one-loss Baylor (No. 6), Ohio State (No. 5) and TCU (No. 3).  You could make a valid argument for any of those four to be a part of the playoff, with three of them — the one-loss teams — playing their best football of the season at the moment.

So, which direction will the committee go?  I have no clue, but we can look at the raw numbers to see which way they may lean.

With that, let’s go to the Tale of the Four Résumés…

Baylor
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams: 5, two of those coming on the road
Wins vs. currently-ranked teams: 3 (No. 3 TCU, No. 9 Kansas State, at No. 20 Oklahoma)
Loss: to 7-5 West Virginia on the road

Florida State
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams: 9, three of those coming on the road
Wins vs. currently-ranked teams: 3 (No. 11 Georgia Tech, No. 18 Clemson, at No. 21 Louisville)
Loss: none

Ohio State
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams: 9, five of those coming on the road
Wins vs. currently-ranked teams: 2 (at No. 8 Michigan State, No. 13 Wisconsin)
Loss: to 6-6 Virginia Tech at home

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The Fifth Quarter: Week 14 Rewind

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

PROJECTING CFP TOP FOUR
As it turns out, there was some significant upheaval — and near-upheaval — around the top of the College Football Playoff rankings that will continue to reverberate for days to come.

First and foremost, obviously, was No. 4 Mississippi State suffering its second loss of the season and seemingly knocking itself out of playoff contention.  Additionally, No. 6 Ohio State suffered a loss (star quarterback J.T. Barrett to a season-ending injury) in a win that could (maybe) (possibly) do serious damage to its playoff hopes as well.

Toss in near-misses from No. 3 Florida State (five-point win over 6-5 Florida) and No. 7 Baylor (two-point win over 4-8 Texas Tech) against bad football teams, and there will be some very eager and attentive bystanders when the new rankings are released Tuesday.  Hell, No. 1 Alabama’s season was on the line as it trailed Auburn by 12 in the third quarter at home before going on a 34-3 run to put the game away.

The team that arguably gained the most this weekend?  TCU, and they were sitting at home on their couches watching the mayhem develop.

About the only certainty coming out of Week 14 is that four different conferences will grab the four available playoff spots.  Which four, and which order, won’t be determined until next Saturday’s play has ended.

Entering Week 14, the Top Four, in order, was Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State.  What will it look like when the rankings are released?  My best guess is…

1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. Florida State
4. TCU

The main wildcard in all of this — maybe not in this week’s rankings but certainly the final one — is the Buckeyes.  If OSU can beat a very good and 14th-ranked Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, would the committee put the Buckeyes in ahead of what would presumably be a pair of one-loss teams, Baylor and TCU, that won’t play in a championship game, knowing that the player who helped get the Buckeyes to 11-1 won’t be available?  And, as asked earlier Saturday, would the committee’s view of OSU depend on how Barrett’s replacement, Cardale Jones, performed in his first career start on one of the biggest stages?  We simply don’t know the answers to any of those types of questions, and won’t begin to get answers until, at the earliest, Tuesday evening.

Of course, the Bears still have their own stiff test to pass, hosting No. 12 Kansas State in Week 15.  And then there are the Horned Frogs, who can do nothing to improve its résumé — but could potentially damage it if they struggle — as it closes out the regular season against 2-9 Iowa State.

And then there’s this: what if one of Alabama, Oregon or Florida State — or some combination of the three — lose in their respective conference championship games next weekend?  All hell breaks loose, that’s what happens.  The best thing is, at least for non-fans of those squads, it’s entirely possible.  FSU plays a Georgia Tech team that’s won five straight, including Saturday’s win on the road against ninth-ranked Georgia, and runs the hard-to-defend option offense; Arizona, which has dropped No. 25 Utah and No. 13 Arizona State in back-to-back weeks, will prove to be a stiff test for UO, especially seeing as the Wildcats beat the Ducks by seven in Eugene earlier this year; and Missouri, despite the faulty thinking of some, will not be a pushover for UA, especially with that ferocious Mizzou defensive line.

While one of the seven teams may have been “eliminated” in Week 14, there remains plenty of potential for mayhem and carnage in Week 15.  Yep, this playoff thing sure is hurting the best regular season in sports…

A-C-C!!! A-C-C!!!
I don’t know if you noticed or not, but the ACC had a very good day today… and very much at the expense of its big football brother, the SEC.

For those unaware, allow me to count the SEC carcasses left strewn about the South after getting trucked by ACC programs:

  • Clemson 35, South Carolina 17
  • Georgia Tech 30, Georgia 24
  • Louisville 44, Kentucky 40
  • Florida State 24, Florida 19

I don’t know if that’s happened before, especially of late, but I’m quite certain it wouldn’t take long to call the roll of the times it has.  Sure, all four wins came against the weak link in the SEC chain, the East, but it was still an impressive performance by a much-maligned conference.

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The Fifth Quarter: Week 13 Rewind

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

HISTORIC REPEAT
As it turns out, while Samaje Perine made history, the timeframe in which he did it wasn’t historically unprecedented.

In Oklahoma’s win over Kansas, Perine set the FBS single-game rushing record with 427 yards.  That performance broke the record of 408 set a week ago by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon.  Most assumed Perine’s breaking of a rushing record that was a week old had never happened before; Anthony Thompson would point out what the word “assume” makes out of all involved.

Back on Nov. 11, 1989, the Indiana running back’s 377 yards broke the previous mark of 357 yards.  That record was first set by Washington State’s Rueben Mayes in 1984 and tied by Cal State Fullerton’s Mike Pringle on Nov. 4, 1989, exactly one week before Thompson broke it.

Below is how the FBS rushing record has progressed over the past four-plus decades:

347 — Ron Johnson, Michigan, 1968
350 — Eric Allen, Michigan State, 1971
356 — Eddie Lee Ivery, Georgia Tech, 1978
357 — Rueben Mayes, Washington State, 1984
357 — Mike Pringle, Cal State Fullerton, 1989
377 — Anthony Thompson, Indiana, 1989
386 — Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, 1991
396 — Tony Sands, Kansas, 1991
406 — LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU, 1999
408 — Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin, 2014
427 — Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, 2014

Perine was also second to Thompson in something else — percentage increase of the previous record.  Thompson bested the old mark by 5.6 percent;  Perine, meanwhile, topped Gordon’s week-old record by 4.7 percent.

Some would say, though, the most impressive record belongs to Gordon.  The Badger back did his record-setting damage in three quarters of work and on just 25 carries; the only other players on that list with less than 30 carries were Ivery (26) and Allen (29).  Gordon’s 16.2 yards per carry is easily the best mark among the group, with only Ivery (13.7) within three yards.   Perine did average 12.6 ypc, the third-best among that group of 11 players.

At the opposite end of the yards-per-carry spectrum were Thompson and Sands, who averaged 7.25 yards on 52 carries and 6.8 yards on 58 carries, respectively.

Of course, Perine is the only true freshman to break the record… and he did it in three quarters plus two fourth-quarter plays after not starting a game played in the rain… and he is the only player to rush for 200-plus yards in both halves of a game, all of which makes his performance arguably the greatest of all-time regardless of how you attempt to parse out the numbers.

PROJECTING CFP TOP FOUR
Unlike previous weeks, there was no upheaval around the top of the College Football Playoff Top 25 in Week 14.  The highest-ranked team to lose was No. 8 Ole Miss, and, with two losses, it’s unlikely the Rebels were a realistic playoff option to begin with.

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