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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

Maxwell Award watch list highlighted by Bryce Love, Jonathan Taylor, Khalil Tate, McKenzie Milton

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The height of watch list season is upon us as the new week begins. The Maxwell Football Club got things kicked off this week with the release of the Maxwell Award and Bednarik Award watch lists. Among the many names appearing on the organization’s watch list for its player of the year award are semifinalists from last year’s award; Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, Stanford running back Bryce Love, UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.

Alabama landed three players on the watch list, with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and running back Damien Harris also joining Hurts on the watch list. Other players who played for the College Football Playoff participants last season include Clemson’s Christian Wilkins, Kelly Bryant, and Travis Etienne, Georgia’s Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift,  Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson and Kyler Murray.

Last year’s Maxwell Award winner was Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Big Ten currently has the longest drought without a Maxwell Award winner among the power conferences. Penn State’s Larry Johnson was the last Big Ten player to win the award, doing so in 2002.

Here is this year’s watch list for the Maxwell Award:

RB Cam Akers, Florida State
RB Darius Anderson, TCU
RB Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
RB Alex Barnes, Kansas State
RB KirVonte Benson, Georgia Tech
QB Jake Bentley, South Carolina
DE Nick Bosa, Ohio State
WR A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
RB Spencer Brown, UAB
QB Jake Browning, Washington
QB Kelly Bryant, Clemson
RB Stephen Carr, USC
QB KJ Costello, Stanford
RB AJ Dillon, Boston College
RB J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
QB Eric Dungey, Syracuse
RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
QB Caleb Evans, ULM
QB Mason Fine, North Texas
QB Ryan Finley, N.C. State
QB Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
QB Deondre Francois, Florida State
QB Jake Fromm, Georgia
QB Ty Gangi, Nevada
WR James Gardner, Miami (Ohio)
RB Myles Gaskin, Washington
RB James Gilbert, Ball State
QB Will Grier, West Virginia
QB Justice Hansen, Arkansas State
RB Damien Harris, Alabama
WR N'Keal Harry, Arizona State
RB Darrell Henderson, Memphis
QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
RB Karan Higdon, Michigan
RB Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
RB Travis Homer, Miami
QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama
QB Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech
WR Anthony Johnson, Buffalo
RB Ty Johnson, Maryland
QB Daniel Jones, Duke
RB Xavier Jones, SMU
RB Patrick Laird, California
QB Brian Lewerke, Michigan State
QB Drew Lock, Missouri
RB Bryce Love, Stanford
QB TaQuon Marshall, Georgia Tech
QB Marcus McMaryion, Fresno State
QB Trace McSorley, Penn State
QB McKenzie Milton, UCF
QB Steven Montez, Colorado
RB David Montgomery, Iowa State
RB Jalin Moore, Appalachian State
RB Zack Moss, Utah
QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
QB Frank Nutile, Temple
DT Ed Oliver, Houston
QB Shea Patterson, Michigan
QB Malcolm Perry, Navy
WR Tony Pollard, Memphis
WR Ahmmon Richards, Miami
QB Armani Rogers, UNLV
QB Nathan Rourke, Ohio
QB Brett Rypien, Boise State
WR Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
RB LJ Scott, Michigan State
QB Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
WR David Sills, West Virginia
RB Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
RB Rodney Smith, Minnesota
RB Benny Snell, Kentucky
QB Nathan Stanley, Iowa
QB Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
QB Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
QB Khalil Tate, Arizona
RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
QB Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
RB Juwan Washington, San Diego State
DT Christian Wilkins, Clemson
QB Manny Wilkins, Arizona State
RB Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
QB Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame
RB Darnell Woolfolk, Army

One-time USC QB commit David Sills now has FBS-leading 18 TD catches for West Virginia

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One of the best under-the-radar storylines of the 2017 season continued Saturday evening in Little Manhattan.

Once a highly-touted quarterback prodigy — as a 13-year-old he was offered a scholarship to USC by Lane Kiffin — David Sills moved to wide receiver not long after signing with West Virginia as part of their 2015 recruiting class. In June of 2016, WVU announced that Sills was moving on to the junior college level “to pursue his dream of playing quarterback.”

Six months later, that dream ended as WVU announced that Sills had come back to the Mountaineers — and was coming back as a receiver.  And come back he did as, after catching seven passes for 131 yards and a pair of touchdowns in eight games as a true freshman in 2015, Sills has now caught 18 touchdowns in 10 games this season after recording two more in WVU’s narrow five-point win over Kansas State — one on an absolutely ridiculous catch, especially for a former quarterback.

The only other FBS player even remotely in Sills’ end-zone neighborhood is Memphis’ Anthony Miller, who has 11.  With 10 each, UCLA’s Darren Andrews and Miami of Ohio’s James Gardner are the only other players at this level in double-digits.

With three games remaining, the 6-4, 203-pound Sills has an outside chance — a very outside chance — of tying the FBS single-season record of 27 touchdown catches set by Louisiana Tech’s Troy Edwards in 1998.  He’s also seven scores away from tying the school record of 25 set by Stedman Bailey in 2012. Bailey is currently tied for second all-time with Marshall’s Randy Moss, who set the FBS record of 25 the year before it was broken by Edwards.

In seven games this season, though, Sills has scored two or more touchdowns in a single game.  He’s caught three in thee contests.

As for the man feeding Sills the ball through the air, Will Grier (howdy Florida!) leads the nation with 34 touchdowns passes, pending what Missouri’s Drew Lock (31) does tonight against Kentucky.  With the same three games remaining, Grier needs eight touchdowns to tie Geno Smith‘s school record of 42 set in 2012 and nine to break it.

The 10 best and 10 worst bowl matchups, as ranked by F/+

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2016’s most even bowl matchup will happen in El Paso, Texas, while the most lopsided game will take place in Boise, Idaho.

Those on-paper analyses are based on the end-of-the-season F/+ rankings, which are explained here on Football Outsiders. Personally, they’re a go-to for getting a rough idea of how good a certain team is, so why not use them to preview the best and worst bowl matchups?

Here are the 10 best games based on how close the two participants’ F/+ rankings are:

Sun Bowl (+1): No. 25 Stanford vs. No. 26 UNC
Fiesta Bowl (+2): No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Clemson
Rose Bowl (+2): No. 7 USC vs. No. 9 Penn State
Sugar Bowl (+2): No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
Armed Forces Bowl (+2): No. 51 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 53 Navy

Peach Bowl (+4): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 Washington
Quick Lane Bowl (+4): No. 93 Boston College vs. No. 97 Maryland
New Mexico Bowl (+5): No. 81 New Mexico vs. No. 86 UT-San Antonio
Citrus Bowl (+6): No. 5 LSU vs. No. 11 Louisville
Cotton Bowl (+10): No. 12 Wisconsin vs. No. 22 Western Michigan

Obviously, the two College Football Playoff games (Ohio State-Clemson, Alabama-Washington) are among the closest, but it’s good to see three of the four other New Year’s Six bowls in here as well. The Orange Bowl (No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Florida State) just barely missed the cut.

As for the 10 biggest mismatches:

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (+71): No. 29 Colorado State vs. No. 100 Idaho
Birmingham Bowl (+61): No. 33 South Florida vs. No. 94 South Carolina
Military Bowl (+54): No. 18 Temple vs. No. 72 Wake Forest
Cactus Bowl (+52): No. 14 Boise State vs. No. 66 Baylor
Miami Beach Bowl (+45): No. 44 Tulsa vs. No. 89 Central Michigan

Arizona Bowl (+38): No. 49 Air Force vs. No. 87 South Alabama
Las Vegas Bowl (+30): No. 20 Houston vs. No. 50 San Diego State
Poinsettia Bowl (+27): No. 30 BYU vs. No. 57 Wyoming
Heart of Dallas Bowl (+26): No. 85 Army vs. No. 111 North Texas
Russell Athletic Bowl (+25): No. 15 Miami vs. No. 40 West Virginia

It’s not surprising three of these games involve top-level Group of Five teams (South Florida, Temple, Boise State) playing 6-6 Power Five teams (South Carolina, Wake Forest, Baylor), given that’s where a lot of bowl mismatches can take place. It was a little surprising to see the gulf between Houston and San Diego State be so significant, though.

But while these matchups may either be close or lopsided, always remember the ironclad rule of bowl season: Weird stuff is gonna happen. One team may not care while the other does, one team may not deal with the elements (especially in the northern bowls) as well as the other, or one team may come in with something to prove while the other team doesn’t. The best-case scenario for us college football fans is that every game is interesting and worth watching, no matter what the on-paper numbers may say.

The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 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.

WACK-12
The Pac-12 came into the 2015 season looking to challenge the SEC for conference football supremacy.  While that may end up still being the case, it was a rough Week 1 in myriad regards for the Left Coast league, particularly its northern division.

First and foremost, No. 21 Stanford went into Evanston as heavy favorites only to be upended and upset by Northwestern.  And it wasn’t just that one of the preseason favorites in the North was beaten, it was that they were roughed up by the Wildcats and seemed to play timid on both sides of the ball.  More embarrassingly, a couple of hours later Washington State lost to FCS Portland State, which came into the game a 30-point underdog.

The South contributed to the first-week malaise as No. 15 Arizona State, viewed by some as a darkhorse playoff candidate (sheepishly raises hand), capped off the night with a 20-point loss to unranked Texas A&M.  At least that, though, was a loss to a Power Five school, and one from the stacked SEC West no less, in what was essentially a home game for the Aggies.

Add in Washington’s loss to Boise State — no shame in that — and Colorado’s loss to Hawaii Thursday night — a whole hell of a lot of shame in that — and it turned into a horrific lost weekend for the conference.  That said, remember how many were writing the Big Ten off a year ago at this time?  Yeah, it wouldn’t be wise to repeat that history.

WEAK 1?
If you thought that the Week 1 schedule, especially Saturday, was especially lacking when it came to compelling on-paper matchups, you’re not alone.  In fact, the raw data is sitting right along side you.

Opening weekend, and including the two still remaining, there were/are 87 games involving FBS teams.  Of that, 11 pitted Power Five vs. Power Five (for this exercise, I’m considering BYU a P5); another 47 — more than half — featured FBS teams playing an FCS team.  There were 22 Power Five teams that opened their season against an FCS team, with the ACC far and away leading the cupcake way with seven.  The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 had four apiece, while the pastry alley that is the late-season SEC lagged behind with three.

There were also 23 games played between Power Five and Group of Five teams.  The SEC accounted for eight of those games, while the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 saw four each.  The FCS-heavy ACC had three such games.

It wasn’t just the Power Fives feeding on the FCS, though, as 25 Group of Five teams opened against the former Div. 1-AA.  The remaining six games saw Group of Five squads squaring off against each other.

While most of the FBS feasted on their FCS cupcakes, a handful choked on them.  Two that lost to FCS teams were Power Five members in the aforementioned Wazzu and Kansas (South Dakota State, more on that below) and two were Group of Five teams in Army (Fordham) and Wyoming (North Dakota).

BAD BLOOD CHEAP SHOT?
Vernon Adams transferred from Eastern Washington to Oregon earlier this offseason and ultimately earned the Ducks’ starting quarterback job.  As luck would have it, Adams’ current and former teams squared off in the season opener in Autzen Saturday night, and there was one interesting development in UO’s 61-42 win.

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