Posted on: December 9, 2011 2:27 pm
Edited on: December 9, 2011 2:29 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
Earlier this year, I was given the prestigious honor of voting for the Heisman Trophy for the first time. The award's illustrious history of selecting the country's most outstanding player has been well chronicled and I was happy to lend my expertise. As the weeks went by however, it became clear that this would be among the most difficult votes in some time - there was no runaway favorite like Cam Newton this year.
There did seem to be some resolution towards the end of the season but, in talking with other voters, it became clear that there was no easy pick. After sitting down and looking at stats, highlights and other things, who to vote number one became pretty clear. It was spots two and three (you only have three spots on your ballot) that caused me the most angst. Without further ado, my Heisman ballot and why I voted for them.
1. Robert Griffin III, quarterback, Baylor
Like my colleague Bruce Feldman, it's difficult to wrap your head around the fact that a player from Baylor is the most outstanding player in college football. I grew up in Texas and it always seemed the Bears were the ones everybody scheduled for homecoming. Thanks to the Big 12 television deal they were rarely on television unless they were playing a major school. Baylor, for most college football fans across the country, was irrelevant before Griffin burst onto the scene.
During September, the nation was transfixed on what, exactly, RGIII was doing but figured he couldn't keep it up. The first three games he was completing 85% of his passes, had 13 touchdown passes and no picks and flirted with a touchdown-incompletion ratio that was unheard of. The opener against No. 14 TCU was Baylor's first win over a ranked team since 2004 and the signal-caller was the chief reason why. Many expected the close loss to Kansas State to end any hopes of him making it to New York but in the deepest league in the country (sorry SEC fans), Griffin won nine games despite the Bears defense being ranked in the 100's in most major defensive categories. Safe to say that without RGIII, the Bears would have been 3-9.
What sealed the deal for me was the game-winning drive to beat Oklahoma for the first time in school history and an efficient game against what was the 9th-best defense in the country at the time in Texas to end the year. It's rare for any player in the conference to beat both schools but RGIII did accomplish the rare feat. He finished first in the country in passing efficiency with what would be an NCAA record 192.31 rating, edging out Russell Wilson despite attempting 85 more passes. He also finished second in the country in total offense and led the nation in points responsible for.
In January, Griffin was invited to speak at the NCAA convention in San Antonio by new president Mark Emmert. He was lauded for his achievements outside athletics such as getting a degree in three years and beginning his masters' with sights set on law school not his backup plan to the NFL, but his primary one. The attention and applause were genuine on that chilly day at the convention, just as it should be Saturday in New York City when he likely accepts the Heisman Trophy. On and off the field this year, Robert Griffin III was my pick for the most outstanding college football player.
2. Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford
He was supposed to be a shoe-in for this award. For most of the year, it looked like he wouldn't lose the Heisman, even if he didn't necessarily win it. I saw Luck up close several times this season and can confirm that he's the best quarterback in college football. He throws on the run better than anybody, his pocket awareness is uncanny, he calls his own plays and - like RGIII - has taken a program lacking success and turned it into a winner.
The Cardinal are 23-2 over the past two seasons and that is almost entirely due to Luck. Unfortunately his worst game of the year came when he needed it most, against Oregon. Even then, he threw for three touchdowns and the team was in things for three quarters. The offense scored fewer than 30 points just once all year - against Notre Dame when they could have topped the mark had they tried - and was more balanced than any other in the country as coaches had no issues sticking to running the ball if it was working.
A lot of people turn the Heisman race into a stats race. Luck's were good (3,170 yards passing, 35 touchdowns, 9 interceptions) but didn't top others. The thing I always kept in mind was what he did given the talent around him. Sure he had a good offensive line, so did Trent Richardson, Montee Ball, Wilson and Griffin. Nobody, however, put up the kind of numbers Luck did throwing to three tight ends who didn't have separation speed and with his best wide receiver sitting on the sidelines the second half of the year. Griffin had the dynamic Kendall Wright, Luck had Griff Whalen. That was a factor in my mind.
By all measures, he was outstanding this season but fell just short of being the most outstanding player in college football. He put up more points against USC in that school's history (against some defensive coordinator name Monte Kiffin) and had he had good defense, might be playing for the national title. He is the only quarterback ever to go undefeated against USC and Notre Dame. Listen to head coach David Shaw state his case for the quarterback and you can't help but consider him worthy of this award. I couldn't put him above RGIII so Luck wound up second on my ballot.
3. Kellen Moore, quarterback, Boise State
For many seeing this, the thought is that I gave Moore the third spot as a career achievement award. I did not.
For most of the week leading up to voting I had a running back (Ball or Richardson) penciled in. But before I was making my choices I looked again at what the diminutive but excellent quarterback had done this year. Statistically he was great: 300-of-405 passing (74%), 3,507 yards, 41 touchdowns and seven picks. I watched a lot of Boise State games this year (even the blowouts) and know that most of the numbers were accomplished in three quarters or less. A great season was hampered by the loss to TCU but it's safe to say that Moore did all he could game-in and game-out to lead the Broncos to another top 10 ranking.
Moore's best strength this year was spreading the ball around. He lost his two best receivers from last season but didn't lose a step despite several of his young pass catchers dealing with drops from time-to-time. The running game wasn't as good but Moore made up for it through the air. Were it not for a one-point loss to a good team, he'd be in New York this year.
There were three things that caused me to put the quarterback on my ballot ahead of others however. The first was just the way he played. He's good as much as every person in the country likes to knock him for the competition he faces. He'd be the best quarterback in most power conferences, easily, and can drop the ball in on downfield routes perfectly. Second, he became the NCAA's all-time, winningest quarterback at the FBS level. How is that not outstanding? There's no knocking a winner, which Moore rightfully is. Finally, as a starting quarterback Moore has never trailed by more than seven points his entire career. Never. The combined margin of defeat in his three losses total is just five points. Those are just jaw-dropping stats and a measure of someone who not only starts good but doesn't panic if put into a difficult situation.
Moore was great this season and if you sort through it all, you'd see that too.
Why I didn't vote for them (in the order I would have)
Montee Ball, running back, Wisconsin: Ball was on my ballot for the stretch run but fell just short after considering Moore. He led the country in rushing with 1,759 yards and in scoring with 17.54 points per game. His 38 touchdowns is just one shy of Barry Sanders' record and more than 45 entire teams. It hurt that Russell Wilson was the man Wisconsin picked to campaign for earlier in the year but Ball without a doubt had a season to remember and was an outstanding college football player in 2011.
Matt Barkley, quarterback, USC: I wanted to put Barkley in my top three because he has not only been outstanding on the field leading USC back to the top 10, but he has been the face of the program that was put through the ringer. He set a school and conference record for touchdown passes in a season and tossed six TDs in a game twice. It was a season for the ages but he was hampered by a very slow start to the year, the Arizona State game and the head-to-head loss to Luck.
Trent Richardson, running back, Alabama: He was the best offensive player in the SEC and a great player who I'd want on my team in a heartbeat but I didn't think Richardson was the best running back in the country. He played only four games against schools with a winning record and faced just two defenses ranked in the top 40 against the rush. 46% of his yards came against North Texas, Ole Miss, Georgia Southern and Auburn and nearly the same percentage of his touchdowns came against those four defensive powerhouses. I get that he was hurt at times and shared carries; Richardson is a great player but just wasn't the best this season.
Tyrann Mathieu, cornerback, LSU: I love the Honey Badger - he's a game changer unlike any other in the way he forces turnovers and returns kicks. That said, he wasn't the most outstanding player on his own team (punter Brad Wing was) and wasn't even the best player in the secondary (Morris Claiborne was). His coverage skills were solid but not spectacular and had he not had two big games against Arkansas and Georgia to end the season, wouldn't have been invited to New York. The suspension during the season also played a factor.
Others under consideration: Case Keenum, Houston; LaMichael James, Oregon; Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State.
Tags: Alabama, Andrew Luck, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Barry Sanders, Baylor, Big 12, Big Ten, Boise State, Brad Wing, Brandon Weeden, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Fischer, Case Keenum, David Shaw, Georgia, Georgia Southern, Griff Whalen, Heisman, Heisman Trophy, Houston, Kansas State, Kellen Moore, Kendall Wright, LaMichael James, LSU, Mark Emmert, Matt Barkley, Monte Kiffin, Montee Ball, Morris Claiborne, NCAA, NFL, North Texas, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Pac-12, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, SEC, Stanford, TCU, Texas, Trent Richardson, Tyrann Mathieu, USC, Wisconsin
Posted on: November 20, 2011 12:07 am
Edited on: November 20, 2011 12:31 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WINS. On probation and disrespected, USC was going up to Eugene with nothing but house money to play with. Obviously they were talented - Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and the dynamic newcomer Marqise Lee especially - but they were significant underdogs against an Oregon team that had blown them out their previous two meetings. The Trojans hadn't won in the state of Oregon since 2005* and taken two brutal losses this year to the other top teams in the Pac-12.
USC jumped out to a big lead and held on late as Oregon rallied to within three but pulled off a monumental upset with far-reaching implications after Alejandro Maldonado missed a field goal of 37 yards to preserve a 38-35 win. Two streaks - 21 straight home wins and 19 straight conference victories - were snapped for the Ducks, as were their slim hopes of getting back to the national championship game.
WHY SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WON. Marqise Lee had the best game a Trojan has had in years, finishing with eight catches for 187 yards and a touchdown and made play after play after play when the team needed it. Barkley was big as well, throwing for 323 yards and four touchdowns to get a signature win to hold his hat on in what could be his final year wearing the cardinal and gold. Monte Kiffin's defense also played its part, forcing two fumbles to prevent scores, blocking a punt and containing the Oregon speedsters all night to limit big plays.
WHEN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WON. Coming out of the second half, Oregon went three and out, had their punt blocked and set USC up with a 1st and goal. But the Ducks' defense held the Trojans to just a field goal on the drive - and nearly picked off Barkley - then got a big return from De'Anthony Thomas on the ensuing kick return for a touchdown. It seemed like the momentum had completely flipped at that point, with the Autzen crowd coming alive and LaMichael James capped off a four play drive with a touchdown.
USC came back with an impressive answer on a five play, 76 yard drive in just over two minutes to keep the lead where it was. Monte Kiffin's defense got a stop and it was upset alert with a silent crowd up in Eugene after Barkley found Randal Telfer for a touchdown on the next series to give Oregon their biggest deficit since 2008. The Ducks came roaring back however, scoring 21 straight. It looked like things were headed for overtime with Oregon marching down the field after Barkley fumbled handing off to running back Marc Tyler. Some curious clock management by Chip Kelly left Maldonado with a 37 yard field goal and he missed it to preserve a 38-35 win.
WHAT SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WON. With just one more game left as they serve out their final year of a bowl ban, the Trojans didn't have much more than pride to play for Saturday night. They felt disrespected - the lowest ranking in school history with a 8-2 record - and determined to get back in the national conscious in a big way with their first win in the state of Oregon since 2005. Lane Kiffin's squad jumped out to the early lead and hung on just like so many others haven't. Everybody came into this game saying it was USC's bowl game (their third this season after Notre Dame and Stanford) and they won it to show quite a few people around the country what they're made of.
WHAT OREGON LOST. Given Kelly's persona and his continuous focus on the task at hand, you wonder if he got Phil Knight to pony up some cash to fly in Jim Mora to shout, "Rematch? You're talking about a rematch? You kidding me? Rematch? I just hope we win a game," over and over. That's all everybody was thinking about after beating Stanford, not USC but LSU. Despite an Oklahoma State loss that made a game against the Tigers more likely, Oregon couldn't put the game at hand away and now have to beat rival Oregon State to secure the Pac-12 championship game that looked like a lock at the beginning of the day.
THAT WAS CRAZY: Team Nike filled the sidelines as NBA All-Stars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul all made their way down to Eugene to check out the football game. LeBron was even throwing the ball around during pre-game warm ups until politely being told by security to move back behind the lines. What's a jobless guy have to do to get some respect? Ducks fans might just be glad he wasn't suited up to play the 4th quarter. Or maybe he was.
Tags: Alejandro Maldonado, Bryan Fischer, Carmelo Anthony, Chip Kelly, Chris Bosh, De'Anthony Thomas, Dwayne Wade, Jim Mora, LaMichael James, LeBron James, LSU, Marc Tyler, Marqise Lee, Matt Barkley, Monte Kiffin, NBA, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oregon State, Pac-12, Phil Knight, Quick Hits, Quick Hits Week 12, Randal Telfer, Robert Woods, Stanford, USC, Week 12
Posted on: November 5, 2011 12:24 am
Edited on: November 5, 2011 12:27 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WON: The sixth meeting between Colorado and USC ended much like the previous five: a Trojans blow out. In the first game between the two schools since 2002, Matt Barkley set a school-record by tossing six touchdown passes in a game that was over in the second quarter. The Buffaloes managed to put together a few nice drives but kept stalling near the goal line to never get back in the game as they looked for their first Pac-12 victory on national television.
WHY SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WON: Matt Barkley. Sure the defense started three freshmen linebackers and played really well in the red zone (Colorado was in the red zone four times and had two field goals blocked) but this was Barkley's show. He dealt with some drops by his receivers - including a sure touchdown by Marqise Lee - but finished 26-for-40, 329 yards, an interception and a school-record with six touchdown passes in one game. The junior also moved into the top 10 on the active NCAA career touchdowns thrown list.
WHEN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WON: The Trojans took control in the second quarter, scoring on the first play and never letting up until halftime. Monte Kiffin's crew forced back-to-back three-and-outs while Barkley found Robert Woods for a 15 yard touchdown. After allowing a few big plays to see Colorado move in to scoring position, Rhett Elison blocked a field goal and USC came right back with a 7-play, 71-yard drive to put the game away.
WHAT SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WON: Despite no bowl game at the end of the year, Lane Kiffin continues to show his team isn't one to be taken lightly. A road game on a short week following a tough, overtime loss is often a recipe for mental mistakes and lack of execution but USC easily dispatched Colorado to move to 7-2 on the season.
WHAT COLORADO LOST: The Buffs move to 1-9 on the year and lose their seventh straight game. Jon Embree has a young squad but they haven't been to competitive in the Pac-12 and the defense has allowed at least 42 points in all but one conference game.
THAT WAS CRAZY. Ralphie the Buffalo is famous for, among other things, running out to start each half with several of his handlers. Se did so to start the game but about halfway through seemed to lose a few of said handlers. Luckily Ralphie wound up in her trailer without any issues despite losing some of his escort.
Posted on: October 31, 2011 12:19 pm
Edited on: October 31, 2011 1:01 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
As much as Saturday's classic battle between Stanford and USC was about Andrew Luck's Heisman hopes and the Cardinal's national title dreams, it was hugely important for the man pacing the home sideline with a laminated playcard.
Yes, USC lost, there's no denying what really matters and what the game will represent in the media guide years for now. But, when combined with the way the Trojans beat Notre Dame last week and their inspired-but-not-quite-good-enough play against Stanford, I think we can finally come to one conclusion about Lane Kiffin that we couldn't beforehand: he can coach. We're still not sure if he can win quite yet, but the question marks about his coaching abilities have been answered.
Given his record, 12-21 with the Oakland Raiders and at Tennessee, it was easy to be skeptical about Kiffin. His resume had an impressive collection of jobs before he turned 34 but he still couldn't shake the label that he was riding on the coattails of his father Monte and Pete Carroll. The NCAA violations and brash nature while with the Vols only enhanced negativity. Last season's 8-5, 5-4 in the Pac-10, record didn't answer any questions. He was blown out by Oregon at home and lost to a lowly Oregon State team in Corvallis on top of three losses by seven points. His offensive unit was good but struggled at times. Jokes about him firing his father for the Trojans' defensive woes had some truth behind them.
2011 wasn't a make or break year but it was important to Kiffin and the USC program as a whole to take another step back to where they were under Carroll despite being under the cloud of NCAA sanctions. The disrespect was evident when the Trojans were a nine point underdog in South Bend despite the Irish's penchant for turning the ball over in big games.
As celebrated as Brian Kelly was in his first season, he came into the game with a 12-7 record while Kiffin was one game better at 13-6 at USC. The tone was set early last week with an impressive opening drive to quiet the Notre Dame crowd and the Irish were never really back in the game after that.
Afterward, Kiffin was elated in the locker room and was extra happy to ruin a game Kelly had built up to be the Super Bowl for his team. He acknowledged it was the biggest win since he arrived in Los Angeles and he was right, in his second season he finally had a marquee victory.
Coaches and players vehemently dislike the term 'moral victory' because they understand the bottom line: you still lost. Still, there are plenty of positives in defeat and we learned a few about USC this week after the three overtime loss to Luck and the Cardinal.
The defense is not terrible like we thought it was. It's not great by any stretch but the defensive line can put pressure on the quarterback, the linebackers are quick enough to make plays in space and the secondary is young but rounding into form. On offense, Matt Barkley and Robert Woods have something special going on, the offensive line has exceeded expectations and the running game has come into its own the past few weeks.
USC didn't win on Saturday but they came close and that counts for something against a team that had reeled off 10 straight wins by 25 or more points. Luck, the best quarterback in the country by far, looked human at times and the USC offense looked like it was on the cusp of being great.
Lane Kiffin will still be thought of negatively, especially in the South, but he's answered a few of his critics' questions this season. He can coach and he can coach offenses that put up points. Now is the time to win the big, big game that his predecessor was known for. Kiffin's insistence after the game about calling out the referees for the final play of regulation - "They lied to me," he said Sunday - knowing that a reprimand from the Pac-12 was coming was taken by some to be whiny but I saw what some of his players did - that he'd fight for them until the battle could no longer be won, and even a little more. Even in retrospect, his play call of a tunnel screen to Woods doesn't look as terrible as it was when you consider he had two timeouts and the play was designed to go up field.
The last time USC lost a triple overtime game to a Bay area team they went on a historic run. No one is saying the same will happen under Kiffin, especially as the program begins scholarship reductions this season, but it's a good omen.
Last Saturday the Coliseum was rocking, the team was playing well and the coach wasn't a question mark. Kiffin can coach, now it's time to see if he can win big games.
Stat of the week
Via the Associated Press, Texas Tech is second team since 1989 (when the AP Poll expanded to 25), to go from no votes to ranked to no votes in three weeks. The other was Washington after they beat USC in 2009.
Stats of the week
- Five Big 12 teams are ranked 90th or worse in total defense, complete with Kansas being the worst in the country giving up 555 yards and 49.5 points per game. That might explain why three of the top five passers in the country are from the conference. The Jayhawks also only had 46 yards of total offense this week.
- Two candidates for most disappointing team of they year, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, are 110th and 118th respectively in turnover margin.
- Despite running so much, Georgia Tech is a third-down machine. They have the fifth-most third down attempts in the country yet are converting on 57.6% of them, best mark in the country by nearly 2%.
- The much maligned Michigan defense has taken a leap in several categories under Greg Matison but perhaps the most important: they lead the country in red zone defense. The Wolverines have only allowed 13 scores all year from inside the 20.
- If you had to guess who leads the country in time of possession, you'd probably start with a Georgia Tech or an Army. It's actually Texas, who holds onto the ball for over 35 minutes per game.
- After facing Oklahoma State, Baylor's defense dropped from 97th in total defense and 101st in scoring defense to 108th and 115th. Missouri went from 29th and 25th in the two categories to 51st and 46th. Texas went from 24th and 47th to 30th and 56th. Bottom line, your defense won't look too good in the stats after facing the Cowboys.
- Auburn is 289-4 all time when scoring 30-plus points. One reason why Gus Malzahn is being paid $1.3 million a year.
- This is the first time Georgia has beaten Florida and Tennessee in the same year since 1988. There are only three players on the Bulldogs' roster that were born before then. The Gators' four game skid is the first of any kind at the school since 1988 and first in the SEC since 1979, when head coach Will Muschamp was eight.
- It was only a matter of time before the Manhattan Miracle came to an end. Oklahoma had been shocked the week before by Texas Tech and Kansas State was the unwitting opponent they took it out on. Landry Jones threw for a school-record 505 yards and five touchdowns, impressive considering the quarterbacks that have been churned out under Bob Stoops recently. His favorite target, Ryan Broyles, also moved into first place on the Big 12 career receiving list. Not all was crimson Saturday however, as running back Dominique Whaley fractured his ankle on the very first play of the game. Though overwhelmingly a passing team, the balance that the running game had with Whaley will be missed unless the Sooners find someone to step up. Kansas State will have to regroup after the Big 12's previously top-ranked defense was shredded by Jones. They rallied in the second quarter but that was about the only time the Wildcats could get something going.
- Say what you want about Oklahoma State's 111th ranked defense but they bottled up Robert Griffin III, shutting Baylor out in the first half and allowing just one score in the red zone all game. The 622 yards allowed is concerning but they allowed a good chuck of the yards when the game was well out of hand. It seemed like the Cowboys were going to be locked in a tough one once the Bears drove down to the one-yard line on their first drive but the defense held and the offense drove 99-yards for a touchdown to set the tone early. After that, it was like Mike Gundy's squad was shot out of a cannon. Particularly impressive was running back Joseph Randle, who had 152 yards and four touchdowns to lead a rushing attack that rolled up over 300 yards for the first time in over two years. It's hard to look at the Cowboys and see anybody but Oklahoma stopping them from booking a trip to New Orleans.
- It seems to happen every game but it does seem concerning that Oregon led Washington State by only five points before taking care of business in the second half in a 43-28 win. The big news was the return of LaMichael James and Darron Thomas, who both started. James ran for 53 yards and wore a brace after dislocating his elbow a few weeks ago. Thomas was a little shakier, tossing two interceptions before being pulled for backup Bryan Bennett. Was it rust? Hard to say but you can't say it wasn't a factor after being limited in practices the week before. There's likely not much of a quarterback controversy but there's no question the Ducks need Thomas at 100% if they want to beat Washington, Stanford or USC. Freshman De'Anthony Thomas was a bright spot, perhaps extra bright in Oregon's yellow "bumblebee" uniforms, taking a kickoff 93-yards for a touchdown and scoring on a 45-yard pass.
- People joke about Case Keenum putting up video game numbers in Houston's offense but that's exactly what he did Thursday, throwing NINE touchdown passes as the Cougars routed Rice 73-34 despite the rainy conditions. It wasn't the start Keenum and the offense wanted, with an interception and having a fumble returned for a touchdown to put themselves in an early hole. But then the rain seemed to lighten up and the record-setting quarterback took over from there. His fifth touchdown toss moved him past former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell to set the FBS-record for career TD passes and he proceeded to throw four more just for good measure. "Those are video game numbers, something we couldn't get stopped," Rice linebacker Justin Allen said. "The rain slowed down a little bit ... I wished it would have rained all game. It stopped, and they got things cranked up. There was no looking back for them." Keenum should set another record next week with 267 yards to become the FBS leader in career passing yards. Undefeated and somewhat untested, it looks like Houston is on their way to a special season. They have serious issues on defense but the offense will continue to put up eye-popping numbers.
- Tom O'Brien's hot seat status is fiery hot right now after losing to Florida State 34-0. The Wolfpack managed only 166 yards on offense and were shutout for the first time in three years. They weren't just beat by FSU, they were pushed around like they were Duke. T.J. Graham, one of the few bright spots for N.C. State this year, was bottled up and held to just 116 all-purpose yards. Given the way he handled the Russell Wilson situation and the way the season has gone, don't be surprised when there's a second coaching search going on in the triangle during the offseason (UNC being the other).
- It's time to give JoePa props for coaching Penn State to an 8-1 record. The defense, of course, is the story and the backbone of the team, shutting out Illinois for three quarters but the Nittany Lions had just enough on offense to get by with a 10-7 win. It was a sloppy affair for both teams but Joe Paterno picked up win No. 409 to move become the winningest coach in Division I. They are the ultimate Rodney Dangerfield "No respect" team right now.
- Is there a team more bipolar than Syracuse? A week after throttling West Virginia at home, the Orangemen looked terrible against Louisville, losing 27-10. They beat Toledo thanks to an officiating error, barely lost to Rutgers and barely beat Tulane, then have alternated between great and horrible the last two weeks. They certainly look like they're going to another bowl game this year but if you're Doug Marrone, you have to be concerned with the lack of consistency. On the other side, Louisville posted back-to-back Big East wins for the first time since 2006 and are still in the thick of things in the muddled conference race. Teddy Bridgewater continues to progress and this young team is making steady progress.
- As a few people joked on Twitter, Missouri proved that an SEC East team can beat an SEC West team with the Tigers 38-31 overtime win against Texas A&M. Any joy Aggie fans have over the move to a new conference is being ruined by their team's play on the field, blowing a 14 point lead at home this time around after doing the same against Arkansas and Oklahoma State. Missouri is better than their .500 record suggests and Henry Josey has been a revelation at the running back spot - so much so that he looks like the all-Big 12 pick at his position. James Franklin still makes a bone-headed play from time to time but the offense is still better than expected with the first-time starter running the show. Still, what once was a season of promise for Texas A&M has been anything but and doesn't get better with a trip to Norman.
- Impressive game by the Blackshirts as Nebraska muzzled Michigan State's offense in a 24-3 win in Lincoln. NU defensive backs turned in their best game of the season, being physical off of the line and forcing Kirk Cousins into missing all but four of his first 16 passes. He finished the day with just 86 yards a week after a 290 yard, three TD performance. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead paced the Cornhuskers' offense and looked like they are finally earning their ranking with a dominating win.
- Iowa, really? Minnesota is one of the worst teams in the country and you lose 22-21? There's not much to explain really. The same goes for Texas Tech, getting trounced at home by Iowa State. CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman was in a state of disbelief everytime he checked the score of either game and that pretty much sums up what everybody else was thinking.
- Late in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (which the politically correct will know is Georgia-Florida), SI.com's Andy Staples and I both turned to each other and said that the Bulldog's four point lead would be insurmountable for the Gators offense to overcome. Special teams was another story but the offense? It just couldn't move the ball for their life. The personnel just isn't there to give them any schematic advantage. Hats off to Mark Richt though, who has won six straight and certainly helped his cause.
- Was shocked to see that Texas ended a FIVE game losing streak at home against Kansas this week. It's not saying much against that Jayhawks defense but the Longhorns still rushed for an impressive 441 yards in a game that few people saw on the Longhorn Network.
- Welcome to the Pac-12 win column Utah, who beat Oregon State at home 27-8.
- Clemson finally pulled a Clemson against Georgia Tech. Tevin Washington, after a string of bad games, rushed for 176 yards and was the triggerman for the option offense that jumped out to a 24-3 lead thanks to several Tigers turnovers. It was an impressive showing by Georgia Tech's defense against the explosive Clemson offense, which had come into the game scoring points at will. Considering how shaky the Yellow Jackets had looked on that side of the ball coming in, only a few believed they could pull off the upset which ended any hope of the ACC putting a team in the BCS championship game.
- Go ahead Braxton Miller, take a bow. The true freshman sparked a last-second win that gives Ohio State some life after upsetting Wisconsin. According to reporters after the game, Miller apparently winked at head coach Luke Fickell before the final drive and said "We're all right." That's special. Coming out of high school, Miller showed he had enough talent and moxie that many people compared him to former Heisman winner Troy Smith. The 40 yard pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds left had to be the play of the year for a Buckeyes team that had been through so much. One has to wonder if they had held on against Nebraska what our view of this team would be.
Tweet of the week
"How impressive was Texas vs. KU? UT had more total yards (590) than current subscribers to Longhorn Network."
- CBSSports.com Senior Writer Brett McMurphy.
3. Oklahoma State
5. Boise State
Where we'll be this week
Brett McMurphy will be in Stillwater to see BCS contender Oklahoma State host previously undefeated Kansas State. Dennis Dodd and Bruce Feldman will both be in Tuscaloosa for the game of the season, LSU-Alabama.
Leaning this way
Kansas State at Oklahoma State
It's almost unfair for one of the great stories in the first half of the season, Bill Snyder's Wildcats, to face the Big 12's two best teams on back-to-back weeks so all we'll say is good luck trying to stop the Cowboys offense. We have a feeling that Kansas State, which dropped 31 spots in total defense after facing Oklahoma, will struggle unless the offense plays keep away and doesn't turn the ball over.
South Carolina at Arkansas
On paper this is a top 10 match up but in reality both teams a bit overrated. Arkansas' defensive issues, especially in the first half, have contributed to closer than expected wins over Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. South Carolina has a good defense but the offense has struggled to score for six week outside of the Kentucky game. It's at home so the edge goes to the Hogs unless Alshon Jeffrey (finally) has a breakout game.
LSU at Alabama (CBS, 8 PM ET)
The showdown of the season is what everybody will have their eyes on Saturday night. The strength of both teams is clearly their defenses so this will come down to who can break open a big play on offense or special teams. There are more home run threats on the Tide and it's in Tuscaloosa but anybody picking against LSU has to know that doing so means going against Les Miles. Should be a great one.
Tags: ACC, Alabama, Alshon Jeffrey, Andrew Luck, Andy Staples, Arkansas, Army, Auburn, Baylor, BCS, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Bill Snyder, Bob Stoops, Boise State, Braxton Miller, Brett McMurphy, Brian Kelly, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Bennett, Bryan Fischer, Case Keenum, CBS, Clemson, Coliseum, Darron Thomas, De'Anthony Thomas, Dennis Dodd, Devin Smith, Dominique Whaley, Doug Marrone, FBS, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Graham Harrell, Greg Matison, Gus Malzahn, Heisman, Heisman Trophy, Henry Josey, Houston, Illinois, Iowa, Iowa State, James Franklin, Joe Paterno, Joesph Randle, Justin Allen, Kansas, Kansas State, Kirk Cousins, LaMichael James, Landry Jones, Lane Kiffink Oakland Raiders, Les Miles, Longhorn Network, Louisville, LSU, Luke Fickell, Mark Richt, Matt Barkley, Michigan, Michigan State, Mike Gundy, Minnesota, Missouri, Monte Kiffin, N.C. State, NCAA, NCAA, Nebraska, Non-BCS, Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Oregon State, Pac-10, Pac-12, Penn State, Pete Carroll, Rex Burkhead, Rice, Robert Griffin III, Robert Woods, Rodney Dangerfield, Russell Wilson, Rutgers, Ryan Broyles, SEC, Stanford, Surveying the Field, Syracuse, T.J. Graham, Taylor Martinez, Teddy Bridgewater, Tennessee, Tennessee, Tevin Washington, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas Tech, Toledo, Tom O'Brien, Troy Smith, Tulane, UNC, USC, Utah, Vanderbilt, Washington, Washington State, Week 9, West Virginia, Will Muschamp
Posted on: October 30, 2011 8:27 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2011 8:28 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.
WINNER: Andrew Luck's Heisman hopes
In case you've been living under a rock or on another planet, you know the Stanford signal-caller is the best quarterback in the country. After beating the last 10 opponents by at least 25 points, the Cardinal finally faced a stiff test from USC this week and it was Luck that helped lead them out of trouble and to another win to keep the record unblemished. True, he wasn't perfect, throwing an interception late in the 4th quarter that was returned for a touchdown. Luck responded though, leading a calm, efficient drive to tie the game before being flawless in three overtime periods - tossing a touchdown, the winning two-point conversion and picking up several yards using his legs. With two offensive linemen and one of his top targets in tight end Zach Ertz out due to injury, more of the load was on Luck's shoulders and he came through to deliver a big Heisman moment in front of a national television audience.
LOSER: Oregon's quarterback controversy
Starting quarterback Darron Thomas returned against Washington State after dealing with a knee injury and tossed two interceptions that kept the Cougars within five points at halftime. Chip Kelly swapped him out for backup Bryan Bennett, who led the offense to three touchdowns and a 43-28 win at home. Afterward Kelly said Bennett gave the Ducks the best chance to win but assistants downplayed any brewing quarterback controversy. The offense has not been as sharp as they were a year ago but that doesn't mean Thomas is not going to be the starter going forward, all he did was lead Oregon to the national title game in his first full year as a starter. The leash might be a little shorter with Bennett doing well but there's only a real quarterback controversy on message boards (or if they lose).
WINNER: De'Anthony Thomas
The sensational freshman from Los Angeles has continued to fit right into the fast-paced Oregon offense. He finished the game against Washington State with a pair of highlights on a 45-yard touchdown catch and a 93-yard kickoff return. Thomas now has 11 touchdowns this season, a school-record for a true freshman. What is surprising is how well he's held up over the season given his size but week-in and week-out he goes and makes plays. He finished with 262 all-purpose yards against the Cougars and should continue to be a focal part of the offense.
LOSER: Zach Maynard
California's starting quarterback, Maynard's third leading receiver this week was Tevin McDonald. The problem was McDonald plays safety for UCLA and ended up picking Maynard off three times on Saturday. The offense couldn't get much going against a Bruins defense that has struggled most of the year, with Maynard going 14-of-30 for 199 yards (he also threw another interception to Aaron Hester). It's somewhat puzzling how Jeff Tedford has never been able to get consistent quarterback play since Aaron Rodgers left but it appears he's sticking with Maynard through thick and thin this season. The Bears have lost four of five but have two winnable home games against Washington State and Oregon State to get bowl eligible. If they are going to win, they're going to need a lot more out of Maynard than what he showed at the Rose Bowl against UCLA.
WINNER: Barking for Sark
There was a time where Washington was one of the worst programs in FBS, much less the then Pac-10. Steve Sarkisian has done a wonderful job turning around the program and for the second year in a row has the Huskies bowl eligble and sitting comfortably in third place in the Pac-12 North. Having to replace Jake Locker is no easy task but the offense has actually improved behind Keith Price's arm and Chris Polk's running. The defense remains a work in progress but it is good enough to step up when needed. From top to bottom though, this is a completely different program under Sarkisian and has the entire city of Seattle 'Barking for Sark.'
Six straight losses and they really haven't been close to being competitive. Jon Embree was given a tough rebuilding job at his alma mater but this is starting to get embarrassing for the once proud program. The defense has given up at least 45 points the last four games and has held just one team under 31 all year. The offense has dealt with injures but has failed to move the ball much at all. The Buffs still haven't won a Pac-12 game and have only a slim chance to win any of their remaining games. Embree could get there and make the program more competitive but it didn't look like it this week.
It took longer - a lot longer - than those around the program had hoped but the Utes finally have a Pac-12 victory to their name with 27-8 home win over Oregon State. Utah's defense was the strength of the team and forced four turnovers against an underrated Beavers offense that was looking for a second straight road win. Running back John White continued to be a problem for defenses on the ground, rushing for a career-high 205 yards to keep the heat off of starter Jon Hays. The schedule does lighten up during the back half for Utah and getting their first Pac-12 win should provide some momentum going forward.
There is no phrase losing coaches hate more than "moral victories" but after almost beating Stanford in one of the most thrilling games of the year, it's safe to give USC a moral victory. The Trojans fought hard and were it not for a fumble near the goal line in the third overtime, were close to pulling the upset. Certainly it's no accomplishment allowing 56 points but when you consider how good Andrew Luck is and the limited depth USC has, Monte Kiffin's crew did enough to put the team in a position to win. Between the Notre Dame win and the game against Stanford, Lane Kiffin has solidified this team as a top 25 team and one that could give Oregon some trouble down the road. As much as anything, seeing the Coliseum full and loud was a welcome sight to coaches and players. “If you’re going to play a team that has the longest winning streak in the country and has beaten everybody by over 25 points and you go down to a game that could have gone either way,” Kiffin said. “You have to be pleased with where your team is at.” The last time USC played a triple overtime game they used it as a launching point for one of the best runs in college football history. Not saying this game can do the same but it could be the impetus for good things in the land of Troy.
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Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Bryan Bennett, Bryan Fischer, Cal, California, Chip Kelly, Chris Polk, Coliseum, Colorado, Darron Thomas, De'Anthony Thomas, Heisman, Jake Locker, Jeff Tedford, John White, Jon Embree, Jon Hays, Keith Price, Lane Kiffin, Monte Kiffin, Notre Dame, Oregon, Oregon State, Pac-12, Rose Bowl, Stanford, Steve Sarkisian, Tevin McDonald, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington, Washington State, Week 9, Week 9 Winners and Losers, Winners and Losers, Zach Ertz, Zach Maynard
Posted on: October 30, 2011 12:28 am
Edited on: October 30, 2011 2:46 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
LOS ANGELES -- Stanford had heard from just about everyone that they hadn't been tested this season.
They played their first ranked team last week, Washington, and promptly ran for school-record 446 yards. It was their 10th straight win by 25 points or more, the first time ever that had been accomplished since 1936. Apparently they weren't tested.
They were tested Saturday night; escaping LA with a 56-48 victory after three overtimes in front of a sold-out Coliseum crowd that was rocking like it was in the glory days.
The Heisman front-runner, Andrew Luck, gave voters a game to remember with crisp, efficient passes to 10 different targets to finish 29-for-40, 330 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on the night.
"The stats aren't going to show the plays he made, but he's a really special pocket passer and makes plays with his feet," Lane Kiffin said. "It's why he'll be the first pick in the draft."
The grizzly-bearded Luck nearly gave the game away, throwing a late pick-six that was returned by Nickell Robey for a touchdown to put USC on top 34-27 with just over three minutes remaining.
"Throughout the game he was looking off receivers a lot, that's what he does (so well)," Robey said. "I knew when he looked off he was going to come back to Chris (Owusu). My coach always says trust and believe. When I saw him sit down I just went for it. Luck is a great player, he did a lot of things that wasn't normal in the passing game. He came at us at every angle."
Not only had Stanford trailed for the first time all season after Curtis McNeal sprinted up the sidelines for a 61-yard touchdown in the third quarter, but it was also the first time the Cardinal offense were tested late in the game. The pick-six put the team down seven late in the game. That was no problem for Luck, who led an efficient, game-tying 10 play, 61-yard drive to send the game into overtime.
"I was very disappointed in myself," Luck said of the interception. "There were a couple of seconds there when I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself. But the guys believed in me. I was happy there was still some time on the clock to go down there again."
"One thing you can't forget about Andrew is that he is the most competitive guy on our team," David Shaw said. "When a bad play happens he goes completely down in the dumps. He's so mad, he's so upset, he's furious. Then it's like a toilet, he flushes it. It's like it never happened and he moves on even more determined.
"He was so mad at himself, he was not going to let that play lose the game for us."
The Trojans came close to pulling off the upset thanks in large part to one of the smallest players on the USC roster in McNeal, who rushed for a career-high 145 yards and two touchdowns. He ended up the goat however, fumbling the ball into the end zone after USC had the ball on the four yard line looking to match the Cardinal's touchdown and two-point conversion to lead off the third overtime. Terrence Stephens punched it out of McNeal as he took a draw up the middle, preserving the win.
Despite coming close to seeing their perfect record blemished, the scoreboard still showed the Cardinal had rang up 56 points. The amount was the most ever scored on USC in the program's illustrious history.
"We just needed one stop, that's all," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "Then we'd all be celebrating right now."
"I didn't know that but I would probably figure out it was close if it wasn't the record. I can't believe anybody would give up that many points. Of course, overtime and (Luck) ended up with a short field now too."
Even Luck's incompletions were things of beauty that every one of the 93,607 fans appreciated - regardless of the shade of red they were wearing. On one play early in the game, Luck was flushed out of the pocket to his left, but still managed to throw a bullet with perfect form to the back of the end zone - while being tackled - that glanced off the hands of his target. It went down in the box score as an incompletion but was nevertheless impressive.
How special is the 6-foot-4, 237-pound signal-caller? He's led an offense that has scored the most points against USC ever - twice - after scoring 55 against the Trojans in 2009. By the way, he managed to so against defenses run by Pete Carroll and Monte Kiffin, who happens to have 45 years of coaching experience. It was also USC's only overtime loss at the Coliseum ever.
"I tip my hat off to him, he's a special player. Whatever grade he's in, I'm glad he's not going to be here next year." USC linebackers coach Joe Berry said. "He's one of those guys that comes along every 15 or 20 years. There's always first round draft pick quarterbacks in every draft but this guy? He's special."
Fourth-ranked Stanford escaped Los Angeles and kept their Pac-12 championship - and national title - hopes alive. Better (Andrew) Lucky than good for one night in October.
Posted on: April 23, 2011 10:31 pm
Edited on: April 23, 2011 10:38 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
LOS ANGELES -- It's hard to take away too much from Spring Games. Sometimes they're designed to make the offense look good or feature a certain player. Often enough they're too vanilla and are limited to a handful of big plays. Given the injuries that USC has sustained this spring, it's hard to take away much of anything.
Despite limited action for several starters, there were a few bright spots here and there for the Trojans as they wrapped up their Spring Game at the Coliseum Saturday afternoon.
“Well, I thought the storyline of the day would be, if this were a real game, the play of the first-team defense, especially early on before we took some guys out," Lane Kiffin said. "The two defensive ends played extremely well today, (along with) T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey. That was good to see."
The receiving corps was particularly banged up for the Trojans, who mostly had walk-ons running routes for a bevy of quarterbacks. Freshman All-American wide receiver Robert Woods did not play after spraining his ankle playing basketball, which Kiffin subsequently declared off limits before a game in the future. Brandon Carswell left the game with a concussion and tight end Rhett Ellison also went down with a back injury.
Quarterback Matt Barkley had his moments but finished a pedestrian 22 of 42 for 212 yards and two interceptions as a result of a lack of options in the passing game.
“I think it’s hard to evaluate,” Kiffin quipped of Barkley. “You guys (the media) probably had to go to your rosters a lot to know who the guys were out there who were running routes for him.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do on offense. It is hard to assess with so many people out for all of spring and so many people coming in that are going to have to play for us. It’s really hard to address where we’re at and figure it out.”
Quarterback Jesse Scroggins was 6-of-15 for 68 yards and had one interception while Cody Kessler went 4-of-6 for 24 yards. Both quarterbacks, along with Max Wittek, are looking to backup Barkley in the fall. Luckily the ground game seemed to be moving the chains on offense a bit more effectively. Running back D.J. Morgan rushed for 89 yards on 14 carries before coming out with injury but displayed the ability to turn the corner and then hit the jets on a nifty 36 yard run. Curtis McNeal also looked good and had 107 yards and two touchdowns on the day.
“The O-line pretty much stepped their game up today,” McNeal said. “They took so much criticism throughout the whole spring and today just came out and played. I just did my part and ran the ball.”
After being criticized much of last year, the defense showed flashes of old and played well throughout the day. They ended up "winning" the game 42-29 using a modified scoring system.
“The D is playing faster,” defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “Second year in the system, knowing it better. You see this, you see that."
Defensive end Nick Perry was a constant presence in the backfield and finished up with six tackles and two sacks. Cornerback Anthony Brown (who had an interception) and safety McDonald looked sharp in the secondary. In fact, the defense as a whole might have done even better had they been allowed to blitz.
“It may not have been my decision," the elder Kiffin said. "It might have been somebody, a guy with the last name Kiffin.”
With blitzes and several starters out for the Trojans, it's still hard to get a good read on what kind of team the Kiffins will have once the calendar turns to August. Ask them and they'll tell you the same thing.
Thanks to the creativity of Lane Kiffin though, perhaps it's fitting that USC ended their spring game - and spring practices - on a high note thanks to a reverse pass from tailback Dillon Baxter to Barkley for a touchdown.
"To finish off the Spring Game with a touchdown catch was a good feeling," Barkley said. "He haven't gone over it at all. Kiff just said let's do this. It was man coverage so it was a pretty easy play."
USC might need a lot of improvising in the fall if the injury issue continues to arise. They can only hope they all will end up as high notes.
Posted on: October 31, 2010 2:28 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
1. Oregon is much more likely to make it to Glendale than not. The Ducks aren't home free just yet; that season-ending trip to Corvallis to face Mike Riley 's Oregon State team won't be easy, and God only knows what kind of Cal squad Oregon will face when they travel to Berkeley Nov. 13. But after the Ducks dismantled USC 53-32 in Los Angeles Saturday night, neither of those hypothetical stumbling blocks (to say nothing of, say, Arizona 's chances to win at Autzen Stadium) look nearly imposing enough to expect Oregon's season to end anywhere but the BCS national championship game.
The Trojans had a ton of factors working in their favor: a bye week to prepare, a red-hot quarterback, an unusually-lively Coliseum, and most of all the desperation that comes with knowing that this was their best shot at being a team that mattered this season. They called it their bowl game for a reason. And it was enough to propel them to a 32-29 lead after two shirt-field touchdowns early in the third quarter, just as Stanford had used an early burst to lead in Autzen. But just as Ducks had done against the Cardinal, the array of weapons at Chip Kelly 's disposal -- LaMichael James in the running game, Jeff Maehl and Lavasier Tuinei in the passing game, Darron Thomas in both -- simply overwhelmed their ever-weakening opposition as the second half progressed. Oregon scored the final 24 points of the game and finished with 597 total yards.
They are relentless, they are operating on all their proverbial cylinders, and even their allegedly soft defense -- always worse for the statistical wear thanks to the offense's hyperdrive tempo -- held the previously scorching Matt Barkley to a mediocre 5 yards per pass attempt and USC under 400 total yards for the game. Unless they badly underperform the same night the Golden Bears or Beavers stupendously overperform, they will become the first Pac-10 team other than their Saturday victims to play for a crystal football.
2. USC isn't going to be anything more than a middle-of-the-pack Pac-10 team until they learn how to stop the run. The charge frequently leveled at Monte Kiffin as his defenses first at Tennessee and now Southern Cal have struggled is that the 70-year-old defensive coordinator isn't sharp enough any more to adjust to the modern spread offense.
There might be something to that, given the 588 yards given up to Hawaii in USC's season opener and the 597 yielded to the Ducks. But the Trojans' biggest problem is a lot simpler: they're getting crushed up front. LaMichael James went for 239 rushing yards and the Ducks for 311 as a team. Stanford ? 193 yards, 5.4 a carry. Washington ? 225 yards, 6.6 a carry. That's not a matter of Kiffin's schemes or a misunderstanding of the spread; that's a matter of the Trojan defensive front just getting shoved around. Until they mature and start clogging up lanes in the middle of the field, USC's defense is going to continue to flail no matter what Kiffin does.
3. Cal isn't the only Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit in this conference. Speaking of Washington, the last time we saw them at home they were edging a good Oregon State team in overtime. While not many people were expecting them to upset Stanford, to get throttled 41-0 in Husky Stadium is an embarrassment ... and baffling considering how well they played just two weeks ago. With road trips to Oregon and Cal still to come and the Huskies wallowing at 3-5 overall, it doesn't look like this is the year just yet for Steve Sarkisian to break his team's eight-year bowl drought.
Arizona State , meanwhile, rebounded from losing to 33 points at Cal to shut out previously-improving Washington State 42-0 .
4. But Cal is still the original and most committed Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit. The Golden Bears trailed by 28 at halftime and lost 35-7 at Oregon State, as Kevin Riley had to be helped off the field in the first quarter. One of Cal's eight games have been decided by fewer than 21 points.
5. UCLA is as much a mess as ever. The Bruins looked to have their ship righted when they went on the road to upset Texas , but it turns out going on the road to upset Texas isn't that big a deal. And in the meantime, they've been humilated by Cal and Oregon and could have been by Matt Scott (319 yards, 71 rushing) and Arizona. A series of Wildcat failures in the red zone kept UCLA close, but getting outgained by 284 total yards and rushing for just 2.5 yards a carry at home is a sign that goes well beyond worrying. Another home loss this coming weekend, to Oregon State, and Rick Neuheisel will be staring a four- or even three-win season in the face.