Posted on: October 10, 2011 10:25 am
Edited on: October 10, 2011 10:29 am

Examining the Heisman race

We are near the midway point of the season and the Heisman race is very murky. After a few weeks with Baylor's Robert Griffin III in my top spot, I have Stanford's Andrew Luck back at No. 1. Luck has been as advertised, looking like the closest thing to an NFL QB as you'll see playing at the college level. With him, Stanford is a legit BCS title contender. Without him, the Cardinal would be struggling to get bowl eligible.

Luck has a 14-2 TD-INT ratio and is completing 73 percent of his passes, up from last year's under 71. A few weeks before the season Luck told me one of his goals was to improve five percent on his accuracy and much of that would hinge on his bettering his timing with his receivers, many of whom are new, on their routes. Even though he's only up about three percentage points from last year, he's actually up 7 percent from where he was at this same stage in 2010 (113 for 172, 66 percent, 16 TDs, 4 INTs).

Griffin has been superb, although his numbers have started to tail off just a bit. He's still completing 80 percent of his passes with a 19-1 TD-INT mark and trails only Russell Wilson in passing efficiency. Griffin's TD-INC ratio is now 19-28. If he could've led Baylor in a rally to beat K-State, RG3 would still be number one on my list.

LSU's Tyrann Mathieu is up to third on my list. No defender has a bigger impact on a game than the Honey Badger, the wild card on arguably the country's top D. Mathieu is a magnet to the football and he doesn't just get to it, he often finds a way to take it. Mathieu leads LSU in tackles (41), is second in TFLs (5.0), leads in forced fumbles (4), leads in fumbles recovered (three), is second in passes defensed (six) and is tied for the lead in INTs (two). And I can say this from being around a team that spent a week preparing for LSU, the threat of the Honey Badger is almost as destructive as the Honey Badger himself. 

Realistically, I doubt he can win it, but if Luck and Russell Wilson tail off and LSU wins the SEC and he keeps making big plays, he has a better chance than people might think.  We are in a different era of sports and awards and Mathieu can definitely get to NYC for the ceremony.

Former N.C. State QB Russell Wilson has made Wisconsin a BCS title contender. The transition to his new Big Ten team couldn't have gone any smoother. He's been brilliant, leading the nation in passing efficiency at 216.89. In three seasons at NCSU, he was at 135.5. The nimble 5-11, 205-pounder, who had never completed better than 59 percent of his passes in three seasons of ACC play, is up to 75 percent this year and burning defenses with big play after big play.

Trent Richardson is fifth on my list. The Alabama back has been at his best in the Tide's two toughest spots, shredding Florida in the Swamp for 181 rushing yards and lighting up Arkansas for 126 yards rushing and 85 more receiving. Of all the top running backs Richardson has the best shot to win the Heisman because he plays for the best team and because he will have a marquee opportunity early in November when LSU visits 'Bama.

The field: It's been a long time since I didn't have Kellen Moore anywhere on my top five, but for as sharp as the Boise State QB has been, especially after having lost two gifted wideouts to the NFL, other quarterbacks have been even more impressive.

Denard Robinson's been on my weekly Heisman list a few times this season, but for as dynamic as he's been carrying the 6-0 Michigan Wolverines, his passing (10 TDs, 9 INTs) is holding him back in light of the other elite QBs. He completed 63 percent of his passes last year and is only at 56 percent this year.

After last weekend, I'm starting to think Miami's Lamar Miller is best player on a losing team and the speedy RB may be the best tailback in the country. He has really blossomed as he's gotten stronger and learned to be more patient. Despite a nagging shoulder injury, he's gone over 100 yards every time out and last week he ran for 166 yards on the road at Va. Tech against what was the country's #2 run defense. I know Richardson, Marcus Lattimore and LaMichael James have gotten more pub, but I suspect Miller, who is as explosive as any back in the country and is also a legit 216-pounder, will prove to be the best of all of them down the road.

Posted on: October 10, 2011 10:24 am
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Posted on: October 10, 2011 10:13 am
Edited on: October 10, 2011 10:24 am
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Posted on: October 4, 2011 11:32 am
Edited on: October 5, 2011 9:48 am

Tuesday Top 10: Biggest Surprises of first month

A month into the 2011 season and it's time to look back on the biggest surprises thus far. And by surprises I mean pleasant surprises, not disappointments. That's a list for another day.

1. Clemson: 
The Tigers who have been perpetual underachievers prone to teasing more than producing may just have turned the proverbial corner under Dabo Swinney this year. Swinney hired former HS coach Chad Morris to run his offense and Clemson is really getting results, going from 86th in scoring up to 33rd. After looking shaky early, the Tigers, led by QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins, have responded by knocking off three ranked teams in a row, highlighted by last weekend's win at Lane Stadium. That W was also quite a departure for a team that had lost four of its previous five road games.

1. Nordly Capi, DE, Colorado State: 
Talk about a shocker. Capi was thrown into action four snaps into the 2011 season after standout DE Broderick Sargent was lost of the year with an ACL injury. Capi, a 6-3, 249-pound sophomore from Florida, who had no sacks in four games last year, goes on to terrorize the New Mexico offense that day, forcing four fumbles, setting an NCAA single-game record. And, the kid hasn't really slowed down much since, going on a five-game sack streak, CSU's longest since Clark Haggins had one of the same length in the late 90s. Capi, who is said to have a really outgoing and fearless personality (he wants to be a fire fighter after his football career is over), leads the nation in both sacks (eight) and forced fumbles (five).

3. Michigan Defense: The Wolverines D would be even higher on this list if they've played a few more decent teams (although WMU, ND and SD State do have capable offenses), but the fact that this unit has gone from 108th in scoring defense to 4th is still remarkable and a big tip of the hat to new DC Greg Mattison who has replaced Greg Robinson. Finally, this D is more than just stud DT Mike Martin as DE Craig Roh has gotten healthy and given them some presence and Kenny Demens, Thomas Gordon and Jordan Kovachs really have taken to the new system, which is a big reason why a unit that was 114th in pass defense has jumped 100 spots despite seeing some good passing attacks.

4. Robert Griffin III, Baylor QB:
RG3 has played out of his mind in the first month. The guy who arrived at Baylor with the rep as one of the fastest men to ever play QB in college football, has blossomed into a true passing threat. Griffin leads the nation in passing efficiency by a wide margin, has a sterling 18-1 TD-INT ratio and almost unfathomable 18-20 TD-INC ratio. For comparison, the No. 2 guy in passing efficiency Russell Wilson is 13-28 in TD-INC.

5. K-State: Bill Snyder is doing it again at Kansas State. The Cats went to Miami and took down a Miami team that was coming off a big win over Ohio State and then they took down a ranked Baylor team. Led by speedy Miami transfer Arthur Brown, K-State has gone from 78th in scoring defense up to 17th and this team has a decent shot of opening the year 7-0, matching last season's win total before OU comes to town in late October.

6. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin, QB:
We knew the former NC State QB was good. His 3-1 TD/INT ratio in three seasons in the ACC was very strong, but it's been how quickly he has taken to this new system and his teammates and how accurate he has been that is so impressive. You'd think the timing with the new receivers wouldn't be as crisp as it has been. Remember this is a guy who had never completed above 59 percent of his passes. This year he's at 75 percent and is averaging a gaudy 12.5 yards per pass attempt, tops in the country and on pace to shatter Ty Detmer's NCAA record of 11.1 ypa. Just a part of the reason why RussellManiaXVI is running wild in Madison.

7. Ga. Tech offense:
Guess opponents haven't quite figured out Paul Johnson's offense after all. The 5-0 Jackets, 71st in scoring and 119th in passing last season, have been very sharp in 2011 behind QB Tevin Washington who has been burning defenses with the pass, sporting a 10-1 TD-INT ratio and a passing efficiency number of 260.7 (he'd be #1 in the nation if he had enough pass attempts). Tech is #2 in the country in scoring and up to No. 79 in passing offense.

8. Auburn:
The Tigers may have been in the preseason top 25, but they had many critics looking at all of the talent the defending national champs had to replace and were scratching their heads. Gene Chizik's team has looked pretty shaky at times, but this bunch is still finding ways to win close games. Their 16-13 win at No. 10 South Carolina last weekend earned them a place on this list as the young Auburn D kept Marcus Lattimore from running wild and limited Steve Spurrier's team to 2-10 on third downs.

9. The Big 12:
For all of the chaos with this conference off the field, the product on the field has been better than expected. Both Oklahoma schools look like potential BCS title game candidates. Texas is undefeated and showing some spark on both sides of the ball, while getting some plays from its young QBs. Baylor knocked off TCU early and has been turning heads. Texas Tech and K-State are both still undefeated. Even though A&M's second half troubles cost them a win over future SEC brethren Arkansas, the Big 12 is still 27-3 in games outside of the conference play and has six teams in the PA top 25, the same as the SEC has.

10. Vanderbilt:
James Franklin is generating a lot of buzz on the recruiting trail and that vibe is carrying over to the field, where the Commodores, a team that won four games the previous three seasons, is 3-1. Vandy's D has been very sharp forcing turnovers at an eye-catching rate (the school is No. 5 in turnover margin). Vandy absolutely dominated Ole Miss, 30-7 in mid-September in a way that jogged people's minds trying to recall the last time Vandy football demolished another SEC opponent the way they did the Rebs that day.

Posted on: September 8, 2011 12:02 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 12:32 pm

Morning Surf Report: On Wisconsin & on Criner

Stat of the Day: Courtesy of Mike Lucas, Wisconsin accumulated 499 yards of total offense on just 53 plays vs. UNLV, averaging 9.42 yards per play. No team facing an FBS opponent had a higher average in WK 1.

  *Speaking of the Badgers, they have a pretty good Red Zone weapon to keep an eye on in TE Jacob Pedersen, writes Tom Mulhern. 

Not counting a kneel-down they took at the end of the Northwestern game, the Badgers have scored on 56 of their past 57 trips into the red zone over 11 games, with 50 TDs.
  The red-zone success starts with a strong running game but having good tight ends is also vital. Pedersen, a sophomore, is quickly developing a nice feel in that area, with three touchdowns in 10 career receptions. 

“I do think he’s got some pretty good natural instincts,” OC Paul Chryst said. “When you said ‘feel,’ I think that’s really accurate. He is a guy who does feel things, with good understanding.”

*Enigmatic Arizona WR Juron Criner will not play in tonight's game at Oklahoma State, the Arizona Republic reports.

This week, coach Mike Stoops said Criner had a medical issue but did not go into details and hoped he would play. But Criner's condition did not allow him to travel.

"Our offense, as you can see from a week ago, is not just one player," Stoops said at the start of the week. "Juron has a big-play knack, but we have other players who can make plays."

The Cats will miss the play-making skills of the big WR, although they do have some decent options without him. Texas transfer Dan Buckner is a gifted target, who caught four passes for 38 yards against NAU in the opener. Redshirt freshman Austin Hill who caught a 24-yard TD play in WK 1, is another guy their staff is high on. I was told by a source at U of A Thursday morning that Criner did not make the trip, but is expected to be back in action for the rest of the season.

*Here is a cool story about Oregon asst. Scott Frost, one of the true rising stars in the coaching world, talking about giving back and mentoring

I was lucky enough to have a great father. Most of these kids we have problems with weren't. And to me, that was a huge motivation to get involved with something like this. Just seeing the guys on my team that didn't have it and the effect it had on them. If you're around it every day like I am, it's amazing to see. I've been involved a lot of my life in mentoring. I did it at Kansas State with Big Brothers Big Sisters. My next coaching job was atUniversity of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. And I was with Big Brothers Big Sisters. 

Probably the best experience of my life in regards to mentoring has happened at Oregon. I got to Oregon and I decided I wanted to do it again. Went to a guy named James Harris that does great things for our program, that kind of works with outreach programs, and I said I wanted to mentor someone. He suggested I get involved with a group called A Family for Every Child that does basically what Big Brothers Big Sisters does but does it with foster kids. 

They set me up with a kid named Chris, who was a sophomore at the time at Willamette High School in Eugene, Ore. Chris is a great kid. I really don't know how he turned out as well as he did. He's been in and out of foster homes his whole life -- five different ones, I think. Love Chris to death. I ended up being a mentor to him for about two years. 

Category: NCAAF
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