College football games, Week 13: With Chase Young's return, will Ohio State roll vs. Penn State?
The Big Ten East is firmly in the spotlight as the top showdown of the penultimate week of the regular season
Consternation about any rule-breaking by Chase Young, should be met with this reality: It's altogether possible that, in a year or two, what Ohio State's talented defensive end did will be entirely legal by NCAA standards.
The Buckeyes' star returns this week against No. 8 Penn State in a battle for the Big Ten East. Young missed the two previous games after admitting to taking a loan from a family friend, who reportedly financed a trip for Young's girlfriend to last season's Rose Bowl.
Young's return qualifies as a storyline itself during the second-to-last week of the regular season, one light on big games. To win out, No. 2 Ohio State will most likely need Young healthy and happy. He's the rare defensive force who is that good.
The fact Young repaid the loan was seen as a significant mitigating factor by compliance experts. But the fact that we're headed toward athletes being able to profit off their name, image and likeness should mitigate any outrage from those who would judge him.
It hasn't hurt so far. Young was named a finalist Wednesday for the Nagurski Award (nation's best defensive player). That alone all but signals he will be a member of the Football Writers Association of America All-America team. He is expected to be named a finalist Monday for the Bednarik Award, the other defensive player of the year honor.
As for the Heisman Trophy … do we really need ask about Young's eligibility? The Heisman Trust didn't stand in the way of voters who awarded the Stiff Arm to Jameis Winston. The Florida State quarterback left school with a bunch of team records but also a sordid list of wrongdoing and accusations attached to his name.
"It shouldn't [matter]," said Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls, a Heisman voter and former FWAA president. "Young has so clearly separated himself from every other defensive player in America, he should qualify for every honor and possibly even a wrongful action lawsuit against the over-reaching NCAA."
After a breakout game on Oct. 26 against Wisconsin, Young began getting mention as a Heisman candidate. Michigan's Charles Woodson was the last defensive player to win the Heisman in 1997. The last Heisman winner to miss so much as a game was FSU's Charlie Ward in 1993. Just getting to New York for a defensive player, though, should be considered a major win.
Despite being docked two games, Young still has that All-America aura about him heading into Penn State.
"You definitely feel his presence at practice," tight end Luke Farrell said.
Now, can the big fella pick up where left off? As an edge rusher, Young's main foes (victims?) are Penn State tackles Rasheed Walker and Will Fries. Penn State's offensive line is ranked a middling 52nd in sack rate (per Football Outsiders).
With 13 ½ sacks, Young is still ranked second nationally and half a sack off Ohio State's single-season record, despite missing those games. "He could probably even sack the NCAA," Bohls said.
2. Dropping the Hamler: Penn State cannot win without wide receiver K.J. Hamler. The availability of the Nittany Lions' best pass catcher remains a mystery after he suffered what his being called an apparent concussion last week against Indiana. Coach James Franklin says he is "hopeful" of Hamler's availability against Ohio State. We'd settle for "questionable" but whatever.
Hamler is so important because of what he has already done against the Buckeyes. The junior caught four passes for 138 yards, including a 93-yard touchdown in a one-point loss last year at Penn State.
That night, he accounted for more than 200 all-purpose yards. Hamler is simply Penn State's best offensive weapon as the Big Ten's top "true" all-purpose performer (running, receiving, returning). Best news for the Nittany Lions: Hamler is still listed atop the depth chart at receiver, kick returner and punt returner.
2. Last stand at USC? Amazingly, No. 23 USC can still finish 8-4, win the Pac-12 South and play for the conference championship in two weeks. That's a strange backdrop for what could also be Clay Helton's last game as the Trojans coach. Helton has dangled in midair while USC has fired an athletic director and hired another, all while Urban Meyer has done little to smack down talk that he will be the next coach. "I'm not [thinking of returning] at the moment," Meyer told cleveland.com in September. "Like you said, next year can I say that? We'll talk again next year and we'll see."
New USC AD Mike Bohn suggested the week of the UCLA game that this may not be the end for Helton. Bohn's new and may need more time to evaluate the situation. Meyer may still be there next year given the presumed dearth of high-profile openings this offseason. If Bohn was brought in to fire Helton, it's going to be awkward and possibly divisive to get rid of a guy who could win the Pac-12 for the second time in three years.
4. Duels in the desert: Perhaps the biggest message sent by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee this week is that the Pac-12 isn't going anywhere. Specifically, the committee left No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Utah stacked. Think of those spots as a staging area if there is any chaos above them. Both teams hope to survive trips to Arizona where they are prohibitive favorites. Oregon is at Arizona State; Utah travels Arizona. Neither team has to apologize for a thing. Mario Cristobal has built the Ducks in the image of an SEC team, from the inside out on both lines. If Utes running back Zack Moss isn't the best player on the West Coast, that title goes to Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert.
Pro Football Focus recently provided a breakdown of Utah's defense. It is top five nationally in overall defensive grade, yards per play allowed (4.2), rushing touchdowns (three) and yards after first contact (2.4). Against the pass, it is sixth in defensive passer rating (73.7) and tied for eighth in interceptions (13). The unit has allowed only 37 pass plays of at least 15 yards, fifth-best nationally.
The winner of the Pac-12 Championship Game could create at least a robust discussion. The Pac-12 is no longer a laughingstock. Playing that 13th game will be an advantage over No. 5 Alabama, which has beaten no currently ranked teams.
5. Alabama style points: Speaking of that No. 5 team, feel sorry for Western Carolina this week. Even more than usual with the beating Alabama is about to put on the Catamounts. This is desperation time for Bama. No Tua Tagovailoa. Still out of the top four. Two games left. One game remaining to get backup Mac Jones some reps before Auburn.
With chances for a sixth consecutive CFP appearance slipping away, expect Nick Saban to pull out the heavy artillery in the first game post-Tua: beating 3-8 Western Carolina by as high a margin as possible. Not that you didn't expect that anyway, but so many things have to fall in place for the Tide it has to start by bombing the Catamounts.
The Nov. 30 Iron Bowl is Bama's last, best chance to make a statement. The best way to do that is a similar carpet bombing of the Tigers. That's a long shot given the game is at Jordan-Hare Stadium and Auburn may have the best defensive line in the country. Alabama may win at Auburn, but it isn't going to be a blowout. That puts Western Carolina -- a 57-point underdog -- in peril of being sacrificial Catamounts.
6. Best coach this century: With jobs beginning to open up, the idea was to assemble the most successful coaches who have been hired recently from age 40 through age 54. That age group is a general sweet spot when college head coaches are at the peak of their careers. SportsSource Analytics was able to go back to 2001 with a list of 165 coaches in that grouping.
Turns out one Lane Kiffin at FAU is among the best in that span considering he (1) is still active and (2) has improved the Owls immensely. Bobby Petrino tops the list after improving the Western Kentucky winning percentage 37.16 percent over the program's previous five years. In his one and only year (2013), Petrino went 8-4.
Considering only active coaches at their current schools, though, Kiffin improved his program the most among that hiring age group. Don't laugh. Arriving at age 41 in 2017, Kiffin has improved the program's winning percentage (.639) almost 34 percent from the previous five years (.300). Remember that as Kiffin's name is bandied around for openings. The Owls go for win No. 8 on Saturday against UTSA.
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