Chicago Colleges: NCF

All six finalists have made Heisman case

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
10:31
AM CT

Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State fans have made their pick, but Jameis Winston is just one of six Heisman finalists.
Six Heisman Award finalists will head to New York for Saturday’s ceremony, the most that have received invites to the ceremony since 1994, when there were also six. The last time there were more was in 1988, with eight.

Although the favorite entering the ceremony is Florida State QB Jameis Winston, all six have made a solid case of why they are the best player in the country this season.

QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Although Northern Illinois' bid to be a BCS buster was ended in the MAC Championship Game, Lynch’s dual-threat ability kept the Huskies in it all season. He had 321 rushing yards against Western Michigan, the most by a quarterback in FBS history, breaking his own record of 316 set earlier in the year against Central Michigan.

Lynch ended the season with 1,881 rush yards, also an FBS record for a quarterback.

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Manziel’s bid to join Archie Griffin as the only multiple Heisman winners saw a transformation of his game. While his 2012 season was built more on his legs, his 2013 campaign saw him develop as a passer.

Manziel added a yard to his yards per attempt (from 8.5 in 2012 to 9.5 in 2013). His touchdown percentage also increased from 6.0% in 2012 to 8.4% this year. Also in 2013, 63 percent of his completions this season have gone for a first down or a touchdown, compared to 57.6 percent last year.

RB Tre Mason, Auburn
Even after a 1,000-yard rushing season last year, Mason wasn't on the short list of Heisman contenders until he finished the season with five straight 100-yard rushing games, including 304 against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game, the fifth-highest total all-time in an SEC game.

Mason’s 2,137 all-purpose yards this season broke the Auburn school record, previously held by Bo Jackson. Mason’s 22 rushing TD this season also set a school record.

QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
This is McCarron’s third season as Alabama’s starting quarterback, and he’s improved every season. His opponent-adjusted QBR was 76.7 in 2011, 81.5 in 2012 and 83.5 this season.

He was even better against the tough SEC competition. In SEC games, McCarron had an 86.4 opponent-adjusted QBR, tied for the best in the conference. Fellow Heisman candidate Manziel was third (85.5).

RB Andre Williams, Boston College
This season, Williams became just the 16th player in FBS history to run for at least 2,000 yards in a season, and the first since Donald Brown did so for Connecticut in 2008.

Williams also showed big-play ability. He had 26 runs of at least 20 yards, the most by an FBS player since Kevin Smith had 26 in 2007. His 11 touchdowns on such runs are the most for any player in the last 10 seasons.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
Winston is the clubhouse leader for the Heisman, and as the FBS leader in opponent-adjusted QBR (90.9), he has good reason to be. The leader in opponent-adjusted QBR in three of the last six seasons went on to win the Heisman, including Manziel last year.

Winston has also showed a clutch presence on the field throughout the year. On third downs, Winston has a 98.9 Total QBR, leading all FBS quarterbacks. Over the last 10 seasons, the highest third-down Total QBR in a completed season was also 98.9, by Andrew Luck in 2010.

Two-QB system working for Northwestern

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
3:30
PM CT

Getty Images, USA TODAY SportsKain Colter (left) and Trevor Siemian (right) have split QB duties this season for Northwestern.
There is an old adage in football that when a team has two quarterbacks, it has none. Northwestern might be the exception. The Wildcats are off to a 4-0 start, during which they have utilized two quarterbacks, senior Kain Colter and junior Trevor Siemian.

The Wildcats have a balanced offense, gaining 51.6 percent of their yards on the ground and 48.4 percent through the air. They are the only Big Ten team that averages more than 225 yards passing and rushing.

Yet, Northwestern’s offense is drastically different dependent upon which quarterback is under center.

Colter (140 plays) and Siemian (141 plays) have split the team’s snaps. The Wildcats have run the ball 75 percent of the time with Colter under center, including 82 percent on first down.

With Siemian taking the snap, Northwestern runs on 50 percent of its plays, including 51 percent on first down.

In Northwestern’s season opener against California, Colter was injured after two plays. Since that game, he has taken almost 22 more snaps per game than Siemian.

The Wildcats have 52 offensive drives this season. The two quarterbacks have shared snaps on five. There have been only two drives on which they both took multiple snaps and one was in Week 1 against California when Colter was injured.


Colter is one the best running quarterbacks in the country. Excluding sacks, he averages 8.3 yards per rush, fourth most by any quarterback with at least 25 such attempts.

With him under center, Northwestern uses zone-reads on 60 percent of its running plays, compared to 28 percent with Siemian. The Wildcats average 7.4 yards on such plays with Colter and 5.3 with Siemian.

Siemian excels at the passing game. Colter does have a better completion percentage, but Siemian’s average pass travels 4.4 more yards downfield. Colter has recorded almost 75 percent of his pass yards after the catch, compared to 34 percent for Siemain.

Siemian has completed 50 percent (10-of-20) of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer. Colter has one such completion in eight attempts.

In addition, Siemian has taken one sack in 78 dropbacks, compared to Colter’s six in 51 dropbacks.

Northwestern will have a tough task against Ohio State's defense, which is allowing 17 points per game. The Buckeyes have one of the best run defenses, allowing just two rushing touchdowns all season. In addition, the Buckeyes are allowing the eighth-fewest rushing yards per game in the FBS.

Golson's departure impacts ground game

June, 10, 2013
6/10/13
1:00
PM CT

Ric Tapia/Icon SMIEverett Golson's departure from Notre Dame will have an effect on the rushing attack.
The loss of starting quarterback Everett Golson is major cause for concern at Notre Dame.

Though the offense in 2011 was slightly better with Tommy Rees at quarterback (2.3 points per drive) than it was with Golson last season (2.2 points per drive), the loss of Golson's rushing ability will be an issue.

Golson's departure means the Irish will be without their top three rushers from a year ago (Theo Riddick was a senior in 2012 and Cierre Wood left school early for the NFL). The only returning contributor from the backfield is George Atkinson III. He’ll be joined by USC transfer Amir Carlisle (who missed 2012 due to injury) and Greg Bryant (No. 2 RB in 2013 ESPN 150).

After a slow start last season, Golson and the Irish rushing attack came into their own in October. The team averaged 3.8 yards per rush in its first four games, but that average jumped to 5.3 from that point forward -- and that includes the 19-rush, 32-yard performance against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.

Starting with the game against Miami on Oct. 6, more designed runs were called for Golson. He also took it upon himself to pick up yards with his legs more often. Golson's designed runs went from 2.0 to 5.1 per game, and his scrambles went from 1.2 to 2.9 per game.

In the first four games of the season, Golson rushed a total of 13 times for one first down and two touchdowns. After that, 23 of his 64 rushes resulted in a first down and he reached the end zone four times.

Rees simply does not have this element in his game. He has exactly one rushing play in his career longer than 8 yards -- a 12-yard run against Tulsa during his freshman season -- and has never had more than 6 net rushing yards in a game.

AJ McCarron mesmerizing in play-action

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
4:30
PM CT

Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsIt was appropriate that this throw was the decisive one for Alabama in its SEC-title win.
AJ McCarron and his Alabama Crimson Tide teammates broke the huddle with a fresh set of downs after T.J. Yeldon's 5-yard run on third-and-5 kept the drive alive against the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship.

With 3:40 remaining and facing a 3-point deficit, Alabama lined up at Georgia's 45 with two tight ends on the line and two wide receivers set to the same side. It was the same formation the Crimson Tide had used on 20 of their 22 plays after Georgia took an 11-point lead with 6:31 remaining in the third quarter.

Twenty of those 22 plays were runs that gained 167 yards and two touchdowns, including Yeldon's drive-sustaining run.

Georgia lined up defensively with one deep safety on this play, leaving one-on-one coverage on the outside for Amari Cooper.

When McCarron took the snap, he faked a handoff to Yeldon, looked left and threw the ball 43 yards in the air to Cooper, who went untouched into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

It was McCarron’s 11th touchdown pass off play-action this season and his ninth such touchdown on first down. In 2011, McCarron had a total of five touchdowns off play-action.

Alabama's running game has set up McCarron all season. He leads FBS in pass efficiency (173.1), and play action has been the key.

McCarron completes nearly 70 percent of his passes thrown after a run fake and is averaging an SEC-best 11.9 yards per attempt. He has not thrown an interception off play-action in 130 attempts, with his last one coming in last season's loss to LSU.

McCarron's average throw after a run fake travels 11.7 yards downfield, and he completes 76 percent of his deep throws that are set up by play-action. On such passes, he has eight touchdowns and no interceptions in 21 attempts.

As he was against Georgia, Cooper has been McCarron’s favorite target on those downfield throws, catching 11 of 14 passes thrown 20 yards or longer when he was the target. Eight of those receptions were off play-action, including four touchdowns.

McCarron will face a Notre Dame Fighting Irish team in the BCS Championship Game that leads the nation in scoring defense (10.3 PPG).

The Irish have given up two touchdown passes on play-action all season, tied for third fewest against an AQ team, and one touchdown on a pass thrown 20 yards or more.

On paper, it will be the biggest test that McCarron has faced this season. A passing grade could give McCarron his second straight BCS Championship, something no quarterback has accomplished.

Notre Dame concedes very little on defense

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
5:45
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Matthew EmmonsWith one more win, Manti Te'o (right) and Notre Dame will play for the right to be No. 1.

(USC hosts Notre Dame on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.)

If the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can win on the road against the USC Trojans. History could, again, repeat itself.

Four different head coaches have been responsible for Notre Dame's eight national championships in the AP poll era (since 1936). All four captured their first national title in their third season at Notre Dame, and head coach Brian Kelly is in his third season at the helm in South Bend.

Notre Dame is one win from playing for the BCS Title thanks in larger part to its defense. The Irish have conceded a touchdown on 6.7 percent of their opponents’ possessions, the lowest percentage in FBS this season.

Notre Dame’s red zone defense also is the best in the nation, allowing a touchdown on 24.1 percent of their opponents’ drives inside the 20-yard line. (Opponents have seven touchdowns and five turnovers in 29 red zone possessions.) That’s the lowest percentage for any FBS team in the last eight seasons.

The defense is led by senior linebacker Manti Te'o. With two more tackles, Te'o will join Bob Crable as the second Notre Dame player with three 100-tackle seasons. Te’o also leads the Irish with six interceptions after not having any in his first three seasons.

Notre Dame's defense will be tested one more time, this time by one of the best wide receivers in the country. USC’s Marqise Lee has more receiving yards (821) in his last four games than 52 FBS teams during that time span. Lee has gained more yards after the catch (837) than any player from any BCS-AQ school, and leads FBS with eight 100-yard receiving games. However, only one player this season has 100 yards receiving against Notre Dame, Jalen Saunders from Oklahoma.

However, Lee will not have Matt Barkley throwing to him – the senior quarterback will not play because of a sprained shoulder. Since 2002, USC’s only loss to Notre Dame came in 2010 when Barkley (then a sophomore) had a sprained ankle and did not play.

Without Barkley, USC may turn to its running game. The Trojans are averaging 160 rushing yards per game, and has gained 10 yards or more on almost 17 percent of their rush attempts. Curtis McNeal has 324 yards in USC’s last two games, but he’ll face a Notre Dame defense that has allowed just three running backs to rush for 80 or more yards this season.

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