Clemson fans obviously wish that decision had come a few days earlier, but it’s hard to fault Swinney for showing loyalty to his veteran, Cole Stoudt, for as long as he could. Besides, most true freshmen would’ve been rattled by the big stage in Tallahassee on Saturday. It’s just that Watson isn’t like most freshmen, and that’s why this was an easy decision moving forward.
Four weeks into the season, Watson is the fourth backup QB in the ACC to see signifiant action, and he’s clearly been the best. Watson leads all ACC quarterbacks in Total QBR and is sixth nationally.
The true freshman has only been on campus since January and he missed the latter half of spring ball with an injury, but as we wrote last week, he's a quick study and Chad Morris' offense is second nature already.
Watson might be licking his chops for his first career start, which will come this week against a reeling North Carolina team that just coughed up 789 yards of offense to ECU and ranks 125th nationally in passing defense. It’s so bad for the Tar Heels that Larry Fedora admitted he needs to re-evaluate how he’s doing his job, writes the Charlotte Observer.
Of course, as Fedora tries to right the ship in Chapel Hill, it’s possible he could turn to his backup QB, too. Starter Marquise Williams struggled against ECU, completing 14 of 25 passes for 127 yards (just 5.1 per attempt) and tossed a disastrous interception that was returned for a TD. Two early scoring drives led by Williams were actually finished by TD throws from a wide receiver and punter, respectively.
Mitch Trubisky wasn’t markedly better, completing 8 of 16 throws for 103 yards and a touchdown, but it’s fair to wonder if UNC fans will start clamoring for the highly recruited freshman to start over the veteran QB soon, too, just as Clemson’s fans did.
Sean Maguire largely held his own in his first start for Florida State, and it was a wild ride for his family, writes Warchant. But he’s headed back to the bench as Jimbo Fisher made clear that Jameis Winston will be the starter again, effective today.
Then at Virginia, the Hoos remain optimistic despite a third straight 2-2 start, writes The Daily Progress. But questions still linger at QB, after Matt Johns finished things off for Virginia against BYU following an injury to starter Greyson Lambert. Lambert says he'll be back this week, but Johns has the better numbers through four games.
But if there’s QB drama in those places, there is none in Clemson, where Watson is clearly the future.
“Turn his tape on, watch him play and the moment was never too big for him, even as a freshman playing varsity,” Morris told me last week. And that was before Watson looked like a savvy veteran in raucous Doak Campbell Stadium.
The Tigers are 1-2, and for the third straight year, it looks like winning the ACC won’t happen. But after Clemson fans licked their wounds Sunday, they should certainly feel good about the future with their new QB.
A few more links:
- There’s no doubt Winston was missed Saturday, but Florida State showed its depth in the win over Clemson, writes Sports Illustrated.
- It was a lot of little things that let Florida State squash Clemson, writes Tomahawk Nation. Of note on those little things: Clemson was 2-of-5 converting third-and-short against the Seminoles.
- This headline from the Washington Post certainly summed up Clemson's performance Saturday succinctly.
- Michael Brewer took the blame after Virginia Tech’s loss to Georgia Tech, writes The Roanoke Times. No Power 5 QB in the country has thrown more interceptions this season than Brewer (eight).
- There are plenty of numbers for Boston College to be happy about after four games, but BC Interruption points out a couple sobering stats: The Eagles didn’t force a turnover against Maine and currently rank 104th nationally with a minus-3 turnover margin. BC has just three points off turnovers this year, too. Only six FBS teams have less.
- Another year, another long list of complaints about Miami’s defense, writes The Sun-Sentinel. Is there anyone in the ACC whose job seems less secure right now than Mark D’Onofrio? Since he came aboard in 2011, only Duke has allowed more yards per game to Power 5 teams than Miami (446.2) and no ACC team has allowed a higher percentage of third-down conversions (46.1).
- James Quick’s breakout game against FIU was worth the wait for Louisville, writes The Courier-Journal.
College Football Playoff: Florida State
Orange Bowl: Duke versus Notre Dame*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson
TaxSlayer Bowl: Georgia Tech
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Louisville
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Pittsburgh
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman: Virginia
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Miami
Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: NC State
* Note: Notre Dame is eligible for a bid to any ACC tie-in game unless it is selected for a New Year’s Six game, which can include playing an ACC team in the Orange Bowl.
The fifth-year coach then turned to his team and his players as they took a knee around him in the locker room. He stood there, sizing up a room of 105 players that battled to a 23-17 overtime win against No. 22 Clemson without its best player for an entire game and best defensive player for the final half. He rubbed his eyes.
“Let 'em flow, Coach!”
“Let it out, Coach, let it out!”
“Don’t cry, Coach!”
If the pregame video of Jameis Winston prepping his team before last season’s Clemson game was for the cameras, the 2014 post-game version was unadulterated emotion.
Florida State great LeRoy Butler, who spoke to fans before the game about the legendary Puntrooskie play against Clemson, filmed the locker room scene in a series of videos he posted to his YouTube page.
“How good it is to come to work and work with people like you,” a vulnerable Fisher told his team in the video. “God, I’m a lucky man. Let me tell you that right now. I’m a lucky man.”
The Seminoles dealt with distractions through much of the week after Winston jumped on a table in the middle of Florida State’s campus and yelled a profane and sexually explicit statement. He was suspended Wednesday for the first half. Fill-in starter Sean Maguire said the team initially viewed it as a distraction before moving on.
Then Winston was suspended for the entire game late Friday night, and the headlines and distractions recycled.
In the first half, the Seminoles played like a team that looked distracted, but the defense kept Florida State in the game until Maguire launched a game-tying 74-yard pass with 6:04 left. In overtime, after a fourth-down stop by the Seminoles’ defense, the rushing game found new life as Karlos Williams rushed for the final 25 yards and game-winning touchdown.
“Each person, we have flaws, but I’ll tell you that’s what a family does -- love and trusts and believes in each other, that plays until the end. I don’t have words for you,” Fisher said.
Assistant coach Sal Sunseri addresses the team in the next video and gives the game ball to Fisher.
In the final video, Fisher is mobbed by his team.
Each week throughout the season, the Playoff Forecast will use ESPN's Football Power Index and human logic (i.e., the eye test) to determine which teams are best positioned in the chase for the inaugural College Football Playoff. These rankings take into account perceived team strength (including injuries) and remaining schedule difficulty (including prospective conference championship games).
The Playoff Forecast is not intended to be a prediction of the selection committee's weekly Top 25, which will be released every Tuesday starting Oct. 28. It is a projection of which teams have the best chance to be in the top four come December.
FPI's chance of winning out: 22.1 percent
FPI's chance of winning the conference: 58.5 percent
After clearing one of their most difficult road hurdles with an impressive second-half performance at West Virginia, the Sooners seem as good a bet to go undefeated as any team in a Power 5 conference. Their most highly regarded remaining opponents, Baylor and Oklahoma State, must both visit Norman, and the toughest test away from home seems to be at TCU, which comes on Oct. 4 after OU has a bye week to prepare. Also, the fact that the Big 12 has no conference championship game is another factor that enhances Oklahoma's chances of finishing the regular season unblemished.
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East Carolina is ranked in The Associated Press college football poll for the first time since 2008 and Mississippi State moved into the Top 25 for the first time in two seasons after breaking a long losing streak against LSU.
The Pirates were last ranked Sept. 21, 2008. That team finished 9-5 and won Conference USA. East Carolina (3-1) is in its first season in the American Athletic Conference.
Mississippi State is No. 14 after beating LSU 34-29 to end a 14-game skid to the Tigers. The Bulldogs were last ranked in 2012.
Each Sunday during the season, ESPN.com will highlight four storylines that had an impact on the College Football Playoff race.
Louisiana native Dak Prescott passed for 268 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 105 and a TD at Tiger Stadium as the Bulldogs snapped a 14-game losing streak to LSU.
Jameis Winston, suspended for the game after making "offensive and vulgar" comments earlier this week on campus, was reduced to cheerleader as Karlos Williams scored on a 12-yard touchdown run to rally Florida State past Clemson in overtime.
Marcus Mariota threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 58 net yards despite being sacked seven times as the Ducks scraped by the Cougars 38-31.
That was the best the ACC has to give against No. 1-ranked Florida State: a Clemson team that was in the red zone seven times and scored on just three of those drives. It was the most meaningful game the Noles will play during the regular season, and they won it with their Heisman-winning quarterback suspended for the entire game and their best defensive player sidelined for the second half with a concussion.
If Florida State somehow found a way to win that one, you better believe the odds are in the Noles' favor to find their way into the inaugural College Football Playoff -- with or without Jameis Winston.
With the win, Florida State took the lead in the ACC's Atlantic Division race and should be in cruise control to win the ACC. Notre Dame is the only ranked opponent remaining on the schedule, and ESPN's Football Power Index still gives the Noles a 73.2 percent chance of winning -- their lowest predicted percentage on the schedule. That Thursday night game at Louisville no longer looks so daunting, and as for Florida?
Even with backup Sean Maguire leading the way, Florida State racked up more yards (318) against Clemson than rival Florida did (200) against Alabama with starter Jeff Driskel running the show. Maguire, making his first career start, had a better QBR than Driskel, and they both threw two picks. In spite of Winston's shocking suspension, Florida State remains right on track to be an undefeated ACC champ heading to the playoff.
The question is whether Winston wants to be part of it.
How the West will be won
There are five undefeated teams remaining in the SEC -- and they're all in the West Division.
Welcome to the club, Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs' win over No. 8 LSU legitimized their hopes not only as a contender in the West Division, but also as a dark-horse candidate for the playoff. Any team that has a chance to win the SEC has a chance to earn a playoff bid. In what should be considered the toughest division in the sport, the winner of the SEC West should wow the committee with its strength of schedule. Five teams entered the week ranked in the top 10.
LSU was the first to be reminded how quickly that can change. This is where a two-loss team might cause some debates.
Nobody has clearly separated from the pack, but it's still early.
Chest bumps for the Big Ten
It took four weeks, but the Big Ten finally had a good day.
Everyone but Michigan, that is.
For the first time this season, the Big Ten came out on top, highlighted by Indiana's shocking upset of No. 18 Missouri and Nebraska's win over Miami -- part of a 3-0 sweep of the ACC. Wisconsin also pummeled Bowling Green, as if each touchdown further distanced the Badgers from the rest of the league's MAC woes.
No. 11 Michigan State, still the Big Ten's best hope of a playoff representative, scored 73 points against Eastern Michigan, even though coach Mark Dantonio downplayed the idea of scoring style points.
The Big Ten was in desperate need of a weekend like this to boost its image. Whoever thought the Hoosiers would trump a Nebraska win over Miami as the league's marquee win? The Big Ten's playoff hopes aren't over yet.
Don't forget BYU
There was no bigger story than Florida State this week, and there is no deeper league than the SEC, but BYU still has the best chance of any team in the country to go undefeated, according to the FPI.
The Cougars' 41-33 win over a much-improved Virginia team is nothing to be scoffed at, but the Cavaliers -- like every other team on BYU's schedule -- aren't ranked. BYU would likely have to win out and look good in the process in order to have a chance at displacing a team from a Power 5 conference in the playoff.
Not only did Florida State get a huge victory in overtime against Clemson Saturday night, the Seminoles also scored big on the recruiting trail by picking up one of the top defensive line prospects in the 2016 class. Following the win featuring an electric atmosphere, defensive end Janarius Robinson became the third member of the ESPN Junior 300 to commit to Jimbo Fisher.
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Duke safety Jeremy Cash: There were a handful of players to choose from on a Blue Devils defense that turned in an excellent performance in Saturday's 47-13 win over Tulane, but Cash gets the nod here. The redshirt junior tied for the team-high with 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and had the first of four Duke interceptions on the day, and the fifth of his career. Duke is 4-0 for the first time since 1994, when it started 7-0, and it has looked sharp on both sides of the ball as it readies for conference play next week at Miami.
Pitt running back James Conner: At this point we'll call it a ho-hum day for the bruising sophomore back: 29 carries, 155 yards and two touchdowns. (He had one catch for 9 yards as well.) Those early-season Heisman prospects likely go out the door with a 24-20 loss to Iowa, given Pitt's underwhelming schedule, but a fifth straight 150-yard rushing outing is nothing to overlook. Conner is at 699 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, a school-record to start a season, crushing Tony Dorsett's 564 yards through four games during his 1973 freshman season.
Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene: There may not be a player in the country who is more important to his team than Greene. The senior delivered again Saturday night in FSU's 23-17 overtime win over Clemson. He had nine catches for 135 yards and a touchdown, in addition to a 28-yard punt return. He came up huge on a night the Seminoles needed him to, proving to be a huge help to first-time starter Sean Maguire.
Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy: Stop the presses: Murphy failed to rush for 100 yards. He did net 99, though, along with two rushing touchdowns, including a 71-yarder in the first quarter. And he completed 11 of 18 throws for 130 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Murphy has proven to be an invaluable addition to the Eagles, as he stretches the field and makes them so much less predictable. BC rushed for 413 yards in its 40-10 win over Maine, eclipsing the 400-yard rushing mark for the second straight game and eclipsing the 300-yard mark for the third time in four games. The Eagles' 549 yards of total offense marked the third time they eclipsed that mark this year as well. So much of that comes back to the man under center.
Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas: Thomas' numbers will not jump off the page as a passer: He completed 7 of 18 throws for 125 yards and a touchdown during the Yellow Jackets' 27-24 win over Virginia Tech. His rushing numbers were much better: 22 carries for 165 yards and another touchdown. But Thomas made plays when it mattered most, leading yet another game-winning drive and helping the Yellow Jackets snap a four-game losing streak against Virginia Tech. Thomas bounced back from a rough start throwing (he lost a fumble as well) and completed 4 of his final 7 passes, relying heavily down the stretch on DeAndre Smelter (5 catches, 101 yards, TD), who himself deserves plenty of recognition in this space now. For all of its troubles, Georgia Tech is now 4-0 and in great position in the Coastal race, having fended off the Hokies on the road. (Special recognition in this game also goes to Virginia Tech linebacker Chase Thomas, who had the insane line of 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.)
New No. 1 In ESPN CFB Power Rankings
Final Georgia Tech 27 Virginia Tech 24 Final Iowa 24 Pittsburgh 20 Final Maryland 34 Syracuse 20 Final Tulane 13 Duke 47 Final Maine 10 Boston College 40 Final Louisville 34 Florida International 3 Final Virginia 33 21 BYU 41 Final Army 21 Wake Forest 24 Final North Carolina 41 East Carolina 70 Final Presbyterian 0 North Carolina State 42 Final Miami (FL) 31 24 Nebraska 41 Final/OT 22 Clemson 17 1 Florida State 23