Jerry “Jaye” Howard, No. 76 in 2007 class
Howard was a longtime commitment to Florida before finally choosing the Gators for good on national signing day over Auburn and Florida State. He took official visits to all three following his senior season at Jones High in Orlando. Howard’s father played at Florida State, but the Seminoles didn’t put the full-court press on until after then-Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong zeroed in on Howard. Having his cousin, Eric Sledge, as a player at Florida helped Urban Meyer and Strong secure Howard’s commitment in April 2006. Howard was a member of the Gators' stellar 2007 class that included Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Cam Newton, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey, Chris Rainey, Aaron Hernandez, Torrey Davis, John Brown, Major Wright, Ahmad Black and others.
After a redshirt season in 2007, Howard played in nine games and recorded eight tackles on the Gators' national championship team in 2008. He played in 12 games and made four starts in 2009.
In 2010, he appeared in 11 games with eight starts, missing time with an ankle sprain, but still managed to rack up 10 tackles for loss. His best season in Gainesville was his senior campaign. He started all 13 games and recorded 65 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 55 sacks to finish his college career with 131 tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in 45 games.
Howard was selected in the fourth round (No. 114 overall) by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012 NFL draft. He currently plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Honorable mention: Damian Swann, No. 76 in 2011 class. Swann, a cornerback, picked Georgia over offers from Alabama, Miami, Auburn and several others coming out of Grady High in Atlanta. He’s currently finishing his career at Georgia as a three-year starter, having made 161 tackles and seven interceptions in the last three seasons. He is expected to be selected in the draft next spring.
But a private conversation about an individual award is something else entirely, and the Ohio State coach doesn’t have plans for one of those with J.T. Barrett any time soon.
The redshirt freshman quarterback and blossoming national star is certainly attracting more attention, and he is steadily shooting up the polls as a candidate for the game’s most prestigious honor. Though Meyer has some experience dealing with the hoopla that accompanies a Heisman campaign and could counsel his young star if need be, at this point there appears be no need for a State of the Stiff-arm the way he might otherwise address his team’s playoff chances.
"But if I saw it [being a distraction], certainly I’d jump in the middle of that. But I haven’t even given it two thoughts."
Barrett seems to be giving it little consideration as well, though he is clearly aware that he is now part of the conversation as the season hits the closing stretch with the No. 6 Buckeyes gaining steam thanks to his 38 total touchdowns.
His emergence has been well-documented since taking over during training camp following an injury to Braxton Miller, who was supposed to be staging his own run for the Heisman as a senior after finishing in the top 10 each of the past two seasons. But Barrett has now gone well beyond being simply a caretaker for the spread attack in Miller’s absence, shattering records on a weekly basis and helping the Buckeyes expand the playbook thanks his accuracy as a passer, underrated athleticism and an uncanny ability to make the right decision -- both through the air and on the ground.
His success has done more than draw the spotlight to him as a potential candidate for individual awards, prompting additional speculation now about whether Barrett has so far exceeded Miller’s decorated tenure that the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year should be his backup next season, or even switch positions once his surgically repaired shoulder heals. But if all that extra attention or scrutiny is changing Barrett, it certainly doesn’t seem to be inflating his ego or impacting his preparation.
"I hope it doesn’t change me," Barrett said. "I hope I stay the same. I try hard to be the same. Working hard, being here on a Wednesday night, I probably won’t leave until like 9 o’clock, you know, grinding, getting right and everything like that.
"I hope it doesn’t change me, I’m going to do my best to make sure it doesn’t. I have people around here to keep me grounded, so it’s really unlikely for that to happen."
Meyer has made it clear he would be among the first to bring Barrett back to earth if necessary, though so far he hasn’t needed to lean on the expertise acquired while guiding Alex Smith or Tim Tebow through the Heisman circus.
Barrett also has the benefit of sharing a locker room with a couple teammates who are dealing with similar attention, albeit on slightly smaller scales. Joey Bosa is a finalist for the Lombardi Award, Michael Bennett was a preseason All-America still pushing for individual honors, and a handful of skill players on both sides of the ball are in the mix for all-conference accolades.
For all of them, starting with Barrett and his high-profile campaign, one thing above all else is driving the conversation. And worrying about individual awards instead of team victories would be getting it all completely backwards.
"I'm having a lot of fun coaching this team," Meyer said. "J.T. is a Heisman candidate that knows that he could have played much better Saturday, and that's the best thing about coaching these guys right now. I hope it doesn't change.
"That's something we're watching very closely with guys that are starting to get some notoriety. You know, [Ezekiel Elliott] has a chance to get 1,000 yards, and the minute he becomes something other than Zeke Elliott, that's a problem, and same with J.T., same with Joey Bosa. I've just got to make sure they don't change."
For now that means it’s fine to publicly talk about awards or tout Buckeyes as candidates. But Meyer doesn’t expect to have any other conversations after that.
Conceived by Bruce Feldman, the “Body Blow Theory” is the aftermath of what happens to a team after being bludgeoned for 60 minutes and 160 plays by one of the country’s most physical teams. The following week, those opponents don’t have as much in the tank after so many successive shots to the body the prior Saturday.
“No doubt,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said when asked if he believes in the body blow cumulative toll. “… That’s why football is never easy. It’s physical. That’s why it is such a different game. It’s time to man up and play.”
The No. 3 Seminoles’ next opponent, Boston College, seemingly took advantage of the theory earlier this season. A week after Stanford and depleted USC physically beat each other in Week 2, the Trojans were unable to recover for next weekend’s tilt at Boston College. The Eagles ran roughshod over USC to the tune of 452 rushing yards.
The Eagles hope Florida State (10-0, 7-0 ACC) is similarly tired Saturday (ABC, 3:30 ET). Boston College (6-4, 3-3) travels to Tallahassee where Florida State is in the midst of a month-long experiment testing the durability of the country’s last remaining Power 5 undefeated.
The body blows began with Louisville carving a beleaguered Florida State front seven for 158 yards on 33 rushes. Although Virginia didn’t run successfully the following week, the Cavaliers are built on physicality and defensively they tried to impose their will on a Seminoles team unable to generate enough push to run the football. Quarterback Jameis Winston, playing on a hurt ankle, was hit repeatedly, too. And last week, rival Miami played with the most energy it had all season, and the Canes ran 13 more plays than FSU, rushed 40 times and totaled 492 yards.
“We have to go down there and play a really physically tough and strong football game,” BC coach Steve Addazio said.
Addazio, who cut his teeth as an offensive line coach, has built Boston College into a college football throwback. The Eagles embrace hitting, and they’re usually the ones delivering them. With an offense that ranks 10th nationally in rushes per game (49) and 16th in total defense (323.5 yards), they are built to win at the line of scrimmage.
That game plan keeps games close in the fourth quarter, where Boston College is then able to outlast teams running on their own exhaust.
“You've got to find a way to exceed in the fourth quarter, which is very difficult to do because the sign of a good championship team is that when it gets the hardest the best play comes out, and they've shown that when the game is on the line, they play at a high level that I haven't seen in a long time,” Addazio said. “If everyone does their job and plays physical and intense, we’ll have a chance to get the game into the fourth quarter, and when we get it there, we all know we have a chance to win it.”
The fourth quarter is where Florida State has been at its best, and Seminoles nickelback Jalen Ramsey said last week they take pride in dominating the final 15 minutes. Three times this season Florida State has trailed in the fourth quarter yet won all three times and covered the point spread on top of that.
Part of that has to do with the way the Seminoles track each player’s health with GPS tracking. The system provides real-time data for the staff during practice, which gives Fisher an idea of when to give players a rest. Fisher likes the overall health of his team during a physical five-game stretch.
“That’s one of the reasons I believe so whole-heartedly in that GPS. I can guess all I want but it gives me a parameter, which I can set and look at,” he said. “I think that’s why it’s very critical for these guys and their health.”
The Eagles will test that health, and Florida and Georgia Tech will thank them for it.
How could he go from Big Ten freshman of the year to throwing twice as many interceptions (14) as touchdowns (7)? Why is his offense averaging a touchdown less per game compared to 2013? Whatever happened to the Hackenberg of old?
“There’s not a quarterback in the country that can come out and play a perfect game every week,” he said Saturday.
But, according to opposing coaches, a former scout and Hackenberg’s past coaches, all of that criticism greatly misses the mark. Stats and mistakes tell only part of the story, they said, and Hackenberg’s talent and draft stock haven’t dropped off, even if casual observers believe otherwise.
“No, it hasn’t dampened at all,” said Dan Shonka, one-time scout for the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins who now runs Ourlads.com. “You’re talking about a guy who’s really smart and is mentally alert. He’s a good athlete. He’s durable, he’s tough, he’s made big plays in the past. And just look at his arm strength, quickness and delivery. You can go right on down the line.”
That ability hasn’t always been on display this season. But the quarterback position isn’t a solution to a struggling offense inasmuch as it’s the product. Last season, Hackenberg thrived with an experienced offensive line and the two-time Big Ten receiver of the year in Allen Robinson. This year, Hackenberg is struggling with the thinnest line in the Power 5 and with an exceedingly young crop of wideouts. That correlation is no coincidence.
His 37 sacks this season are tied for second-most in the FBS and are the most for a Power 5 signal-caller. And, according to ESPN Stats & Info, he’s under pressure at a rate 15-percent higher than the Power 5 average. The reality off that stat sheet is even starker, too, considering Hackenberg has been forced to throw the ball earlier to avoid said pressure.
“It’s the line. It’s all the line,” one opposing coach said. “We could see going in that he was taking a ton of hits, and big hits. He just can’t operate like he wants to with so much pressure.”
Hackenberg could only peel himself off the turf so many times before the frustration mounted. Against Maryland, following some drives, he’d angrily unbuckle his chin strap, jog over to the sideline – and then start shouting at Penn State’s offensive coordinator. During one sequence, he placed his hands on his hips and just stared at an assistant coach. At other points, he’d gesture and point until the frustration simmered down.
Even earlier in the season, during Week 2, Hackenberg grabbed the white phone on the sideline and it went viral when he appeared to mouth, “I don’t know what the f--- we’re doing.”
“It’s just being competitive,” Hackenberg explained after the 20-19 loss to Maryland.
But Hackenberg’s struggles aren’t especially surprising, scouts and coaches said, because the struggles haven’t started with him. He can’t step up in the pocket because two of his offensive guards were smacking around ball-carriers as defensive tackles in February. He’s a pro-style quarterback who has been forced to operate more out of the shotgun. And his high football IQ is countered by the fact the second-youngest team in the nation is still adjusting to a new system; he’s not even allowed to audible out of every play.
In other words, to some extent, he has been handicapped.
“More than anything, he’s a guy that is trying really hard to make plays,” said former Penn State quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher, who taught Hackenberg last season. “And sometimes you can force yourself, or try harder than normal to make plays, and we’ve all seen that before. I mean, Brett Favre threw more picks than anybody. That’s not just Christian Hackenberg.
“He’s a major, major talent. What really stuck out to me is how quickly this kid learned the offense and what we were doing. You don’t see that a lot with a younger player.”
They continue to compliment Hackenberg – even when not directly asked about him – because no quarterback, no matter how elite or mature, can operate at a high level without an average offensive line. Even professionals. Drew Brees’ production has dropped off this season – and the New Orleans Saints stand at just 4-6 – thanks in part to poor pass protection. Eli Manning just so happened to suffer the worst season of his career (18 TDs, 27 INTs) with the New York Giants in 2013, when he was sacked the most in his career. (And Manning was sacked 39 times in 16 games; Hackenberg has been sacked 37 times in 10 games.)
“You get gun-shy because you can’t step up anymore and then you start doing other stuff that throws off your timing. That goes for anyone, even Peyton Manning,” Shonka said. “But, with Hackenberg, I think this is just a bump in the road right now. He’s just got to work through it.”
Added Micky Sullivan, Hackenberg’s high school coach: “When you have two seconds to throw it versus three-and-a-half or four seconds, it changes your reads. He hasn’t regressed; his physical attributes haven’t disappeared.”
Sometimes, that’s hard to see on the field. Against Temple, broadcasters chided the sophomore for throwing a pass behind intended target Mike Gesicki – who flipped the ball up shortly before it was intercepted. James Franklin acknowledged afterward that Gesicki, a true freshman, simply ran the wrong route. There have been countless plays like that this season, where a Hackenberg mistake is actually a teammate’s gaffe. Granted, not enough to explain away 14 picks – but the fact is he’s playing better, especially given the circumstances, than what it appears on paper.
He’s a great quarterback in a not-so-great situation. And, for as animated as he has been on the field, he has been calm and thoughtful during postgame interviews. He hasn’t railed against this offensive line or criticized the bad drops and wrong routes by his receivers. He just hides his eyes under his ballcap and walks out of the locker room every week prepared to answer the same question: Whatever happened to the Hackenberg of old?
Turns out the answer is pretty simple: He never left.
The university is intent on spending $155 million to renovate and expand Cole Field House, which, as the Testudo Times pointed out, is 2.3-times more expensive than Oregon’s indoor facility. Under Armour’s Kevin Plank is also donating $25 million toward the Terps’ project. (Step up your game, Nike.)
The artist renderings are pretty futuristic, too. The locker room looks as if it’s straight out of a spaceship. Have a look:
If the regents approve, construction would start next December. The Terrapin Performance Center, which will house the indoor football practice facility, is set to be completed in April 2017. And the entire project should be fully completed by June 2018.
Here’s an overview of just some of what student-athletes can expect:
- Two outdoor turf fields on the west end of the facility, which will be open for intramural sports
- Indoor football facility, along with the requisite meeting rooms, offices and weight room
- A center with a research laboratory that focuses on concussions and traumatic brain injuries
- "Rapid prototyping lab" that focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship
- New team tunnel to Byrd Stadium
To compete in a better conference, you need to keep up with the arms race in college facilities. Maryland is doubling down on its future here, and the new digs should be a boon to recruiting.
It might pressure some other Big Ten teams into renovating, too.
Those planning to attend Saturday’s Utah-Arizona game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, or watching the 12:30 PT kickoff on ESPN, are advised to bring the following items:
- Blood pressure medication
- A defibrillator
- A shoulder to cry on
- A comforting beverage of your choice (the Pac-12 blog doesn’t judge)
Each team has played in six games decided by seven or fewer points -- that’s tied for the second most in FBS. The Wildcats are 5-1 in those tight games while the Utes are 4-2. Utah has also played three overtime games, going 2-1 in bonus football.
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez prepped his team in the preseason for the fact that his Wildcats would likely participate in several barn burnings. And thus they were ready when things got close in Week 2 on the road at UTSA.
“We’ve got some talent, but (we knew) we’re not overloaded where we can dominate anybody,” Rodriguez said. “Plus the schedule that we play, there are a lot of quality teams with a lot of quality players. We got into that mindset that we’re ready to battle. I think it’s helped us when we’ve faced some adversity. Whether we’ve gotten down early or been on the road, our guys said hey, let’s make some plays and keep playing and see what happens.”
What happened was some of the most dramatic football in the country this season. Among Arizona's thrillers are a 36-point, fourth-quarter, time-expiring Hail Mary against Cal; a win over No. 2 Oregon on the road; a missed field goal in the loss to USC; and most recently, a successful last-second field goal to beat Washington.
If Arizona has been the Cardiac 'Cats, then Utah has certainly been the ulcer-inducing Utes. During a stretch from the end of September to the beginning of November, the Utes played in five straight games decided by six or fewer points. The highlights include a two-point win over UCLA, a double-overtime win over Oregon State and a last-minute touchdown against USC. The lowlights are an overtime loss to ASU and blowing a 21-0 lead to WSU.
Most recently, Utah won a double-overtime game last week at Stanford.
“I’d say it starts with our leadership and the senior leadership on this team,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “It’s a great group. It’s as good of leadership as I’ve been around during my time at Utah and I think that’s a main factor in the mentality of the team and the way they are able to persevere.”
Winning these close games is unfamiliar territory for the Utes. But playing in them isn’t. Last season Utah also played in six close games, but lost in overtime to Oregon State, by a touchdown to UCLA and by a point to ASU.
“I think we’re a better football team personnel-wise across the board,” Whittingham said. “We’ve upgraded and that obviously has a lot to do with it. But between that, the experience we may have gained and the leadership, I think those are probably the main factors.”
While Utah has relied on its experience, Arizona has relied on its conditioning. You might recall way back in 2012 when Rodriguez was first hired, he famously (infamously?) called his players weak. Now it’s that physical strength that he’s banking on to get his guys through tough times.
“I think our team knew back in August, we talked about it, we knew we would probably be in a lot of tight games that would go the full 60 minutes and if anything else, we’re going to be a pretty conditioned team,” Rodriguez said. “We control what we can control and we talk about playing as hard on the last play as we do the first play and I think our guys really believe that plays a role in every game. There’s a little luck involved, too. But we’ve been in nine straight games that have gone down to the fourth quarter and our guys, to their credit, they are still playing as hard as they did at the beginning.”
“It's very, very special when you have an opportunity to play against your home state,” Dantonio said. “That’s important this week for Shilique.”
On Saturday, the junior pass-rushing terror from Middletown, New Jersey get his first swing against Rutgers, the Big Ten newcomers with a campus 30 minutes from where Calhoun grew up.
Calhoun passed on a Rutgers scholarship and the chance to play in front of his family on a regular basis when he chose to play for Dantonio in 2011. Rutgers was a Big East school at the time, and Calhoun had no expectations of squaring off with the Jersey-laden Scarlet Knights during his college career.
“It’s going to be a statement game for me on the reason why I chose to come here,” Calhoun said. “It’s one of those games. That state game is where you’re from. The Ohio guys have Ohio State. The Michigan guys have Michigan. Finally, we have our moment too.”
The 6-foot-5, 256-pound Calhoun has had his share of other notable moments in his three seasons on the field in East Lansing. He scored three touchdowns and racked up 7.5 sacks last season en route to being named the Big Ten’s defensive lineman of the year. As a second-team All American, he was expected to be one of the most prolific pass rushers in the country this season and earn himself a big paycheck when he jumped to the NFL the following year.
The 2014 season didn’t start at same breakneck pace for Calhoun. After the buzz around him quieted in late September, he started to find his stride again. Heading into the final home game of the season, he is one sack shy of matching his 2013 total.
Dantonio and Calhoun’s teammates say the added pressure and national spotlight didn’t change the way the defense’s star prepared. The loss of several key starters, though, left Calhoun with the feeling that he needed to do more for his team than he had in the past.
“I was trying to do too much, do above my job,” he said. “I think that’s what really hurt me. Now I understand this is the system. This is why I’ve been successful, because I’m trying to fit into the system. It’s allowing not only myself, but my teammates to make plays. As the season progresses, it starts to get easier and easier for me.”
Michigan State tackle Jack Conklin, who has the pleasure of squaring off with Calhoun on a daily basis, said his practice adversary was trying to add a slew of new weapons to his pass-rushing repertoire at the start of the season. When he pared down the list of new tricks and got back to what he did best, Conklin noticed the difference.
The spotlight on Michigan State's team has faded, too, in the two weeks since their loss to divisional rival Ohio State. The Spartans dropped out of the race for a playoff spot and slipped below college football's national radar. Calhoun and the defense responded in their following game by holding Maryland to six rushing yards during a 37-15 win that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
The win squashed any theories that Michigan State’s motivation would peter away without the goal of playing for a national title hanging in front of it. Conklin said it took a few days for morale to return to the team after the loss to the Buckeyes. When they started hitting each other again, they decided they had plenty left to achieve.
“After everyone stepped back for a second and reevaluated, we realized, really, we’re not in a bad place,” Conklin said. “We didn’t do what we set out to do, but it’s not like we’re going to the Outback Bowl or the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. We’re still going to a Rose Bowl-type of game, or we can. That’s still a great accomplishment.”
The Spartans(8-2) checked in at No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings this week, leaving them in good position to earn a trip to one of the New Years Day bowls from the selection committee if they win their final two games of the season.
That begins Saturday against Rutgers in a big game for Calhoun. He said when he first learned that Rutgers was joining the conference this season, he hoped that the two teams would meet in New Jersey this season.
Michigan State will travel to Rutgers next season, but it isn’t clear if Calhoun will still be around to play in front of a home crowd. He remains one of the top pro prospects in the Big Ten and a potential early pick in this spring’s NFL draft. Many assume that this Saturday will be his final game at Spartan Stadium, but Calhoun cautioned that he hasn’t made a decision yet.
"You know what happens [when] you assume," he said. "I'm just going to leave it at that. We'll see what happens. Right now, I'm just excited about playing Rutgers this year."
But even he hasn’t seen The Game like this.
"And with all the ESPN 'College GameDay' stuff, it just hypes it up even more."
Yes, the "College GameDay" crew of Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit will be on site on Friday and Saturday, only the second time in the show’s 28-year history that it has graced a Harvard game with its presence.
Obukwelu, a 6-foot-2, 275-pound defensive tackle from Brockton, Massachusetts, and a BC High grad, is excited that "GameDay" is coming to town.
"I love it. I mean, I think it’s about time," he said. "Ivy League football is not a joke. We’ve got a bunch of top teams in this league and we show we can compete at a high level."
Though the spotlight that "GameDay" coming to the Dillon Quad, just outside Harvard Stadium, trains on The Game is nice, the Crimson have on their minds set firmly on the field Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network).
"It’s just more hype," senior captain Norman Hayes said. "It’s an awesome experience for us, but we’ve kinda agreed that all of this is for everybody else. We’re here for one reason, and that’s to make sure we finish the season right by beating Yale."
At 9-0 (6-0 Ivy), Harvard is seeking the 17th perfect season in school history. The Crimson are ranked No. 14 in the FCS coaches poll and No. 15 in The Sports Network poll.
With a win, the Crimson clinch the title outright. A loss gives a share to the Bulldogs.
"I’ll be honest with you, the plan was to clinch this thing, clinch this championship down against Penn [last week] because that way you can come into the Yale game and play fast, play loose and feel like you’re playing with house money,” longtime Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “But by the same token, at the end of the day this is always about pride. There’s still a lot left on the table: the chance at an outright championship, the chance at potentially maybe the only perfect Division I season in the country, the way things are going.
"But the most important thing is just pride. This game is one of those games where you don’t necessarily have to motivate your team -- not that you don’t, you do. But the kids understand. It’s a game they’ll remember for the rest of their life."
Because of the way things match up, it’s also likely to be a special game on the field.
Led by all-time Crimson sack leader Zack Hodges, Harvard comes into the game with the best defense in the FCS, averaging 11.0 points per game allowed. And wouldn’t you know it, Yale comes into the game with the FCS’ No. 4 offense, averaging 43.0 points per game.
"Their offense is as strong as it’s ever been this year," Hayes, a defensive back, said. "They have a really good quarterback, they’ve got a very explosive running back who can do any and everything. Deon Randall, the captain, is a phenomenal athlete at the slot receiver position. He makes all types of things happen. So we’re on our toes every single play on defense."
But the coach says he still only knows how to work “100 miles an hour, with my hair on fire."
"I don’t know about more rewarding, but I’m grateful," he said when asked if his health scare makes this season mean more to him. "Like anything else in life, when you go through a difficult time or a health issue it just puts things in clearer perspective. As I’ve said, your family, your friends and your health clearly become the most important things in life.
"But I also realized how much I love coaching, how much I particularly love coaching these kids at this school."
Murphy said the Crimson know Yale will be “by far the best team we’ve played this year."
"They know this will be a huge challenge," he said, "and therefore it takes a big game and makes it an even better game."
It’s the 27th time The Game has been played for a share of the title, with Harvard 14-11-1 in the previous 26. Yale owns the overall series edge 65-57-8, but Harvard is 12-1 in the past 13 meetings and has won seven straight.
You can guess what the Crimson’s 21 seniors want more than anything else from the 131st meeting of Harvard and Yale.
"It’s all type of excitement," Hayes said. "It’s a very emotional week for the seniors, but we’re all still eyes on the prize. We have one last piece of business to take care of, to make sure we end the season right against Yale."
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.
1. Might Georgia Tech end up being the fly in the ointment in the race to the inaugural College Football Playoff?
The No. 18 Yellow Jackets (9-2, 6-2 ACC) have won four games in a row, and they captured the ACC's Coastal Division after Duke lost to North Carolina 45-20 on Thursday night. Georgia Tech will play No. 3 Florida State in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Dec. 6, and might end up being the last big obstacle for the Seminoles in their quest to reach the playoff.
Before playing the Seminoles for the ACC title, the Yellow Jackets will play at No. 10 Georgia on Nov. 29. The Bulldogs are still trying to reach the SEC championship game, but need No. 20 Missouri to drop one of its two remaining SEC games (at Tennessee on Saturday or home against Arkansas on Nov. 28) to win the SEC East.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher might be happier if his team was playing the Blue Devils instead for the ACC championship. The Seminoles beat Duke 45-7 in the 2013 ACC title game, and Tech’s triple-option spread offense isn’t much fun to prepare for on short notice. FSU already has won the ACC's Atlantic Division title and hosts Boston College on Saturday and intrastate rival Florida next week.
Tech’s triple-option spread offense also can take a toll on an opponent’s defensive line because of its use of cut blocks. The Seminoles lost three defensive linemen -- Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample and reserve Justin Shanks -- after they suffered lower-leg injuries in the first half of a 37-12 win over The Citadel on Sept. 6. The Citadel also runs the triple-option and uses cut blocks, which are designed to knock down defensive linemen by hitting them at the knees.
“Those guys that cut and chop like this, it’s crazy,” Fisher said after that game. “I’d rather play more conventional teams. Just because of the chance of injuries that occurred.”
Of course, Florida State, assuming it reaches the College Football Playoff, would have about a month to recover from playing Georgia Tech before its semifinal game.
2. FSU quarterback Jameis Winston's student conduct-code hearing is still scheduled for Dec. 2, and his attorney, David Cornwell, continues to plead his case on Twitter.
On Friday morning, Cornwell tweeted four times, apparently in response to the accuser’s attorney, John Clune, filing a legal brief to FSU officials. Under the school's student conduct code rules and procedures, Clune and Cornwell will be able to attend the hearing and counsel their clients, but won’t be allowed to speak on their clients’ behalf.
Winston and the woman who accused him of sexually assaulting her in December 2012 will be required to present evidence, question witnesses, and answer questions posed by retired Florida State Supreme Court Chief Justice Major Harding, who will hear the case.
Under the rules and regulations in place, Winston isn’t required to answer any or all of Harding’s questions. Winston faces four potential student conduct code violations, including two related to sexual misconduct.
On Friday morning, Cornwell tweeted:
Clune cries 4 a hearing where the students represent themselves, then submits HIS firm's legal brief 2 spin the story because .....— David Cornwell (@wmdavidcornwell) November 21, 2014
Repeats lie that Patricia Carroll did not initiate settlement discussions n demand $7million. He wasn't atty then n Carroll still in hiding— David Cornwell (@wmdavidcornwell) November 21, 2014
3. There seems to be a possibility that Texas and Texas A&M could meet in a postseason bowl game because of where they currently sit in their respective conference standings.
This lie exposes a desparate atty chasing a 33% fee. Can't sue on the present record. Lie rejected 3 times. #4thbiteattheapple— David Cornwell (@wmdavidcornwell) November 21, 2014
The rivalry was one of the biggest casualties in college football’s realignment, and the best chance for a meeting would be at the Dec. 29 AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl in Houston.
Earlier this week, Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com reported that the Aggies and the SEC would block a postseason matchup against the Longhorns.
But Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman said the SEC will determine the bowl lineup, and he insists the Aggies won’t try to duck the Longhorns. Under the SEC’s new bowl selection process, schools rank the available bowls, and bowls rank the available teams, in order of preference, and then the league slots its teams.
“Quite frankly, that’s a decision made by the conference,” Hyman told the Houston Chronicle. “The configuration is so different than it’s been in the past.
“It doesn’t matter if I speculate about playing this team or that team in a bowl. It’s out of our control . . . Wherever they tee us up, we’ll play.”
4. A Georgia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would make it an aggravated misdemeanor to jeopardize the eligibility of a college student-athlete by providing him or her with illegal benefits.
Under the terms of House Bill 3, anyone who causes a student-athlete to lose his or her eligibility would face a potential $5,000 fine.
State Rep. Barry Fleming told the Athens Banner-Herald that he introduced the bill for consideration next year at the request of House Speaker David Ralston. In October, University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley was suspended four games for improperly accepting $3,000 to sign autographs.
“A 20-year-old in college is not a child, but that 20-year-old is [vulnerable], particularly if they are from a humble background, if someone waves hundred-dollar bills in front of his face,” Fleming told the Athens Banner-Herald.
The bill, if it passes, wouldn’t take effect until next year, so the memorabilia dealers who paid Gurley couldn’t be punished.
5. UCLA had to cancel Thursday night's bonfire at a pep rally.
The Bruins play USC on Saturday, but the annual rally was shut down by students protesting a proposed tuition hike at the school.
That didn’t stop UCLA coach Jim Mora from, uh, fanning the flames. (Warning: His language might not be suitable for all ages.)
Here's a look at what's on tap Saturday (all times ET):
Rutgers (6-4, 2-4) at No. 11 Michigan State (8-2, 5-1), Big Ten Network: League championship dreams are all but over for the Spartans, but they can still win 10 games and get to a major bowl. The Scarlet Knights are looking to score an upset over one of the upper-tier teams in the league, but they're going bowling regardless.
Indiana (3, 7, 0-6) at No. 6 Ohio State (9-1, 6-0), BTN: The Buckeyes are around a five-touchdown favorite, and understandably so. This one might be about style points for the selection committee, and not much else.
Northwestern (4-6, 2-4) at Purdue (3-7, 1-5), ESPNU: After a surprising upset in South Bend, the Wildcats now have a bowl game in sight if they can win this one and close out the season against Illinois. But Purdue had a week off to prepare, and Northwestern has had a habit of playing up or down to its competition.
Penn State (6-4, 2-4) at Illinois (4-6, 1-5), ESPN2: Tim Beckman's last stand? The Illini have to win here to have any hope of getting to a bowl game and potentially saving their coach's job. Christian Hackenberg is scuffling for Penn State, but is Illinois' defense enough to lift his doldrums?
No. 16 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1) at Iowa (7-3, 4-2), ABC/ESPN2: The Heartland Trophy game has enormous West Division implications. If Wisconsin wins, it can do no worse than tie for the division title and could clinch a spot in Indianapolis with a Minnesota loss. Melvin Gordon, who originally committed to Iowa, will look to add to his Heisman Trophy credentials after his 408-yard day last weekend.
Maryland (6-4, 3-3) at Michigan (5-5, 3-3), BTN: Can Brady Hoke lead Michigan to a bowl game? He'll almost certainly have to win this one to do so, since the Wolverines' finale is in Columbus. Maryland already has wins over Penn State and Iowa, and would solidify a nice first season in the Big Ten by winning in the Big House.
Week 13 predictions | Bold calls
Ohio State offensive line again rises from the ashes
J.T. Barrett speeds toward Heisman race
Minnesota, Nebraska fight to move forward
Revised image suits Michigan's Jake Ryan
Rutgers not satisfied with bowl eligibility
'Chevy Bad Boys' power Wisconsin's No. 1 D
The cold truth: Embrace the B1G weather
Big Ten's second act worth watching
West Division title scenarios
"Dilly Bar Dan" enjoys his brush with fame
Awards race tracker
Virginia Tech at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #VTvsWAKE
The Hokies can wrap up bowl eligibility with a win against Wake Forest, which given the litany of injuries Virginia Tech has suffered this season -- including tailback Marshawn Williams, who tore his ACL last week -- is probably commendable. The Hokies are coming off their second road win of the season against a top-25 foe, so the trip to Winston-Salem against a Demon Deacons team still looking for its first ACC victory shouldn’t be a huge test. Wake hasn’t been able to run the ball on anyone this season, but Virginia Tech’s defense allows 5.64 yards-per-carry on non-sack rushing attempts this season -- 104th nationally.
Boston College at No. 3 Florida State, ABC/ESPN2, #BCvsFSU
A year ago, it was the Eagles who gave FSU its toughest game of the regular season. Now, BC is the ACC’s last chance to send the Seminoles to a conference loss. The matchup isn’t ideal for an FSU defense that has been gashed by the run on a few occasions this season, and after escaping a physical matchup against Miami last week, it will be interesting to see how focused the Seminoles are for this one. But with a season of close calls already in their rearview mirror, Jimbo Fisher no doubt has emphasized the importance of a fast start this week, and for FSU, it needs to start thinking about earning some style points to impress the CFB playoff committee.
Syracuse at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #CUSEvsPITT
Pitt has lost three straight despite 1,040 yards of offense from James Conner and Tyler Boyd. The Panthers have actually dropped six of their past seven after a 3-0 start to the season, and now they must win out to have a shot at a bowl game. Four of Pitt’s six losses have been by five points or less, however, and Conner and Boyd remain two of the most potent threats in the ACC. Whether Syracuse’s underrated defense can slow down Pitt’s stars might be paramount, but the Orange will also need to find some offense against a Panthers team that has allowed 147 points in its past three games.
No. 24 Louisville at Notre Dame, NBC
The Cardinals are back in the top 25, but they will go to battle in South Bend without starting quarterback Will Gardner. Reggie Bonnafon will take over at QB coming off his best game as a college player last week when he threw for 69 yards, ran for 76 more and scored three times against Boston College. But the real intrigue might come on the other side of the ball, where Everett Golson leads an Irish offense that leads all Power 5 teams in turnovers against Louisville’s stout defense, led by safety Gerod Holliman and his 13 interceptions.
Georgia State at No. 22 Clemson, ESPN3, #GSUvsCLEM
Since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury last month, Clemson’s offense has more turnovers (11) than touchdowns (7), and that downward spiral hit rock bottom last week when Cole Stoudt threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. But as bad as Stoudt’s performance was, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers believe he’s still a capable quarterback, and certainly the job gets a lot easier this week. The bigger question now is whether it will be Stoudt’s job in two weeks when Clemson looks to end a five-game losing streak against rival South Carolina.
Miami at Virginia, ESPN2, #MIAvsUVA
The Hurricanes are coming off a physical and emotional loss to Florida State and looking to rebound. Virginia is still clinging to bowl hopes, and might need to win out to salvage coach Mike London’s job. The key to the game might be how well the Hoos’ defense can slow Duke Johnson and the Miami running game, but as FSU found out last week, quarterback Brad Kaaya is certainly capable of doing some damage. Virginia, on the other hand, has just 59 rushing yards combined in its past two games, and it has scored on the ground just once in its past five.
Washington State at Arizona State, Pac-12 Network
One word: early. This game kicks off at 11 a.m. local time, but keep in mind that the Cougars' body clocks will still be set to the Pacific time zone. Mike Leach said that Washington State's hotel pregame routine will start between 5 and 6 a.m. It'll be a chance for fans to watch the Pac-12 while munching on pancakes, French toast, or -- my favorite -- crab Benedict. And it'll be a chance for ASU to wash away the horrible memory of last week's 35-27 loss at Oregon State as quickly as possible.
Arizona at Utah, ESPN
By lunchtime, there should be a craving for a good dose of backfield pressure. #SackLackCity should be a fun place for the Wildcats' Scooby Wright to visit: He's ranked in the top three nationally in sacks and tackles for loss, so why not put him on the same field as the Utes' Nate Orchard, who's currently at the top of the sack heap? Defensive star power is the name of the game here, but keep an eye on Arizona's Anu Solomon: He must step up to the challenge of the Rice-Eccles crowd.
Stanford at Cal, Fox Sports 1
Stanford's offense has been bad, but the Cardinal have found a way to score against shaky defenses this season (they've been terrible in games against ranked teams, averaging only 11.4 points per regulation in those contests). Well, good news for the Cardinal: The Golden Bears are worse than shaky on defense (39.2 points, 518 yards per game). Bad news for Stanford: Cal is at home, and it is smelling blood. Let's see what gives in the 117th Big Game. Oh, and that matchup between Jared Goff and Lance Anderson's top-ranked Cardinal defense isn't too shabby, either.
Colorado at Oregon, Pac-12 Network
The best team in the conference meets the worst team in the conference. Prediction-wise, that's about all that needs to be said about this one. Some extra, slightly unrelated food for thought: Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre asserted that the Pac-12 South was the best division in college football, better than even the SEC West. Imagine how absurdly strong the South would be if Oregon were in it, too (I bring this up only because the SEC's top team, Alabama, happens to reside in the powerful West).
USC at UCLA, ABC
Statues have been vandalized, airports have received photogenic lighting decorations, and statues have been arguably vandalized some more by duct tape (intended to protect them, but still, that's going to be a pain to remove, right?). The pregame rituals of rivalry week were fun, but it's time for some actual football with Pac-12 championship hopes on the line. The matchup of Brett Hundley and Cody Kessler is fascinating one, as is the battle between USC's frontline explosiveness and a UCLA machine that appears to be peaking at the right time.
Oregon State at Washington, ESPN
The Beavers need one more win to earn bowl eligibility for Sean Mannion in his senior season. It's amazing what one good week (paired with a bad one) can do: Both of these teams have lost four of their past five games, but the feeling surrounding Oregon State is much more positive than the one in Seattle. The Beavers notched a huge 35-27 upset win over ASU last weekend, while the Huskies dropped a bitter 27-26 decision to Arizona. Both have a chance to finish forgettable seasons on a high note.