National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert joins ESPN’s Phil Murphy to break down updates to the ESPN class rankings in the wake of updated player evaluations with the ESPN 300.
To read the full class rankings, click here.
Heeney now leads the Big 12 with 58 solo tackles.
Though we snubbed him, Heeney was a good sport, and agreed to talk with us about getting left off the midseason team, what it was like when Charlie Weis got fired and how to properly groom a beard:
Heeney: Whatever you guys think. I think the guys you put ahead of me (Oklahoma's Eric Striker, Texas' Jordan Hicks and TCU's Paul Dawson) are great players also. But I did have to prove last week that you guys made a mistake.
So did it give you a little extra motivation against Tech?
Heeney: Yeah, I guess a little bit. But more than anything, I was playing to win that game against Texas Tech.
You have tackled a bunch of guys over the past four years. Who has been the toughest to tackle?
Heeney: I think Lache Seastrunk at Baylor was really hard. Tavon Austin at West Virginia my sophomore year was hard to tackle. And (former Kansas State QB) Collin Klein was hard to tackle. Those three guys stick out.
Why did you decide to go to Kansas?
Heeney: It had always been my dream school. Both of my parents went to school here. My brother gradated from here in 2013. It's basically been a family school. I was born and raised in Kansas. It was my dream school since I was a little kid.
What's it been like having three head coaches?
Heeney: It's tough. Especially with wondering where you stand. After Coach (Turner) Gill got fired after my freshman year, it was a whole new staff. You have to prove your worth again to a whole brand new staff. It was different when Coach Weis got fired. He was the only one let go. So it's been different every time. But it is pretty weird having three coaches in four years.
Did Weis getting fired in the middle of the season blindside you?
Heeney: Yeah it did. It was really weird. After the Texas game, that next morning, that Sunday morning, I woke up to like 50 text messages from friends and random people asking if I had heard the news. I hadn't heard anything. Waking up to all that chaos was really crazy. It was something that I never thought would happen.
How did it make you guys feel Weis getting fired, and what's been different since Clint Bowen took over?
Heeney: Coach Weis was always a good guy to me, a good coach. But we've moved on, and I don't think our team has skipped a beat. It almost has brought us closer as a team. Coach Bowen had been my position coach last two years. Me and him have a really good relationship. He's a player's coach. We love playing for him. We all want him to be our head coach. We want to win for Coach Bowen.
So you guys want to win games to give Bowen a chance at becoming the permanent head coach?
Heeney: Yeah definitely. That's been kinda our goal. We have to win for him, because we all really like him and we want him to stay around as our head coach. That has been our goal, to win for him. It hasn't happened yet. But we definitely think it's going to. We're trying to get wins not only for ourselves, but for Coach Bowen.
What's the story with the beard?
Heeney: I started growing it last year. Everyone really liked it. I shaved it off after football season, and I got crap for it. So this offseason I've brought it back to life. I've been growing it five-six months deep. It's become an image for me I guess now.
West Virginia punter Nick O'Toole has tips for grooming his mustache. Do you have tips for grooming a beard?
Heeney: Yeah, I do. His mustache is awesome by the way. You have to shampoo it daily. You need it get a beard comb or beard brush, either of the two work fine. And then just take care of it, love it, nourish it. If you can grow a beard, you should, because not everyone can grow one. It's pretty special.
You a Royals fan?
Heeney: Yes, big Royals fan. I've been watching the games. I had tickets to the game last Monday night, but it got rained out. We had practice Tuesday, so wasn't able to go. But I've been following them, definitely. I think we're going to win.
What's favorite local place to eat in Lawrence?
Heeney: Jefferson's on Mass. Ave. It's a wing place. They have really good fried food.
Final question: Can you forgive us for leaving you off the midseason All-Big 12 team?
Heeney: Yeah man, I'll forgive you guys this time. Just don't let it happen again, all right?
“But you got to fill the airwaves,” said Jimbo Fisher, coach of No. 2 Florida State, with a laugh. “You got to have something to talk about.”
Outside of whether the SEC will land two teams in the College Football Playoff, no topic has been as hotly discussed as whether Florida State, the preseason No. 1 and still undefeated, could survive a loss and still manage to earn a bid. The consensus is the Seminoles have little margin for error, but opinions differ on how slim Florida State's margin is.
Florida State’s body of work has been held up to the light and examined for flaws more than other team. It’s part of the double-edged sword that accompanies the title of reigning national champion and offseason favorite. While the Seminoles aren’t perfect, their record still remains without a blemish, and there is something to be said for that.
That culture can’t be quantified in numbers or accurately measured by computations, though, and several of those metrics have not produced favorable results. The Seminoles are No. 21 in game control, which measures how dominant a team is in each game; Mississippi State (1) and Ole Miss (4) are both in the top five. The Seminoles also rank seventh in the Football Power Index, behind one-loss teams Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Ohio State. While the Seminoles have a 31 percent chance to finish undefeated, it’s more of a reflection of their remaining schedule in an ACC bereft of playoff contenders. It should be noted they have already defeated Oklahoma State in a neutral-site game, Clemson without Jameis Winston and No. 7 Notre Dame.
“I don’t listen to it. I don’t want to lose, either,” Fisher said. “This is a marathon. What you think of one team, what they thought a couple weeks ago they don’t think now and maybe [in] three weeks they won’t think what they think now. We’re trying to put them in [the playoff] now, but let things sort itself out.
“There’s a lot of ball to be played.”
Whether Florida State begins No. 1 in the committee’s rankings or somewhere below, Fisher likes where his team stands. It has not measured up to the 2013 team statistically, but Fisher harped all season that 2014 would be a different squad even if many of the players, including a Heisman Trophy winner, returned. He implored the public to throw away recent history when judging this team.
After the first four games, Fisher said he saw a team improving even if the rest of the country did not. Now, more than halfway through the season, he still sees a team poised to play its best football.
“I love our team. I really do. I like to coach it,” he said. “It competes hard, plays well, gets better every week. We’re continuing to get better and I think we’ll continue to grow but I like where we’re at.”
Seemingly the two biggest concerns for the Seminoles, who enter their final bye this weekend, are the defense and the running game. Last season, the defense ranked first nationally in scoring and third in total defense. This season, under new coordinator Charles Kelly, the unit ranks 34th and 52nd, respectively, albeit without several of the star players that highlighted the defense in 2013.
In the fourth quarter against Notre Dame, though, the defense held the Irish to just 109 yards. They had eight sacks entering the game, but sacked Everett Golson three times.
The Seminoles have not run the ball effectively for much of the season, as the stable of running backs has struggled to replicate the productivity void left behind by 1,000-yard rusher Devonta Freeman. Against FBS competition, the Seminoles have yet to top 171 yards rushing.
With Winston at quarterback and the passing game clicking, Fisher believes he just needs a rushing attack that can complement the aerial assault and pick up yards in the game’s tensest moments -- third downs, goal line and fourth quarters.
“We ran the ball very effectively when we had to run it in the second half, and I was proud of that, Fisher said. “… But we've got to get better. The balance as far as yards aren’t [there], but we’re making enough big plays in the passing game and we’re running enough to [keep defenses] honest. But we’re going to continue to run the football and we’ll keep working on that.”
But oh, how quickly the tide changes. Because in just two weeks, Marcus Mariota has led the Oregon Ducks from pandemonium to the Promised Land (with some help from a few other top teams being upset) and back into the good graces of the football gods. Not bad, Marcus, not bad -- just 16 days to go from a hopeless team to a heroic one.
At this point, the Ducks just need to insulate and take care of business because they’re likely in control of their own destiny. According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Oregon has a 21 percent shot to win out. That's third-best among one-loss teams, behind Ohio State and TCU, which both have a 26 percent chance.
And with one game to go until the College Football Playoff committee releases its first set of rankings, Oregon solidified itself as the Pac-12’s banner holder.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t major issues that could still be exploited, and coach Mark Helfrich is the first to admit that.
“There’s a ton we can improve upon, for sure,” he said on Sunday night after watching his team’s game film from its dominant win over Washington.
Such as ... tackling. That has looked better these past two weeks, but the Ducks are still giving up far too many big plays. Oregon has given up 119 plays of 10 or more yards so far this season. You want to know who else has given up that many plays of 10 or more yards?
Purdue and Toledo. In very few cases in college football -- when it comes to statistics -- do you want to be on the same list as those two teams.
As the weeks progress, the Ducks are doing a better job communicating and getting helmets to the ball. But still, of the 1,182 rushing yards the Ducks have allowed, 610 have come after contact.
So, you can decide whether it’s more worrisome that more than half of opponents’ rushing yardage has come after Oregon (tries to) tackle or the fact that through seven games, 572 rushing yards have come before an Oregon defensive player has even gotten to the ball. Or, everyone can just agree that it’s bad news when the Oregon defense allows other teams a 4.3-yards-per-rush average and a 65 percent conversion rate on third-down rushing attempts.
But, it can get better (well, at 120th in the country in third-down rushing defense, it can’t get much worse).
Defensive coordinator Don Pellum has been on this staff a long time, and he knows that this group can play much better than it has. Defenses always take longer to jell and with so many new faces on that side of the ball and D-lineman Arik Armstead hopefully healthy for good, maybe the learning curve will kick up a notch.
But the offense finally seems to be clicking. And though Helfrich wants to downplay the return of offensive tackle Jake Fisher, the skies have looked dramatically clearer for the Ducks since Fisher got back to bookending the left side of the line and protecting Mariota’s blindside.
In Oregon's games against Arizona and Washington State, with Fisher out, the Ducks' average rushing yardage was just about even with what those two teams had given up coming into those games. Meaning, it was average. An average team will not reach the playoff.
But when Fisher returned, the Ducks averaged 1½ times the rushing averages that UCLA and Washington had given up coming into those games. That’s the kind of performance the committee wants to see. It’s not all about statistics, but when Royce Freeman is rushing for 100 yards and Mariota is completing 70 percent of his passes, they’re a hard team to ignore.
And that’s exactly what the Ducks need to be: Hard to ignore -- and not just because their uniforms are flashy.
So, why not Oregon? That’s the question the committee will ask itself as it sits down to look at the résumés of the top 20 or so teams.
It’s a team that knows how to be nationally relevant, but it’s also a team that knows what it feels like to slip out of that conversation.
Two weeks ago, it seemed like that might happen. But the loss to Arizona doesn’t carry as much weight now, as there’s a certainty that at least two one-loss teams will be in the playoff.
Oregon is in the conversation. The Ducks are the ones who are going to decide whether they keep themselves there or not.
"He's nothing short of amazing," says his current position coach, T.J. Woods.
"Rob is one of a kind," sahys his former high school coach, Rick Conner.
Havenstein's measurements alone leave many people gasping for proper descriptions. His block-out-the-sun frame is officially listed at 6-foot-8 and 333 pounds, and that's after he lost nearly 50 pounds since first stepping on campus. Yet he's athletic and nimble enough to have started 33 straight games at right tackle for the Badgers while being one of the Big Ten's best linemen.
That's not really what sets him apart this year, however. The fifth-year senior has somehow managed to grow in stature on his own team, developing as one its top internal leaders. Star running back Melvin Gordon might be the face of the Badgers, but Havenstein is their voice. Even Gordon says he looks up to him (which, you know, would be hard not to do).
Head coach Gary Andersen has praised Havenstein's leadership skills since the summer and relayed a moment in practice this week that illustrated that point.
"In my belief, that's the identification of a true leader," Andersen said.
Havenstein hopes to lead a strong Wisconsin effort this week in a pivotal Big Ten game against Maryland, which has a salty defensive front and is tied for third in the league in sacks. Maryland also happens to be the state where Haverstein's legendary athletic exploits began.
He didn't play football until the ninth grade, instead preferring lacrosse and especially basketball. (His twin brother, Jeff, recently finished a four-year Division I basketball career at Longwood (Va.) University). But Havenstein was an unstoppable force when he did join the football team at Linganore High School in Frederick, Md., wiping out both lines of scrimmage at 340 pounds. Or somewhere close to it.
Truth is, Havenstein was never really sure of his weight. The scale at his high school only went up to 300 pounds and the one at his local gym lost accuracy past 340. Conner, the coach at Linganore, said the coaches would say, "just pencil something in for Rob" at weigh-in days.
He had freakish agility for his size, however. Conner said Havenstein would dunk a basketball whenever college coaches came around on recruiting visits. One time, while West Virginia and Penn State assistants looked on, Havenstein was playing volleyball. He raced to the back line and did a full-on slide to dig out the ball for a teammate.
"The coaches went nuts," Conner said. "He was like a big cat. Rob's maybe the biggest guy you've ever seen in your life, but he never looked heavy. He was always light on his feet."
Havenstein had scholarship offers from across the country, including Maryland. He grew up less than an hour away from College Park in Mount Airy, Maryland, and attended Terrapins games as a kid. The Terps made his final list of three college choices. But Havenstein loved the power football of the Midwest -- his parents are from Michigan, and his extended family all still lives there -- and Wisconsin's tradition on the O-line sealed the deal.
When he arrived in Madison, though, he finally got an accurate read on his weight, and it wasn't pretty: 380 pounds.
"I moved great for 380 pounds, but I didn't move great for a college player," he said. "I've been on the five-year diet plan ever since.
"I've worked real hard the past couple summers to get it down and keep it down. It's not easy, when every time you look at the TV there's a Hardee's commercial about a double cheeseburger. But I'm like, 'No, I’m good. I'll just have a salad.'"
The Badgers coaching staff is fine with him playing between 330 and 340 pounds; they just wanted him to shape more of that bulk into muscle. Getting low pad level is key for any offensive lineman, and Havenstein remains flexible enough to create leverage against much shorter defenders.
"His ability to move that much mass is something very unique," Woods said. "He's a special player."
Woods said Havenstein has always been a copious note-taker in meetings and a student of the game who can recognize situations on the field instantly. Havenstein wanted to take a leadership role earlier with the Badgers but deferred to upperclassmen such as Chris Borland and Ryan Groy until this past offseason.
"I felt it was my turn," he said. "My time to step up and say something."
His teammates have been listening. Then again, would you say no to someone that size?
Seven games into the 2014 season, Connor Halliday's numbers border on the absurd.
He’s throwing 63 passes per game, the highest rate in NCAA history. His 478 passing yards per game are topping college football’s single-season mark. And anyone who has glanced at the box score from his record-smashing 70-attempt, 734-yard effort against Cal three weeks ago knows what it’s like to rub eyes and re-read in disbelief.
“If any of our quarterbacks threw half as many passes as him, they’d need to ice their arms,” Stanford coach David Shaw laughs.
Yet here Halliday is, coming off Washington State’s bye week, ready to resume firing away.
The senior is in the midst of a historic campaign. At his current rate, Halliday is on pace to throw for 5,733 yards through 12 games. Former Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons -- another Mike Leach product -- owns the FBS single-season passing record set in 2003 with 5,336 yards through 12 games. Symons finished with 5,833 yards after the Red Raiders' bowl game.
Through little fault of his own, Halliday will likely only have 12 games to make his mark. The Cougars are buried in a 2-5 hole, and bowl eligibility seems to be a long shot. That has pushed Halliday’s flirtations with history out of the limelight.
“As a quarterback, I’m judged by how many points we score and if we win the game,” Halliday said after the Cougars’ latest setback, a loss at Stanford Oct. 10. “So I’ve got to figure that out.”
That’s a noble mea culpa; perhaps a vintage mark of a true leader. But there’s something patently unfair about it. After all, the quarterback position has most definitely not been Washington State’s fatal flaw in this disappointing campaign. The real blame here should lie with shoddy defensive and special-teams play, not Halliday’s blistering passing pace.
Perhaps the most unfathomable shame came three weeks ago in Pullman, when the unthinkable happened against Cal: Halliday threw for those 734 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions -- and lost 60-59. He drove the Cougars into position for the game-winning score, only to see a missed 19-yard chip shot field goal sully his all-time performance.
“It really doesn’t mean too much,” he said. “It’ll be fun to look back on it when I’m 30 years old.”
And just like that, in a moment emblematic of Halliday’s under-appreciated season, history was brushed under the rug.
The ingredients that made the record-breaker
Halliday began playing his position when he was just 5 years old, thanks in large part to his father, Duane, a former quarterback at Boise State. Halliday’s first record came his senior year of high school in Spokane, when he broke former Cougars great Mark Rypien’s league passing mark. Then came college football at Washington State. It wasn’t until Leach’s arrival on the Palouse in 2012, though, that Halliday’s full potential was unlocked.
“That first offseason (under Leach) was awful,” Halliday said, recalling that his new coach didn’t initially trust him. “I remember those practices. If something went awry, the offense immediately got 30 up-downs.”
Toward the end end of spring ball, though, Leach had begun to develop faith in his quarterback, and he communicated it in subtle ways. Halliday noticed that whenever there was offensive discombobulation, Leach would wait quietly and allow his quarterback to sort the situation out instead of stepping into the fray himself.
That trust was the foundation of the Air Raid’s multi-option approach at the line of scrimmage.
“Leach doesn’t put a guy out there as his quarterback until he trusts him,” Halliday said. “Because once [the quarterback’s] out there, [Leach] can only suggest stuff. Whoever is playing quarterback has the best look at the defense and the best look at the leverage.”
For all intents and purposes, Halliday is Leach’s offensive coordinator on the field. The head man only signals in one passing option. As Halliday approaches the line of scrimmage, the quarterback has three options based on the defense’s alignment: He can check to a run, he can stick with Leach’s pass play or he can design his own throwing option.
Halliday estimates that he breaks from Leach’s suggestion about 45 percent of the time.
That illustrates a remarkable amount of freedom and responsibility for a college quarterback. And along with his notably quick release, those are vital ingredients behind Halliday’s ability to frustrate opposing secondaries. Against Stanford, even though his offensive line faltered under the weight of the Cardinal’s ferocious pass rush, Halliday converted four consecutive fourth downs.
“We had the perfect defense called against him every single time,” Shaw said. “But that ball just came out so quick. We couldn’t stop it.”
The nation’s leading defense ultimately overwhelmed Halliday’s supporting cast, but even that unit was repeatedly flummoxed by the lanky senior who has become a living, breathing piece of a fascinating aerial assault.
A record chase and a season to salvage
Even as trust, precision, quickness and accuracy have taken Halliday’s game to new levels in 2014, he’s the first to admit that statistical success will fall on mostly deaf ears if the Cougars don’t start winning immediately. Arizona visits Martin Stadium this Saturday, and that kicks off a final five-game gauntlet that also includes dates with USC, Oregon State, Arizona State and Washington.
It's clear the record chase takes secondary importance in Halliday's mind. This is a fifth-year senior who’s played through a five-inch laceration of his liver, and he’s not done scratching and clawing yet, even if a disappointing ending short of bowl eligibility may seem likely.
“The only thing you can do is lead the guys,” Halliday says. “I guarantee you I’m going to keep playing hard, and I can guarantee you that I’m not going to quit.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Too little, too late?
Florida coach Will Muschamp is fighting for his job and faces the gargantuan task of getting his Gators back on track before what could be a career-deciding game against Georgia on Nov. 1 in Jacksonville.
Muschamp announced Wednesday that true freshman Treon Harris will start at quarterback, replacing junior Jeff Driskel. It's an obvious move because there is little else this team can do to reverse the tailspin that dates back to the 4-8 season of 2013.
The discord has only grown this season, as Florida (3-3, 2-3 in the SEC) is looking at another dysfunctional offense and another poor record.
Muschamp agreed and said his players are circling the wagons.
"We've just tried to control the controllables. We repeat that to our players a lot," he said. "The things that we can control -- we need to play better, that’s the bottom line. We need to coach better. So those are the things we need to focus on -- improving ourselves and finding an identity offensively in what we can do and what we can do well.
"And block out as much as you can. You're going to hear it. That's part of it playing at a place like the University of Florida."
Irate fans booed Driskel and chanted "Fire Muschamp" during Florida’s 42-13 homecoming loss to Missouri on Saturday. Their frustrations boiled over as the Gators committed six turnovers after having three in each of the previous three games.
Muschamp said he didn't hear the chants but seems to understand what caused them, calling the game "an embarrassing performance, coaching-wise and playing-wise."
Under Muschamp's direction, Florida's offense has consistently ranked among the worst in the FBS: 105th in 2011 (averaging 328.69 yards per game), 103rd in 2012 (334.38 YPG), 115th in 2013 (316.7 YPG) and 101st through six games this season (368.0 YPG).
Florida’s offense has been going in the wrong direction this season, averaging 462.3 yards per game in the first three contests and 273.7 YPG in the last three.
"Fifteen turnovers in the last four games has been a killer for us," Muschamp said. "We can’t afford to turn the ball over. We've lacked production and explosive plays at the quarterback position. I think couple all those things together, we've struggled."
Hence the move from Driskel, who has completed 53.0 percent of his passes, to Harris, who has a completion percentage of 66.7.
The offense has rallied around Harris before. In fact, the 19-year-old led Florida to its only points against Tennessee and Missouri.
Now Florida players must rally to save their season, to save their coaches' jobs, and to save Florida's image.
"[Athletic director Jeremy] Foley said earlier that [Muschamp] is here and he's staying here," senior center Max Garcia said after the Missouri game. "We're going to play that way.
"We're not going to give up on him. We're not going to give up on the team. We don't have any quitters on this team."
Foley reiterated his support on Monday, saying he will continue to "evaluate the season as it plays out."
Muschamp, whose team has lost 10 of its last 13 and eight of its last 10 SEC games, said he appreciated the gesture and hopes team pride will turn things around.
"I think Jeremy sees a lot of the things that are going on in our program, and certainly a huge part of that is winning games, and that's not what we've done," Muschamp said. "But academically, socially, all the things we've done within our program in changing the culture have been outstanding."
Without positive results, will it be too little and too late for Muschamp?
The Cornhuskers won 28-0 at the Polo Grounds. It was 1920, the year Babe Ruth arrived in the Bronx.
Safe to say Nebraska won't carry any lingering momentum into Saturday at Memorial Stadium (noon ET, ESPN2) as the Scarlet Knights visit in the first Big Ten matchup between two of the league's recent additions.
Geographically, there's no larger gap in the Big Ten than the nearly 1,200 miles as the crow flies between the Nebraska campus and Rutgers.
"There's been a lot of changes, a lot of changes since I've been here," Nebraska defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "But I feel like it's a great opportunity to play a team from the East Coast."
Nebraska fans felt similarly when Miami visited last month and when Penn State came calling for the first time as a Big Ten foe in 2011.
"It's like playing a new opponent," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said.
It's not like playing a new opponent. It is playing a new opponent.
"There's not a lot of history there," he said.
Look, whatever disconnect that exists within the Big Ten as a result of conference expansion means little to the bottom line of the league. It would mean next to nothing on any level in many other conferences.
But the Big Ten prides itself on tradition and trophy games. If the league could pull it off, it would name its divisions Tradition and History. Actually, didn't the Big Ten try that?
There's nothing traditional about Rutgers-Nebraska. Or Maryland-Wisconsin, also on the docket for Saturday.
A faction of Husker Nation in 2012 rolled its eyes when Rutgers and Maryland accepted invitations to join the Big Ten. Really, they thought, just a year after we jumped on board? And when the divisions realigned to rob Nebraska of its annual game with Michigan, promised back in 2011, more grumbling ensued.
It was unfounded sentiment. As a new member itself, Nebraska lost the right to a driver's seat in the league's policy discussions.
The three new schools enhance the Big Ten in their own ways. It's just that, when they get together, it doesn't feel much like the Big Ten.
Give it time -- like a decade or so -- and that figures to change.
As for this week, football coaches tend to view work on a microscopic level, especially after a loss like the Scarlet Knights endured four days ago at Ohio State -- Rutgers' official introduction to the 100,000-seat stadium collection in this league.
So it's no surprise Kyle Flood looks at Saturday as something similar to what his team has faced often.
"The challenge is you have to really evaluate where your team is at this point in the season," Flood said, "and give them every opportunity to feel as good as they can when we kick it off."
That's the right answer -- and very much coachspeak. Flood and Pelini can't concern themselves with the exterior dynamics of this game, that it feels more like an awkward postseason pairing than a pre-Halloween clash with ramifications in the league standings.
Williams, the Nebraska defensive tackle, was recruited to Lincoln from Ohio when the Huskers played in the Big 12. He knows of Rutgers because his mother grew up in New Jersey. Two of Williams' cousins attended the school.
He said yes, Saturday does feel, in preparation, more like a non-conference game.
"But it's a conference game," Williams said. "We've got to handle it accordingly."
Six years shy of the 100-year anniversary of their only meeting, Nebraska and Rutgers are blazing a trail on Saturday. This is college football. Love it or not, this is the new look of the Big Ten.
"It was a crazy experience, obviously," Mason said. "Right before she delivered, my mom was asking me how I felt. I was just like, 'I'm kind of excited like game day,' and everybody in the room started laughing. She was like, 'I can't believe you said it was like game day.' It was just an exciting moment."
Mason's girlfriend, Sabrina Gonzalez, gave birth to Kamrie Maleah Mason Aug. 7. His life, and his job as Georgia Tech's starting right guard, has taken on deeper meaning ever since.
College football is no longer a game, but a means to an end, with the three-year starter knowing that others are now relying on him more than ever to provide for a family.
"It really forced me to grow up in a major way," Mason said. "You've just got to put yourself last now. You've got a mouth to feed, you've got a family now. And you just see things from a whole nother perspective.
"I take football 10 times more seriously," he later added. "I go into every game, every situation thinking I've got a mouth to feed, so it just puts that extra drive in me."
Kamrie lives with Sabrina and Sabrina's mother in Columbia, Tennessee. Sabrina, Mason's girlfriend since high school, is enrolled in Martin Methodist College, where she is on the soccer team. (She is currently taking a medical redshirt.)
The family makes the four-hour drive down to Atlanta about every other weekend to visit Mason, who relishes the time he gets to spend with his baby girl. Too young to handle the atmosphere at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Kamrie will often get to see her father after his work day is done, and then it is off to fun activities.
"Not too long ago we all went to the aquarium," Mason said. "She was too young to know what was going on, but we went to the aquarium and we enjoyed that. But most of the time we just chill. I just spend as much time with her as possible since I don't see her as much, so I just try to get that quality time in."
Kamrie also gets to spend time in Mason's off-campus apartment, where his roommates, tackle Errin Joe and receiver Brandon Oliver, get a kick out of hanging with the two-month-old.
The other duties are, well, less fun for Mason.
"I stay as far away from diaper duty as possible, but I can't get away from it as much as I want to," he laughed. "I change diapers occasionally. It takes me a lot more time than it takes her to do it, so she's like, 'Just stop, I got it.'"
Mason is the only father on the Yellow Jackets team, but he said Georgia Tech's coaching staff offered him plenty of advice throughout the summer when he was bracing for the major addition to his life.
"I think he's mature," head coach Paul Johnson said of Mason. "I haven't seen a whole lot of change in him personally. I think he's been a fairly mature guy. He likes to play the game. He's physical, and without question, he's a leader for us on offense and our best player up front."
There's another driving factor, too. Mason grew up in a single-parent home, something he says makes it all the more important for him to try to be the male role model for his daughter that he never had. The parenting skills and love he has to share stem from his mother, Alicia McGuire.
"She's been my biggest support system my whole life," Mason said. "Being a single mother, raising me to be the man I am today. Any time something's going bad, I just turn to her. She gives me advice, words of encouragement. She's my backbone. It's great to have her in my corner."
With national signing day just over three months away we have updated the ESPN 300, with a focus on senior production playing into the analysis. There were changes throughout, but the significant moves came within the top 10.
Defensive end Josh Sweat falls out of the top spot after suffering a season-ending injury that will require rehabilitation and impede his progression for the next level, at least for the time being. Sweat is still a rare talent and remains in the top 10.
Here are some other big changes in the rankings:Big movers
DT Terry Beckner Jr.
Among this very talented and deep group of 2015 defensive line prospects, a third prospect, Terry Beckner Jr., moves to No. 1. Like Sweat, Beckner has a ton of upside, but the quiet East St. Louis (Ill.) High five-star product doesn't seem to garner the same type of attention as some of his highly ranked counterparts. Beckner continues to demonstrate that he can create problems in the trenches in a multitude of ways. The uncommitted DL, at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, carries his weight very well, with room for further physical development with time in a power-conference weight program.
To read the rest of the biggest movers in the ESPN 300, click here .
As Utah’s kicker grows into fatherhood – his son Maximus is now seven weeks old – he’s learned to put the things that matter in life into perspective. While his football career can be high-pressure/high-stress, it's -- for lack of a better pun -- child's play compared to the responsibilities he has at home.
By now, most people who follow the Pac-12 have heard the tale of how Phillips, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team, became Utah’s kicker despite any previous football experience. After several video exchanges with former special-teams coordinator Jay Hill (now the head coach at Weber State), Phillips was invited to camp as a walk-on. He sent videos to every school in the state, but Utah was the only program that bit. Good call, Utah.
“He’s a great weapon for us,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s a big contributor for us week in and week out. He’s not your typical kicker.”
Indeed. Phillips was skiing competitively at 5 and internationally by 12. He was racing in Europe by 15 and at 17 he was named to the U.S. team, where he spent five years.
That competitive drive is alive and well on the football field. He ranks among the nation’s best kickers in almost every category and his field-goal accuracy has earned him the nickname “Automatic Andy.” He’s 13 of 15 overall and 9 of 11 from 40-plus yards. He ranks sixth in the nation in scoring at 10.8 points per game.
But it’s more than field goals. More often than not you’ll see Phillips flying down the field trying to make the tackle on kickoffs. A lot of kickers talk that talk, but few back it up. Here’s an example of Phillips backing it up.
“I don’t like to shy away from contact,” Phillips said. “I’ve got pads and a helmet on for a reason. I might as well use them. I’m an aggressive safety. If there’s a hole that opens up, it’s my job to fill that hole. I like to get in there and knock people around a little bit.”
He also knows his limitations. Kicking was the obvious choice, having grown up with a soccer background. Yet Whittingham said if Phillips wasn’t a kicker, there are several other positions he could play, simply based on his athleticism.
“I have to temper him and tell him to stay back and be the safety guy,” Whittingham said. “He would love to go in and get in the mix.”
Phillips isn’t cocky enough to think he could just stroll in and start playing, for instance, linebacker.
“Not growing up with the sport and competing at this level, I understand there are so many instinctual things these guys learn growing up with the sport,” Phillips said. “No one can jump in and be a ski racer at 18 or 19 because there are so many things you learn growing up, you can’t learn it all in a year. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what a linebacker has to learn his whole life or what a running back has to learn.
“… With my ski racing background, I learned my whole life how to be mentally tough. How to handle pressure situations. How to adapt to uncomfortable situations. I think that gives me a huge advantage in the kicking game.”
And that athleticism allows him to do something most other kickers can’t – the one-man onside kick, which he pulled off against UCLA a couple of weeks ago. It started as an idea he and Hill came up with last year. Phillips worked on it for a week before trying it live in practice.
“We did it 15 times and I was able to recover it all 15 times without failure,” Phillips said.
Added Whittingham: “He’s not the first guy we’ve tried it with, but he’s the best guy at it, without a doubt.”
The Utes have a critical Pac-12 South showdown this weekend with USC coming to town. Then again, from here on out they are all critical as the Utes look to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2011. They move forward with the confidence knowing they’ve got one of the best kickers in the country on their side.
“If you strive to the be the best at everything you do in life, whether that’s school, golf, religion, soccer or football, all of those translate to one another,” Phillips said. “If I’m in a pressure situation in football, if that’s something I’ve faced in another aspect of my life, I’m going to be able to overcome it.”
Behind two solid games from quarterback Bo Wallace, the Rebels are averaging 31 points and 494 yards of total offense against John Chavis' LSU defense under Freeze.
"We're coming out here to try to prevent that," said LSU safety Rickey Jefferson, whose No. 24 Tigers (6-2, 2-2 SEC) enter Saturday's game against No. 3 Ole Miss (7-0, 4-0) as the underdogs. "Every game we never plan to fail, so when they do do things like that, it's kind of shocking. That means we have to go back in the lab and do some more work, which we did even after this win [against Kentucky last Saturday]."
Wallace is averaging 328 passing yards in two starts against LSU -- games where he tossed two touchdowns and three interceptions -- plus he has run 22 times for 72 yards and two more scores. His dual-threat ability probably concerns LSU fans who saw Mississippi State's Dak Prescott and Auburn's Nick Marshall gash Chavis' defense, but the Tigers have fared better against versatile quarterbacks in recent games.
Florida's Jeff Driskel had an up-and-down game against LSU and Kentucky's Patrick Towles -- who doesn't get enough credit for his running ability -- failed to produce much of anything on the ground.
"One thing we adapted to is keeping the pocket contained because all these dual-threat quarterbacks, they're going to try to run up the middle on QB draw or something like that," defensive end Danielle Hunter said. "So it's all about containing the pocket and compressing the pocket, staying in our gaps."
Wallace still runs on occasion -- he has 67 attempts for 122 yards and a pair of touchdowns this season -- but Ole Miss mostly relies on its senior quarterback to produce in the passing game these days. He's averaging 271.3 passing yards per game and has been uncharacteristically turnover-free for the most part, tossing 17 touchdowns against six interceptions.
As in past seasons, the Rebels have other players who rotate in to handle specialty packages at quarterback, like former LSU signee Jeremy Liggins, a 300-pound tight end who occasionally takes snaps in short-yardage situations.
"That definitely gives us tendencies. For like last game, whenever the quarterback motioned out, you know it's going to be some kind of run or reverse," Hunter said of Kentucky, which utilizes a "Wildcat" package with Jojo Kemp and others taking direct snaps. "So this game, we're expecting the bigger quarterback, [Liggins], whenever he goes in it's going to be some kind of short-yardage or some kind of power play."
Another key factor on Saturday will be third-down conversions, said LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White. The Rebels sustained several long drives by going 11-for-18 on third down on the way to running 84 plays and totaling 525 yards against the Tigers in a 27-24 upset win.
"[Wallace] was picking us apart on third down. He was making excellent reads and pretty much picking our defense apart," White said. "I feel like he was making great decisions with where he was going with the ball and he was very confident in his receivers and they were making big-time plays for him. We'll try to limit that this year."
LSU has done a better job of limiting what opposing offenses hoped to accomplish in recent weeks after Mississippi State and Auburn both embarrassed the Tigers' defense. Ole Miss doesn't bring the SEC's scariest offense into Tiger Stadium -- the Rebels rank eighth in the SEC in both scoring (35.4 ppg) and total offense (433.3 ypg) -- but the Rebels' defense has been so good that Chavis' bunch probably can't afford to be as generous against Ole Miss as it has been in the last two seasons.
Reviewing film of last season's loss in Oxford has made that point abundantly clear.
"We watched a lot of film. We watched the whole game last year probably twice," Jefferson said. "I would think that the thing that we have to do to come out here and get these guys would be to execute and do everything that Coach Chief [Chavis] tells us and don't be out of place, make tackles, break on balls and hustle and give enthusiasm the whole game. It's going to be live."
It still eludes me why the committee needs to rank 25 teams when it is only picking the top 12 for the playoff spots and contract bowls. Nonetheless, the rankings will create much hoopla, hype and debate. And I can't wait.
We should learn a lot about what the committee values in that first Top 25. Here are a five questions the selection committee will answer next week as it relates to the Big Ten (assuming no major upsets in the league during Week 9, of course):
1. What's the consensus on Ohio State?
To me, this is the most intriguing question. Based simply on who's playing well right now -- be it statistical metrics or the eye test -- the Buckeyes are nearing playoff status. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Ohio State is tied for No. 5 right now with Mississippi State.
And yet Urban Meyer's team is ranked No. 12 in the USA Today coaches' poll, No. 13 in the Associated Press poll and No. 16 in the FWAA Grantland Rice Super 16. The reason is simple: The Buckeyes lost by two touchdowns at home in Week 2 against Virginia Tech.
It remains to be seen whether the committee will value full body of work over recency of performance, or whether it will give Ohio State something of a free pass because that loss to the Hokies came so early in the season before quarterback J.T. Barrett started to blossom. If the Buckeyes are ranked in the top 10, you'll know that their string of domination the past month is impressing the committee. If not, there might not be much else Ohio State can do to climb into the top four.
Here's another vital question for the league. The Spartans can't erase that 19-point loss at Oregon in Week 2. But how much credit will the committee give to Michigan State for challenging itself by scheduling that game, and do the selectors believe that game was more competitive (remember, the Spartans led by nine points in the third quarter) than the final score indicated?
The voters in the coaches' poll like Mark Dantonio's team, ranking it No. 5 this week (two spots ahead of Oregon, which requires some serious pretzel logic). The Spartans are eighth in both the AP poll and Super 16, which seems like a more reasonable position. They just need to be in a spot where they can move up when teams ahead of them inevitably lose. The question is where the committee values them now, especially in relation to current conference leaders in the Big 12 and Pac-12, which could likely be the Big Ten champ's main competition, along with a second SEC team.
3. Where's Nebraska?
The Cornhuskers look like the only other potential playoff team out of the Big Ten, and even that would necessitate a lot of things breaking just right. Nebraska's most impressive nonconference win came against unranked Miami, and it lost on the road to Michigan State, using a huge fourth-quarter rally to keep the final score respectable.
The best hope for Bo Pelini's team is to win out and beat either Michigan State or Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. The Huskers are on the outer edge of striking distance right now, checking in at No. 16 in all three major polls. Will the committee see them the same way?
4. Are any other Big Ten teams ranked?
I'm not sure how teams in the bottom 10 spots of the initial poll are supposed to react, because it signifies nothing in the grand scheme of things. However, the rankings could give us an indication of how the committee views the Big Ten as a whole. For example, is Minnesota, which should be 7-1 after this weekend, a Top 25 team? Is there another one lurking, such as Wisconsin or Maryland? If the committee has more than just the Spartans, Buckeyes and Huskers in the rankings, that indicates its perception of the Big Ten's overall strength. And that could come into play when trying to decide if the Big Ten champ deserves a spot in the four-team playoff field.
5. How in love with the SEC is the committee?
The nightmare scenario for fans outside of Dixie is three teams from the SEC gobbling up playoff spots. Four of the top five spots in the AP poll belong to the SEC West alone, and Georgia is also in the Top 10. The committee has said that winning a conference championship is supposed to matter, and obviously only one of those SEC teams can achieve that. But if the first rankings next week mirror the AP poll in its abundant adoration for all things SEC, then that increases the chances of two or more teams from the league eventually earning playoff bids. And that would be bad news for the Big Ten.
The game is intriguing from an advanced stats view, as well, a head-to-head battle between one of the nation’s best offenses and one of the best defenses. Traditional box score statistics might not recognize the matchup as particularly remarkable. USC’s offense ranks 28th nationally in points per game and 31st nationally in yards per game. Utah’s defense ranks 35th in points allowed and 55th in yards allowed per game. But those raw numbers don’t account for the strength of opposition faced or the context of play and drive efficiency.