NCF Nation: Missouri Tigers

Watch: 335-pound nose tackle snares INT

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
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His teammates call him "The Big Bear," which seems like an appropriate nickname for a 300-plus-pound nose tackle.

So when Missouri's Josh Augusta made a leap and a pick in the Tigers' game against UCF on Saturday, it was a big deal for The Big Bear. Take a look:

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Pac-12 problem: Losing expansion?

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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Over the past five or so years, the Power Five conferences started playing expansion roulette. Although the ultimate wisdom of these moves can be measured only over the long term, the short-term results can be judged.

That judgment? Things worked out well for the SEC and Big Ten. Not so much for the Pac-12 and Big 12.

The Big Ten added Nebraska three seasons ago to give it 12 teams. The Cornhuskers, despite not satisfying their demanding fans, have gone 17-7 in league play and won 28 games overall.

[+] EnlargeSefo Liufau and Tenny Palepoi
AP Photo/Rick BowmerColorado and Utah have a dismal 13-41 combined record in league play since joining the Pac-12.
The SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12. Each has posted double-digit wins and high national rankings as an SEC member, and their two-year conference marks essentially match what they did in their last two years in the Big 12.

The Big 12 replaced those two with TCU and West Virginia, teams that had won BCS bowl games as members of the Mountain West and Big East conferences, respectively. Yet neither has posted a winning record in Big 12 play, and both regressed to 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the conference last year.

The Pac-12? It raided the Big 12 for Colorado, which went 5-7 and 2-6 in 2010, and the Mountain West for Utah, which went 10-3, 7-1 that year. Neither has matched its 2010 records in the Pac-12 nor posted a winning record in conference play. The Buffaloes have gone a meager 4-23 against Pac-12 foes, while the Utes have gone from 4-5 to 3-6 to 2-7 in conference games.

Nebraska has been to three consecutive New Year's Day bowls, beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl last year, while Texas A&M has won a Heisman Trophy and two bowl games. Like the Aggies, Missouri has won a Cotton Bowl against the Big 12. Both have produced top-five rankings over the past two years.

The lone badge of postseason honor for the Pac-12 newbies? Utah's victory over Georgia Tech in the 2011 Sun Bowl. To the Utes' credit, they have gone 9-1 in games outside the Pac-12 over the past three seasons, including 3-0 versus their bitter rival BYU.

Although the Pac-12 has surged after realignment in terms of national perception, gaining ground on the SEC, and the Big Ten has stagnated by comparison, that's had nothing to do with expansion. While Pac-12 folks aren't going to whine about the fruits of expansion -- Exhibit A being a $3 billion TV deal -- or even grouse about poor-to-middling results from the new members, it's fair to say the short-term gain in terms of assets on Saturdays has been slight.

As assets, Colorado and Utah don't attract national eyeballs at present as they would if they were winning 10 games and were nationally ranked. The Utes' nail-biter with Arizona State in November was an interesting game, but it would have been featured prominently in highlight shows that night if it were a battle of ranked teams eyeballing the South Division title.

That said, other Pac-12 coaches might enjoy not having two more teams threatening to play at a Top 25 -- or better -- level. The conference, even with the Utes and Buffs slumping, is deeper than it's ever been. In fact, if both were playing at a high level, the conference's chances to put two teams in BCS bowl games, as it did in two of the previous three years, would have been reduced, costing each team about $1 million since 2011. That holds true looking forward to a potential berth -- or berths -- in the College Football Playoff.

Depth is good. It's fun to celebrate top-to-bottom quality. But it also makes it more difficult to go 12-0 or 11-1 in the regular season, records typically required for national title contention.

Still, the Pac-12 is better served by Utah and Colorado improving. The conference certainly would like the Denver and Salt Lake City markets to turn their attention to college football in large numbers.

Not to conclude with an outlandish assertion here, but here's a guess that the folks most eager for the Buffs and Utes to help the Pac-12 feel good about its expansion choices are the fans, administrators, players and coaches associated with both programs.

Position U: Tight ends

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
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Who really deserves to claim the title of “Tight End U” for the 2000s?

1. Miami (84 points): While it has been relatively quiet since its positional heyday early in the 2000s, Miami still easily tops this list. With seven tight ends drafted, including first-round picks Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow and Greg Olsen, the Hurricanes far surpassed the next closest programs at the position. They don’t get extra points for this, but they also produced arguably the top tight end in the NFL today in 2010 third-round pick Jimmy Graham, who's now starring for the New Orleans Saints.

Award winners: Kellen Winslow, Mackey (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Kellen Winslow (2003).
First-team all-conference: Jeremy Shockey (2000, 2001), Kellen Winslow (2002, 2003), Greg Olsen (2006).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jeremy Shockey (2002), Kellen Winslow (2004), Greg Olsen (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kevin Everett (Round 3, 2005), Jimmy Graham (Round 3, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Dedrick Epps (Round 7, 2010), Richard Gordon (Round 6, 2011).

2. Iowa (66 points): Dallas Clark leads the way thanks to a 2002 season after which he won the John Mackey Award and was a consensus All-American. But Iowa had a consistent run of tight ends in the 2000s, with first-round pick Clark and five others getting drafted -- most recently third-round pick C.J. Fiedorowicz, who was the fifth tight end selected this year.

Award winners: Dallas Clark, Mackey (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Dallas Clark (2002).
First-team all-conference: Dallas Clark (2002), Brandon Myers (2008), Tony Moeaki (2009), C.J. Fiedorowicz (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Dallas Clark (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Scott Chandler (Round 4, 2007), Tony Moeaki (Round 3, 2010), C.J. Fiedorowicz (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Erik Jensen (Round 7, 2004), Brandon Myers (Round 6, 2009).

3. Missouri (64 points): Missouri hasn’t had as much success placing tight ends in the pros as some of the other top programs on this list, but the Tigers have an award winner (Chase Coffman won the 2008 Mackey Award) and three consensus All-American tight ends (Coffman, Martin Rucker and Michael Egnew) since 2000. Not too shabby.

Award winners: Chase Coffman, Mackey (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Martin Rucker (2007), Chase Coffman (2008), Michael Egnew (2010).
First-team all-conference: Martin Rucker (2006), Michael Egnew (2010, 2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Martin Rucker (Round 4, 2008), Chase Coffman (Round 3, 2009), Michael Egnew (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


4. Wisconsin (64 points): One All-American (Lance Kendricks in 2010, when he led the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches), six first-team All-Big Ten picks (Kendricks, Garrett Graham twice, Mark Anelli, Travis Beckum and Jacob Pedersen) and six drafted players helped Wisconsin nearly earn the runner-up spot in the tight end rankings.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Lance Kendricks (2010).
First-team all-conference: Mark Anelli (2001), Travis Beckum (2007), Garrett Graham (2008, 2009), Lance Kendricks (2010), Jacob Pedersen (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Owen Daniels (Round 4, 2006), Travis Beckum (Round 3, 2009), Garrett Graham (Round 4, 2010), Lance Kendricks (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mark Anelli (Round 6, 2002), Jason Pociask (Round 5, 2006).

5. Georgia (62 points): It doesn’t have the national awards to show for it, but Georgia seems to boast an outstanding tight end nearly every season. The best example of that is how the Bulldogs keep placing tight ends in the pros – starting with Randy McMichael, Ben Watson and Leonard Pope and leading all the way up to Arthur Lynch, who just went to the Miami Dolphins in the most recent draft. The Bulldogs have built an impressive legacy at the position that looks to continue.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Randy McMichael (2001), Leonard Pope (2004, 2005), Martrez Milner (2006), Orson Charles (2011), Arthur Lynch (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Ben Watson (2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Randy McMichael (Round 4, 2002), Leonard Pope (Round 3, 2006), Martrez Milner (Round 4, 2007), Orson Charles (Round 4, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Arthur Lynch (Round 5, 2014).

6. BYU (56 points): Independents Notre Dame and BYU are hurt in these position rankings by not being members of a conference -- thus they couldn’t earn points for all-conference selections, although BYU did as a member of the Mountain West up through 2010. In fact, the Cougars earned 36 of their 56 points by having six tight ends named to the All-MWC team between 2001 and 2009. Notre Dame certainly belongs higher on the list, considering that it has had nine tight ends drafted, including first-round pick and 2012 Mackey Award winner Tyler Eifert.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Dennis Pitta (2009).
First-team all-conference: Doug Jolley (2001), Jonny Harline (2005, 2006), Dennis Pitta (2007, 2008, 2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Doug Jolley (Round 2, 2002), Dennis Pitta (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tevita Ofahengaue (Round 7, 2001), Spencer Nead (Round 7, 2003).

7. Virginia (54 points): Heath Miller is a one-man wrecking crew here, single-handedly accounting for 38 of Virginia’s 54 points thanks to a Mackey Award-winning season in 2004 when he was a consensus All-American and went on to become a first-round draft pick. Miller also won All-ACC honors in 2003.

Award winners: Heath Miller, Mackey (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Heath Miller (2004).
First-team all-conference: Heath Miller (2003, 2004), John Phillips (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Heath Miller (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chris Luzar (Round 4, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Billy Baber (Round 5, 2001), Tom Santi (Round 6, 2008), John Phillips (Round 6, 2009).

8. Stanford (48 points): Stanford is arguably the top program for tight ends right now, but that’s a fairly recent development. Of the six Cardinal tight ends drafted since 2001, four have been since 2010, led by second-round picks Coby Fleener and 2012 All-American Zach Ertz. Stanford posted a rare double in 2013 when Ertz and Levine Toilolo were both picked in the draft’s first four rounds.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Zach Ertz (2012).
First-team all-conference: Alex Smith (2004), Coby Fleener (2011), Zach Ertz (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Teyo Johnson (Round 2, 2003), Alex Smith (Round 3, 2005), Coby Fleener (Round 2, 2012), Zach Ertz (Round 2, 2013), Levine Toilolo (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jim Dray (Round 7, 2010),

9. Colorado (46 points): Colorado hasn’t had much to brag about on the football field over the last several years, but the Buffaloes are still hanging on in the tight end rankings. Daniel Graham’s outstanding 2001 season (including a Mackey Award and a consensus All-America designation prior to becoming a first-round draft pick) is a big reason why Colorado makes the top 10.

Award winners: Daniel Graham, Mackey (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: Daniel Graham (2001).
First-team all-conference: Daniel Graham (2001), Joe Klopfenstein (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Daniel Graham (2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Joe Klopfenstein (Round 2, 2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Quinn Sypniewski (Round 5, 2006), Nick Kasa, Round 6, 2013).

10. UCLA (46 points): As with its fellow No. 9 on the list, Colorado, UCLA can thank a single player for its spot in the top 10. Marcedes Lewis accumulated 32 of the Bruins’ 46 points with a 2005 season when he won the Mackey Award, was a consensus All-American and first-team All-Pac-10 pick and then went on to become a 2006 first-round draft selection.

Award winners: Marcedes Lewis, Mackey (2005).
Consensus All-Americans: Marcedes Lewis (2005).
First-team all-conference: Mike Seidman (2002), Marcedes Lewis (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Marcedes Lewis (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Mike Seidman (Round 3, 2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jeff Grau (Round 7, 2002), Bryan Fletcher (Round 6, 2002).

REST OF “TIGHT END U” RANKINGS
44 – Notre Dame; 40 – Clemson; 38 – Arizona State, Florida, Louisville; 34 – Oregon, USC; 32 – Minnesota, North Carolina, Purdue, Rutgers; 28 – Tennessee; 26 – Oklahoma; 24 – N.C. State; 22 – Kentucky, Washington; 20 – Arkansas, Maryland; 18 – Penn State, Pittsburgh, Texas Tech; 16 – Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas; 14 – Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State; 12 – South Carolina; 10 – California, LSU, Michigan State, Oregon State; 8 – Boston College, Northwestern; 6 – TCU, Utah, Duke, Syracuse; 4 – Alabama, Kansas, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech; 2 – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Mississippi State; 0 – Auburn, Baylor, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Washington State, West Virginia
1. The SEC released Monday its schedule rotation for nondivisional conference opponents, laying out in stark terms the cost of playing only eight conference games a year. For instance, Texas A&M players who enroll this fall will play UCLA twice (2016-17) and never play Georgia or Vanderbilt (the fifth-year guys will get Kentucky in 2018). Or this: Missouri plays at Kyle Field this fall, and the Tigers won’t return to College Station before 2026, when this year’s first-graders will enroll in college. That’s conference play?

2. I can’t recommend highly enough the breakdown of Big Ten balance sheets that my colleague Matt Fortuna began Monday in a four-part series. The numbers are staggering, yes, but the explanation of expenditures by Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis provides depth and detail to the amount of resources afforded to scholarship student-athletes. I’m for giving them full cost of attendance, but as Fortuna highlighted, the increase in services provided by schools over the last decade is staggering.

3. At the Tulane commencement Saturday, Wynton Marsalis used words and his horn to give graduates a compelling message. But the best moment came when university president Scott Cowen singled out former Green Wave defensive back Devon Walker, paralyzed in a game two years ago. When Cowen asked spectators and Walker’s fellow graduates “to show our love and our respect for this incredible young man,” they responded with a 40-second standing ovation.

Big 12 not at SEC level, but getting closer

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
12:40
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- No matter what Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops tells you, the Big 12 is not up to the SEC’s level. Not yet, anyway. But the conference isn’t as far off as the experts thought when the season began, either.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsMike Gundy watched as Missouri narrowly escaped Friday night.
Missouri ended Oklahoma State’s hopes of becoming the second Big 12 team to knock off an SEC team in two nights Friday. The Cowboys watched as defensive end Shane Ray scooped up a late-game fumble and rumbled 73 yards for the touchdown that sealed Missouri’s 41-31 win in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

It was a back-and-forth fourth quarter between two of the better offenses in the country, and it ended with the SEC team making a key play late to ensure the victory.

Just six years ago, Missouri was winning the Cotton Bowl as a member of the Big 12. You can take Missouri’s success this season -- an East Division title and a spot in the SEC championship game -- and Texas A&M’s status as a top-flight program as a slap to the Big 12, since the Tigers and Aggies left the conference for the greener (think dollars) pastures of the SEC two years ago. But there’s another way of looking at it: Perhaps the Big 12 was better than many thought, since both programs are competing for titles in the best conference in the country so quickly.

It’s clear the Big 12 needs the Texas Longhorns to return to prominence for this league to consistently compete for national titles as the SEC continues to do. But Auburn is proof that a big program with resources, talent and the right coach can engineer a turnaround in record time. There’s no reason to think Texas can’t rebound quickly, either.

I know what you’re thinking: If the biggest school in your conference is making news by looking for a new coach fresh off a tumultuous season -- and having some trouble finding some big names who want to actually take the job -- how can 2013 be considered a step forward for said conference?

But to judge this Big 12 season on Texas’ failure isn’t completely fair. How quickly we forget that nobody expected much from this conference when the season began.

The preseason AP top 25 included four Big 12 teams. None of them were in the top 10. The highest-ranked team was Oklahoma State, at No. 13. Texas was a sleeper pick by some for a run to the national title game. Instead, the Longhorns sputtered, fired their defensive coordinator and waved goodbye to head coach Mack Brown after a blowout loss to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.

TCU, ranked 20th when the season began, was supposed to be primed for conference championship contention with a bunch of returning starters. But injuries and an ineffective offense led to the end of the school’s bowl streak and the hiring of a couple of new offensive coaches.

Baylor wasn’t even in the top 25 when the season began, but sprinted up the rankings about as quickly as it scored points. The Bears got rid of the tarps and became the conference’s best chance for a BCS title-game appearance, but that run ended in a blowout loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesOklahoma's win over Alabama gave the Big 12 a boost.
Oklahoma rebounded from an injury-plagued 2012 to get back to a BCS bowl. But a loss to Texas at the Cotton Bowl in October slowed its rise, and Baylor ended any long-shot title-game discussion with a 41-12 trouncing.

The conference did manage a few bowl wins that could be building blocks toward next season. Texas Tech came into the Holiday Bowl as a huge underdog after losing its final five regular-season games. But the Red Raiders beat up Arizona State. Kansas State outplayed Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It hurt that Baylor lost as a heavy favorite to Central Florida in the Fiesta, but that might say more about the Knights and how good they were than it does about the Bears. Oklahoma made the biggest statement, pulling the shocker of the bowl season with a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama on Thursday. With Texas down, the Sooners needed to step up for the conference -- and did against a team that many thought was the best in the country despite losing to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

In the end, the conference held its own during bowl season. Monday night will be another reminder that the Big 12 has work to do as the SEC plays for an eighth consecutive national title against an undefeated Florida State team from the ACC.

It wasn’t that long ago that Texas and Oklahoma were playing for national titles -- and even winning some of them. There’s still work to do, but the Big 12 isn’t far from having that opportunity again.

Key matchup: Auburn line vs. Missouri 'D'

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
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The matchup to watch in the SEC Championship Game is the battle in the trenches when Auburn has the football.

Auburn’s offensive line is among the nation’s best at opening holes for its runners and protecting its quarterback. Conversely, Missouri has one of the top defensive lines in the nation at stopping the run and getting after the quarterback.

Auburn’s offensive line
Auburn averages 318.3 rushing yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry, both of which rankfifth in the FBS. Its success is predicated on its offensive line’s ability to open holes for quarterback Nick Marshall and the running backs.

On designed runs, Auburn averages an AQ-high 210.3 yards per game before first contact. That is 108.5 more than the AQ average. Auburn gained 189 such yards against Alabama, 95 more than any other team has gained against the Tide in the last two seasons.

Auburn averages an SEC-high 4.5 yards before contact per rush and makes it at least 5 yards past the line of scrimmage before contact on 31 percent of its rushes.

The key has been Auburn’s ability to set the edge. Gus Malzahn’s team leads all schools from AQ (automatic-qualifyin)g conferences in rushing yards (2,584) and touchdowns (26) outside the tackles, and ranks second in yards per carry (8.3) on such plays behind Wisconsin.

How Missouri’s defense can stop Auburn’s run?

Missouri is allowing 119.1 rushing yards per game, second fewest in the SEC behind Alabama, and has held all 12 of its opponents below their season average in rushing yards. These Tigers have held opponents to zero or negative yards on 29 percent of their rush attempts, the highest percentage in the SEC.

The key for Missouri will be containing Nick Marshall and Auburn’s zone read. Zone reads have accounted for 42 percent of Auburn’s carries. On such plays, Auburn is averaging 7.2 yards per rush and has an SEC-high 16 runs of 20 yards or longer.

Missouri has struggled to stop these plays this season, allowing 4.9 yards per rush, including 6.1 when the opposing quarterback keeps the ball. If they can stop them Saturday and force Auburn to throw the ball, Gary Pinkel’s team will be able to do what it does best, rush the passer.

Missouri’s defensive line
Missouri lead the SEC with 37 sacks, 74 knockdowns and 116 total pressures (hurries, knockdowns and sacks).

Yet, Missouri does not have to send extra pass rushers to get after the quarterback. Missouri sends four or fewer pass rushers on 89 percent of its opponents’ dropbacks, the highest percentage of any AQ defense. When sending such pressure, the Tigers have an AQ-high 32 sacks and 97 total pressures.

Defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy are among the nation’s best defensive linemen. Sam leads the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. Ealy leads the SEC with 30 total pressures and 14 quarterback hits.

How Auburn’s offense stops Missouri’s pass rush?
Auburn must keep its run game going to limit Missouri’s pass rush. Auburn runs on 69 percent of its plays, the highest percentage of any non-triple option offense. If they can run the ball with success, there will be no need for them to pass.

Something has to give
Missouri is one of seven teams that has not allowed 200 yards rushing in any of its games this season, and Auburn has rushed for more than 200 yards in 11 of its 12 games.

Conversely, Auburn is one of 26 FBS teams that has not allowed more than three sacks in any of its games, while Missouri is averaging an SEC-high 3.1 sacks per game.

Both teams are in the midst of magical, turnaround seasons. For both teams, winning an SEC Championship would be the final piece to validate those turnarounds. Whichever team can impose its will in the trenches when Auburn has the football will be one step closer to achieving its goals.

Video: The Point After: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
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A pair of top-10 teams fall from the ranks of the unbeaten, and No. 6 Stanford survives a scare on the road. It’s your weekly recap of all the wild action in college football.
1. The last unbeaten team in the SEC East is Missouri, and who saw that coming? As much as I have made of head coach Gary Pinkel revamping his team’s practice and training methods, I missed another big reason for the Tigers’ success. In its 41-26 victory at No. 7 Georgia, Missouri started 11 seniors, eight of them fifth-years. That’s how Auburn won the BCS in 2010. It’s a simple plan for success. The hard part is signing the right guys, developing them, keeping them healthy and contributing, and not losing them to the NFL.

2. Think about the most recent round of realignment. In most cases, conferences took teams that, based on history, would struggle to compete against their new opponents. Utah and Colorado in the Pac-12? Missouri and Texas A&M in the SEC? But look at what has happened. Utah just beat No. 5 Stanford. Missouri and Texas A&M have played better in the SEC than they did in the Big 12. No, it’s not because the Big 12 is tougher. Those programs, infused with new income and a new incentive to compete, have stepped up their games. Sue me -- even Colorado is better.

3. We pointed out last week that as well as Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has played, he hasn’t played with a game on the line, because the No. 2 Ducks have been too dominant. Through five games, Mariota hadn’t even thrown a pass in the fourth quarter. At No. 16 Washington on Saturday, Oregon began the fourth quarter with a 31-24 lead. From that point on, Mariota went 5-for-6 for 75 yards and a touchdown, and rushed five times for 33 yards and a score. Oregon won, 45-24. He has been the best player in college football over the first half of the season.
1. No. 7 Georgia lost two receivers and a tailback to knee injuries Saturday, which is something to which the Dawgs’ next opponent, Missouri, can relate. The Tigers had so many injuries during last season’s 5-7 SEC debut that head coach Gary Pinkel revamped his entire practice and training regimen, eliminating two-a-days and reducing contact drills. Missouri is 5-0, ranked No. 25 and its starters have a missed a total of three games because of injury.

2. Here’s what I noticed about the 13 names reported to be on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Three people have won a national championship (Pat Haden as a player, Tom Osborne as a coach and Barry Alvarez as an assistant). There are more former quarterbacks (four) than former head coaches (three, and Ty Willingham is on both lists). If Stanford comes up for discussion, Willingham and Condoleezza Rice would have to leave the room, but what would West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck do?

3. No. 11 UCLA should move to 5-0 this week by defeating a Cal team that is 0-4 against FBS opponents. That would set up not only a showdown the following week at No. 4 Stanford but it would put the Bruins on the cusp of returning to the top 10 for the first time in eight seasons. Since the glory days under Bob Toledo, when the Bruins appeared in the top 10 in four of five years from 1997-2001, UCLA has appeared in the top 10 for a total of three weeks. A long drought appears to have ended in Westwood.
The question concerns Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly: What's next for him after a strong starting debut as a sophomore? Both head coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell make the same observation in separate interviews.

"In the eight games we won last year, Taylor didn't throw any interceptions," Graham said.

"And in the five games we lost," Norvell said, "he threw at least one."

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireTaylor Kelly "commands our team," coach Todd Graham said. "He's a guy with all the intangibles, a guy we completely trust."
It's an interesting factoid -- all nine interceptions in five losses -- one you can imagine has been brought up to Kelly by both a few times. You also could read too much into it. Other than his first-ever road start against a mediocre-to-bad Missouri team, those losses came against good teams.

But it also aligns with what Kelly needs to do this fall to take the proverbial next step: Take charge and be consistently excellent so Arizona State becomes better than those other good teams.

Graham calls it mastering the offense. Kelly knows it's about stepping up at critical moments.

"When things hit the fan, that's when I've got to play my best," Kelly said. "When things would start to hit the fan last year, I would kind of panic and start forcing things. Or if we were down, I'd feel I had to make a play. After watching film, I realize I need to take the easy route and take what the defense gives me."

Be smart. Command the huddle. Distribute the ball to the playmakers. Step up and deliver in big moments. That's what veteran quarterbacks do, and that's what will get Kelly and the Sun Devils to the Pac-12 title game with a shot at the Rose Bowl.

It's reasonable to project. Kelly blew away preseason expectations last year, eclipsing 3,000 yards passing while ranking second in the Pac-12 and ninth in the nation in passing efficiency. He threw 29 touchdown passes and rushed for 516 yards and a score. Even incremental improvement should make him an all-conference candidate, though the same can be said for a number of outstanding Pac-12 quarterbacks.

It's strange to recall that a year ago the idea of such a projection would have seemed ridiculous. Kelly finished 2012 spring practice third in the Sun Devils quarterback competition behind Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank. More than that, there was some talk of reducing his reps and making it a two-man race heading into fall camp.

"We came this close to making it a two-man race because of my belief that it's hard to rep three guys," Graham said. "That would have eliminated Taylor Kelly. I'll be honest. He was third team coming out of spring, and that was where he should have been. He improved that much over the summer."

The same can be said for the 2012 season. Kelly showed resilience by bouncing back after bad games. The poor showing at Missouri? He threw 11 touchdown passes in the next three games with no picks. A four-game losing streak killing the momentum of a previously promising season? Kelly threw eight touchdown passes with no picks as the Sun Devils finished with three consecutive victories, including a comeback victory in the Territorial Cup.

"I think he got better every single game," Graham said. "There is no substitute for experience. What gives me the most confidence in this team is we have a quarterback who I completely trust, who has all the intangibles it takes to be a great quarterback and a great leader."

There is a question, and it affects Kelly directly: Receiver.

Kelly has a good tight end/H-back in Chris Coyle. Running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster are skilled pass-catchers. But there's a dearth of talent and experience at wideout.

Said Kelly, "It's been a work in progress."

It's an issue whose solution lies in the unknown: Arizona State needs at least two, perhaps three, incoming receivers to show up ready to play immediately. The Sun Devils signed five receivers, topped by the touted Jaelen Strong (Said Graham, "As dynamic a receiver as I've seen on film."), and they will be immediately thrown into the rotation.

While Graham also frets about special teams, the Sun Devils' potential advance to a 10-win sort of team depends on giving Kelly some A-list targets who will keep an opposing defense honest.

Further, there won't be much of a preseason, getting-to-know-you process. Games 2-4 go: Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium.

Yet this team is fully capable of handling a front-loaded schedule and climbing the national rankings. And that feeling starts with Kelly.

"He commands our team. He's a guy with all the intangibles, a guy we completely trust," Graham said. "We have a quarterback who is a championship-level quarterback. That gives you a chance."

David Yost talks about his move to WSU

February, 5, 2013
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Washington State has never ranked highly in the recruiting rankings, even when it ended up with three consecutive top-10 national rankings from 2001-03. But coach Mike Leach might have done one of the nation's best recruiting jobs with a simple text message this winter: "Why don't you come to Key West we'll have a lot more fun."

That was Leach's text to the man who would shortly become the Cougars' new receivers coach, David Yost, per a story from CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd.

For those of you wondering who that is, Yost is only one of the nation's best offensive minds, the longtime offensive coordinator at Missouri under Gary Pinkel. He was known for his creativity, his ability to develop quarterbacks, his recruiting ability and his funky hair.

[+] EnlargeDavid Yost
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsNew receivers coach David Yost resurfaced with the Cougars after taking a year off from coaching.
What makes Yost's story interesting -- and made him available to Washington State -- was that he bailed out on the grind at Missouri this year, citing burnout. Yep, he just upped and quit.

“I'd just gotten tired,” Yost told Dodd. “I didn't want to do it anymore.”

Some Coug fans might be worried that Yost is going to Pullman to coast, to take it easy, to work 40 hours a week. Don't bet on that. The problem at Missouri was he'd taken on too much: assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator, quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

If you're an obsessive worker, it's hard to back off or ask for less responsibility. For one, every coach is supposed to be driving hard for that next big gig, that prestige job.

Lots of folks talk about walking away, trying to spend more time with their families. For Yost, however, it was more than talk. He was willing to make a massive change in the trajectory of his life. From the story:
When her husband made the decision wife Carrie was all in for a change, said they could live on a budget. She promised to get a job if it came to that to support a family that had grown with three kids -- Kennedy, Keaton and Kamden. Friends and acquaintances were caught somewhere between wonder and praise for the coach's decision.

The consensus Yost got was, “I was impressed you were able to step away instead of kind of grinding through it.”

Now he takes on less with a refreshed outlook.

After generating as much buzz as any hiring in 2012, Leach's first season in Pullman was a major disappointment. It was particularly surprising how poorly the Cougars' offense played, considering it had two experienced, capable quarterbacks and a good crew of receivers.

While Yost's responsibility is only receivers -- reducing responsibilities was the whole point after all -- he surely will inject some energy and new ideas into the offensive preparation. He also is known as a players' coach. He should have a lighter touch than Leach. This seems like a good pair -- a little of the ol' yin and yang of offensive innovators.

It's not unreasonable to project that Yost will boost his new team as much as any five-star player who signs on Wednesday.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M put the finishing touches on a double-digit win season and Johnny Manziel made his final case for the Heisman Trophy as the Aggies coasted by Missouri 59-29 Saturday at Kyle Field.

The win makes Texas A&M 10-2 on the season (6-2 SEC), marking the first time since 1998 that the Aggies have finished a season with at least 10 wins. Let's take a look at the notable happenings from the night:

It was over when: The clock hit triple zeroes at halftime. The Aggies started fast and didn't look back, jumping out to a 42-0 lead at the 3:33 mark in the second quarter. Missouri scored once before the half and added 22 points in the second half, but it was all for naught as A&M's lead was already insurmountable.

Game ball goes to: Manziel. He was his usual productive self on Saturday, completing 32-of-44 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns with one interception while running 12 times for 67 yards and two touchdowns. He became the SEC's single-season total yardage record-holder, eclipsing Cam Newton's mark of 4,327 (Manziel finished with 4,600 for the season, breaking Newton's mark in two fewer games).

Key stat: 12-of-16. The Aggies' third-down conversion rate. All season, Texas A&M has called third down the "money down", and the Aggies have earned their money in that area on both sides of the ball. They converted their first 12 attempts on offense Saturday, which was a big reason why they took their commanding lead. They converted 75 percent of their third downs and were pretty good defending them on defense too (5-of-14, 35.7 percent).

Unsung hero of the game: Spencer Nealy. All season long, the senior defensive tackle has done dirty work for the Aggies, taking on double teams after switching positions from defensive end prior to the season. He shined in that role, and Saturday was the best example of that, when he was disruptive to Missouri quarterback Corbin Berkstresser and the Tigers' offensive backfield. Nealy finished with seven tackles, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup.

Best call: A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin applied a nice touch late in the game, allowing Manziel to come in for a play so that he could leave the field and get an ovation from the 87,222 in attendance. Manziel gave the "Gig 'em" thumbs up to the crowd as he exited. It was a nice moment and a fitting end to what has been a memorable season for the redshirt freshman quarterback and the Aggies.

What it means: The Aggies' first SEC regular season is in the books and it's safe to say that they've arrived. With 10 wins, they exceeded expectations and they have a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate (front-runner, even?) in Manziel. Texas A&M will go to a quality bowl game, likely either the Capital One Bowl, Cotton Bowl or possibly a BCS bowl, depending on how things shake out in the season's final weekend.

For Missouri, it means the Tigers will not go bowling, as they finish 5-7 (2-6 in the SEC). There were high expectations coming into the season and it's a disappointing end for the Tigers, who were without starting quarterback James Franklin on Saturday because of a concussion suffered last week.

Setting up Saturday's Big East slate

November, 17, 2012
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Mornin', gang. Week 12 is upon us, with four games featuring five Big East teams on deck.

We get a double dose of early action in a couple of hours, with Temple trying to snap a four-game losing streak as it heads to Army, and with Rutgers and Cincinnati slugging it out in Nippert Stadium in a game with plenty of conference title implications.

Before those contests get started, I'll be chatting on CoverItLive from 11:30 a.m. to noon ET, so be sure to get in any last-minute questions you have then. Andrea Adelson will be hosting our "Game of the Week" chat tonight from 8 p.m. until the end of the Stanford-Oregon game, so she'll wrap things up for you there.

As always, the two of us will be tweeting throughout the day, so be sure to follow along. Breaking news and injury updates, along with postgame recaps, will be posted here in the blog.

After picking the same teams last week, Andrea and I mixed things up a bit, so plenty of bragging rights are on the line. Here is what to keep an eye on, too.

One final look at today's lineup is below, with some material from earlier in the week to get you caught up:

What to watch in the Big East: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
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Here's what to keep an eye on Saturday.

1) Temple's QB. It is a three-man race to take the first snap under center for the Owls, with Chris Coyer, Clinton Granger and Kevin Newsome vying for the spot. One will be tasked with getting the Owls out of their four-game funk, with Army awaiting.

[+] EnlargeSavon Huggins
Joe Camporeale/US PresswireRutgers may need Savon Huggins to carry the offensive load at Cincinnati if Jawan Jamison is out.
2) Can Rutgers' offense keep up? The Scarlet Knights have been underwhelming on offense of late, to say the least. They had seven turnovers against Kent State and needed a very late run to pull away from Army, and now, heading to Cincinnati, are facing their biggest Big East test to date, possibly without star running back Jawan Jamison, too.

3) Brendon Kay goes for Round 2. The fifth-year senior's starting debut last week against Temple couldn't have gone much better. Now he has to do it against Rutgers' defense, with conference title implications on the line.

4) South Florida's QB. Skip Holtz, like Temple's Steve Addazio, has not announced a starter. Matt Floyd or Bobby Eveld will get the call against Miami -- a team Eveld beat two years ago. How the Bulls respond without B.J. Daniels the rest of the way -- and after finally snapping their losing streak … and after a bye, too -- is worth watching for a team that still has a chance at bowl eligibility.

5) Syracuse goes for bowl eligibility. Frankly, it would typify the Orange's past two seasons to follow up a masterpiece against Louisville with a letdown at Missouri. Winners of three of its past four, Syracuse instead hopes to build off a big win this time, with its offense clicking on all cylinders as it readies for a Tigers team that also is going for win No. 6.

Syracuse hopes to keep its momentum

November, 13, 2012
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Syracuse has been in this exact spot before: getting a big win over a top 25 team with bowl eligibility within reach.

When it happened last year, the Orange took down West Virginia on a Friday night. But they promptly ended the season on a five-game losing streak to end the year 5-7. So the big question for the Orange as they prepare to take on Missouri on Saturday: Will this season be any different?

After all, Syracuse goes into this weekend following a huge 45-26 win over No. 9 Louisville to get to 5-5. One win in its final two games, and the Orange go back to a bowl game. But winning two games is no simple task, especially for a team that has lost nearly all of its games this season because of self-inflicted mistakes.

"This year’s team is different, as every year’s team is different," Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said. "For our players, we’ve been striving to make less mistakes and execute better and we were able to do that against a very good football team this weekend. How you prepared last week, what you did whatever it may be -- how do we mirror that so we can have the same type of performance?"

Well, it would help matters if this game was at home, where the Orange have fared much better this season. Hitting the road to take on an SEC opponent in a night game will be a huge challenge, considering the results away from home. Syracuse is 4-1 in games at the Carrier Dome this season. In the three games it has not turned the ball over this season, two have come at home.

"It’s the same thing we talk about -- staying focused," Marrone said. "It’s always a greater challenge when you go on the road with the environment. We’ll try to make sure the players concentrate on the game plan and do not let anything distract us."

Playing such a tough nonconference schedule has presented its share of challenges as well. Remember, Missouri was a late addition to the schedule, filling a hole after TCU bailed for the Big 12. Marrone has continually maintained he wants to challenge his players with the type of schedule they have played. There is no denying what a tough task they have faced.

Syracuse is 0-3 against its FBS nonconference opponents this year, with losses to Northwestern, Minnesota and USC. Here is where the turnover factor comes into play. Syracuse is minus-7 in turnover margin in those three games, and it was a huge factor in its loss to the Gophers. Of those three games, only Northwestern was a true home game in Syracuse.

But Syracuse has been much better at taking care of the football in the past month. The Orange have won three of their last four games -- and are plus-6 in turnover margin in those contests. In addition to taking care of the football, Syracuse has found its running game, another key in the turnaround. Jerome Smith has 100 yards rushing in each of the last four games.

While it appears the Orange have seemingly turned a corner after their 2-4 start, they have to try and keep the momentum up against Missouri, with bowl hopes on the line.

"We really haven't thought about the bowl game," center Macky MacPherson said after the win over Louisville. "We knew we had to win the next two, but it's not something we have been focusing on. What we were focused on was beating a very good Louisville team. Now we need to focus on Missouri. We are not focused on win No. 6 as much as we are about beating Missouri."

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