Pac-12: Jameis Winston

Mailbag: Adams transfer controversy?

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
Happy Friday. This is the mailbag. Or is it?

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To the notes!

Caruso from Stamford, Conn., writes: I'm dumbfounded by the FCS coaches response to Vernon Adams transferring. The immediate "we don't want to be a farm league for the FBS" statements, are completely unwarranted.

Ted Miller: This is a controversy that isn't even a controversy. Actually, FCS folks acting like it's controversial are the ones behaving poorly.

Rob Ash of Montana State grouses FCS programs "cannot be perceived as a farm system or Triple-A ball club." Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin whines, "It's not what the rule is intended for."

[+] EnlargeVernon Adams
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesVernon Adams is seeking brighter opportunities after obtaining his undergraduate degree from Eastern Washington? The nerve!
Yeah it is. It's EXACTLY what the rule was intended for. It's about giving student-athletes -- WHO HAVE ALREADY OBTAINED AN UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE -- a chance to pursue better opportunities.

Instead of playing it safe as a fifth-year senior at Eastern Washington, Vernon Adams is taking a chance -- betting on himself, in fact -- that he can play with the big boys. He's chasing his dream, making a high-risk, high-reward move that might just propel him into the NFL.

Dude ... can I get a cheer for 'Merica! 'Cause, this is what it's all about. The freedom to bet on yourself.

Know what Ash and Baldwin are concerned about? Their self-interest. They are, counterproductively I think, saying their FCS program should be protected from a player having the freedom -- AFTER HE HAS GRADUATED -- to make a choice for himself. They want their players to face more restrictions and regulations. Why? Because restrictions on players makes their lives easier.

Baldwin and Eastern Washington officials blew it by playing the sour grapes card. Just imagine if Baldwin had gone this route:
Reporter: Coach, what do you think about Vernon Adams transferring to Oregon?

Baldwin: How could I not be anything but happy for this young man who has done so much for this program? I'll be rooting for him like crazy. I take a lot of pride in the fact that a guy who was overlooked by the Pac-12 is now coveted by he Pac-12's best team. I think that speaks well not only of Adams but of our program, our a ability to find and develop talent. Not only that, we also helped him earn his college degree. Know what? When I go out recruiting this spring, Adams will be Exhibit A for what we've built here at Eastern Washington.

Adams is practically an advertisement for Eastern Washington football, folks.

The idea this resembles free agency is silly. FCS teams becoming minor leagues? How many FCS players: 1. Are good enough to be offered an FBS scholarship for one year of service; 2. AND have earned an undergraduate degree with a year of eligibility remaining?

And, if FCS programs start producing those sorts of players on a regular basis, then they are fulfilling their mission as a university, creating true student-athletes who go off into the world to seek out better opportunities.

Nate from Salt Lake City writes: Utah is coming off of what was by far their best season since joining the Pac-12, with key playmakers such as Booker, Wilson, Thompson, Scott, and Dimick coming back. Should fans expect a step forward, a step back, or a fifth place finish in the South Division for a fourth straight season?

Ted Miller: When you look at what Utah has coming back -- 16 starters and the nation's best combo of specialists -- from a team that went 9-4 and was in the thick of the South Division race in 2014, it's not difficult to project a step forward, no matter that the South should again be brutally deep.

Yet the behind-the-scenes soap opera with coach Kyle Whittingham and AD Chris Hill is troubling, as it seemed to be a contributing factor to considerable staff turnover -- the loss of defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake being a particularly tough blow -- which was addressed mostly by internal promotions that seemed like temporary moves.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
Ralph Freso/Getty ImagesBehind-the-scenes drama between Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and athletic director Chris Hill could undermine a promising returning lineup.
The Utes could be headed for fifth place in the South again, particularly if they don't -- broken record alert -- get better production at QB. Of course, fifth place could again mean nine wins and a final national ranking. They also could win the division. Or slip a bit if the coach-AD conflict and/or coaching turnover prove a distraction.

The good news? Utah is probably going to be an interesting team, no matter how things go.

Bryce from San Francisco writes: I know you guys will agree with me on this, but can you please attempt to explain why every NFL team is apparently terrified to pick a talented, accurate QB with character and leadership like Marcus Mariota? Instead, they want to go with the guy with accuracy issues and character issues, because ...? I mean, I kind of understand their thought process since last season the character guy with accuracy in college (Bridgewater) got outplayed by players with less accuracy and more controversy (Bortles & Manziel), so NFL scouts clearly know what they're doing. I'm obviously cool with Mariota going to the Eagles, but the teams ahead of them in the draft have to be insane to let that happen, right?!

Ted Miller: Thing with the NFL draft is you really don't know what everyone is thinking, and the folks who are talking are often ill-informed or interested in misdirection. Keep in mind there is little benefit for a scout or GM to show his cards to the media or otherwise. So when you here "whispers" about Mariota being a system QB, it may just be a predictable regurgitating of an obvious potential criticism.

[+] EnlargeMariota
AP Photo/Brandon WadeIf Marcus Mariota takes care of business at his pro day, the "whispers" from so-called experts about him being a system quarterback will die down.
Know what? If Mariota turns in an impeccable pro day, making all the throws, showcase a strong and accurate arm, some of this "system" talk will simmer down.

Now, to be honest, if a fortune teller could promise me that Florida State's Jameis Winston will never again get into any type of off-field trouble, I'm not sure I wouldn't pick him over Mariota. Winston is a great talent, a guy who's repeatedly demonstrated grace under pressure (in a game), and seems to have no holes in his resume on the football talent side of things.

But I don't have that fortune teller, so I'd take Mariota.

My guess is more than a few GMs agree with me.

Raj from Bear Territory writes: What are your thoughts on Ulbrich leaving UCLA, (especially the timing)? Seems pretty shady to wait until LOI's are faxed in to depart. If anything, this just points out another flaw in how few restrictions are put on coaches going between programs while players have a multitude of restrictions. Feels only fair that players should be released from LOI/can transfer if coaches leave.

Robert from New York writes: With the Roquan Smith/Jeff Ulbrich situation, I'm curious to hear your take on the ethics of recruits signing binding NLIs, and coaches recruiting players and then taking other jobs. I can't blame Ulbrich for taking another job. He never seemed comfortable as a DC and probably wanted to get back to the NFL. Also, recruits shouldn't be so naive as to think that coaching changes couldn't happen. What's the balance that needs to be found, and do you think anyone did anything wrong here?

Ted Miller: What we really need are more rules. And outrage! Yes, I am outraged! The deception! The horror!

My thoughts, to begin, are good for Jeff Ulbrich. If he thinks his new job is better than his old job then how can you begrudge him?

As has been said many times before, a young man should commit to a school, not a position coach. He needs to be a big boy and understand this is a business and everyone is climbing. Or trying to.

Was UCLA trying to hide Ulbrich's imminent departure? Did Smith feel deceived? Maybe to the first and apparently to the second. None of that bothers me because I've covered college football a long time and I'd go insane if I took too much issue with every case of conniving and angle-working that goes on. That is how it goes. If Georgia fans -- or other Pac-12 fans for that matter -- are seeking some high ethical ground here ... well ... come on. Your coach would trip his mother from behind to score a top recruit.

Not saying it's right. But on the list of recruiting stories that make me want to take a long, hot shower, a simple hand wash will do here.

And, just as I'm not fan of acting like big-time recruits are a bunch of wan, innocent of the wide-world, Oliver Twist types being manipulated by dastardly coaches, I also think Smith's ultimate decision to sign scholarship papers instead of a letter of intent is smart.

If you are a big-time prospect, that's the way to go. It leaves your options open and doesn't tie you down -- read Mitch Sherman here for more. That option isn't available for a more middle-of-the-road guy who's thrilled when he gets his first Pac-12 or SEC or whatever offer. The NLI protects that sort of young man, just as it makes life easier for the football program.
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Oregon fans... is it time to pull out the ole Billy Baroo? As Judge Smails said, "Wooooo.... Billy, Billy, Billy... This is a biggie!"

To the notes!

Dan from Los Angeles writes: What are your thoughts on the Jim Mora handshake after the game? I thought it was tacky and lacked class.

Ted Miller: I thought Mora had every right to be angry with how Kansas State conducted itself while UCLA was in victory formation at the end of the Alamo Bowl. Hurdling the pile and leading with the helmet in that situation, as a K-State player unquestionably did, is not only dangerous it's -- oh, by the way -- illegal.

It's also bush league, false tough-guy football. My hope is Wildcats coach Bill Snyder in some way punished Dante Barnett after the game. It's also too bad Snyder hasn't stepped up and explained that Mora had a right to be angry and that his player was unquestionably in the wrong.

Because there is no question -- despite all the faux, 100 percent agenda-driven defenses speciously spouting "playing hard until the clock strikes zero" -- of Barnett's actions being wrong. You do not do what he did. Period. Hush.

That said, Mora -- and he has acknowledged this -- didn't handle the handshake as well as he could or should have. Further, this was Bill Snyder on the receiving hand of a rude dismissal, so Mora was pretty doomed from a purely reactive social media standpoint to get buried on Twitter. Snyder is not only a Hall of Fame coach -- one of the greatest of all time, in fact -- he also is a classy, ethical leader of young men.

That, too, is without question.

I know those who see the world through "My Team Wrong or Right" glasses, or those who simply hate Mora/UCLA on reflex -- thinking of a wide-eyed segment of USC fans here -- are going to counter with a bunch of nonsense and call me biased. Might be more accurate to say I'm biased toward K-State, where I enjoyed one of my favorite college football weekends of all-time last year, but I simply call them like I see them. And, making this easy, is the situation being an objective, black-white, right-wrong call.

Mora is a very emotional guy. I like that about him. I've irritated him several times and received his notorious grumpy treatment. Doesn't bother me in the least. Part of my job. He also is thoughtful and cares about his players.

That -- the emotions and caring about his players -- got the best of him in this instance.

Angelo from Ripon, Calif., writes: With the combined loses of week 14 and the bowl season in the SEC, is it safe to say that we won't have to weather another year of SEC hype and inflated preseason rankings?

Ted Miller: Nope. Most will view the SEC's decline this season as temporary -- even a blip -- and not without justification.

No question the Pac-12 and Big Ten are the winners this bowl season, that is almost as much about an SEC slide as their own success. The Pac-12, as well-argued here by Barry Tramel of the The Oklahoman, distinguished itself as the No. 1 conference, and the Big Ten is the biggest gainer in terms of improving its previously waning image.

Yet if you asked most folks -- as in those who aspire toward covering college football as objective observers -- the SEC will still be the No. 1 conference over the long haul. As in: If you had to bet $1 on which conference will win the most College Football Playoff national titles over the next 10 years, most would pick the SEC. That is based on a combination of money, fan passion and geography that is favorable to recruiting.

The general hope, again among those who aspire to objectivity, is that we are now entering a cycle with more apparent parity, in which the other Power 5 conferences at least seem to be on more equal footing. It's not good for the game for one conference to win seven consecutive national titles, as the SEC did.

For example, if the SEC wins three or four of the next 10 national titles and the other four conferences split up the other six or seven, that would be a much better trend.

More than a few of us saw this coming, in large part because of the SEC's recent NFL attrition.

All this said, I still fully support your joyous trolling of SEC folks, who have dished it out with zeal for, oh, the past decade.

Mush Huskies from Portland writes: 8-6. A few plays against Stanford and a different "chart" against Arizona, and the Huskies are sitting at 10-4. But that didn't happen, so we're still 8-6. A new coach, lots of transfers, blah blah blah... there's still a lot of supposed talent on this team -- just look at the recruiting classes -- not great, but respectable. But I repeat: 8-6. Can someone please explain how the Huskies have been "rebuilding" since Owen 12 in 2008?

Ted Miller: In 2000, Washington won the Rose Bowl and finished 11-1 and ranked No. 3. Since then, it has yielded the Northwest to Oregon and been mostly irrelevant nationally.

Why? Poor management at the administrative level, poor coaching decisions, getting eclipsed in the facilities arms race, middling recruiting, and the rise of other Pac-10/12 teams -- such as those pesky Ducks.

Steve Sarkisian rebuilt the team into respectability, but he only got the Huskies to nine wins and a final top-25 ranking in his final season before bolting to USC. Chris Petersen inherited a good if flawed team, one that probably underachieved this season. It was not the debut Huskies fans had hoped for, but it's justifiable to excuse much of what went wrong to an adjustment period between team and coaching staff.

The Huskies now might have the best stadium in the Pac-12, so facilities are no longer an issue, and savvy administrator Scott Woodward is about as football-friendly an AD as there is. Petersen's reputation suggests he will build a power in Seattle. Yet what Washington has coming back in 2015 doesn't look like a top-25 team, or one that can win the North.

Though Washington fans probably don't want to hear it, it doesn't appear likely that Petersen will deliver a quick fix. So, after 14 years of waiting, Huskies fans might just have to wait a little longer.

JT from Boston writes: Dealing in hypotheticals -- if Oregon blows out Ohio State, what is the reservation with putting Oregon up there as one of the all time great teams in College Football? Don't get me wrong, I (as a Duck fan) have my reservations -- but to blow out teams consistently is impressive (and unprecedented in recent years on such a consistent basis). Is it due to Oregon not being a traditional power house? Or that they don't have a roster filled with first day draft picks? Or has the general public (the Press included) just come to expect that when the Ducks win, they win big? To consistently perform and win by double digits, seems worthy of being put into the category of one of the all time great teams

Ted Miller: All-time great teams, for one, go unbeaten. That's pretty much the criterion for teams like 2001 Miami, 1972, USC and 1995 Nebraska, which make up my personal top three (I don't even look at teams that weren't fully integrated, as, for example, 1972 USC would have brutalized, say, 1961 Alabama).

But this Ducks team can distinguish itself as the first team to win the CFP, which would mean winning consecutive games against top-four teams. It certainly could view itself as the "truest" national champion in recent memory.

Torsten from Orlando writes: Alright. I think I speak for a lot of Duck fans when I say that I'm tired of pundits (save Fowler and Herbstreit who actually watched the Rose Bowl and have seen other Oregon games in the past few years) from ESPN and other sports outlets saying that Oregon's victory over FSU was a fluke. That FSU is still the better team. That the only reason FSU lost was because they quit. That it wasn't the Oregon defense that stopped FSU but that it was FSU itself. Apparently FSU's lack of defense on every single Oregon possession (save for the very first one) is something to just ignore. Honestly from certain news articles, potentially biased due to them coming from Central Florida, I feel like Oregon fans should be apologizing for the win. All I'm hearing myself is commentators buying into Winston's press conference and his eternal stubbornness about what really happened on New Years Day. Oregon played their hearts out that day, they are going to play their hearts out on the 12th either way that game goes, and its time people started taking notice. Why aren't these same statements being said about an Ohio State team starting a 3rd string QB who beat Bama? A great win for that team but Cardale Jones apparently won the Heisman based on how that game has been viewed. I'm afraid that even if Oregon does get its desired result Monday, the nation will consider that a fluke as well. So what gives?

Ted Miller: Fluke?

A 39-point domination a fluke? Who wrote or said that? I've not heard a single person even hint at that. Can you produce a link? Are you just projecting from FSU quarterback Jameis Winston's universally panned remarks after the game, that were wildly rated as pure doofus on the doofus meter?

Torsten, I suspect that you tend to view your obsessive Ducks fandom through a lens of grievance.

Dude, just enjoy the moment. Your team, which in 1983 played in a game notoriously dubbed "The Toilet Bowl," is playing for the national title for the second time in five years. If someone wishes to call Oregon a fluke, it will do more discredit to the speaker/writer than to the Ducks.

Derrick from Omaha writes: I am a long time fanatic Oregon fan, but always waiting to be disappointed! For the last nine weeks I have waited for the Ducks to "choke" (although with all of the injuries to great players it really would not be choking per se.). For nine weeks I have not only been wrong, but Oregon has demolished teams and covered the spread!! Please, PLEASE! Can I be wrong one more time?? Or should I get set for disappointment?

Ted Miller: Sigh.

You see? That's the sort of crap people are always trying to lay on me. It's not my fault you wouldn't play catch with your father.

You Ducks fans are seeing a whole team of psychiatrists, aren't you?

Sorry. Just thought I'd pull out a couple of "Terence Mann" quotes from "Field of Dreams" to entertain myself.

I've got Oregon fans mad at me because I picked Florida State to win the Rose Bowl. I've got Oregon fans mad at me because I've picked Oregon to beat Ohio State on Monday, because I've convinced them -- along with Cal fans -- of my magical "reverse karma" picking ability. I've got Oregon fans who think I'm a Washington fan because I worked in Seattle from 1999-2008. I've got Oregon fans whose fandom seems to be entirely based on being oppositional to a long list of perceived enemies, me included. I've got Oregon fans who are worried about the national media calling them a fluke. I've got Oregon fans who are worried about the Ducks choking.

I know Oregon has arrived because its fans are no less crazy than those of Ohio State, Alabama and Florida State.

So congrats on that. And enjoy your national championship as something to celebrate, not something to throw in everyone else's face.

In a new AT&T commercial, Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Doug Flutie and Herschel Walker, sitting around watching the new College Football Playoff on ESPN, try to tease Joe Montana about his not winning the bronze statue. Montana seems duly impressed.

"What an accomplishment," he says. Only he raises his hand to his face, and it features four Super Bowl rings and a ring for the 1977 national title he won at Notre Dame.


When it comes to team sports, particularly in this country, winning championships trumps eye-popping statistics and individual accomplishments. That's why no one ranks Dan Marino ahead of Montana on lists of all-time great quarterbacks, even though Marino was a better pure passer.

This is an important sports cultural note because we are on the cusp of potentially making a huge distinction. If Oregon beats Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T on Jan. 12, Marcus Mariota will have a strong case for the greatest quarterback in college football history. He'll have the Heisman, eye-popping numbers over three brilliant seasons and, most important, that championship. It would further boost his case that Oregon's first Heisman winner also led it to its first football national title, the Ducks then being the first first-time national title winner since Florida in 1996.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Jae C. HongMarcus Mariota's passing efficiency numbers are among the best in college football history.
Ah, Florida. It can counter with two legitimate entrants to the discussion of best quarterback in college football history: Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. Both put up huge numbers over multiple seasons and won Heismans. And both won national titles.

By those measures, you'd also have to include USC's Matt Leinart in the discussion. He won the 2004 Heisman and finished sixth in 2003 and third in 2005. While his overall numbers aren't as sparkly as Mariota's, Weurffel's or Tebow's, he went 37-2 as a starter and nearly won three consecutive national titles.

If winning is our primary measure, how can QBs like Tommie Frazier and Vince Young be overlooked? Frazier and Young each finished second in Heisman voting, but Frazier won consecutive national titles at Nebraska (1994 and 1995) without losing a game -- that 1995 team ranks among the best in the history of the sport -- while Young resurrected the Longhorns and won the 2005 national title.

Our old-timers are reminding us that college football is more than a few decades old. Any discussion of all-time greats needs to include TCU's Sammy Baugh, who was slinging the ball around well before passing was a significant part of the game, and the Horned Frogs claimed a national title in 1935 with Baugh behind center. The two-time All-American had 39 career TD passes and also ended up an NFL Hall of Famer.

So what is Mariota's case should he prevail against the Buckeyes? The CFP, in itself, would be a good Point A: His winning a national title will rate a bigger accomplishment than those of his predecessors because he will have to win consecutive games against highly ranked, top-four foes in order to earn that final No. 1 ranking. Those who won BCS or pre-BCS titles didn't have the added rigor of the CFP.

As for numbers, both this season and career, Mariota's case is strong. He leads the nation in Total QBR,'s advanced metric for measuring a QB's efficiency and overall effectiveness, by a wide margin, and his 91.7 rating is third best since 2004. He finished ranked second in QBR the previous two seasons to Heisman winners Jameis Winston of Florida State and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. Those QBR numbers rank 10th and 17th of all time, making him the only QB since 2004 to have three seasons ranked in the top 20.

The same lofty measures hold true with standard QB efficiency ratings. Mariota is No. 1 this season after ranking seventh in 2013 and 2012. Those ratings rank 6th, 55th and 97th all-time (since 1956). His career efficiency rating ranks second all-time behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford.

Mariota has been responsible for more touchdowns (134) and racked up more yards of total offense (12,661) than any other player in Pac-12 history. He has thrown a touchdown pass in all 40 career starts, the second-longest streak in FBS history. He is on pace to set the FBS record for career interception percentage, as only 13 of his 1,130 career attempts have been picked off (1.15 percent).

With any subjective measure, as this undoubtedly is, you can highlight or downplay aspects to suit an argument. Leinart and Frazier led dynastic runs of sustained excellence but were hardly one-star constellations for college football superpowers. Young completed an outstanding 2005 season -- second to Reggie Bush in Heisman voting -- with a tour de force performance in a thrilling victory over Leinart, Bush and USC in the national title game. Tebow finished first, third and fifth in Heisman voting, was a significant part of a second national title team, had 145 career TDs and put up strong efficiency numbers.

A further complication in this debate is blocking out how these quarterbacks were evaluated by the NFL and then produced as professionals. The only aforementioned QB who succeeded in the NFL was Baugh. Wuerffel and Tebow were widely doubted by NFL scouts in advance of the draft. Injuries ended Frazier's career before he could play on Sundays. Leinart and Young were top-10 picks in 2006, but they both flopped in the NFL.

Mariota is expected to be a top-10 pick this spring and could go No. 1 overall. In terms of NFL prospects, he's decisively better than Wuerffel and Tebow, and it's already clear he has a superior arm compared to Leinart and is far more advanced mechanically than Young. In terms of pure QB ability and talent as it would translate to the NFL, Mariota is the best prospect of the bunch, even before you factor in his ability as a runner.

Of course, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer can do his old QB Tebow a favor in this debate. If the Buckeyes triumph over the Ducks, Mariota won't get to flash a championship ring, a prerequisite for inclusion in our "best ever" conversation.

Ducks, Buckeyes hammer perceptions

January, 2, 2015
Jan 2
LOS ANGELES — Perception, that truth-y thing that often stands in for reality, was front and center during the buildup to the College Football Playoff semifinal matchups on Thursday.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston talked about how “perception is reality” for him and how he can’t change the minds of haters. Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost noted that coach Mark Helfrich had “an uphill battle in terms of perception” having to following Chip Kelly at the Ducks' helm. Helfrich’s squad endured another round of questions about being perceived as a finesse team that wilts against programs perceived as more physical.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonOhio State ran away from Alabama to cap a miserable bowl season for the SEC West, and there was nothing fluky about it.
Down in New Orleans, the perception was that top-seeded Alabama was too big and too bad and was going to leave a footprint on the collective foreheads of Ohio State, because that’s what SEC teams do to Big Ten teams, particularly when that SEC team is Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.

It’s then fair to say that perception suffered as bad a bowl season as the SEC West, which was unmasked as college football’s tough guys when Saban’s Crimson Tide capped a shocking 2-5 divisional face-plant by being bullied by the Buckeyes.

That, of course, happened just after Helfrich took a decisive step out of Kelly’s shadow by leading his Ducks to a 59-20 brutalizing of a Seminoles team that hadn’t lost in 29 consecutive games, a team that impressively passed the sight test but nonetheless was frantically tapping out to the Ducks' jujitsu on both sides of the ball before we were more than a few minutes into the fourth quarter.

And so the dominant college football paradigm was sledgehammered in the first go-round of our new system by a matchup that resembles a traditional Rose Bowl. For the first time since 2005, no SEC team will play for the national title, and the SEC will not win a national title for a second consecutive year after winning the previous seven.

Friday was an odd day if you’ve been around the sport for a while, not only because postgame celebrations at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl were muted by the fact that the victories were secondary accomplishments that didn’t conclude the season. The much-maligned Big Ten took down the state of Alabama -- Auburn lost to Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl -- which had won four of the previous five national titles, and Michigan State hushed Baylor, a team that still doesn’t understand that its cowardly scheduling is the problem, not the media or CFP selection committee.

Those marquee Big Ten victories came after Michigan made a thundering statement by acquiring Jim Harbaugh, a hiring that stands in contrast to SEC power Florida looking to Colorado State for its next coach. No offense to the capable Jim McElwain, but his pleated khakis aren’t nearly as inspiring or fascinating as Harbaugh’s.

Oregon and Ohio State arrive as our finalists after seasons laden with adversity. Both have been wracked by injuries, the Buckeyes at quarterback, the Ducks everywhere else. Both suffered early-season defeats that had many dismissing them from the national picture. They also both feature creative, up-tempo offenses that stand in contrast to the two-back, pro-style sets that many traditionalists still write sonnets about. So there are some notable similarities.

There also are differences, of course. Ohio State has won seven national titles, the Ducks zero. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer is probably a win away from having his face carved into the Mount Rushmore of coaches. Winning a third national title after capturing two at Florida and previously winning big at Bowling Green and Utah would insert him into the "best ever" discussion.

Of course, Phil Knight might build a golden statue of Helfrich outside Autzen Stadium if the Ducks win the first CFP, grabbing the only prize that has eluded the program during its steady rise as a national power since the 1980s.

Oregon will beat Ohio State if it sticks to the simple plan it used against the Seminoles. Before the Ducks squared off against FSU, another college football blue blood, Frost spoke of the necessity of "dictating" instead of reacting to what the Seminoles were doing.

"If we are reacting to what they are doing, we aren't at our best," he said.

[+] EnlargeJan 1, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks running back
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State couldn't stand up to Oregon's physicality, another way the College Football Playoff semifinals contradicted conventional wisdom and stereotypes.
Did a team ever dictate a big game more than the Ducks did to the Seminoles, particularly in the second half, when FSU was supposed to take control? While Winston pulled out the "we beat ourselves" line afterward, he apparently failed to pay enough attention to Ducks' game film. Rendering teams into bloody hamburger during a sudden transformative frenzy is what Oregon does. The Ducks were not gifted those five turnovers from the Seminoles. They took them. The Ducks forced 30 turnovers this season and ranked second in the nation in turnover margin. They ranked first in turnover margin in 2012 and have been in the top 25 every year since 2010.

“All they did tonight was go out and act like themselves,” said Frost.

Yet there was a little bit more to the Ducks' effort, and perhaps this can be attributed to Helfrich. There is no question that Oregon players and coaches were annoyed by the pregame talk about "finesse." Receiver Byron Marshall, who was pretty snappy about the topic before the game, said afterward that certain dismissive comments that were attributed to Florida State players were posted in the locker room, which further motivated the team. Kelly would have outright rejected such an approach as an outside distraction that had nothing to do with the quality of execution. Helfrich seemed to let his players marinate just a bit in the perceived -- that word! -- tweaks.

When asked about what Winston could have meant when he said "this game could have gone either way," about a 39-point defeat, Oregon center Hroniss Grasu was at a loss.

“I don’t know what he was thinking," he said. "We beat them physically, we beat them mentally, our coaches outcoached them."

He then added: “They are a great team. We are just a better team."

Here's a guess that many of the Buckeyes could identify with those pregame sentiments and postgame conclusions.

Both these teams want a national title above all else. Winning is always the ultimate reward. But you can also bet both will sustain an internal perception that they still have to prove their doubters wrong, that they must still play with a chip on their shoulders.

And no matter what, when the smoke clears on Jan. 12, one more set of perceptions will be sledgehammered.
Presenting 10 reasons why Florida State will beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual:

1. Jameis Winston: His interceptions are up and his touchdowns are down. But is there any other quarterback you want leading your team with two minutes left in a tight game? Absolutely not. Winston has come through for the Seminoles when they needed him most, putting his mistakes behind him to lead five second-half comebacks this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, Winston has an 88.1 total QBR when trailing in the second half, fourth-best in the nation. Oh, and he’s 26-0 as a starter.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston has been as clutch as it gets for Florida State, especially in the fourth quarter.
2. The second half: As noted above, there is not a better team in the country at making second-half adjustments. Florida State has outscored Power 5 opponents by 8.6 points per game in the second half, second-best among Power 5 teams behind TCU, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. A big reason why are the defensive improvements. In their past eight games, the FSU defense has given up fewer yards in the second half seven times. Opponents have scored 125 total points in the second half. Compare that to Oregon, which has given up 151 second-half points.

3. The defense is healthy: This is probably the healthiest Florida State has been since the start of the season, and it could not come at a better time. Defensive tackles Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample are ready to go, and so is linebacker Terrance Smith, who missed the ACC championship game with a knee injury. Florida State has struggled at times on defense, and injuries have not helped matters. Having these three back is huge.

4. Dalvin Cook: The freshman has emerged in the second half of the season, setting a school freshman record for rushing yards with 905. He is tough to contain and bring down. Eleven of his carries have gone for 20 or more yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Cook is averaging 8.8 yards per rush outside the tackles, second-best among Power 5 running backs behind Melvin Gordon (minimum 50 carries). He will be a load for the Oregon defense to stop.

5. No Ifo: Losing All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a huge blow for the Ducks, who are expected to start redshirt freshman Chris Seisay in his place. Winston said earlier this week it hardly matters who is lined up at corner, but there is no doubt Florida State will test Seisay early and often. The Seminoles have matchup advantages with dependable veteran Rashad Greene, speedy Travis Rudolph, and tight end Nick O'Leary to boot.

6. Florida State secondary: Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost had high praise for defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who has emerged in the second half of the season as a dependable leader in the secondary. Ramsey has 11 pass breakups and 9.5 tackles for loss and is joined by lockdown cornerback P.J. Williams, the BCS national championship MVP a year ago. Florida State has 53 pass break-ups this season. Oregon has great athletes at receiver; Florida State has the athletes to keep up.

7. More physical: Oregon takes exception to the finesse label, so here is the perfect opportunity to prove everybody wrong and absolutely own the line of scrimmage against the bigger Seminoles. Florida State owns a size advantage on the offensive line -- the five starters average 323 pounds -- and has been much better with Cameron Erving under center. Can a patchwork offensive line dominate All-ACC performers Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr.? Florida State has the edge in both matchups.

8. Roberto Automatic-o: Not only does Florida State have the clutch Winston, it also has the clutch Roberto Aguayo, who has missed only three field goal attempts in his career. Aguayo is 8-for-8 on field goal attempts from 44 yards or longer and has never missed an attempt from 50 yards or longer. He is as close to automatic as you will find, and that is a huge advantage for any team playing for a championship.

9. Red zone dominance: Florida State has been extremely productive in the red zone, converting 92.6 percent of its opportunities into points to rank No. 5 in the nation. Against Power 5 opponents, Florida State has converted 38 of its 42 red-zone chances. Twenty-one of those scores have been rushes. Here is the advantage: Oregon ranks No. 74 in the nation in red-zone defense and allows 4.1 yards per carry.

10. The 29-game winning streak: Florida State just doesn’t lose. Simple as that.
videoSo much for Oregon, injury riddled much of the year, getting healthy for its Rose Bowl matchup with Florida State in the College Football Playoff. So much for the A-list matchup between Ducks All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who injured his knee Tuesday, and Seminoles receiver Rashad Greene.

So much for the Ducks hitting their earnest preparation for, potentially, the program's first college football national title with positive momentum.

Oregon doesn't talk about injuries, but we do and this is a bad one. Oregon, when it does at least acknowledge that a key player might be hurt, reverts to the mantra, "Next man in," and that will be the case here. But the Ducks next man in at cornerback won't be anyone close to Ekpre-Olomu, a consensus All-American. While Oregon will don all-green uniforms for the Rose Bowl, the guy who steps in for Ekpre-Olomu might as well show up in highlighter yellow -- an actual Ducks uniform option! -- based on how the Seminoles and quarterback Jameis Winston are going to view him.

[+] EnlargeOregon defense
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a severe knee injury during the Ducks' practice Tuesday and will miss the rest of the season.
It's likely senior Dior Mathis will get the call. The fifth-year senior has seen a lot of action but he has been unable to break into the starting lineup. Or the Ducks could go with promising youngster Chris Seisay, a redshirt freshman who was listed behind Ekpre-Olomu on the depth chart in advance of the Pac-12 championship game. At 6-foot-1, Seisay, who started against Wyoming in place of Troy Hill, brings better size to field than the 5-foot-9 Mathis -- or the 5-10 Ekpre-Olomu for that matter -- but it's not encouraging when the laudatory remark next to his name on the depth chart is "has tackles in five straight games."

Ekpre-Olomu, a senior who has been a starter since midway through his freshman year, has 63 tackles and nine passes defended, including two interceptions, this season. While he's been notably beaten a few times, there were whispers that he was playing through some bumps and bruises that were slowing him down. He was one of many Ducks who were expected to greatly benefit from nearly a month off.

Suddenly losing a star like Ekpre-Olomu is about more than a starting lineup, though. It also takes an emotional toll on a team, both during preparation as well as the game. The Ducks secondary loses its best player -- a potential first-round NFL draft pick -- and a veteran leader, a guy everyone counted on. Think Mathis or Seisay will have some butterflies when they see Greene, who caught 93 passes for 1,306 yards this season, coming his way? Think Oregon's safeties will be asked to play differently than they have all season with Ifo in street clothes?

The Ducks secondary will be less talented and less confident without Ekpre-Olomu.

Injuries? Oregon's had a few. It lost offensive tackle Tyler Johnston, a 26-game starter, and No. 1 receiver Bralon Addison before the season began. It saw emerging tight end Pharaoh Brown go down on Nov. 8 against Utah. It's been without All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu for three games. It's seen several other key players miss games, including offensive tackle Jake Fisher, running back Thomas Tyner and defensive end Arik Armstead.

Yet the general feeling was the Ducks had survived. And, in fact, thrived, scrapping their way to the No. 2 seed in the CFP. By scrapping we mean winning their last eight games by an average of 26 points since suffering their lone loss to Arizona.

That, in itself, will be something the Oregon locker room will look at and point to as it gets ready for FSU. This is an elite program, one that can overcome adversity, even an injury to perhaps the team's second-best player behind a certain guy who plays behind center.

But there is no changing the fact that Oregon is worse without Ekpre-Olomu, and against a team like FSU, the defending national champions and winners of 29 consecutive games, you don't want to be at anything but your best.
Jared Shanker and Chantel Jennings have spent their fair share of time around Tallahassee, Florida, and Eugene, Oregon, this season covering Florida State and Oregon. Leading up to the No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup in the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual, Shanker and Jennings will be analyzing pressing questions facing different matchups within the game. Any suggestions for questions? Tweet @JShankerESPN or @ChantelJennings with your suggestions.

We continue with the matchup between the Florida State offense and Oregon's defense.

1. Can Oregon be the first team to stop freshman running back Dalvin Cook?

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Dalvin Cook rushed for 321 yards in Florida State's last two games.
Shanker: The Ducks’ coaching staff must wish they would have played Cook earlier in the season, when his snaps were being limited. Cook finished the season with 1,084 yards from scrimmage and more than half (592) have come since Nov. 15. The Oregon defense is better than people think, and the Seminoles’ rushing attack has been inconsistent, so it wouldn’t be a shock if the Ducks held Cook in check. To stop Cook, the Ducks cannot miss tackles. The true freshman Cook has a rare ability to make defenders completely whiff.

Jennings: As long as the Oregon defense continues its upward trajectory, then yes. In the Pac-12 championship game, the Ducks held Arizona to 111 rushing yards, more than 75 yards fewer than the Wildcats’ season average at that point. Arizona running back Nick Wilson, who had averaged 6.2 yards per rush coming in to that game, averaged 2 yards per rush against the Ducks. Now, the Oregon run defense hasn’t been stout all season, but it has looked good lately. I think Don Pellum is going to be able to keep the Ducks going strong there.

2. Can Oregon's pass rush expose the Florida State offensive line?

Jennings: This will be another interesting matchup because both Oregon’s pass rush and Florida State’s O-line have been spotty at times this season. However, in the last four games of the season, the Ducks held opposing quarterbacks to an average adjusted QBR of 34.9 and held quarterbacks to just a 35.3 percent completion rate on third-down passing attempts. Though the Ducks have only sacked opposing quarterbacks on 6.1 percent of passing plays (No. 61 nationally), they have allowed just 5.5 yards per pass attempt (17th nationally).

Shanker: The Seminoles’ offensive line was exposed often through the early portion of the season, but the unit jelled late in the season with the insertion of freshman Roderick Johnson at left tackle. Four of the five starters have posted season-high grades along the offensive line since Johnson took over for Cam Erving, who was moved to center. In August and September, the unit ranked 95th in sacks per game; in November it ranked 16th. However, Oregon could make Jameis Winston uncomfortable by coming off the edges. As good as Johnson has been, he is still a true freshman, and right tackle Bobby Hart has struggled at times. A couple of exotic blitzes off the edge could confuse the FSU offensive line and leave Winston vulnerable.

3. How will Jameis Winston fare if the Ducks take away wide receiver Rashad Greene?

Shanker: It’s no secret Winston has an affinity for throwing the ball to Greene, one of the country’s best receivers. It’s also no secret the rest of the young group of receivers has been largely inconsistent. The Ducks might let Ifo Ekpre-Olomu cover Greene one-on-one, which puts pressure on Jesus Wilson and Travis Rudolph. While both have played well at points, they’ve also disappeared at times. At times, opponents have been able to effectively take away tight end and Mackey Award winner Nick O’Leary, who was held without a catch in two games this season. What shouldn’t be forgotten is teams have tried to take away Greene all season and the senior still finished seventh nationally in yards and eighth in receptions.

Jennings: One of the areas in which the Oregon defense has been the most inconsistent is in giving up big plays, specifically big pass plays. Oregon has given up 56 plays of 20 or more yards, and 40 of those were pass plays. Chances are with how good the chemistry is between Winston and Greene, they’ll be able to pull of one or two big plays, but the Seminoles will need to make sure they cash in on those. During the past month the Ducks have improved greatly there as well, only giving up nine pass plays of 20 or more yards.



Season highlight: Winning the Pac-12 championship. The Ducks' 38-point win against Arizona made up for the fact the Wildcats gave the Ducks their only blemish of the season. But when you come back and absolutely dominate that opponent in the most important game of the season, those wounds seem to heal pretty quickly. Quarterback Marcus Mariota had more than one Heisman moment and finished the day with three rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Brian Davies/The Register-Guard Marcus Mariota and the Ducks face a tough test in the defending national champions.
Season lowlight: That Oct. 2 loss to Arizona. The Ducks could've been undefeated had they not laid an egg against the Wildcats in their first encounter. The Ducks' defense looked confused and scatterbrained, giving up 495 yards of offense and letting redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon and freshman running back Nick Wilson look like All-Americans.

Player to watch: Mariota. He's not just the player to watch for Oregon or the Pac-12. He's the player to watch nationally as the front-runner for the Heisman (and folks who say otherwise probably haven't spent enough time -- or any time -- watching him play). This season he has thrown 38 touchdowns while being picked off just two times. Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty is the only QB who has thrown more touchdown passes, with 44. But he also has eight more interceptions than Mariota. There's no quarterback more efficient in college football right now.

Motivation factor: This is the season. The Ducks almost have it all -- including the big names, and their flashy style -- but what they don't have is a national title. And in the first year of the College Football Playoff, it's within their reach. The chances Mariota returns next year are similar to that of an iceberg's chances in Hades. He's surrounded by huge playmakers on offense and a defense that has made major strides in the second half of the season. This roster has the talent to win a national title, and if Oregon wants a chance at glory anytime soon, this seems to be the season.
-- Chantel Jennings


Season highlights: It begins with the fact that the Seminoles were the only team to finish the regular season undefeated, and they did it with three nonconference games against Power 5 opponents. While FSU had to sweat out nearly all of its victories, the Seminoles received every team's best shot. Their ACC season was littered with come-from-behind wins and it began with an overtime win against Clemson without quarterback Jameis Winston. After he returned to the lineup, Winston orchestrated game-winning fourth-quarter drives against Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami and Boston College -- all of which came over a five-game period.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and the Noles have a chance to win titles under both the old BCS and the new playoff.
Season lowlights: With an undefeated record, all of the lowlights came off the field. Winston was suspended for screaming a sexually charged phrase near the hub of the campus. Karlos Williams was investigated for assaulting his live-in ex-girlfriend, who was pregnant with the couple's second child. And the ruling from Winston's student code of conduct hearing should come down soon. The other lowlights came every Tuesday after the midway point of the season. Each week the College Football Playoff rankings were released, the Seminoles walked away from the television feeling slighted.

Player to watch: The player to watch is Winston any time he is on the field. Although the reigning Heisman Trophy winner didn't match the numbers from his redshirt freshman season, he rose to the occasion every time the Seminoles needed him. No matter the deficit, and Florida State has seen many this season, it's foolish to count out Winston. What's also worth watching is whether Winston has the opportunity to play in the remainder of the postseason. The code of conduct decision is still pending and could jeopardize his eligibility.

Motivation factor: Florida State has become a polarizing program over the past 13 months with Winston's transgressions, coach Jimbo Fisher's public defense of Winston and the selection committee's opinion of a team on a 29-game winning streak. That has generated the popular us-against-the-world mentality in the FSU locker room. That's been the source of motivation much of the season for the Seminoles. On top of that, the team is chasing history. Never has Florida State posted back-to-back undefeated seasons or national championships. It can do both.
-- Jared Shanker

National links: Calm before the storm 

November, 25, 2014
Let’s just get this out of the way: Last week in college football was kind of dull.

Unless, that is, you’re into watching the single-game FBS rushing record fall for the second straight Saturday. (So who breaks it this week?) Yes, last week was dull, unless, of course, you’re into Florida State’s weekly high-wire act, re-awakenings at Arkansas and Minnesota or UCLA’s continued stranglehold on Los Angeles.

My point is, the latest set of games didn’t significantly impact the College Football Playoff picture -- at least in comparison to the past few weeks. Barring some craziness at the selection-committee table, the top four on Tuesday night is going to look no different than last week’s edition.

But Week 13 was simply the calm before the storm. Not so sure? Check out first nine paragraphs Gene Wojciechowski’s BMOC column. The rocky road to Dec. 9 is enough to make a fan of any playoff contender choke on his or her turkey dinner.

And it starts in two days.

From hero to liar to forgotten man: that's Josh Shaw's life from August until now.

The USC cornerback and team captain only has himself to blame for his predicament. He was the one who made up a feel-good story to explain his injured ankles. He was the one who initially hid it from his parents. He was the one who lied to Steve Sarkisian's face when the USC coach asked if he was telling the truth.

Shaw paid the price, suffering physical pain but much more mental anguish as he watched USC play its first 10 games, including Thursday night's home win against Cal. Three months later, it's fair to ask: Does he deserve a second chance? More on that in a bit.

The forgotten man is finally speaking about what happened, telling the Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke that he "hit the bottom" after details of The Lie came to light. Shaw explained that after an altercation with his longtime girlfriend, Angela Chilton, which he insists never became physical, he panicked when he saw police pull up to his building, thinking that she had called them.
"If she did say anything, I'm a black man with dreadlocks, and with everything going on in the country at the time, all that stuff in St. Louis [Ferguson, Mo.] … in my mind, I'm going to leap from the balcony so authorities did not see me."

That's how Shaw hurt himself (though not as bad as he initially thought). But he needed to come up with a better explanation for the injuries than the truth. So he made up the story about rescuing his 7-year-old nephew from drowning.

Shaw tells Plaschke that he thought the lie would hold up and, more important, could live only inside Heritage Hall. When USC's sports information department decided, understandably, to put out a news item explaining the reason for Shaw's injury, it once again gave Shaw the chance to recant. He didn't.

You know the rest: story went viral, Shaw lied to Sarkisian, questions remained from school officials and, eventually, Shaw came clean.
"It gets harder and harder to keep up with lie after lie after lie … the timeline wasn't right ... everything was off ... but I was still lying," Shaw said. "I thought I was in way too deep."

Shaw has stayed away from team activities ever since, even though Sarkisian said in September that he would be welcomed back to the team (Shaw appeared on Thursday's game program, which was printed before the season). He is medically cleared but remains sidelined as school and police investigate the situation. After a police report is filed, USC will conduct its own investigation.

USC has three games left, including the regular-season finale against Notre Dame at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Time is running out, but should Shaw be allowed to suit up one more time for the Trojans?

Yes. But only if what he said about The Lie -- namely that he never became violent with Chilton -- is proven true. The two "adamantly deny" that the argument became physical still live together in the apartment where the incident occurred.

Shaw sounds like a good guy who did a bad, stupid thing by repeatedly lying, and has suffered for it. But he had a strong track record before the incident. He appears remorseful in Plaschke's piece.

There are far worse characters in college football than Josh Shaw, ones who continue to play every Saturday. Second chances are rewarded to athletes who commit more egregious offenses.

So if things check out with the investigations, Shaw should return to the field before the season is done.

Florida State the new Quarterback U?

Whatever you think of Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback will leave a production void when he leaves Tallahassee, likely after this season. But the Seminoles are well prepared for life after Jameis. They received a verbal commitment Thursday from quarterback recruit Malik Henry, the top prospect in the 2016 class. Florida State already has commitments from two ESPN 300 quarterbacks in the 2015 class, Deondre Francois and De'Andre Johnson. Like Winston, Henry also intends to play baseball at Florida State and said he's fine with the inevitable comparisons to Winston.

Florida State has a storied tradition at several position groups, but the Seminoles are building quite the pipeline under center through recruiting.

Around the nation

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Oregon leapfrogged Florida State in the rankings on Tuesday, which left us wondering: If these two teams were to meet on a neutral field right now, which team would come out with the win?

ACC writer Jared Shanker says it’d be FSU. Pac-12 writer Chantel Jennings thinks it’d be the Ducks. Debate…

Jennings: OK, let’s break this down.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesRunning back Royce Freeman has helped Oregon average over 5 yards per carry this season.
Oregon’s offense versus FSU’s defense: I’d take the Ducks by a landslide. We’ll start up front. The Seminoles are giving up 3.5 yards per rush and that’s against teams that aren’t even in the same realm as the Ducks. FSU has faced just one top-60 rushing team (NC State). Oregon, on the other hand, has the nation’s 22nd-best rushing attack, averaging 5.4 yards per rush. Against the Florida State defense -- with Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and Marcus Mariota taking off when need be -- it’d be chaos. FSU would have to bring guys up to try and contain the run, which would leave gaps open downfield and guys like Devon Allen and Byron Marshall are going to make those plays for the Ducks.

Oregon defense versus FSU’s offense: This is where it gets tricky. The Ducks' defense has struggled a bit and the Seminoles have a pretty talented QB of their own. Up front, I think Oregon would be OK as FSU has only averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt this season (and again, that’s against a weaker schedule). The secondary might struggle a bit more. The Seminoles average 8.5 yards per pass attempt and the Ducks have only played one team (Michigan State) that is currently averaging more.

Special teams: OK, so the Seminoles might have the best kicker in the country. But guess what, he scores three points at a time and Oregon is accustomed to scoring seven points at a time. In the return game, my money is on freshman Charles Nelson. He has been so impressive, averaging 17.6 yards per punt return, including two punts returned for touchdowns. Nelson hasn’t done as well in kick returns (just 19.2 yards per return), but I’ll give the Ducks the benefit of the doubt that he’d be returning more punts than kickoffs…

At the end of the day, I think FSU would be able to score against Oregon, but not as much as the Ducks would score on the ‘Noles. It wouldn’t be a blowout by any means, but a 7-10 point win would be what I’d put my money on.

Shanker: Everyone loves to quote the adage “defense wins championships” but nobody ever wants to apply it -- at least when it comes to the Ducks, with their turf acrobatics and kooky uniform combinations. Once again we’re blinded by the Oregon offense -- or maybe it’s the helmets.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards Jr.
AP Photo/Steve CannonMario Edwards Jr. and the Florida State defense have shined in the second half of games this season.
But what happens to Oregon in low-scoring games, which championship games tend to be (the past six title games have averaged a total of 46.5 points)? The last time Oregon won a game in which it didn’t score 30 points was 2010. Since then, the Ducks have lost all six games in which they didn’t reach the 30-point plateau.

I’ll get to that Winston guy in a second, but I want to talk about the Florida State defense first. Yes, the FSU defense that ranks 50th in total defense.

The Florida State defense is not what it was a season ago. Nobody would argue that. However, it has the type of talent along the defensive front that has historically caused Oregon problems.

Mario Edwards Jr. was dominant against the spread last January. Few defensive tackles are playing better than Eddie Goldman. Those two defensive stalwarts are built to frustrate spread attacks.

Oregon is ranked 106th in total defense. Worse, the Ducks are ranked 125th in allowing passing plays that gain 10-plus yards, and Florida State has Jameis Winston, who has keyed FSU’s season. The Seminoles average 12 pass plays of at least 10 yards per game, good for ninth nationally.

And when this game is close in the fourth quarter, the smart money is on Winston. He’s been the best crunch-time quarterback, and there’s anecdotal and statistical evidence to support that. His QBR is 90.3 when trailing in the second half.

Faced with stopping the Arizona offense in the second half of a close game, Oregon allowed three touchdown drives of at least 80 yards.

Take away Oklahoma State’s 21-point second half in the opener, and Florida State is allowing just 9.3 points in the second half against FBS teams this season.

Those are the marks of a team that is resilient, which is synonymous with unimpressive, at least when talking about Florida State. The adjective is normally applied to only Oregon, which has rebounded so strongly from the adversity of losing … and winners of low-scoring SEC games (this fulfills the requisite SEC jab).

So, if these two ever met on a neutral field, give me the Seminoles.

National links: Beware the big day 

October, 28, 2014
Welcome to terrific Tuesday. Or terrible Tuesday. All depends on your perspective.

The College Football Playoff selection committee began deliberations on Monday in Grapevine, Texas. Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long will unveil to a most curious audience the first-ever CFP rankings.

It's a historic time -- and surely chaotic.

Marc Tracy of the New York Times, in assessing the moment, writes that “historians will most likely date the end of the era of good feelings to 7:31.”

With that in mind, some advice for fans from the Big Ten to the SEC:

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Winston edges Mariota in QB poll

September, 6, 2014
Florida State's Jameis Winston edged out Oregon's Marcus Mariota as the nation's top quarterback according to the FBS coaches who voted in ESPN's weekly college football poll #1QFor128.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State's Jameis Winston carried 41 percent of the vote among FBS coaches as the nation's top quarterback this week.
Winston was the choice of 41 percent of the FBS coaches, followed closely by Mariota (35 percent). UCLA's Brett Hundley (9 percent), Baylor's Bryce Petty (6 percent) and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg (2 percent) rounded out the top five in the poll conducted by ESPN's Brett McMurphy.

Others receiving votes: East Carolina's Shane Carden, Marshall's Rakeem Cato, Notre Dame's Everett Golson, Texas A&M's Kenny Hill, Utah State's Chuckie Keeton, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion,

Of the Power 5 coaches (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12), 50 percent picked Winston, compared to only 26 percent for Mariota, 12 percent for Hundley and Hackenberg at 5 percent.

However, the Group of 5 coaches (American, C-USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt), chose Mariota over Winston by a 42 to 34 percent margin. Hundley and Petty tied for third at 6 percent each among the Group of 5 coaches.

Of the 128 FBS coaches, 102 participated in ESPN's weekly confidential poll. Coaches could not vote for their own team. Last week, 51 percent of the coaches predicted Florida State would win the national title, followed by Alabama (18 percent), Oklahoma (11 percent) and Ohio State (7 percent).

Jameis Winston, FSU 41 percent
Marcus Mariota, Oregon 35 percent
Brett Hundley, UCLA 9 percent
Bryce Petty, Baylor 6 percent
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State 2 percent
Shane Carden, East Carolina 1 percent
Rakeem Cato, Marshall 1 percent
Everett Golson, Notre Dame 1 percent
Kenny Hill, Texas A&M 1 percent
Chuckie Keaton, Utah State 1 percent
Todd Kelly, Arizona State 1 percent
Sean Mannion, Oregon State 1 percent

Power 5 coaches
Jameis Winston, FSU 50 percent
Marcus Mariota, Oregon 26 percent
Brett Hundley, UCLA 12 percent
Bryce Petty, Baylor 5 percent
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State 2 percent
Chuckie Keaton, Utah State 2 percent
Todd Kelly, Arizona State 2 percent

Group of 5 coaches
Marcus Mariota, Oregon 42 percent
Jameis Winston, FSU 34 percent
Brett Hundley, UCLA 6 percent
Bryce Petty, Baylor 6 percent
Shane Carden, East Carolina 2 percent
Rakeem Cato, Marshall 2 percent
Everett Golson, Notre Dame 2 percent
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State 2 percent
Kenny Hill, Texas A&M 2 percent
Sean Mannion, Oregon State 2 percent

Note: 102 of 128 FBS coaches participated

Pac-12's perfect passing storm

August, 22, 2014
Athletes often refuse to play along with media storylines, or they simply are oblivious to them. That's not the case with the Pac-12's stellar 2014 crop of quarterbacks. They get it. They know they are good and you are interested. They are perfectly aware that 10 of them are returning starters, and a handful of them are expected to be early NFL draft picks this spring.

For the most part, they know each other. Many crossed paths in recruiting. Others sought each other out after games. Seven of them bonded at the Manning Passing Academy in Tbibodaux, Louisiana, this summer. There's a reasonable degree of believability when they insist they all like each other.

“It’s kind of a brother deal," said Washington State's Connor Halliday, one of seven Pac-12 quarterbacks who threw at least 20 touchdown passes a year ago. "We’re all representing the conference.”

That collegial connectedness means Halliday is perfectly willing to map out the NFL prospects of the crew, even if he opts to leave himself out -- Oregon State's Sean Mannion, he says, is the most NFL-ready, while Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley have the most upside. That chumminess means -- cover your eyes, USC and UCLA fans -- Hundley and Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler feel free to talk about how cool the other is.

The preseason scuttlebutt is the Pac-12 will follow up perhaps its best season in terms of top-to-bottom quality depth with a 2014 encore that should be even better. There's legitimacy to the belief that the Pac-12 might eclipse the SEC this fall as the nation's best conference, and that seeming apostasy begins behind center, where the SEC doesn't have a bona fide proven passer.

The Pac-12? Five returning QBs passed for more than 3,500 yards in 2013. If you give Kessler 32 more yards and Stanford's Kevin Hogan 370, then you have eight who passed for 3,000. Mariota, Hundley and Mannion are potential first-round NFL draft picks. Hogan is a three-year starter who's started in two Rose Bowls. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, some forget, was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2013 and led his team past Hundley and UCLA in the South Division. Halliday had 34 touchdown passes in 2013, while California's Jared Goff and Colorado's Sefo Liufau were true freshman starters. Before he got hurt, Utah's Travis Wilson was good enough to lead an upset of Stanford.

Seems pretty odd to mention the USC quarterback last, but there you have it: Kessler surged late in the season and should thrive under new coach Steve Sarkisian's up-tempo scheme.

The sum is quarterback depth that has everyone gushing, including Pac-12 coaches.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Charles Baus/CSMUSC's Cody Kessler threw for 2,968 yards in 2013, a robust total that only ranked seventh in a stacked league for quarterbacks, the Pac-12.
"Oh, I don't think there is a conference that is even close in terms of the quality of quarterbacks," UCLA coach Jim Mora said.

Said Washington's Chris Petersen, who, like Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, doesn't have a returning starter at quarterback: “There’s not a crop like this coming back in the country. It’s scary when you don’t have one of those returning guys. Every week, you’re going to have to face one of them.”

The question bouncing around before the season is whether it's the best quarterback class, well, ever, and not just for the Pac-12. Maybe, maybe not.

The Pac-10 was pretty impressive in 2004: USC's Matt Leinart, California's Aaron Rodgers, Arizona State's Andrew Walter, UCLA's Drew Olson, Oregon's Kellen Clemens, Oregon State's Derek Anderson, Washington State's Alex Brink and Stanford's Trent Edwards. If you wanted, you also could throw in Utah's Alex Smith, though he was still in the Mountain West Conference at the time. A handful of those guys are still in the NFL, with Rodgers in the discussion as the best quarterback in the league.

Outside of the Pac-12, there's the Big 12 in 2008: Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Missouri's Chase Daniel, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Kansas' Todd Reesing and Kansas State's Josh Freeman.

Ultimately, a judgment will be best delivered at season's end, and things rarely go as projected in the preseason. Injuries are, unfortunately, often an issue, and the pecking order could change. Don't be shocked, for example, if the estimations of Hogan, Kessler, Halliday and Goff go way up this fall.

The obvious leader is Mariota, probably the Heisman Trophy co-favorite with Florida State's Jameis Winston, the 2013 winner. While Mariota's return for his redshirt junior season was a bit of a surprise, how he's conducted himself during the preseason is not. He's not going to get in trouble off the field and he's not a look-at-me guy on it.

“He cares more about practice rep 13 in period 12 in 7-on-7 than anyone I’ve ever been around," coach Mark Helfrich said. "That carries over to every single guy in our program.”

But Mariota doesn't top everyone's list. Washington State linebacker Darryl Monroe favors Mannion, who won the Elite 11 Counselor's Challenge this summer after leading the conference with 4,662 yards and 37 TD passes last year.

“He’s a true NFL quarterback," Monroe said. “He has one of the best arms I’ve played against. Or seen in person.”

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP PhotoAside from a Nov. 15 date against Arizona, Washington coach Chris Petersen will likely face a returning starter at quarterback in every one of the Huskies' Pac-12 games.
Monroe, the boisterous contrarian, ranked Kelly No. 2.

“He ran that offense like a point guard," Monroe said.

Obviously, the expectation is that these 10 returning starters will combine talent and experience and put up huge numbers. As important as the position is, however, a good quarterback can't do it alone. He's got to have some places to deliver the ball. The good news for these guys is most have a strong supporting cast. While Mariota and Mannion have questions at receiver, that position is strong and deep throughout the conference.

Nine teams have at least three starting offensive linemen back, and five have four or more. Oregon is the only team without at least one of its top two receivers back. It's also notable that more than a few teams have questions in the secondary.

It could be a year when preseason hype meets big passing numbers. But stats are not what football is all about, either.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to winning games," Kessler said. “I don’t look at the stat box. I look at who won. Most of the time, if you look at who won, I can tell you how the quarterback played.”

That's the truth: Winning is the ultimate measure of a quarterback. More than a few Pac-12 quarterbacks through the years have put up big numbers but haven't led their teams to championships, conference or national. It's likely that the first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback this fall, a guy who should be in line for a variety of national awards and All-America honors, will be sitting atop the final standings.

As for the celebration of Pac-12 quarterbacks in 2014, some ambivalence does follow the fawning. While there is a sense of genial community when discussing the depth at the position, most coaches would rather have their guy be talented and experienced and everyone else to be searching for answers behind center.

Said Stanford coach David Shaw, “I can’t wait for some of these guys to get out of our conference, which I thought a couple of them would last year.”
Our earliest indicators of Heisman Trophy voting say that it might come down to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

Winston is the reigning Heisman winner and if he were to win it again, the Florida State quarterback would join Ohio State’s Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner. In 2013, he threw for 4,057 yards and completed 66.9 percent of his passes. He had 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Mariota -- who was slowed by a knee injury during the Pac-12 season -- finished the 2013 season with 3,665 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and four interceptions. He completed 63.5 percent of his passes en route to picking up his second consecutive All-Pac-12 honor.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJameis Winston had a storybook redshirt freshman season on the field, winning the Heisman Trophy and the national championship.
But they’ve grown and matured. Their teams are a bit different than they were last season and the biggest question at this point is: Which player is the early favorite to win the Heisman in the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff?

Jared Shanker and Chantel Jennings discussed a few key points to see where different advantages fall in regard to this debate.

Offensive line: Florida State

Shanker: Among the positions we’re looking at, the gap may be widest at offensive line. Florida State’s offensive line consists of five seniors, all with starting experience. Combined, they have more than 100 career starts. Cameron Erving is one of the best left tackles in the country, and right guard Tre’ Jackson could be the first guard taken in the NFL draft next spring. The Ducks might have center Hroniss Grasu, but overall, the Oregon offensive line can’t compete with the Seminoles’ O-line. Right, Chantel?

Jennings: A week ago, I might have fought you a little harder on this, but now that Tyler Johnstone is out for the season with an ACL injury, I’d say you’re completely right. Andre Yruretagoyena will replace the 26-game starter Johnstone … but Yruretagoyena has never started a game at Oregon. Grasu is the headliner of the bunch, but outside of his conference-leading 40 starts, the other three combine for just 41 total. Advantage definitely goes to Winston’s offensive front.

Running backs: Oregon

Jennings: Mariota returns his top two running threats from 2013 and, from everything Oregon coach Mark Helfrich is saying, these two are even better than numbers last year. Both Byron Marshall and Tyner averaged 6.2 yards per carry, and Marshall led the team overall with 1,038 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. Tyner rushed for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. Take those two and add Mariota -- who accounted for 715 yards and nine rushing touchdowns -- and you have a three-headed monster that might be the best backfield in college football.

Shanker: Agree that the edge has to go to Oregon here. The Florida State coaching staff is high on senior running back Karlos Williams, but he was a safety entering the 2013 season and has taken very few carries during the meaningful portions of games. He was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and had very strong numbers last season as the No. 3 running back, but we’ll see how he fares this season as “The Guy.” This could be a much closer debate by the end of the season depending on the progress of Williams and his backups Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender.

Wide receivers: Florida State, but it’s close

Shanker: This is a tough one as both quarterbacks have some question marks on the outside. Rashad Greene is a potential All-American, but who is going to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw’s production -- nearly 2,000 receiving yards combined. There is certainly talent at receiver, especially in the freshman class. Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph were top-10 receivers nationally coming out of high school, but Rudolph’s foot has been slow to heal from offseason surgery. Jesus “Bobo” Wilson is indefinitely suspended, and Isaiah Jones could be an academic casualty. The positive here is that the attention Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary will draw should facilitate the emergence of a legitimate No. 2 receiver.

Jennings: If the coaches at Oregon are to be believed in what they’re saying at this point in fall camp, then this is one of the deepest groups of wide receivers in recent memory. Now, it’s untested talent, so it’s still just potential. But the fact that wide receivers coach Matt Lubick thinks -- that if the Ducks played today -- that they could go with eight different receivers, that’s pretty impressive. Even if half of those guys pan out, it’s still pretty good. But in this case one proven guy is greater than eight unproven guys -- though veteran Keanon Lowe returns -- he was fifth on the team last year with 18 receptions.

Schedule: Florida State, and it’s not close

Shanker: Certainly the schedule is tougher, and 2014 won’t be a cakewalk, but the Seminoles do not have three teams in the top 11 of the USA Today Coaches Poll on their schedule. Oregon does. And two of those teams, Michigan State and Stanford, are among the best teams defensively. Florida State does have to face Clemson, which could be vastly improved on defense, but the Seminoles hung 50 on the Tigers on the road in 2013. Oklahoma State is rebuilding, and Notre Dame has potential with Everett Golson back, but it would not be a shock if both teams finish the season unranked. The Florida defense should be very good again this season, but it might not matter if their offense cannot alleviate any of the pressure. That’s exactly what happened when Florida and Florida State played last season.

Jennings: The Ducks take off in Week 2 against Michigan State and don’t slow from there. In Week 4 they’ll travel to Pullman, Wash. to take on Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, which is always a headache for defensive coordinators. They have Arizona, Stanford and Washington at home. They have UCLA and Oregon State on the road. I’d like to see FSU play half of that schedule and see what their record is. If a player’s team needs to be perfect -- or nearly perfect -- then Winston has a much, much better shot at that with Florida State's schedule.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota's reputation is practically unblemished nationally.
National perception: Mariota

Jennings: People know Mariota because he's a darn good player. In his career for the Ducks, he has never made a misstep. The only people who don’t like Mariota are the fans of the teams that play against him. And even then, I would bet if he showed up at a dinner party or wanted to date someone’s daughter, he’d be welcomed in no problem. He has already graduated. His teammates love him. His coaches talk about him as if he's their golden child. Even other quarterbacks in the conference like him.

Shanker: It’s no secret Winston is not well-liked outside of Tallahassee for the most part, as David Hale pointed out earlier this week. Considered affable in September, Winston was considered arrogant and above the law two months later. The sexual assault investigation, coupled with the seafood heist, has brought a lot of notoriety to Winston. On the field, the expectations will be higher for Winston this season. As the returning Heisman winner, Winston is going to be held to a higher standard. It’s unlikely he repeats his 4,000-yard, 40-touchdown season in 2014, and if Winston gives voters any reason to not vote for him, there will be more than a few who won't.