- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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This week's top 20:
20. Campaign season
I don't blame Ohio State's Urban Meyer or Florida's Will Muschamp for campaigning for national title consideration. They've got almost no shot, but I don't blame them for trying.
Meyer's team is one of only two unbeaten and untied teams in the country. Of course, he's going to campaign. Wouldn't you?
Unfortunately, his party platform includes those pesky NCAA sanctions that prevent the Buckeyes from playing in the postseason. So that leaves a longshot run at the Associated Press No. 1, which isn't bound by BCS doctrine.
"The quote I'd like out there is I think this team could play and compete with any team in the United States of America as of now," Meyer told reporters after Saturday's win against Michigan. "I didn't say that several weeks ago because we couldn't."
That's a restrained way of saying, "Damn, I wish we were eligible to play Notre Dame, Alabama or Georgia."
But they aren't, so that's that. The Buckeyes' season, as magnificent as it was, is done. Blame the NCAA. Or Tattoogate. Or Jim Tressel's clumsy cover-up. But it's done.
As for Florida, you have to admire Muschamp's campaign passion. He has to know it would take a football miracle for the Gators to play in the BCS Championship, but Muschamp keeps plugging away. Figures -- his team plays with the same passion.
"Guys, our résumé speaks for itself," said Muschamp after the Florida State win. "I mean, c'mon. You guys have covered the Southeast. You've covered the SEC. You've seen where we've played, who we've played and the quality of football teams we've beaten. We'll play anyone, anywhere -- whatever that slogan is."
No, you got it right, Will. Problem is, Georgia beat Florida and Georgia won the SEC Eastern Division. And now Georgia gets to play Bama in the SEC championship. That's pretty much checkmate for the Gators.
I see Muschamp's argument and it's a valid one. But even Muschamp admits that the loss to Georgia was a fatal blow when it comes to the BCS equation.
"That's our fault," he said Monday. "Nobody else's."
I like Muschamp's style. He makes his point and gets out of the way. He knows his team is good enough to win a national championship, but the BCS only has room in the front seat for two teams, not four. If this were 2014 and playoff time, the Gators would be in.
If only Ohio State were postseason eligible. If only Florida had beaten Georgia.
19. Firing season
That's what my podcast buddy, Ivan Maisel, calls it. There's the regular season, the firing season and the postseason.
So far there have been 12 coaching changes. It won't stay at that number. That's because some athletic directors and school presidents have the same level of patience as their football fans, which is to say, none.
Auburn's Gene Chizik was never going to survive this season. He had a dead-man-walking quality to him not long after the Oct. 6 loss to Arkansas. And as the losses mounted -- the Tigers finished 3-9 overall, 0-8 in the SEC -- there's only so many times you can apologize to the Auburn "family."
It now doesn't matter if you won a national championship two seasons ago. At least, it doesn't at Auburn.
Colorado fired Jon Embree after two seasons. Purdue's Danny Hope and North Carolina State's Tom O'Brien were fired despite their teams being bowl eligible. Years ago, that might have been a surprise. Now? We're so desensitized to it that we yawn.
18. Heisman Trophy race
Seated in the front row at Best Buy Theater:
• Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller -- The sophomore basically strapped the Buckeyes to his shoulder pads and carried them to an undefeated season. His numbers aren't always spectacular, but his toughness and ability to create something out of nothing is.
• Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel -- Johnny Football put up some big stats in the blowout of Missouri. Two of his five TDs came in what amounted to garbage time (A&M led 42-7 at halftime).
• USC wide receiver Marqise Lee -- If I were a cornerback or safety in the Pac-12, I'd consider transferring. That's because Lee is only a sophomore.
• Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o -- How do you quantify what Te'o does? You can't. You also can't leave him off this list.
Keep a coat and tie handy:
• Wisconsin running back Montee Ball -- Another week, another 100-plus-yard game. And this time he gets the major college rushing TD record all to himself.
• Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein -- The bad news? Klein only has one game left in the regular season to impress voters. The good news? The game is against Texas.
• Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch -- Yet another story of a kid who slipped through the recruiting cracks.
• Oregon running back Kenjon Barner -- Put up 198 yards and two touchdowns in the comfortable win against Oregon State. Even if he doesn't make it to New York, I wanted to give him some props.
Thanks for stopping by the booth:
No Heisman hangers-on left.
17. Heisman dilemma
I'm a Heisman voter. Have been for years. And as next Monday's 5 p.m. ballot deadline approaches, I'm still not sure whom I'm going to vote for.
The truth is, you can make a convincing and unapologetic case for Manziel, Te'o, Lee, Miller and maybe even Klein.
The ballot doesn't say I have to pick the best offensive player, or the player with the best numbers, or the player who happens to be a senior. It says to pick "the most outstanding college football player." And that's what I like about the Heisman. It gives you some wiggle room.
Tim Tebow didn't win the Heisman in 2007 based solely on stats. He won it because nobody did what he did. And if they did, they didn't do it as well.
Tebow was the most outstanding player. He wasn't the best passer. He wasn't the best runner. There's a difference. But how he played transcended everything else. To me, it was a no-brainer that year.
This year, my head hurts just thinking about separating the candidates.
16. Heisman dilemma -- part II
I don't care that Manziel is a redshirt freshman, just like I didn't care that Florida State's Chris Weinke was 28 when he won the award. Class standing and birth certificates shouldn't matter.
I don't care that Te'o is a linebacker, just like I don't care that his numbers are harder to translate than the traditional quarterback, running back and wide receiver numbers. Defensive players can have half-tackles and half-sacks. They can do things that don't find their way onto a stat sheet, but can mean the difference between winning and losing -- or in Notre Dame's case, finishing 12-0 or 11-1.
If I end up voting for Te'o it won't be because he plays for Notre Dame, or that he dealt with unfathomable tragedy earlier this season, or that it would be the contrarian thing to do. I'll vote for him because I think he's the most outstanding player.
I don't care that Lee plays wide receiver. The last pure wide receiver to win a Heisman was Desmond Howard in 1991. So it's been a while.
Lee might be the most talented player I've seen all season. I'm not going to penalize him for playing for a USC team that finished 7-5. It wasn't his fault that the Trojans' defense stunk it up at times. And by the way, Lee volunteered to play both ways.
I don't care that Miller's Ohio State team is ineligible for the postseason. That's because I saw what he did during the regular season.
I don't care that Klein has a funky throwing motion or that he had one clunker performance. All I know is that K-State often says, "Here, Collin, go win this game." And he often does.
Next Monday is going to be a toughie. But in a good way. Lots of good, hard choices to be made.
15. The picks
Missed on Mississippi State over Ole Miss, Texas over TCU, Arizona over Arizona State and Florida State over Florida (when will I remember that FSU plays in the ACC?). But nailed some of the coin flip-ish games (Ohio State over Michigan, Oklahoma over Oklahoma State, Stanford over UCLA, etc.).
This week's picks:
Rutgers over Louisville, Northern Illinois over Kent State, Stanford over UCLA, Oklahoma over TCU, Boise State over Nevada, Cincinnati over UConn, Kansas State over Texas, FSU over Georgia Tech, Wisconsin over Nebraska, Pittsburgh over South Florida, West Virginia over Kansas.
(Last week's record: 12-4. Overall: 160-54.)
14. Why Vegas sends a limo for me
I could tell you all the reasons why my Texas Tech over Baylor pick should have hit (the Red Raiders lost in OT), and how Wisconsin could have beaten Penn State (the Badgers lost in OT -- an FBS-leading third time this season), but why bother, right? And I'll just be quiet about taking Iowa State over West Virginia and Indiana over Purdue.
This week I thought hard about: Baylor over Oklahoma State (the game is in Waco); Georgia over Bama (you pick against Nicky Ballgame at your own risk).
Went with: Sure, why not -- I'll take Baylor over the I'm a Man! and take an absolute leap of faith with the Dawgs over the Tide.
(Last week's record: 0-4. Overall: 5-15.)
13. Flop of the week
-- The ACC.
I've gotten a zillion e-mails from Clemson and Florida State fans asking why I don't give those two programs and that conference more respect. Here's why: Florida 37, FSU 26 ... South Carolina 27, Clemson 17. You only get so many shots at making a national statement. FSU and Clemson could have made one against the SEC, but didn't. Instead, the Seminoles turned the ball over -- geez, I lost track how many times -- and got beat by a tougher, more resilient Florida team. The Gators have some issues, but one of them isn't backing down from the moment. They embrace it. FSU didn't. And Clemson lost at home to a Gamecocks team missing its starting quarterback and running back.
Blew an 18-point, fourth quarter lead to a Washington State team that entered the game with a 2-9 record and zero wins in conference play.
Even Bevo doesn't know what to make of this team. Win four. Lose two. Win four. Lose at home to TCU. Better bow up this week at Kansas State.
Gutty performance by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (he played with a dinged knee and a broken wrist) in the OT loss to UConn. But again, if you want to be considered an emerging program, you have to be able to beat a 4-6 Connecticut team at home. It's that simple.
A no-show in the loss at home against Stanford.
The flopper is ... the ACC.
Don't blame me. Blame the Seminoles and Tigers.
12. Coach of the week
The finalists ...
-- Washington State's Mike Leach.
Given the nuttiness of his first season in Pullman, the recent allegations by a former star player (and the investigation into those charges) and Wazzu's underdog status going into the U-Dub game, this was a win to remember and cherish.
-- Notre Dame's Brian Kelly.
If you hooked Kelly up to a lie detector and asked, "Did you really think you'd go 12-0?" I'm not sure he would say yes. But you don't go undefeated by accident -- and Kelly is one of the major reasons why it wasn't an accident.
-- Ohio State's Urban Meyer.
-- Florida's Muschamp.
Muschamp's team punches you in the mouth. Helps you up. And then punches you again. I love his no-excuses mentality. His team went into Tallahassee and imposed its (and Muschamp's) will.
-- Northern Illinois' Dave Doeren and Kent State's Darrell Hazell.
Watch their teams play Friday night. You'll see.
-- Penn State's Bill O'Brien.
An 0-2 start. An 8-2 finish, including the season-ending OT win against Wisconsin.
-- Oregon's Chip Kelly.
Nice bounce-back win at Oregon State.
And the winner is ... Leach.
11. Player of the week
The finalists ...
-- Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell.
Bell not only rushed for a career-high 266 yards in the win against Minnesota, but he helped semi-salvage a disappointing Spartans season. With the victory, Michigan State reached 6-6 and bowl eligibility.
-- Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones.
All he did was throw for 500 yards and three touchdowns, complete 46 passes and help beat Oklahoma State. To put those numbers in some sort of weird context, those 46 completions are only one less than Army has for the entire SEASON.
-- San Diego State running back Adam Muema.
This is the definition of a good day: rush for a career-high 255 yards ... score four times ... help your team win its seventh game in a row and ninth overall ... own a share of the MWC title.
-- Florida running back Mike Gillislee.
Semi-surprising stat: Gillislee is the first Florida running back to gain 1,000 yards since 2004. He had 140 of them in the win at FSU, including the go-ahead 37-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
-- Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr.
The Bulldogs also share that MWC title, thanks to Carr's 452-yard, four-touchdown performance against Air Force.
-- Georgia free safety Bacarri Rambo.
Want to know how the Bulldogs crushed Georgia Tech? Let's see: Rambo had eight tackles, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, an interception and helped set up two UGA touchdowns.
-- Miami running back Duke Johnson.
As freshman seasons go, Johnson had one to remember. He was just 53 yards short of a 1,000-yard season. In the win against Duke on Saturday, he rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns. In all, he had 277 all-purpose yards. No Miami freshman running back has ever had a better season.
-- Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey.
Hey, a Baylor defensive player makes the list! Lackey deserves it, especially after intercepting two passes against Texas Tech (one he returned for a TD, the other ended a late fourth-quarter drive by Tech) and also recovering a fumble.
-- South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney was a record-breaking machine against Clemson. He had 4.5 sacks in the game (school record) and 13 for the season (school record). When he's rushing a quarterback, he's a baddddddd man.
-- Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza.
He writes Composure on his left hand to remind him what to do when he settles in for a kick. It worked against USC. Sixteen of ND's 22 points were the result of Brindza's leg and composure.
And the winner is ... Clowney.
The scariest part? He's coming back next season.
10. ACC, it's your move
With the impending departure of Maryland to the Big Ten, the ACC is left with 13 members and more questions than you can swing a chinstrap at.
An odd number of teams doesn't work so well when it comes to scheduling. And whatever you might think of Maryland athletics, specifically football and basketball, it sits in a rich recruiting and TV market. So it had value. And that value will soon belong to the Big Ten.
So now what? ACC commissioner John Swofford isn't going to sit on his hands. Not after the Big Ten came in and took one of his own. Not after Duke hoops coach Mike Krzyzewski, an influential mover and shaker in in the ACC, said on his Sirius XM Radio show, "I think the ACC is vulnerable right now. I'm concerned about our conference."
If it is vulnerable, it's partly Swofford's own doing. The ACC has used the Big East as its personal farm system, calling up Miami and Virginia Tech, then Boston College, then Syracuse and Pittsburgh. It even convinced Notre Dame to ditch the Big East and enter into a partnership (ND will remain a football independent, but schedule five games per year against ACC opponents).
As Swofford began sticking ACC flags in the Northeast and Midwest, it became only a matter of time before someone stuck a needle in ACC country. That someone was Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
9. ACC, it's your move -- Part II
We can talk about TV markets, and recruiting areas and growing the brand, but this was also about marking turf. The polite term we hear these days is "geographical footprint."
The ACC used to have its geographical footprint and it was confined to the South. And then it wasn't, thanks to that Big East farm system.
The Big Ten went outside its footprint when it added Penn State. The SEC has a team in College Station, Texas. The Pac-12 has members in Utah and Colorado. So footprints are growing larger all the time.
But in the ACC's case, it began to step on the toes of the Big Ten. Penn State was on an island, suddenly encircled by ACC programs. And the addition of Notre Dame, even with the Irish keeping their football independence, planted one of those ACC flags in Indiana, where two Big Ten schools, IU and Purdue, have full-time residences.
So Delany countered with a stealth raid that left the ACC in semi-shock. And as Krzyzewski said, vulnerable.
Maryland doesn't have the same pedigree of, say, North Carolina or Duke, but its absence will be felt. If nothing else, Swofford now knows how the Big East felt.
UConn, another Big East member, is the name most often mentioned to replace Maryland on the ACC roster. A school such as West Virginia would be a candidate for No. 15 if Notre Dame were ever to decide to become No. 16.
Then again, who knows what or if the SEC will do. Will it make a run at Clemson and Florida State? And if West Virginia bolted, would the Big 12 look toward Tallahassee?
For now the ground has settled. For now. Tomorrow, who knows?
8. Quote of the week
"Pulling for 'Fight On.' What do they [say], 'Fight On,' or something like that? I've always been a real big Lane Kiffin fan."
-- Florida coach -- and huge USC fan -- Muschamp to reporters after the Gators defeated Florida State to finish the regular season 11-1. A USC win over No. 1 Notre Dame would have put Florida into the national championship mix.
7. Quote of the week -- runners-up
"I think it was a real sexy win. I was gonna come in with my shirt off, but my wife would kill me. So I don't know if that would work. The players did not want me to do that."
-- Muschamp, the sudden quote machine, on the quality of Florida's victory against FSU.
"We'll play an SEC team in their backyard and we'll be underdogs by like 75 points. Nothing new."
-- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, to the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein, on the likelihood of his 9-3 Wildcats playing a Jan. 1 bowl game against an SEC opponent.
"I can't believe we're going to a national championship."
-- Notre Dame's Te'o after the win at USC.
6. Quote of the week -- honorable mention
"It was one of the hardest years I've ever endured."
-- First-year Illinois coach Tim Beckman to reporters after the Illini lost 50-14 to Northwestern (and it could have been worse had Fitzgerald not shown mercy). Illinois finished the season 2-10 overall and winless in Big Ten play.
5. Class act
So I'm in a small semi-circle of reporters talking to Notre Dame's Te'o after the win against USC. We're standing near a wall in the L.A. Coliseum tunnel, just across from the visitors' locker room. And I notice Te'o sort of looking past us and acknowledging someone else.
I turn and look and it's USC sports information director Tim Tessalone.
That's weird; what would Tessalone want with Te'o?
So I inch over and see someone sort of tucked behind the doorway leading into the Notre Dame locker room. He clearly is trying to stay out of our view. That's when I notice the white, long-sleeved shirt.
It's USC's Kiffin.
Say what you want about the guy, but you have to give him lots of credit for making the walk over to the Notre Dame side and seeking out Te'o for a discreet congratulatory handshake and best wishes.
USC recruited Te'o hard back in the day. In fact, Te'o thought long and hard about becoming a Trojan. So there was a relationship and a respect there between the player and the program.
Kiffin could have grandstanded it, interrupted our postgame chat with Te'o and purposely made a big deal out of the gesture. Instead, he stood out of sight and quietly asked if he could have a moment or two with an opposing player he admired.
When it was done, Te'o said Kiffin had told him it was an honor to play against him. Te'o told Kiffin the feeling was mutual.
How about that? Actual sportsmanship. Nice to see -- even when we weren't meant to.
Notre Dame and the BCS Championship ... Notre Dame and goal-line stands ... Johnny Football speaks! ... Bobby Petrino coaching rumors ... David Shaw coaching rumors ... Giving Lou Holtz his due (Preseason Lou picked a USC vs. Bama national championship game; In-Season Lou jumped on Notre Dame bandwagon early -- and stayed there) ... negotiated buyouts ... SEC bashing ... USC's Max Wittek (the dude has a big-boy arm) ... West Virginia (whew, that was close for bowl eligibility) ... The possibility of a Kent State-versus-Georgia Tech Orange Bowl ... The possibility of 11 people outside of Kent, Ohio, and Atlanta watching the Orange Bowl ... The possibility of 10-2 Oklahoma (if the Sooners win at TCU Saturday) getting squeezed out of the BCS bowl mix ... Utah State (the Aggies win their first non-shared conference championship in 76 years) Vandy fever (six consecutive wins and its longest victory streak since 1955) ... Rivalry domination (Oregon has won five consecutive Civil War games, South Carolina has won four in a row against Clemson, Ohio State has won nine of the last 11 against Michigan, Georgia has won 11 of the last 12 against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech has won nine consecutive games against Virginia) ... Northwestern and a Jan. 1 bowl? ... Northern Illinois (three consecutive 11-win seasons).
Auburn's Chizik, Purdue's Hope, Colorado's Embree, Boston College's Frank Spaziani, North Carolina State's O'Brien (I'm sure it's happened before, but when's the last time two coaches faced each other -- O'Brien's Wolfpack beat Spaziani's BC team Saturday -- and both got fired the next day?) ... Anybody who made a BCS Championhsip futures bet in Vegas on Oregon and Florida ... USC's Matt Barkley (we're going to miss you, you lug) ... UCLA's unis in the Stanford game. Yech ... Two consecutive UCLA-Stanford games ... . . . Any chance of a single-game attendance record at Oregon State's Reser Stadium on Saturday (the Beavers face FCS member Nicholls State [1-9] in a Hurricane Isaac-related makeup game that OSU officials hoped would go away) ... Tennessee's first-ever winless SEC season (the Vols beat Kentucky) ... Louisville (two consecutive losses after a 9-0 start) ... Ohio State and Penn State finished with a combined record of 20-4, but won't suit up again until spring practice.
2. If there were a playoff
(And there will be in two more years ...)
Shoulder Pad Bracket:
Notre Dame vs. Alabama.
In case you're wondering, you know, for bar bet purposes, the Fighting Irish are 5-1 against Bama. The great Bear Bryant took the O-fer against the Irish, losing to them in 1973, 1974, 1976 and 1980 seasons. The only Tide coach to beat ND? Ray Perkins, in 1986.
Chin Strap Bracket:
Ohio State vs. Georgia.
Think about these two playoff matchups as you're magically whisked away to the 1970s or 1980s. They have a total old-school feel to them. Anyway, the Buckeyes and Dawgs have only played once, which is a stunner. UGA beat Ohio State by a touchdown in 1993.
By the way, the smart guys in Vegas have Bama as a 6½-point favorite over Notre Dame, and ND a 2½-point favorite against Georgia.
1. The BMOC Top 10
No. 10: Kansas State (10-1)
The Wildcats have had an extra week to prepare for the Longhorns. Then again, if you had seen Texas lose to TCU, you'd probably wonder why anyone would need two weeks to prepare for the Longhorns' offense. Anyway, the time off gave K-State (and Klein) some quality rehab time after the upset loss at Baylor on Nov. 17.
No. 9: LSU (10-2)
The Tigers are very much in the BCS bowl mix as The Mad Hatter coaches up LSU to its sixth double-digit win total in the last eight seasons. Impressive.
No. 8: Texas A&M (10-2)
During the Aggies' downtime, they can help Johnny Football pick out a nice suit and tie for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
No. 7: Stanford (10-2)
Next: UCLA in Pac-12 championship.
Who knew you could play a home-and-home series in consecutive weeks? The Cardinal beat the Bruins on Saturday in the Rose Bowl and play them again this Friday at Stanford Stadium. The winner gets to play -- wait for it -- in the Rose Bowl.
No. 6: Florida (11-1)
Muschamp says his team should be playing for the national championship. Georgia and Louisiana-Lafayette might say otherwise. However you spin it, the Gators have been one of the most resilient teams in the country. And their defense is national championship-quality.
No. 5: Alabama (11-1)
Next: SEC championship.
Want to lose your job? Play Bama and Nick Saban. Arkansas' John L. Smith, Tennessee's Derek Dooley and Auburn's Gene Chizik went 0-3 versus Nick Saban this season. They went 3-for-3 in pink slips, though. Meanwhile, Bama plays Georgia this week in what amounts to a national semifinal.
No. 4: Oregon (11-1)
Next: Fiesta Bowl?
The bowl folks in Scottsdale, Ariz., are thrilled, but the Ducks will always remember Nov. 17, the night in rainy Autzen when Oregon's unbeaten season got de-feathered. Still, a BCS bowl awaits.
No. 3: Georgia (11-1)
Next: SEC Championship.
This is dangerous stuff, ranking Georgia above Bama. I'm taking another leap of faith with the Bulldogs, who disappointed me earlier in the season with a comatose loss at South Carolina. But from a pure talent standpoint, they might be ranked No. 1.
No. 2: Ohio State (12-0)
Next: Buffalo, Aug. 31, 2013.
This season's edition of the Buckeyes become only the sixth-ever Ohio State team to finish a season unbeaten and untied. Not a bad going-away present for 21 seniors who deserved better than the NCAA sanctions Terrelle Pryor, Tressel, etc., left them.
No. 1: Notre Dame (12-0)
Next: BCS Championship, Jan. 7.
What does ND do between now and the national championship game? "Get healthy," said Te'o. Notre Dame's regular season started in faraway Dublin on Sept. 1 and ended Saturday night in Los Angeles. While Bama and Georgia knock the bejeezus out of each other this week in the SEC championship, the Irish get to watch, relax and scout.
(Five on the fringe: South Carolina, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Florida State, Clemson.)
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
3dAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna