All posts by Evan Skilliter

Jabrill Peppers Is Not a Heisman Candidate

Enough with the “Jabrill Peppers for Heisman” talk.

A lot of media members peg Michigan’s “do-it-all” super (red shirt) sophomore as one of the best players in the nation.

There are likely two reasons for that:

  1. Beyond Lamar Jackson, there aren’t many other worthy candidates out there. As a result, the media needs someone to help them create a compelling “Heisman Race” story.
  2. People are too blinded by the fact that he can play 10 different positions that they fail to recognize that he is only good, not great, at each of those positions.

The first reason is a topic for another day.  I’d like to paint a better picture of just how “good” Peppers really is at each position he plays.

His impact at each position is no greater than the impact of any other teammate that plays that position.

Peppers is not a Heisman-caliber player.

People like to compare Peppers to Charles Woodson, who became the only defensive player to win the Heisman in 1997.  Woodson played defense, offense and special teams, just like Peppers does.  However, Woodson was at the top or near the top of most defensive categories that season, both on his team and nationally.

Woodson led the team with seven interceptions (including a few very acrobatic picks), which was good for second in the nation. He also finished the ’97 season with 11 receptions for 231 and a receiving touchdown, as well as a touchdown on the ground.

My Campus Pressbox colleague Mitch Gatzke thinks these comparisons have only been drawn because Woodson also played at Michigan.  That’s really the only comparison that can be made.

Defensively, Peppers (listed as a linebacker on the depth chart) leads the team in solo tackles, but is third in total tackles behind fellow linebackers Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray.  Both Gedeon and McCray have .5 sacks more than Peppers.

Peppers does have more tackles than each defensive lineman on the team, but there are four defensive linemen with more sacks than him.

How about defending passes? Peppers is eighth on the team in passes defended and doesn’t have an interception.

On the offensive side of the ball, Peppers is fifth on the team in rushing yards (163) and rushing touchdowns (3).

Peppers does do a nice job returning punts. His 15.2 yards per return average is good for seventh in the nation. He, like Woodson in ‘97, has returned one for a touchdown.

Peppers’ all-around effectiveness is definitely a big part of Michigan’s success, but remember last season when Christian McCaffrey led his team in rushing yards, receiving yards and touchdowns, as well as kick and punt return yardage, and still finished second in the Heisman voting results?  No, he didn’t play defense, but he was the best player on the team in several categories.

Without McCaffrey, Stanford would not have had nearly as much success as they did. Without Peppers, Michigan would still have players to fill those voids.

So, go ahead — try to convince me that a defensive player that doesn’t lead his team in total tackles, sacks, passes defended, interceptions, forced fumbles or fumble recoveries should win the Heisman, especially when he also doesn’t lead his team in a single offensive category either.

An invite to the ceremony due to the lack of other dynamic players this year? Maybe.

He wouldn’t make my invite list, though.

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

Photo: Maize & Blue Nation, Flickr

 

Hoosiers Fall as Soon as They Rise

The Indiana Hoosiers were finally back on top.  They had beaten Kansas in their opener, and after a few years of mediocrity (relative to Indiana basketball history) Tom Crean finally had his boys headed in the right direction.

Even ESPN couldn’t ignore the hype, placing the Bloomington Basketball Boys at the very top spot of its latest power rankings (by the way, Indiana was in the 14 spot the week before).  That’s right, it was Indiana first, then Kentucky, Villanova (defending National Champs), Kansas, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina. That’s a big list of big programs.

You know what big time programs have in common? They don’t lose regular season games to mid-major opponents.

If you haven’t heard, the same week Indiana jumped 14 spots to number one on ESPN’s power rankings, they lost to the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne Mastodons, more commonly known as IPFW, in overtime.

What a way to solidify your spot at the top, right?

Well, it was an away game for Indiana, which had to shift the odds just a little bit, right?

Please.

Indiana basketball is to Indiana what Kentucky basketball is to Kentucky, or what Ohio State football is to Ohio. If Kentucky were to travel to Newport to play Northern Kentucky, the stadium would be full of blue and white.  If Ohio State were to travel to Bowling Green, you would be hard pressed to find any orange and brown in the crowd.

It was no different for the Hoosiers last night in Fort Wayne’s Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.  Bloomington, the home of Indiana University, is around a three-hour drive from Ft Wayne, so fans from the far eastern part of the state that don’t generally get a chance to see their beloved Hoosiers gobbled tickets up. In fact, tickets to the game sold out in less than an hour.

How did this happen?

Indiana’s starting five included a former three-star recruit, three former four-stars, and a five-star.

IPFW’s starting five consisted of three guys that weren’t ranked as high school recruits, plus a two-star, and a three-star transfer.

That three-star transfer, Fort Wayne native Bryson Scott, shot 50 percent from the field while scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds (he’s 6’1”).  It was the first time Scott had ever amassed over 10 rebounds in a game.

As you can expect from a 71-68 game, the numbers in each statistical category were pretty similar.  Indiana had a slight edge in rebounds, free throw percentage, and field goal percentage.  The most lopsided categories fell IPFW’s way as the Mastodons accumulated 11 steals to Indiana’s four and seven blocks to the Hoosiers’ three.  Indiana finished with 15 turnovers, seven more than IPFW’s eight.

As far as Indiana and its fans are concerned, though, none of that matters.

Indiana has been revealed as a phony and we’re only a few weeks into the season.  With a non-conference schedule that includes North Carolina, Butler and Louisville, plus a tough Big Ten slate, you can probably expect quite a few losses from the Hoosiers, and don’t even think about a national title.

This is a knee-jerk reaction based on one bad result.

No it’s not.  This is an educated prediction based on NCAA history.  I’m not claiming the Hoosiers won’t win the Big Ten or make the tournament, but you’d be hard pressed to go back in history and find a team, ANY TEAM, that has lost to a mid-major opponent and proceeded to prove itself a championship contender.

That’s my challenge to you, actually. Find me a team that matches that description and tweet it to me @evanskilliter or email me at [email protected].  I’ll be happy to hear from you.

E-mail Evan at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Sunday Morning Notebook: Another Afternoon Edition

This week of college football wasn’t nearly as exciting as the last, but there were definitely some shakeups in the college football world, including a tough Thursday night for a potential playoff squad and a big program firing (or not) that we all saw coming.

Enjoy a slightly later version of the Sunday Morning Notebook.

 

Louisville Falls from Playoff Contention

Not only that, but Lamar Jackson may have lost his chance at a Heisman after his Cardinals lost to Houston, 36-10, on Thursday.

Jackson, who was the presumed front-runner for the Heisman trophy, completed less than half of his passing attempts for 211 yards and a touchdown.  However, his 33 rushing yards were the fewest he’s totaled in a game all season even though he tallied the second highest carry total of the season.

The loss definitely exposed Louisville as a team that is dependent on the success of one player (Jackson).

The loss also adds a second to Louisville’s season total.  The Cardinals won’t be playing for an ACC Championship, so they can say goodbye to any hope of getting a playoff bid.

Notes:

  • Jackson’s 95.4 quarterback rating is the lowest rating he’s received all season and the only time his rating has been under 100.  He also failed to record more than one touchdown for just the second time this season, and the second time in two weeks.
  • Houston stormed out to a 31-0 halftime lead.  That’s a pretty staggering stat considering Louisville hasn’t trailed by more than 18 points all season.
  • Houston won its eighth game of the season and moved to 2-0 against top 10 teams.  We’ll talk more about UH Head Coach Tom Herman in a second.

 

Strong’s Time at Texas Coming to an End

 The story of the week was that University of Texas boosters desperately wanted head coach Charlie Strong fired and Houston HC Tom Herman hired.  That decision was made easier when Texas lost to Kansas.  Why? Because Kansas had a 23 game FBS losing streak and hadn’t beaten Texas since 1938.

Shortly after the game, strong was fired. Or was he? Yeah, he was. Wait… No, he wasn’t. Sources. Sources. Sources. Twitter…Sigh.

Either way, Strong is more-than-likely on his way out, which means Texas will need to find a new coach.  The most likely candidate- Tom Herman.

Notes:

  • Herman has a great résumé.  He led Ohio State’s offense to a Big Ten and National Championship in his last season as OSU offensive coordinator.  In two years as Houston’s head coach, Herman has amassed a 22-3 record with a conference championship and bowl victory.
  • If Texas can’t lure Herman, they may have to look to Les Miles, who is currently trying to figure out what to do in retirement.
  • Honestly, if Herman doesn’t work out, the Texas program will look even more silly than it already does.  Strong didn’t have enough time to develop a program at Texas and is probably still the best option for them, despite being fired.  I’d wager a decent amount of money that Strong will find success at another program.

Other Notes:

-Ohio State barely escaped East Lansing with a victory, and Michigan struggled as well.  The weather was terrible in both instances and each team’s struggle should not negatively impact their spot in the standings. That means we get to see a 2v3 matchup next week in Columbus.

-Clemson clinched a spot in the ACC Championship with its win over Wake Forest.  If the Tigers can win out, they should have no problem getting into the playoff.

-The fourth playoff spot is still in question.  If it isn’t Washington, it may very well be a second Big Ten team.  Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State are all sitting in the AP Top Ten.

 

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A Wild Weekend and its Implications

What a wild weekend of college football.  Three of the top four teams in the country lost on the same day for the first time since 1985 and drastically changed the landscape of this college football season.  The implications of these losses extend far beyond the College Football Playoff picture.  Each team was exposed, and at least two conference races have been busted wide open.

Here’s what we can take away from a Saturday saturated with amazing football:

 

Clemson’s D has been exposed and Tigers fans should be concerned

Clemson and Louisville are the only two teams with one loss in the ACC, and Clemson owns the tiebreaker over Louisville.  All Clemson has to do is beat Wake Forest (6-4, 3-3 ACC), a team coming off a loss in which they gave up 44 straight points to Louisville after leading 12-0.

However, there are concerns about Clemson’s defense moving forward.

The Tigers gave up 43 points to Pitt, which was the second-highest point total the Panthers have scored all season.  On top of that, Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman threw for 308 yards and five touchdowns (both career highs) and tight end Scott Ordnoff caught a career high in passes, yards, and touchdowns.

Three games ago, Clemson had to claw back from behind to beat Florida State after giving up 34 points, the Tigers’ second-highest point total given up on the season (up to that point).

The Florida State offense is statistically much more potent than Pitt’s, but Clemson’s defense has definitely been struggling. And teams like Virginia Tech and North Carolina may have a chance to take advantage in the ACC Championship game should Clemson make it that far.  I think there is a good chance the Tigers lose that game if it comes down to it.

However, if Clemson doesn’t lose another game this season, it will be a no-brainer selection to play in the College Football Playoff.

 

Michigan’s loss puts Penn State in the Big Ten driver’s seat, not Ohio State

Michigan was definitely impressive early in the season, demolishing Colorado and Penn State in weeks three and four, respectively.  Colorado is now ranked 12th in the latest AP poll, and Penn State has jumped up to number nine.

However, since that week four win, Michigan has had a few games that have raised some question marks. On October 1, Michigan barely squeaked by Wisconsin at home, beating the Badgers in a 14-7 defensive battle. It proceeded to walk all over Rutgers and Illinois (as most Big Ten teams have) then struggled against Michigan State on the road, winning by a score of 32-23.

This is not the same Michigan State team that we’ve seen the last few years.  This Michigan State team is 3-7 and is in the bottom half of the conference in total offense and defense.

This weekend, Michigan lost its first game of the season at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes, 14-13.  Iowa is 6-4 this season and is, by no means, the worst team to lose to. However, a loss to Iowa is not what a team vying for a playoff bid wants on its résumé.

Based on Michigan’s track record, it’s safe to assume Ohio State will dispose of Jim Harbaugh’s boys when they visit the Horseshoe in two weeks.  The Buckeyes have been dominant since they suffered their only loss of the season at Penn State.

The Buckeyes are trending upward, and the Wolverines are trending downward (but I’ll admit, at a far more gradual slope).

If the Buckeyes win next week against Michigan State and take care of Michigan after that, the Buckeyes will have no problem making the playoff, as they’re already ranked number two by the Associated Press.

However, Penn State holds the tie-breaker over Ohio State and has a very favorable remaining schedule.  The Nittany Lions will win their remaining two games and we will see them representing the Big Ten East in the conference championship game.  A Penn State win in Indianapolis would give them a very solid case for a playoff bid, setting up a potential rematch with Ohio State.

 

Washington’s loss may cause a PAC-12 absence from this year’s playoff

USC’s win over Washington made the Huskies the last PAC-12 team to fall from the ranks of the unbeaten.  It also helped Washington State jump to the top of the PAC-12 North Standings.

Teams from the PAC-12 have been beating up on each other all season.  In fact, Washington is the only team with only one loss, and the Huskies still have meetings with Arizona State and Washington State, and possibly a matchup with Colorado, USC, or Utah in the conference championship game.

Washington has played very well this season.  All but two of its wins have been convincing, but with the way the PAC-12 teams are beating up on each other this season, it is very possible that we see Washington lose one more time. That would mean the PAC-12 champion would have two losses and there should be plenty of one-loss, non-conference-champion teams that will be more deserving of a playoff berth.

However, if Washington does find a way to win its last three games, the committee will be hard pressed to leave them out of the playoff.

 

The Playoff Committee will have no easy task

There are a lot of conference titles to be determined, and there will be a lot of one loss teams with a very formidable résumé for the College Football Playoff Committee to choose from when the regular season comes to a close.

Be sure to check out Cooper Goetz’s ongoing coverage of the playoff selection process for more scenarios and opinions.

 

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

Photo: Sarah McDevitt, Flickr

The Sunday Morning Notebook: Last Name Edition

What?

We just hit the reset button on the season, I think.  It’s Alabama — then everyone else.

I generally struggle to pick which games to write about. This week it’s easy.

I give you The Sunday Morning Notebook: Last Name Edition.

 

Chris Didn’t Blow It

Clemson lost to Pitt, if you haven’t heard.

Chris Blewitt, who owns the best last name of any kicker in the history of football, hit a game-winning field goal with six seconds left to beat the Tigers in Clemson, South Carolina.

Deshaun Watson threw for over 500 yards in the game, but it was Pitt’s Nathan Peterman who stole the show.  A senior, Peterman played out-of-his-mind, throwing for a career-high five touchdowns to lead the Panthers to victory.  Not only is it a career high, but Peterman hasn’t even thrown for FOUR touchdowns this season, and he’s only thrown for THREE touchdowns ONCE in 2016.

Peterman’s 22 completions were the most he’s thrown this year (second most in his career) and his 308 yards marked the first time he’s ever thrown for more than 300 yards in a game.

Speaking of career days, Pitt’s Senior Tight End Scott Ordnoff caught more passes (nine) for more yards (128) and more touchdowns (two) than he’s ever had in one game during his college career.

Good timing from Peterman and Ordnoff.

Notes:

  • Watson threw the ball 70 times for 580 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions.  Those numbers aren’t typos. His team lost, but he really boosted his Heisman resume.
  • Clemson’s Wayne Gallman rushed for three touchdowns on just 36 yards.
  • What will this do to Clemson’s playoff hopes? I don’t think anyone can accurately answer that question right now, but if they can win out and win the ACC Championship, I have to imagine they’ll still be in.

 

An Ugly, Boring, Beautiful Upset in Iowa

There isn’t much to report on this game, to be honest. Other than the fact that Keith Duncan became more famous than Duncan Keith for a few hours, as the freshman kicked his Hawkeyes to victory, much like Mr. Blewitt, to give Iowa its first win over a Top-5 team in six years.

Michigan’s Wilson Speight, who many people on my Twitter timeline were touting as the next Tom Brady (insert rolling eye emoji), completed 11 of 26 passes for 103 yards and an interception.

The brightest spot in the game was Iowa’s Akrum Wadley, who rushed for 115 yards on 23 carries.

Notes:

  • The loss for Michigan puts the Wolverines in a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten East with Ohio State and Penn State. If those three teams are tied going into the final week of the season and the Buckeyes beat Michigan, that means Penn State would represent the East in the Big Ten championship game (assuming Penn State also wins its last game). Confused? Try this.

 

Can You Say Imatorbhebhe!?

Me neither. But I can say, “Washington Loses to USC.”

That’s right. The number two, three, and four teams lost yesterday, sending the media into a tailspin.

What happened here? USC contained Myles Gaskin and held Jake Browning at bay to upset the fourth best team in the nation.

To be honest, this game didn’t really look or feel like an upset.  USC looked like the better team from start to finish.  Sam Darnold passed the ball well for the Trojans, completing 23 of 33 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns.  USC also found success on the ground, getting 93 yards and a touchdown from Ronald Jones II.

Freshman Daniel Imatorbhebhe, pronounced exactly how it’s spelled, baby, finished with 78 yards receiving and this touchdown. It was a remarkable performance considering he only had 114 total receiving yards this season heading into the Washington matchup.

Notes:

  • I have to imagine USC will jump pretty high in the polls.  The Trojans lost three of their first four games, but have rattled off six straight wins, winning by nearly 20 points per game.
  • The Washington loss may mean that the Pac-12 champion will not get into the College Football Playoff. There are a lot of one loss teams that won’t be conference champions that are worthy of a playoff bid (Louisville, Michigan, and Ohio State are possible examples). The way the Pac-12 teams have beat up on each other, it will be hard to send one team to the playoff over the rest.

 

Other Notes:

-Sure, three of the top four teams lost and that’s the first time that’s happened in a single day of college football since 1985. But did you know Auburn lost, too?

-And Texas A&M.

-So did Virginia Tech, by the way.

-To top it all off, in perhaps the craziest development of the day, the most juggernaut program in college football history lost its first regular season game in 113 tries.

 

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

 

Photo: Phil Roeder, Flickr

The Sunday Morning Notebook: Afternoon Edition

Please pardon my tardiness and please enjoy this week’s notebook.

 

Clemson Escapes Tallahassee

Deandre Francois did exactly what a quarterback can’t do on a fourth down with the game on the line – he took a sack.  That turnover on downs secured a 37-34 victory for Clemson to help the Tigers stay undefeated on the season.

Week-by-week, Deshaun Watson’s Heisman hopes continue to waiver.  His performances have been excellent, but his solid and consistent numbers are not staggering enough to earn him consideration for the award.

Last week, Watson’s performance was only average by Heisman standards (378 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, 35 rushing yards and a touchdown).  Yesterday, Watson completed 27 of 43 passes for 378 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.  He also rushed for 52 yards.

Watson still doesn’t stack up to Lamar Jackson. Jackson has thrown for more yards and a higher passer rating. They’ve also thrown the same amount of touchdowns.
We can officially count Watson out for the trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

Notes:

  • Florida State’s final drive was possibly the worst final, comeback-attempt drive a top 25 team has ever had.
    • The drive started on FSU 21-yard line.
    • The first two plays each resulted in a first down.  A third-down holding penalty on the fifth play of the drive created a third and 23 from FSU’s 40 yard-line, but Francois completed a 26-yard pass to Travis Rudolph for the first down on the Clemson 34, which should have set up a game-tying field goal.
    • However, two different FSU linemen moved early on consecutive plays, pushing the Seminoles back ten yards and out of field goal range.  Francois threw consecutive incompletions, then took a sack on 3rd and 20.  After an FSU timeout, Francois took another sack on 4th and 32.
    • To recap: Florida State committed three penalties for -20 yards and gave up two sacks for -33 yards, including one on fourth down that ended their attempt to tie or win the game.
  • Dalvin Cook has been outstanding.  Cook rushed 19 times for 169 yards and a season-high four touchdowns, including this 70 yard TD run.  After three sub-100 yard games to start the season, Cook has averaged 168.2 rushing yards and nearly two rushing touchdowns per game. He’s 5th in the nation in rushing yards and 10th in touchdowns.
  • Clemson should cruise through the rest of its regular season schedule with matchups against Syracuse, Pitt, Wake Forest and South Carolina remaining.

 

Washington Remains Unbeaten

Washington may be the most balanced team in the country.  Jake Browning is a solid passer/decision maker and Myles Gaskin is electric (he averages 6.5 yards per carry).  At the same time, the Huskies’ defense has been stout, helping the team win games by an average of 30.4 points per game.

Browning passed for 186 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, and Gaskin rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

Utah’s effort should not go unnoticed, however.  Quarterback Troy Williams threw for 163 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions.  Joe Williams carried the ball 35 times for 17 yards and a touchdown.  24 points are the second most points any team has scored on Washington all season.

Utah’s defense also held the Huskies’ offense to its fewest point total of the season.

Notes:

  • It’s very likely that the Utes and Huskies meet each other again in the Pac-12 championship game.  Utah is currently second, behind Colorado, in the Pac-12 South.  The two will meet in the last week of the season, which will likely decide the South champion.
  • Washington is tied with Washington State for first place in the North.  Washington will play Cal, USC, and Arizona State before a match-up with Washington State during the last week of the season, which could very well decide the North champion.

 

Cornhuskers Can’t Complete Comeback 

Many would consider Nebraska and Wisconsin to be the Big Ten’s third and fourth best teams. They surely played like it yesterday, as Wisconsin staved off a Nebraska comeback to beat the ‘Huskers 23-17 in overtime.

This was a defensive battle as neither team was able to get much going on the offensive end.  The only impressive offensive performance of the day came from Wisconsin’s Dare Ogunbowale.  Ogunbowale rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries (10.9 YPC).

Notes:

  • Nebraska still controls its own destiny in the Big Ten west.  It is currently ahead of Wisconsin with a 4-1 mark in the conference, but the Cornhuskers still have Ohio State to get through.  Wisconsin has a much more favorable remaining schedule (Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota).

 

Other Notes:

-Jimbo Fisher wasn’t happy with the referees.

-Les Miles really wants a new job.

-Boise State lost to the only team that can pull off a brown and yellow uniform combo.

Evan Berry is very fast

-Texas probably has no idea what to do with Charlie Strong. Just when it seems Strong will be axed, he wins a game like yesterday’s upset of Baylor.

-Notre Dame upset Miami but somehow still looked bad.

 

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @skilliter.

Photo: Flickr, Phil Roeder

The SEC West is Wide Open

After Alabama’s convincing, 33-14 victory over Texas A&M last weekend, the SEC West race looks all-but-over.  At times the Crimson Tide look like a tank on its way to a National Title, obliterating anyone and anything that gets in its way.

However, there are currently three SEC West teams with only one loss, and Nick Saban and his team of annihilators have four games left.  Two of those games are against those one-loss teams, and if they do lose one, then what?

LSU and Auburn, the two mentionable teams on Alabama’s schedule, definitely have an outside chance at stealing a conference crown away from the Tide.  Alabama is absolutely the favorite, but don’t put too much money on it.

My prediction of the final SEC West standings has each team in the same order as they are in right now:

Alabama- 12-0, 8-0 SEC

Texas A&M- 10-2, 6-2 SEC

Auburn- 9-3, 6-2 SEC

LSU- 8-3, 6-2 SEC

Arkansas 8-4, 4-4 SEC

Ole Miss- 6-6, 3-5 SEC

Mississippi State- 3-9, 1-7 SEC

 

Here is why LSU and Auburn each have a massive chance to shake things up:

 

LSU

The Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa in two weeks for their annual matchup with Alabama.  A win would put LSU in the driver’s seat to win the west, but the Tigers would still have a match-up with Texas A&M on the final day of the regular season. Beating Alabama and winning out would give LSU the tie-breaker over Alabama, but they would need the Crimson Tide to beat Auburn.  Gus Malzahn and his Auburn Tigers beat LSU at the beginning of the season, giving Auburn a tie-breaker over LSU if they both end the season with one SEC loss.

LSU and Alabama are very similar teams, defensively.  Alabama is the second best team in the conference in total yards given up, while LSU is third.  Alabama has given up the fewest rushing yards per game with LSU right behind them in second place, and the two are only separated by five yards in the passing yards per game category.

Offensively, Leonard Fournette is going to be the best running back the Alabama defense has faced all season.  Fournette averages 8.1 yards per carry, and 3.1 defensive backs destroyed per game.  When he needs a rest, Derrius Guice provides nearly identical relief, averaging 8.0 yards per carry.

Alabama should absolutely win this game, but don’t be shocked if LSU comes out on top.

 

Auburn

Auburn has shown shades of brilliance this season, especially after trouncing Arkansas 56-3 over the weekend.  The Tigers hung with Clemson week one, ultimately losing 19-13.  They have to get past Ole Miss and Georgia, both tough road tests, before meeting Alabama in the final week of the season.  As mentioned, a win in Tuscaloosa would give Auburn the tie-breaker between the two schools, but the Tigers will need help.

Texas A&M currently holds a tie-breaker over Auburn, meaning the Tigers would need New Mexico State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas San-Antonio, or LSU to beat the Aggies during the last five weeks of the season.

Auburn has given up the fourth-fewest points per game in the SEC this season, displaying consistency in stopping the run and the pass.  They rank third in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game and fifth in rushing.

Offensively, the Tigers are very impressive. Auburn leads the conference in rushing yards, averaging 303 yards per game.  The Tigers are led by Kamryn Pettway (5.9 yards per carry, 6 touchdowns) and Kerryon Johnson (5.1 yards per carry, six touchdowns).  While the combo may not be as dynamic as Fournette and Guice for LSU, the combination of speed and strength Pettway and Johnson possess has proven to wear down defenses.

To complement the rushing game, Auburn turns to sophomore quarterback Sean White to help mix things up in the passing game. White, while not the focal point of the Auburn offense, is a great decision maker and has done a nice job leading the offense.  He averages 180.5 yards and a touchdown per game, and he’s only thrown two interceptions this season.

When it’s all said and done, though, you can generally throw statistics out of the window during the biggest college football rivalry game of the year.  Alabama has dominated the Iron Bowl in the last eight years, but in 2013, the last time the Tigers beat the Tide, Auburn was a 10-point underdog.

 

A&M’s Chances Are Slim

Texas A&M needs to win the remainder of its games, including the season finale against LSU, and it needs Alabama to lose two conference games. It seems highly unlikely that Alabama, the best team in the country, will lose to both LSU and Auburn.  I also don’t anticipate A&M beating LSU, even if they are playing in College Station.

However, if A&M does win out, but Auburn ends up being the only team to beat Alabama, things get very complicated.  Alabama will have beaten A&M, A&M will have beaten Auburn, and Auburn will have beaten Alabama. Here is an in-depth look at tie-breakers.

 

So there you have it. The SEC West race is all-but-settled.  Alabama controls its own destiny, but LSU and Auburn will each have an opportunity to change that.

Buckle up.

 

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @skilliter.

 

Photo: Flickr, Connor Tarter

The Sunday Morning Notebook- Meyer, Tide, Utes, and More

Meyer Makes a Mistake

Urban Meyer proved he is a human last night.  His delayed decision to rush his kicking team onto the field late in the game turned a makeable field goal try into six points for Penn State.  Taking three points on a long field goal attempt was uncharacteristic for Meyer in the first place, and the hesitation only made the attempt more difficult.

Those six points gave the Nittany Lions a 24-21 lead with 4:27 left in the game, and the Buckeyes couldn’t answer.

It’s not common for Meyer to make coaching mistakes. That’s an obvious statement if you know anything about his career.  He’s 56-5 as Ohio State’s head coach, and 160-28 all time. When it’s all said and done, this will be an insignificant event in a hall of fame coach’s illustrious career.

For now, though, this loss could be significant.

There are just five weeks left before the Buckeyes host Michigan on November 26, and those five weeks include a meeting with undefeated Nebraska.  A one loss Ohio State squad will likely get into the playoff with a win over Michigan and a Big Ten Championship in the last two weeks of the season.  A two-loss Ohio State team may still get into the playoff with the same resume.

But what if Ohio State beats Michigan and loses in the Big Ten Championship. What if they beat Michigan by a small margin and lose in the Big Ten Championship? Does one loss, conference championship-less Michigan get in over the Bucks?

The “what-ifs” are endless, but if the Buckeyes would have taken care of business last night we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Notes:

  • J.T. Barrett’s Heisman stock took a slight hit.  His numbers were still impressive, but not nearly impressive enough for a player trying to keep pace with Lamar Jackson.  Barrett completed 24 of 43 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown.  His 26 rushing yards were the fewest he’s registered in a game all season, and last night marks just the third time in 2016 that Barrett hasn’t recorded a rushing touchdown.
  • There was absolutely a missed pass interference call on Penn State with a little over a minute left, but there is plenty more for fans to be angry about.  They can start with Ohio State’s offensive line, which gave up six sacks.
  • Penn State Head Coach James Franklin has been on the hot seat all season, but this win likely buys him another year.
  • ESPN’s Mark May never picks Ohio State. If you haven’t heard, he’s been pretty biased against the Buckeyes his whole television career.  However, he picked Ohio State to win last night. Must have been a reverse psychology trick.

Alabama Wins, Then Loses

The most anticipated game of the weekend was a battle of undefeated teams as sixth-ranked Texas A&M traveled to Tuscaloosa to take on number one Alabama.  After falling behind 14-13 early in the second half, Alabama outscored A&M 20-0 in the last 27:54 in the game en route to a 33-14 victory.

A&M went into Saturday’s matchup averaging over 530 yards of total offense per game (1st in SEC), but Alabama, statistically the conference’s second-best defense, held the Aggies to just 278 offensive yards.

‘Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts continued his stellar freshman season by turning in 93 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. He added two more touchdowns and 164 yards through the air.

Alabama did receive some bad news, however, after senior defensive back Eddie Jackson was diagnosed with a broken leg. He is not expected to return this season.  Jackson averages three tackles per game, but plays a big part in the defensive backfield and on special teams. He has one interception returned for a touchdown this season, and he averages 25.8 yards per punt return with two touchdowns.

Notes:

  • Alabama sacked Trevor Knight five times.  The Tide average 3.86 sacks per game, which is good for third in the nation.
  • This fumble recovery for a touchdown marked Alabama’s 10th game in a row in which they’ve scored a non-offensive touchdown.
  • For weeks I’ve been calling Ohio State the best team in the country. After this weekend’s events, I have to eat my words. I’m not sure Ohio State wasn’t more impressive than the Tide for the first part of the season, but Alabama has earned that title.

 

Utah’s Williams Runs Wild in a Classic Pac-12 Shootout

Just over a month ago, Utah’s Joe Williams decided to quit the football team because he wasn’t passionate about the game anymore.

Yesterday, that same Joe Williams rushed for 332 yards and four touchdowns as the Utes outlasted UCLA 52-45.

That’s right, a guy that quit the team and decided to come back a month later turned in college football’s best rushing performance of the season.

You can read about his story elsewhere.

While we’re on the topic of staggering stats, UCLA backup quarterback Mike Fafaul, who was filling in for the injured Josh Rosen, attempted 70 passes, only 19 shy of Connor Halliday’s NCAA record of 89 attempts in 2013.  Fafaul completed 40 of those attempts for 464 yards, five touchdowns, and four interceptions.

Notes:

  • Utah is 7-1 this season, with a 4-1 mark against Pac-12 opponents.  The Utes are in first place in the Pac-12 South.  Next week they will host the undefeated Washington Huskies, who are ranked number five in the nation.  Don’t miss it.
  • In a preseason media poll, UCLA was picked to finished first in the Pac-12 South Division.  The Bruins are currently 3-5 overall and are fifth out of six teams in the Pac-12 South.

 

Other Notes:

-11th Ranked Houston lost 38-16 to SMU. That’s the Cougars’ second loss of the season. If Tom Herman’s Cougars keep struggling, Herman’s price tag could drop significantly.

-Lamar Jackson was excellent once again. Jackson accounted for 359 yards and four touchdowns in Louisville’s win over North Carolina State — in the first half.  After easing up on the gas in the second half, Jackson finished with 355 yards and three touchdowns through the air, and another 76 yards and a touchdown on the ground.  He is still the clear favorite to win the Heisman trophy.

-Leonard Fournette returned from injury and broke LSU’s single game rushing record after just eight carries.  Fournette finished the night with video game numbers, amassing 284 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. That’s an average of 17.8 yards per carry.

-Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook has been on an absolute tear during the last four weeks. After his receiving performance of 202 yards and two touchdowns last night against Texas Tech, Westbrook is averaging 194 yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game over his last four games.

-I’d mention the rest of Oklahoma’s unbelievable offensive performances from last night, but playing against Big 12 defenses isn’t nearly as impressive as it used to be.

-BYU made the gutsiest fake punt call of the season, and perhaps ever.  It didn’t work.

-However, this Virginia fake-ish field goal did work, and it was awesome.

 

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @skilliter.

Photo: Wikipedia

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Despite Slow Start, Kentucky Going Bowling in 2016

Before the season began, most people pegged the Kentucky Wildcats as an improving program that would reach a bowl game in 2016.  With a new, multi-million-dollar training center open for business and a highly touted four-star quarterback under center, the hopes of Big Blue Nation were soaring.  A six-win season seemed imminent, and seven or eight wins seemed entirely achievable.

Generally, the preseason hype lasts until midseason.  Last season, Kentucky was 4-1 before a five-game losing streak. Two years ago the ‘Cats ran their record to 5-1 (including a 3OT loss at Florida) before six straight losses ended the postseason dream.

However, this season the excitement dwindled after just two quarters when Southern Mississippi outscored the ‘Cats 34-0 in the final 31 minutes of the season opener to deliver a crushing blow to the chest of Big Blue Nation.  That was followed by a 45-7 stomping in the Swamp against Florida.

By week two, the “fire Mark Stoops” chorus was ringing loudly.  The attendance for week three’s match-up with New Mexico State was dismal, and the bowl berth storyline turned into a farce.

Since the loss at Florida, though, Kentucky is 3-1, losing by merely 28 points to an Alabama team that beat Tennessee by 39.

After losing its margin-of-error by falling to Southern Mississippi, could Kentucky really still go bowling?

Yes.

There are enough winnable games left on the schedule, and even if the Wildcats can’t pull off an upset somewhere in-between, they could still absolutely find themselves playing late in December.

 

10/22 Mississippi State

The Bulldogs are 2-4 this season with wins against South Carolina and Massachusetts.

Kentucky and MSU are statistically very similar on both sides of the ball. The Bulldogs score 24.8 points per game compared to Kentucky’s 24.5.  Defensively, Mississippi State gives up 446 yards per game to Kentucky’s 442.7. The Wildcats give up 31.3 points per game while MSU allows just one less, 30.3.

The difference in the game will be Kentucky’s rushing attack. Mississippi State has given up the third-most rushing yards in the SEC, which will make it incredibly hard for them to stop Benny Snell Jr. (5.1 YPC) and Boom Williams (7.1 YPC).

Kentucky will wear down the Mississippi State defense and come away with the victory for win number four.

10/29 @ Missouri

Missouri (2-4, 0-3 SEC) has played a tough schedule so far this season, losing to West Virginia, Georgia, LSU, and Florida. Of all the teams Kentucky should beat on the remainder of the schedule, Missouri has the best chance of playing spoiler.

Believe it or not, Missouri has the fifth highest points-per-game average in the Southeastern Conference.  However, the Tigers’ have relied heavily on the passing game for offensive success.  While the numbers representing Kentucky’s pass defense aren’t stellar, the defensive secondary has been playing much better since Stoops took over the defensive play-calling.

The ‘Cats will have to work for this one, but will come away with win number five.

11/5 Georgia

Vanderbilt pulled off an upset of Georgia. Can Kentucky?

Doubtful.

Vanderbilt relied heavily on defense to beat Georgia last weekend.  The Wildcats’ only hope to beat Georgia is to stop the Bulldogs’ run game, which ranks fifth in the SEC.  After giving up 254 rushing yards per game through the first three games of the season, Kentucky has given up just 136 per game in its last three.

Kentucky has the potential of upsetting Georgia at home, but the Bulldogs are the safer pick on November 5. Kentucky will fall to 5-4.

11/12 @ Tennessee

Kentucky is 1-30 against Tennessee since 1985.

I can’t pick Kentucky here, although Tennessee’s tendency to play down to its competition should be noted.

Tennessee will hand Kentucky loss number five of the season.

11/19 Austin Peay

It’s always nice to have an FCS opponent sandwiched on your schedule between two tough road rivalry games, especially when you’re playing for a bowl bid.

Kentucky will cruise to its sixth win of the season, the program’s first time reaching that mark since 2010.

11/26 @ Louisville

Forget it.

Kentucky will end the regular season with a loss, finishing at 6-6.

 

Six wins for an SEC school generally means a December trip to the Birmingham Bowl or the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Either way, Kentucky fans will finally get what they’ve been waiting for; noticeable improvements from Mark Stoops and Kentucky’s first bowl berth since 2010.

 

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @skilliter.

 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Sunday Morning Notebook- Bucks Barely Beat Badgers

Another week, another notebook.

Enjoy.

Badgers Badger Bucks, Come Up Short

Playing Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium at night is no easy task. However, Ohio State rose to the occasion and left Madison with its best win of the season, notching a 30-23 overtime victory over the 8th ranked Badgers.

The Buckeyes’ resiliency should have settled the nerves of some fans, but the stubborn play calling may have added to Buckeye Nation’s apprehensiveness.  All season long, Ohio State’s play callers have stuck to quarterback read-options and off-tackle rushes, as well as pitch-options to the outside.

There were moments in the game where that style of offense wasn’t working, but the coaching staff refused change, similar to last season’s OSU-Michigan State match up that yielded Ezekiel Elliott’s post-game criticism of the play calling.  It may have worked last night, but the Buckeyes may have to show the ability to improvise against teams like Michigan or anyone they may face in postseason play.

Notes:

  • J.T. Barrett continued his Heisman campaign by completing 17 of 29 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown while adding 92 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 21 carries.  He should be sitting in the front row when the winner’s name is read, not for his statistics alone, but also the leadership he’s shown this season.
  • Wisconsin’s Corey Clement was the most impressive player on the field last night. The senior RB averaged 6.6 yards per carry after racking up 164 yards on 25 touches.

Opinion: Early in the game, Clement fumbled the ball after a 68-yard run.  Ohio State initially recovered, but a review of the play showed that the ball inadvertently touched Clement while he was out of bounds, which, by rule, made Wisconsin the recovering team. As a result, the Badgers retained possession.

The proper call was made based on the rules of the game, but this is a bad rule. Chris Worley, the defender that forced the fumble, made a great play to dislodge the ball and the Bucks’ Damon Webb worked hard to make the recovery, but the Badgers got the ball back despite no effort to make a recovery.  This doesn’t seem right, does it?

  

Lucky Louisville 

The weekend got started Friday night with a near-upset in Louisville.  So near, in fact, that Duke didn’t ruin its chance to win the game until a roughing the kicker penalty gave Louisville a first down with 2:00 left in the game.  The extra yardage and free first down ultimately resulted in a touchdown for the Cardinals to put them ahead 24-14.

How did 3-3 Duke hang with one of the best teams in the country?

Efficiency.

Duke’s offense was on the field for nearly 15 more minutes than Louisville and extended drives by converting 50 percent of third downs.  The goal was clearly to keep the ball out of Lamar Jackson’s hands, which helped the Blue Devils contain a team that averaged 58 points per game heading into Friday’s matchup.

Notes:

  • Louisville better not take North Carolina State lightly next week.  The Wolfpack did their own rendition of “near spoiler” this week. 
  • Jackson did struggle passing the ball (13 of 26, 181 yds, TD), but he turned in a Heisman-like performance on the ground, rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.

 

Watson’s Wild Win

NC State almost shocked the world, but the pressure was too much for Wolfpack kicker Kyle Bambard and the Tigers escaped with a 24-17 overtime victory.  Bambard had actually made the same field goal moments before he missed it, but it didn’t count as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney called a timeout before the snap.

After Clemson’s Deshaun Watson’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Artavis Scott put the Tigers up seven in the first OT, Marcus Edmond intercepted a Ryan Finley pass on NC State’s first play to cap the victory.

Unlike the Louisville-Duke game, this contest was very sloppy.  Clemson, which has had trouble holding onto the football this season, fumbled the ball five times and lost three of them. NC State was unable to capitalize on any of them, otherwise, they may have had a chance at a convincing victory.

Notes:

  • Watson, who has been on the Heisman Trophy watch list for most of the season, completed 39 of 52 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns. The performance wasn’t better than Jackson’s for Louisville, but enough to keep him on the short list for the award.
  • Clemson’s toughest remaining test comes in two weeks when they travel to Florida State. The Seminoles have had a tough time in big games this season, and I don’t think Clemson will have a problem. It helps that the Tigers are off next Saturday, giving them an extra week to prepare.  A quick glance at the Tigers schedule makes them a clear favorite to play in the ACC Championship game.

 

Vols Can’t Compete

Tennessee has been less-than-impressive all season long, and it finally showed on a big stage as the Vols were demolished by top-ranked Alabama, 49-10, at home.

Offensively, the Vols were atrocious. Quarterback Josh Dobbs completed 16 of 27 passes for just 92 yards (3.4 yards per completion if you’re wondering), no touchdowns and one interception.  Jalen Hurd, who was returning from injury, carried the ball 13 times for 28 yards. As a team, Tennessee finished with an average of one yard per carry.

Alabama’s offense focused on the run game as the Tide finished with three 90+ yard rushers and five rushing touchdowns.

The 39 point loss is Tennessee’s largest margin of defeat since they lost by 45 points to Oregon in 2013.

To put the loss in perspective, Alabama beat Western Kentucky and Kentucky by 28 points each, and those match-ups were in Tuscaloosa.  Beating the Vols on the road by 39 points is a huge statement for the Crimson Tide, as if they needed one.

Notes:

  • This loss puts Florida on top of the SEC East. Side note: A quick look at the SEC East standings finds Kentucky in second place.  I don’t mention the Wildcats often in these notebooks because I try to keep these articles interesting, but I will enjoy my favorite team being close to the top while I can.
  • Tennessee will be a huge favorite in the rest of the games they play this season, while Florida must travel to Arkansas and LSU.   The East, while the standings don’t show much separation now, is likely a two-team race, but the Volunteers are the favorite thanks to that fairly easy back-end of the schedule.

 

Quick Notes:

-The ACC slate was fun this week. Other than the games already mentioned, Wake Forest gave Florida State a scare, North Carolina upset 16th ranked Miami, and Syracuse beat number 17 Virginia Tech by two scores.

-Watch Wayne Gallman go airborne.

-Look what Brandon Reilly found.

-Christian McCaffrey is the cog that makes Stanford go (which you probably already knew). Without him, they are even worse than they are with him.

-Behold the boldest fake punt ever (it didn’t work).

 

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @skilliter.

 

Photo by: By Kentucky National Guard [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons