Tag Archives: Baker Mayfield

Smackdown Fridays: Houston Dooms Oklahoma’s Playoff Run Far Sooner than Expected

In the course of human events, when it becomes necessary for one Group of 5 team to assert its dominance over a Power 5 foe, rest assured that team will probably be the Houston Cougars. It’s the circle of life. It’s bound to happen sooner or later.

After Houston’s comfortable 38-24 victory over #12 Florida State in last season’s Peach Bowl, who’s to say the Cougars can’t hang with the big boys? Critics may cherry-pick their easy schedule or a narrow victory here and there to excuse the program’s 2015 success, but Houston has a prime opportunity to prove those critics wrong. To open the season, the Cougars face Oklahoma.

I have some news for you: Oklahoma is overrated as hell.

Don’t worry, it isn’t just Oklahoma. It’s the entire Big 12. After the conference faithful finally finished whining about being (rightfully) excluded from the College Football Playoff, it seems it’s destined to happen again. The Sooners seem to be the conference’s best bet to clinch a berth, but I have serious concerns.  This Saturday, expect those concerns to become realities. Oklahoma is begging for an upset.

Assuredly, there are Sooner die-hards and Big 12 buffs reading this and foaming at the mouth, fuming over my casual dismissal of one of college football’s premier conferences. Well, the truth is, your conference can’t be premier if the Kansas Jayhawks are in it.

The Big 12 hasn’t claimed a national championship since Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns in 2005. These days, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vince Young waiting on my table at Sizzler. For their part, Oklahoma hasn’t won a national championship since 2000. That was way back when the BCS was actually hip and cool. My point? Picking against the Big 12- or Oklahoma- doesn’t scare me in the slightest.

So I’m taking the Houston Cougars to upset the Oklahoma Sooners this Saturday. And I’m doing so with gusto.

I’ll come out and say something nobody else will say: Tom Herman is currently a better football coach than Bob Stoops. Stoops has seventeen years of head coaching experience and one national championship to show for it. Meanwhile, Herman has been a head coach for all of one season.

Can anybody forget the Ohio State’s offense crumbling after Herman’s departure last season? Second to Urban Meyer, there was nobody more integral to that national championship. Stoops won his championship outright, Herman won his by proxy. Herman also managed to make Braxton Miller, then J.T. Barrett, then Cardale Jones, and now Greg Ward Jr. into Heisman-caliber signal callers. He’s legit. I expect Herman to flash his legit-ness and win the coaching battle in this interstate showdown.

By now, Oklahoma fans are likely loading their muskets and readying their covered wagons to come burn me at the stake, so I’ll go one step further. Greg Ward Jr. will perform better this Saturday than Baker Mayfield. Last season, only two quarterbacks rushed for 1,000 yards and passed for 2,000 yards. One was Greg Ward Jr. The other was Deshaun Watson. You know, the same Deshaun Watson that torched the Sooners 37-17 in the Orange Bowl.

The Sooners will struggle with containing Ward Jr. just as they struggled with containing Watson. The Sooners allowed a ho-hum 161.7 rushing yards per game last season, including 312 yards in the contest against the Tigers. Ward Jr. will be able to make enough big plays to keep momentum in Houston’s favor and the chips in Herman’s hand.

See, Baker Mayfield could throw for 350 yards on the Cougars. And guess what? It wouldn’t matter. Mayfield posted an impressive outing in the Orange Bowl, but even he couldn’t overcome the Sooners’ meager 67 rushing yards. With Houston’s eighth ranked rushing defense returning in full force, don’t expect the Sooners to do much better this time around. Forcing Baker Mayfield to throw might be a major gamble, so they’ll need a fresh secondary to earn their stripes on the largest of stages. Houston proved their resilience thirteen times last season. They can do it again.

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard- the Big 12 is probably expanding. Add yet another chip to the underdog’s shoulder. If Houston wins this game, no further proof of their worthiness should be necessary.

That, unfortunately, doesn’t mean they’ll get in.

You know what? Let Big 12 heavyweights like the Sooners sit back and play politics with the futures of schools like the University of Houston.  Saturday night, Houston has an opportunity to score a larger victory far from the board room: complicate Oklahoma’s playoff bid far Sooner than expected.

E-mail Cole at cole [dot] hankins [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The Big 12’s Best Football Games of 2016

Last year the Big 12 looked to be one of the best conferences, at least at the top, with TCU and Baylor heading into 2015 in the top five. It was hard to get any clarification on which team would prevail because the conference back-loaded the schedule, having most of the big games at the end of the year. By that point Oklahoma was on a roll, and Baylor and TCU had been hit with key injuries. What games will determine the Big 12 champ in 2016? Here are the best Big 12 games to look forward to in 2016, along with a couple non-conference games that will keep fans on the edge of their seat.

10. Texas vs. Iowa State (Saturday, October 15)

Texas had an abysmal season in 2015, but nothing was worse than getting shutout 24-0 by the Iowa State Cyclones. The game isn’t in a great spot for Texas, coming after back-to-back weeks versus Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, but I’m guessing the Longhorns won’t want to be embarrassed again.

9. Texas vs. Baylor (Saturday, October 29)

Texas beat Baylor last year, but Baylor having to play its eighteenth string quarterback played a big part in that. Outside of that, Baylor has dominated the series since 2010. The loser of this game will likely be out of the conference race with a month left in the season.

8. Baylor vs. TCU (Saturday, November, 11)

This matchup has featured the conference’s best two teams over the past few seasons. Two years ago it was one of the most exciting games of the past couple years while last year’s couldn’t have been more opposite, thanks to injuries and awful weather. Hopefully we get something closer to the 2014 version between two teams that now expect to compete for conference championships year after year.

7. Baylor vs. Oklahoma State (Saturday, September 24)

Last year Baylor ended Oklahoma State’s undefeated run (10-0) with a 45-35 win in Stillwater. This time it will be each team’s first conference game so both will be hoping to launch an undefeated conference season. Baylor has to replace six starters on each side of the ball so the timing couldn’t be better for a Cowboys team that returns 16. With nine of those starters coming on offense, this game could hit 100 total points.

6. Texas vs. Notre Dame (Saturday, September 3)

Notre Dame absolutely embarrassed Texas last year in the season opener. The Longhorns will try to get revenge on their turf this year but the Irish are expected to be the much better team again in 2016 (7:30 est on ABC). If this game ends similarly to last season’s debacle, it could be the beginning of the end for Charlie Strong in Austin.

5. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, October 8)

Though Texas has now been down for a while, it always shows up for the Red River Rivalry. This is one where you really can throw records out the window. Last year’s unlikely Longhorns’ win over the Sooners almost cost Oklahoma a trip to the playoff. Oklahoma will likely be favored in this game, but the Longhorns should show improvement this year which means another contested rivalry game with Big 12 championship ramifications.

4. TCU vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, October 1)

Two years ago TCU’s upset against Oklahoma propelled it to arguably the best season in school history. Though devastated by injuries last year, the Horned Frogs almost derailed the Sooners’ playoff bid in Norman. This year TCU has to reload on offense, and this will be a big game early in the season that determines if TCU’s program has reached “reload not rebuild” status.

3. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, December 3)

Oklahoma State exceeded expectations last year in what was thought to be more of a rebuilding year. Now with 16 starters back (most in the Big 12) the expectation will be to compete for the conference crown. If they can survive a tough conference road slate, this one could decide the Big 12 title. If not, the the Pokes will still seek revenge for the Sooners blasting them in the Bedlam rivalry game a year ago.

2. Oklahoma vs. Ohio State (Saturday, September 17)

Oklahoma gets an early test that could determine its season’s fate. Ohio State could learn the ceiling of its season with just six starters back. Even with some uncertainty between the teams, a non-conference matchup with two Heisman contending quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett) will be must-see television.

1. Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday, November 12)

This game has often been a de facto Big 12 Championship game in recent years, and the winner of this one could have the inside track this year as well (if Oklahoma doesn’t perform its usual meltdown in years with high expectations). Both teams have a lot to replace on defense, but with Seth Russell and Baker Mayfield returning, as well as a plethora of skill position talent for each school, neither team should have a problem putting up points.

E-mail Jason at or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

 

Featured image courtesy frankleleon

The Best Football Games of 2016

It has felt like forever since Alabama knocked off Clemson for the national title. But worry not college football aficionados, it’s getting closer. Spring games are in the books and in just a couple short months, preview magazines will be hitting the shelves. Before we know it we’ll be settling in for another exciting college football season.

I recently listed the best ten games each conference has to offer in 2016, but here I’ve whittled those down to the ten best games to look forward to in 2016. Fans have been looking forward to some of these games for two or three years. Do those games look as exciting now as they did when they were scheduled? Let’s find out.

10. LSU at Wisconsin (Saturday, September 3)

We begin the Top 10 Games of 2016 with the first of four games from the opening weekend (3:30 pm est, ABC). If that doesn’t get you as riled up for college football as spring game attendance numbers do then I don’t know what will. This is the one game where the off-field storylines probably over-shadow the on-field ones. Dave Aranda just became LSU’s defensive coordinator after leaving the same position at Wisconsin. Not only is an SEC team playing north of the Mason-Dixon line a rare occurrence, it’s an SEC team playing a virtual road game, in Wisconsin. Oh, and it’s at Lambeau Field. There have been just a few classic games played there.

9. Oklahoma at Houston (Saturday, September 3)

Oklahoma is getting a lot more than it bargained for, because I’m guessing they didn’t think Houston would be a top 15-type team when this game was announced a couple years ago. A Sooner defense that replaces half of its starters, including its best pass-rushers, will get to face dynamic Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. On the other side, Houston will be starting four new defensive backs and gets to try and limit Heisman contender Baker Mayfield. Expect points, lots of them (ABC, Noon est). And the loser? They leave opening weekend not being able to afford another loss the rest of the way if they want to make the Playoff.

8. Florida State at Ole Miss (Monday, September 5)

The Seminoles and the Rebels doesn’t have quite the same ring to it that some of the other games on this list do, but it could be just as important. The Seminoles will be ranked highly to begin the year, but a loss on opening weekend would leave them no margin for error the rest of the season. The Rebels probably missed their golden opportunity a season ago, but their bid to dispel that notion can get off to a strong start with a win here. A few years of great recruiting classes mean Ole Miss can match up with Florida State talent wise. The Rebels also have a quarterback returning in Chad Kelly,who led the Rebels to wins over Alabama and LSU last year. On an opening weekend that features plenty of intriguing match-ups, this stand-alone game on Labor Day night is the perfect ending.

7. Ohio State at Oklahoma (Saturday, September 17)

These two teams have scheduled tough out-of-conference contests for years, but this one raises the bar. It’s hard to say this game has lost some of its luster when both teams could be ranked in the top 10. As it sits now however, there is a lot more uncertainty between these two programs than fans would have hoped when the game was announced. Having to replace key starters on defense, it will be difficult for Oklahoma to replicate the success it had last year, and it’s hard to know what to expect out of a Buckeye team that brings back just six starting players. All of these factors keep this game from being top five on this list. Both of these teams easily reload, and with Heisman contenders at quarterback in Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett, this match-up is still one of the best non-conferences games we’ll see all year (7:30 pm est on Fox).

6. Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday, November 12)

The shift in the Big 12 has been amazing the past couple years, with Baylor vs. TCU being the game. Oklahoma took back some of that hold with its Big 12 championship last year. With TCU’s season looking much more like a rebuild, it leaves the Bears and Sooners to battle as the conference favorites. Both teams should have potent offenses, and with questionable defenses, this game should provide an entertaining four hours even if both teams aren’t still in the playoff race.

5. Stanford at Notre Dame (Saturday, October 15)

The Cardinal and Irish played an instant classic last season that Stanford won narrowly, 38-36. It was effectively a playoff elimination game and could be again this season. Stanford will have to replace Kevin Hogan, who won 36 games under center for the Cardinal. That won’t be a huge disadvantage in a 2016 Pac-12 conference that sees a lot of teams having to replace their starting signal-caller as well. Because of this, Stanford will have its sights set on another Pac-12 championship, but this mid-season non-conference game will determine if the conference title or a playoff spot is the Cardinal’s ceiling. On the other side, Notre Dame will be looking to make up for an opportunity lost last year when they came so close to making the Playoff, even after suffering a multitude of injuries at key spots. This game will be their best chance to put a statement win on their resume (7:30 pm est, NBC).

4. Alabama vs. USC (Saturday, September 3)

This is one of the aforementioned games that fans have looked forward to for years, since the day it was announced. Though the Trojans haven’t exactly lived up to their end of the bargain in terms of making this a matchup of playoff contenders, the game is still reason enough to clear your schedule on the season’s opening Saturday night. Alabama may have gotten back to the top of the college football mountain, but the defense was still vulnerable against playmakers, which USC has. Both teams will have a new starting quarterback under center and what a way to break them in. Need one more reason to tune in? These storied programs haven’t played in over 30 years, so who knows when we’ll see it again (ABC at 8:00 pm est).

3. Clemson at Florida State (Saturday, October 29)

It’s the annual “which team is the ACC’s playoff contender” game. Florida State has every starter returning on offense, most important of which is electric running back Dalvin Cook. Clemson has the Heisman favorite in quarterback Deshaun Watson. Both offenses should be great, but this one will be decided by whose defense makes enough plays. The Seminoles’ stop unit has been underwhelming the last couple years considering the talent on hand, and the Tigers’ have to replace five defensive starters who left early for the NFL draft.

2. Michigan at Ohio State (Saturday, November 26)

“The Game” finally returned to national prominence thanks to Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh had Michigan ahead of schedule in 2015, but the Buckeyes showed they still had a ways to go, laying the smack down on the Wolverines to end each team’s regular season. This year looks to be different, however. Michigan might be ranked in the top five while Ohio State has just six starters returning. With the Wolverine’s trying to make a playoff push, will it be Urban Meyer’s squad in the spoiler role?

1. Alabama at LSU (Saturday, November 5)

For almost a decade, the winner of this game became an instant front-runner for a spot in the BCS Championship Game or College Football Playoff. This year will be no different. After answering questions about their dynasty potentially falling, the Crimson Tide will have few naysayers this season. With the cupboard as full as it always is for Nick Saban, he’ll be expected to lead Alabama to the Playoff once again. On the other side is LSU, which feels like it’s coming off a disappointing season, even after finishing 10-3. With the most starters in the nation returning (spurring a likely top 10 pre-season ranking), this is Les Miles chance to over-take Saban and get back atop the SEC.

Feature image courtesy Matt Velazquez

Big 12 Links: Bishop, Briles and $1 Billion

On Monday, Baylor hired former Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe after firing Art Briles .Grobe resigned from Wake Forest two years ago after spending 13 years there. Following this announcement, Baylor’s athletic director Ian McCaw resigned after he was placed on probation. The president of Baylor Ken Starr has also resigned.

Some people need to learn to keep their mouths closed. Staley Lebby, the daughter of Art Briles and also the wife of Baylor’s running backs coach spoke in her father’s defense via Facebook Thursday. Lebby said that her father’s firing was a “media witch hunt” and said that her father is a “man of incredible character”. It surprises me that her dad let her speak up on this matter and to do it on Facebook seems a little unprofessional to me.

This week it came out why Robert James Castaneda was kicked off of the Texas Tech football team in May. Castaneda told investigators that he took a gun safe with at least seven weapons in it. He also took a television and a camera from a home in Lubbock Texas in December. Castaneda was arrested on Friday and was released on a $5,000 bond. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

After 20 seasons at Texas, Augie Garrido, the winningest coach in college baseball history, is out. Texas had its first losing season since 1998 and will miss the post season for the third time in five years. Augie will still be around the university as a special assistant to the athletic director. Garrido has been honored six times as the national coach of the year and will be inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in July.

Michael Bishop, former Kansas State quarterback, is up for the College Football Hall of Fame. Bishop is one of the 75 players and six coaches on the ballot. Bishop led the Wildcats to two 11-win seasons in 1997 and 1998 and led the Wildcats to their first number 1 ranking in history. Bishop has been honored in the Kansas State Ring of Honor, Kansas Sports Hall of Fame and the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame. Mark Simoneau and coach Bill Snyder are two Wildcats that have been honored already in the College Football Hall of Fame. Bishop is up against some very tough competition on the 2017 ballot. Eight players who played on Big 12 teams. I am not sure if this year is the year he will be voted in, but hopefully it will happen soon.

Baker Mayfield will not play an extra year at Oklahoma. The Big 12 voted on the walk-on transfer rule for Mayfield this week at the Big 12 meetings. The vote ended in a 5-5 tie that means it did not pass. Bob Stoops was not happy about the decision that was made. Stoops stated “ I’m incredibly disappointed the rule change proposal wasn’t passed today at the big 12 meetings. I hope the conference will reconsider its decision and put the welfare of the student athletes first. It only makes sense for the Big 12’s rules to be consistent with those of the NCAA when it comes to non-scholarship walk-on student-athletes. “ Mayfield could transfer and play at a school in another conference in 2017 as a graduate transfer if he wanted. If he ends up doing this it will not look good for the Big 12. If I were a transfer athlete looking for a school this decision would make me not choose a school in the Big 12. As of yesterday the Big 12 voted to change a transfer rule for walk-ons that would allow them to change schools within the conference and not lose a year of eligibility.

This week the Big 12 administrators are going to be presenting information that will show that the Big 12 Conference can earn at least $1 billion dollars if it decides to expand. This money would come from TV rights contracts they would gain from the expansion. This amount would be if the Big 12 decided to expand by four teams, which I don’t see happening. If it only expanded with two teams then they would gain around $500 million dollars. This won’t help the current Big 12 teams but it would make sure that the conference wouldn’t fall behind the other Power 5 conferences like the direction it is currently going in.

Image 

Top 10 NCAA Quarterbacks for 2016

Quarterback is the most important position in football. (I’ll give you a moment to recover from this earth-shattering news) but this is especially the case in college football. Because of the talent discrepancies between top and bottom tier teams, even within a conference, a quarterback can single-handedly propel his team to the college football playoff. Additionally, top-notch quarterbacks who have exceptionally running ability can take over a game simply in that manner in a way that isn’t possible in the NFL. A great quarterback can make up for losses at the skill positions and keep his team in the game during shootouts.

Today, we’ll look at the top 10 quarterbacks heading into the 2016 season. This isn’t simply which quarterbacks had the best stats last year and are returning this year, or the ones that will have the best stats this year. It is a combination of statistical proficiency, pro potential, and who could lead their team to great things in 2016.

10. Chad Kelly – Ole Miss

Kelly is basically the de facto best quarterback in the SEC as he is the only returning quarterback to even finish in the top half of the nation in passing yards in 2015. That shouldn’t be a slight against Kelly since he put together a great year in his first season as the Rebels starting quarterback. It will be much tougher this year however without Laremy Tunsil protecting his blindside and fellow NFL draftees Laquan Treadwell and Cody Core gone from the receiving core.

9. Brad Kaaya – Miami (Fl.)

If Kaaya can regain his touchdown total from his freshman year (26) and add that to his improving accuracy (61% last year) it might be enough to make this list. It’s his potential however that has scouts salivating. Deshaun Watson is the favorite to be the number one pick in next year’s draft, but Kaaya is getting first round buzz as well. That buzz partially stems from the arrival of new coach Mark Richt, who has produced a plethora of quality quarterbacks in his career (Matthew Stafford, David Greene, Aaron Murray to name a few). If Kaaya wants to move into the top five, he’ll have to prove he can elevate Miami to outperform its run-of-the-mill expectations.

8. Notre Dame Starting QB

Alright this is a bit of a copout, but whoever ends up getting the starting gig for the Irish cannot be ignored. DeShone Kizer stepped in last year after Maliz Zaire got hurt early in 2015 and nearly led the Irish to a playoff spot. Zaire now returns as a junior after showing vast potential in his limited playing time for the Irish. If he’s able to beat out Kizer after the season Kizer had, Notre Dame fans know they are in good hands. On a team that is poised to make a run at a playoff spot again, whoever starts for the Irish will be a household name.

7. Josh Rosen – UCLA

There is a lot of potential put into this ranking of the UCLA sophomore, but it’s not as if Rosen has done nothing to warrant such hope. It can be tough to walk in as a prized recruit and perform from the moment you step on campus, but all Josh Rosen did was throw for 23 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and finish top 20 in the nation in passing yards as a true freshman. He’ll look to build on those numbers and to help him do so, he’s packed on some muscle which should help prevent him from wearing down as the year goes on. The Pac-12 doesn’t have a clear contender entering 2016, and Rosen has the talent to make the Bruins the front-runner as the year goes on.

6. Greg Ward Jr. – Houston

Ward might be the preeminent dual-threat quarterback in the country after rushing for 21 touchdowns and over 1,100 yards a season ago. First-year coach Tom Herman took Greg Ward’s (and Houston’s) offensive performance to the next level, and if they make even the slightest improvements from last year, Ward may find himself at the Heisman ceremony. Not just a runner, Ward Jr had a respectable 8.2 yards per attempt and a near 3:1 TD:INT ratio. Adding to his importance? The Cougars only loss of 2015 came in the game he all but missed.

5. Luke Falk – Washington State

I could go on and on about Falk, but our guy Mike Wilson did a great job detailing the Wazzou quarterback this past week. What I will say about Falk is this: he threw for 300 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in a blizzard in Washington State’s bowl game. As a fan of Miami (the Cougars’ opponent that day) I was thankful there was a snowstorm because it felt like he could go for 500 easily.

4. Baker Mayfield – Oklahoma

Getting to some heavy hitters here as many thought Mayfield deserved to be a Heisman finalist in 2015 after leading the Sooners to a spot in the college football playoff. He enters this year with the fourth best odds to take home the honor, and team expectations will be high as well with Oklahoma assuredly starting the year in the top 10. Mayfield was often the force behind keeping the Sooners’ hopes alive last year, but they may prove more difficult in 2016 without the help of superb wideout Sterling Shephard. Mayfield also won’t get the numbers that other top quarterbacks may achieve because of the running back tandem of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, maybe the best duo in the nation.

3. Seth Russell – Baylor

Russell is just the next quarterback in line to lead a prolific Baylor Bears offense. After stepping into the role a year ago, Russell was carving up opponents to the tune of 29 touchdowns, six picks, and an astonishing 10.5 yards per attempt just halfway through the season before a neck injury ended his year. Russell will be without first-round draft pick Corey Coleman this year, but Baylor is stocked with top WR recruits and with a usually questionable defense, Russell will be slinging it well into the second half. Well, when the Bears are playing a real team anyway.

2. J.T. Barrett – Ohio State

It’s easy to forget just how good Barrett was in 2014 after Cardale Jones’ 3-game run to end the year and the subsequent season-long offensive non-sense in Columbus in 2015. Barrett merely completed 64-plus percent of his passes on 9.0 yards per attempt, accounting for 45 touchdowns during his freshman campaign two years ago. Now that the team is his again, I expect a lot more of 2014 J.T. Barrett to come.

1. Deshaun Watson – Clemson

Sometimes the right answer is the most obvious one. Watson fulfilled the potential he showed in his freshman year by leading Clemson to a national title appearance, falling short against Alabama even though he threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns against arguably the nation’s best defense. After finishing as a Heisman finalist in 2015, Watson is the favorite to land the award in 2016 when he’ll lead an offense that returns eight starters, in addition to potential first-round pick at WR Mike Williams, who missed basically all of last year.

Featured image courtesy Tom Magliery

 

Pre-season Top 10 Teams That Could Disappoint

By the end of every season there are teams that have been huge disappointments. There always seem to be a couple teams that make us question the purpose of pre-season polls, teams that start the year in the top 10 but tumble their way out of it by the end of the year. Many times it’s teams that look to be on the upswing from the previous year, but haven’t actually had a one- or two-loss season to make them deserving of a top 10 ranking. Other times it is a much tougher schedule or unforeseen factors that result in a team not living up to expectations. Based on projected pre-season polls, these are the teams I believe are the most vulnerable that will likely start in the top 10.

Oklahoma Sooners

There are plenty of reasons the Sooners would be ranked high to kick off the 2016 season. They’re coming off an 11-2 season that ended with an appearance in the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is returning as well as maybe the best backfield in the country with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. But much of this call is based on history. Oklahoma’s M.O. is that it does well when pre-season expectations are low (like 2015), but flames out when it begins a season in the top 10. If you’re looking for on the field reasons, the Sooners have to replace Mayfield’s security blanket with Sterling Shepard off to the NFL and the defense loses its best pass rushers. The Sooners also play arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation this year with games against Houston and Ohio State.

Michigan Wolverines

I don’t doubt that Jim Harbaugh will have the Wolverines competing for championships real soon, but it seems premature to have Michigan in the top 10 before the season even starts this year. Harbaugh is a great coach, but last year showed he just didn’t have the talent level to compete with the upper-echelon teams yet. The Wolverines lost at Utah to begin the 2015 season, were blown out by Ohio State, and their best win was probably..Northwestern? Harbaugh will get the most out of his talent and will have to work his QB magic with a new signal-caller. The Wolverines may win double-digit games, but with a schedule that includes road games against Michigan State, Iowa, and Ohio State, I wouldn’t expect a playoff appearance just yet.

Baylor Bears

Baylor had a fairly remarkable season when you consider the injuries it sustained at quarterback. Now that Seth Russell returns healthy, it could be other factors that derail the Bears season. The Bears lost a lot of key players on defense, including defensive linemen Shawn Oakman and Andrew Billings who could each be picked in the top couple rounds of the NFL Draft. The run defense could be an issue during a three-game stretch where the Bears play at Texas, home versus TCU, and at Oklahoma. It will leave Baylor having to outscore teams which has often the case over the past few years. The Bears will certainly have the skill position talent to do so, but only if there is enough room to work behind an offensive line that returns just one starter from a year ago.

Stanford Cardinal

It’s tough to put the Cardinal on this list, because they’ve been making prognosticators look bad and out-performing expectations for years now. They’ve become one of those teams you just expect to be good no matter what. A few years ago Stanford had to replace Andrew Luck, but was fortunate to have Kevin Hogan in line, who ended up winning 36 games as a Cardinal quarterback. Hogan certainly wasn’t the player Andrew Luck was, but it’s still difficult to assume you can just replace a QB who won that many games. It will help having Christian McCaffrey back, but we can expect at least some regression since it will be nearly impossible to repeat the once in a lifetime season the Cardinal running back had last year. The defense should be good, so the other part of this call is the schedule. It would be one thing if the new quarterback got to ease his way into the season. That won’t be the case. Stanford opens the year with Kansas State, then follows that up with three conference games, home versus USC, away at UCLA and Washington. If that wasn’t brutal enough, the Cardinal also have road games against Notre Dame, Arizona, and Oregon throughout the year. Stanford is unlikely to pull a USC and fall all the way out of the poll, but with that schedule it may be tough to stay in the top 10.

E-mail Jason at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87.

Featured image courtesy MGoBlog

Is This Bob Stoops Greatest Coaching Year Ever?

You would have been searching for a while if you looked for someone that picked Oklahoma to win the Big XII Championship in August. You would have been even more hard-pressed to find someone that predicted they would make the College Football Playoff.

Oklahoma was picked to finish a distant third place, and sometimes even fourth place, in the conference before the season started. Baylor and TCU were getting all the love, which made it a clear battle for third place between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

stoops

Bob Stoops was feeling his seat heating up with the subpar seasons that the Sooners put together recently, according to the standards he created. Anything but a conference title in 2015 would turn up the temperature even more.

You can usually see early in the season whether Stoops is going to have a championship team or not. There were signs in the first few games, but they weren’t blowing out the teams that they should. A big win at Tennessee helped out, though, and OU got some respect coming out of that game.

Then they played 1-4 Texas.

The Longhorns made it look like they were the team competing for a conference championship they way they manhandled OU in the Cotton Bowl. It was completely unexpected and had many Oklahoma supporters scratching their heads and calling for Stoops’ job again.

Since that point, OU has arguably been the most dominant team in college football. Some may say that the Texas loss woke them up, but it goes a lot deeper than that.

Rewind to the offseason again when Stoops had to make some tough cuts on his coaching staff, which included many offensive coaches. The best hire that he made was bringing in Lincoln Riley from East Carolina to install his high-powered offense.

Remember those signs of OU being good that I talked about early in the season? Well, we saw those signs blossom into a well-oiled machine after something clicked following the Texas game. Combining their above-average defense with a now-potent offense has OU on top of the conference again.

The pieces of the puzzle fell into place at the perfect time for Oklahoma’s rise to the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff. They benefitted greatly from a back loaded schedule that included Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State in November. Baylor and Oklahoma State were both on the road, and they blew both of them out of their own stadium. Had they played those teams in early October, like they did Texas, the results would have undoubtedly been different.

All the credit goes to Stoops and his decision-making when his job was on the line. He knew his transfer quarterback and former walk-on, Baker Mayfield, was going to win the job. He also knew that he wouldn’t have success if he didn’t have an offensive scheme that fit his skill set. Because he made those tough coaching decisions, OU is in a better position.

Despite all of the big games that Stoops coached in, and won, in November, the biggest games are ahead of him. “Big Game Bob” will have a chance to get OU back on top of the college football world in a little over a month.

Oklahoma faces Clemson in the semifinals as favorites to win the game. Clemson destroyed OU in a bowl game last year, so that’s some extra motivation, as if there wasn’t enough already. Clemson and OU play a similar style of football, but there’s no question that Oklahoma played the tougher schedule of the two down the stretch.

If they get through Clemson, then the winner of Alabama and Michigan State will loom for the National Championship.

Looking at the teams in the playoff, OU probably has the least talented group of players overall than the other three. What gives OU the edge is that they are playing the best football collectively of any of the other teams. We saw what happened last year when Ohio State got hot down the stretch and snuck into the playoff as a four-seed. Confidence goes a long way in college football.

It’s been a while since “Big Game Bob” has coached in a game of the magnitude that he will be up against in a few weeks. These next one or two games could end up defining him as one of the greatest coaches to ever coach at Oklahoma.

Don’t be surprised if he is holding up the National Championship trophy on the evening of January 11, which would cap the greatest coaching season of his career and solidify him as one of the best ever.

FSU vs Houston; ACC Wrap Up

The #8 Florida State Seminoles have landed in the Chic-Fil-A Peach bowl, and will face the #18 Houston Cougars at noon on December 31st. At 10-2, the Seminoles have had a great season if you take into account the type of year that was expected, and the questions they have faced at a couple key positions. The Seminoles are still coming off their biggest win of the season, and head into late December playing the best football they’ve played all year.

Some Seminole fans were a bit disappointed that they didn’t end up playing a more glamorous opponent, but once you look at this Houston team it becomes apparent that they will give the Seminoles a few problems in the game.

The first and most obvious is Houston’s rush defense. With the Seminoles, the buck stops with Dalvin Cook and their running attack. Behind Cook, the Seminoles offense averaged 5.4 yards per carry, which ranks them at 14th in the country in yards per carry. Houston’s defense, ranks 8th in defending that same category, allowing only 3.3 yards per carry to opponents. If Houston wants to win this game they will need to win this matchup, and by win I don’t necessarily mean completely shut down Cook, but Houston will need to bottle him up and limit his effectiveness if they want to be in the game by the end. Fortunately for Houston they have a defense capable of doing this, as they held the #2 rushing offense in the nation, Navy, to only 147 yards on the ground when they averaged 330 yards per game for the season.

Houston’s QB Greg Ward Jr. will also give the Seminole defense their own fair share of problems. Ward at quarterback has completed 68% of his passes this season for 16 TD’s and only 5 INT’s, these are pretty good stats, but when you add in the fact that he is also their leading rusher with 1,041 yards on the season, you start to see why this guy is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country. These are the exact kind of quarterbacks that have given Seminole defenses problems in the past. If you look at just this season, the two games the Seminoles lost have come by the hands of Justin Thomas and Deshaun Watson, but additionally in the past we’ve seen Marcus Mariota, Jacoby Brissett, and even Everett Golson give the ‘Noles problems.

Maguire will be the difference maker against Houston's 111th ranked pass defense
Maguire will be the difference maker against Houston’s 111th-ranked pass defense

With these things in mind, I think it will be a much closer game than many people anticipate. My bold prediction for this game, is that quarterback Sean Maguire for the Seminoles will have a break out game and be the reason why the Seminoles beat Houston. Maguire has been steady in the second half of the season, but he hasn’t put together a performance that has completely erased doubts about who should start at quarterback. I think the Seminoles will be put in a few third and long situations during the game, and Maguire’s play will help table the effectiveness of Houston’s rush defense. Maguire will prove to Seminole fans that he should have been the starter all season long.

Here’s what’s happening in the ACC:

CLEMSON DEFEATS UNC: PLAYOFF BERTH

Clemson defeated North Carolina 45-37 in the ACC Championship Game, to win the ACC and clinch a berth into the 2015 College Playoffs. The game ended with a terrible offside call that eliminated an onside kick recovery by UNC that would have allowed the Tarheels a chance to tie the game. Nonetheless the referees called an invisible offside, and the Tigers were able to wind the clock down. #1 Clemson now will face #4 Oklahoma in the Capital One Orange Bowl December 31st at 4pm. This game will put two of the best quarterbacks in the country against each other between potential Heisman winner Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield.

MIAMI HIRES MARK RICHT

After firing Al Golden, Miami had been looking for the best successor, and found exactly that in Mark Richt. Georgia fired Richt after a couple down seasons, and basically by the time the news broke he was hired by Miami. This is a great fit for a couple reasons; Richt played at Miami, and Miami had been looking for a high-profile name to lead their team. It seems as if this is the hire all Miami fans have been waiting for, and they seem poised to return to former glory with a coach like Mark Richt at the helm.

ACC HAS NINE BOWL TEAMS

The ACC has enjoyed a pretty successful season as a whole, culminating in nine teams playing in bowl games this year. Among the teams in bowl games are Miami, Duke, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, NC State, Louisville, Florida State and Clemson. The ACC as a whole is a top-heavy conference, with only three top-25 teams, however all three of them are in the top ten. These three teams, #1 Clemson, #9 Florida State, and #10 UNC will play against #4 Oklahoma, #18 Houston and #17 Baylor, respectively in their bowl games.

Who Should Win the Heisman?

The playoff committee got bailed out this year. It was about as clear-cut of a four team playoff field as we’ll probably ever see, particularly when there are five major conference champions. Sometimes it works out that way, just like some years there were two easy choices for the BCS title game. Things may have been different had Stanford not lost to Northwestern in the first game of the season, but even then the committee shouldn’t have had too many issues. The Big Ten had better teams at the top and Michigan State would’ve had a win over the only team to beat Stanford in this hypothetical (Oregon). As far as the actual playoff pairings, I don’t have any issues with those and frankly am not surprised that we have Clemson-Oklahoma and Alabama-Michigan State. The committee can talk all they want about resumes, but did we really think they weren’t going to try and set up a potential Alabama-Oklahoma national championship game?

Now if seeing the four playoff teams is as clear-cut as looking through a glass window, figuring out who should win the Heisman is like trying to see through a brick wall. Derrick Henry was a slight favorite towards the end of the season, and seemed to gain some momentum after Alabama’s contests against Auburn and Florida. But those two games are part of the reason I think Henry shouldn’t win the Heisman. Henry’s stats in his final two games were propped up by having 44 and 46 carries in those two contests. Florida has a great defense, but a Heisman winner should easily have over 200 yards in a game he receives 40+ carries. Just the week before Florida State running back Dalvin Cook had only six less yards against Florida, on 18 fewer carries. This shouldn’t completely take away from Henry’s season, which was great as he was big in big games, but as close as the field is this year you have to nitpick.

Speaking of Cook, he had a great season as well but I think his hamstring troubles during the early to middle part of the season kept him from putting up the raw statistics to make him a serious candidate, though I think he was probably the better running back overall than Derrick Henry.

For the first time in a while there isn’t a top quarterback to run away with the vote. The two closest are Clemson’s DeShaun Watson and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. Watson has gotten the most publicity throughout the season, partially a byproduct of the hype he had coming into the year (which was justified). On the other hand Mayfield has come more from under the radar, just as his Sooners did in the Big 12. His numbers this year however were sensational. He completed almost 69% of his passes and threw 35 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions. Two of those picks came against Tennessee in just his second start for Oklahoma, turnovers he made up for in leading them back to an improbable victory.

Watson was no slouch through the air, tossing 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while also completing about 69% of his passes. Though Watson did have those 10 INTs, he had his best performances when his defense couldn’t get stops and forced Clemson to win shootouts. Watson and Mayfield are close to a toss-up for me, but in the end I’ll go with the Clemson signal caller because of his rushing totals. Watson had just under 900 yards rushing, more than doubling Mayfield’s total, and also added 11 touchdowns on the ground. I should mention this isn’t entirely Mayfield’s fault, as he had much more talent at running back to hand the ball off to than there was at Clemson. But you don’t win Heismans by people feeling you didn’t have as many opportunities.

Opportunities are one thing Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey did not have to worry about. The Cardinal let him do everything from running, receiving, returning punts and kicks, and throwing the occasional touchdown. Sure other candidates may not have gotten the chance at return duties, but the fact that McCaffrey could handle 360 offensive touches in 13 games as well as returns and make it through the whole season is an impressive trait in itself. This accumulated in McCaffrey breaking Barry Sanders’ single-season record for all-purpose yards. Even if you take away the Stanford back’s return yards, he still had 2,426 yards on offense and 14 touchdowns. If Stanford didn’t have McCaffrey, they would’ve been lucky to win eight games and his ability to win a game in different fashions is why McCaffrey would be my Heisman winner.

1. Christian McCaffrey
2. DeShaun Watson
3. Baker Mayfield
4. Derrick Henry
5. Dalvin Cook

Is the Big 12 About to Get Snubbed, Again?

The Oklahoma Sooners exorcising demons against anyone, let alone Baylor, would have been an insane thought to anyone back in 2010. And exorcising demons might be taking it a bit far, but Baylor had won three out of four against the Sooners after not having beaten them in, um, ever. In typical Oklahoma fashion, the Sooners have played their best in a year where less was expected of them. Even after their upset loss to Texas, they had still put enough of a beat-down on their last few opponents that they were clawing themselves back into playoff consideration. Another loss to Baylor, after already having been upset by Texas earlier in the year, would’ve been tough for even the staunchest Bob Stoops supporters to defend.

But the Sooners looked every bit the team that finished the year on fire while beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl two years ago, and every bit the team they have been in every 2015 game save the Red River Shootout. The Sooners were dominant in almost every facet. Holding Baylor to 34 points in Waco is, after all, quite the accomplishment. And if it weren’t for a couple ill-advised penalties, the ten point margin of victory may have been even greater. Oklahoma showed off a physical, attacking defense. QB Baker Mayfield made play after play in the passing game. Watching this contest, you would have thought that Sooners wideout Sterling Shepard was the pass-catcher in the Heisman race, not Baylor’s Corey Coleman. The Bears had no answer for Shepard and if they tried, Oklahoma just pounded away on the ground with Samaje Perine, who merely had 166 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

It’s that balanced offense that should have Oklahoma’s remaining opponents (TCU and Oklahoma State) scared as hell. If the Sooners can find their way into the College Football Playoff, the other three teams should be just as worried. But just like 2014, the same question persists. Not just with the Sooners but the Big 12 in general. Will they be left out of the playoff once again? At this point it’s hard to think otherwise.

Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State seem like locks if they win out, so there are multiple teams fighting for that fourth spot. For whatever reason the committee is enamored with Notre Dame, slotting them at four. We’ll see if that changes when the new rankings come out tonight. If an undefeated Big 12 team didn’t rank ahead of the Irish last week, it’s hard to imagine Oklahoma State’s close win over Iowa State being enough to jump them this week. The Big 12 will just have to hope that the Sooners have been impressive enough to move them up to around six in the rankings for now.

Another thing to look for in the committee’s rankings tonight is how far Baylor and TCU fall. That will be a key indicator as to what the committee’s overall thoughts on the Big 12 are. In my opinion Baylor shouldn’t fall that far, at least not yet. Baylor may have been overrated, but I don’t think you can definitively determine that just because they lost to what now will be one of the top six/seven teams in the country. And it’s hard to say they were overrated when we have no idea how they would have done had their starting quarterback not been lost for the year.

Moving along in the state of Texas, TCU had a down-to-the-wire win against Kansas. That would have been great, if this were basketball. But the Horned Frogs deserve some benefit of the doubt here as well. They were up 10-3 in the first quarter when QB Trevone Boykin got injured, and for all we know could have been well on their way to another blowout. After losing their undefeated season the week before, it would have been easy for TCU to fold once their Heisman contending quarterback was lost for the game. Instead they found a way to win, as ugly as it may have been.

So what is the best case scenario for the Big 12? A loss by Notre Dame against Stanford in two weeks would be right at the top. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will also need to secure wins this week before playing each other on the final week of the regular season. If a 10-1 Sooners team travels to Stillwater to face an 11-0 Cowboys team, I actually think a win by the Sooners would be the Big 12’s best chance.

It’s hard to argue against a possible undefeated, but it’s already clear the committee doesn’t respect Oklahoma State as much as most undefeateds. The committee switches between “eye test” and resumes whenever they feel like it, and the Cowboys are on the wrong end of that perception. An Oklahoma team that has been steam-rolling people for the last month, that knocked off Baylor on the road, then knocked off an undefeated rival on the road on the last weekend of the season? That should be enough to get the Sooners in the playoff. Having Oklahoma in the playoff will certainly have a better ring to it than Oklahoma St. Even better for college football if it gives the committee a chance to pit the Sooners against the Crimson Tide, where Alabama would have the chance to exorcise some of their own demons.

Top 4

Clemson

Alabama

Ohio State

Oklahoma State