Tag Archives: Derrick Henry

Do You Like a Hollywood Blockbuster? Alabama and Clemson Wrote Back-to-Back Scripts

It’s five past eight on Tuesday morning and I’m surprisingly not tired, considering I stayed up until 12:45 in the morning watching Clemson topple Alabama. I didn’t dare go to bed while that game went on. I couldn’t have slept knowing what I was missing.

Last night’s College Football Playoff National Championship rematch was even better than last year’s installment. This time last year, I was talking about how we had just witnessed a sensational football game. Well, I’m back to say the same thing about Monday night’s classic.

Last year’s game had just about everything – stars carrying their team (Derrick Henry and Deshaun Watson), surprising standout performances (O.J. Howard and Hunter Renfrow) and numerous dramatic momentum shifts. Monday night’s game wasn’t as wide-open, but the storylines were just as, if not more compelling.

Admittedly, I was searching for them but there really were a lot of similarities between the 2015 and 2016 versions of this game. I started noticing them in the second quarter as the Tide’s offensive line began to dominate the Tigers’ front seven. Then, my guy Bo Scarbrough scampered in from 37 yards out to score his second touchdown of the evening. A lot of people were ready to hand the Tide the title at that point. Aren’t we glad they didn’t?

Last season we saw improbable stars emerge in the form of Hunter Renfrow and O.J. Howard. Both of them were cast brilliantly in the sequel. Renfrow was again Watson’s most reliable target, reeling in 10 passes for 92 yards and two scores. Howard turned in more big plays when Alabama needed them most, racking up 106 yards and a touchdown on four grabs.

This game was the culmination of what truly could be made into a movie. It felt like fiction as it played out in front of us. The “underdog” won. You have the villain, Nick Saban, (or anti-hero, as I prefer to see him) trying to win his sixth national championship and remain perfect in the game itself. The zany Dabo Swinney can act as comic relief, if you’re into his whole act.

Deshaun Watson is clearly the main character and hero. His performance was both outstanding and inspiring. My favorite part was the way he handled it. He doesn’t seem like a spotlight guy, off the field. He can’t help but steal it on the field, though. He became a college football legend and unquestioned top-pick candidate without being annoying like a lot of guys tend to get now.

All the makings of a cheesy Hollywood blockbuster are there. The only difference is this was real life.

The most untouchable dynasty in the history of college football hit a big speed bump and got a flat tire. I’m not at all worried about Alabama not making it back to this stage. In fact, find any odds you can and I’ll take the Tide as 2017 champs.

That’s down the road though. For now, all we have to do is revel in the greatness that was Monday night’s game and give props where they are due.

Congratulations to Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers, 2016 College Football Playoff National Champions.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Attention College Football Fans: The Heisman Trophy Isn’t a Race

In the wee, wee hours of Sunday morning, I found myself unfortunately watching Danny Kannell on ESPN. He was joined by Joey Galloway, who I rather enjoy. But Danny Kannell? Not so much.

Somehow, in the wee, wee hours of Sunday morning, Danny Kannell inspired within me a furious sportsrant. Attention college football fans: college athletes are not horses, the Heisman Trophy isn’t a race. Stop treating it like one.

In the wee, wee hours of Sunday morning, Kannell began a hopeless, long-winded, ESPN-ish adjudication about the current state of the Heisman race. His bold conclusion? Neither Lamar Jackson or J.T. Barrett had helped or hurt themselves in action this week. Thrilling.

Sure, completely ignore the fact that Barrett defeated the #8 team in the country on the road, in overtime, primarily thanks to his play. Ignore the fact that Lamar Jackson barely defeated Duke this week. If you ignore both of those plain facts, Kannell is actually correct.

It’s not Kannell’s fault that 24-hour sports media like ESPN ruins the sanctity of an award like the Heisman Trophy. A lot of things are Kannell’s fault, but, to his credit, this isn’t one of them. College football’s dependence on rankings – AP, Coaches Poll, CFP, FPI, etc.  – creates a culture where analysts feel the need to adjudicate everything as far in advance as possible. Should that bother me? Probably not. But it does.

Remember last season, when the college football universe had all but anointed Leonard Fournette a Heisman trophy winner? Yeah, then Alabama happened. Continuously ranking players in respects to the Heisman ceremony defeats the purpose of the award. If Lamar Jackson can’t score six touchdowns in a given game, the talking heads like Kannell will declare it a regression. That’s not realistic.

Not only is it unfair to frontrunners like Jackson, but take a player like Christian McCaffrey for example. In 2015, McCaffrey wasn’t considered to be a pre-season Heisman favorite. After eclipsing 2,500 all-purpose yards, you’d expect McCaffrey to be a strong contender. That trophy, of course, went to Derrick Henry. I certainly don’t mean to take anything away from Henry, but if McCaffrey had been a favorite at the season’s beginning, would Henry have the edge? I think not.

Plus, calling the Heisman Trophy a “race” implies a comparison to, say, a 400-meter dash. That’s simply not the case. Greg Ward Jr. is turning in another impressive season, yet the most difficult part of his schedule has already passed. Jabrill Peppers, however, wishes he could say the same. The playing fields aren’t even at any given time, so the snapshots of a Heisman race at those times intentionally mislead.

Obsessing over day-by-day rankings for the Heisman Trophy pollutes one of organized sports’ greatest honors. Let the players play a full season of football. Then, when it’s all said and done, objectively review all statistics and accomplishments to determine a winner. The only need for weekly rankings is to provide Danny Kannell a paycheck.

From what I gather, he’s doing alright.

NOTE: Although this article documents my dislike for Danny Kannell, let it be known that I unequivocally consider Mark May to be the worst, major television analyst of my lifetime.

Email Cole Hankins at [email protected]or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy – Wikipedia

Grab Your Beer: We Have a Perfect Saturday Slate of SEC Football

I’m going to take you back to an article I wrote before the season got underway. I came up with the nightmarish scenario of only being able to watch one SEC football game per week. Then I picked the games I’d watch each week if that were the case.

Weeks 1-5, I was pretty much dead-on. Week 6 is where SEC football makes me feel a little silly.

That’s because it’s now Week 6 and there are three huge conference match-ups that I will watch. Ironically, the one that I initially picked over the others seems to be the one of least consequence here. And by that, I mean I picked the LSU Tigers visiting the Florida Gators as my one game to watch.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll definitely be watching the Tigers pay the Gators a visit. But if I had to choose just one game to watch, it might not be that game anymore.

Fortunately, my nightmare hasn’t come true and I do not have to pick only one game to watch. The schedule works out perfectly for the SEC football fan in me this week, as I get to watch three amazing games. So here’s a preview of what this perfect Saturday as SEC football fan will look like.

At noon on ESPN, the Tigers play the Gators. This game may not be the best of the weekend but it’s still intriguing in many ways.

LSU fired head coach Les Miles and left Ed Orgeron in charge for the time being. At the same time, star RB Leonard Fournette’s status is “day-by-day” with an ankle injury. Additionally, Danny Etling has taken over at quarterback instead of Brandon Harris. Yes, they beat the Missouri Tigers in convincing fashion, but that was at home against a team that was winless in SEC play. With or without Leonard Fournette, it’ll be interesting to see how this Tiger team handles a road game against a ranked opponent now that Miles is gone.

Florida has question marks, but for completely different reasons. The Gators seem to have caught the injury bug, with their whole starting defensive line suffering some kind of injury. Not to mention that their biggest hope for having a good quarterback, Luke Del Rio, injured his knee taking a low hit a couple weeks ago. It also seems like the coaching staff hasn’t really figured out an effective rotation for the running backs, as made evident by Jordan Scarlett’s absence on many snaps last game. On top of that, there are questions about Florida’s rushing defense after how they handled Ralph Webb. This group of defensive backs is always great, but can the whole defense rise to the occasion of defending someone like Derrius Guice or possibly even Fournette?

After that game, Tennessee takes on Texas A&M on CBS at 3:30. Regardless of where your loyalty lies, why wouldn’t you want to watch a battle of unbeatens?

The Vols to have destiny or the football gods or even just some good juju on their side so far this season. Josh Dobbs has come through in a clutch way, and his passing game has helped lead the Vols to some pretty great comeback wins. Unfortunately, the Vols have suffered some injuries on defense and still have some ground to make up there. And there’s also the question of whether or not this team can play a whole game of good football instead of just playing a great second half. But, with fate seemingly on their side, you just can’t count out this Vols team.

Texas A&M, once again, has gotten off to a 5-0 start this season. This is the third season in a row that they’ve gotten off to such a start. But will this be the first of those years that they also win Game 6? It very well could be. Trevor Knight has proven to be solid at quarterback, and a great supporting cast surrounds him. The Aggies are ranked in the top 50 FBS teams in passing yards, rushing yards, points for, and points against. No question marks about that.

At 7:00, flip back to ESPN to watch as Alabama pays Arkansas a visit. Alabama is always good, but Arkansas has been surprisingly good this season too. That makes this game the upset alert of the week.

Alabama, like Tennessee, has had some slow starts. Okay, their starts are like a jog to Tennessee’s walk. But they definitely can’t afford to be jogging this game. As I’ve said before, the Crimson Tide may not have a super strong quarterback this year, but that doesn’t matter. True freshman Jalen Hurts does enough to make the rest of the team shine. They actually don’t even have a go-to running back like Derrick Henry this season, and that weakness worries me. But even if Alabama wins this one, they go to Tennessee next and host Texas A&M after that.

I never know what to make of Arkansas. All I know is that at any given moment, they could pull off a borderline erotic upset win. I have my doubts after their loss to Texas A&M, but you just never know. They have a great quarterback in Austin Allen, but how will he handle an elite defense? And even more worrisome than that is the question of how the Razorback defense will handle Alabama’s potent offense. I’ll always give them the upset factor, but if they manage to pull this one off it might be just plain erotic for coach Bret Bielema.

Now I have just one request: Grab a beer (or six) and enjoy what will probably be an exciting day of SEC football.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Featured photo courtesy of Gainesville Apartments.

Watching Only One SEC Football Game Each Week: Part Two

A little over a week ago, I introduced this idea. What if, for some terrible reason, I could only watch one SEC football game each weekend this season? Which games would I watch? Part one featured my picks for weeks one through six of the SEC football season. Here are my picks for the remainder of the season.

Week 7: #1 Alabama @ #10 Tennessee

This is probably the one game I’m most excited to watch all season. The Crimson Tide may have lost some key pieces to their championship team but they have plenty of recruits from their past few classes that can fill in those gaps. They also have Bo Scarbrough to replace Derrick Henry, and he definitely cannot be ignored. On the other hand, Butch Jones and Tennessee didn’t really lose important pieces to their puzzle at all. They return experienced players on both sides of the ball. The defense will be solid, and the offense has the potential to be explosive. If Josh Dobbs can pass for more than ten yards this season, the Volunteer offense will be hard to stop.

This game was a close one in Tuscaloosa last year, with Alabama obviously being the eventual victor. This year the two teams meet in Knoxville and I’m sure Neyland will be rocking. I don’t know that I’m right about this but I think the Vols will have a good chance to get a win at home over the Crimson Tide. And I’d be laughing at Lane Kiffin the whole time. He might have to block me on Twitter if they lose.

Week 8: #12 Ole Miss @ #6 LSU

There are a few Ole Miss games that will definitely have my attention this season. This game in Death Valley is liable to be one of the most exciting SEC West games we’ll get to watch all season. I’ve talked about him plenty in Part One of this duo of lists, but Chad Kelly will be huge for Ole Miss this season.

The Rebels lost Laquon Treadwell to the NFL at the end of last season, but Damore’ea Stringfellow has the potential to be just as important to their offense. Playing opposite Treadwell last year, he already put up some pretty impressive stats (36 catches, 503 yds., 5 TDs) for the Rebels. LSU returns Fournette who was mostly a force to be reckoned with last season. More importantly, their quarterback Brandon Harris now has more experience and can hopefully help balance Fournette’s rushing attack with his passing attack.

These two offensive powerhouses meeting in Baton Rouge should make for a fantastic, explosive football game. The winner? Whichever team has fewer turnovers.

Week 9: #25 Florida vs. #16 Georgia (at EverBank Field)

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will always draw my attention as a Gator. Heading into this season, both teams are expected to be strong but both have some pretty big question marks. The Gators need to actually move the ball on offense and they need to choose a quarterback to do that…again. Their defense will be as solid as ever as they retain the title “DBU.”

Georgia will have running back Nick Chubb again and an exciting new coach in Kirby Smart. That combination could prove to be very dangerous. As far as SEC defenses go, theirs may be pretty average. But an average Bulldog defense might overpower a below average Gator offense. At the end of the day, I’d give this one to the Gators. But I don’t say that with much confidence.

Week 10: #1 Alabama @ #6 LSU

Alabama and LSU are the two highest-ranked SEC West teams in the preseason coaches poll, making this game an easy choice. Last season, the Alabama defense shut down Heisman hopeful running back Leonard Fournette in this matchup. The question is whether or not they’ll be able to repeat that feat now that LSU has a more experienced quarterback with Brandon Harris returning.

For LSU, containing the Alabama offense will be a must. Last season, they allowed them to outgain the Tiger offense by about 250 yards. If they allow Alabama to gain over 400 yards again, they’ll be hard-pressed to win this game. Fournette and Harris will be a destructive duo, but I expect the Alabama defense to be able to contain them pretty well. And for this reason, I anticipate Alabama winning this game, despite LSU’s home field advantage.

Week 11: Auburn @ #16 Georgia

I honestly have no idea what to make of Auburn at this point. Last season I expected them to be solid but I would consider their 6-6 regular season record anything but solid. Surprisingly, they only lost to Georgia by a touchdown. That team they played a close game with was not the same team that Georgia has this season. Mark Richt was replaced with a shiny new head coach straight from Alabama, Kirby Smart. And since running back Nick Chubb is returning from his injury, the Georgia offense will undoubtedly be more difficult to stop.

The Auburn defense under Will Muschamp’s replacement, Kevin Steele, will be what decides this game. Steele has worked with a number of impressive programs: Alabama, Clemson, and LSU, to name a few. Whether or not he’ll be able to resurrect a defense that struggled during most games last year remains to be seen. Because of my doubts for Auburn’s defense and my faith in Georgia’s offense, I give them the clear advantage in this game. But I don’t expect a blowout.

Week 12: Arkansas @ Mississippi St.

Arkansas is in a similar position to Tennessee this season, even though their outlook isn’t quite as favorable as that of the Volunteers. Head Coach Bret Bielema is entering his fourth year here after a decent season last year. In theory, he should finally have his players and his system in place.

Meanwhile, Dan Mullen has had to return to the drawing board for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs lived and died by quarterback Dak Prescott the past two years. Last year, they had pretty much no offensive production unless Prescott was involved. Now that Prescott is gone, Mullen is going to have to completely revamp their offense if he wants any chance of surviving in the SEC West. Since Arkansas seems to be on more of an upward trend here, I see them winning this game at Mississippi State.

Week 13: Rivalry Week

Sorry guys, but I really can’t pick just one this week. There are far too many interesting rivalry matchups.

All rankings listed are according to the Preseason Amway Coaches Poll, released on August 4th, 2016. Featured photo courtesy of wikimedia via user Neomrbungle.

E-Mail Kristen at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

I Don’t Like Alabama, But I Sure As Heck Respect It

This is one of those rare moments when I swallow my Gator and Vol pride to give credit where credit is due. The Alabama Crimson Tide is getting all the credit I can get myself to give to it today. I will make this clear: I loathe Alabama football and I obviously cannot stand Lane Kiffin. But that does not mean I will not show them some respect when it comes to what they manage to do season after season. The Tide is consistently excelling in the hardest division of the strongest conference in all of college football. That alone is absolutely incredible.

I will be the first to admit that I tend to underestimate Alabama every single year. I always think they lost too much talent so they may need to rebuild. What I seem to forget is that they are pulling in phenomenal recruits year after year. Last year, I even went so far as to say that Nick Saban was about to be in Urban Meyer’s shadow. I am eating those words at the moment. I take it back. I take it all back. As my penance for that terrible thing I said, this year I will not underestimate Alabama football. This year I am finally ready to put aside my pride and give them the credit they clearly deserve.

Their spring game was admittedly a bit underwhelming, with a whopping ten points scored overall. When you are an Alabama fan though, I doubt you really care about what happens in the spring game. You just know deep down that your team will perform when it counts. That feeling must be nice.

Last year Alabama had a quarterback battle that lasted into the season. This year it still has quite the quarterback competition going on in Tuscaloosa. This one might last into the season as well. If last year is any indication of who will be the starting quarterback, then you can bet Cooper Bateman will get his chance to go from second-string to first-string. With other athletic contenders in the mix, namely Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts, I would definitely not give Bateman the starting job quite yet. Replacing last year’s quarterback may not be their biggest concern heading into next season though.

The Tide lost key starters on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the biggest concern for Alabama right now is the offensive line. I know we have to take spring games with a grain of salt, but let it be known that the offensive line allowed eleven sacks in that game. Now, it is definitely worth nothing that a sack in a spring game is not as physically involved as one during a real game. It is also worth noting that Alabama probably has a top ten defense again so, of course, the defense is going to get some sacks. That kind of smothering defense is just something we have come to expect from them. Still, the number stands, and eleven sacks are just too many to completely overlook. Knowing Alabama football, though, I am sure the Tide will have it figured out in time for the College Football Playoff next year. Just maybe not in time for the Ole Miss game.

So what else is there to think about? Worried about them replacing Derrick Henry? No need to be. Bo Scarbrough seems to be more than ready to pick up right where Henry left off and there is some pretty good depth at running back behind him. So what about the defensive talent they lost? I said it once and I will say it again: Alabama probably has a top ten defense again. Okay, they lost Kirby Smart as their defensive coordinator. Never fear. We all know Nick Saban is the one who really calls the shots in Tuscaloosa anyway. Here’s the thing: every single potential problem I propose already has a clear solution. And that is their secret. That right there is how Alabama does it, folks.

Nick Saban at the helm and good recruits from years passed make almost every personnel (and coaching) loss a non-issue for the Crimson Tide. That is exactly the thing I failed to understand when I was quick to say Alabama could not win a title last year. I mean is there ever really a year when Alabama does not have the potential to win a National Championship? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a strong “no.” Love them, hate them, envy them, doubt them…do whatever you want. At the end of the day the haters will continue hating while the Crimson Tide keeps dominating. As Birdman might say, put some “respek” on their name!

Now please excuse me while I go thoroughly wash out my mouth with soap for saying all this. I am truly sorry to all my other SEC friends for writing this article. And to my dear father who taught me everything I know about football, I hope you are not too disappointed in your little girl right now. But, if you guys want to see how much I really do dislike Alabama then make sure to follow me (@OGKristenB) on Twitter. I assure you that I definitely do not usually sing their praises.

Photo of Bryant-Denny Stadium courtesy of Latics.

Recapping a Phenomenal Football Game

It’s a real shame that the College Football Playoff National Championship Game did not get good ratings last night.  If you didn’t tune in then you missed out on an instant classic.  The Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide battled back-and-forth for four quarters to decide which team would take home the ugliest trophy in sports and you didn’t even turn it on.  Oh well, your loss.

Or, maybe you fell asleep during a fourth quarter that didn’t start until 11:15 and ended sometime after midnight in the east.  I can’t say that I blame you but you too missed out on a frantic finish.

Or, maybe you’re one of us.  Those who were glued to the four-letter network’s “Megacast” were treated to a tremendous football game between two championship-caliber teams.  Yes, Alabama won the game and the national championship but it was undoubtedly well-earned.  Clemson played well enough to win, and would’ve on most other nights.  The Tide was not to be denied though.

This game had just about everything.  The Heisman winner went off.  The second runner-up put his team on his back.  Unexpected heroes stole the show.  A trick play drastically swung the momentum late in the game.  There was even a feel-good aspect to the ending.  That wasn’t all either, but if we go through everything how are we supposed to make people feel like they missed out?  Here are the essential highlights of the biggest, and arguably the best, game of the 2015-16 season:

Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry struck first, shrugging off a defender and scampering 50 yards into the end zone.  When the night was over Henry had carried 36 times for 158 yards and three touchdowns.  All that and it didn’t even seem like he had impacted the game as he normally does.

DeShaun Watson was the one wowing those watching.  He carried the Tigers all night, as he did all season.  Scrambling for first downs, extending plays, marching his offense down the field against the best defense in the country, Watson showed us a little bit of every part of his game.  Most impressive of all were his two touchdown passes in the first quarter.  The first of which was an absolutely perfect throw to the corner of the end zone.  The second one was placed where only his guy could catch it.

The guy on the receiving end of those perfect passes was former walk-on Hunter Renfrow.  This redshirt freshman came into Monday night with just 26 catches, 404 yards and three touchdowns to his name.  What a coming out party it was for him, reeling in seven balls for 88 yards and two scores in the national championship.  Renfrow certainly stole the first half headlines.

Another unlikely hero emerged in the second half.  Alabama tight end O.J. Howard plays a vital role in the offense even if he doesn’t get the statistical reward he deserves.  Howard had only one game with more than four catches this season.  He hadn’t scored since November 9, 2013.  That is, until he exploded for 208 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions last night.  The first touchdown was a brilliantly designed play, called at the opportune time by offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.  On the second, Howard was the lucky recipient of some poor communication in Clemson’s secondary.  The real highlight of his night, however, was a little screen pass that should’ve resulted in a two-yard loss.  Instead, Howard slipped a tackle, turned the corner and tiptoed down the sideline, picking up 63 yards and setting up Alabama’s game-winning touchdown.

By far the most surprising and exciting play of the game came on special teams.  An Adam Griffith field goal tied the game at 24 with about 10 and a half minutes left in the game.  Then Nick Saban, a notoriously conservative coach, dialed up the trick play that would allow his team to take the lead for good.  Griffith pooched one right into the hands of his intended receiver.  He kicked it more accurately than most guys can throw it.  Clemson was caught off-guard and you could feel the wind shift in favor of the Tide’s sails.

As the confetti fell all around the victorious Alabama players, none must have felt as accomplished as Jake Coker.  You want to know what patience is, ask him.  This guy’s had to sit in the back seat his entire collegiate career.  He started at Florida State where he was redshirted and beat out by EJ Manuel and then Jameis Winston.  Then he transferred to Alabama where he was immediately eligible to play because he had already graduated from FSU.  Coker competed with Blake Sims for the starting job only to be relegated to backup duty for the fourth year in a row.  This year Coker finally got his chance to start but did not play well early in the season.  In fact, Cooper Bateman got the start in Alabama’s only loss against Ole Miss.  Bateman’s poor play in that game opened the door for Coker yet again.  The second half comeback attempt fell just short that night but Coker had won his job back.  Fast forward three months and Coker found himself on top of the college football world.  We can only imagine the feeling of validation that washed over him after such a journey.  His story is one that makes college football so special.  You had to feel good for him during his postgame interview where it seemed to sink in what he had accomplished.

Congratulations are in order for Coker, Griffith, Howard, Kiffin and, of course, Saban who has won his fourth national championship in seven years.  You can hate on them all you’d like but you can’t deny that Alabama’s current run ranks high in terms of the all-time great dynasties of not just college football, but all major American sports history.

So yeah, you either missed all that or were so enthralled by it that you wanted to recap.  Either way, there’s no doubt that the second edition of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game was simply sensational.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

The Proper Sendoff

Years come and go and so do teams, but names of the elite and those that leave a great impression on its program and any other platform are the ones that stick with the history of the conference. These players brought forth, have impacted the SEC in positive ways in which will leave us talking about them for quite some time with great on and off the field performances giving us plenty of reasons to share them in future conversations. The list provided points out a handful of players with the significance they deserve.

 

 Kentrell Brothers, Missouri, LB, Senior

MizzLogoBeing snubbed for not even being on the list of finalists for the Butkus Award, Brothers finished his career on a high note in his senior season leading the nation in total tackles with 152 stops and also being a second team All-America standout. His fearless attitude and continuous drive doesn’t go unnoticed as coaches and players around the league think highly of his play and integrity. Tied for eighth in the record books for all-time tackles in school history, Brothers’ future looks bright at the next level as we look forward to seeing him thrive in his next steps.

 

Shon Coleman, Auburn, OT, Junior

Auburn LogoThough just a junior, Coleman is expected to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft receiving some first round praise from a few credible scouting sources. Coleman’s story is detailed with his bttle to overcome leukemia in his leg as he bounced back to continue his football career at Auburn. Working back to get into the swing of things, Coleman had a junior season to rmember serving as the bookend tackle for the Tigers and receiving All-SEC second team praise. Seeing Coleman’s success is a heartwarming narrative that we hope to see continue with a happy ending in the NFL.

 

Jake Ganus, Georgia, LB, Senior

UGA logoWith the unfortunate announcement that UAB’s football program was being shut down, Jake Ganus’ football career was almost cut short until the decision was made to walk on to the Georgia football team. Being a seasoned starter at UAB, Ganus provided the perfect fit to what the Bulldogs needed to produce at middle linebacker and the new Bulldog didn’t disappoint. Ganus completed his lone season with the Dawgs with 96 total tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss while pursuing a management degree and being equally known as the guy that proposed to his girlfriend on the field of Sanford Stadium. Though just playing one season in the SEC, Ganus provided the likeness and toughness that every SEC great has been described with.

Derrick Henry, Alabama, Junior

Bama LogoWell, when you surpass The Hershel Walker you will be remembered forever among all things college football. Running the ball for 1,986 yards and counting with 23 touchdowns, Henry has put together one of the all-time great seasons in college football history. But if you ask his friends, family and teammates, he isn’t known just for his success with the ball in his hands, but of the impact and warm spirit he brings to put a smile on everyone’s face. Henry enjoys football and enjoys people. What more can you ask?

 

Antonio Morrison, Florida, LB, Senior

UF logoThere’s no question when asking who is the leader on this talented Florida defense. Morrison brings the intensity and leadership with a drive like no other to get the best performance out of himself and his surrounding teammates. Morrison has battled through tough injuries that jeopardize his future playing career, but he didn’t go down without a fight and now finishes his career with 281 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks entering the Citrus Bowl. Morrison’s experience and expertise will be missed in 2016 for the Gators.

 

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State, QB, Senior

MSU logoIt’s finally that time for the likable Dak Prescott to move on from college and graduate from Mississippi State. Prescott has been nothing short of spectacular since taking over the quarterback duty back in 2013 with a Heisman caliber season and the ability to carry the team on his back and succeed. Prescott’s decorated career as one of the SEC most noted dual-threat quarterbacks, Prescott’s inspiring journey after he lost his mother to cancer has been a testimony to many as he looks to continue to support cancer victims while succeeding at football. A great football player and an even better man.

 

Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss, WR, Junior

Ole Miss logoWhen talking to teammates and coaches, Treadwell is simply described as a hard worker. Battling back after the gruesome leg injury in 2014, Treadwell put together a wonderful season highlighted by his team’s win over Alabama for the second season in a row. Treadwell’s inspiration to football players from all over and any citizen of the United States creates optimism and strength with hope to overcome any devastation. His football skills are top notch at the college ranks and he looks to be the top wide receiver picked up in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Turning Points of FSU’s season; ACC Wrap Up

This is the period of time in the college football season when you really get to reflect on your team’s season, assess what went right and wrong, and see what could have been. For the Seminoles, they were only a couple of plays from being undefeated, and a couple of plays from being 8-4. The Seminoles went through a couple quarterback changes and injuries on both sides of the ball that altered their season, but instead of running down a list of things that affected their season, I’m going to point out the pivotal moments of the Seminole’s season, positive and negative, in chronological order.

1. Seminoles stop Miami at midfield on 4th and 4 with 53 seconds left

This was one of the moments that could potentially have derailed the Seminoles’ entire season. With Miami down 29-24, they got the ball at their own 19-yard line with two minutes left with a chance to win the game. After getting a first down, the Hurricanes ultimately found themselves in a 4th and 4 situation at their own 42-yard line. With how well Brad Kaaya had been playing in the game, Seminole fans weren’t too confident in the defense’s ability to stop the Hurricanes, and were afraid they were about to watch Kaaya drive down the field and hand the ‘Noles their first loss of the season. Alas, the pass Kaaya attempted was incomplete, and the Seminoles were able to get into victory formation, and end the week at 5-0.

2. Aguayo gets his kick blocked, and returned for a touchdown against GT

This obviously had a huge impact on the Seminole’s season, and the loss had a couple trickle down effects for the team. First of all, the decision to go for a 56-yard field goal, although long, had to have been a no-brainer for Jimbo Fisher considering he had one of the best kickers in the country in Roberto Aguayo, so let’s not argue with the decision itself. The team set up for the field goal, and knowing it needed to be a low-angle kick, a Georgia Tech defender managed to get a hand on it, and that’s when everything hit the fan for the Seminoles. It didn’t look too harmful when GT picked up the loose ball, but after reversing the field and getting to the sideline, Seminole fans started to realize what was about to happen. Two terrible missed tackles by Cason Beatty and Roberto Aguayo later and the clock had struck zero with the Yellow Jackets leading 22-16. This game not only was the first loss of the season, but it also brought up the first real questions about who should be starting at quarterback for the Seminoles.

3. Sean Maguire starts for the Seminoles against Syracuse

After losing to Georgia Tech, Fisher decided to switch out quarterback Everett Golson, in favor of Sean Maguire. Maguire was the quarterback everyone expected to be the starter in the spring, but after Golson transferred in during the summer, the quarterback battle was neck and neck going into the season with Golson slightly ahead of Maguire. A slip up by Golson gave Fisher enough of a reason to see what Maguire could do. Maguire proceeded to pass for 348 yards and 3 TD’s in a 45-21 win, and supplanted Golson as the starter going into playing #1 Clemson. This game brought up questions about whether Maguire should have been starting all along, and what might have happened in the Georgia Tech game had Maguire been starting.

4. Seminoles turn the ball over on downs with 6 minutes left against Clemson

This was the part of the game that decided the outcome of the game for the Seminoles. Down 16-13, the Seminoles had the chance to drive down the field and take a 4-point lead. At midfield, the Seminoles had two opportunities to gain one yard for a first down, but Cook couldn’t gain the yard in either of his two attempts. Clemson would take possession of the ball, and score a touchdown to go up 23-13 with 2:34 remaining. Getting that first down and potentially scoring a touchdown could have changed the entire landscape of college football. With a win, the Seminoles would have had the lead in the Atlantic divisional race with a head to head win over Clemson, and with a win in that game could have overcome the loss to Georgia Tech and found themselves playing in a playoff game. Clemson however rose to the challenge, stopped Cook and preserved their undefeated season. The game gave the Seminoles their second loss of the season, and ended any dreams of grandeur for the Seminoles.

5. The Seminoles defeat Florida 27-2

At 9-2, the outlook of the 2015 season for the Seminoles had a lot riding on the outcome of this game against Florida, that was the highest profile Florida vs. Florida State game in recent years. The Gators had a chance to make a run to the playoffs if they entered the SEC Championship with only one loss, and the Seminoles had a chance to extend their 10-win season streak. The game kind of went the way people had expected early, with both defenses playing well, allowing only 13 points going into the 4th quarter. In the 4th, Dalvin Cook ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Seminoles to a victory over the hated Florida Gators. The game gave the Seminoles a 10-2 record at the end of the season, and put an exclamation point at the end of the season, after losing a couple of tough games earlier in the year.

One has to wonder what could have been for the Seminoles had they managed to win the game against Clemson, however I’m sure there are a lot of teams thinking the same thing. In all, it was a good season for the Seminoles. Although fans have become accustomed to winning more, you can’t complain too much with a ten-win season, especially when one of the losses was to the #1 team in the country who remain undefeated.

The Seminoles have a chance to end the season 11-2, when they play #18 Houston in the Chic-Fil-A Peach Bowl December 31st at noon.

Here’s what’s happening around the ACC:

ACC HAS FOUR FIRST TEAM ALL AMERICANS

The AP All American teams were announced a couple days ago, and the ACC had four players placed on the first team. Two were named from Clemson between quarterback Deshaun Watson, and defensive end Shaq Lawson. Guard Landon Turner from North Carolina and safety Jeremy Cash from Duke were the other two. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey and runningback Dalvin Cook from Florida State were both named second team All-Americans, and the third team consists of guard Joe Thurney of NC State and cornerback Mackensie Alexander from Clemson. This is a pretty good showing for the ACC when you consider the depth of the conference. With four first teamers, the ACC placed the third most players on the first team, behind the SEC with six, and the Big Ten with five.

DESHAUN WATSON AND DALVIN COOK FINISH 3RD AND 7TH IN HEISMAN RACE

Deshaun Watson of Clemson finished in third place in the Heisman race, receiving 1,165 total votes, 831 more than the fourth place finisher. The Heisman race turned out as expected with Derrick Henry winning the trophy, and Christian McCaffrey coming in second. Beyond the top three, Dalvin Cook of Florida State finished seventh in the race, receiving 79 total votes. Of the power-5 conferences, the Big 10, Big 12, the SEC and the ACC each had two players in the top ten.

The Best Running Backs of 2015

The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner is….The enthusiasm you read that phrase with probably equaled the enthusiasm used by the actual presenter on Saturday night. His unenthusiastic and abrupt announcement oddly mirrors what the Heisman has become. While it still holds some merit, it doesn’t seem quite as important now that the winner is usually a quarterback who puts up astronomical stats in one of the spread-type offenses that have so heavily populated the college football landscape today. Those spread offenses are part of the problem. Years ago it was a lot easier to determine and quantify how much better a Heisman winner was compared to his competition. After all, most of the offenses the players played in were similar. Now days the best player is often not the Heisman winner or even a finalist if he comes from a pro-style offense. It has become difficult for voters to ignore the video game numbers that a QB from a Power 5 conference can put up.

Just 10 years ago Vince Young and Matt Leinart finished 2nd and 3rd respectively in the Heisman voting. Neither threw for 4,000 yards and neither threw for even 30 touchdowns. This year Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield each threw for 30+ touchdowns and while both finished in the Top 5 of voting, the sense was that they both had “average” seasons relative to what the Top QBs have produced in recent years. Back in the day, a QB who threw for 3,500 yards and accumulated 41 touchdowns for an undefeated team would have been a runaway Heisman winner. This year? Watson wasn’t even in the Top 3 on every ballot. This all created the perfect storm for a non-QB to win the award, with Alabama running back Derrick Henry taking home the honors in 2015.

College football fans and I should be happy a non-QB was able to win the award for once, but I couldn’t help but feel unsatisfied with the winner. Maybe it was Henry’s consistency throughout the year that made his big games stand out less. Maybe it was the ridiculous 40+ carries he received in each of the last two games of the season that led to some of those “big games”. As I watched some of the highlights during the ceremony, I found myself wondering if Henry was even one of the three best running backs in college football. Last week I laid out why I thought Stanford back Christian McCaffrey should win the Heisman, so clearly I thought he was a better running back this year than Henry. So who were some of the other top ball carriers in 2015?

I’ll start with Leonard Fournette, who halfway through the year was the favorite for the award. Fournette has been called the best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson and barring injury is a better NFL prospect than Henry. Fournette and Henry are both bigger running backs, but Fournette looks faster and quicker on the field. Alabama didn’t have a great passing offense but it at least had to be respected. LSU on the other hand had the 111th ranked passing offense in college football this year. Despite this, Fournette averaged more yards per carry than Henry and had just five fewer touchdowns.

Ohio State Buckeye Ezekiel Elliott is another running back that will likely have higher NFL Draft prospect grades than Derrick Henry. Elliott came into 2015 with a ton of momentum after demolishing teams on Ohio State’s way to the 2014 championship. He was actually about as good statistically as he was in 2014, though he obviously won’t have two playoff games for a showcase as he did last year. Elliott had 19 touchdowns and at least 100 yards in every game except one on his way to maybe the quietist 1,700 yard, 19 touchdown season you’ll see out of a player from a big-time program. It’s safe to say he suffered from the underwhelming season the Buckeyes had as a team.

Florida State was another team with a disappointing season based on its recent standards. That disappointment would have been a disaster instead if it wasn’t for Dalvin Cook. Cook averaged an astonishing 7.9 yards per carry and scored 18 rushing touchdowns on just 211 carries. His numbers would have been greater if not for a hamstring injury that caused him to miss almost three full games. Even so, he finished sixth in the country rushing for 1,658 yards.

Samaje Perine is similar to Cook in that workload, or lack thereof, held him back from a run at attending the Heisman ceremony. Like Cook, the Oklahoma back scored 18 touchdowns on 211 carries. When he was finally let loose at the end of the year he came up big time. The final three games, also the Sooners’ most important, Perine ran for 166/188/131 against Baylor/TCU/Oklahoma State and averaged 6.8 ypc as Oklahoma made its playoff push against three Top 15 teams. Holding Perine back was that he received at least 20 carries in just five games as opposed to Derrick Henry who had that many in nine of the Tide’s contests and 30+ carries in four of them.

This all isn’t to say Henry wasn’t deserving of the Heisman, he was. But many of these running backs could have been deserving if put into Henry’s situation on a team with a great offensive line and up big in many second halves. Henry after all, was just 55th in the country in yards per carry. Just like numbers often dictate which quarterbacks win the Heisman as opposed to what scouting and on-field grades may say, the same can be said for running backs. With that said, here are my Top 5 running backs from the 2015 season.

1. Christian McCaffrey
2. Dalvin Cook
3. Leonard Fournette
4. Derrick Henry
5. Ezekiel Elliot

 

Feature imagine courtesy Kat Vitulano

So You’re Saying There Is A Chance

In what turned out to be a highly entertaining, epic defensive battle, the Michigan State Spartans held off the Iowa Hawkeye’s 16-13 in the Big Ten championship game to advance into the College Football Playoff. There is no question that it was a well-earned, hard-fought victory and the Spartans deserve a chance to potentially play for a national title, but drew the Alabama Crimson Tide as its opponent in the Cotton Bowl.

(Truth be told, I wanted Iowa to win simply because it would’ve provided another piece of evidence that the Big Ten is better and deeper than it has been getting credit for the past several years. Everyone predicted that the winner would come from the Big Ten East this season and if the Big Ten West had produced a conference champion, then people might take the Big Ten even more seriously.)

Up until this point in this season, no one has been able to stop the offensive running game of Alabama or solve the puzzle the defense constructs every game. Sure, Ole Miss was able to defeat Alabama but the Crimson Tide still accumulated over 500 yards in that game and uncharacteristically turned the ball over five times. It was more of an anomaly than anything else and is something very rare to see from a disciplined Nick Saban team.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, since losing to Ole Miss in October, Alabama has led the nation in fewest points allowed per game and yards allowed per game. Alabama has 46 sacks, most in the nation, has held nine opponents under 300 yards, rank No. 2 in the nation in total defense (258.2 yards per game) and is No. 1 in rushing defense (74.0 yards per game).

However, as daunting and improbable as it may seem, I believe the Spartans give the conference a chance at the title.

Just look at the numbers.

Ever since Alabama trounced Michigan State 49-7 in the 2011 Capital One Bowl, the Spartans have garnered four consecutive bowl wins, back-to-back top five finishes, and won 38 of their past 42 games including seven of their past eight games against top 10 teams, beating Iowa and the same Ohio State squad that eliminated the Tide from last year’s College Football Playoff.

They have defeated nearly everyone in their path with one blemish on their record due to a controversial call and have overcome adversity and injuries to get where they are today.

Also, the Spartans have Connor Cook, who has proven, at least to me, he is a legitimate, reliable anchor for this team as he was selected as a first-team All-Big Ten QB. They also have the Big Ten Receiver of the Year in Aaron Burbridge, depth on the offensive line and four tailbacks with great potential. On the other side of the ball, they possess one of the best defensive lines in the programs history, athletic linebackers and an ever-improving secondary, though they do allow 230 passing yards per game.

So you’re thinking they are going to beat Alabama?

Woah. Slow down there.

I think there’s a chance they can defeat the Crimson Tide, but a lot of things need to go right. It starts up front in the trenches. Derrick Henry has had a monster year, rushing for an unprecedented 1,986 yards in the SEC and a nation-leading 23 touchdowns.

The front seven, which is allowing just 3.6 yards per carry, is the heart and soul of this team. Preventing Henry from breaking away for a big gain will be their biggest hurdle this season, but if they can contain him, they’ll give their team a good chance.

Next, they’ll need Cook at full strength and for him to stretch the field versus the Tide’s stout defense by getting the ball into Burbridge’s hands, something they struggled to do against Iowa, and by moving the chains for first downs as Alabama leads the nation in forcing three-and-outs since its loss to Ole Miss.

And finally, Michigan State has to be free of mistakes on offense and special teams. In what should be a low-scoring game, one big score could be the difference in this game and kicker Michael Geiger needs to be on point for Michigan State.

If all these things happen, then the Spartans no question have a legitimate shot and in college football, just a little can be the difference as strange things do occur. Of course, Michigan State is all too familiar with this as they beat Michigan in the most bizarre fashion in the closing seconds.

Anyways, the importance of this game can’t be overstated.

The Big Ten is arguably the country’s best conference this season and if the Spartans can knock off yet another SEC flagship program, it would be difficult to argue otherwise. This game is crucial and with millions watching, could greatly enhance the Big Ten’s reputation. This year’s game is the ultimate measuring stick for how far the entire Big Ten has come to closing the gap with the South.

Now, the optimistic Big Ten fan gives me hope as it screams that anything can happen but the rational college football fan inside of me screams don’t be stupid, no one can beat the red hot Crimson Tide especially not the Spartans who lack that it factor that Alabama seems to possess.

However, being doubted and overlooked is nothing new to the Spartans. They relish the role of being David and Michigan State has won nine of the last 13 games in which it has been an underdog. The last time they were underdogs was against Ohio State and we all know what happened then. They walked out with a 17-14 victory over the defending champions.

With all that said, I do not know if the Spartans will win or not but I’m giving them a shot and sometimes that’s all you need.