Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

FSU’s QB Battle and ACC Wrap Up

Florida State’s 45-21 victory over Syracuse means a lot more than simply defeating an ACC opponent, the victory brings up questions at the most important position on offense, the quarterback.

With season long starter Everett Golson sitting out the game due to a concussion, backup Sean Maguire got the start and proceeded to pass for 348 yards, 3 touchdowns with no interceptions.

Maguire simply made the offense look the best it has all season. Most noticeably was his ability to throw down the field, which Golson has shown he isn’t consistently able to do. The plays that were being called for Maguire proved that there is more trust in his arm than Golson’s. The Seminoles haven’t been utilizing wide receiver Travis Rudolph’s speed downfield because Golson can’t be trusted to chuck it down the field. In comes Maguire, and two bombs to Rudolph later early in the game and he has two catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

Travis Rudolph had his best game of the season with Maguire under center.
Travis Rudolph had his best game of the season with Maguire under center.

Being able to stretch the field is something that the Seminole offense has been lacking all season, with this, opposing defenses have been loading the box in order to contain running back Dalvin Cook, and Golson hasn’t given any team a reason not to because he hasn’t shown that he is capable of making the defenses pay.

All of this adds up to one big question for the Seminoles leading into the biggest game of their season against newly #1 Clemson; who should be the starting quarterback?

Normally a good game by the backup quarterback in replacement of the starter isn’t enough to supplant the starter, but this isn’t an ordinary situation. The first reason is that even though Golson transferred in during the offseason and subsequently won the starting job over Maguire, Golson hasn’t performed to the level that was expected and the level coaches were hoping. Secondly is that Maguire has proved that he can lead the team to victories, he is only 2-0, but one of them was against Clemson and their top five defense last season.

Who will start is a complete unknown at this point. Coach Jimbo Fisher has said everything from saying he’s going to wait and see throughout the week, to saying that he’s not eliminating the possibility of a two quarterback system. Regardless of who starts, the success of the Seminoles season will be determined by the outcome of their next game against Clemson. A win will help people forget about their loss to Georgia Tech, while also putting them in the driver’s seat of the Atlantic division of the ACC.

If you asked me, I think the nod will be given to Maguire. It is a tough decision, but Golson just hasn’t looked like he has been in control of the ‘Noles offense at any point of the season. At times he looks scared and opts to scramble, or he throws a short pass, the offense under Golson was more of a dink and dunk offense, compared to what Maguire showed us on Saturday. Maguire’s arm brought life to the offense, and he did so without Dalvin Cook.

The Seminoles face Clemson at 3:30 on Saturday.

Here’s what else happened in the ACC this weekend:

MIAMI’S KICKOFF RETURN VS DUKE

One of the biggest plays of the season happened last weekend when Miami miraculously returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Duke to win the game as time expired. Miami, in a last ditch effort to win the game lateralled the ball eight times and managed to get by the Duke coverage team to score the game-winning touchdown, but not really. One of the Miami runners who attempted to lateral the ball was clearly down upon watching the replay, and multiple block in the back calls were missed that should have been called. The ACC has thus suspended a couple of the ACC officials from the game, admitting that the referees erred on the play. So the play that won Miami the game, shouldn’t have been a touchdown, but it was. Why the ACC can’t overturn the play and give Duke the victory is beyond me, but as it stands Miami won the game, and now has an outside shot of winning the Coastal division. It really is a shame because Duke had a lot more on the line in this game than Miami did. With the loss, Duke now is a game back from UNC in the Coastal division of the ACC.

UNC LEADS THE COASTAL DIVISION

Because of the botched kickoff return, UNC is now sitting atop the Coastal division. With Pittsburgh and Duke both losing, #21 North Carolina is now quietly 7-1 and in position to face either Clemson or Florida State in the ACC championship. The divisional race is still far from over as UNC and Duke face each other this weekend, with Duke and Pitt facing each other in two weeks. Nonetheless it seems like this UNC team is being slept on. They have the 21st ranked offense in points per game in the NCAA, and the 15th best defense in terms of points allowed. People will point to their strength of schedule, but the win over #23 Pittsburgh helped put them on the map, and how they perform in their game against Duke this weekend will go a long ways to determining how good this team really is.

FRANK BEAMER RETIRES

Frank Beamer, the long-time coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies has decided to step down as head coach after the end of the 2015 season. This wasn’t a move that was completely unexpected, but it will mark the end of an era at Virginia Tech. Beamer began coaching for Virginia Tech in 1987, leading them to 22 straight bowl games. His teams have slipped a bit over the past few seasons, which along with his age, surely played a big part in his decision to step down. Beamer will be remembered as one of the most respected coaches in college football by coaches, and by his players who all credit Beamer to being one of the biggest influences in their careers. Beamer took Virginia Tech from an independent team in 1987, to the Big East in 1991, to where they are now in the ACC in 2004. Beamer led the Hokies to four ACC Championships, three Big East Championships, and six BCS bowl game appearances. Who will be the coach in 2016 is unclear, however Beamer has stated in the past that he hopes someone on his current staff will be named his successor.

ACC Weekend Wrap Up 10/28

What a week in the ACC. Clemson defeated Miami 58-0, which brought them up to #3 in the country. Florida State lost to Georgia Tech just when it looked like Georgia Tech had nothing else to play for. Duke won a four-overtime thriller against Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh hit a late field goal to escape Syracuse, North Carolina handled business against Virginia, and Boston College’s defense still can’t score points for their offense.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from this weekend in the ACC:

 MIAMI FIRES AL GOLDEN

After suffering the worst defeat in Miami history, 58-0 to #3 Clemson, Miami decided to fire head coach Al Golden after four and a half seasons. We all knew that it wouldn’t take much for Miami to pull the plug on their coach, and a 58-0 loss to an ACC opponent was what finally did Al Golden in. Admittedly Golden was put into a tough spot having joined Miami during NCAA investigations, however no matter of circumstances will save a Miami coach who goes 17-18 in the ACC and 0-5 versus interstate rival Florida State. Perhaps the most disappointing part about the past couple seasons at Miami was the fact that Miami was able to produce good players that are in the NFL and will be in the future, Golden just could never get the best out of them on the field, culminating in a 32-25 record. Who the next coach at Miami will be is still very much up in the air at this point, but the season goes on. Miami faces a tough task in #23 Duke on the road this weekend.

 FLORIDA STATE LOSES

Florida State suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Georgia Tech after they blocked Florida State’s last-second field goal attempt, and returned it for a touchdown as time expired. The loss all but ends the Seminoles chances at returning to the college football playoff for the second straight year and puts them behind the eight ball in the ACC. This game always had the feel of a typical Seminole game where they would struggle during it’s entirety but pull the win out at the end, and that’s what looked like was about to happen when kicker Roberto Aguayo walked on the field to attempt a 56-yard field to take the lead. But a blocked kick, and a run to the end zone later and Florida State had suffered their first loss of the season.

 DUKE, PITT AND UNC AT PIVITOL POINT OF SCHEDULE

In the next three weeks, Duke, Pittsburgh and UNC will all play each other, in what will most likely decide who will come out of the Coastal division in the ACC. With all three of them sitting at 6-1, the head to head matchups will determine which of the three will emerge from the pack. The first of these matchups is Thursday night when UNC faces #23 Pittsburgh. UNC then faces #22 Duke in two weeks, with the final matchup of #23 Pittsburgh and #22 Duke occurring in three weeks. I’m not going to sit here and act like I have any idea who will ultimately come out of the division, as all three of these teams seem pretty even. All have a competent quarterback, a run game they can rely on and solid defenses. If I had to pick one though I’m going to say Duke emerges as the winner, as they seem to have better coaching over the past couple seasons. Nonetheless the games between these teams in the next few weeks will have a lot on the line.

ACC WRAP UP 10/14

Duke Ranked

Duke enters the rankings this week at #25 after defeating Army 44-3, and now sit at 4-1 and look like the favorite in the Coastal division in the ACC. Duke has been led by quarterback Thomas Sirk in the air and on the ground and has been a revelation for this team. With only a couple of quality teams remaining on Duke’s schedule, this team could finish the season undefeated with their only loss being to a good Northwestern team. Duke’s next game is on the 24th against Virginia Tech.

 FSU-MIAMI Game Results

Florida State defeated Miami this weekend in a thriller that ended with Miami’s failed 4th and 4 attempt with less than a minute left to give the Seminoles the victory. This game had a lot of implications for the ACC, the win gives Florida State the lead in the Atlantic division and the loss for Miami knocks them to 3-2 and puts them at the bottom of the Coastal division. With Miami enduring the toughest part of their schedule, this team could end up sitting at 4-4 after facing Virginia Tech, #5 Clemson and #25 Duke in the next couple weeks.

 All ACC Matchups

This weekend every team in the ACC faces another ACC team, and there are a lot of interesting story lines within the matchups. Pittsburgh plays Georgia Tech this weekend, with Tech having a miserable year and Pittsburgh having a surprising year. Before the season you would have said Georgia Tech would win, but not anymore. A win for Pittsburgh would send them to 5-1 and 3-0 in the ACC. Virginia Tech and Miami play each other in a game that will decide the direction of their season for each team. Perhaps the biggest ACC matchup of the week is between Boston College and Clemson, with Clemson facing one of the best defenses in the country in Boston College.

 Clemson vs. Boston College’s Defense

#5 Clemson faces Boston College this weekend in a game that has the potential to be a big upset. Boston College has one of the best defenses in college football and will give Clemson’s offense their toughest test of the season to this point. Clemson running back Wayne Gallman will need to have a good game on the ground if Clemson wants to win this game, as Boston College’s pass defense is elite and will surely give DeShaun Watson some headaches. Unfortunately for Boston College they will probably have to score a couple of points to beat Clemson, which has been a tough task for them. Their defense will keep them in any game and this one is no different. Clemson’s defense has been pretty good in their own right this season so I don’t expect Boston College to find much offense in this game, Clemson wins a close one.

What Jameis Winston meant to FSU

Jameis Winston of the Florida State Seminoles has officially declared for the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft. After his first loss as a starting quarterback, there were talks that the redshirt-sophomore would return for another year of football and baseball, but those talks were put to rest after Winston’s father announced that Jameis would declare.

Wow, where to start? The obvious thing would be to say that Winston was one of, if not the best quarterback to ever play for Florida State. He went 26-1 as a quarterback during his two seasons as a starter, won a Heisman Trophy, and brought a National Championship to Tallahassee for the first time in over 10 years.

After saying this, the next thing that would need to be mentioned after his accolades, are his countless off of the fields incidents while attending Florida State. With the most extreme being his accused sexual assault case. After a year and a half of court appearances, potential student conduct penalties and conduct hearings, he would ultimately end up not being charged with the assault.

Jameis Winston will be remembered for his tremendous on the field accomplishments, but he will always be scarred by the way that he conducted himself off of the field. However, his impact on Florida State Football goes way farther than this.

Pre-Jameis Winston, the Seminoles endured a down decade in the 2000’s. Starting in the 2001 season, the Seminoles would finish every season ranked outside of the top 10 for the next 10 seasons. Prior to the 2001 season, the last time the Seminoles had not finished the season in the top 5 had been in 1987. This culminated in the long-time Seminole legend, coach Bobby Bowden stepping down and handing the reigns to current coach Jimbo Fisher. With Bowden gone, Seminole fans weren’t exactly sure how long it would take to get back to the top, or even if they could. Fisher would allow QB EJ Manuel to finish his senior season as the quarterback, while stockpiling talented recruits.

Not many people remember this, but going into the first season that Jameis Winston would ultimately end up starting, Winston and Jacob Coker were both battling to be named the starter quarterback for the 2013 season and this was a very tight race in spring training. Winston would go on to beat Coker out for the starting position, and in his first start Winston would complete 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and 4 touchdowns against Pittsburgh. This was the beginning of the Jameis Winston era as we now know it. Winston would go on to win the Heisman Trophy in this season and the National Championship.

However, throughout the two years as the starting quarterback, Winston’s impact on Florida State was much bigger than the results on the football field. Winston brought the infamous term that is almost impossible to define back to Florida State Football, “swagger.”

Jameis Winston transformed the Seminoles from the third best team in Florida that was sitting behind the Gators and the Hurricanes, to the team we know now that is continuously in the top-5 in recruiting classes, and now has young kids wanting to go to Florida State again. In the 2000’s, the best high-school football players in the state of Florida didn’t really consider the Seminoles as a legitimate team that could make them better or win a championship. These kids would rather go to the school that is consistently winning, and that wasn’t the Florida State Seminoles before Jameis Winston. Now you have kids in the Under Armour High-School All-American game doing the “Florida State Chop” down the field after big plays, you see younger kids wearing Seminole gear everywhere you turn in Florida, and you see the following behind Florida State being restored to what it was in the 90’s.

Now don’t get me wrong, the accolades Winston has accumulated during his two years as the starting quarterback couldn’t have been done without the entirety of the team around him. The team that won the National Championship in 2013 had 7 of their starters get drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. In addition, it wouldn’t have been possible without the coaching and recruiting of head coach Jimbo Fisher. Jameis Winston, by his own intention or not, has just been the face of Florida State Football for the past two years, and during his time as the face of the team, the football program and profile of the Florida State Seminoles has been elevated to the top of the college football totem pole once again.

Unfortunately for the Seminoles, Winston is now heading for the NFL and leaving the university, but the state of what he is leaving behind, is much stronger than what he had entered as a freshman in 2012.

Syracuse Aims To Turn Season Around

As we’ve all seen, the first half of the 2014 season did not go according to plan for the Syracuse football team. The Orange were supposed to start the season 3-0 and then have three cracks at pulling off an upset against a top-25 caliber team before finding a much more manageable schedule the second half of the season. Instead, Syracuse was fortunate to start the season 2-0, failed to capitalize on an opportunity to go 3-0 with a disappointing home loss to Maryland, and didn’t come close to pulling off an upset against Notre Dame, Louisville, or Florida State. That poor start has put the Orange in a difficult position with regard to reaching its fourth bowl game in five years.
However, the past two weeks there have been signs that Syracuse is starting to turn things around. Somehow, the Orange managed to play their best football of the season in a loss to Florida State, who at the time was ranked first in the country. Despite an 18-point loss, Syracuse was able to take plenty of positives out of the game, as they were far more competitive with Florida State than they were a year ago. The Orange followed that up with a convincing road win against Wake Forest to snap a four-game losing streak and give Syracuse some much-needed momentum to kickoff the second half of the season.
The biggest reason why Syracuse may be ready to turn their season around is the improved play of the offense the past two weeks. The Orange offense was erratic and unreliable the first month of the season, and they hit rock bottom with a six-point performance against Louisville, which was also the game in which Syracuse lost quarterback Terrel Hunt for several weeks to a broken leg. A third straight loss, the injury to Hunt, and a midseason change in the offensive coordinator had the Orange offense in panic mode before they finally started to show signs of life.
The renewal of life from the Orange offense has come from three true freshmen: quarterback A.J. Long, wide receiver Steve Ishmael, and running back Ervin Phillips. Long has looked mature beyond his years as the team’s new starting quarterback, showing both confidence and play-making ability the past two weeks. Ishmael had six catches the first five games of the season, but has nine the past two weeks, including two touchdowns. Ishmael is clearly the most talented wide receiver on the Orange roster, and he and Long appear to have a great chemistry in the passing game. Finally, new offensive coordinator Tim Lester appears has tried to increase Phillips’ role in the offense, as he has flashed great skills and the potential to be a game changer.
Of course, the Syracuse defense continues to play well, as the Orange attempt to turn their season around. The Orange have been much better at playing bend-but-don’t-break defense in recent weeks, which has at least kept Syracuse within striking distance had the offense been more productive. More importantly, the Orange defense has continued to create turnovers, forcing two against Florida State, while also being in position for at least two more, and then scoring two defensive touchdowns Wake Forest. If nothing else, the Syracuse defense should be able to keep the team competitive the second half of the season, and give the Orange a chance to win enough games to reach a bowl if the offense can continue to show improvement.
The schedule ahead is not quite as daunting as what Syracuse faced the first half of the season, but it’s certainly challenging. Among road trips to Clemson, Pittsburgh, and Boston College, as well as home games against N.C. State and Duke, the Orange need to find at least three wins. Based on the play of the Orange thus far, all of those games are at best a toss-up, if not games in which Syracuse will be an underdog. That’s a tall task, but Syracuse has overcome slow starts in previous years and managed to reach a bowl game. With the team’s four-game losing streak over, and the offense showing signs of life the past two weeks, there is a glimmer of hope that Syracuse can get things turned all the way around and find themselves in a bowl game in 2014.

Browns Overcome Injuries – Embarrass Steelers

Validation. The rematch between Pittsburgh and Cleveland did not disappoint Browns fans as the good guys win 31-10, proving to all critics that Cleveland is here and the league should take notice.

The game on Sunday was the first time this season we have seen both the offense and defense play a full four quarters. While there were a few hiccups the first couple of drives for Brian Hoyer and the offense, a deep play action pass to Jordan Cameron that went for 42 yards seemed to open up the floodgates.

Once again, the offensive play calling was dominated by the running backs, with Ben Tate rushing 25 times for 78 yards and two scores and Isaiah Crowell running for 77 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Terrance West was a surprise healthy scratch for the game.

-5344ab007f5c3d23With the Browns finding so much success with the run, that left Hoyer with only 17 passing attempts—completing a meager 8 of them. While a 47% completion percentage leaves much to be desired, Brian Hoyer’s shortest completion of the day was to Jordan Cameron for 9 yards towards the end of the third quarter. Hoyer’s longest pass also went Cameron’s way on a perfectly thrown 51 yard bomb for a touchdown in the 2nd quarter.

Something we aren’t used to this year is the team holding a convincing lead. The Browns defense came through in a big way, holding the Roethlisberger and the Steelers to a field goal until a garbage time touchdown to Lance Moore with about 2:45 left in the game. The Browns held the Steelers to 10 points while forcing five QB hits and two sacks. Buster Skrine also collected an interception after a John Hughes pass deflection.

What is most impressive about the success of the defense is they were without three key defensive linemen in Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Billy Winn. Not only that, but Armonty Bryant went down in the second quarter with a knee injury—what we now know is a torn right ACL which will unfortunately end his season. The importance of the depth of the defensive line cannot be overstated. With Bryant’s promising season being cut short, its next man up once again.

The offense was not spared from the injury bug, as Alex Mack suffered a fractured fibula and could also be done for the season (undetermined at time of writing this article). Joe Thomas admitted he became emotional after the injury to his fellow Pro Bowl teammate. One positive that came from this injury is the offense was not stunted because of Mack’s departure. John Greco moved over to center and Paul McQuistan came off the bench to replace Greco at right guard. The loss of Mack is a huge concern going forward, as the Browns have relied on the success of the running game this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns

The camaraderie shown by the entire Browns team to Alex Mack shows why they have found success this year compared to others. Despite not having a quote “superstar” on the field this year, they have come together and have played as a team. The heart is there. While they haven’t played perfect football, they pick each other up and fight for each other. Joe Haden and Paul Kruger, who both were very questionable to play, suited up to take on the division rival. Haden ended up making a highlight pass defense on Antonio Brown, soaring over Brown in the end zone, knocking the ball away.

It is fantastic to have won against the Steelers, but it is time to look forward. In the next three weeks, the Browns will be traveling to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars, then it is home against the Raiders and Buccaneers—a combined record of 1-16 between the three teams. The only win from these teams is when Tampa Bay traveled to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 27-24 in week four. The Jaguars nearly won week five as well as this past week. The opponents? Pittsburgh and Tennessee, the Browns’ last two games that vaulted them from a 1-2 record to 3-2.

While it is fun to look ahead to the next three opponents, dreaming of a 6-2 record, the Browns need to focus on this week against the Jaguars. Playoff teams beat teams they are supposed to beat. By all accounts, the Browns are supposed to beat Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay. Cleveland can’t play down to their opponent. They’ll need to build off their momentum heading into Cincinnati for the week 10 Thursday night game.

But to get to 6-2, you must first attain 4-2.

Go Browns.

Syracuse Must Spring An October Upset

With the Syracuse football team suffering back-to-back losses, and a brutal October schedule ahead of them, the Orange are approaching a danger zone, as it pertains to reaching a bowl game for the fourth time in five years. At 2-2, there is a distinct possibility that the Orange could fall to 3-5 by the time their schedule starts to get somewhat more manageable in November, leaving them with a small margin of error over the final month of the season. The only remedy for this would be for Syracuse to pull off an upset over one of the three big-time opponents on its schedule in October: Louisville, Florida State, or Clemson.
In November, the Orange will play home games against N.C. State and Duke before finishing the season with road games against Pittsburgh and Boston College. It stands to reason that Syracuse can split those four games, as all four games will likely be tossups on paper. However, without pulling an upset in October, the Orange will have to win three games in November in order to qualify for a bowl, assuming Syracuse wins an October road game against Wake Forest, a team they should be favored to beat. The Orange pulled off a 4th quarter comeback in its final regular season game last year to reach a bowl game, but to avoid putting themselves in a similar situation this year, Syracuse must pull off a surprise upset in October.
In order to pull off an October upset over Louisville, Florida State or Clemson, the Syracuse offense must show considerable improvement. The Orange defense has been fine and done its part to put the team in position to win games. Outside of allowing a few big plays the last couple of weeks, which are bound to happen to any defense that’s as aggressive as the Syracuse defense, the Orange have been solid defensively. The issue is the inconsistency of the Syracuse offense, which has they’ve failed to finish drives and capitalize on opportunities. Now, the Orange offense appears to be banged up, with a slew of injuries, both small and significant, to several key players. But to pull of the upset they need, the Orange will have to overcome those injuries and start putting points on the board with more regularity in support of a defense that’s held up its end of the bargain.
The best chance Syracuse has to get the win they covet could be this week at home against Louisville. The Cardinals are 4-1 on the season, but they’ve had some ups and downs this year and are coming off a rather unimpressive victory of Wake Forest. Bobby Petrino’s team may also have to rely on true freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon if Will Gardner doesn’t return from injury by Friday night. An aggressive Syracuse defense inside the Carrier Dome against a true freshman quarterback making his second career start is a scenario that would certainly favor the Orange. However, Louisville has one of the best defenses in the country through the first month of the season, which could make it tough for the Orange offense to get going, as they try to pull off an upset of the Cardinals.
The next opportunity for an upset will come the following week at home against Florida State. Most would have counted this one in the loss column for Syracuse before the season started, but the Seminoles have looked a little vulnerable this year and haven’t exactly looked the part of the top team in the country. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that the Orange will have to play close to perfect just to have a chance against Florida State. There is some glimmer of hope in that the Seminoles could take Syracuse lightly or look ahead to a showdown with Notre Dame the following week, which could open the door for the Orange to make things interesting.
Finally, the Orange will close out October with a trip to Clemson, which is arguably the toughest road venue in the ACC. The Tiger’s defense hasn’t quite lived up to its preseason billing, but it does return many of the players that made it difficult for Syracuse to put points on the board last season against Clemson. While this game is nearly a month away, it could be another game that puts too much pressure on the Syracuse defense if the Orange offense doesn’t show substantial improvement between now and then. Otherwise, this could be the toughest game on Syracuse’s October schedule.
Mathematically, it’s possible for Syracuse to reach six wins and become bowl eligible without beat Louisville, Florida State, or Clemson. With a 2-2 record at the end of September, Syracuse can reach a bowl game with a 4-4 record in ACC play, which is the same record they had last season. However, without pulling off an upset over one of the ACC’s top teams in October, the Orange will have a substantial amount of work to do in November. Moreover, it may be difficult for the Orange to overcome the psychological burden of entering November with a 3-5 record, especially if they suffer one or more blowout losses in October. Thus, for Syracuse to create a manageable schedule in November and give themselves some confidence after three sub-par performances over the first four games of the season, the Orange must find a way to pull off an upset at some point in October; otherwise, Syracuse runs the risk of their season getting away from them.

A Darkhorse Heisman: Can anyone catch Marcus Mariota?

As the first third of the college football season comes to a close, most of the focus has been on which teams are in the best position to make the playoff. And rightfully so, as it is the most exciting thing about this young season. But in every other year, more talk would have focused on which players are off to great starts and can use their early season momentum into a Heisman campaign. The Heisman talk has taken somewhat of a backseat to the playoff discussion. This year, like all others, we are already seeing a few players separate themselves from the rest of the pack as favorites to be invited to the ceremony.
I won’t spend much time on the current favorites since they’re pretty obvious and universal at this point. Marcus Mariota was on his way to a possible trophy last year before a mid-season injury, and has picked up right where he left off. Combined with the potential for an undefeated season, he is the clear front runner having accounted for 16 touchdowns and 0 interceptions so far this year. In either order close behind him are Todd Gurley and Amari Cooper. Gurley is averaging on astonishing 9.8 ypc up to this point and has dominated in Georgia’s two biggest games of the year, versus Clemson and South Carolina. Meanwhile Amari Cooper is merely leading the nation in receptions and receiving yards for a Top 5 Alabama team. Both players will put up ridiculous stats this year, but it will still be difficult for them to bring home the award since neither are a quarterback.
Currently rounding out my Top 5 are Dak Prescott and Ameer Abdullah. I’m not sure why Prescott isn’t getting more love. He has as impressive of stats as the other “non-Top 3” Top Heisman contenders on ESPN’s Heisman Watch and led his team to the best win out of those players (with the possible exception of Kenny Hill vs. South Carolina). He’s only completing 60% of his passes, but has thrown for 11 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions and has added 378 yards and 3 scores on the ground. He’ll get more chances to prove himself in the next couple weeks with visits from Texas A&M and Auburn. If he plays well, Prescott will remain in the Heisman conversation for most of the year as long as Mississippi State is able to go 1-1 in those games. Abdullah hasn’t led Nebraska to a huge win yet, but he has been racking up the rushing yards and had his best game in his team’s biggest game of the season so far against Miami (Fl.) last week. He also already has his Heisman moment with his incredible touchdown reception to save the day against McNeese St.
There are some fairly common other players being mentioned just on the fringe of the Heisman discussion, but I’m going to skip past them and look at some long-shots. There are a few players who have played really well, and even though most people know who they are, they haven’t really been mentioned in Heisman talks for one reason or another. These are my Top 5 sleeper picks to make it to the Heisman ceremony.
1. Blake Sims – QB Alabama

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The first few weeks made us wonder if the quarterback position would hold Alabama back from being a true national title contender. This was understandable considering the relative lack of passing game the Tide showed in the first few weeks. But Blake Sims was unleashed last week against Florida, and proved he is capable of making big plays in the passing game. Because of the conservative nature of the offense the first few games, the counting stats aren’t there yet for Sims. But he’s completing just fewer than 70% of his passes and last week showed he can rack up the yards and touchdowns if OC Lane Kiffin continues to air it out. He’ll need to finish with at least 35 touchdowns, but as the QB for one of the nation’s top teams, he has the stage and talent around him to make it happen.
2. DJ Foster – RB Arizona State
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

DJ Foster is an explosive RB in the Reggie Bush mold. The Sun Devils have only played three games so far, but Foster has already rang up 649 yards from scrimmage to go with 6 touchdowns, all while averaging 9.4 ypc. Though they haven’t played much quality opposition, Foster’s worst game of the year so far is 173 yards and 3 touchdowns. The opposition will get tougher now that Pac-12 play is starting, and Foster gets the chance to make a huge statement tonight. With starting quarterback Taylor Kelly out due to injury, if Foster has a huge game and leads Arizona State to an upset win at home over UCLA, Foster will start to gain momentum in the Heisman race.
3. James Conner – RB Pittsburgh
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Conner, the 250 pound running back for the Pittsburgh Panthers, is tallying impressive rushing totals. He has 699 yards and 9 touchdowns already on 6.4 ypc. He also doesn’t have a game with less than 5.3 ypc. The competition may have not been the greatest, but that’s something that isn’t going to change. The Panthers play a weak schedule even by ACC standards, avoiding Florida State and Clemson. Last year Andre Williams finished 4th in the Heisman voting for a 7-5 Boston College team simply because his stats were so impressive. With Pittsburgh’s dedication to the run game (or unwillingness to risk throwing), I see no reason Conner doesn’t have a good chance at putting up a stat line that gets him close to New York.
4. Shane Carden – QB East Carolina

shane-carden

Carden’s candidacy is based both on putting up stats and quality wins. Playing in the American Conference he will certainly not have the big stage other contenders do so he will have to total astonishing stats. That is something he is on pace to do, currently totaling 1,469 yards through the air with 11 passing touchdowns to go along with 3 on the ground. He led East Carolina to a close defeat at South Carolina and followed that up by toasting Virginia Tech and North Carolina to the tune of 865 yards with 10 touchdowns and only 1 interception in the next two games. While he doesn’t have any marquee games left, if he could light up those ACC schools just imagine what he’ll do in American Conference play. They’ll have to win out and go 11-1, but a 4,500 yard season with 40+ touchdowns isn’t out of the question; those are stats that would keep him in the discussion.

5. Dylan Thompson – QB South Carolina

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Dylan Thompson is another case where his team will need to win out for him to have a chance. But if the Gamecocks can rattle off 12 straight wins after an opening loss and win the SEC, Thompson is the quarterback for what would be a Top 3 team. He has completed 66.7% of his passes since the opener and even in that opening game loss he threw 4 touchdowns. In South Carolina’s last two games, which came against SEC opponents, Thompson threw 8 touchdowns and only 1 interception. A lot would need to go right, but if Thompson can keep up that kind of efficiency throughout conference play, seeing him finish in the Top 5 wouldn’t be all that far-fetched.

Ranking Syracuse's Opponents on 2014 Football Schedule

The college football offseason is about to reach its unceremonious conclusion, as it’s officially game week. For the Syracuse Orange, the season starts Friday night with a home game against Villanova. It will be the first game in what many believe to be one of the tougher schedules in the ACC, which is why Scott Shafer set expectations for the season at just eight wins, and not a more ambitious number like 10. To get an idea of just how difficult the schedule Syracuse will play in 2014 is, here is a ranking of the 12 opponents the Orange will have this season.
 
12. Villanova – Like it or not, just about every power conference team plays an FCS school at some point in the season, although it would have been tough for Syracuse to schedule a better one than Villanova. The Wildcats will be the easiest team Syracuse plays this year, but they’ve had a winning record in seven or the last eight seasons, including an FCS national championship in 2009, so they’re far from a pushover. After giving Boston College problems in the season opener last year, Villanova could challenge the Orange and keep the game close for at least two or three quarters.
 
11. Wake Forest – The Orange shutout Wake Forest in the Carrier Dome last year, and the Demon Deacons could be even worse this year, as they’ll have a new head coach, a new quarterback, and no apparent replacement for their top offensive playmaker, Michael Campanaro. Obviously, there are no guarantees going on the road, but this is a game Syracuse should win easily.
 
10. N.C. State – N.C. State should be better than they were last season, especially if Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett provides an answer at quarterback. But in the second year of a rebuilding project under Dave Doren, they shouldn’t be improved enough to win in the Carrier Dome if the Orange play their best, especially after Syracuse handled them last year. The Wolf Pack may not role over, but at home, this is a game in which the Orange should be able to take care of business.
 
9. Central Michigan – A road game against Central Michigan is going to be tougher than people think. The Chippewas carry some momentum into 2014 after winning five of their last seven games in 2013, and they have a team that could compete for a spot in the MAC Championship Game this season. With Scott Shafer and much of the coaching staff having a history in the MAC, the Orange won’t be taking this team lightly, which should help them get off to a 2-0 start.
 
8. Boston College – Steve Addazio did a great job of turning the Eagles around last year and getting them to a bowl game in his first season in Chestnut Hill, but B.C. is due to take a step back this year. The Eagles have to replace quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams, and wide receiver Alex Amidon, and those three provided most of the offense last season. The Eagles will be looking for redemption after the Orange stole last year’s meeting in the Carrier Dome in the last minute, but this is a winnable road game for Syracuse to close out the regular season.
 
7. Maryland – This won’t be the same Maryland team that the Orange handled last season in College Park, especially on offense, where the Terrapins were missing several key players due to injury for much of 2013. The Syracuse secondary should be challenged in this game, as this matchup should produce a few more points than last season’s game between the Orange and Terrapins did.
 
6. Pittsburgh – Syracuse and Pittsburgh always seem to play close, hard-fought games; Big East style games if you will. A single point has decided each of the last two meetings between these teams, although Syracuse has just one win in the series since 2004. The Orange will be making their first trip to Pittsburgh since 2011, so the Panthers will be excited to avoid seeing the Carrier Dome this season, while Syracuse needs to work on evening this series out in a late-season game that could go either way and will have great importance for both teams.
 
5. Louisville – The Orange pulled off a major upset the last time the Cardinals came to the Carrier Dome, and while Louisville probably won’t be a top-10 team this time around, Syracuse will most likely be a home underdog. Teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong are both gone, so this will be a much different team from the one Syracuse dominated in 2012, but there’s still a lot of talent on the Louisville roster, and this isn’t exactly Bobby Petrino’s first rodeo. Louisville is probably the more talented team, but a Friday night game in the Carrier Dome could help to balance things out a bit and give Syracuse another shot to upset the Cardinals.
 
4. Duke – Duke football is a laughing stock no more, as David Cutcliffe has turned things around, and even took the Blue Devils to the ACC Championship Game last season. Like Syracuse, Duke is one of the few teams in the ACC that returns its starting quarterback, which should help put the Blue Devils in the mix to win the ACC Coastal and return to the conference title game. Syracuse should get some advantage from playing at home in this game, but the Blue Devils are one of the more talented ACC teams the Orange will play this season, especially on offense.
 
3. Notre Dame – Syracuse may be New York’s college team, but with Notre Dame’s fan base, playing in the Meadowlands will be a de-factor road game for the Orange against a pre-season top-25 team. The loss of a few key players to suspension could open the door for Syracuse just a little to pull off the upset. However, there should be no mistaking the fact that the Irish are the more talented team and will be considerable favorites. If nothing else, this game is a good early-season barometer to see how the Orange stack up with a top-25 team.
 
2. Clemson – There may be no more intimidating venue in the ACC than Clemson’s Death Valley. Syracuse won’t have to contend with the combination of Tajh Boy and Sammy Watkins that torched them last year, but Dabo Swinney still has a roster that’s far more talented than the one Scott Shafer will bring down south with him. The Orange will have a realistic chance to win most of their road games, but this is by far the toughest away game of the season.
 
1. Florida State – On paper, you might as well mark this down as a loss for the Orange. You never want to completely eliminate the possibility of an upset inside the Carrier Dome, as it’s been done before, but this is a game in which Syracuse will have to play perfect just to be within striking distance in the 4th quarter against the best team in the ACC and a team that many favor to repeat as national champions.

Bring Back the Backyard Brawl

Pittsburgh v West Virginia
College fans are gearing up around the country for the start of camp. Most fans have two dates circled on their calendars, the first game and the rival game, but what if you don’t have a rival, or you ‘ended’ your rivalry what’s next. This is case for the University of Pittsburgh Pitt Panthers and their fans.
The Panthers are looking forward to their 2014 season and home opener against the Delaware Blue Hens and no rival to set their sights on since their long time rival West Virginia is no longer on the schedule now or for the future. The “Backyard Brawl” was one of the oldest and greatest football rivals around (go ahead talk about the Michigan vs. Ohio State or Auburn vs. Alabama or even The Game with Harvard vs. Yale) but for my money and the level of hatred the brawl is unbeatable.
backyard brawl logo
The rival lasted through 104 meetings starting in 1895 and ending in 2011 with Pitt moving to the ACC and West Virginia moving to the Big 12. The schools were separated by only 70 miles but the distance and hatred between the fan bases was so intense and amazing and the games were electric in either venue. I attended several Brawls and was swept up in the excitement and am sad that the game is no more.
As I look through the Panther schedule I am hard presses to find an every year opponent to fill the void. I just don’t see how old Big East rivals like Syracuse could fill in, maybe going back a few years to when Virginia Tech and Miami were Big East rivals which would be OK, but Virginia Tech has Virginia and Miami has the other Florida schools. The other ACC Coastal Division members have rivals, Duke and North Carolina, Georgia Tech has Georgia.
Pitt and Penn State have scheduled a few games starting in 2017 but that is rival just isn’t the same as the Brawl. The possibility of the schools re-upping seems farfetched with each school needed to schedule nine conference games a year, but with West Virginia already floundering in the Big 12 and their fans disgruntled and the Panthers always at a disadvantaged competing against the Steelers for loyalty, maybe the schools should just do what’s right for them and their fans and invariably their wallets with attendance and merchandising sales going through the roof. That last part may be cynical but it is realistic and hitting a university in the pocketbook will get things done, so I say bring back the Brawl asap. It makes college football better.