Tag Archives: Seth Russell

2016 Is All About Football for Baylor and Jim Grobe

When Baylor trounced the Northwestern State Demons last weekend, the Bears proved that the only thing new to Baylor football this year is head coach Jim Grobe. The on-field results were the same as they have always been and that is a high-scoring track meet. This is what should be focused on from this point forward with Baylor and I’ll tell you why.

Art Briles, Ken Starr and Ian McCaw were all shown the door and rightfully so. The former football players who were accused of rape have also been kicked out of the program. Again, rightfully so. Yes, Baylor had to be drug kicking and screaming to do the right thing, but eventually it did and personnel changes were made.

None of the legal or moral crimes that occurred at Baylor were the fault of Jim Grobe. Grobe was brought in after the fact to help clean up the mess that Art Briles contributed to. So let’s give Grobe a fair shot and not rule him guilty by association.

As for the players that remain on the football team? The same treatment should apply to them as applies to Grobe. I refuse to believe that every football player knew or was directly involved in the rapes that occurred at Baylor. Like Grobe, the players that remain on the team should not be considered guilty by association.

There is the argument that Baylor shouldn’t be fielding a football team at all this year. One of the more popular reactions to the crimes committed at Baylor was for the NCAA to levy the death penalty to the football program. As much as that would have pleased much of the country, it was never an option because, like it or not, the issues at Baylor never fell under NCAA jurisdiction.

So now it is about football and that’s exactly how it should be.

Jim Grobe and his Bears put the rest of the Big 12 on notice against Northwestern State. Seth Russell completed 70% of his passes as he threw for four touchdowns. Shock Linwood averaged 10.8 yards per carry and a stable of wide receivers raced up and down the field. And the Baylor defense held the Demons to 78 yards total yards. Not bad considering the Bears are not known for playing defense against anybody.

On a day when Oklahoma lost to Houston and TCU struggled to pull out a victory against South Dakota State, Baylor just kept doing its thing and nobody seemed to notice. All people want to talk about is Texas beating Notre Dame and what Texas’ rise means to the rest of the conference. 

It’s not the premature argument about Texas’ rise back to the top of the conference that should be our focus in the Big 12 after the first week. What should be our focus is the resiliency that the remaining Baylor players and coaches put on display against Northwestern State. And if conference favorites Oklahoma and TCU continue to falter, don’t be surprised if Jim Grobe’s Bears take full advantage of the opportunity.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

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The Big 12’s Best Football Games of 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday, November 12)

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

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

 

Featured image courtesy frankleleon

Top 10 NCAA Quarterbacks for 2016

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

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

10. Chad Kelly – Ole Miss

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

9. Brad Kaaya – Miami (Fl.)

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

8. Notre Dame Starting QB

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

7. Josh Rosen – UCLA

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

6. Greg Ward Jr. – Houston

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

5. Luke Falk – Washington State

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

4. Baker Mayfield – Oklahoma

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

3. Seth Russell – Baylor

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

2. J.T. Barrett – Ohio State

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

1. Deshaun Watson – Clemson

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

Featured image courtesy Tom Magliery

 

Pre-season Top 10 Teams That Could Disappoint

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

Oklahoma Sooners

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

Michigan Wolverines

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

Baylor Bears

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

Stanford Cardinal

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

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

Featured image courtesy MGoBlog

Five You Must See: Week 11

#2 Alababma (8-1) at #17 Mississippi State (7-2) Saturday 3:30pm on CBS

Alabama made a loud statement last week by shutting down LSU completely.  Mississippi State, who’s lost to those Tigers and the Aggies of A&M, has since rattled off four straight wins during the midseason lull in their schedule.  Winning here would give them, Ole Miss and LSU new life in the crowded SEC West race.

This game features two of my favorite offensive players in the country.  Alabama running back Derrick Henry, fresh off a 210-yard, three-touchdown performance, is finally getting some Heisman hype of his own.  Most everyone was focused on Leo Fournette this time last week, but by out-rushing the former frontrunner by 179 yards, Henry has shifted the attention to him.  It’s time for him to follow it up with another stellar game on the ground to let everyone know he’s for real.

On the other side, watch out for (who else) quarterback Dak Prescott.  He’s really the only hope the Bulldogs have in this game.  The senior leads his team in passing and rushing yards, and I’m sure he would lead in receiving too if they had someone who could throw it to him consistently.  He’s also been responsible for 25 touchdowns this season.  For his team to have a chance in this one, Prescott has to go off.

This is the best chance all you Alabama haters have to see the Tide slip up again.  Tune in to hear Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson on the call.

#21 Memphis (8-1) at #24 Houston (9-0) Saturday 7:00pm on ESPN 2

Memphis ruined any shot they had at the playoff by losing to Navy last week.  Meanwhile, Houston’s 20-point win over SMU was much closer than the score suggests.  This matchup will likely be a battle of two great junior quarterbacks.

Memphis’ Paxton Lynch is getting some mention as a top QB in this year’s draft class if he decides to declare.  It’s hard to argue that based on his body of work.  He’s one of eight guys in the country who’ve thrown for more than 3000 yards.  He’s ninth in completion percentage at 68.9.  And with 19 touchdowns on just two interceptions he takes care of the ball too.  A signature game in front of a national audience would validate his high draft stock.

Greg Ward Jr. is just as prolific, though his game is much different.  Ward is that dual-threat that we’ve seen open up the NFL to new possibilities.  At 70.4 percent, he ranks second in completion rate.  He’s the top rushing quarterback in the nation outside of Navy’s Keenan Reynolds who has an unfair advantage, running the triple option.  To average 92 yards per game on the ground as a QB is just sick.  The Tiger defense is going to have to keep a spy on Ward all night if they hope to hold him in check.

All of a sudden Memphis finds itself third in the division, needing a win here and a Navy loss to have a shot at the AAC West crown.  Houston, on the other hand, still has dreams of an undefeated season and a playoff spot.  This is easily the biggest game in the AAC’s brief history.

Oregon (6-3) at #7 Stanford (8-1) Saturday 7:30pm on Fox

Oregon is finally playing well.  They’ve won three in a row, but a fourth will be difficult.  Stanford is really good.

The Cardinal calling card has always been a stout defense.  Now that they’ve added offensive firepower to their arsenal they’re an absolute nightmare of an opponent.  They can, and will, pound you between the tackles with Christian McCaffrey who averages 134 yards per game.  That’s made life so much easier for Kevin Hogan who’s completing 66 percent of his passes now that most of them come off a play action fake.

The Ducks are finally getting the production they need from Vernon Adams, which is good news because they’re going to have to outscore the Cardinal to win this one.  In the last three games he’s thrown 10 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.  Like McCaffrey does for Hogan, Royce Freeman opens up opposing defenses for Adams.  The sophomore standout has rushed for at least 100 yards in seven of nine games this fall, with a pair of touchdowns in four of those seven.

It’s been a disappointing season for the Ducks but they’ve still got a chance to spoil Stanford’s playoff party plans.  There should be a fair amount of bad blood in Palo Alto.

#12 Oklahoma (8-1) at #6 Baylor (8-0) Saturday 8:00pm on ABC

The Baylor Bears have been waiting to prove themselves all season, but the Sooners have needed to prove themselves since taking a terrible loss to Texas.

This is the first of three gauntlet games that round out Oklahoma’s schedule.   They’ve got TCU coming to town next week and they’re headed to Stillwater for Bedlam against Oklahoma State in two weeks.  All three are huge obviously, but a loss here would significantly detract from the next two.  A quick note on quarterback Baker Mayfield: he’s completing 70 percent of his passes and averaging 10 yards per attempt.  That combination is astounding and needless to say, no one else is even close to that sort of production.

Baylor’s offensive machine is now operating with a backup quarterback.  Freshman Jarrett Stidham has the keys now after Seth Russell was injured two weeks ago.  He exceeded expectations last week against a formidable Kansas State defense.  He’ll need to be even better against hands down the best defense the Bears have seen all season.

Baylor also has a bumpy road ahead with trips to Oklahoma State and TCU, and a game against Texas on conference championship weekend that looks like the perfect opportunity to trip them up if they’re somehow still standing.  The odds are stacked against them, but that’s pretty much what they asked for.  Let’s see how they handle it.

Washington State (6-3) at #19 UCLA (7-2) Saturday 10:45pm on ESPN

Don’t pass out early.  The nightcap should be fun too.

Washington State has been entertaining this year.  At an astronomical 56.9 attempts and 417.3 yards a game, nobody throws it around the lot like the Cougars.  What else would you expect from a Mike Leach offense?  Luke Falk is another one of those guys completing passes at a 70 percent clip, but when you air it out 56 times a game it brings a whole new meaning to the stat.  UCLA’s defense has been banged up all season.  Falk and company will be aiming to take advantage.

UCLA is still alive despite back-to-back losses to Arizona State and Stanford.  They still control their own destiny with games at Utah and at USC after Wazoo.  Sure it’s tough to ask them to go out and win those last two, but that’s what championship teams do.

Josh Rosen has become a must-watch player for me.  He can make all the throws.  It’s clear he’s got the talent.  Now it’s a matter of him progressing as a quarterback, not just a thrower.  He has to learn how to diagnose defensive schemes and figure out how to consistently move his team down the field in order to take that next step.  I’m excited to see if he can do it.

Do the Bruins come out flat and fall on their faces again, or have they gotten their act together?  Stay up late to find out.

Week 8 Rundown: What a Time to be Alive

So you thought Auburn’s “Kick Six” a couple years ago was a once in a generation finish? You thought last week’s Michigan punting failure was a once-in-a-decade type of loss? So did I. And inexplicably, college football fans were treated to incredible, improbable finishes in back to back weeks. The Florida State-Georgia Tech matchup itself was much less meaningful than the Auburn-Alabama game from a few years back and even than last week’s Michigan-Michigan State game. But the Seminoles did have playoff hopes and a lengthy regular season winning streak.

They saw that streak come to an end with arguably the best kicker in the nation Roberto Aguayo having a last second field goal attempt blocked and returned for the game-winning touchdown. It’s not a total shock when a field goal gets blocked behind the line of scrimmage and gets taken to the house, but the best part about this one was that the ball landed past the line of scrimmage and the Yellow Jackets were still able to weave their way around and through the Seminoles for the score. That ending was the lone bright spot on an awful day for Hurricanes fans. That and fans can go back to spending their money on night club bottle service and beach days instead of banners to fly over the stadium now that Al Golden’s been fired.

Perhaps the biggest loss of the day however is one that won’t show up in a team’s Win-Loss record. Baylor QB and potential Heisman finalist Seth Russell sustained a neck injury and is now out for the year. Art Briles’ offensive system has been good for pretty much any quarterback that has lined up behind center for the Bears, but for a team that is known just for its offense, this obviously isn’t ideal. Baylor’s hopes now rest on the shoulders of talented freshman QB Jarrett Stidham, who at least has some game action this year, albeit in the 4th quarters of blowouts. Stidham’s Passer Rating in limited time is 255.7. In other words, college football’s passer rating system could use an overhaul.

Florida State wasn’t the only undefeated playoff contender to go down. Utah saw their first loss come at the hands of the USC Trojans 42-24 on Saturday, though I’m a little surprised the score wasn’t more lopsided considering the Utes lost the turnover battle 4-0. Regardless of this loss, I still have Utah as a Top 10 team and playoff contender. It seems I’m on a pretty lonely island with that though.

Utah dropped out of the Top 10 rankings and in the Campus Pressbox Mock Playoff Committee (which comes out every Monday) I was one of only two people out of eleven who still has Utah a Top 10 team. My thinking: Utah still has a really good defense, good special teams, and a pretty good offense. QB Travis Wilson had a bad day but has been playing pretty well overall. Everyone knows USC has Top 5/Top 10 talent, they just can’t put it together for a whole season. If they happen to play to their potential on one particular Saturday? I don’t look at that as a bad loss. There are plenty of other teams around the Top 10 with one loss, so I’m not going to drop Utah out just because their loss was the most recent.

Utah is still on track to play for a potential playoff spot against Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. Stanford cruised to a 31-14 victory over the Washington Huskies. Christian McCaffrey continues to do Christian McCaffrey things, rushing for over 100 yards as well as receiving for over 100, adding a touchdown on the ground and through the air as well. If he keeps this up, he may find himself at the Heisman ceremony. A fellow running back who is almost certain to be there is Leonard Fournette, but not if he keeps up performances like this past week. Less than 6 yards per carry against Western Kentucky? Only 150 yards and one touchdown? What is that? He must be hurt…All kidding aside, Fournette’s Tigers pulled away from the Hilltoppers in the second half and get a week off before their showdown with Alabama.

The Crimson Tide may have been ready for the bye week after recent big wins against Georgia and Texas A&M, because they looked uninspiring in their contest against the Volunteers on Saturday. A late defensive stop allowed them to sneak away with a 19-14 home win. The Tide also have the week off before their matchup with LSU. And while everyone likely assumes the winner of that game will be a heavy favorite to win the SEC and make the playoff, we shouldn’t put the final nail in the Ole Miss coffin just yet. The Rebels dominated Texas A&M in a 23-3 win and still only have one conference loss. A win over LSU next month would give them the tiebreaker over both LSU and Alabama. That is of course if the Rebels don’t lay another egg like they did against Memphis.

That brings me to my favorite hypothetical of this college football season. If Ole Miss runs the table (they only have 4 games left and get LSU at home) and wins the SEC Championship game, they would be an 11-2 SEC champ. A guaranteed playoff spot right? But what if Memphis also wins out and goes 12-0 with wins over currently ranked Temple and Houston on top of that Ole Miss win? Memphis is thought to have basically no shot to make the playoff even with an undefeated season but this would be an impossible spot for the playoff committee. They couldn’t possibly leave out an 11-2 SEC champ, but could they put that team in over an undefeated Group of 5 team that beat them? I think America needs to root for this scenario.

That Memphis team continues to look good, at least on offense, after winning 66-42 over Tulsa with QB Paxton Lynch having another outstanding day putting up 447 yards and four touchdowns. Normally this type of team would be a shoo-in for the Group of 5 spot in a New Year’s Six bowl, but not this year. The American Conference still has three undefeated teams, with all ranked in the Top 25. Houston continues to dominate opponents in Tom Herman’s first year as head coach. Temple is the third undefeated, and they’ll get their chance to make a statement this week with a home game against Notre Dame. That matchup is the only game between ranked teams this week. Needless to say, it’s not a great slate. This would be the Saturday to spend some time with the significant other and get in his/her’s good graces.

The playoff committee continues to look at a potential nightmare. The Ohio State/Michigan State winner would be an easy selection if undefeated, but the only other likely undefeated teams are Clemson (in a bad ACC) or TCU/Baylor (if their defenses can hold up against each other and Oklahoma). But unlike last year where the final two playoff spots came down to three or four real candidates, there may be six or seven this year with a solid case. I’m guessing there’s just a slight chance the talk about the need for an eight-team playoff isn’t going to get quieter.

Top 4

Baylor

Clemson

Ohio State

TCU

Week 7 Rundown: What. Just. Happened.

 

I struggled to find a place to start the Rundown this week since there wasn’t anything that interesting that happened this past weekend. Oh yeah..except one of the most insane finishes we’ll see in our lifetime. That Michigan State/Michigan finish is an all-timer and had everything you’d look for in an all-time type of finish: rivalry game, uniqueness, improbability, and context. If the game would have ended on a punt return touchdown or even a blocked punt it wouldn’t have been that crazy. We’ve seen those plays before. But a botched snap on the last play of the game? And the way the Spartans were able to take it to the house? As I watched the punter drop the snap I thought, “Well this is a disaster, but at least he can fall on it and Michigan State will still have to try a 50+ yard field goal or hail mary for the win.” Nope, the ball inexplicably floated sideways perfectly into the hands of a Spartans player with no Wolverine in sight. Then throw in the fact that both teams were ranked Top 10 with only one real challenge the rest of the season after Saturday. In 50 years when we’re watching TV in like 5D and kids are asking their parents (grandparents?) how we ever watched television like this, they’ll be showing replays of this finish.

The Michigan State-Michigan game overshadowed a dominant performance from Iowa in which they went into Evanston and beat Northwestern 40-10. On any other Saturday that win may have really put the Hawkeyes on the map, but they’ll still be flying under the radar more than normal. I think that’s fine, since I’m still not convinced they are that good and it’s hard to take any Big 10 West team seriously until we see what they do against Michigan State, Michigan, or Ohio State. And we won’t find that out anytime soon because Iowa avoided all three on the regular season schedule. So that matchup would happen in the Big 10 championship game, one that would have 2014 Ohio State-Wisconsin written all over it.

One team we don’t have to wonder if it’s any good is Stanford. That opening week loss to Northwestern seems like forever ago as the Cardinal have been a completely different team in the last month. Stanford housed UCLA 56-35 in a game that was never in doubt. They’ve scored at least 40 points in their last four games, which seems almost as improbable as the finish we saw in Ann Arbor. That should continue though with the emergence of do-it-all back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey torched the Bruins to the tune of 243 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to go alone with 122 kick return yards on just two opportunities. Oh, and this happened. The easy comparison for Stanford is last year’s Ohio State, who unexpectedly lost an early-season game only to roll the rest of the way undefeated. Stanford certainly isn’t as talented as that Buckeyes team (or this year’s for that matter) but the schedule sets them up for a similar run. At 5-1, the Cardinal only have to go on the road for two games the rest of the season, and those two contests are against Washington State and Colorado. In a Pac-12 that isn’t nearly as good as its pre-season projections, they should coast into the Pac-12 title game at no worse than 10-2.

Though the Cardinal may have a conference championship game spot locked up at that point, they’ll have to remain focused if they want to remain in the playoff hunt since they have a fascinating non-conference game the last week of the regular season against Notre Dame. The Irish could still be in the playoff hunt themselves and it may be the only game left the Irish have to impress the committee. The Irish play consecutive ranked opponents the next two weeks, but I don’t think they’ll be soaring into anyone’s Top 4 with wins over Temple and Pitt. And what would’ve been a marquee win over USC before the year started now is just another W. The Irish saved their best for last, outscoring the Trojans 17-0 in the fourth quarter to take a 41-31 victory.

A team that didn’t save their best for last, or their best for the beginning, or even bring it on the bus was the Boise State Broncos. The Broncos committed seven turnovers, in the first half. How does that even happen? I’m not sure teams even get seven possessions in a normal half. Boise State’s 1st half drives ended like this: Field Goal, Punt, Fumble, Fumble, INT, INT, Touchdown, Fumble, Fumble, AND A 90 YARD PICK SIX ON THE LAST PLAY OF THE HALF. That’s how you give up 45 first half points to Utah State. The Broncos weren’t done though. After receiving the second half kickoff, they fumbled the ball away on their second play from scrimmage. Incredible.

Boise State was the favorite to earn the Group of 5’s New Year’s Six bowl spot, a spot that is going to require a lot of luck to fall into now. That’s because there are multiple other candidates who are in prime position to make a run. Houston has been rolling this year behind dual-threat QB Greg Ward Jr. Their success, along with Memphis and Temple’s, has three teams from the American Conference in the Top 25. That should give the eventual conference champ enough of a strength of schedule to waltz into a New Year’s Six bowl game. It’s hard not to make Memphis the favorite out of those teams after the Tigers handily defeated Ole Miss on Saturday. After going down 14-0 early, Memphis outscored the Rebels 37-10 the rest of the way. It would take a miracle for Memphis to find their way to the playoff, but they would have a great chance of beating whatever Power 5 team they played in a possible bowl game behind the arm of future NFL-er Paxton Lynch, who is completing over 70% of his passes with 13 touchdowns and just one interception.

The last few weeks make it harder and harder to believe that that Ole Miss team who just lost to Memphis was able to go into Tuscaloosa and defeat the Crimson Tide. The Tide have looked dominant ever since, going into Athens and routing a Top 10 Georgia team and going on the road this past Saturday and beating a ranked Aggie team in a game where the outcome was never really in doubt. Looks like reports of Alabama’s demise were greatly exaggerated. We’re full steam ahead towards another Top 10 showdown between the Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers on November 7th in a game where the winner will be heavily favored to make the playoff. The Tigers did their part as well on Saturday, fighting off a previously undefeated Gators squad who played extremely well considering the shocking news about Will Grier in the week leading up to the game. And this is your weekly reminder that Leonard Fournette is not, in fact, from this planet. Fournette has 1202 yards on just 150 carries (8.0 ypc) and 14 touchdowns in just six games. The cancellation of LSU’s opening week game may be the only thing keeping Fournette from breaking records this year.

Overshadowed by the LSU man-child, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook is having nearly as good of a season. The dynamic Seminoles back has been carrying the FSU team while Everett Golson becomes more comfortable in the offense each week. Cook has been the reason the Seminoles have won in half their games and if his hamstring holds up, he should have a spot as a Heisman finalist.

Baylor is a team who has multiple players who could find their way to New York for the Heisman ceremony. WR Corey Coleman has already broken the school’s single-season record for touchdown catches with 16. In six games. Coleman is averaging 21 yards per catch on 41 catches. I would say that TD/catch ratio is unsustainable but with Baylor, you never know. But it’s unlikely Coleman could pass his QB as the team’s leading Heisman candidate. Through six games, Seth Russell has 27 touchdowns and 5 INTs. If that isn’t enough he also has over 300 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground on over 8 yards per carry. The Bears haven’t played much in the way of quality competition thus far, but they’ll have their chances in the last month of the season to make statements.

Finally, the defending champs made a statement of their own on Saturday. Ohio State put together their best game of the season, dominating Penn State on their way to a 38-10 win. The Buckeyes are slowly rounding into form, and they have three more weeks to sharpen their game before finishing the year with Michigan State and Michigan.

Top Four

Baylor

Utah

Clemson

Ohio State

The Week 1 Rundown: Overreactions Abound

What the hell’s goin on out here? Famous quote by legendary coach Vince Lombardi, and a fair question to ask after a college football Week 1 that saw some thought-to-be contenders struggle and other Power 5 teams fall flat on their face. So what actually went on out there? The overreactions to opening games are expected and you can see the wave of them coming as soon as each game ends. I’m here to bring some enlightenment on what we saw, knock some fan bases off their high horse, and likely mystify you with my post-weekend Top 4. Welcome to the Week 1 Rundown.

Week 1 kicked off with an ugly game between North and South Carolina, but that was really just a prelude to the meaningful start of college football, TCU facing off with Minnesota. If it’s possible to have momentum when your team hasn’t played in 8 months, TCU had all of it. Coach Gary Patterson is probably glad that his Horned Frogs will have to build new momentum after struggling against the Golden Gophers on Thursday night. But as Damien Bowman points out here, TCU should get credit for playing an opening week road game against a quality opponent. This game says more about the Golden Gophers who, with the defense they played in the opener, should contend in the Big Ten West considering this is by far the best offense they’ll have to play outside of a November 7th trip to Columbus.

Elsewhere in the land of not-so-elegant Big Ten play, Northwestern knocked off preseason sleeper Stanford in a game where the Cardinal never woke up. A slow start could have been expected in a game that was a 9:00 a.m. local kickoff for the Cardinal players, but they came nowhere near matching the intensity of the Wildcats throughout the whole game. Northwestern and Minnesota’s performances muddle up a Big Ten West division picture that was already cloudy to begin with. On the other side, Penn State did the opposite of look like a contender, losing 27-10 to a Temple program who hadn’t beaten them since 1941. That entire conference was mostly part of ugly games, so if numbers are what you’re looking for the Big 12 is a good place to start. Baylor QB Seth Russell’s numbers stood out on Friday night both for what they were and also for what they weren’t. Even against an SMU squad that likely won’t sniff a bowl game, Russell put up 300+ yards on just 15-30 passing. Those astronomical yards per attempt and yards per completion numbers are to be expected from a quarterback who many thought would take more chances downfield than departed signal caller Bryce Petty, but who is also less accurate. It’s nice to be able to bomb the ball downfield with arguably the best WR corps in the country, but it makes me wonder if Russell will be accurate enough to make key throws in tight spots later in the season when a game is on the line.

Nashville was another place where the scoreboard operator was busy, as the Tennessee Volunteer hype train rolled into town only to get hit with an aerial assault they might not have seen coming. The Volunteer defense allowed a boatload of yards to the Bowling Green Falcons, including 424 yards passing from quarterback Matt Johnson. Fortunately for Vols fans, the offense was dynamic in rolling up 600 yards of offense of its own, and Bowling Green may be the best offense they play all year. If you thought the 59-30 game between Tennessee and Bowling Green was a doozy, Oregon does what Oregon does and one-upped that by delivering a 61-42 win in a defensive struggle. As in the defenses struggled. A lot. Vernon Adams was successful in his Ducks debut and appears to have avoided serious injury after a scary late hit. The Ducks’ offense looked like it has the last few years, but the defense will obviously have to improve immensely if they want to be a playoff contender. If they gave up 42 points (including a 15-246-3 line to ONE Eastern Washington receiver) to an FCS team, what’s going to happen in Pac-12 play?

Fortunately for Oregon, the rest of the Pac-12 was hit or miss as well. The previously discussed Stanford Cardinal has seen most of their bandwagon emptied after a shocking loss against Northwestern and the offense looks like it could be their undoing again in 2015. In the other division, USC did what they should have against a lackluster opponent, and Utah survived a scare in Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan debut. Arizona State got ambushed by a Texas A&M defense that looks light years ahead of where they have been previously during Kevin Sumlin’s tenure. Arizona State was thought of as a Pac-12 South contender and possible playoff sleeper. They looked anything but on Saturday night. The offensive line was abysmal, and I think the Sun Devils are going to miss Jaelen Strong more than many realize. DJ Foster is a playmaker, but he’s only about 6’ 200 lbs so I’m not sure Arizona State will have that player who can “go get it” when the game is on the line. It would help if quarterback Mike Bercovici wasn’t on his back looking at the sky half the game.

Speaking of hits and misses, Ole Miss delivered plenty of blows against Tennessee-Martin and started the SEC on a roll that they would stay on all Saturday. Yes, I know it was a lowly opponent. But this is Ole Miss, Ole Miss doesn’t score 50 points in a game, let alone 76 (!). And it was the way they did it. The defense was its usual stifling self, but the offense is what has to have Rebel fans excited. Chad Kelly looked like he should be a good fit in the new, more up-tempo offense, and this offense has playmakers. Laquon Treadwell looked like his old self, and Jaylen Walton is a dynamic RB that should give Kelly a safe check down option in future games if nothing is working downfield. On the flip side, Ole Miss will need stud LT Laremy Tunsil, who is being held out while an improper benefits investigation takes place, once SEC play arrives.

It was definitely a bad day for SEC haters as the conference went 12-1. Alabama, Texas A&M, and Auburn all had victories over quality opponents from other Power 5 conferences, and the Aggies victory over Arizona State was an early season blow to those on the Pac-12 > SEC bandwagon. As for those Aggies? You already see the playoff contender hype now. Personally, I can’t wait until they vault into the Top 15 only to finish 8-4. That’s right, I think this A&M season will play out similarly to last year’s when the Aggies steamrolled a ranked opponent in the season opener only to be exposed as the season went on. The defense may be better under John Chavis, but it’s not going to have 18 sacks every game (ok it just felt like that many). And color me unimpressed with the offense. It generated just 10 points of offense the first 3 quarters before the wheels fell off the Sun Devils defense in the 4th quarter. The constant shuffling of quarterbacks by Sumlin? That’s not gonna fly once conference play rolls around. Plus it’s not like either guy set the world on fire. Kyle Allen was inconsistent, including an awful interception. Kyler Murray’s idea of offense is running around until the defensive backs are 40 yards downfield and then taking off. He also added an awful interception of his own. It probably sounds like I hate Texas A&M. I really don’t. I just think the hype is going to be out of control after one game and they will get exposed against better teams.

One of those better teams is Alabama, who silenced some doubts there were about the offense. Jacob Coker looked, dare I say, impressive in his first start and the defense didn’t let the Wisconsin offense get anything going. Be prepared, I’m about to go all negative on an SEC team again. I think this looks like the same old Alabama team we’ve seen the last couple years. The one who looks great against similar teams but struggles against dynamic offenses. I thought they still lacked a pass rush (until Wisconsin got down big and Bama knew they had to pass) and the back seven wasn’t challenged much. I’m not predicting doom and gloom for the Tide this season, but I’d be shocked if they don’t finish with a couple losses. Ok I take it back, I am predicting doom and gloom.

On the other side, I think Wisconsin is going to be fine this year. Alabama is just about the worst opponent for them, a team that plays a similar style on offense and defense but with much more talent at almost every position. And though Alabama felt in control most of the game, Wisconsin was a missed chip shot field goal away from being down just 14-10 at half. I have no idea who that was playing quarterback Saturday, but it didn’t look anything like the Joel Stave we saw last year. He looked good, and with their running game, I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t win 9 games this year.

You know who won’t be fine this year? Texas, who got housed by a Notre Dame team that looked every bit the playoff contender some thought. The Longhorns looked light years away from being relevant and the Irish took full advantage in every facet.

With Week one mostly in the books, I’m already looking forward to Week two to see which teams sustain their opening week momentum and which results were a mirage.

Top 4
Ohio State
Ole Miss
Baylor
TCU

Just Missed: Notre Dame, Alabama