Alabama, Oregon, Florida, Rutgers, Mississippi State, Cincinnati, Louisville, Kansas State, Ohio, Oregon State, Notre Dame: that’s every bowl eligible, undefeated team left in the Bowl Subdivision and the jockeys to watch in the second half of what is sure to be a wild BCS race.
At least two of the unbeaten Big East triumvirate — Cincinnati, Louisville, and Rutgers — are guaranteed to suffer a loss. Oregon/Oregon State will meet in the Civil War, thus ensuring one a loss, and the winner of Alabama/Mississippi State would see Florida in the SEC Championship assuming both win out. That eliminates just five of the 11 remaining undefeateds, though surely others will lose a non-guaranteed decision. As West Virginia and Geno Smith demonstrated yesterday that nothing can be taken for granted, so others will lose unexpected contests. And when they do, it will further muddle an increasingly complex outlook.
A host of quality, one-loss teams all have revived hope, and many have fates that they largely control. LSU hosts Alabama at Death Valley, where the Tigers have won 22 straight. USC welcomes Oregon to Tinsel Town next month in a prime time showdown many declared a Pac-12 title game preview long before the season began. South Carolina is still in position to determine its SEC fate with Florida still on the slate.
The one-loss teams with a more arduous road ahead include Oklahoma, which is finding its offensive stride a few weeks too late for Kansas State. Had the Sooners not committed two costly turnovers, OU is ranked no lower than three. As it stands, the Sooners must hope for two K-State losses, since the Wildcats own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Florida State can run the table, but with an ACC member not appearing in the championship game since FSU did so in the 2000 season and the conference’s national profile at a low, the Seminoles would need almost unprecedented help to get back into the title picture. Essentially, FSU would require a redux of the 2007 season, the first and only campaign wherein a two-loss team reached the BCS championship game.
There’s also Georgia, West Virginia, Texas A&M…heck, Texas Tech has just one loss and an impressive Big 12 win. There’s a lot of football left to play, and many of these teams will eliminate themselves from contention.
HEISMAN WATCH: IT’S NOT AWARDED IN OCTOBER
West Virginia had an absolutely disastrous visit to Lubbock — who doesn’t, am I right?! — as the most explosive offense in the FBS scored just 14 points against Texas Tech. Just one of those Mountaineer scores came from Geno Smith, who two weeks ago was roundly declared a shoo-in for the Heisman Trophy.
With two months left in the season, the rhetoric that Smith had already sewn up the Heisman was out of control. Such coronation less than midway through any team’s slate is absurd. Equally absurd is assuming that Saturday’s loss disqualifies Smith.
Geno Smith himself characterized it best when, after the Baylor win, he said that the headlines in a loss would be “Geno Fails.” Narratives are fickle.
Smith threw no interceptions in Saturday’s loss, leaving his slate there clean. And with 25 scoring passes, he’s still far-and-away the most prolific passer in college football. Moreover, West Virginia can bounce back; it hosts Big 12 leaders Kansas State and Oklahoma.
Geno didn’t lose the Heisman against Texas Tech anymore than he won it against Baylor or Texas. The fact is that it’s a wide open race until someone hoists the trophy in New York come December. There are plenty of new names emerging in the picture. Look no further than Lubbock, where Seth Doege erupted for six touchdowns against West Virginia. Doege is the closest Smith has to competition in the passing touchdown category with 21.
Of course, Doege was stifled against Oklahoma and those memories are fresh in pundits’ minds. Fellow Big 12 quarterback Collin Klein is the consummate leader and came through in a big road win over Iowa State with three rushing touchdowns and 292 total yards. Klein has a Heisman audition next week against Smith and West Virginia, then takes on Doege and Texas Tech.
This is shaping up to be a Heisman race that voters should consider an unconventional approach. There’s already been chatter about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o as a contender, and the Fighting Irish defense holding Stanford without an offensive touchdown Saturday helps his case. Then again, that wasn’t the first time the Cardinal failed to cross the goal line on its offensive side of the ball this season — it was resigned to a similar fate against Washington.
Alabama is widely regarded the best team in the nation, which typically is a golden ticket to New York for its best offensive player. The multifaceted approach Alabama employs in the rush limits the stat-stuffing opportunities for its talented running backs, even if Eddie Lacy scored three touchdowns against Missouri.
Quarterback AJ McCarron is Old Faithful. He’s in Heisman-contending company with Geno Smith, having not thrown an interception all season. But McCarron is the quintessential game manager, which doesn’t exactly scream Heisman. But neither McCarron nor Lacy are the best offensive player on the Tide roster. I’ve advocated offensive lineman Barrett Jones for consideration, and am unwavering in this position. Sports Illustrated columnist Andy Staples has taken a similar stance. Conventional wisdom says voters only look at the spectacular, but as mentioned, this might be a year for the unconventional. Jones fits that bill.
Postseason ineligible Ohio State is undefeated, and could finish the season as such. Braxton Miller has commanded plenty of attention with his dual threat abilities. The quarterback of an NCAA sanctioned program having his name called at the Downtown Athletic Club would be historic, and currently there might be two such candidates worthy of a look.
North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard missed some time with an injury early in the season, but has since recovered to put up some of the most impressive rushing statistics in college football. He went off for 177 yards and both of North Carolina’s touchdowns in its 18-14 win at Miami. He’s over 650 yards in just five games and has seven scores, and another two touchdowns as a receiver.
This may not be Bernard’s season (and likely isn’t) but he’s only a sophomore. There could be plenty more opportunities for him to flourish on the national stage in Larry Fedora’s potent offensive system. Get used to seeing his name in headlines, much like you should one Johnny Football, Texas A&M freshman and Heisman contender Johnny Manziel.
JOHNNY FOOTBALL CAN PLAY
Texas A&M will get a crack at dethroning the mighty Crimson Tide, which couldn’t be a bigger stage for a freshman who has entered the Heisman frame. Johnny Manziel has set then reset the SEC yardage record in the last three weeks. Late Saturday night, he rolled off 576 total yards and scored three passing and three rushing touchdowns. It’s incredible to think that before Kevin Sumlin named Manziel the starter a few weeks before the start of the season, many assumed Jameill Showers would be the Aggies’ starter, myself included.
Obviously, Sumlin knows what he’s doing. Manziel is reminiscent of Robert Griffin III or Charlie Ward, a running quarterback whose speed is closer to that of a slot receiver than a typical two-way QB. But like Griffin and Ward, he’s also scary-accurate as a passer. I would write that Manziel’s future is bright, but his present is already shining.
Manziel is making Sumlin look like a genius, and if the Aggies can pull off any upset of one of the SEC West juggernauts Alabama or LSU, his stock will skyrocket.
Johnny Football’s Aggies and their defeat of Louisiana Tech wins honors for the Bill Simmons College Football Is Boring Video of the Week.
EVERYTHING SOUNDS BETTER COMING FROM A COWBOY
The season premiere of the increasingly excellent FX sitcom The League debuted Thursday with a bevy of football cameos: Jason Witten, Felix Jones and Jerry Jones from the Dallas Cowboys all made appearances, while Robert Griffin III and Trent Richardson starred in a hilarious reenactment of draft day.
The big takeaway from the Season 4 debut though was Taco Corp’s signing cowboy telegram, and Taco’s suggestion that “everything sounds better coming from a cowboy.”
A few university athletic directors might heed this advice when addressing likely lame duck coaches. Frank Spaziani’s Boston College Eagles were thrashed against Florida State, Joker Phillips was spared a particularly lopsided loss against Arkansas because of weather — and it was bad enough for Kentucky as is — and Tennessee remained winless against ranked opponents under Derek Dooley.
Spaziani and Phillips share unfortunate and inevitable fates; Dooley’s is less certain, but Tennessee is in a dire situation. Losing to surprise top 25 Mississippi State magnifies many of the concerns about the Dooley era. Not only was it another loss to a ranked opponent, and yet another SEC defeat in Dooley’s ledger, but in Mississippi State there was a shining example of a program in the opposite trajectory of UT.
Dan Mullen was hired at MSU in 2009, one season before UT brought Dooley in to replace one-and-done head coach Lane Kiffin. Mullen inherited a much more dire situation than Dooley in that MSU has been a perpetual SEC punching bag; UT has been a beacon of college football success despite hitting a mediocre stretch. MSU is showing regular improvement under Mullen, while UT has been stagnant at best, declining at worst.
It probably doesn’t help that while UT was losing in Starkville, Dooley’s replacement at Louisiana Tech, Sonny Dykes, was locked in a showdown with Texas A&M. While Tech fell short, the Bulldogs have won 12 of their last 14 largely with Dykes’ recruits.
Might be time for Dave Hart to commission a singing cowboy to let Dooley know the direction of the program isn’t the right one.
PARTY LIKE IT’S 1920
The longest active win streak in Division I football doesn’t belong to reigning BCS champion Alabama, but it does belong to a program with an illustrious, winning history.
Also, #Harvard has won 14 straight games. The longest win streak in division 1.
— Tone Capone (@tonybalogna) October 13, 2012
That’s right, the Crismon of Harvard, winner of nine national championships, won its 14th straight in a 35-7 rout of Bucknell on Saturday. Next week, Harvard faces a Princeton team allowing just 11.6 points per game. The Crimson should be able to handle the Tigers; the biggie is the penultimate contest against Penn, which has been Harvard’s greatest competition in the Ivy League in recent seasons.
- Cody Vaz, Oregon State
No Sean Mannion, no problem for Mike Riley’s unbeaten Beavers. Cody Vaz went to work on a BYU defense that came into Saturday’s affair ranked among the nation’s elite, passing for 332 yards and three touchdowns to keep OSU at the forefront of the Rose Bowl chase.
- John Robertson, Villanova
Last year, the Sports Network introduced the Jerry Rice Award, given to the Championship Subdivision’s top freshman. Villanova quarterback John Robertson was only added to the watch list last week, but is perhaps its leading candidate after leading the Wildcats to a win over No. 2 Old Dominion. He rushed for three touchdowns and passed for another in an effort that would make Collin Klein proud.
- Jeremy Hill, LSU
The FBS has nothing quite like the Jerry Rice Award, though if it did Jeremy Hill’s showing against South Carolina would put him into consideration. He scored two touchdowns against the vaunted South Carolina defense to pace LSU’s big win.
- Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Largely forgotten as a Heisman contender, Montee Ball tore through a highly regarded Purdue defense for an outing better than any he had last season. Ball rushed for three touchdowns and 247 yards, perhaps interjecting himself back into consideration.
- The Georgia Southern Defense
Georgia Southern hosted Wofford in a big Southern Conference match-up, and treated its guest most disrespectfully. The Terriers were the No. 2 ranked scoring offense in the FCS coming in, averaging 44 points per game, but failed to muster even one touchdown against GSU on Saturday. Combine Wofford’s nine points with the 14 FCS scoring leader Old Dominion had against Villanova, and the total is just over half what the Terriers were putting up previously.