Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (medical redshirts sold separately in the SEC East):
BLACK QUARTERBACKS: FROM NOVELTY TO NORM
On Saturday in Death Valley, Florida State and Clemson will meet in one of the most anticipated games of the season. The winner will put a stranglehold on the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division, and remain prominently in the running to play for the national championship.
But there also is a compelling subplot to the game: it will match a pair of African-American quarterbacks who rank among the very best players in the nation at their position, and not simply because of raw athleticism and running ability. They’re brilliant passers, strong leaders and big-time winners.
In a world many want to label post-racial, black quarterbacks are still a talking point. They are not a new phenomenon, but there have never been so many good ones.
Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead wrote last month about this being a potential golden era of black QBs, citing the record nine black starters on the NFL’s opening weekend. Part of his reasoning: athletic quarterbacks who can run the read-option and elude fast pass rushers will survive and thrive in the modern NFL. A few weeks later, William Rhoden of The New York Times said not so fast: Blacks and other “athletic” QBs (like Tim Tebow) are still considered with skepticism in the pro establishment, he wrote.
But here in college, black quarterbacks are flourishing at an unprecedented rate. They are making a huge impact on the Heisman Trophy race, the national title race and 2014 NFL draft speculation. Following on the heels of Heisman Trophy winners Cam Newton (2010) and Robert Griffin III (2011), here comes the next generation of college stars ticketed to become high NFL draft picks – and not because they can run really fast.
Florida State freshman Jameis Winston (1) ranks second nationally in pass efficiency. Clemson senior Tajh Boyd (2) ranks eighth. Winston’s Seminoles are ranked fifth in the Associated Press Top 25. Boyd’s Tigers are ranked third. Both are among the leading contenders for the Heisman.
And they have a lot of company at the elite end of the sport. Six of the top 10 teams in the AP poll have black quarterbacks: Ohio State’s Braxton Miller (3), Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater (4), UCLA’s Brett Hundley (5) and Miami’s Stephen Morris (6) join Winston and Boyd.
All six lead undefeated teams. A seventh, Missouri’s James Franklin, also has the Tigers unbeaten but will miss several weeks after separating his throwing shoulder at Georgia on Saturday.
Of that group, only Miller is a dual-threat QB in the traditional college sense – his pass-to-run ratio this season in Urban Meyer’s spread offense is 57-to-43 percent, which is similar to Tebow’s 62-38 career ratio playing for Meyer at Florida. The rest all are throwing the ball at least 72 percent of the time. Bridgewater (89 percent pass) and Morris (94 percent) are right out of the pocket-passing prototype.
At this rate it would not be a surprise to see three of the top five Heisman vote-getters coming from the above group. Last year was the first time a black QB had finished in the Heisman top five for a third straight year (Newton, Griffin III and Miller), and it seems a lock that streak will extend to four years. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel probably lead the pack (more below on that), but then come these guys.
If 60 percent of the Heisman top five is black QBs, it would be historically noteworthy. The only other time it has happened was 1989, when four of the top five were black signal-callers: winner Andre Ware of Houston; third-place Major Harris of West Virginia; fourth-place Tony Rice of Notre Dame; and fifth-place Darian Hagan of Colorado.
The big difference between that group and this one? Only Ware was a passer, and even he wound up not having an NFL-ready game. The rest were option runners or scramblers with no hope of an NFL future at the QB position.
That’s not the case with this group. They have plenty of NFL potential, and those who enter the draft after this season should hear their names in the first or second round.
But first, there is a Heisman and a national title to chase. The matchup at Clemson on Saturday will have a major impact on both.
MIDSEASON COACHING BON MOTS AND CHEAP SHOTS
The first half of the season closed with an overdue burst of chaos, as three Top 10 teams were upset. While mid-October is no time for ironclad pronouncements – last year at this time the Heisman front-runner was Geno Smith – we do at least have enough evidence to throw some darts and laurels to the coaches.
American Athletic Conference coach of the midyear: Tony Levine (7), Houston. He set the bar suitably low last year, going 5-7 in his debut season following the highly successful Kevin Sumlin. But the most impressive part of the Cougars’ 5-0 start is the fact that they’re doing it without star running back Charles Sims, who unexpectedly transferred to West Virginia during the summer. Levine has gotten solid defense from new coordinator David Gibbs and good play out of true freshman QB John O’Korn, who is 34th nationally in pass efficiency and ranks behind only Winston among freshmen. Caveat: the schedule gets a lot harder the rest of the way, so this may be Charlie Strong’s award by December.
Not coach of the midyear: Paul Pasqualoni (8), formerly of Connecticut. An 0-4 start that included a 15-point loss to FCS Towson and a 29-point loss to Buffalo forced the UConn brass to admit the massive mistake made in giving the job to the retread Pasqualoni. He was 10-18 in 2 ½ tortured seasons, and it will be someone else’s job to get the Huskies program back on the rails in 2014.
Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the midyear: Al Golden (9), Miami. He’s spent 2 ½ seasons laboring under the looming cloud of an NCAA investigation – always an enjoyable way to work. But the reward for stoic perseverance is this potential breakthrough season. The Hurricanes are 5-0 for the first time since 2004 heading into a Thursday night game at North Carolina, and could be headed for a momentous two weekends in November: at Florida State on Nov. 2 and hosting Virginia Tech on Nov. 9. The long ACC wait for an impact season from the 'Canes may finally be at hand.
Not coach of the midyear: Larry Fedora (10), North Carolina. The schedule has not been easy, but squeezing a 24-point home loss to East Carolina into the mix was most unwelcome to Tar Heels fans. If North Carolina loses to Miami on Thursday and drops to 1-5, its five-year streak of winning records will be in grave jeopardy – even with a manageable back half of the season.
Big 12 coach of the midyear: Art Briles (11), Baylor. For the first time ever, the undefeated Bears are the highest-ranked team in their conference. And even after scoring a mere 35 points at Kansas State on Saturday, they still lead the nation in scoring (63.4 per game) by a touchdown over No. 2 Oregon. Briles has built an offensive monster, and Baylor controls its own destiny in search of its first BCS bowl bid.
Not coach of the midyear: Bill Snyder (12), Kansas State. He was the toast of the league last year, but at 2-4 it’s been a stark comeuppance for the Manhattan legend. The Wildcats are a un-Snyder-like minus-9 in turnovers this season and could wind up with their first losing record since the regrettable Ron Prince Era.
Big Ten coach of the midyear: Urban Meyer (13), Ohio State. You pretty much have to go with the guy who is 18-0 in his current job, right? The Buckeyes have been less than spectacular at times this year but still appear to be easily the best in the league as they head into a low-stress back half of the schedule. (Honorable mention to first-year Wisconsin boss Gary Andersen, whose team is an officiating snafu in the desert away from a Top 15 ranking.)
Not coach of the midyear: Brady Hoke (14), Michigan. His Wolverines were a wildly unimpressive 5-0 before giving away the game at Penn State on Saturday. Hoke coached hyper-conservative late in that game and paid for it – he punted from the Penn State 35 instead of going for a clinching field goal near the end of regulation, and repeatedly played for field goals instead of touchdowns during four incompetent overtimes. The result was the first of what could be several losses in the coming weeks for error-prone Michigan, which is just 4-5 in Big Ten road games under Hoke.
Conference USA coach of the midyear: Curtis Johnson (15), Tulane. When you’re 5-2 here, they should make you king of Mardi Gras. The Green Wave hasn’t won five games in an entire season since pre-Katrina, and hasn’t been 5-2 or better since the undefeated miracle year of 1998. Tulane has more than tripled its per-game rushing average from last year’s horrendous 40 to this year’s respectable 126.6. Johnson undoubtedly won over the locker room when he told his team it could have this entire bye week off if the Wave beat East Carolina. Tulane did it – Johnson ordered a first-down field goal in overtime from clutch kicker Cairo Santos for the win – and the second-year coach kept his word. No practice at Tulane this week.
Not coach of the midyear: Todd Monken (16), Southern Mississippi. The first-year coach walked into a bad situation, taking over an 0-12 team, and it hasn’t gotten any better. The Golden Eagles are 0-5, including dispiriting home losses to Florida International and Texas State. They’re last in the nation in turnover margin. They’re not good. “We obviously don’t have the market cornered on doing things well right now,” Monken said. No disagreement from The Dash.
Mid-American coach of the midyear: Jeff Quinn (17), Buffalo. There is a pretty clear separation in the MAC this year between the Haves and Have-Nots, and Buffalo is a new addition to the Haves. The Bulls are 4-2 and on a four-game winning streak, with the second bowl-eligible season in school history within their reach. Quinn has nudged the program from two wins his first year to three his second and four his third, and now at least six seems attainable in his fourth year.
Not coach of the midyear: Don Treadwell (18), formerly of Miami (Ohio). He was canned earlier this month after an 0-5 start dropped his record to 8-21 with the previously proud program. It got worse without him Saturday, when the Redhawks were beaten by previously winless Massachusetts. Their last chance at a victory could be Saturday, when 1-6 Akron visits for the latest MAC Pillow Fight of the Week.
Mountain West coach of the midyear: Tim DeRuyter (19), Fresno State. The unbeaten Bulldogs have been as lucky as good so far, with three of their five wins coming by a total of seven points. But DeRuyter has a team that could be favored in the remaining seven games and be a BCS buster. (Honorable mention to UNLV’s Bobby Hauck. Have to give credit to the frequent Dash target – after losing 34 of his first 40 games at the school, he has overseen the Rebels’ first four-game winning streak in 13 years. Yes, it’s against easy competition, but UNLV has been so bad for so long that any victories are good victories.)
Not coach of the midyear: Troy Calhoun (20), Air Force. The wings are falling off an admirably competitive, overachieving program. The 1-6 Falcons’ only win is over FCS Colgate, and going back to last season they have lost 10 of their last 12 games – including three straight to their service academy rivals. For the first time since 2006, it appears Air Force will not go bowling.
Pac-12 coach of the midyear: Mark Helfrich (21), Oregon. Anyone worried that the Ducks would lose their uptempo, win-the-day mojo without Chip Kelly can stand down. Helfrich’s first Oregon team may be the best Oregon team ever.
Not coach of the midyear: Lane Kiffin (22), formerly of USC. Belatedly fired five games into the year. Trojans missed him so much, they promptly went out and blitzed Arizona in their first game post-Kiffy. Even former coach Pete Carroll piled on at that point, sending a Twitter shout-out to interim coach Ed Orgeron that sounded an awful lot like a shot at the departed coach. The tweet, which accompanied a picture of Orgeron celebrating with a player coming off the field: “It couldn't be more obvious how one man could elevate a program! Nice ups @CoachOUSC!”
Southeastern Conference coach of the midyear: Gary Pinkel (23), Missouri. Some impatient and short-sighted Tigers fans wanted Pinkel gone after a 5-7 debut in the SEC last year. Given a healthier team and a year of experience in the new league, Pinkel has proven the folly of that knee-jerk reaction by getting Mizzou off to a startling 6-0 start. With Florida and South Carolina visiting the next two Saturdays, the road to the SEC East title literally and figuratively (and shockingly) runs through Columbia, Mo. Of course, this being Missouri, the news is never completely positive: they’ll have to go at least three weeks without starting QB Franklin after he separated his shoulder in the big win at Georgia.
Not coach of the midyear: Bret Bielema (24), Arkansas. The magnitude of the embarrassment inflicted on the Razorbacks on Saturday in a 52-7 home loss to South Carolina is stunning: Arkansas ran just 37 plays to the Gamecocks’ 89, and had just seven first downs to the Gamecocks’ 32. It was a complete curb stomping. And the fact that it was the Hogs’ fourth straight loss since Bielema’s wife tauntingly tweeted “#karma” after former school Wisconsin lost in agonizing fashion to Arizona State has not been lost on Badger fans.
Sun Belt coach of the midyear: Bobby Petrino (25), Western Kentucky. Hard to say any coach has been dazzling so far in the beaten-down Belt, but Petrino gets the narrow nod for having engineered victories over an SEC team (Kentucky) and a likely bowl team (Navy). Now about that loss to South Alabama…
Not coach of the midyear: Trent Miles (26), Georgia State. Took over a team that went 1-10 in 2012 with the task of preparing for the program’s first full FBS schedule, and the results have been predictable. The Panthers are winless and possibly hopeless for the rest of 2013.
HEISMAN MATCH RACE: A CONTRAST IN STYLES AND STRENGTHS
Things can change, and the better quarterback Saturday night in Clemson may have a big say in how much they change. But until then, the midseason Heisman outlook boils down to two very different quarterbacks.
Oh, there are some similarities. They’re both redshirt sophomores who arrived at college with good-but-not-great credentials. They both took over the starting job as redshirt freshmen and shined immediately. They both operate hurry-up, no-huddle offenses. They both can beat teams with their arms or legs.
But when it comes to personality and playing style, they don’t have much in common. The leading men:
Johnny Manziel (27). The brash party boy was a one-man Twitter tornado in the offseason, making headlines for all kinds of rock-star experiences and unwise utterances. The guy with nearly 600,000 Twitter followers loved the spotlight until he got burned by it, then survived a preseason NCAA investigation that threatened his eligibility. But back in uniform for the season, he’s been even more dramatic and daring than during his Heisman season of 2012. Manziel rose to the considerable occasion with a spectacular game in a losing cause against Alabama, then displayed his clutchitude with a scintillating comeback victory Saturday at Mississippi. Of course, one of the biggest reasons A&M needed to come back in that game was the interception and fumble by Manziel in the second half, putting the Aggies in a hole. But nobody is better at manufacturing something out of nothing, usually by scrambling his way out of a collapsing pocket or the arms of a tackler.
Marcus Mariota (28). He is an absolute bore off the field. If he has a Twitter account, it’s not publicized as his own. If he has a wild side, it’s also hidden from view. If he has a look-at-me streak, he buries it beneath deferential comments about his teammates and coaches. And although Mariota possesses considerable athleticism and running ability, he’s more a technician at quarterback than a Manzielian improviser. He has zero interceptions or fumbles on the season, and has only been sacked five times. He hasn’t been in many pressure situations – largely because he’s been so good and so error-free that Oregon gets way ahead and stays way ahead. But the one time he was in a produce-or-lose situation in the second half, it didn’t go so well – Oregon was shocked at home last year by Stanford, 17-14, as Mariota turned in a pedestrian performance.
Both have a lot to like. If The Dash had to vote today, Mariota would be the choice. But nobody is casting a Heisman vote today, so play on and enjoy the disparate shows.
BUCKEYES AND OTHERS IN BAD LEAGUES OF THEIR OWN
Make no mistake, the upset losses by Michigan and Oklahoma on Saturday hurt their leagues’ chances of putting a team in the BCS title game. Not the Wolverines or Sooners themselves, but the teams that needed them to be good to acquire a quality win against them and boost their own cause.
The losers from those losses:
Ohio State (29). After a rather leisurely 6-0 start, the Buckeyes continue their soft-food diet from now until Nov. 30: Iowa at home Saturday (the Buckeyes are favored by 16 ½); Penn State at home (potential spread of roughly 14); at Purdue (potential spread of about 26); at Illinois (potential spread of 12-14); Indiana at home (potential spread of about 16). That is prelude to the annual huge rivalry showdown with Michigan, which was supposed to be the strength-of-schedule enhancing game that would put Ohio State into the championship discussion with teams from the much tougher SEC and Pac-12. But after spitting the bit at Penn State, and with other potential losses still to come, Michigan could be a touchdown or more underdogs against the Buckeyes.
Thus a schedule that looked pleasantly manageable without cross-division games against Nebraska or Michigan State now looks disturbingly threadbare. The Buckeyes may play one of those two in the Big Ten title game, but that may not be enough to make up for the SOS hole they dug with the computers up to that point. According to the Sagarin Ratings, the toughest team Ohio State has played is No. 13 Wisconsin, and the toughest team remaining is No. 34 Michigan.
Baylor (30). The Bears, who are new to this national contention stuff, were hoping their Nov. 7 home game against the unbeaten Sooners would be a matchup of Top 10 teams, with the winner vaulting into the BCS title game conversation. Now it’s just another game against a pretty good Big 12 opponent. There are four of those (Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas) and five that are pretty bad (TCU, Kansas State, Iowa State, West Virginia, Kansas). That may not be good enough without a lot of outside help.
And then there is Louisville (31), which is unaffected by Michigan or Oklahoma but deeply affected by the lousiness of the AAC. The Cardinals have an outside chance of making history as the only team to go 12-0 and drop from its preseason ranking. Voters think so little of the Cards’ schedule that even after winning every game by a minimum of 13 points, they have moved up just one rung in the AP poll from August to now, from No. 9 to No. 8. With a glass voting ceiling firmly established and a maximum of two semi-quality opponents still on the schedule (UCF on Friday and Houston on Nov. 16), Louisville has virtually no hope of playing for the big prize.
The big takeaway? Play someone in your non-conference schedule. If your league falls apart, you need something to back you up. Ohio State did itself no favors scheduling Florida A&M, Baylor didn’t either with Wofford, and Louisville also erred in having Eastern Kentucky on the slate.
SEC EAST’S ALARMING ATTRITION RATE
Winner of the Eastern division might come down to which contender is healthiest. Right now, that’s none of these three teams:
Georgia (32). The good news is that the Bulldogs are likely to get stud running back Todd Gurley back from an ankle sprain this week against Vanderbilt. The bad news is that it’s a week too late for Georgia’s national title hopes, which were flushed in the home loss to Missouri. That came after season-ending knee injuries to running back Keith Marshall and receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell, and a knee injury to receiver Michael Bennett. The team surgeon is overworked, and quarterback Aaron Murray is throwing to virtual strangers. Brutal break for a good team that played the hardest opening schedule in the country.
Florida (33). The Gators head to Columbia this week without starting quarterback Jeff Driskel (broken leg), star pass rusher Dominique Easley (blown knee), starting running back Matt Jones (torn meniscus) and starting right tackle Chaz Green (labrum). Even when healthy, this was a team struggling to move the ball and score. They’re averaging just 15.3 points per game on the road and have not scored a touchdown in their last six quarters outside The Swamp.
Missouri (34). The Tigers endured an injury plague last year. This year the major injury count is just one, but it’s a huge one in QB Franklin. (Actually, starting defensive back E.J. Gaines is questionable for the Florida game with a strained quad.) Mizzou will turn over the offense to redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, a dual-threat QB who had scholarship offers from Michigan and Notre Dame coming out of high school. Mauk was given the chance to compete for the starting job in the spring and August with Franklin, and Pinkel said the offense will remain largely the same with Franklin out.
Consider all that and there is one conclusion: advantage South Carolina.
WEIRD SCHEDULING TWIST OF THE YEAR
When Colorado was flooded out of its Sept. 14 home game against Fresno State, there was no available makeup date with the Bulldogs. So the Buffaloes went looking for a new opponent.
They came up with FCS Charleston Southern (35). And traded one unbeaten for another.
Beyond the “0” in the loss column, there isn’t much in common between Fresno State and Charleston Southern. The 7-0 Buccaneers play in the Big South Conference and, aside from beating Appalachian State, they haven’t faced much of anyone this season. Last year they lost 44-0 to an Illinois team that went on to go 2-10.
But the fact that they took on the game is interesting enough – and hopefully not injurious to their players’ health. This is an added game, the Buccaneers’ 13th of the season and eighth straight without a bye week. They will go 13 straight weeks with no bye after accepting the game, and eight will be on the road. This is the sixth road game in the first eight.
It should mark the end of Charleston Southern’s unbeaten run. If not, Colorado will feel a little foolish about scheduling the game.
LAST INTERCEPTION POOL
After picks thrown by Oklahoma’s Blake Bell, Texas’ Case McCoy and UNLV’s Caleb Herring, the prestigious and highly coveted LIP has been whittled to a final two. Let the least error-prone quarterback win:
Marcus Mariota, Oregon. He’s now thrown 165 passes without an interception on the season after his extraordinary performance at Washington. Next up: Washington State in Eugene. The Cougars have been pretty accomplished thieves this year, intercepting 11 of opponents’ 240 passes (4.6 percent).
Connor Shaw (36), South Carolina. He’s up to 124 passes without an oskie after efficiently strafing Arkansas on Saturday. Next up: a trip to Tennessee to face a Volunteers defense that has been even more opportunistic than Washington State, intercepting 11 of opponents' 203 passes (5.4 percent).
After consultation with Dashette Rebecca Romijn (37), we have installed Mariota as a solid favorite to take home the LIP, and all the adulation that comes along with it.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Mack Brown (38), Texas. If this is Brown’s last year – and who says it has to be if the Longhorns go 10-2 and win the Big 12? – then at least he had one glorious final day in the Longhorns’ last remaining major rivalry game. After three straight losses to Oklahoma – two of them embarrassing blowouts – Brown undressed Bob Stoops (see below) in an upset romp over the previously unbeaten Sooners. This was everything Texas 2013 was supposed to be: physical running the ball and stopping the run; getting timely plays from quarterback Case McCoy; and scoring both on defense and special teams. And if it continues, Brown could charm his way into a league title and another BCS bid, then ask his critics, “How ya like me now?”
COACH WHO SHOULD RIDE THE BUS TO WORK
Bob Stoops (39), Oklahoma. Another year, another massive flop as a major favorite. The Sooners were favored by 14 and lost by 16, and tell The Dash if this represents a trend. Oklahoma was favored by 12 against Notre Dame last year and lost by 17; favored by 16 against Kansas State and lost by five. In 2011, Oklahoma was favored by 15 ½ against Baylor and lost by seven; and favored by 28 ½ against Texas Tech and lost by three. In 2010, Oklahoma was favored by three against Missouri and lost by nine; favored by three against Texas A&M and lost by 14. In 2009, there were four losses as a favorite.
In summary: Stoops’ program is overtaking Florida State as the biggest underachiever in recent times.
When thirsty and in need of multiple televisions for college football viewing in the excellent city of Seattle, The Dash recommends hitting the World Sports Grille. Have a Fremont Interurban IPA (40) and a bowl of sound chowder – a tasty Pacific Northwest version of clam chowder – and thank The Dash later.