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  • By David Fox, 3 months 1 week ago

    The final BCS championship game was billed as a matchup between the team that dominated all year and the team that found ways to win in unlikely fashion.

    Florida State proved they can be one in the same in defeating Auburn 34-31 for the BCS championship.

    The Seminoles trailed by 18 before staging the biggest second-half comeback in BCS title game history. A game-winning drive from Winston and a 100-yard kickoff return from little-known freshman Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield in the fourth quarter provided all the miracles against the Tigers.

    The game, in many ways, summed up the BCS era. The most dramatic title game since Texas defeated USC in 2005 — a game also played in the Rose Bowl — return the national championship to Florida State. The SEC has ruled college football for seven consecutive seasons, but the start of the BCS era was notable for the dominance of the Seminoles.

    As the College Football Playoff begins in 2014, Florida State is back on top.

    RAPID REACTION: Florida State 34, Auburn 31

    Player of the game: Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston
    Unflappable for most of the season, Winston showed something in the first half we hadn’t seen in the redshirt freshman — panic. Winston went through a 1-of-7 drought at one point as Auburn built a 21-3 first-half lead. Winston completed 9 of his final 10 passes for 117 yards with two touchdowns, including the game winner.

    Turning point: Chris Davis’ pass interference
    With 21 seconds remaining, Florida State was down to its final two plays on third and 3 from the Auburn 5. Winston made the situation tougher with a delay of game penalty. Davis, who ran back the missed field goal to beat Alabama, was flagged for a clear pass inference on the ensuing play to move FSU up to the 2-yard line. Winston completed the game-winning touchdown pass to Benjamin on the next play.

    Unsung hero: Auburn punter Steven Clark
    More than month of dissecting this game and how often was Auburn’s punter mentioned? With help from his coverage team, Clark twice pinned Florida State inside its own five. The first pinned FSU at its own 2 to set up Auburns’ first touchdown after a three and out and 22-yard punt return from Chris Davis. Clark landed five of his six punts inside the 20 while averaging 43.2 yards per kick.

    Needed more from: Auburn’s defense on the final drive
    Beyond the pass inference call on Chris Davis that helped set up the touchdown, Auburn’s defense had major lapses on the game’s decisive drive. The Tigers’ secondary missed tackles on Rashad Greene on a 49-yard reception that put FSU in scoring range.

    Critical call: Florida State’s fake punt
    Winston looked lost for most of the first half as Auburn built a 21-3 lead. In a move close to desperation, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher called for a fake punt at his own 40. The Seminoles converted on the Karlos Williams’ run and scored a touchdown to finish the half. The Seminoles outscored Auburn 31-10 after the fake punt.

    Stat that matters: 723
    With 723 points in 2013, Florida State broke 2008 Oklahoma’s FBS scoring record of 716 points.

    Three snap judgements

    • Tre Mason was the best player on the field. Winston was rightfully the player of the game, but Mason may have had the best game of anyone in the title game. Mason rushed for 195 yards and the go-ahead touchdown with 1:19 to go on 34 carries. All this against a run defense that ranked sixth in fewest yards allowed per carry.

    • Auburn’s was defense up to the task. Before the lapses on the final drive, the story of the game was Auburn’s defense. Ellis Johnson’s D was considered one of the weak links in this game, but the Tigers flummoxed Winston early. Beyond Rashad Greene, none of Florida State’s talented receivers made a major impact in the first three quarters. Defensive end Dee Ford also finished with two sacks.

    • The turnaround by Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin may have had the biggest turnaround of any player in the game. Winston struggled to find him early or tried to get him the ball in traffic. Benjamin also didn’t help his cause with drops. Greene finished with nine catches for 147 yards, but Benjamin has key late. He had a 21-yard touchdown catch to move FSU to the Auburn 11 on one scoring drive in the fourth quarter before catching the game-winning score.

    Armchair reaction
    The biggest winner, other than Florida State, was ESPN’s Film Room. ESPN used nearly all of its platforms for a Megacast to varying degrees of success. The most welcome feature, at least according to the live-viewing Twitter audience, was the Film Room on ESPNNews. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst and Boston College coach Steve Addazio joined Tom Luginbill, Matt Millen and Chris Spielman to break down the game live using the All-22 camera angle. There were kinks for sure — perhaps too many voices and little of the typical play-by-play you’d get on a typical broadcast — but ESPN took note of the positive chatter. The Film Room was slated to be available on ESPN3.com after the game on ESPNU at 4 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday.

  • By Steven Lassan, 4 months 2 weeks ago

    After an underachieving 4-8 record in 2013, Florida coach Will Muschamp isn’t waiting long to make changes to his coaching staff.

    On Sunday, Muschamp fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis.

    The firings were expected, as Florida had one of the SEC’s worst offenses in 2013.

    The Gators averaged just 312.5 yards per game in eight conference contests and did not score more than 20 points in a SEC game since a 30-point effort against Arkansas on Oct. 5.

    There should be no shortage of interested candidates, but Muschamp is on the hot seat and another underachieving record in 2014 could spell the end of his tenure in Gainesville.

    Even though Florida should be able to attract capable candidates, some coaches could shy away from the job due to the uncertainty about Muschamp’s long-term future.
     

  • By Steven Lassan, 5 months 1 week ago

    It’s been a disappointing year in Gainesville, as Florida’s 34-17 loss to Vanderbilt likely means the Gators will be home for the bowl season. And barring an upset against South Carolina or Florida State, Florida is headed for a losing record.

    However, if there was a bright spot during Saturday’s loss, freshman receiver Ahmad Fulwood made an impressive catch in the fourth quarter. Fulwood caught a deflected pass off a Vanderbilt defensive back’s foot, and the freshman got his feet down in the endzone just in time for the touchdown catch.
     

  • By Steven Lassan, 6 months 3 days ago

    Injuries are taking a toll on the contenders in the SEC East, and Florida suffered another setback this week, as running back Matt Jones was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.

    Jones missed time in the preseason due to an illness and had 339 yards and two scores on 79 attempts through five games.

    However, Jones was Florida’s go-to back, with Mack Brown contributing as a capable No. 2 option.

    With Jones sidelined, Brown will return to the No. 1 role, with true freshman Kelvin Taylor expected to see his playing time increase.
     

  • By Steven Lassan, 6 months 3 weeks ago

    Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley suffered a torn ACL in practice this week and will be out for the remainder of the season.

    Easley’s torn ACL is the second major injury suffered by Florida in the last few days, as quarterback Jeff Driskel is also out for the year after a leg injury against Tennessee.

    In three games this year, Easley had five tackles (two for a loss) and four quarterback hurries.

    Although his stat line wasn’t overwhelming, Easley is one of the top defensive tackles in the nation, and his presence on the interior helps to open up opportunities for Dante Fowler, Ronald Powell and Jonathan Bullard off the edge.  

    The Gators will miss Easley's presence on the interior, but juniors Darious Cummings and Leon Orr, along with senior Damien Jacobs should be able to keep the rush defense performing at a high level.

    This is the second ACL tear in Easley’s career, and the senior is eligible for a medical redshirt. However, considering he was a potential first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Easley may decide to pass on a redshirt and start his career at the next level.

  • By Steven Lassan, 7 months 4 weeks ago

    College Football’s 2013 season has yet to start, but the SEC is already planning for 2014. On Wednesday, the conference released its 2014 slate, headlined by a Thursday night opener on Aug. 28 between Texas A&M and South Carolina.

    Here are a few key takeaways from the schedule release: (Click here to check out the full schedule)

    * Texas A&M at South Carolina (Aug. 28) – Excellent way to open the season, but don’t expect Johnny Manziel or Jadeveon Clowney to be playing in this one.

    * Georgia at South Carolina (Sept. 13) – Another early season matchup between these two East Division rivals.

    * Florida at Alabama (Sept. 20) – An early preview for the SEC Championship?

    * Florida at Tennessee (Oct. 4) – A slightly later date for this game in 2013.

    * Alabama at LSU (Nov. 8) – Always huge SEC West title implications when these two teams meet.

    * LSU at Texas A&M (Nov. 27) – Thanksgiving night matchup between these two teams should be must-see television.

    * Arkansas at Missouri (Nov. 29) – Border rivals meet for only the sixth time…and the first time as SEC opponents.

    Crossover Games

    East Division

    Florida: at Alabama, LSU
    Georgia: at Arkansas, Auburn
    Kentucky: at LSU, Mississippi State
    Missouri: at Texas A&M, Arkansas
    South Carolina: Texas A&M, at Auburn
    Tennessee: at Ole Miss, Alabama
    Vanderbilt: Ole Miss, at Mississippi State

    West Division

    Alabama: Florida, at Tennessee
    Arkansas: Georgia, at Missouri
    Auburn: South Carolina, at Georgia
    LSU: at Florida, Kentucky
    Mississippi State: at Kentucky, Vanderbilt
    Ole Miss: at Vanderbilt, Tennessee
    Texas A&M: at South Carolina, Missouri
     

  • By Steven Lassan, 8 months 2 weeks ago

    Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel will miss the next two weeks of action, as the junior quarterback is recovering from an appendectomy.

    Driskel is expected to return in time for the season opener against Toledo. While the junior is sidelined, Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg are likely to handle the bulk of the reps in practice.

    Although Florida will have Driskel back for the opener, his absence is a huge loss for the offense at a critical time. The Gators enter fall practice looking for playmakers at receiver, and Driskel’s absence will slow the development and timing of the offense.

    This is a small setback for Florida’s offense, but Driskel should be 100 percent by the opener. And if the Gators can give the junior passer more help in the receiving corps, he should finish 2013 as one of the top-five quarterbacks in the SEC.
     

  • By Steven Lassan, 8 months 4 weeks ago

    Florida linebacker Antonio Morrison has been in the news for all of the wrong reasons this offseason.

    First, there was an arrest on June 16 for punching a bouncer. Then on Sunday morning, Morrison was arrested for harassing a police animal. Yes, you read that correctly.

    As a result of Morrison’s arrest, he has received the Taiwanese animation treatment. And there are appearances by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Florida coach Will Muschamp. Needless to say, this is worth just over a minute of your time.

     

     

  • By Steven Lassan, 9 months 3 days ago

    Remember the stories about Ohio State turning in Florida for recruiting violations?

    Well, Gators’ coach Will Muschamp had a few words for the Buckeyes (who were banned from a bowl game in 2012 due to NCAA violations) during his media day session on Tuesday. 

     

  • By David Fox, 9 months 4 weeks ago

    If Heisman voters were as open minded as Hugh Green’s peers in 1980, the fraternity of the award for the most outstanding college football player would be much different.

    During a tour organized to promote the 1980 football season, the Pittsburgh defensive end, along with five other top players that year, made a handful of stops across the country to meet with reporters.

    The tour led to plenty of down time for Green, Cal quarterback Rich Campbell, Purdue quarterback Mark Herrmann, Alabama running back Major Ogilvie, South Carolina running back George Rogers and Baylor linebacker Mike Singletary. During a stop somewhere in Indiana, Green recalls, the six conducted their own vote for who would win the Heisman in 1980.

    Whether through humility or foresight, Green was the only one who ended up making the correct pick. He chose Rogers.

    The other five picked Green.

    Green had a fine season in 1980, wrapping up one of history’s best careers by a defensive player. He won the Maxwell Award for Player of the Year on a team that finished 11–1 and No. 2 in the country. He was a consensus All-American and the Lombardi Award winner. He stood out on a team that included quarterback Dan Marino and Outland Trophy-winning offensive tackle Mark May.

    The Heisman, though, was out of reach for Green.

    South Carolina’s Rogers beat Green by 267 points in the voting that year. Still, it was a victory for defensive players. In the two-platoon era, Green’s 861 points were the most for a defender until Michigan’s Charles Woodson won the Heisman in 1997. Woodson, though, returned kicks and played receiver, putting him over the top in the Heisman race.

    “That’s the perspective of the best player — he has to have possession of the ball,” Green says. 

    Beyond Green, the 1980 Heisman vote was also notable for the third-place finisher, Herschel Walker. The Georgia running back earned the most first-place votes (107) and total points (683) for a freshman up to that point.

    So here’s the question: Had the 1980 Heisman vote been taken in 2012, would the result have been different? Would Green have won? What about Walker?

    Since 2007, the Heisman has undergone a major shift.

    That season brought the award’s first sophomore winner (Florida’s Tim Tebow), followed by the second in 2008 (Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford) and the third in 2009 (Alabama’s Mark Ingram). In 2012, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the award — albeit a redshirt freshman and not the youngest player to win the Heisman. That’s still Ingram, who won at age 19.

    And those are just the winners who have bucked Heisman tradition. Three defensive players have been Heisman finalists since 2009, and two of those — Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o and Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh — were purely defensive players.

    Related: Texas A&M team preview

    “Most of the barriers have been broken down,” Manziel says. “The way the award is set up, it’s more the most outstanding player in all of college football, whatever the situation. If people think you’re the best college football player that year, you deserve to win it, whether you play defense or whatever.”

    The mainstreaming of sophomores, freshmen and defensive players in the Heisman voting may have been tough to envision a decade ago.

    Just 10 years before Manziel (right) won the Heisman, the balloting was typical for the award most years. USC senior quarterback Carson Palmer won in 2002, a year when all of the top 10 vote-getters were either quarterbacks or running backs, seniors or juniors, with nine of them from power conferences. The only true outlier that season was Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich, who finished sixth.

    Since Palmer, only one senior — Ohio State’s Troy Smith in 2006 — has won the award. And now, the 2013 Heisman race opens with a handful of possibilities for rare and first-time achievements.

    Manziel has a chance to join Ohio State’s Archie Griffin (1974-75) as the only repeat winner in history. In theory, he’ll have three chances to join Griffin in elite company. However, after this season, Manziel will be eligible to leave school early for the NFL Draft.

    Manziel will be a contender in 2013, but to become a two-time winner he may have to beat out a defensive end. South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney is unquestionably the nation’s top defensive player and already appears to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

    Related: South Carolina team preview

    In short, this isn’t your father’s Heisman.

    “There’s a clear demarcation from the Tebow point onward,” says Chris Huston, founder of HeismanPundit.com. “It doesn’t really matter if they are seniors or juniors or sophomores or freshmen. What wins out are these tremendous numbers.”

    If a defensive player is going to win the Heisman, though, the overwhelming numbers may be tough to acquire.

    Green has been beating the drum for a defensive player to win the award for several years. He begrudgingly latched onto Michigan’s Woodson, who played offense (17 total touches for 259 yards from scrimmage and three TDs) and returned punts (78-yard TD vs. Ohio State) in addition to excelling at cornerback (eight INTs).


     

    The former Pittsburgh lineman is convinced it will take a gargantuan statistical effort to overcome an offensive skill player.

    “This guy, to catch the eye of America, would have to have at least 17 or 18 sacks, five or six interceptions returned for touchdowns — something totally incredible. He’d have to totally dominate anything and everything he plays. …

    “He’d have to sack the quarterback and intercept him at the same time.”

    Clowney (right) would tend to agree. He was been touted as one of the best players in college football even before he landed at South Carolina. He was the consensus No. 1 recruit in the class of 2011 and earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors. As a sophomore, he was a first-team All-American and finished sixth in the Heisman voting.

    But even he concedes that the quarterbacks he’s bringing down have a better chance at the most coveted award in college sports.

    “That’s what the people like — touchdowns and more touchdowns,” Clowney says. “They don’t worry about the sacks and stuff. I guess they feel like offense is more of an individual side.”

    Ironically, the recent batch of defensive players to become Heisman finalists were contenders in the more traditional sense.

    Among Huston’s “10 Heismandments” are stipulations that an aspiring winner must put up good numbers in big games on TV, must have prior name recognition and must play for a title contender or a traditional power.

    None of those stipulations require a Heisman hopeful to be the best at his position or even the best player in his locker room.

    One could argue that neither Te’o nor LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu was the best defensive player on his own team the seasons they went to the Heisman ceremony. And does anyone remember that Suh was fourth in the Big 12 in sacks the year he was a finalist?

    Instead, voters gravitated to Te’o’s two interceptions in the Michigan game, Mathieu’s four defensive and special teams touchdowns, and Suh’s 4.5 sacks of Texas’ Colt McCoy in a Big 12 Championship Game loss.

    That’s why Clowney is the best defensive candidate for the award since Woodson.

    Related: Heisman contenders, challengers and longshots for 2013

    Anyone looking for a Heisman-type moment from Clowney just needs to do a quick YouTube or GIF search. Clowney’s finest play — his game-changing tackle and forced fumble of Michigan’s Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl — has been on a highlight reel since January.

    Name recognition? Check. Stats? Check. Game-turning plays in big games? Check.

    “He has as good as a setup for a defensive player as we’ve seen,” Huston says.

    But Clowney isn’t up against the Heisman field of a decade or so ago. He’s up against some of the most prolific quarterbacks in the history of the game.

    Huston, who has been studying Heisman trends since he worked in the USC athletic department when Palmer won the award, doesn’t attribute the change in voting trends to any new open-mindedness by voters. Instead, the numbers are impossible to ignore, he says. Huston describes the last six years as the rise of the Super Quarterback. The wide-spread use of spread offenses, the dual-threat quarterbacks excelling in these systems and the proof they can win at a championship level have changed voters’ ideas of the typical Heisman candidate.

    In a former era, Tebow’s bruising option attack, Bradford’s Air Raid approach, the track star ability of Baylor’s Robert Griffin III or Auburn’s Cam Newton, or Manziel’s improvisation would have been derided as a “system,” unworthy of the Heisman.

    But no matter the style, these offenses are run by great athletes who happen to play quarterback, and they’re the centerpieces of their offenses like never before.

    Each of the last five quarterbacks to win the Heisman since and including Tebow has topped at least 500 plays of total offense (carries plus pass attempts) in the years they won the Heisman. Manziel had 635 last season.

    Of the six quarterbacks to win the Heisman before 2007, only one topped 500 plays during his award-winning season.

    In addition, when spread quarterbacks compete for national championships or win in major conferences — rather than putting up numbers in Conference USA or the MAC — it’s that much tougher for a voter to write off a sophomore or a freshman who happens to be a so-called “system” quarterback.

    “It’s kind of overcome the usual biases that used to exist against freshmen or sophomores,” Huston says. “It was not an intentional change. It was structural. By the nature of college football, players need more time building name recognition. Now you have guys who are freshmen and sophomores doing all the things Manziel did. It’s easy to quickly gain notoriety.”

    Notoriety seems to be the key to a non-traditional candidate overcoming quarterbacks or running backs.

    Clowney has it. Te’o, Mathieu and Suh earned it.

    But what about offensive linemen? Have Heisman voters evolved to a point where linemen could become serious candidates?

    Prior to the season, a handful of columnists posed that question about Alabama’s Barrett Jones, who at the time was the most decorated offensive player for the Crimson Tide. During his career, he started at guard, tackle and center. He also followed one of Huston’s other Heismandments: He’s likable.

    If there were a perfect candidate to represent the offensive line in New York, it seemed to be Jones.

    Yet Jones was not one of the top 10 vote-getters in 2012.

    The last offensive lineman to make a serious push for the Heisman was Ohio State’s Orlando Pace, who finished fourth in 1996. It was the best finish for an offensive lineman since Buckeyes tackle John Hicks was the runner-up to Penn State’s John Cappelletti in 1973.

    Hicks, who blocked for Heisman winner Archie Griffin, says publicity will be the key for a lineman to win the award.

    “With the Ohio State publicity machine, if you have a great season here, you can win the Heisman here,” Hicks says. “Can a lineman win it? Sure. But he’s going to have be in the national conscience.”

    That’s a double-edged sword. Even if a lineman or a defensive player garners enough name recognition to get to New York through being on television and his highlights showing up on YouTube and social media, quarterbacks and running backs still have all those advantages, too.

    Plus every play of theirs is in the camera’s eye, and every stat readily accessible in a box score.

    “The problem with defensive players and linemen is the metrics,” Huston says. “The camera follows the ball. The people who argue on behalf (of linemen) tend to argue very nebulous things — they were triple-teamed half the season and things like that. If you look at a box score you don’t get tackle numbers, you don’t get pancakes.”

    But that’s the conventional wisdom. And if the last six seasons have proven anything, it’s that the conventional wisdom about the Heisman does not apply.

    In 2013, college football may be ready for another two-time Heisman winner. Or a full-time defensive player.

    “We’ll see,” Clowney says.

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