Conspiracy theory: Fake injuries?

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30

Rule No. 1 to concocting your very own conspiracy theory: Never let facts get in your way.

Just go with what you believe no matter how it sounds or looks!

Take NC State coach Dave Doeren, a man unafraid of taking on big, bad Florida State. Forget any apology you may have heard this week. Doeren provided the perfect fodder for two separate conspiracy theories after his Wolfpack blew an early lead and lost to the No. 1 Seminoles 56-41 on Saturday.

First, there is the classic "favored team gets preferential treatment" conspiracy theory that generally reads: Referees must protect favored team at all times! No exceptions! In this case, the highly scientific favored team theorem would read: No. 1 team in the nation + only ACC College Football Playoff contender = MUST. NOT. LOSE.

Did the refs deliberately protect Florida State? Read between the lines. "There was some unbelievable holding by their offensive line that apparently is invisible," Doeren said after the game Saturday.

Doeren already has experienced the "favored team gets preferential treatment" conspiracy theory. See: Clemson at NC State, 2013. Bryan Underwood scored the go-ahead touchdown midway through the third quarter against the No. 3 Tigers. Pandemonium ensued.

But ... ohhhhh. Look at that. Underwood was whistled out of bounds. The play was unreviewable. Clemson won. And ACC officials later said it was unclear whether Underwood had stepped out of bounds. Doeren, by the way, says he still has photographic evidence on his phone that Underwood was in. Do not trifle with a scorned Dave Doeren.

The man does NOT forget.

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#AskLoogs: Questions of character

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation senior analyst Tom Luginbill a question about your team? Tweet it to @TomLuginbill using the hashtag #AskLoogs.

Absolutely, if we can confirm it or see it for ourselves. This is the challenge of player evaluation. Oftentimes the easy part is determining if the guy can play. The difficult part is finding out what kind of person he is. What are his red flags? Personality quirks? A player might be a four- or five-star player and two-star person. Quite honestly, we never saw any of this “foolishness” with Jameis Winston when he was a recruit. The way kids handle pressure, hype, exposure, success, failure, academics, social environment, etc. can often be impossible to project when a guy is 16 years old. You just don’t know what they are going to do until you have them in your program. You are always weighing risk and what you are willing to deal with in exchange for ability level, especially if you know going in there are some red flags. There is no crystal ball and too many unknown factors that are part of the equation with any recruit, but when coaches are on the hook is when they knowingly take a high-risk player. Coming out of high school, Winston was not in that category.

Playoff Top Four: Week 6

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30


Heather Dinich and Ivan Maisel look at who belongs in the playoffs after five weeks of the season.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher likes to poke fun at the media, but it’s clear the Florida State coach has an affinity for prose and an artfully crafted metaphor. He’s likened to special teams to debt, reading defenses to driving and, most recently, team dynamics to the sociology of a family.

Maybe he isn’t channeling William Shakespeare, but Fisher got his point across when asked what he’s learned about his 2014 team so far, which has yet to emerge out of the shadow of the 2013 team that spent a January night making confetti angels on the Rose Bowl turf.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY SportsJimbo Fisher doesn't quite have the pulse of his team on lockdown quite yet but is encouraged by its fighting spirit in its 4-0 start.
“How many people in here have kids, raise your hand,” said Fisher, short a chalkboard and yard stick after passing on the lectern. “You have that first kid and you’ve got [parenting] down. Well, here’s the second one, it’s going to be just like [the first kid]. Errr wrong.”

OK, land this plane, Jimbo.

“It’s similar to that. You train it the same, I’m doing the same things I did with No. 1 but the results aren’t the same. [The second] doesn’t think or do the same. That’s kind of how a team is. A lot of coaching and success comes from judging the personality of the team and getting to know it. You don’t just get it and plug it in.”

Translation: Fisher is not entirely sure what he is coaching yet, but he knows this isn’t the 2013 team. It isn’t a slight to the current group either. That’s Fisher’s roundabout way of saying even he’s still sizing up his team entering Week 6.

The good news is the Seminoles remain undefeated even if their three FBS wins have come by an average of nine points. That’s far fewer than the average of victory of the other three teams to receive a first-place vote in the AP poll and more than 20 points fewer than their own margin of victory through the first three FBS games of 2013.

Through preseason camp, the fifth-year Seminoles coach harped on finding an identity for his team. He felt he had a finger on the pulse of his team, but top-ranked FSU has been a mixed bag through four games. This isn’t the balanced offense it was last season. This isn’t the top five defense that has been a Tallahassee tradition under Fisher. It’s not a team built on forcing turnovers while limiting its own.

What the heck is the 2014 Florida State team? Better yet, who are they?

“Great competitors [who] don’t flinch,” Fisher said, “but I think it’s evolving offensively and defensively to how we can play.”

The Seminoles deserve the credit for winning close games in which they were tested late in fourth quarters, which did not happen at all during the 2013 calendar year. But they’re walking a tightrope over shark-infested waters. Maybe it is more like mutated, ill-tempered sea bass with the nature of the remaining schedule, but the point still stands: An identity will have to crystallize over the final two months.

Right now, the Seminoles' identity is a team relying on an elite passing attack buttressed by arguably college football’s top quarterback and receiver. Maybe that will be its identity all season, and it very well might be good enough to repeat as national champion, but history suggests either a complementary rushing attack or defense will need to materialize.

Fisher isn’t worried yet, though, and that’s the benefit of gutting out wins even when a team is not playing up to potential. It’s equally frustrating and promising, Fisher said. The confidence in Florida State from pollsters, the Football Power Index, and Las Vegas has waned each week, but Fisher realizes only under the wildest scenario would an undefeated Florida State be left out of the four-team College Football Playoff. So he is keeping weekly stock reports of his team instead and, despite outside doubts, he contends FSU’s arrow is trending up. The Seminoles did in fact have a 100-yard rusher and a defense that allowed only 123 yards in the second half Saturday.

“I don’t worry. You take how it goes and play well enough to beat your opponent and you want to see it gradually going in that direction, and, as crazy as it sounds, I do,” he said. “We’ve improved tremendously from that opening game. I start to see it in my mind.”

Weekend recruiting wrap: ACC 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Another weekend in the ACC has come and gone. As expected, North Carolina State made a splash after giving top-ranked Florida State a scare and an unexpected flip became the news of the day Friday.


NC State coach Dave Doeren apologized to Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher on Tuesday after accusing the Seminoles of faking injuries in their win over the Wolfpack on Saturday.

In a statement released on Twitter, Doeren said: "I have apologized to Jimbo Fisher & want to apologize to his staff, players & FSU fans for my comments that took away from a tremendous football game. I left an emotional locker room & took those emotions w/ me to the press conference. It was a great college football game with tremendous plays made by both teams. That is where the focus deserves to be. I have the utmost respect for Jimbo, his staff and players. FSU played a great game and earned the win."

The two coaches had traded barbs since Doeren's initial comments Saturday, after No. 1 Florida State rallied to beat NC State 56-41.

"The tempo we had was working until all the crazy fall-down things were going on and the clock kept stopping," Doeren said after the game. "You know the refs can't do anything about that, but it's horrible the way the tempo gets slowed down by these injuries. We went fast in the first quarter; I guess there were no fake injuries."

When asked about his comments Monday, Doeren said his team has dealt with "multiple people falling down" and limping off the field through the first five games of the season and called it "unsportsmanlike" behavior. He specifically pointed to one second-half play in which a Seminoles player "walked off the field as slow as humanly possible, and he's back in the game."

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ACC morning links

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
It appears things are getting a bit salty between a pair of ACC coaches.

Florida State's Jimbo Fisher fired back Monday at NC State coach Dave Doeren, two days after Doeren had accused the Seminoles of faking injuries in FSU's 56-41 win.

"Well, I accuse him of not knowing what he's talking about," Fisher said Monday, as our Jared Shanker wrote. "They're not fake injuries. No one faked injuries, and we wouldn't do that. We'll coach Florida State, and he can coach North Carolina State."

As Shanker writes, Eddie Goldman, Derrick Mitchell Jr. and Terrance Smith needed help off the field Saturday in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Doeren softened his stance Monday but did not exactly back down, saying that the issue is not specific to FSU and that a rule should be in place that a player has to sit out for more than one play if he leaves the game in such a situation.

None of this, of course, is particularly new to college football, which has publicly wrestled with the hurry-up, no-huddle debate going on three years now. There is no real clear answer yet.

Surprisingly, a poll embedded in Shanker's story shows fans are overwhelmingly OK with Doeren's suggestions, saying that he did not cross a line. But our David Hale likely had a point Saturday when he tweeted that if you're going to fake injuries to slow the offense's tempo, you probably don't do it with Goldman in the red zone.

On to the rest of your ACC links ...


Florida State and NC State are still taking shots at each other, an Ole Miss player takes a jab at Alabama and LSU is going with a freshman quarterback at Auburn. It's all ahead in your College Football Minute.

Jimbo Fisher upset by accusations

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- NC State almost upset top-ranked Florida State on Saturday. Two days later, it was Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher who was upset after hearing that Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren accused Florida State of faking injuries.

"Well, I accuse him of not knowing what he's talking about," Fisher said Monday. "They're not fake injuries. No one faked injuries, and we wouldn't do that. We'll coach Florida State, and he can coach North Carolina State."

After Saturday's 56-41 loss to the Seminoles, Doeren voiced a few gripes with Florida State's tactics. A handful of FSU defensive players throughout the game needed help off the field, including veteran players Eddie Goldman, Derrick Mitchell Jr. and Terrance Smith.

"The tempo we had was working until all the crazy fall-down things were going on and the clock kept stopping," Doeren told reporters after the loss. "You know the refs can't do anything about that, but it's horrible the way the tempo gets slowed down by these injuries. We went fast in the first quarter; I guess there were no fake injuries."

The Wolfpack's offense has improved dramatically in Year 2 under Doeren, who now has Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett as his quarterback. The Wolfpack racked up 520 yards of offense against Florida State via Doeren's up-tempo pace. NC State at one point held a 24-7 advantage and led for most of the game.

At his Monday news conference, Doeren reiterated his belief that the Seminoles faked injuries but softened his stance somewhat. He also called it an issue not specific to Florida State but rather a college football problem.

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By the numbers: Week 5 recap

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
Breaking down some interesting stats after five weeks of games in the ACC.

* Jameis Winston’s Heisman campaign shouldn’t be on life support just yet. His numbers are down from last year, but not by as much as you might think.

Last season, Winston led 137 drives and Florida State scored on 66 percent of them, averaging 4.1 points per drive.

This season, Winston has led 33 drives and the Seminoles have scored 61 percent of the time and averaged 3.7 points per drive.

It’s really a small blip, and given that Winston is breaking in a lot of new faces in new roles at the skill positions, it’s certainly not too surprising.

Winston also ranks 10th nationally in passing yards per game, 15th in yards per attempt and 19th in passer rating. Again, off a bit from last season, but certainly well within range of climbing back into the Heisman race by year’s end.

* In Florida State’s first eight quarters of action against Power 5 opponents, it had tallied just 131 yards and two TDs on 45 non-QB rushing attempts (2.9 yards per carry). Since the start of overtime against Clemson, however, those numbers have jumped to 194 yards and five TDs on 30 carries (6.5 YPC).

* Rashad Greene is FSU’s Mr. Reliable. Since he arrived in 2011, he’s responsible for 36 percent of all of the Noles’ receptions on third or fourth down (48). This season, he's been targeted on 11 of 21 third-down passes.

More Greene: He's played in 19 games decided by two touchdowns or less. In those games, he's caught 118 passes for 1,658 yards and 12 TDs. No other FSU receiver has had more than three touchdown catches in those games.

* The bad news for FSU is the defense. The Seminoles have allowed more than 400 yards of offense to ACC teams in consecutive games for the first time since 2009 — a season in which Florida State finished 108th nationally in total defense.

* Looking for a dark horse for the ACC’s top freshman? How about NC State’s Bo Hines, who has 24 catches for 312 yards already this season. Only three other true freshmen in the nation have more catches and only two have more yards than Hines, and no Power 5 conference receiver in the nation (min. 25 targets) has caught a higher percentage of his passes (87.5).

* Jacoby Brissett was exceptional against Florida State, with Jimbo Fisher comparing the NC State QB’s game to that of his own Heisman winner. But beyond the highlight plays, what’s perhaps been so impressive about Brissett so far this season is that he hasn’t made many mistakes. In fact, the NC State QB currently has a streak of 156 straight attempts without an interception — the longest streak by any quarterback since Baylor’s Bryce Petty went 229 straight throws from Oct. 5 through Nov. 30 of last season.

* While Brissett avoided picks, Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer keeps racking them up. Brewer threw two more against Western Michigan, giving him 10 for the year, which is tied with Wake Forest’s John Wolford for the most in the country. Brewer has thrown multiple interceptions in four straight games. That’s the longest streak by a Power 5 QB since USC’s Matt Barkley tossed multiple INTs in four straight in 2012. In the last decade, the only Power 5 QB with two or more picks in five straight games was Oregon State’s Matt Moore in 2005.

* Speaking of Wolford, he threw three more picks Saturday, which Louisville turned into two touchdowns and a missed field goal. Overall, Wake Forest has allowed 59 points off turnovers this year, the third most by any Power 5 team. Those 59 points account for 59 percent of all the points the Demon Deacons have surrendered this season, third most of any team in the country.

Worse news for Wake: It has Florida State up next on the schedule. Last year, the Deacons turned the ball over seven times against FSU, leading to 38 points for the Seminoles. Ouch.

* Saturday marked the first time this season that Pitt’s James Conner failed to reach 100 yards rushing and the first time that Miami’s Duke Johnson topped the century mark. Still, Conner and Johnson are the only running backs in the nation to have exceeded 90 yards in every game so far this season.

For Johnson, Saturday’s win over Duke was his 14th career game topping 90 yards rushing. Only three other active Power 5 running backs have had more since the start of 2012: Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (22), Georgia’s Todd Gurley (18) and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (15). That’s pretty good company.

* Of course Deshaun Watson is great, but here are a few numbers to illustrate how good he’s been: Watson leads the nation in yards per attempt (11.9). He’s second only to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in passer rating (212.7). He’s third behind Mariota and Alabama’s Blake Sims in completion percentage (72.7). He has the third-best rate of TD-to-attempts in the country behind Mariota and Cal’s Jared Goff. And no QB in the nation has had a higher percentage of his passes result in plays of 20 yards or more than Watson (21.1).

* Impressive early work by Todd Grantham. Louisville currently leads the nation in total defense (208.5 yards per game) against FBS teams. Virginia is the next closest in the ACC, allowing more than 100 additional yards per game than the Cardinals (313.0). Louisville’s 18 sacks and nine interceptions against FBS teams are also tops in the nation, and only TCU has had a higher percentage of opponent drives end without gaining a first down (58%). ESPN’s metrics note the Cardinals’ defensive win probability added of 2.40 nearly doubles any other team in the country (Ole Miss and Utah State are next at 1.23).

* Virginia’s offense still won’t be confused with Oregon or Baylor, but the Hoos have scored 20 points or more in five straight games for the first time since Oct. 6, 2007. They haven’t hit that mark in six straight since 2002, but that could change Saturday against reeling Pittsburgh.

No. 1 ranking least of FSU's concerns

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
All offseason, many shared opinions on how the traditional polls are essentially meaningless in this new College Football Playoff era. Yet when the coaches dropped Florida State from the top spot to No. 2 on Sunday, Seminoles fans already began to lament the loss of a wire-to-wire No. 1, at least in one poll. The vitriol was reminiscent of the good ol’ days of the BCS.

There are two schools of thought on why the Seminoles dropped: The first is that to be the man, you've got to beat the man, as pro wrestler Ric Flair has so eloquently put it for the last 40 years. The other is that 2013 should have no bearing on 2014, and the reigning champion is on equal footing with the rest of the country; every undefeated team has a rightful claim to the No. 1 ranking at this point.

That all makes for hotly debated Sunday afternoons, but not much else. The only ranking that matters now is the one the playoff committee will release next month.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and Florida State are not No. 1 in the USA Today coaches' poll anymore. But that should be of little concern.
Could Florida State use it as motivation and start playing better? Of course, they certainly could, but I’d imagine Jimbo Fisher is concerning himself with rounding into form a team that by all accounts has not been as dominant as it was last season.

Following Saturday’s 56-41 victory over NC State, Fisher said it is “frustrating” the Seminoles have not played as well as he would like through the first third of the regular season. Here are the bigger takeaways from Saturday's game moving forward. The loosening grip on the No. 1 ranking is not one of them.

1. The rushing attack found some life

Based purely on talent, there was a faction of Florida State fans who expected Karlos Williams, a former five-star recruit, to be one of the Seminoles’ most prolific running backs since Warrick Dunn. The numbers were paltry through three games, however, as the running backs and offensive lines tagged each other in and out of Fisher’s doghouse. Against NC State, however, Williams ran for a career-high 126 yards and three touchdowns. That was a product of much better blocking, too, as a Florida State running back made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage before getting touched an astonishing six times in the second half, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That is a sign of an offensive line paving the way, and the rushing attack needs to be clicking by the time Notre Dame rolls into town on Oct. 18. The offensive line was criticized heavily following the Clemson victory, but the unit can be proud of the holes it opened Saturday and use that confidence moving forward.

2. A battered defense is struggling at the line of scrimmage

It is tougher to gauge this Florida State defense when it is without two starting defensive linemen, but the injury bug has bitten the unit hard. Playing without Mario Edwards Jr. (concussion) and Nile Lawrence-Stample (pectoral, out for season), NC State carved up the Seminoles defense. It is not an issue that will be fixed over the course of a week, if it can be fixed at all. The Florida State defense is not as talented as it was last season at every level. Shoddy tackling has added to the mediocre defensive numbers, too. Whether it was a running back, receiver or a scrambling Jacoby Brissett, the Seminoles whiffed far too many times. But with the limited bodies, does Fisher even risk increasing the physicality in practice? To the defense’s credit, after a program-worst 24 points allowed in the first quarter, the defense tightened up and allowed touchdowns only following FSU turnovers the remainder of the game. Young bodies along the defensive line also played major roles in the second half and showed the promise you would expect out of a freshman class ranked No. 3 in the country.

3. The offense is hitting its stride …

... and that should compensate for a defense still finding its bearings. It is no surprise the offensive production is apples and oranges when it is Jameis Winston at quarterback vs. anybody else. Winston was brilliant the majority of the game and showed no signs of rust. Complementing the passing game was a rushing attack that sealed the victory in the fourth quarter. The Seminoles converted 8 of 11 third-down attempts, and Winston was 7-of-9 passing on third down, with an average of 12 yards per attempt. While receiver Rashad Greene continues to state his case as the country’s best receiver, the Seminoles found a competent option outside of the senior. Sophomore Jesus "Bobo" Wilson had 109 yards and two scores. One issue is the offensive line did not pass block particularly well for a second consecutive game.

Heather Dinich explains that replacing a coach midseason can work, but only under unique circumstances.

Florida State is still No. 1, Charlie Weis is making lots of money to NOT coach and the College Football Playoff race heats up in Week 6. It's all ahead in your College Football Minute.


Georgia Flips, Signs ESPN 300 FSU Commit
National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert talks about ESPN 300 defensive end Michael Barnett's decision to sign financial aid papers at Georgia. Barnett had previously been committed to Florida State and Virginia Tech.