SEC: Florida State Seminoles

SEC viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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Saturday feels a little like the calm before the storm in the SEC. There are eight games on the docket, including a couple of intriguing matchups, and yet everybody is already talking about the rivalry games next week.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s a preview of this Saturday’s slate. All times ET.

Noon

Eastern Kentucky at Florida, SEC Network: It might be a bit strange to see Will Muschamp on the sideline Saturday considering he won’t be back at Florida next season, but he’s staying on to coach the team’s last two regular-season games. How will the players respond to a coach who’s on his way out? Based on Dante Fowler Jr.'s tweet this week, I'd expect them to come out and play hard for their coach. Also, the Gators become bowl eligible with a win.

South Alabama at South Carolina, ESPN3: Raise your hand if you had South Alabama becoming bowl eligible before South Carolina this season. If your hand is raised, you’re lying. Credit the job Joey Jones has done in his sixth season with the Jaguars, but don’t expect an upset on Saturday. The Gamecocks bounced back from that excruciating overtime loss to Tennessee with a solid, come-from-behind win in the Swamp last weekend.

Charleston Southern at No. 10 Georgia, SEC Network: If there was ever a week to give Nick Chubb a break, this would be it. With Todd Gurley out for the season, Chubb is once again the man in Georgia’s backfield, but fellow freshman Sony Michel is expected to return Saturday, and both he and Brendan Douglas should see plenty of carries. All three backs could be in for a big day against the Buccaneers.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsBo Wallace and Ole Miss will have a tough matchup Saturday against an Arkansas defense fresh off a shutout win over LSU.
3:30 p.m.

No. 8 Ole Miss at Arkansas, CBS: After last weekend, Ole Miss still has a chance to win the SEC West. Auburn knocking off Alabama isn’t likely, but crazier things have happened. First, though, the Rebels have to take care of business Saturday against an Arkansas team that is dangerous at home and confident after winning its first conference game in over two years. The Razorbacks allowed a total of 31 points to Alabama, Mississippi State and LSU this season. That doesn’t bode well for Bo Wallace, who will be without top target Laquon Treadwell. With rain in the forecast, points might be hard to come by in this one.

4 p.m.

Western Carolina at No. 1 Alabama, SEC Network: The Alabama basketball team had trouble with the Catamounts earlier this week, but I don’t expect much of a struggle for the football team on Saturday. Western Carolina might be a “good little team,” as Nick Saban put it, but the Crimson Tide have dominated all three previous meetings and should do the same this season. If anything, it will give us another look at backup quarterback Jake Coker.

7 p.m.

Samford at No. 14 Auburn, ESPNU: There are a lot of connections between these two in-state schools. Samford coach Pat Sullivan won a Heisman Trophy at Auburn back in 1971. Samford assistant coach Kodi Burns played and coached at Auburn. And Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee spent a year at Samford before joining Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State. The game itself won’t be very entertaining, but it should get the Tigers back on track.

7:30 p.m.

No. 20 Missouri at Tennessee, ESPN: Missouri has to lose, right? There’s no way the Tigers can get back to Atlanta for the second straight season. Consider this -- Gary Pinkel’s team has won 12 of its past 14 conference games and has won nine straight road games, including seven straight in the SEC. Maybe it’s time we start taking this team seriously. The Tigers are going to have their hands full Saturday against a Tennessee team on the rise. The Volunteers have won back-to-back games with Joshua Dobbs under center, and a win over Missouri would make them bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.

Vanderbilt at No. 4 Mississippi State, SEC Network: Dan Mullen was a happy man Tuesday when the latest College Football Playoff rankings came out, as his Bulldogs were still among the four playoff teams despite losing to Alabama the week before. Now the question is: Can they stay in the top four and hold off teams such as TCU, Ohio State and Baylor? Mississippi State has two chances left to impress the committee, beginning with Saturday’s tilt against the Commodores. It’s important the Bulldogs not only win, but win big.
This week, USA Today, in the latest of its fan index lists, catalogued the top 10 traditions in college football.

Among them, dotting the "i" at Ohio State, lighting the Tower at Texas and rolling Toomer's Corner at Auburn. All fine events, but no list of such customs in the sport is complete without the latest craze: the wait for Tuesday night.

I say that somewhat jokingly, so refrain from the angry tweets. No, I don't really think it's more fun to dream about the details of a five-minute interview with Jeff Long than to decorate an intersection with toilet paper.

But it's close.

So welcome to the fourth of seven Tuesday College Football Playoff poll unveils, where it finally gets real in the selection-committee room.

Why is this Tuesday different? Because after last Saturday, none of the remaining unbeaten or one-loss Power 5 contenders will meet in the regular season or in conference-title games.

CFP committee evaluates the victories 

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
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Entering the reveal of this week’s College Football Playoff Rankings, I was most interested to see how far Arizona State, Baylor and Ohio State would rise after big wins Saturday. So, naturally, the committee had to sidetrack this article by dropping undefeated Florida State behind once-beaten Oregon and forcing me to address that issue first.

For starters, it’s refreshing to see that the committee isn’t so married to the loss column that it would never put a one ahead of a zero. Whether it would do so at the end of the season is another matter, but at least for now, it would only mean that Florida State would wear white instead of garnet in a semifinal against Oregon. And since that would give the Ducks more uniform options, who’s really going to complain too much about this?

The bigger takeaway, though, is that the committee is really evaluating the wins. Even though FSU hasn’t lost a game, it has only two wins over the committee’s current top 25 -- No. 18 Notre Dame and No. 19 Clemson, both narrow escapes and both in Tallahassee. Oregon, on the other hand, has beaten No. 11 UCLA, No. 12 Michigan State and No. 23 Utah, all by double digits with two of those games on the road. The Ducks have the better wins, and they’ve looked better than the Seminoles over the last month.

I have Florida State at No. 2 and Oregon at No. 3 on my ballot but have no complaints about the committee flipping that order.

Other takeaways:

• TCU apparently passes the eye test against Alabama this week.

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National links: Bias on the committee? 

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
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I have grave news to bring you. The College Football Playoff selection committee is biased.

Yes, the 12-member panel tasked to solve the nation's problems choose the sport's first four-team playoff includes people with real-life experiences, likes and dislikes.

Some of them, apparently, have ideas about the way the game ought to be played and coached.

Take a deep breath and remember, this is what we wanted.

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There will be subplots aplenty when Auburn visits Georgia on Saturday.

As is often the case, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry will impact the SEC divisional races. It’s the rematch of last season’s “Miracle at Jordan-Hare” when Ricardo Louis caught the game-winning touchdown pass off a deflection from two Georgia defenders. It will be former Georgia cornerback and current Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall’s first game back in Sanford Stadium since Mark Richt kicked him off the team after the 2011 season.

And in case you hadn’t heard, Saturday night’s game will mark the return of Georgia tailback and former Heisman Trophy front runner Todd Gurley.


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Let’s say you’re a hot, up-and-coming head coach in a Group of 5 league. You have job opportunities in every one of the Power 5 conferences. If you’re picking solely based on title path -- the fastest way to the College Football Playoff -- which conference do you choose?

Here's my ranking of every division in the major conferences, going from the most ideal to join as a new coach to the most difficult. Easiest to hardest. (I’m counting the Big 12 as one 10-team division. It’s a reasonable way to view it since, as with the divisions in the other four leagues, everyone plays everyone.)

1. Big Ten West

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Class rankings: Nov. 5 update

November, 5, 2014
Nov 5
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Three top-50 ESPN 300 prospects made commitments in the past week and sparked some changes to the class rankings. No moves were made among the top five, but one week after moving into that group Florida State strengthened its position by adding the nation's No. 5 CB, Tarvarus McFadden, to its class. After finishing third in the 2014 class rankings, the Seminoles remain very much in the running for another top-three finish.

Torrance Gibson became the 10th five-star prospect to commit and the third to join Ohio State's 2015 class. The addition of the No. 2 athlete helped the Buckeyes to push closer to the top five.

Oregon picked up a win over Stanford on Saturday and followed that with a big recruiting win after ESPN 300 DE Canton Kaumatule chose the Ducks. With its sixth ESPN 300 commit, Oregon has pushed past UCLA for the second-best class in the Pac-12.

Virginia Tech might be fighting through a three-game losing streak on the field, but in recruiting the Hokies were able make some positive strides. The Hokies landed former South Carolina commit Austin Clark, an in-state four-star OT, and moved into the top 40.



To see the full class rankings, click here.

CommitCast replay: Tarvarus McFadden

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
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Tarvarus McFadden, No. 49 in the ESPN 300, is ready to make his announcement. Join the No. 5 cornerback prospect in the country Friday at 11 a.m. ET on RecruitingNation to see his commitment live.

National links: Rankings madness 

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
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Now that we have had time to digest the first Top 25 from the College Football Playoff Committee, it is pretty obvious the group delivered on the promises it made before the process began.

Strength of schedule matters. Quality wins matter.

The AP and coaches poll do not.

One glance at the College Football Playoff Top 25 and the other rankings clearly illustrates the committee truly started with a clean slate.

There are several discrepancies that illustrate this point:


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Each Tuesday, we ask the College Football Insider team to answer three big questions. On tap today: Which College Football Playoff matchups would be the most interesting? Which coach has done the best job so far? And which team truly boasts the most dominant defense?

Which coach has done the best job so far this season?
Travis Haney: Rightful homage is being paid to the coaches in Mississippi, but I want to go a different direction. Kyle Whittingham has Utah 6-1 after some doubted whether he could handle the Pac-12 transition. The Utes' offense isn't great at all -- 84th in yards per play -- but that further illustrates the job Whittingham has done to make Utah a complete team on defense and special teams. The win over Stanford in 2013 didn't look fluky, and neither did wins over UCLA or USC in 2014. The Utes will be a headache for Oregon in a couple of weeks, especially coming off the Stanford game

Tom Luginbill: Nobody was talking about Utah prior to the season, and all the Utes have done is take care of business with average QB play (plus an injury) and stellar special-teams performances. Utah is the one team that can truly throw a wrench into the Pac-12 playoff picture.


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National links: Beware the big day 

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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Welcome to terrific Tuesday. Or terrible Tuesday. All depends on your perspective.

The College Football Playoff selection committee began deliberations on Monday in Grapevine, Texas. Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long will unveil to a most curious audience the first-ever CFP rankings.

It's a historic time -- and surely chaotic.

Marc Tracy of the New York Times, in assessing the moment, writes that “historians will most likely date the end of the era of good feelings to 7:31.”

With that in mind, some advice for fans from the Big Ten to the SEC:

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In the spring, when quarterback Matt Joeckel decided to transfer from Texas A&M to TCU, the Frogs' coaching staff exhaled.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesAmeer Abdullah set a Nebraska record with 341 all-purpose yards in a win over Rutgers.
Finally. Gary Patterson and his assistants could move Trevone Boykin to his natural position, receiver, and let Joeckel, who was familiar with a fast-paced offense as an Aggie, handle the transition to the hurry-up, tempo offense.

A funny thing happened during those summer months: Boykin took to TCU's new offensive assistants, playcaller Doug Meacham and quarterbacks coach Sonny Cumbie.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Boykin never relinquished the position. He never made it over to receiver.

Now look where we are.

TCU, a program founded on stingy defense, scored 82 points Saturday against Texas Tech. Eighty-two. TCU very much remains a playoff contender, even after its late collapse at Baylor.

And Boykin, after a school-record seven touchdown throws in three quarters, is now in the heart of the Heisman conversation.

“I told people before the year this would happen, that he was going to have this type of year,” Frogs running back Aaron Green told ESPN.com. “Seeing how comfortable he was in the offense, I was like, ‘You’ll see. You’ll see.’”

Boykin now has 24 total touchdowns and just four turnovers and is averaging a healthy 8.1 yards per pass attempt.

Scoring 50.4 points per game, TCU is the only FBS school averaging more than half a hundred. Now’s a great time to remind you the Frogs scored 25.1 points per game a year ago. They went 4-8.

It’s been an incredible turnaround and a recreation of the program’s identity. Credit Patterson for the willingness and adaptability to do it. Credit the hires of Meacham and Cumbie, who should be co-favorites for the Broyles Award for the country’s top assistant coach.

And of course, credit Boykin for growing into the position.

I’ll have Boykin third on my Heisman Watch poll this week. Here’s how the rest of the top five looks as we enter the stretch run for the award:

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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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As always there was a ton of recruiting news from around the Southeastern Conference. There were a few big commitments, key visits and new offers over the weekend. Here's a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the conference.


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The rankings are fluid. College football is not a sprint but a marathon. Who a team is in October isn't necessarily who they will be in December … blah blah blah, yada yada yada.

It is time to pick a side, to make a stand. For the second time in three weeks, preseason No. 1 Florida State has been knocked from its perch atop at least one of the rankings. The debate on who should be ranked No. 1 -- or whether FSU should be ranked No. 1 -- has raged since the first Sunday of the season and continued through the halfway mark.

Mississippi State, owner of three consecutive wins against the AP top 10, has the latest legitimate claim to the No. 1 spot, at least in the eyes of Edward Aschoff. The ACC blog’s Jared Shanker will rep Florida State, owner of the nation’s longest winning streak at 22 games.

It’s not a debate that can be settled once and for all on Oct. 13, but we can at least settle it until about midnight Saturday.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsThe Seminoles haven't looked like world-beaters thus far, but they haven't lost, either.
Shanker: I don’t like saying this, Mississippi State, because I like you. I really do. Dak Prescott is a great story, and, as a proud vuvuzela owner, I’m #TeamClanga. But this isn’t a debate between Florida State and Mississippi State so much as a debate between Florida State and SEC Flavor of the Week C. The Bulldogs are just the latest team from the SEC to demand the college football crown be bestowed upon its collective head, taking its lead from Georgia in Week 2 and Alabama in Week 6. But a reminder, if I may: You don’t make the rules anymore, SEC, not after Florida State took down Auburn nine months ago. To be the man, you need to beat the man. The SEC needs to earn its way back to the top, and that starts with the Seminoles dropping a game first. If we’re talking strictly "What has a team accomplished during the 2014 season," Florida State has two wins against the AP Top 25 -- same as Mississippi State.

Aschoff: Oh man, where do I even start? I guess I could start with the fact this Mississippi State team, which returned 16 total starters, is one of five teams in AP poll history to defeat three straight top-10 teams. During that stretch, the Bulldogs steamrolled No. 8 LSU on the road before a late comeback, clobbered No. 6 Texas A&M by halftime, and then beat No. 2 Auburn 38-23 with all the pressure of the college football world on their shoulders. I guess I could talk about the fact Mississippi State has scored a school-record 251 points through the first six games (17 more than FSU). Or I could talk about the fact the Bulldogs have allowed just six touchdowns on 19 red zone trips and are tied for eighth nationally with 16 takeaways, while FSU is just 46th.

And while we’re comparing opponents -- which Mississippi State easily wins -- according to ESPN Stats & Information, Mississippi State leads the nation in strength of record and game control, meaning the Bulldogs have the most impressive W-L mark (strength of record) and have controlled their games better than any other team in the country (game control). Mississippi State’s opponents are 24-13, while FSU’s are 20-18.

The simple fact you’re keeping FSU No. 1 only because of last year proves that you aren't even all that impressed with the Noles. Remember, this is the same team that slopped its way through an ugly win over a pretty bad NC State team a few weeks ago.

Put FSU in a conference that houses more than just two ranked opponents and then come talk to me.

Shanker: The Seminoles can’t control their conference schedule, but their 2014 nonconference schedule is light on cupcakes. They opened in Dallas against Oklahoma State, square off against No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday and play Florida -- one of those SEC schools Jimbo Fisher is batting .833 against -- in the regular-season finale. If nonconference scheduling is a factor for the committee, few teams scheduled harder than Florida State in 2014.

Mississippi State’s nonconference schedule boasts Directional A, Directional B and something called UTM. I’ll pause 10 seconds to allow everyone to Google who or what a "UTM" is.

As for that three-game gantlet Mississippi State survived: LSU is unranked and should have lost to Florida, and Texas A&M seems to be SEC hype and not much more but still manages to find itself ranked -- standard protocol at this point in the season for mediocre SEC teams.

This isn’t the BCS era anymore; style points won’t matter as long as a team remains undefeated, so you can keep your stats. Florida State’s only concern is winning and not margin of victory. The Seminoles aren’t as good as they were last year, but they might not have to be. So far, there has not been one dominant team that has convincingly made a case as the country’s best, so this 2014 FSU team is as capable as any to win the national title.

Maybe the Seminoles don't have the country’s strongest résumé, but the committee is tasked with picking the four best teams, not the four teams able to best take advantage of a tired national narrative to railroad their way into the College Football Playoff.

[+] EnlargeBen Beckwith
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsMississippi State is riding high after crushing Auburn for its third consecutive victory over a top-10 team.
Aschoff: Hey, glorify wins over NC State and Wake Forest if you want. Knock young LSU and Texas A&M if you want. That’s fine. But come on? You're really taking FSU's early schedule compared to Mississippi State's? You can say that with a straight face? Do you really think the playoff selection committee is going to be more impressed with what FSU has done to this point? We aren’t talking the future, so Notre Dame is irrelevant (oh my, that UNC game!).

You bring up the selection committee not being impressed with style points and margin of victory. Yeah, right. No way the committee isn’t impressed by the Bulldogs’ past three wins.

Honestly, which talent group do you think has the better chance of making a championship run this year? The Bulldogs have the nation’s real Heisman front-runner in Prescott, who has accounted for 2,089 total yards with 23 touchdowns and has thrown for 200 yards and rushed for 100 yards in four of his past five games.

Jameis Winston has 445 fewer total yards and 10 fewer touchdowns. You taking a healthy Karlos Williams over Josh Robinson, who is second in the SEC with 689 rushing yards and eight touchdowns?

What about a defense without a linebacker like Benardrick McKinney, who can blitz, clog the run, drop back in coverage and play sideline to sideline?

FSU has the backing of a preseason ranking but hasn’t had much wow factor on the field. Mississippi State is no flavor of the week, it’s the flavor of the year right now. There’s no way you can sit there and seriously think that what FSU has done to this point is more impressive than what the Bulldogs have in a much tougher conference.

Fournette, LSU will live up to hype 

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
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Leonard FournetteAP Photo/Gerald HerbertLeonard Fournette has been dubbed 2014's "prodigy" -- before even playing a single game.
Leonard Fournette is not a freshman.

Just keep repeating that to yourself, over and over, though not so loud that people think you’re strange.

I’ve spent the past few months working to condition and program myself to this thought. Maybe we should just call him LSU’s “first-year” running back.

Fournette doesn’t look, act -- or, most importantly -- run like a freshman. So let’s just move past the fact that he is one.

It’s a dangerous game, hyping those who have yet to gain a yard, throw a pass or make a tackle. It’s one that can make someone like me look quite foolish, causing hand-wringing from fans. (“He’s 18, HANEY!”)

But what happens when we’re right? What happens when Jameis Winston, as a first-year starter, wins the Heisman?

From all I’ve gathered, including a stop last week in Baton Rouge, we’re right on Fournette. You’ve seen the comparisons, from Michael Jordan’s determination to Adrian Peterson’s physique as a teenager.

“I’ve never seen a freshman like him,” someone close to the program told me. “Never.”

College football’s 2014 prodigy will debut Saturday night in Houston, when LSU meets Wisconsin in a top-15 matchup at the Texans' stadium.

In addition to Fournette, Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn are expected to be in the receivers rotation. Jamal Adams is a defensive back who isn’t getting enough buzz because of the offensive guys.

And, oh by the way, coach Les Miles has said QB Brandon Harris will play. He might even start.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsFreshman QB Brandon Harris will also headline LSU's young group of impact players.
These players, and other youngsters, were recruited to play immediately.

“We just want to get the best players on the field,” defensive coordinator John Chavis told me last week. “We don’t care what year they are. We tell them that.”

In addition to natural attrition, LSU has lost 17 underclassmen to the NFL draft the past two cycles. That precipitates need unlike anything we’ve ever seen, really.

“These kids have embraced that idea since day one in the recruiting process,” said Jeremy Crabtree, ESPN.com senior recruiting writer. “They knew they were good. They knew they were going to have to play early. And they didn’t back away from it one bit.”

If some or all of the freshmen hit, LSU will be a dark horse playoff contender. Three of the 20 coaches I polled this week had the Tigers in the four-team field.

“They can sneak up on you some years,” one of them told me. “That’s when they’ve won [titles]. There’s a lot of attention on Alabama and Auburn right now, and Les probably likes it that way.”

ESPN analyst and national recruiting director Tom Luginbill, who covered Harris in the Under Armour game, said his arm is in the top three for the past decade.

“He’s a great kid with a high ceiling,” he said. “[He’s] a superior talent to [Anthony] Jennings, but he hasn’t played yet.”

Even with Fournette, expect veteran RBs Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee to get the first carries. Second-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will roll Fournette in gracefully; those on staff agreed with my theory that the frosh would see between 10-15 planned carries. Don’t expect Peterson’s bruising running style as much as power mixed with elusiveness. Fournette would rather juke than bulldoze. And he’ll be more effective in the screen game.

But if he gets hot, the script could soon flip, with Hilliard and Magee serving as the complements. And that’s what I would expect, given the preface of his legend.

Fournette goes for 100-plus. A star is born.

Other breakout players to watch this week


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