Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (punt coverage instructional video sold separately at UCLA):
THE BICOASTAL CHIP KELLY DERBY
When UCLA fired Jim Mora (1) on Sunday, it unofficially announced the Bruins’ entry into the race to land the top available coach on the landscape, Chip Kelly (2).
Right now, that’s a two-horse race: UCLA and Florida.
Multiple media outlets reported, and Yahoo Sports confirmed, Sunday night that Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin and a contingent of school officials met with Kelly, but Stricklin returned to Gainesville without indication that a deal was consummated between the two. That doesn’t mean there won’t be — Kelly is a deliberate and thorough researcher, not prone to the kind of emotional decision making that torpedoed Gary Andersen’s career. So there could be more appraisal and discussion to come, with both sides open to letting this play out further.
Still, the fact that we are two weeks past Jim McElwain’s departure without a free-agent coach and a school with an attractive vacancy finalizing anything means that there could be room for another option for Kelly. Enter UCLA, which seemingly realized the opportunity and didn’t bother waiting another week to create its opening.
(As far as Florida goes, Scott Frost remains a viable and attractive candidate — perhaps even the top candidate. But he has 16 career victories, and Kelly has 46. If there is one thing Florida’s three big coaching misses have had in common — Ron Zook, Will Muschamp, McElwain — it’s a lack of proven production at the highest level of the sport before arriving in Gainesville. That’s a box Chip Kelly checks.)
UCLA would seem like an attractive landing spot for Kelly: he would not suffocate in a small-town atmosphere; there is abundant local talent; he knows the conference well; the facilities have been freshly modernized; and this is an underachieving program that imposes no historical burden on the next coach. Then there’s this: Kelly returning to the Pac-12 and immediately be the most accomplished coach in the conference, as opposed to dealing with the SEC tyranny of Nick Saban. As the Pac-12 South is currently constructed, Kelly would dwarf all his coaching counterparts.
It’s hard to see any other potentially open college jobs interesting Kelly. Tennessee, Nebraska and Texas A&M don’t offer everything he would want in a position. So, if he is intent on returning to the sport in 2018, it stands to reason that Florida and UCLA are options. He might well have his choice.
HOW TO WIN THE HEISMAN AND LOSE FANS AT THE SAME TIME
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (3) issued what was at least his third apology of 2017 Saturday, this time for the double-crotch-grab, F-bomb sideline display during the Sooners’ beating of pitiful Kansas. While the 1-10 Jayhawks showed their loser stripes by refusing to shake hands before the game and taking at least one blatant cheap shot at Mayfield, a fifth-year senior quarterback who is toying with an outclassed opponent should be able to resist such a juvenile response.
Does that mean Mayfield shouldn’t win the Heisman Trophy? No, it doesn’t. The Heisman has been awarded to players embroiled in far bigger issues — Cam Newton during an NCAA investigation and Jameis Winston on the heels of a sexual-assault investigation readily come to mind. It’s not a choirboy award, or Johnny Manziel never would have won. If you have a vote and think Mayfield is the best player, he should still be at the top of your ballot.
But right or wrong, the Heisman has more mystique and high-minded lore attached to it than any other individual award in sports. Which means the recipients are generally expected to be both great players and laudable people. Mayfield’s antics — arrested for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing; the flag-planting at Ohio State; now this — present a pattern of impulsiveness that can certainly be off-putting. (The flag-planting is a non-issue here; the other two incidents are more significant.)
And beyond any potential Heisman impact, there is the greater potential problem of turning off a percentage of football fans by acting like a jerk. When ESPN has to pixilate both your mouth and your crotch, that’s not a great look. Parents of young Baker Mayfield fans might well tell their kids to find another sports hero.
So, if you’re looking for a Mayfield alternative to root for or vote for, there are a few great ones out there who haven’t done anything to embarrass themselves or their schools this season. The Dash short list:
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (4). His stats continue to be better than last year, when Jackson ran away with the Heisman: more yards of total offense per game (415, up from 393); more yards per play (8.03, up from 7.64); more accurate passing (60 percent completion rate, up from 56). The drawback: Jackson has been combating 2016 voter remorse and a bad Louisville defense that left the Cardinals 5-4 and off-radar during the stretch run. But the numbers don’t lie — he’s having another incredible season.
Stanford running back Bryce Love (5). Continues to lead the nation in rushing yards per game (172.3) and yards per carry for anyone with more than 125 carries (8.84). Health willing, he will join the exclusive 2,000-yard rushing club and still is on pace to break the FBS NCAA record for yards per carry in a season with a minimum of 215 carries. He had his 11th run of 50 or more yards Saturday against California, in only 10 games. The drawback: Love has been trying to play through a persistent ankle injury the last few weeks, which has diminished his production. After re-injuring himself against Cal, his availability Saturday against Notre Dame is in question — and he could use one more big game.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (6). Playing the leaky Nebraska defense helped Barkley have his biggest game since September, racking up 224 all-purpose yards and averaging 9.7 yards per touch. He’s second nationally in all-purpose yards per game, and has scored touchdowns running (14), receiving (3), returning kickoffs (2) and passing (1). The drawback: The Penn State offensive line has deteriorated during the season, opening fewer holes and killing Barkley’s rushing production.
FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF
It was a status quo weekend from a College Football Playoff perspective, which puts two conferences one step closer to dreaming of having a pair of teams in the four-team bracket — both the SEC and ACC have an unbeaten and a one-loss team, and the SEC adds a third potential contender in two-loss Auburn. How The Dash sees the playoff quartet as of today:
Alabama (7). Complaining about the Crimson Tide playing FCS Mercer in mid-November is pointless. Everyone plays cupcakes, and the timing of those games is irrelevant in a sport where every game matters. For anyone saying SEC or ACC teams are scheduling themselves an unfair pseudo-bye when other teams are dealing with injuries in the middle of conference play must have missed the Crimson Tide playing at then-No. 16 Mississippi State minus four linebackers the week before. That was a test, and Alabama passed it — with the biggest test to come Saturday at Auburn.
Miami (8). For a long time Saturday, the Hurricanes were facing a season-ruining upset loss at home against Virginia. But down two touchdowns in the third quarter, they rallied — and then blew out the Cavaliers in the fourth quarter. A 16-point conference win coming on the heels of a huge blowout of Notre Dame does nothing to hurt Miami’s standing. But The Dash suspects the final Hurricane hurdle won’t be a walkover — at Pittsburgh at noon Friday. The Panthers have a chance to make something of a disappointing season.
Oklahoma (9). Beating Kansas is basically the same as beating Mercer. It does nothing to improve the résumé, and the only talking points coming out of the game were about low-class behavior on both sides. And now the Sooners get to revive their late-season 2015 luck, playing their final regular-season game against a team starting a backup quarterback. West Virginia standout Will Grier reportedly is out after a gruesome finger dislocation Saturday against Texas.
Clemson (10). The Tigers also had an FCS walkover, plastering The Citadel. It’s a non-factor in the CFP race, certainly nothing that helps. Clemson already has schedule strength solidly in its favor, having beaten Auburn (No. 4 in the Sagarin Ratings), Virginia Tech (No. 18), North Carolina State (No. 26) and Louisville (No. 28) — and the latter three were all on the road. Now the Tigers have to handle one more road test, at in-state rival South Carolina.
A word about the Big Ten: Wisconsin remains on the outside looking in. The Badgers did finally pick up a victory over a ranked team, but it wasn’t the team they just played — Michigan predictably dropped out of the Top 25. But Northwestern moved in, at No. 23. The Badgers obviously need to beat Minnesota next week and then win the Big Ten title game while simultaneously hoping for upset help Saturday and/or a decisive Clemson victory in the ACC title game. (A one-loss Miami team that played a close game against Clemson could give the league two playoff teams.)
Also, Ohio State’s bid for becoming the first two-loss playoff team was not helped Saturday. Losing by 31 points in Iowa City can no longer be wallpapered over by Iowa’s home-field prowess — not after Purdue beat the Hawkeyes in Kinnick Stadium. That blowout loss will resonate if the committee winds up being tasked with comparing two-loss teams.
And there is this Oklahoma-style note regarding the Buckeyes: Playing against Michigan with John O’Korn instead of Michigan with Brandon Peters is an easier path. Peters’ status is not official after being carted off during the Wisconsin game, but it’s hard to imagine him playing Saturday. Thus Ohio State will take on a Michigan team playing its third-best quarterback.