Heisman Tracker: The SEC Makes Its Entrance

We are back with this week’s Heisman Tracker, and the SEC has jumped into the picture! For those new to our Heisman Tracker, this list is exclusively based on 2020 performances to date. No preseason hype factors in, meaning that Justin Fields won’t appear until at least after October 24, and the ACC has a slight advantage right now do their early start in conference play. Because of this, the SEC’s top players will need another week or two to challenge the top of our list, but that doesn’t mean the conference is unrepresented in this version of the tracker. Let’s get into it:

The Finalists 

  1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson,
    Lawrence remains atop the rankings after an idle week. Last week’s #2, Spencer Rattler, had a chance to overtake him, but a 3-interception performance and second-half collapse doomed both the Oklahoma Sooners, and potentially Rattler’s Heisman hype. Lawrence has been a very efficient 30-37 for 519 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions on the season. He’s also run for three scores as well, giving him as many all-purpose touchdowns as incompletions. 
  2. De’Eriq King, QB, Miami
    Miami finished last year ranked 90th in the country in points per game, notching barely over 25 a contest. This year, albeit only three games in, the Hurricanes are averaging over 43 points per game, ranking 12th in the country. They looked strong in a road victory against a ranked Louisville squad in their second game, and they followed it up with a 52-10 bludgeoning of Florida State. King has been a huge reason, as the Houston transfer is completing passes at a 66.7% rate, throwing for 733 yards and 6 touchdowns. On the ground, King has added 157 yards and a TD on 5.6 yards per carry. He’s got a clear path to being #1 on this list…beat Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers in two weeks. 
  3. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
    Texas may have underwhelmed in their overtime victory against Texas Tech, but it sure wasn’t because of Ehlinger. The Longhorns’ signal-caller directed his offense to 63 points, including a miraculous 15-point comeback in the final four minutes. He’s tossed 10 touchdowns (plus a score on the ground) to just one interception, while completing passes at a 71% clip. He’s back up into finalist territory, and with Oklahoma’s loss, he and the Longhorns have a clear path towards a Big 12 championship and possible CFP berth. 
  4. Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame
    This is almost certainly Williams’ last week as a finalist. He’s been the best player on a top-5 team with multiple victories, which allows him to keep his spot. Averaging 8.4 yards per touch, Williams has been very impressive for the Irish, rushing for 174 and adding 103 receiving yards, notching a pair of touchdowns. That also comes with limited minutes in Notre Dame’s second game, a 52-0 blowout of USF that saw most of the first-string pulled a series or two into the second half. 

Heisman Hopefuls

  1. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
    Trask immediately threw his hat into the Heisman ring on Saturday, throwing for six touchdowns and no interceptions in his season debut. A grain of salt has to be given, due to Ole Miss’s pretty abysmal defense, but Trask picked apart the Rebels’ secondary to the tune of 416 yards on 30-42 passing. Another strong performance against South Carolina this weekend could very well vault Trask another couple spots on this list. 
  2. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
    Harris is one of the top RBs in the country, and he immediately made his presence felt, despite only accumulating 17 touches in Alabama’s blowout season-opening win against Missouri. Harris posted 106 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, as the Crimson Tide won by 19, ahead of their home clash with #13 Texas A&M. 
  3. Richard Lecounte III, S, Georgia
    Let’s give out some love to defensive stalwarts on our list. Lecounte was the best player on the field for Georgia in a generally underwhelming season opener against Arkansas. The Bulldogs only put up five points in the first half, two of them coming via a defensive safety. Lecounte meanwhile, helped keep Georgia in the game, snaring a pair of interceptions, defending another pass, and recording another three tackles in a strong all-around performance. 
  4. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
    Etienne was surpassed by Harris, at least in the early going, but he remains on our top 10 list, as Clemson’s second player on the tracker. Clemson was off this past weekend, but Etienne is averaging 7.9 yards per touch, with 228 all-purpose yards and one touchdown through two games. 
  5. Dillon Gabriel, QB, UCF
    UCF is averaging 50 points per game, ranking fourth in the nation, and quarterback Dillon Gabriel has been front and center in their offensive onslaught. He’s tossed eight touchdowns in two games to just one pick, throwing for 825 yards on 59 of 88 passing. He’s unlikely to gain any real Heisman hype, particularly with no Power-5 games on the docket for UCF, but Gabriel has been dominant to start his campaign. 
  6. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
    Pitts solidified his status as the best tight end in the country with an outrageous 4-touchdown, 170-yard performance against Ole Miss, as he quickly became a favorite target for Trask to hit. Without Pitts’ presence, it may have been a lot tougher to pull away from the Rebels on Saturday. It’s tough for receivers or tight ends to get Heisman hype, as the quarterback usually receives twice the attention, but Pitts’ efforts this past weekend deserve the attention. 

Others Considered

  • Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
  • Cam’Ron Harris, RB, Miami
  • Joshua Moore, WR, Texas

Heisman Tracker: Miami, Clemson lead the way with 2 Top-10 players

We’re back with the second edition of the Heisman Tracker. It will be the final edition with no SEC players, as the best conference in college football kicks off their season next weekend. After another weekend of games concluded, highlighted by #17 Miami’s big win over #18 Louisville on Saturday night, let’s see who made moves on our Heisman tracker.

The Finalists

  1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
    Lawrence remains at #1 after a solid showing against a completely overmatched Citadel squad this past weekend. The projected #1 pick has had to do very little this year, but he’s been brutally efficient when called upon, going 30-37 for 519 yards and 4 touchdowns, with no picks. He’s a top performer on the #1 team in the nation, so that makes him the current frontrunner, particularly with four of the top six teams in the AP Poll yet to have played a game.
  2. Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
    Rattler was inactive this past weekend, and his first power-5 opponent lies in wait this coming Saturday, against Kansas State, a team that tripped up the Sooners last season. A big performance there will cement his early-season spot in our Top 4.
  3. D’Eriq King, QB, Miami
    King wasn’t even on the radar last season, but big early-season performances can cause huge swings in our Heisman tracker, and King shoots up into the top three this week. King went 18-30 for three touchdowns in Miami’s 47-34 win over Louisville, bringing his season stats to 33-53 for 466 yards and four passing touchdowns, while tacking on 92 yards and a rushing score on the ground. He replaces the inactive Sam Ehlinger in our Top 4.
  4. Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame
    Williams put up another solid performance in limited minutes as Notre Dame’s lead back. The Irish didn’t ask too much of Williams in their 52-0 blowout of South Florida, but their sophomore star is up to 277 yards on 33 touches this year, adding his second touchdown of the year this past weekend.

The Heisman Hopefuls (#5-10)

5. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Season Stats: 25-33, 426 yards, 5 TD

6. Cam’Ron Harris, RB, Miami
Season Stats: 26 carries, 268 yards, 3 touchdowns

7. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Season Stats: 25 carries, 170 yards, 1 touchdown
4 receptions, 58 yards

8. Brady White, QB, Memphis
Season Stats: 26-36, 295 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT

9. Elijah Mitchell, RB, Louisiana
Season Stats: 24 carries, 210 yards, 2 TD

10. Joshua Moore, WR, Texas
Season Stats: 6 catches, 127 yards, 1 TD

Others Considered

  • Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
  • Grant Wells, QB, Marshall
  • Tyler Allegier, RB, BYU

Andrew’s Weekend Takeaways: The U Is Back

The U Is Back

A one time football powerhouse, tossed into a pit of shambles and mediocrity throughout most of the 21st century. There have been moments of greatness, but never anything sustained. Every time the U looks good, everyone theorizes that they are back to their winning ways, just like in the 1980’s. I am doing that right now. The University of Miami is back. They dominated Louisville on Saturday 47-34. They only won by 13, but this game never felt close. The defense did give up 34 points, but they forced three turnovers, which has become their niche. The turnover chain is what the new U is about. They are flashy, and they fly to the football. They bring to life the term “pressure defense”. They have been doing this since 2017 though, so why are they back?

D’Eriq King that’s why.

King was 18/30 for 325 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He was not very effective running the ball, just 8 carries for 9 yards, but the Hurricanes did not need his legs, just his arm on Saturday. I am also very impressed with offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. In their first game against UAB, Miami ran the ball very effectively and did not throw much, but ran King more frequently. He adjusted against Louisville and opened it up through the air. I predicted Miami was going to run a lot, but I was wrong as they had a very effective aerial attack, while mixing in a very solid ground game, getting 134 yards from Cam’Ron Harris. I do not know whether Miami can return to their former glory in the coming years, but I do know the U is a force to be reckoned with in 2020.

Oklahoma State Needs Spencer Sanders To Be Healthy

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Oklahoma State

The high powered, highly praised Cowboy’s offense looked abysmal against Tulsa on Saturday. An offense I thought would be among the best in the country this year could not get it together. They have a “big three” in Stillwater with running back Chuba Hubbard, wide receiver Tylan Wallace, and quarterback Spencer Sanders. Hubbard had 27 carries for 93 yards and 1 touchdown, Wallace had 4 catches for 94 yards and 0 touchdowns, and Sanders was 2/2 for 23 yards. Wallace was electric, Hubbard was good but could have been better, and Sanders was injured in the first quarter.

What should have been a blow out turned into a messy game for the Cowboys. Part of this was the poor offensive line play which gave up 6 sacks and were poor in run blocking. The other issue was the injury to Sanders. He is the least talked about in this ‘big three’, but a talented Sophomore who has experience and adds a dynamic component to the offense that his backups could not. Stillwater is known for good quarterback play, and head coach Mike Gundy is an offensive genius. If Sanders can stay on the field the Cowboys will be fine and I still believe will have an electric offense, but without him they really struggled.

The ACC Again Proves To Be Unpredictable

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Another good weekend of ACC football left me perplexed at how these games unfolded. I thought Duke would cruise against a bad Boston College team, but BC won by 20. I also thought Pittsburgh would blow out a horrendous Syracuse team, but they only won 21-10. Wake Forest and NC State played a close 3-point game, seemingly cementing both squads as middle-of-the-pack squads with a solid offense. Miami-Louisville was relatively close while providing high-scoring entertainment, even though Miami was in control. And of course, I have to mention preseason favorites Notre Dame and Clemson, who blew out bad non-conference opponents in USF and The Citadel, respectively. Another weekend proved to me that this league is going to be really competitive this year except for Clemson. It is not necessarily the best football, but the ACC will boast some very fun and exciting football games.

Offensive X-Factors For Top ACC Contenders

The X-Factor is one of my favorite discussion points in sports. Every year, contenders in college football enter the year with positions or players they have few question marks about – proven players who they trust to produce. However, teams that win or compete for championships are generally boosted by that surprise breakout performance, an excellent contribution from a player that wasn’t expected to do so. Without that player, that X-Factor, a championship team simply becomes a really good team, and a really good team can beocme borderline average. So with a game in the books for many teams who we consider to be contenders to qualify for the ACC Championship,. let’s take a look at who the X-Factors are for those squads, on the offensive side of the ball. For the purposes of this piece, we narrowed our list to the four teams with the best current odds to win the ACC.

Clemson Tigers – Braden Galloway, TE

Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne headline a lethal Clemson offense, but their wide receiver corps did have some question marks, as the season-ending injury to Justyn Ross forced Amari Rodgers to become WR #1 for the Tigers. This left an opportunity for someone to step up as Lawrence’s second option in the passing game, and Galloway played the part in the season opener. He tied with Rodgers for the team lead with five catches for 60 yards. After not playing in 2019 and having just five total receptions in 2018, Galloway looks primed for a breakout season that could add another layer to this dynamic Clemson offense.

UNC Tar Heels – Michael Carter, RB

Carter maybe doesn’t fit the traditional ‘X-Factor’ definition, as he is a proven player who has produced for the Tar Heels. However, he is so critical in both facets of the UNC offense that, with a lack of unproven breakout prsoepcts, makes Carter my choice for the X-Factor here. The biggest key for Carter will be an increased role in the passing game. Taking too much from one game is dangerous, but Carter collected six passes for 60 yards in their opening clash with Syracuse. He had more than 2 receptions in a game just once in 2019. Combine that with his seven carries for 78 yards, and Carter averaged nearly 11 yards per touch in his first outing of 2020. He’s explosive, and he looks like he might have added more versatility to his toolkit in 2020.

Miami Hurricanes – Jaylan Knighton, RB

The addition of a freshman playmaker is always exciting, and Knighton looks like he could add another dimension to this Miami offense in 2020. The hype regarding the Hurricanes has largely revolved around the arrival of transfer quarterback D’Eriq King. King is a great dual-threat quarterback, and Miami complements his skills with Cam’Ron Harris, a proven running back. However, Knighton played a significant part in the gameplan during Miami’s season-opening victory against UAB. The true freshman notched nine carries for 59 yards, over 6.5 yards per pop. With the sturdy Harris taking the bulk of the rushing load, Knighton, weighing in 20 pounds lighter than Harris, provides a great change of pace. His arrival in Miami hints at dynamic potential and creativity to the Hurricanes’ playcalling.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Michael Mayer, TE

Mayer is currently listed as the 3rd-string tight end for the Irish, but he flashed some of the playmaking ability that enticed the Irish to seek him out as their top target of the 2020 class. He caught three passes for 38 yards, continually racking up yards after the catch and proving very difficult to take down. At 6’5, 235, Mayer is an absolute monster on the field, and Notre Dame offensive coordinator showed an inclination to use tight ends in the passing game, targeting starter Tommy Tremble (5 receptions, 38 yards) frequently. Notre Dame lacks proven playmakers in their receiving corps, and quarterback Ian Book has lost his safety net that was Chase Claypool last season. If Mayer can emerge as a dependable threat, that will be a huge boost for the Irish.

CFB Greatest Of All Time Championship: 2001 Miami vs. 2012 Alabama

At long last, after 8 rounds of double-elimination bracket play, we’ve arrived at our championship in the Greatest of All Time College Football Simulation, pitting 2001 Miami vs. 2012 Alabama in a best-of-three series.

How We Got Here
2001 Miami emerged victorious from Bracket B, and there’s little complaints in that area. They trailed just once en route to the bracket championship and then engineered a game-winning drive on the strength of their backup quarterback in the Bracket B final. They roll into the championship series with an unblemished 5-0 record.

There was anger, shock, accusations of rigging, and everything else with the results of Bracket A. 7th-seeded 2012 Alabama stunned the field with an undefeated run. They went 5-0 in impressive fashion, toppling the 2019 LSU Tigers and 2018 Clemson Tigers twice. The Crimson Tide’s fearsome backfield trio of Kenny Drake, Eddie Lacy, and T.J. Yeldon has terrorized opponents throughout the tournament, and they’ll hope they can challenge Miami’s stout defense in the championship. 

Game 1 

Alabama 28 Miami 9

Wow. A stunner. The Miami team that has barely trailed all tournament long never even sniffed the lead in this one. That Alabama backfield was up to its usual tricks, with Lacy compiling 109 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown, and Yeldon tearing apart the ‘01 Miami defense to the tune of 117 yards on 15 touches. He notched his lone touchdown on a third-quarter 61-yard scamper, which gave the Tide a commanding 21-6 lead with 3:20 to play in the period. The Hurricanes notched just three field goals, racking up just 57 rushing yards on the game. Absolutely dominant effort from the Tide here in Game 1. Can they secure a sweep in Game 2?

Talk about lethal backfield duos – Lacy and Yeldon were also complemented by Kenny Drake

Game 2

Alabama 23 Miami 17

A miracle Cinderella run finds its happy ending, as the clock never quite strikes midnight on this 2012 Crimson Tide squad, which finishes the tournament 7-0. This one was a much tighter affair than the previous game, as the Crimson Tide clung to a 16-10 lead entering the final frame. However, Miami took the lead for the first time in the series on the strength of an 89-yard punt return touchdown with 10:47 to go. However, with plenty of time on the clock, Alabama was able to stick to their ground game. Lacy (87 yards) and Yeldon (106 yards) chewed up yards, while A.J. McCarron hooked up with Amari Cooper for 23 yards on a clutch third-down conversion. Ultimately, Lacy ran it in from 6 yards out with 6:19 to play. 

Miami still had a chance to claim victory, down six with plenty of game to be played, and they crawled down the field, struggling for every yard. Brock Berlin, who saved the Hurricanes in the Bracket B championship, assisted in a trick play, tossing a 22-yard completion to Ken Dorsey, who also found Daryl Jones for 25 yards on the drive. Beyond those chunk plays, Clinton Portis did the grunt work, grinding out 24 yards on 7 carries. The clock trickled down under 2 minutes as Miami reached the Alabama 11. However, Portis ran for just two yards, and Dorsey completed a 4-yard pass. After Dorsey scrambled for a yard on third down, the Hurricanes faced 4th and 3 at the 4-yard line. Needing a touchdown to win, Dorsey dropped back and lofted a pass towards the back corner of the end zone. Vinnie Sunseri of Alabama out jumped Ethenic Sands, snaring the pick and clinching the championship for Alabama.

Greatest Of All Time CFB Tournament: Round 4

Three rounds in, and we have four undefeated teams left. Both 2012 and 2009 Alabama will test their unbeaten marks against 2019 LSU and 2001 Miami respectively, both of whom have held serve as their top seed. 2001 Miami is yet to trail in any game so far. On the loser’s bracket side, both entrants from Oregon, Clemson, and Florida State have survived thus far, and Miami and LSU’s second teams also remain. 2008 Oklahoma, 2008 Florida, 2017 UCF (!), and 2014 Ohio State round out the 12 teams currently fighting for survival. Let’s see what round 4 brought. 

Round 4 Schedule

Bracket A Winner’s Bracket

1. 2019 LSU vs. 7. 2012 Alabama
Alabama 37 LSU 31 
For the fourth straight game, LSU fell behind at halftime, trailing 20-17 after 30 minutes, but for the first time, the Tigers could not quite rally. Facing one of the most lethal backfields of all time, LSU surrendered 130 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns to Eddie Lacy, and Joe Burrow only found the end zone once. 2019 LSU has finally met their match and fall into the loser’s bracket – can they rally back?

Loser’s Bracket

 2. 2018 Clemson vs. 4. 1999 Florida State
Clemson 30 Florida State 27
Trailing 27-17 entering the fourth quarter, Clemson turned off their defensive efforts, and the offense rallied the Tigers to victory, as Lawrence threw for 274 yards and a game-tying touchdown with 2:48 remaining on the clock. They would get the ball back – tied 27-27 – with just 72 seconds to work with at their own 12-yard line, but Etienne (141 yards, 1 TD) took a short pass 49 yards to set B.T. Potter up for an eventual game-winning 41-yard field goal with 13 seconds left on the clock. Clemson survives once more.

8. 2008 Oklahoma vs. 11. 2010 Oregon
Oklahoma 34 Oregon 31
Oklahoma got off to a slow start, but their defense tightened up, giving their lethal offense some time to engineer a comeback. Sam Bradford tossed three touchdowns and no picks on a 23-30, 386 yard performance, as the Sooners took the lead at the end of the third quarter and never relinquished it. 

BYE: 13. 2000 Miami, 6. 2008 Florida

Bracket B Winner’s Bracket

1. 2001 Miami vs. 3. 2009 Alabama
Miami 24 Alabama 13
Miami was losing! And then they weren’t. After Mark Ingram ran in a touchdown at the end of the first half, the Hurricanes trailed 10-7, but that was as good as it got for Alabama. Miami seized control in the third quarter, as Clinton Portis ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, toppling the Crimson Tide 24-13 en route to securing a spot in the Bracket B championship, where they’ll have to be defeated twice by the same team. 

Loser’s Bracket

4. 2013 Florida State vs. 16. 2017 UCF
Florida State 35 UCF 23
Jameis Winston threw for 300 yards and a pair of scores, while Devontae Freeman grinded out 74 yards and a score on the grounds. After engineering a shocking upset of 2005 Texas, UCF could not sustain the momentum, as the Seminoles led wire-to-wire in a clean 35-23 victory.

9. 2014 Ohio State vs. 11. 2016 Clemson
Ohio State 29 Clemson 28
What a game! After falling behind 20-7 at halftime, Ohio State stuck to their guns and got 185 rushing yards from Ezekiel Elliot, and 103 more from J.T. Barrett. The Buckeyes took a 21-20 lead, but Clemson scored with 2:08 remaining and notched the two-point conversion to take a 28-21 lead. However, Elliot broke off a 58 yard run to set up the Buckeyes for a touchdown. Rather than go for overtime, Ohio State went for 2, and Barrett handed it off to Curtis Samuel on a reverse for the 29-28 win. What a finish, and 2016 Clemson bows out of the tournament. 

BYE: 12. 2014 Oregon, 7. 2003 LSU

Round 5 Schedule

Bracket A Loser’s Bracket
Bye: 2019 LSU
6. 2008 Florida vs. 2. 2018 Clemson
13. 2000 Miami vs. 9. 2008 Oklahoma

Bracket B Loser’s Bracket
Bye:
2009 Alabama
7. 2003 LSU vs. 4. Florida State
12. 2014 Oregon vs. 9. 2014 Ohio State

What Needs to Happen For the ACC to Become Relevant Again

2016 was a great year for the SEC-haters, and especially for those constantly trying to laud the ACC’s talent in football. Not only did Clemson win the national championship, dethroning Alabama, but the Tide were the only top-10 team in the SEC. The two years prior, the SEC had slipped to just two teams in the top 10, after seeing four of their squads attain such a ranking in each of the previous three seasons. Meanwhile, the ACC had five Top-25 teams, with a pair of top-10 squads. It was the third time in four years they had accomplished that feat, after only doing it once between 1998 and 2013. 

The end of the SEC? The rise of the ACC? Not so much. 

Flash forward three seasons, and the SEC is as dominant as ever, and once again, outside a singularly impressive team, the ACC was more or less a complete joke. The conference championship saw Clemson defeat Virginia by a stunning score of 62-17. While Clemson may be able to challenge the best teams in the country, the SEC offers four or five teams team could give Clemson a very good game and definitely capable of beating them. Against those same four or five teams, I don’t think there’s a single ACC team I trust outside of Clemson to snare a victory on the gridiron. One such example of this? In the Orange Bowl this past season, the Florida Gators, second in their division and the third or fourth best team in the SEC, took on Virginia and won 36-28. The score didn’t reflect the nature of the game, as Florida never trailed and spent most of the contest nursing a two-score lead. A UVA touchdown with 38 seconds left cut the deficit to its final margin. The ACC’s second-best against a fringe top-5 SEC team? No contest. 

So what’s the issue with the ACC? And what needs to happen to get back to 2016, where they were arguably the better conference, or at least closer to the SEC’s equal? Here’s a few things that need to happen. 

Stability in the Coastal Division

In the SEC, the West largely dominates, but when you look at the East, they still have a decent amount of stability. Georgia and Florida have won 9 of the past 12 division titles and consistently are among the top teams in the conference. Between promising stretches from Missouri and South Carolina – and the occasional good year from Tennessee and Kentucky – there have been teams to fill the void when the Gators and Bulldogs falter. The stability in the East has allowed for consistent recruiting that establish top-tier teams in both divisions. In the ACC? No such stability has been created – the last seven years have seen all seven teams win the division once. Nobody has repeated since Virginia Tech in 2010-2011. When there’s no clear dominant team, or even a couple of consistently successful squads, no one gains any kind of significant recruiting edge. Furthermore, the lack of clarity in the division just sends more recruits scrambling for the safety blanket that is Clemson and their pure dominance of the ACC Atlantic, and the conference as a whole. Entering the ACC Coastal right now as a player essentially gives you an even 1-in-7 chance at getting to the title game. Players want to play at the highest level, and no ACC Coastal team is consistently offering that opportunity. 

Not only has no team repeated since Virginia Tech at the turn of the decade, but every single season since then, the ACC Coastal representative in the championship game has come from a team that finished third or worse in the division the year before that. Over the last seven years – the stretch with seven different champions – the Coastal division has had five teams finish in the Top 25 a combined seven times. Virginia Tech and Miami have slotted into the rankings twice, and Georgia Tech, UNC, and Duke have all accomplished the feat once. The last two division champs – Pitt and Virginia – did not finish in the Top 25. The lack of consistency among these programs is frankly astounding, and as long as the ACC Coastal is a complete mess, this conference won’t truly improve. 

A consistent challenger in the Atlantic Division

No recruit who has their eyes on making a CFP goes to a non-Clemson team in the ACC Atlantic if they have the choice. The Tigers are 38-2 over the past five seasons of ACC games. Rather than look forward to a big clash that decides the division, fans and Clemson-haters scour the schedule for a game that looks ‘tricky’ or could qualify as a ‘trap game’. In the SEC, even though Alabama looks like a favorite out of the West nearly every year, every single Bama-LSU game or Iron Bowl clash presents a significant obstacle for the Tide. For Clemson, even if they lose a shocker, no team has been good enough to steal the division crime. Clemson’s dynasty started as FSU faded from relevancy. During the Tigers’ five-year reign, the Seminoles have finished as a ranked team twice, and Louisville, NC State, and Syracuse have done it once apiece. Louisville’s 2nd-place finish in the Atlantic last year made them the first team to have 2 second-place finishes in the division in the past five years. Outside of Clemson, the division is a total toss-up, with nobody becoming consistently relevant. If the ACC wants to ever match the SEC – with 4-5 teams consistently cracking the top 20, and usually 2-3 in the top 10, a consistent challenger must emerge. 

Teams That Need To Improve

In the SEC, for each season of this past decade, at least five teams finished the year ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll. Outside of 2016, the ACC did not do that once. So which teams need to step it up for the ACC to gain further legitimacy? 

Atlantic: Florida State, Louisville

Florida State was the clear second-best team to Clemson this past decade, winning four division titles to Clemson’s 6. However, the crossing of these two dynasties was thin. Florida State finished 14th and 8th in the country as Clemson took over in 2015-16, but they haven’t sniffed the end-of-season Top 25 since then, going just 17-20 over their last three seasons. Look at the SEC, where, although Alabama has won 7 of the past 12 titles in the SEC West, their three-peat from ‘14-16 was the only time they repeated. We need to see somebody rise and clash with Clemson at the top and Florida State has the pedigree to do it. But their program is in disarray right now, so it’s unclear whether they’re ready to get to a Top-25 level any time soon. One team that is trending back in the right direction is Louisville, who has been very good since joining the ACC, but they haven’t broken the glass ceiling just yet. The Cardinals had a blip in 2018 – finishing in last place in their first year post-Lamar Jackson, but they’ve been very consistently otherwise. Consistency is key – FSU was ranked for two straight years before settling into their three-year reign of the conference, and Clemson had been ranked the prior three seasons before their current stretch of dominance. Louisville bounced back last year with an 8-win season, so if the Cardinals can continue to trend upwards, they may be the best bet at giving Clemson a challenger atop the division. 

Coastal: Miami, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech’s three division titles of the past decade make them one of two programs with multiple (Georgia Tech, 2). They’ve had their off years, but with three #1 finishes, and another three at #2 or #3, the Hokies are close to as consistent as it gets in the Coastal division. That combined with their homefield – Lane Stadium – is one of the more intimidating environments in the conference. If they turn that into a deadly homefield advantage, Virginia Tech could establish some much needed stability atop the division. 

Miami was the second clear and logical choice here. Amidst all the turmoil, the Hurricanes have not finished below fourth in the Coastal Division in the past decade. That being said, they’ve turned those consistent results into just one appearance in the ACC Championship, which ended very poorly. Miami has the most pedigree of any team in this division, and it makes sense that if the ACC is to rise to glory, the Hurricanes need to lead the revolution, or at least be one of the leaders. Their fans say it every year but until The U is Back, the ACC Coastal may struggle to gain any semblance of relevance. 

Georgia Tech, with their two division titles, was an honorable mention here, but their recent switch from the triple option and last-place finish last season cast some doubts on to whether they are entering a rebuilding phase, or whether they’re able to compete. 

SEC apologetics make a lot of claims, but they definitely hit the nail on the head when claiming superiority on the football field. The ACC looked like they might be ready to match that, but the past three seasons have shown they are clearly not ready. It’s years away, but look forward to a time where the ACC may finally be able to rival the SEC – at least in top-tier talent if not in total depth.

Christoforo: It is Do or Die for Miami Football in 2020

Underwhelming. That has been the word to describe football at the University of Miami over the past 14 years. Since 2006 the Canes are just 103-76, 2-9 in bowl games, and have only finished inside the AP top 25 three times. 

The struggles for Miami certainly do not come from a lack of talent. Since ‘06 the Hurricanes have averaged the 16th highest recruiting class in all of college football and have brought in 10 five-star recruits. In the 2020 season, the team will consist of players from a 12th ranked 2017 class, an 8th ranked 2018 class, their 27th ranked 2019 class, and the 13th best overall recruiting class in 2020. But the main reason why 2020 is a make or break season for the Hurricanes is the new man under center. 

D’Eriq King left Houston at the altar just four games into the 2019 season, deciding to take a red-shirt to keep his final year of eligibility. In January, King became the second highly-touted QB to transfer to south beach in the past two seasons. Tate Martell did not work out for Miami and even saw more time at wide receiver than at quarterback in 2019. But to compare King to Martell is like comparing apples to oranges. 

Video courtesy of SD Highlights

D’Eriq King is a straight-up baller, who I ranked second in my ACC Coastal rankings and third overall in the conference (read my full ACC Coastal rankings here). He threw for 2982 yards in 2018 and also rushed for another 674. He broke the Houston record for touchdowns accounted for in a season with 50, and he did it all with missing the final two games of the 2018 season.

As of right now, the U is not back, but they do have a quarterback who is hungry and ready to lead Miami to an ACC Coastal championship. If Miami can’t get out of their slump of mediocrity with King under center and the highly-rated recruiting classes around him, I’m not sure they ever will. The 2020 season is do or die for football at the University of Miami. 

ACC Coastal Quarterback Rankings

The ACC Coastal division, as it has been for several years, is both the little brother of the ACC and completely wide open. The division has sent all seven of its teams to the conference title game in the past seven years, although none of them have emerged a winner. That trend figures to continue, as the winner of this division will have an uphill battle against Clemson, assuming the Tigers hold serve in the Atlantic Division. However, this should make the regular season highly interesting, as no team is truly incapable of making a run within the division. A key part of each team’s ability to make such a run will hinge on their quarterbacks, so let’s take a look at the rankings for the ACC Coastal signal-callers.

7. Chris Katrenick, Red-shirt Junior, Duke

Katrenick was a true backup in 2019 behind senior Quentin Harris, who started all 12 games for the Blue Devils. The former three-star recruit is a 6’3 red-shirt Junior from Algonquin, Illinois. He is just 8 for 25 passing in his collegiate career and is not in the best situation to succeed in Durham. Duke was 114th in total offense in 2019 and just 5-7 on the year. The sample size is very small for Katrenick, but with a lack of experience and not much offensive talent around him, it might be an uphill battle in 2020.

6. Brennan Armstrong, Red-shirt Sophmore, Virginia

Another guy who spent last season servicing as a backup. Unlike Katrenick, Armstrong is getting put into a good situation, as the Cavaliers spent most of 2019 ranked inside the top 25 and played in the ACC championship game. The former three-star is a  6’2 southpaw from Shelby, Ohio, and he looks to pick up right where last season’s starter Bryce Perkins left off. Perkins threw for 3538 yards in 2019, breaking the school’s passing record. Armstrong showed promise in his limited action in 2019 completing 15 of 20 passes for 196 yards. He could succeed in 2020 but he finds himself at #6 on the list largely due to his lack of experience. 

5. James Graham, Red-shirt Sophmore, Georgia Tech

Graham and the rest of the Yellow Jackets really struggled in their first season away from Paul Johnson and the triple option. In his red-shirt freshman season, Graham was the main guy under center in Atlanta. He came to Tech as a four-star commit out of Fitzgerald Georgia with big upside as a dual-threat QB. After a red-shirt year, he only completed 45% of his 193 passing attempts in 2019. He finished second on the team in rushing with 290 yards. Graham will look to make a jump in his second full year under center for the Jackets.

4. Hendon Hooker, Red-shirt Junior, Virginia Tech

After injuries left starting QB Ryan Willis sidelined, Hooker was forced into action in his red-shirt sophomore year making eight starts for the Hokies. At 6’4” the former four-star for Greensboro, North Carolina, is a very dangerous dual-threat quarterback who was second on the team in rushing a season ago with 520 yards. Hooker is also a very accurate thrower who completed 61% of his passes while only getting picked off twice. Coming into the season as the starter, Hooker is set up for success with more control of the offense on a team that is favored to win the ACC Coastal. 

3. Kenny Pickett, Senior Pittsburgh

It took us all the way to number three on our list to find a guy who has not taken a red-shirt season in his college career. In his true junior season, Pickett’s number took a massive jump, turning himself into one of the top passers in the conference. Pickett went from averaging 140 yards per game passing in 2018 to nearly 260 yards per contest in 2019. He was a three star-recruit coming out of Oakhurst, New Jersey, and tossed for nearly 3,100 yards in 2019, the fourth-most in the ACC. If Pickett’s numbers continue to raise he could be a late-round steal in the 2021 draft. 

2. D’Eriq King, Red-shirt, Senior, Miami

Don’t look now, but the U has a quarterback. King said enough with the University of Huston just four games into the 2019 season and decided to red-shirt to keep a year of eligibility, before choosing Miami in January. He is a very dangerous dual-threat QB who rushed for 674 yards in 2018 to go along with 2,982 passing yards. He accounted for 50, yes 50, Cougars’ touchdowns in 2018, the most in a single season in school history, and he also sat out the last 2 1/2 games with an injury. If King can put up anywhere near the production for his historic 2018 season, the Hurricanes will get what the so desperately crave: national relevancy

1. Sam Howell, Sophomore, North Carolina

Sam Howell had one of the best true freshman seasons in the history of college football in 2019. He was second in the ACC in passing with 3,641 yards, and he set the FBS freshman record as well as the UNC school record with 38 passing touchdowns. He was the 2019 ACC Rookie of the Year and took the Tar Heels from two wins in 2018 to seven wins in 2019, punctuated by a 55-13 beatdown of Temple in the Military Bowl. The sky is the limit for Howell in 2020, as the sophomore will look to build off of his incredible first-year campaign.

NCAA FOOTBALL TOP MOMENTS – #2: Controversy, Double-Overtime, and A Legendary Goal-line Stand

Coming up with a list of the top 7 moments to feature this week in college football was brutally difficult. Some of these are a series of games, others a specific national championship, and others are an unlikely or inspirational run to a national title. For the most part, I refined this list to postseason moments, or games that decided a national championship, simply because with such an overwhelming list of possible options to feature, I decided that the ones with the biggest impact would be the ones that had championship implications. 

If you only recently became a college football fan, then Ohio State being near the top of the football world isn’t anything groundbreaking. Miami being a 6-9 win team wouldn’t make front page headlines either. However, neither of these truths used to be in the land of college football, as Miami once boasted a proud dynasty, and Ohio State was, at least relatively, the upstart newcomer hoping to challenge the beast. This 2003 National Championship was not only a thriller, but it represented a dramatic changing of the guard that quite simply threw the power structure into upheaval and ended a dynasty that had been in existence for 20 years, and particularly lethal for the previous two.

The 2002 Miami team had a tough act to follow, as they succeeded the ‘01 Hurricanes that went down as one of the best teams of all time. In the prior two seasons, Miami was 23-1 with a national championship and Sugar Bowl win to their name. Their dynasty had experienced a major resurgence after a lull in their dominance. Miami won the national title in 1983, and then they finished in the Top 10 in every season from 1985-1992, collecting titles in ‘87, ‘89’, and ‘91. However, the 2002 Hurricanes were up to the challenge of following their dominant predecessors, getting off to a 5-0 start, with their closest game a 23-point victory. They beat #6 Florida in Gainesville by 25 points. They survived #9 Florida State, 28-27, and then rolled through the rest of their schedule for a 12-0 record and #1 record. They were ranked #1 in the AP Poll for all but one week of the season. Only FSU and #17 Pittsburgh (28-21) came within a possession of the Hurricanes. 

The Buckeyes hardly had as much pedigree to live up to as the Hurricanes, having not finished in the Top 25 since 1998; they were also nearly 35 years removed from their last national title in 1968. Despite their 7-5 season the year before, there was a sense of optimism heading into Ohio State’s season, and they were gifted a #13 preseason ranking. Their statement win came in Week 3, as the Buckeyes hosted #10 Washington State with College GameDay and a 104,000 fans in attendance. Ohio State thumped the Huskies 25-7, letting the college football world know they were there. Although the Buckeyes didn’t cruise through their schedule with the same level of dominance as Miami, largely due to their somewhat average offense, Ohio State steadily climbed the rankings.

They survived #17 Penn State, 13-7, and throttled #23 Minnesota, 34-3. Against Purdue and Illinois, in back-to-back road games, the Buckeyes struggled but managed to eke out victories both times, beating the Boilermakers 10-6, and escaping the Illini in an overtime thriller, 23-16. That brought them into “The Game”. The Buckeyes welcomed College GameDay back to Columbus, along with 105,539 fans, and they defeated the #12 Michigan Wolverines, 14-9, clinching their spot in the Fiesta Bowl and BCS National Championship game against Miami. 

The 2003 BCS Championship and Fiesta Bowl to determine the national title matched strength against strength, as Miami’s offense was an unstoppable force, posting eight games of at least 40 points, while Ohio State had given up over twenty points just once, all the way back in their season opener. Due to Ohio State’s inconsistent offense, and Miami’s pedigree, the Hurricanes entered the game as 11 ½ point favorites. Miami struck first in the first quarter on their second drive, having held the Buckeyes without a first down on their first two offensive possessions. The Hurricanes got the ball on their 48-yard line, and quarterback Ken Dorsey went to work, delivering a 28-yard pass to Kellen Winslow Jr. and then, three plays later, a 25-yard touchdown strike to Roscoe Parrish for the 7-0 lead. 

Ohio State’s offense continued to struggle, picking up just one first down in the opening quarter, but their dominant defense stifled Miami, keeping the game within reach. Ohio State got an interception that put them in golden field position at the Miami 37, but they stalled after one first down and tried a fake field goal attempt, getting stuffed for no gain. However, the Buckeyes picked off Ken Dorsey yet again, as safety Mike Doss collected a deflection and returned it 35 yards to the Miami 17. It wasn’t pretty, but Ohio State finally capitalized on their defensive prowess, grinding out seventeen yards of offense and punching it in from two yards out on a 4th and 1. The game appeared destined for a 7-7 tie, but the Buckeyes forced yet another turnover out of the Hurricanes’ potent offense, as Dorsey was sacked and fumbled the ball, letting Ohio State’s Darrion Scott recover it at the Miami 14. Maurice Clarett took advantage of the short field, running it in from seven yards out and a 14-7 Ohio State lead. 

The second half got off to a wild start, as the Buckeyes forced a punt and then faced a 3rd and 15 at their own 37-yard line. Ohio State’s Craig Krenzel unleashed a 57-yard bomb to Chris Gamble, putting Ohio State on the Miami 6, but Krenzel followed that up by tossing an interception. Sean Taylor picked off Krenzel and was in the midst of a big return, but Clarett caught up to him and stripped the ball, recovering it and keeping the Ohio State offense on the field. They didn’t move the ball much further, but they got close enough for Mike Nugent to knock a field goal through the uprights for a 17-7 advantage. 

After a few punts, Miami got their offense rolling once more, with the Dorsey to Winsolow connection on full display. The duo worked together for two receptions for 30 yards, and Willis McGahee rolled in from nine yards out, cutting the deficit to 17-14 at the end of the third quarter. After an Ohio State punt, the two squads exchanged missed field goals, bringing the game into its final seven minutes. The Buckeyes recovered a Miami fumble, and they successfully drained the game clock to close to 2 minutes left, but then Parrish returned a punt 50 yards, giving Miami the ball at the Ohio State 26 with 2:02 left. The Hurricanes ran three plays and gained just three yards, but Todd Sievers banged a 40-yard field goal as time expired to send the game to overtime at 17-17. 

Miami got the ball to start overtime, and their offense went to work, punctuated by the trusty Dorsey-Winslow connection, as the pair linked up for a 7-yard touchdown pass. A penalty, sack, and incompletion forced Ohio State into an ugly do-or-die 4th and 14. The Buckeyes came through, but not without controversy. Krenzel found Michael Jenkins for 17 yards, but replays appeared to show offensive pass interference by Jenkins, which would have forced the Buckeyes into a 4th and 24. However, it was not called, and the Ohio State drive continued. Ohio State was forced into another fourth down however, this one a more manageable 4th & 3 from the five yard line. Krenzel threw incomplete, and Miami began to storm the field, only to have their elation quashed by the field judge, who tossed a late flag for defensive pass interference. It was a controversial call to say the least, but it gave Ohio State a fresh set of downs, and three plays later, the Buckeyes punched it in. 

The second overtime was just as thrilling, as Ohio State scored a touchdown to start, this time unaided by controversial penalty calls. They pounded the Miami defense with their run game, and Clarett finished it off with a 5-yard touchdown sprint, putting Ohio State ahead once more, 31-24. Miami converted a 4th and 3 on a pass from Dorsey to Wilson, and they got down to the Ohio State 2 with a first down. However, the Buckeyes stopped three straight runs, giving Miami 4th and 1 from the 1-yard line. Dorsey was hit as he threw, and his pass fell incomplete, giving the Buckeyes the national championship in overtime, punctuating an epic contest with a legendary goal-line stand. 

The Aftermath

To this day, the controversial pass interference call that kept Ohio State alive in the first overtime remains a heated debate among sports fans. Some consider it one of the worst calls ever made on a football field, while others believe it was absolutely the correct call. Either way, the game ended in favor of Ohio State, which in turn sent the two programs in different directions. The Hurricanes had a solid 2003 campaign, going 11-2, but they have not won 11 games since then, and only once have they picked up 10 victories. They’ve finished the year ranked just five times since 2004, and they have not finished in the Top 10. Meanwhile, Ohio State has been ranked at the end of all but one season since 2003, and they’ve ended in the Top 5 in 12 different seasons. Big games are often hyped as a ‘changing of the guard’, but this may have been one of the most dramatic shifts in power in sports history, and it took a double-overtime classic decided by a gutsy goal-line stand to do it. 

The NFL talent on the field was absolutely ridiculous, as 18 of the starters became first-round picks, while 58 of the 100 players who touched the field would go on to play in the NFL, 50 as draft selections.