1. The Duke Blue Devils - On October 22, 2012, the Duke Blue Devils are bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 and lead the ACC Coastal Division. That's no joke. Duke is atop the Coastal Division, one game up on Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech after knocking off North Carolina 33-30 in one of the most exciting games of the entire weekend.
UNC roared back from a two touchdown deficit to score the go-ahead touchdown on a completion turned fumble turned recovery by RB Giovani Bernard for the six. But, Duke QB Sean Renfree brought the Blue Devils back down the field and hit Jamison Crowder for the game winner with 0:13 seconds left.
The rebuilding job that David Cutcliffe has done to get Duke to this point is worth a Coach of the Millennium vote, much less a Coach of the Year vote. The schedule gets tough over the next few weeks, but who the F cares? Duke's going to a bowl in 2012. Wow.
2. Penn State - Don't look now, but the REAL B1G championship game will take place this weekend when Ohio State visits State College. These Nittany Lions are a mother trucker. The offense has become a juggernaut and perhaps the most dangerous unit in the B1G The defense flies around the field and plays as if it has something to prove. And kicker Sam Ficken made a 34 yard field goal!! Say what you will about the pseudo-death penalty upcoming, but this team should celebrate every single moment of this season, including crowing a bit about a 38-14 dominant win over Iowa in Iowa City.
3. Florida - I feel like I've seen this before. A traditional power down on its luck, so to speak, hires a new coach, suffers through a seven/eight win season in the first year and then turns into an undefeated championship run in the second year.
Oh yeah, I have seen this before - 2000 Oklahoma with Bob Stoops and 2002 Ohio State with Jim Tressel. 2012 Florida is going through a similar transformation under second year head coach Will Muschamp. Florida's a monster and South Carolina gift wrapped three TDs in the first half. Furthermore, Florida's great defense is getting better by the minute and to think Texas A&M had that defense completely sucking wind in the first half in the SEC opening game. Since that point, the only let down was a poor first half at Tennessee.
Win next week and the SEC East is colored orange and blue…before the end of October! What a job Muschamp and this team have done this season. It's on to the Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. Man, I miss that game.
4. Oregon State - Oregon State's defense is for real. DE Scott Crichton and LB Michael Doctor are legitimate studs. Doctor was one of the best to ever play at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa - not huge, but wow, this guy can play. And, Crichton? He's tied for 2nd in the nation with 12.5 tackles for a loss.
But, the true star may be CB Jordan Poyer who has been a poor man's Tyrann Mathieu with his play making skills. The Beavers held Utah to seven points on Saturday night to prove its mettle, yet again, in the new look Pac 12.
5. Kansas State - Why do I get the feeling that this is one team that could answer Alabama's physical play with physicality of its own? I kept thinking that as I watched Kansas State roll over West Virginia 55-14.
Now don't get me wrong, this team isn't as good as Alabama…right now. But, as QB Collin Klein continues to prove he can sling the rock as well as he can run it, this team is getting better by the minute. The defense is the complete opposite of what we've seen in the Big 12. It's disciplined. It's tough. It tackles well. It doesn't get easier for the Cats as Texas Tech comes to Manhattan on Saturday, but are you willing to bet against KSU now? Good luck with that.
6. Texas Tech QB Seth Doege - Over the last two weeks, wins over West Virginia and TCU for Doege's Red Raiders, he's thrown 13 touchdowns and only one interception, including the seven TDs he threw in Saturday's win over TCU. In fact, it was the fourth game this season in which he threw five or more touchdowns in a game. If he could get all of us to forget that clunker against Oklahoma, who knows what we might be saying at this point? But, I'd say he responded the way you'd want a QB to respond, heh?
7. Notre Dame's RB trio - Notre Dame almost got caught looking ahead to Oklahoma, but the Notre Dame running back trio - Theo Riddick 143 yards, Cierre Wood - 114 yards and GAIII on the game winning touchdown - got the job done.
Staying neutral, both a winner and a loser…so to speak...
1. LSU - I hate this team. I hate it because I can't figure it out. The defense plays 45 minutes of just stellar football stopping A&M for much of the last three quarters of that bruising game in College Station. But, LSU can only go so far with this offense - it's totally schizophrenic - when it seems it should ground and pound, it goes into the gun and throws bubble screens. When it should open it up, it gets in two TE and bangs it head against 9 defenders in the box. It's hard to understand what its doing on the offensive side of the ball most times. Defensively? Oh, that side is taking care of business. It's the other side that worries me
1. Universities in Texas playing defense - No one plays any defense in Texas. Don't believe me? Well, here you go…TCU gave up 56. Texas Tech gave up 53. Texas gave up 50. Baylor gave up 56. Houston gave up 72. It's brutal.
Now, Texas Tech is a bit better than the 53 it gave up, but still, this state is turning into a defensive disaster and I'm totally embarrassed. At Texas, the flagship university and program in this state, the defense Manny Diaz is lording over sucks. Badly. Why? Can't tackle when they're in position. Can't get in position on other plays. Can't get lined up properly on others. Can't cover. They can run. That's it. It's some of the same elsewhere, but each university has its own unique problems.
2. West Virginia's defense (again…sigh) - This is a disaster. It doesn't get lined up. It doesn't read well. It doesn't have a clue…wait, didn't I say that last week? I think I did. Same thing.
Here's a perfect example…KSU lined up in Y trips - TE and two WR to the right side of the field, with Collin Klein in the pistol with his RB directly behind him. OLB Darwin Cook rolled up to the line of scrimmage as the contain player to that side of the formation, a yard OUTSIDE the tight end. The ball was snapped and Klein took a direct line right at Cook as he was the pitch read on the speed option. The offensive line zone blocked to the right side but the TE didn't zone out to Cook as Klein was responsible for him with the pitch read. Cook, inexplicably, followed the tight end who wasn't even looking at him. Cook THEN JUMPED INSIDE the tight end who figured, well, if he wanted to be blocked, I'll block him. Klein sprinted on a direct line all the way from the 20 down to the one yard line before he was even touched. And, that was probably the third or fourth time Cook or a WVU contain player botched the speed option. But, this one was different as he absolutely, unequivocally proved he had no clue what he was doing. There's no explanation for this from anyone. This MUST change soon or else West Virginia will be a second tier bowl team, at best, for as long as this continues.
2. Texas A&M Aggies with a lead - Texas A&M keeps shooting itself in the foot in the second half - no matter who the coach is or how big the lead might be. After jumping out front of LSU 12-0, A&M allowed 24 unanswered points before A&M tacked on a final touchdown to make the final 24-19.
I'm not sure if it's the proverbial "can't get over that mental hurdle" or if it's happening because it's facing really good football teams. It's probably a combination of both, truly. If A&M could ever put together 60 full minutes, it'd be a scary good football team.
3. ESPN/ABC's Chris Spielman - God, I feel so bad for Spielman. Freaking ABC/ESPN has assigned him to these god awful Big 12 games with no defense at all. None whatsoever. It gets to be such a joke that he just has to laugh at some of the things that are happening on the field.
He called the Washington-Baylor bowl game last year, the Texas-Baylor game this year and the West Virginia/Texas Tech game last week. Someone send him to cover Penn State and Ohio State next week. It's not perfect, but it'll keep him sane. I love that guy and this is a cruel joke on him.
4. Cincinnati - Oh you Bearcats are KILLING me. All they had to do was beat a MAC team on the road and set up a monster matchup with undefeated #15 ranked Rutgers for the Big East lead. And, UC blew it.
Now, look, Toledo is a good football team that had Ohio State on the ropes last year in Columbus, but if the Big East wanted the spotlight, it needed UC to win to set up that matchup. Well, there's always basketball season.
5. Auburn head coach Gene Chizik - What do I say about Chizik that hasn't already been said? I have a feeling by the time I finish this article, alums will have "promises to pay" that'll mysteriously (not really) add up to Chizik's buy out, so this program can start over. It shouldn't have to start over, but as the leader of the team of the worst start in recent Auburn history, I'd say it might be time…soon.
I do find it ironic that both Cam Newton's and Chizik's deals with the devil are running out so rapidly in 2012…two year deal, maybe? Here's hoping that they can find Beezlebub to re-up very soon (that's tongue in cheek of course…I think).
Guys that won't win the Heisman but deserve credit...
1. Oregon RB Kenjon Barner - Sixteen carries, 143 yards and 3 TDs against Arizona State last week should keep him in the consideration, but he's "glossed over" by his flashier teammate DeAnthony Thomas.
2. Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore - He has been a game changer off the edge for the Aggies this season against everyone he's faced and should garner All-SEC honors at a minimum.
3. Duke WR Connor Vernon - All-time leading receiver in Duke history, catches everything and is the offensive leader for a bowl eligible team. Wow.
4. Texas Tech QB Seth Doege - See above.
5. Alabama G Chance Warmack - The nation's best guard and perhaps the best run blocking lineman in the nation.
6. West Virginia WR/KR Tavon Austin - Receptions, kick returns, speed sweeps - HE is the best Mountaineer this season, not Geno Smith.
7. Michigan QB Denard Robinson - His week one disaster shot down any chance he had of winning the Heisman, but from that day forward (sans Notre Dame game), he's been the saving grace for the Wolverines and his flair for the dramatic win, finally got the Wolverines a win over Michigan State, first one since 2007.
8. Northwestern's duo Venric Mark and Kain Colter - Maybe the most dynamic duo in the B1G in all facets - kick/punt returns, passing game, receiving game and rushing game. Although Northwestern lost to Nebraska on Saturday afternoon, these two have been lighting it up in every way imaginable for the Wildcats.
9. Penn State QB Matt McGloin - Let's not get it twisted, this is the 2012 season, not the previous three seasons - he's driving this Nittany Lion offense as well as any Penn State signal caller in quite some time. He's thrown for 1,788 yards, 14 TDs and only two interceptions. However great the numbers might be, they don't tell the true story about McGloin.
10. Clemson WR 'Nuke' Hopkins - Overshadowed by many, but just as huge a threat as Sammy Watkins. He has 52 receptions (on pace for approximately 86 over 12 games), 845 yards and nine touchdowns.
11. Rutgers QB Gary Nova - Thrown for 1,503 yards, 15 TDs with only three interceptions and his best game was against an SEC foe (Arkansas - he threw for five touchdowns in that one on the road).
12. Oregon State CB Jordan Poyer - He reminds me of former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu with all of the ways he can impact a game for the Beavers. He has five interceptions, including a pick six. He has three tackles for a loss and a sack from his defensive back position.
13. Nevada RB Stefphon Jefferson - Leading rusher in the nation with 1,248 yards (one of only two RB having run for 1,000+ yards thus far) and 15 TDs, but playing for Nevada he's, unfortunately, overshadowed by more well known names.
Players making some cash this season…uhhh, improving their draft stock... This isn't meant to point out a bunch of first rounders, but guys that have really shown scouts that their stock has improved.
1. Penn State DT Jordan Hill - Many scouts thought he was better than Devon Still last year and he's gotten better. He's dealt with a nagging leg injury, but after the bye week, it was evident that his explosiveness was nearly back.
2. Notre Dame NT Louis Nix - Often overshadowed by Georgia NT John Jenkins and Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins, but Nix has been stellar this season, splitting double teams, tying up blockers to keep Manti Te'o clean throughout the season.
3. LSU DE Sam Montgomery - Has added a disciplined rush to his array of skills - learning how to set up blockers and use his burst to get past them.
4. Virginia Tech WR Marcus Davis - Not as productive as others, but has size and speed and getting looks this year, finally.
5. Oregon DE Dion Jordan - I've been a fan for a while and he's been even more explosive off the edge this season, even if others aren't enamored with his athletic knee bend.
6. Ohio State DE John Simon - Every time he steps on the field, I can't help but think he's a less bulky and taller version of James Harrison - moved inside against Purdue to rush against Purdue's guards - he ate them alive with a ninja spin move.
7. Clemson RB Andre Ellington - Was pretty high on my list going into the year, but I still wanted to see the burst and explosiveness after coming off the injury in 2010. He's shown that and then some. He's tied atop my running back list with Oklahoma State Joe Randle at this point of the year.
8. Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore - See above… He did play 3-4 OLB last year and has thrived as 4-3 DE this season. With that versatility a lot of teams will like his ability to rush the edge.
9. Alabama CB DeMarcus Milliner - Two years ago, he was a nightmare, but this year he's been a strong asset, replacing Dre Kirkpatrick, for the Crimson Tide.
10. Florida S Matt Elam - Does everything well, maybe not best cover guy, but I've seen him up close and personal make great plays in coverage. Teams will covet a do-it-all safety like this youngster.
11. USC WR Marquise Lee - Sorry guys, got to wait a year for him to come out.
12. Penn State LB Michael Mauti - Had to prove he was back from a knee injury to get in draft consideration and I think he's doing just that.
13. LSU S Eric Reid - Was brilliant (other than his stupid personal foul in the 4th quarter) against Texas A&M - 11 tackles and a PBU; he had a key interception against South Carolina too.
14. Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o - Stock was high to begin with, but it's rising with his stellar play this year.
15. Mississippi State CB Johnathan Banks - Has vaulted to number one CB position without question. Long, tough and as smart a CB as your going to find. He's had an incredible season for the Bulldogs.
16. Stanford OLB Chase Thomas - Versatile - drops into coverage as well as he rushes the passer. When he has room to work, he can whip tackles inside and out.
***If I didn't mention "your guy" here, trust me, I'll have much, much more on the way very soon.
Players that are dropping…sadly...
1. Tennessee QB Tyler Bray - There was a lot made of him being a potential first rounder. That just can't be true at all.
2. Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas - He needs to go back for his senior season - he's been horrible as a junior. No touch. Misses wide open receivers…I mean, WIDE open receivers. Limited pocket presence. Just a rough year and more time is needed.
3. Utah DT Star Lotulelei - Love his potential but he needs to play hard ALL THE TIME. Hard to find in the second half sometimes.
4. Texas DE Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor - Overrated and now injured, well, Jeffcoat anyway. Okafor is okay, but not a first rounder as many had thought. Jeffcoat is out for the year and that might be a godsend for him considering the fact that he wasn't doing much this season.
5. Texas Tech OT LaAdrian Waddle - Was a marginal mid round prospect and that's spot is dropping, even though the Red Raider offense has flourished this season.
True freshmen that are making a tremendous impact...
1. TCU DE Devonte Fields - Texas Tech is still trying to find a way to block him on the edge; he's tied for 8th in the nation with 7.5 sacks and 6th in the nation with 13.5 tackles for a loss.
2. Michigan TE/WR Blake Funchess - Will be a New England Patriot in three years, stud tight end who can flex out to receiver when needed.
3. Michigan State WR Aaron Burbridge - Eight receptions against Indiana and had solid game against Michigan in a losing effort.
4. Alabama WR Amari Cooper - Think Julio Jones with more elusiveness…I guess, that's the best description I could come up with for Cooper. That probably doesn't do him proper justice.
5. Alabama RB T.J Yeldon - Trust me, Alabama's running game doesn't suffer a drop off when Eddie Lacy comes out of a game and Yeldon takes over.
6. Georgia's trio RB Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and RT John Theus - Love all three of these Bulldogs, but the one that gets overshadowed the most, Theus, may end up being the best player of the bunch and most coveted (due in large part to his position of course).
7. Texas RB Johnathan Gray - He's been showing lately why he was Gatorade player of the year in HS in 2011. He has his touchdown options "vultured" by Joe Bergeron, but Gray's confidence as the game breaker in the backfield is growing.
8. Maryland WR Stafon Diggs - A lot was made of his recruitment and where he would end up. He stayed home and Maryland football has truly benefitted from his arrival. He leads Maryland with 27 receptions, has a kickoff return for a TD, and averages over ten yards per punt return. Quite frankly, he gives Maryland a shot to move the ball effectively.
9. Washington S Shaq Thompson - He's fifth on the team with 38 tackles and he's tied for first with three and a half tackles for a loss on a defense that would be lost without his contribution.
10. Florida DE Dante Fowler - Trust me on this, he's going to be a name you want to know in the future. He had his first sack against South Carolina and bigger things are on the horizon.