Welcome to the Week 14 edition of The Professor, a weekly wrap-up of everything you need to know about the weekend in the college football.
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First, one of the greatest weekends in college football history deserved a special bonus Saturday night post, so head over to The Rotation for a rapid Saturday night reaction to Auburn's stunning/miraculous/amazing/incomparable last-second win over Alabama in perhaps the greatest finish in college football history.
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Rarely does a hyped set of games actually meet expectations. For the college football fan, Thanksgiving is typically the best week of the year, because it means nonstop action Thursday night through Saturday night, with rivalry trophies, bragging rights, conference and national title hopes and basically every important aspect of the sport all on the line. This year, with the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn at the center, the weekend felt bigger than ever.
And yet we still had no idea what was to come.
There was, of course the aforementioned Auburn-Alabama thriller, a somewhat sloppy, but eventful, back-and-forth game capped by perhaps the most spectacular ending in a sport with a penchant for spectacular endings. Auburn beat Alabama 34-28 on a 108-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown by Chris Davis after the officials put one second back on the clock, after Auburn scored just 32 seconds earlier on a stunning 39-yard pass from Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates to tie the game.
We'll likely never see anything of the sort in football again, and that's OK. The ending was perfection for anyone not wearing Alabama crimson and white, as the Crimson Tide have been denied a fourth championship in five seasons and will instead head to, perhaps, the Orange Bowl as a consolation. Not only are their title hopes crushed, but they were crushed by their resurgent archrival in unbelievable fashion.
But that wasn't even everything. No, the Iron Bowl was just half of the doubleheader featuring college football's two greatest rivalries, featuring two of the season's greatest endings. Earlier, in Ann Arbor, Michigan reverted back to early season-vs.-Notre Dame form, trading punch-for-punch with heavily favored Ohio State in a thoroughly entertaining bout that went a long way in making up for any problems in the Big Ten.
Until the Iron Bowl came along to blow our minds, Ohio State's 42-41 win featured everything imaginable: numerous big plays, a fight leading to the ejection of three players, the double bird from ejected offensive lineman Marcus Hall, controversial official reviews, more than 1,100 yards of offense, 451 passing yards from Devin Gardner, more than 300 yards rushing from Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller, a fourth-quarter comeback by Michigan, an opening drive of 99 yards … all setting up Brady Hoke's gutsy/smart call to go for two and the probable win with 32 seconds left after Devin Funchess caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Gardner.
Of course, the two-point play failed, Michigan's hopes were crushed, and Ohio State survived to move to a perfect 24-0 under Urban Meyer, with the Big Ten championship on the line against Michigan State next Saturday. And, of course, that's not all anymore. Thanks to Auburn's heroics, Ohio State is now in line for a BCS national title date in Pasadena with Florida State.
All of which leads to college football's favorite debate: Big Ten vs. SEC.
Cover your ears, ladies and gentleman, the arguments have arrived. While nobody outside Columbus argued for undefeated Ohio State over undefeated Alabama and Florida State (even though the Seminoles' ACC schedule is mostly unimpressive), now Ohio State will be favored by most as the choice to meet Florida State for the BCS title.
There are only two undefeated teams from AQ conferences (plus Northern Illinois), and thus, if they finish undefeated, Florida State and Ohio State should get the nod for the championship game. The way the sport is set up, going undefeated is the goal, and to do it in a major conference is never an easy task, just as winning on the road against a rival with championship implications is never easy (unless the opponent is 2013 Florida). But, still, given the Big Ten's recent perceived ineptitude (both completely real and often exaggerated), and the SEC's recent national dominance and vocal fan bases, we are undoubtedly in for days of arguments that a one-loss SEC champion -- whether it's Auburn or Missouri ... yes, let's not forget Missouri -- should be ranked ahead of undefeated Big Ten champion Ohio State, which hasn't lost since 2011.
This all assumes Ohio State will beat Michigan State, a likely proposition but hardly a given, seeing as Ohio State nearly lost to this particular Michigan team and seeing as Michigan State has easily the best defense the Buckeyes have seen. But the best argument scenario of all would be an undefeated Ohio State and an SEC champion Missouri, which could certainly beat Auburn in a toss-up game in Atlanta. Recently assumed to be overmatched in the SEC upon leaving the Big 12, Missouri could gain the support of SEC fans who belive the one-loss Tigers should trump an undefeated Ohio State in the BCS race, which is something nobody thought anyone would ever say.
College football is a strange, unpedictable beast. Next Saturday could end in a lopsided blowout for one of the SEC teams, and Ohio State could lose to Michigan State, thus setting up the SEC champion as an obvious choice for Pasadena. But until then, all we have are debates, for SEC supporters to cling to their hope the league's seven-year reign can make life miserable for Urban Meyer, who has not lost since moving back to the Midwest.
Auburn AD Jay Jacobs: "A 1-loss SEC team that wins in Atlanta can't get left out (of the BCS title game). It's impossible."- Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) December 1, 2013
It's a bad argument, because regardless of what Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs says, the system says that, if they wanted a title shot, Auburn should not have lost to LSU by two touchdowns in September and Missouri should not have blown a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead and lost a heartbreaker to South Carolina. There is no margin for error in this BCS, and arguing for Missouri/Auburn requires arguing against an Ohio State team that has mostly dominated inferior competition, with the exception of Saturday's dramatic rivalry game (and, well, Northwestern ... and a good but hardly unbeatable Wisconsin), and has not lost in doing so.
I'm not sure what else Ohio State is supposed to do. If an undefeated Ohio State gets left out behind a one-loss team, we might as well go back to the Bowl Coalition days when the Rose Bowl remained separate and pledge our allegiance to the superiority of the SEC.
All of this, again, requires Ohio State beating Michigan State in Indianapolis. Win, and Ohio State has its signature win. Going undefeated is supposed to matter, and if we're going to reward Missouri and Auburn for their impressive wins, we also have to punish them for losing. But if this sport has taught as anything, it's to never make assumptions. Half the time all arguments end up moot anyway.
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BCS National Championship: Florida State vs. Ohio State
Orange Bowl: Alabama vs. Clemson
Sugar Bowl: Auburn vs. UCF
Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Arizona State
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Northern Illinois
Ohio State, right now, is the choice. If the Buckeyes lose to Michigan State, the SEC champion goes to Pasadena. It's that simple, assuming Florida State takes care of Duke after beating Florida 37-7, as expected.
Alabama's newfound at-large status creates the potential for interesting scenarios, with the Orange Bowl the most likely landing spot, assuming the Rose Bowl can/will pick Michigan State as a replacement for Ohio State in the event of a Buckeyes win in the Big Ten title game. Wisconsin is out of the mix thanks to its loss to Penn State. The other Rose Bowl spot goes to Arizona State or Stanford, while Northern Illinois, Oklahoma State, UCF and Auburn/Missouri can all secure spots with wins on Saturday. Oregon and Baylor continue clinging to hope for at-large spots.
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Duke won the ACC Coastal before Miami. In the ninth ACC championship game, Florida State is making its fourth appearance and will face Duke, which unsurprisingly is making its first appearance. In the first eight years, only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have advanced from the Coastal. Now, after beating rival North Carolina 27-25 on the road, the Blue Devils advance to Charlotte. Sure, they compiled their 6-2 conference record without facing Florida State and Clemson, and now will likely get blown out by Florida State, but who cares? Duke is 10-2 marking its first 10-win season in program history. David Cutcliffe is as deserving as Gus Malzahn and Gary Pinkel for national coach of the year. It's an astonishing turnaround, and this week the Blue Devils again got a boost from freshman defensive back DeVon Edwards, who gave Duke the lead going into halftime with a 99-yard kick return and also made the game-sealing interception in the final minute. The Coastal didn't even end up needing messy tiebreakers for four or five teams. Instead, Duke made it easy and won the division outright. Just as everyone predicted.
Bo Pelini's future remains murky. After an ugly 38-17 home loss to Iowa on Friday, Bo Pelini was defiant in his postgame press conference, saying, "If they want to fire me, go ahead." (The Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel captured the situation perfectly by writing, "I just saw a man set himself on fire.") But on Saturday, Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst came to Pelini's defense, releasing a statement that ended with, "We very much look forward to our upcoming bowl game and Coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future." It was hardly a strong show of support, but for now Pelini is still the coach, even with Nebraska reaching the dreaded four-loss mark for the sixth time in Pelini's six seasons. Records of 9-4 and 10-4 are not terrible, but does anyone actually seem pleased with this arrangement? Well, besides receiver Kenny Bell.
Kenny Bell: "I would play for Bo Pelini against Satan himself and a team of demons at the gates of the underworld. I love coach Pelini."- Steven M. Sipple (@HuskerExtraSip) November 29, 2013
Fresno State's BCS dreams are dead. Fresno State is a good team with a great quarterback in Derek Carr, but a loss seemed inevitable. The Bulldogs escaped in overtime against Rutgers in the opener; they escaped 41-40 vs. Boise State; they escaped Hawaii's comeback attempt in Honolulu; they escaped San Diego State in overtime. Finally, they met their match in San Jose State's David Fales, who led the Spartans to a 62-52 win that featured 12 total touchdown passes and 83 points in the first half before slowing down. Even in the losing effort, Carr completed 38-of-50 passes for 519 yards and six touchdowns with one pick. Now Fresno State needs to beat Utah State in the Mountain West title game, with the Las Vegas Bowl as a likely destination instead of a possible Fiesta Bowl.
Steve Spurrier owns Clemson. Clemson essentially had a three-game season: Georgia, Florida State, South Carolina. It won the first, then disappeared from the national consciousness by getting blown out by Florida State, then climbed back to No. 6 in the BCS by default, only to lose 31-17 to rival South Carolina on Saturday. The loss marked Dabo Swinney's fifth straight to Spurrier, who was eliminated from the SEC title game by Missouri's win but got a solid consolation prize by getting another 365 days of possible Clemson jokes. Jadeveon Clowney had one sack as Tajh Boyd completed 19-of-27 passes for 225 yards with a rushing touchdown but two interceptions and a lost fumble. While both were ranked in the top 10 of the BCS on Saturday, expect both to take a step backward next year with players like Boyd, Clowney, Sammy Watkins (assuming he leaves early) and Connor Shaw all gone. Either way, Spurrier clearly owns the state.
But Missouri is going to Atlanta. South Carolina's win over Clemson meant nothing except for all of the fun that comes with beating a rival again. With the Gamecocks' SEC schedule finished, all they could do was hope Missouri lost to Texas A&M in the other Columbia on Saturday night. But, once again, Missouri passed the test, keeping itself right in the hunt for the national championship. It remains a remarkable story after the banged-up Tigers looked out of place in the SEC last season. They've engineered a quick turnaround, losing only once in an overtime heartbreaker to South Carolina. In a 28-21 win over Texas A&M, the Tigers duplicated LSU's impressive feat of containing Johnny Manziel, holding him to only 195 passing yards on 35 attempts and just 21 rushing yards on 11 attempts. Make no mistake: Missouri is the real deal, with talent across the board, from the skill positions to an active defensive front.
Southern Miss is capable of winning a game. The nation's most depressing losing streak is over. The Golden Eagles went 12-2 in 2011, winning the Conference USA title, but they had not won a game since Christmas Eve 2011 in the Hawaii Bowl. Larry Fedora bolted for North Carolina, Ellis Johnson went 0-12 and got fired and Todd Monken took over and lost his first 11 games. It was a stunning 23-game losing streak for a solid program that had not finished below .500 since 1993. But, finally, thanks in part to the ineptitude of UAB, Southern Miss took out two years of frustration to beat the Blazers 62-27 on the road. They capitalized on five UAB turnovers while Nick Mullens accounted for seven total touchdowns. Amazingly, Southern Miss scored more points in the third quarter alone (28) than in any full game all season (23 the previous high). Sure, 1-11 is terrible, but at least the Eagles can enter the offseason with a shred of hope about the future.
Credit also to Hawaii, which held off Army 49-42 late Saturday night in Honolulu to win its first game of the season to finish 1-11. Wins by the Eagles and Warriors leave Georgia State and Miami (Ohio) as the nation's lone winless teams at 0-12.
Arizona State can beat Stanford. But Marion Grice's injury could be a game changer. Arizona State's top tailback missed a dominant 58-21 win over Arizona, and coach Todd Graham said he's not expected to play when the Sun Devils host Stanford with the Rose Bowl on the line. Still, there's plenty of hope that fortunes have changed since a dreadful first half at Stanford in September, when the Sun Devils fell behind 29-0 by halftime en route to a 42-28 defeat. At the time, they appeared unable to matchup with Stanford's physicality. That still may be true, and we know what Stanford can do to limit faster teams -- or any team, as it showed in a 27-20 win over Notre Dame on Saturday -- but this is a talented Arizona State team that can do it all. D.J. Foster filled in admirably for Grice against Arizona, rushing for 124 yards and two touchdowns, and the Sun Devils defensive front has improved enough to give Stanford a run. Plus, with losses at Utah and USC, Stanford is hardly infallible on the road, while Arizona State has been dominant in Tempe.
UCLA is king of Los Angeles, for now. USC's remarkable run back to prominence finally hit a wall Saturday, when the Trojans were manhandled by UCLA 35-14 at home. UCLA went up early on yet another touchdown run by linebacker Myles Jack, and quarterback Brett Hundley proceeded to pass for 208 yards and lead the team with 80 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The win marks two in a row for UCLA after USC dominated the 2000s (it was only UCLA's third win since 1998), and for now the balance of power continues to tip slightly in favor of Jim Mora and the Bruins, especailly if he can convince Hundley to stay for another season. USC's loss capped a day in which the hopes of hiring Kevin Sumlin from Texas A&M -- however real those hopes might have been -- were dashed by Sumlin's new contract. It remains unlikely the Trojans will give the full-time gig to Ed Orgeron, but how many great candidates are actually out there?
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A+: Penn State. The weekend was filled with shocking results, but few teams were as impressive as Penn State, which pulled off arguably one of the most stunning wins of the season. Faced again with no bowl game and a roster thinned by scholarship cuts, coming off a rough overtime loss to Nebraska and trying to get a first road win of the season in hostile Madison, Penn State controlled the game most of the way against a Wisconsin team thought by many to be the most underrated in college football. The Badgers staged a late rally, but Penn State held on to win 31-24, moving Bill O'Brien to 15-9 in two seasons post-sanctions. Not too bad for a situation that was supposedly "worse than the death penalty." Led by star freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Penn State was only the second team to put up 400 yards on Wisconsin's defense, and the Nittany Lions also shut down the Badgers' acclaimed rushing attack, holding them to 120 yards and shutting them out of the BCS.
A: Mississippi State. The reward is much more than the BBVA Compass Bowl and Birmingham in January. The reward is bragging rights, and a much-needed boost of confidence against an in-state rival that has been on fire on the recruiting trail since Hugh Freeze came aboard. So not only did Mississippi State beat Ole Miss 17-10 in overtime to win the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night to get to 6-6 and bowl eligibility, but with Dan Mullen seen as on the decline and Freeze certainly on the rise, the Bulldogs equaled the Rebels' conference record at 3-5. Given that recruiting prowess, Ole Miss is still on a better upward trajectory, but Mississippi State has won four out of the last five in the series and will go to a fourth straight bowl game for the first time in school history.
A-: Texas. All told, this season could have been much, much worse. After getting blown out at home by Oklahoma State to snap a six-game winning streak, Texas responded by dismantling Texas Tech on Thanksgiving night, winning 41-16 with two 100-yard rushers Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, and containing the Red Raiders' potent offense. Three losses, with a tricky trip to Baylor remaining, is never going to be considered "good" in Austin, and the Longhorns will still likely be looking for a new head coach, but a win like this is certainly a lot better than what Texas looked like in September. The Longhorns are banged-up and far from where the program should be, but an upset of Baylor, however unlikely, could still get them to the Cotton Bowl, which isn't so bad, or even the Fiesta Bowl if Oklahoma State loses.
B+: Georgia. Beating a decent Georgia Tech would have seemed like a foregone conclusion in the preseason, but any type of win in the instate rivalry can be deemed a success given all that the team has gone through this season. The Bulldogs have lost countless key players to injury, capped by the torn ACL of Aaron Murray last week against Kentucky. So, it was reasonable expect the Bulldogs to lose in Atlanta, especially upon falling behind 20-0 in the second quarter. But despite not scoring until the final minute of the first half, and despite quarterback Hutson Mason making his first start, the Bulldogs rallied to force overtime and won 41-34 in the second OT on a 25-yard run by Todd Gurley, his fourth score of the day. Mason completed 22-of-36 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and a pick in his starting debut, giving Georgia its 12th win in the last 13 meetings.
B: Washington. Much like Bo Pelini at Nebraska, Steve Sarkisian was stuck in a rut, going exactly 7-6 in each of his last three seasons after opening his career 5-7. It's not an enormous improvement, not contending for a Pac-12 title or pulling off a program-changing win, but the Huskies came back to beat Washington State in the Apple Cup on Friday, winning 27-17 to get to eight wins for the first time since 2001. Keith Price returned from a one-game absence to start at quarterback, but again the Huskies rode the legs of Bishop Sankey, who carried the ball 34 times for 200 yards and a touchdown and caught a pass for 40 yards. Another loss to Wazzu -- even a better Cougars team than last year -- would have put a lot of pressure on Sarkisian, but an eighth win with the potential for nine certainly eases some tension.
B-: Oregon. The Ducks simply aren't anywhere near the same team they were in the first half of the season, as the debacle at Arizona showed, but they did manage to win a dramatic Civil War against Oregon State 36-35 thanks to a 12-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff with 29 seconds left on Friday night. Questions about Mariota's knee have provided an obvious explanation for Oregon's faltering, but the Ducks did pick up 568 yards against a lousy Oregon State defense, although Mariota threw another two picks. All told, a sixth straight double-digit win season is nothing to take lightly, but after breezing through two months, Mark Helfrich will now have something to prove going forward given Oregon's late struggles under the weight of national championship expectations.
C+: Baylor. Maybe it was difficult to envision TCU scoring 38 points and out-gaining Baylor by 40 yards, but it was still easy to see the Bears struggling in Fort Worth a week after Oklahoma State ended their undefeated season in humiliating fashion. TCU's had an awful season, but that doesn't mean the Horned Frogs, led by shutdown corner Jason Verrett, can't still defend, like every Gary Patterson team. They held Baylor to 370 total yards, with Antwan Goodley totally disappearing with only one catch for 12 yards thanks to the outstanding play of Verrett. Ultimately, though, while perhaps outplayed, Baylor took advantage of TCU's mistakes, winning the turnover battle 4-1 and taking two interceptions back for touchdowns, to win 41-38 and secure only the third double-digit-win season in program history.
C: LSU. It probably shouldn't have come as a huge surprise -- all but one of their meetings since 2004 have been decided by single digits -- but the Tigers were certainly sluggish in coming back to edge winless-in-the-SEC Arkansas 31-27 on Black Friday. Arkansas held a 27-21 lead deep into the fourth quarter, but LSU scored 10 points in the final five minutes, capped by a 49-yard touchdown to Travin Dural from freshman backup quarterback Anthony Jennings, who replaced the injured Zach Mettenberger, on a 99-yard drive. If nothing else, that one pass was a future confidence booster for a team that has to replace Mettenberger this offseason. No, 9-3 isn't ideal for LSU, but that's a solid run given the enormous number of NFL draft departures last winter.
C-: UCF. The Golden Knights are all but assured of a BCS bid (unfortunately, the American's first schedule deprives us of UCF-Cincinnati), but they have not made it look easy. Sandwiched around a blowout of now-hapless Rutgers, UCF pulled off a Houdini act at Temple on Nov. 16, and on Friday edged South Florida 23-20 at home. UCF is now 10-1, but wins over Penn State, Memphis, Louisville, Houston, Temple and South Florida have come by a total of 24 points. Against the Bulls, they escaped thanks to a 52-yard touchdown from Blake Bortles to Breshad Perriman with 4:50 left. South Florida has improved a little and actually beat Cincinnati, somehow, but that's still a 2-9 Bulls team that lost to McNeese State, Florida Atlantic and Memphis. Then again, style points don't matter here. Win, and UCF's in.
D+: Toledo. It's not nearly as bad as it would have appeared in the preseason, but still, Toledo losing to Akron isn't a good look. Of course, let's give a lot of credit to Terry Bowden and the Zips. In upsetting Toledo 31-29, Akron moved to 5-7, its best season since 2008, and a significant improvement over three straight 1-11 seasons. Bowden has done a great job turning the program around, and it falls one win -- remember the close call at Michigan? -- short of bowl eligibility.
D: NC State. Expectations weren't high in a transition to Dave Doeren, but when you fire a coach after a seven-win season, falling to 3-9 the next year is a rather significant disaster. Patience is necessary with Doeren, of course. It's only one season -- he took Northern Illinois to the Orange Bowl and heralded Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett is eligible at quarterback next season -- but a winless ACC season capped by an embarrassing 41-21 home loss to Maryland won't exactly send the Wolfpack into the offseason with much confidence. Their only wins came against Louisiana Tech, Central Michigan and Richmond (by two) and only one of the ACC games was decided by single digits (27-19 to North Carolina).
D-: Rutgers. He's still finishing only his second season, but it's hard to feel confident about Kyle Flood's future at Rutgers. With a move to the Big Ten on the horizon, the Scarlet Knights are limping to the finish and now need to beat USF next Saturday to become bowl eligible. In a second half of lowpoints, Rutgers suffered its lowest with a 28-17 loss to 2-9 Connecticut, rushing for only 68 yards and getting two picks from Chas Dodd, who started over Gary Nova. Rutgers' only win since the Oct. 5 thriller at SMU was an ugly 23-20 victory over Temple. It at least could be said that the Knights lost to the good teams of the American: Louisville, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF, but all of those were blowouts. And now they lost to UConn.
F: West Virginia. The key number? Eleven million. That's the reported buyout that likely keeps Dana Holgorsen safe. But he's certainly not making any friends in Morgantown. It takes a lot to top losing to Kansas, but blowing a 31-7 lead (38-21 in the fourth quarter) to lose 52-44 in double overtime at home against Iowa State sure comes close. West Virginia has gone from 10-3 to 7-6 (after a hot start) to 4-8 in Holgorsen's three seasons. The Big 12 transition -- outside of September's shocking win over Oklahoma State -- appears to be a total disaster so far.
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1. Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State. Braxton Miller has made noticeable improvements as a passer, but the biggest difference between last year's 12-0 Ohio State and this year's 12-0 Ohio State is the breakout performance of Hyde. He was stellar last year, sure, rushing for 970 yards and averaging 5.2 yards per carry, but he has been Ohio State's biggest star in the second half of the season, averaging nearly eight yards per carry. He was at his best Saturday against Michigan, pacing the Buckeyes with 226 yards and the game-winning touchdown on 27 carries against what was the nation's No. 13 run defense. It was Hyde's second 200-yard game in the last three. If he hadn't been suspended for the first three games of the season, he might be booking a trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
2. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois. Yes, Western Michigan is terrible, and in the snow Lynch completed only 5-of-17 passes, but it didn't matter. In the Huskies' 33-14 win to move to 12-0, Lynch set the FBS quarterback rushing record for the second time this season, rushing 27 times for 321 yards and three touchdowns -- almost all in the first three quarters. He previously set the record with 316 yards on Oct. 19 against Central Michigan, and according to ESPN, he's only the fifth player to rush and pass for 20 touchdowns in a season, joining Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Tim Tebow. With the MAC title game and a bowl game (potentially against a very tough Oklahoma State defense in the Fiesta Bowl) left, Lynch has a shot at 2,000 rushing yards, needing 245 in two games.
3. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn. A few weeks ago, Alabama held LSU to 43 rushing yards on 31 attempts. In Saturday's miraculous Iron Bowl, Mason was his usual self even against the celebrated Alabama defensive front, running 29 times for 164 yards and a touchdown. As part of Gus Malzahn's terrific rushing attack, Mason has rushed for at least 100 yards seven times. On Auburn's game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter, Malzahn stuck with Mason and gave him the ball six straight times on the ground despite fighting the clock, setting up Nick Marshall's 39-yard pass to Sammie Coates to tie the game at 28.
4. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. Even the most talented corners Florida State has seen all season were no matched for Jameis Winston and Benjamin, who torched the Gators for 212 yards and three touchdowns on nine catches. Benjamin isn't consistently great, as part of a deep offense, but at 6-foot-5, 234 pounds, the sophomore can be impossible to cover. He alone had more total yards than Florida's entire offense.
5. David Fales, QB, San Jose State. If one person can get credit for ruining Fresno State's BCS dreams, it's Fales, who out-dueled Derek Carr in a spectacular offensive show on Friday. San Jose State won 62-52, and, amazingly, nearly all the action occurred in the first half, including the two players' total of 12 touchdown passes (the Spartans led 42-41 at halftime). Fales finished 37-of-45 for 547 yards, with six touchdowns and no picks, adding 33 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
6. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State. The best recruiting card Bill O'Brien could play is telling a recruit to turn on CBS on Thanksgiving and watch former walk-on Matt McGloin start as an undrafted rookie for the Oakland Raiders. So imagine what O'Brien might be able to do with Hackenberg, arguably the top quarterback recruit in the class of 2013. Hackenberg, despite predicted inconsistency, has been phenomenal as a freshman, and he ended his debut season on the highest possible note. Against Wisconsin's defense, which ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten against the pass, Hackenberg completed 21-of-30 passes for 339 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 31-24 win, coming up just shy of 3,000 yards in leading scholarship-strapped Penn State to a 7-5 record. It has, of course, helped to have All-America candidate Allen Robinson at receiver, as Saturday's 122-yard effort was his eighth 100-yard game of the season, but Hackenberg's future appears to be as bright as any young quarterback in the country.
7. Josh Huff, WR, Oregon. Marcus Mariota's No. 1 target had the best game of his career in the 36-35 thriller against Oregon State on Friday. He outplayed the more heralded Brandin Cooks of Oregon State, catching nine passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner from 12 yards out with 29 seconds left.
8. James Morris, LB, Iowa. Iowa smothered Nebraska's offense on the road, forcing three turnovers and holding the Cornhuskers to 288 total yards. Most notably, Ameer Abdullah was held to his worst rushing total of the season with 85 yards (3.7 yards per carry). Once again, that was largely due to the stellar play of the linebackers. Christian Kirksey led the team with 11 tackles, including three for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble, but again Morris starred. He had 10 tackles -- four for a loss, one sack -- with a forced fumble and an interception to cap a phenomenal season in conference full of great linebackers.
9. Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Miss. Jameis Winston could throw for 300 yards against UAB with his left hand, but let's give Southern Miss some much-needed positive attention. In Saturday's 62-27 victory, the program's first win since 2011, freshman Mullens completed 24-of-39 passes for 370 yards with five touchdowns and a pick, plus one rushing touchdown. The five scores through the air were more than the Golden Eagles scored in any single game the rest of the season.
10. DeVon Edwards, S, Duke. That makes two enormous games for the previously unknown freshman. In a 38-20 win over NC State on Nov. 9, Edwards returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown and then returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a span of 16 seconds in the fourth quarter. In Saturday's ACC Coastal-clinching win over rival North Carolina, Edwards returned a kick 99 yards for a touchdown to give Duke its first lead, then intercepted Marquise Williams to seal the game in the final minute, in addition to making eight tackles.
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1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
2. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois
3. Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Based solely on the on-field evidence, Winston should be a unanimous winner. He's played well every week, making Florida State the most dominant team in college football. Of course, there is still much more important information we do not know.
Behind Winston is a total mess. After finally breaking into the spotlight, 2,000-yard rusher Andre Williams of Boston College managed only 29 yards on nine carries in a 34-31 loss to Syracuse, leaving with an injury. Johnny Manziel's second straight lackluster performance in a loss effectively ended any hope of a repeat. Marcus Mariota threw another two picks against Oregon State. AJ McCarron hasn't actually done anything worthy to be considered for this year's Heisman. Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald was neutralized by Miami.
So by no means is this a final "ballot." Actual, final consideration of the entire season will be made next Saturday night. So for now, in distant second and third behind Winston, Lynch's incredible numbers are impossible to ignore, as is Hyde's spectacular second half of the season, even if early missed time puts him out of the picture. Better yet, just pick names out of a hat.
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1. Big Ten championship: Ohio State vs. Michigan State. The best defense in college football meets an unstoppable Ohio State running game, with a likely BCS national title bid on the line for the Buckeyes.
2. SEC championship: Auburn vs. Missouri. We're in for a week of undefeated Big Ten vs. one-loss SEC debates, but the winner just needs an Ohio State loss to Michigan State to advance to Pasadena.
3. ACC championship: Florida State vs. Duke. The one championship that's seen as a foregone conclusion. Duke's a great story, but Florida State blows out everyone for a reason.
4. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State. Oklahoma has won Bedlam nine out of the last 10 years. This year, Oklahoma State needs a win to lock up the Fiesta Bowl as the Big 12 champion.
5. Pac-12 championship: Stanford at Arizona State. A Rose Bowl bid is on the line. Stanford handled Arizona State at home in September, but this is a different Sun Devils team and a different Cardinal team on the road.
6. MAC championship: Northern Illinois vs. Bowling Green. There's a BCS bid on the line for Northern Illinois without having to worry about Fresno State. Lynch runs into the MAC's best defense.
7. Texas at Baylor. There's a three-way tie for the Big 12 lead at 7-1 right now. The winner of this game needs an Oklahoma State loss to win the league and go to the Fiesta Bowl.
8. UCF at SMU. The Golden Knights already clinched a share of the American. They can clinch a BCS bid with a Cincinnati loss to Louisville on Thursday or a win over SMU on Saturday.
9. Mountain West championship: Utah State at Fresno State. The first Mountain West title game features Fresno State playing for the Las Vegas Bowl instead of the BCS, and no Boise State, despite the loss of Utah State star QB Chuckie Keeton to injury weeks ago.
10. Conference USA championship: Marshall vs. Rice. C-USA has been relatively anonymous for most of this season. The most memorable Marshall and Rice moments nationally were losses: Marshall, in triple OT to Virginia Tech, and Rice, in the Johnny Manziel suspension game.
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