One year after the phoniest tragedy in college football history buttressed the narrative of Notre Dame’s push to the National Championship game, another undefeated top 10 program is the subject of rampant hoax rumors. It’s the biggest unsolved mystery in the Big Ten this season.
Are the Ohio State Buckeyes legitimate championship contenders, or are their title hopes a byproduct of smoke and mirrors? The Big Ten’s fortunes have been snowballing since Michigan and Ohio State were ranked one and two in the final weekend of the 2006 season.
Michigan and Wisconsin lie ahead and depending on your perception, that may not be enough to vault them into national championship consideration over a one-loss SEC team or an undefeated Oregon or Big 12 champion. The Wolverines needed a final defensive stand to beat Akron last weekend and the Badgers collapsed against Arizona State, which may not even be a top-five team in the Pac-12. When the likes of Northwestern is challenging for a Big Ten title, your conference will get the side eye.
Or maybe the problem is us. Has Big Ten bias ingrained in us over the years prevented college football fans from appreciating what Urban Meyer has done in two seasons at Ohio State?
Three games into his second season, he’s still undefeated as a Buckeyes coach. His transformation of the Buckeyes program has paralleled the genius of Nick Saban at Alabama. The difference is that Meyer’s expertise is on the offensive end. Without a championship caliber defense Columbus’ national championship hopes begin with their quarterback(s).
Last week’s win over Cal barely generated a buzz, despite Meyer’s offense generating the most yards in a single game of his entire tenure. It also happened to be Kenny Guiton’s first start at QB. This week, Braxton Miller is presumed to be back in the saddle at quarterback. Who says they have to choose though?
Urban Meyer is reportedly searching for a way to get both his Heisman candidate Miller and Guiton on the field together.
“We’re in conversation about that right now,” Meyer said to BuckeyeSports.com. “If (Guiton’s) one of the best 11, you have an obligation to get him on the field a little bit.”
There are subtle differences between the two quarterbacks.
“Kenny is a natural option quarterback, Braxton is not quite as natural pitching the ball. I would say that’s probably the one area that Kenny excels at,” Meyer said. “In the last two games, we’ve ran more option than we’ve run in a long time.”
Back when Meyer was Florida head coach, the support for Tim Tebow and Chris Leak nearly fractured the Gators fan base. AGS has a solution that appeases both the pro-Guiton and Miller crowds.
Call Todd Berry. RT @brdispatch: Meyer said coaches "are in conversation" about how to get Miller and Guiton on field together at same time.— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) September 16, 2013
Todd Berry’s double-barreled shotgun offense at Louisiana-Monroe barely made a blip on the national radar when he used it to confuse Baylor during their upset of the Bears last season.
Basically, this swashbuckling offense involved them using two mobile quarterbacks in a shotgun zone-read formation in which the option back would also have an option to throw. This would be considered an affront to the natural laws of football in much of the same way the spread offense was considered un-American when it was brought to the SEC in 2009.
Meyer’s offensive ingenuity doesn’t get the same love as those rocket scientists in Oregon, however, he’s a guru in his own right. College is the time to experiment. Why not give innovation a try one more time?
Heisman Jury: These candidates are making their case for why they should be awarded the sport’s most prestigious trophy. Each week, TSL will deliberate over each player’s weekly exploits.
Marcus Mariota - Last season, Mariota lost Heisman votes because he was perceived to be a product of Chip Kelly’s system and he was drowned out by the hype surrounding Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Barner is in the pros, Thomas’ acclaim has been tempered and Kelly is waiting for Mariota at the NFL’s gates (2014 maybe?). Mariota should finally get the credit he deserves. Last week, Tennessee keyed in on Oregon’s touted rushing attack, so Mariota posted the first 400-yard passing total for an Oregon quarterback since 2005. Mariota's 383.7 total offensive yards per game is fourth best in the nation. He’s first on our list.
Johnny Manziel - The A&M signal caller lost for the first time in 2013, however, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. His 74.0 QBR was the third worst of his career according to ESPN Stats & Info, but was more than quadruple the 17.9 QBR registered by quarterbacks over the last two seasons. However, his two interceptions came at a cost. Manziel’s first turnover was a pick-six in the other direction. His second was an overthrow while A&M was driving late early in the third. He didn’t derail his Heisman hopes on Saturday, but he’s no longer in the driver’s seat.
Brett Hundley - Hundley has not only avoided a sophomore slump, but he’s now a favorite for a Heisman invite. On Saturday morning, Hundley ripped off his sleeping mask in the second half of their 9 a.m. Pacific kickoff and led five drives into the end zone in a 16-minute span. He’ll have an opportunity against Oregon and Stanford to unseat Manziel.
Teddy Bridgewater – Bridgewater came out of the gates slowly against SEC bottom feeder Kentucky, but in the second half he scorched the secondary.
Blake Bell - The touchdown machine formerly known as Belldozer played the role of short-yardage battering ram in his first two years in Norman. Whenever the Sooners’ 6-6, 252 pound gets a head of steam going, he makes Tim Tebow look like Martin Gramatica. After losing the starting competition in August, he made his first start for the struggling Trevor Knight. His 96.7 QBR was the best by an Oklahoma quarterback since Heisman winner Sam Bradford posted a 99.0 vs. Baylor in 2008.
Bell may be a little behind, but if he keeps the offense rolling, voters won’t be able to attach his success to the system after Trevor Knight’s pedestrian performances. Even though he still has to get it done against major competition, Bell could be the Heisman surprise voters aren’t looking at yet.
No Alibi: Whereabouts unaccounted for at the time of kickoff.
Devin Gardner – Although, the Wolverines defense held on for the win, and Gardner accounted for three touchdowns, you can’t throw a trifecta of picks against Akron. There’s no defense for that.
Drop The Case: Jadeveon Clowney, The Heisman is out of reach. The SEC East title isn’t. Clowney still has much to learn before he enters the pro ranks. For one, his run pursuit leaves much to be desired.
The Alternates: Lache Seastrunk/Bryce Petty (Baylor), CJ Brown (Maryland), Ka’Deem Carey (Arizona), Tajh Boyd (Clemson), Jameis Winston (Florida State), J.W. Walsh (Oklahoma State), Todd Gurley (UGA),
RING OF FIRE: While the nation recovers from its hangover in the aftermath of Texas A&M vs. Alabama, college football’s Week 4 schedule lacks any matchups with national championship implications this week. However, there are a few middleweight matchups that could hit the sweet spot.
No. 23 Arizona State vs. No. 5 Stanford
Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly has built up his rep as the leader of an offense that has the capacity to sling the rock around with the best of them. Against Stanford, the ground game will be snuffed out quickly so Kelly will have to be flawless. Quietly, Kevin Hogan is now 7-0 since being named the Stanford starter last season. Arizona State’s on the rise, but they’re about to nudged back down the mountain on Saturday.
Auburn at No. 6 LSU
Don’t look now, but the LSU Tigers have quickly painted themselves into the NCAA Championship picture. Zach Mettenberger is bringing a dimension to a Les Miles offense that the SEC hasn’t seen since JaMarcus Russell was throwing heat into receivers’ chests. Their rivalry with Auburn is special though. Gus Malzahn and quarterback Nick Marshall have the hurry-up offense off the mat. Against an LSU defense that is still rife with future NFLers, at the very least, they’ll be able to make the Tigers sweat. When Auburn comes to Baton Rouge, throw out the rankings, anything can happen.
UNC at Georgia Tech
Vad Lee has thrown six touchdowns this season and completed only 15 passes. That’s how Tech’s offense rolls. Last year, both offenses left burning turf in the wake of Tech's 68-50 win. Lee’s progression as a passer makes Tech’s triple-option that much more potent.
Jumping To Conclusions
College football recruiting databases are beginning to resemble the shipwrecked island inhabited by those kids from Lord of the Flies. Pre-teens are running the joint.
You want proof that football’s future is safe despite the concerns over head and spinal injuries, then look no further than Sullivan Busser and David Sills. Brusser is only two years old and already his parents are pursuing a football scholarship to Ohio State for their toddler.
At this rate, his Heisman campaign will be kicking up interest on discussion forums by the time he starts high school. Meyer took it in stride and responded in a letter. Hopefully, Sullivan’s parents delivered a copy of his tapes to a few Pac-12 schools. USC in particular.
USC quarterback David Sills has experienced the peaks and valleys of being the Doogie Houser of college football recruits.
Four years ago, Sills appeared to be the next big thing. Turns out he may be on bust status before he even reaches senior prom. The head coach who recruited him as a 13-year-old may not last the season at USC, but it’s not like it would matter. Sills has been frozen out of the top 27 quarterbacks in Rivals’ 2015 rankings and is on the outside looking in at ESPN.com’s top 300 recruits.
USC is all too familiar with boy wonder phenoms burning out. One of them is their head coach. Sills may join a pantheon of child-stars in Hollywood who were given too much, too soon and one of the most high-profile examples of a kid’s star burning out before he reached campus.
This isn’t just about Lane Kiffin though. Sills has become the face of a trend that has swept through the college football ranks to LSU and ‘Bama’s courting of eighth grader Dylan Moses. Kentucky’s even gotten in on the fun. While these young physical freaks get snatched up by elite programs, late bloomers like a young Colin Kaepernick develop outside the limelight and without distractions. Keep an eye on Sills. His future success or lack thereof, may determine whether this movement kicks the bucket or spreads to pandemic levels.