Every Friday, NCAA.com will run ‘Third and Long,’ a look at three different questions facing the college football world. This week, instead of looking ahead at the week to come, we take the time to reflect on the best of the first month of the season. Our three respondents are Eric Vander Voort, Sam Richmond and Joe Boozell.
1. Ohio State is still No. 1, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Buckeyes have been the best team so far. Which team has impressed you the most?
Eric Vander Voort: If I had a vote in the rankings, it would be Ole Miss in my No. 1 spot. The Rebels have the best win of the season, having put up 43 points on mighty Alabama, which has given up just 27 combined points in its other three games this season. Robert Nkemdiche is one of the most unique players in America, Chad Kelly has proven to be a star and Laquon Treadwell has come back from a devastating injury to lead the team in receiving. Ole Miss has a tough stretch to end the season, including what is already looking to be a colossal matchup with LSU on Nov. 21, but I’d be surprised to see the Rebs enter that stretch anywhere but the top three. And if the first month is any indication, they have exactly what it takes to contend for the Playoff.
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Sam Richmond: I’ll go with UCLA. The Bruins have knocked out previously ranked teams in their last two games, including a 56-30 destruction of Arizona in Week 4. True freshman quarterback Josh Rosen is playing like a veteran, running back Paul Perkins is shaping up to be a dark-horse Heisman contender and the defense is holding it together despite star linebacker Myles Jack suffering a season-ending injury. UCLA is up to No. 7 in the AP Top 25 and it’s not crazy to start thinking about them as a potential College Football Playoff team. Needless to say, I’m drinking the Kool Aid.
Joe Boozell: Notre Dame, because they’ve looked even better than expected despite losing their starting quarterback, running back, tight end, defensive tackle and safety. Many teams would crumble with that type of misfortune. Heck, in most years, the Irish probably would have themselves.
But, knock on wood, Notre Dame has looked outstanding thus far. C.J. Prosise, a former slot receiver, has been a revelation at running back and is much more explosive than Tarean Folston was. DeShone Kizer has been serviceable at quarterback, and Will Fuller might be the most underrated receiver in college football.
Bring on Clemson.2. Leonard Fournette has established himself as the early Heisman frontrunner. Based on the first month, who has the best chance to challenge him?
SR: Georgia’s Nick Chubb just beats out TCU’s Trevone Bokyin as my Heisman runner-up right now. Simply put, Chubb is an athletic freak and no one has figured out how to slow him down since he took over as the Bulldogs’ lead back in the middle of last season. Chubb has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his last 12 games (tying Herschel Walker’s school record) and is up to 599 yards rushing and six touchdowns in four games this season. Still, with how well Fournette is playing, Chubb is a distant No. 2.
JB: Trevone Boykin was a Heisman favorite coming into the season, and after a slow start (by his standards) against Minnesota, the Horned Frog QB is starting to put up crazy numbers.
And that’s only going to continue. No Big 12 defenses are particularly scary, including TCU’s, meaning Boykin is going to have to win games for the Frogs. I think he’s up to the task. The senior has thrown for 939 yards and nine touchdowns in his past two games, and with TCU’s injury concerns on the other side of the ball, he’ll have to air it out plenty.
EV: Why not Ezekiel Elliott? The Heisman race is a marathon, not a sprint. This guy only got stronger as the season went on last year, showing what he can do with huge performances on the biggest stages in the sport. I’ve seen no reason to think he can’t do it again. He has yet to have a game with under 100 yards rushing and is coming off his best performance of the year, taking 16 carries for 124 yards against Western Michigan. As for his competition at his position -- namely, Fournette and Chubb -- they’ll be facing tougher defenses on a more consistent basis than Elliott will. I expect his numbers to keep getting better.3. What was the best single play of September?
JB: Tanner Mangum’s Hail Mary to win the game against Nebraska was straight out of ‘Friday Night Lights.’
No, seriously. It was the entire plot of the first episode of the TV series. Jason Street (Taysom Hill, in BYU’s case) is the all-everything quarterback who gets injured in the first game after an offseason of hype. Insert Matt Saracen (Mangum), a little-known backup who wins the game in stunning fashion via a desperation Hail Mary with no time remaining. Everyone cries, both tears of joy and tears of sorrow, in the locker room afterwards.
Hollywood writers chose this play when they literally could have made up any scenario they wanted to cultivate drama. Thus, Mangum’s Hail Mary is the single best play of September.
HAIL MARY! Trailing by 1, BYU's prayers are answered w/ a 42-yd TD pass on the last play at Nebraska. Wow. WATCH: http://t.co/PgkMuk91Of— ESPN (@espn) September 5, 2015
EV: “Best” doesn’t have to mean “most dramatic,” which is why I’m bypassing the Hail Marys or the somewhat lucky Ole Miss play against Alabama for Leonard Fournette. His TD run early in the second half against Auburn had it all -- incredible speed, multiple jukes, and one of the craziest breaks of a tackle you’ll see. I mean, that just doesn’t happen. Guys miss low all the time, but the defender had him by the shoulders, and Fournette shakes him off like it’s nothing. This is the definitive play of the best player of the month.
Leonard Fournette can NOT. BE. STOPPED. http://t.co/xYZIUj6YCR— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) September 19, 2015
SR: There’s one play I know I’ll never forget from September: Ole Miss’ insane 66-yard touchdown against Alabama. From Chad Kelly’s bobbled snap, to him heaving it off his back foot while being hit and the ball being deflected -- I’m not sure I'll be able to comprehend just how the Rebels ended up with a TD on the play. Ole Miss’ upset of Alabama was undoubtedly the standout game from the month and this was the game’s standout play, so this is really a no-brainer choice here.