Every Friday, NCAA.com will run ‘Third and Long,’ a look at three different questions facing the college football world. This week, our three respondents are Austin Vaughn, Sam Richmond and Tyler Greenawalt.
1. Which Power Five conference is in the most danger of missing the playoff?
Austin Vaughn: The Pac-12. Yes, No. 3 Utah is incredibly hot right now, but it's on a collision course with another team that got hot out of nowhere, No. 10 Stanford. The Cardinal are grinding out wins and showing great play on both sides of the ball, but they’ve got a couple tough games at the end of the season, Cal and Notre Dame, which they’ll be very lucky to win both. However, I see Stanford beating the Utes in the Pac-12 Championship. And, when all of the other conference champions are likely to be undefeated, I don’t see a two loss Stanford jumping Clemson or TCU for that fourth spot.
Sam Richmond: Every Power Five conference has two teams currently ranked in the top ten of the AP poll, so it’s fair to say they are all right in the hunt. But right now I’d predict Ohio State, Baylor, Alabama and Clemson to make the playoff, which leaves the Pac-12 on the outside looking in.
The Pac-12’s two teams with legitimate playoff chances are Utah and Stanford. Both have manageable schedules, but they aren’t cakewalks either. The Utes have to play USC and Arizona on the road, as well as UCLA at home. The Cardinal still have to face No. 20 California and No. 11 Notre Dame. I think each team drops one of their remaining tough games, making a playoff berth for each very unlikely.
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Tyler Greenawalt: No one would have ever said it coming into the season, but so far the Big Ten has looked the least impressive among the Power Five conferences. Yes, Ohio State is No. 1 and both the Buckeyes and Spartans are undefeated, but they haven’t looked pretty doing it. Florida State did something similar last year; going undefeated and making the first College Football Playoff before taking a beating against Oregon in the Rose Bowl. The Pac-12 has Utah and Stanford, the SEC has LSU and Alabama, the Big 12 has Baylor and TCU and the ACC has Clemson and Florida State. The Big Ten duo of Ohio State and Michigan State can’t hold a candle to those teams. Unless one or both make some great adjustments in the second half of the season or a few of those teams flounder, the Big Ten has a legitimate shot at missing the playoff.2. We’re halfway through the season. Which team (or teams) look the most championship-ready?
SR: I’ll go with Alabama and Baylor. The Crimson Tide (6-1) have a loss, but it came in a fluky game to Ole Miss in Week 3 because of uncharacteristic turnovers and one of the most insane touchdowns ever. The Crimson Tide are still a top-four team and have proven that with two decisive road wins over then-top 10 teams in recent weeks (38-10 over Georgia in Week 5, 41-23 over Texas A&M in Week 7). Alabama has an elite defense, a top running back in Derrick Henry and a solid enough passing attack. They’ll be in the playoff.
As for Baylor, it is undefeated (6-0) and has looked flat-out unstoppable. They haven’t faced a ranked team or, really, any quality opponent yet, but they’ve simply been so dominant it’d be hard to make the argument that they aren’t a playoff-caliber team. Ponder this: They’ve outscored their six opponents by an average of 39 points. With Seth Russell and Corey Coleman running the show, no one’s going to slow down Baylor’s nation-best offense. The only team that can beat them is TCU (Nov. 27), and that’s only because the Horned Frogs’ offense can be just as lethal.TG: Utah has looked unstoppable thus far in 2015, dispatching teams both formidable and pedestrian by an average of 17 points. First, Utah beat the new-look Wolverines. That win looks better and better as Michigan continues to impress. Next, the Utes dominated Oregon. And in a back-and-forth battle with then-undefeated Cal, Utah came out victorious. Utah’s combination of a great offense and stout defense gives them a championship feel, and favorable schedule also gives the Utes the best road to a title.
AV: The Bayou Bengals. LSU faced a very tough Florida team last week, but thanks to Les Miles’ trickeration, Leonard Fournette being Leonard Fournette and Brandon Harris cranking up the pass game when it was needed, the Tigers pulled out the quality win. And, LSU showed it's a complete football team. Its vaunted defense wasn’t too impressive, but it did what it needed to win the game. The offense showed it was more than just Leonard Fournette, but Fournette also showed he could shine against quality competition. And, the Mad Hatter showed the tricks up his sleeve still work. I feel for whoever has to face LSU, even Bama.3. Quarterbacks and (especially this year) running backs dominate the Heisman talk. Who is the best non-QB/RB in the country?
TG: History tells us that this year’s Heisman winner will be either a quarterback or a running back. But, history also tells us that if a non-QB/RB is going to win the Heisman, he’ll need to be a dual-threat player. So on the off chance that the top candidates burn out in the back half of the season, Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk has a shot at snagging the trophy because of his ability as both a receiver and a special teams contributor. When Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson won the Heisman in 1995, it was the first time a non-QB/RB won since wide receiver since fellow Wolverine Desmond Howard did in 1991. Both won because, like Kirk, they had a breakaway ability on punt and kickoff returns. If someone is going to win the Heisman that isn’t a quarterback or running back, he’ll need to make plays in multiple facets of the game. Kirk can do that, as he already has 609 receiving yards, 276 return yards and six total scores (four receiving and two return touchdowns.) While Kirk’s stats aren’t on the same level as Woodson’s or Howard’s yet, there’s still a half of a season to play, and as we all know, many things can change in college football. Kirk’s biggest obstacle to win the Heisman will be the rest of his team, as the trophy winner usually comes from a championship contender and the Aggies have a tough road ahead to get to that level.
AV: Wide Receiver Josh Doctson of TCU. Not only is Doctson putting up incredible numbers -- 1.067 yards and 12 touchdowns -- but he’s clutch. Doctson always makes play when a play needs to be made, as in the last second touchdown grab against Texas Tech. And, Doctson has big-play ability. By that I mean anytime he touches the ball it's a big play; he’s averaging almost 18 yards per catch. Sure, Trevone Boykin is on everyone’s mind when the Heisman is mentioned, but I’d bet even Boykin would agree that having Doctson as a target makes him look better.
SR: Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman has been putting up video game-like numbers this season. Through six games, he has 41 catches for 887 yards and 16 touchdowns. Yes, you read that correctly. 16 touchdowns. He’s already broken Baylor’s school record for receiving touchdowns in a season and he’s got half his schedule to go. The scary thing is there’s no reason to believe he’ll really slow down. He’s an athletic freak and has an elite quarterback in Russell throwing him the ball. Putting that combo against Big 12 defenses week after week just doesn’t seem fair.