Heisman Watch & Friday Night Preview

THE JIM SEZ COLLEGE FOOTBALL REPORT

WVU'S SMITH STILL LEADS IN THE HEISMAN TROPHY RACE (BUT THINGS HAVE TIGHTENED UP A BIT, FOR SURE!) ...

PLUS OUR FRIDAY NITE TV PREVIEW AS UCONN-'CUSE COLLIDE IN THE DOME

By Jim Hurley:

Maybe Yogi Berra did know what he was talking about!

The New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher once famously said that, "It's never over till it's over"and might we say the same about this year's Heisman Trophy race?

Consider that last week West Virginia QB Geno Smith was so far ahead of the competition that he needed binoculars to spot 'em but following last weekend's 49-14 meltdown loss by the Mountaineers in Lubbock, the Heisman Trophy race has become, well, a race.

Smith's still enjoying a hefty lead - yes, we've seen other sports websites claiming it's gotten super-close right now but not buying it just yet - but another sub-par game this weekend against visiting Kansas State could have the one-time Heisman Trophy "lock"in some trouble.

We'll get you our updated Jim Sez Heisman Trophy Top 5 in just a moment but first a reminder that six of the last eight Heisman Trophy winners have been non-seniors - only Auburn QB Cam Newton (2010) and Ohio State QB Troy Smith (2006) won the bronzed statue as seniors since 2003 ... so recent history actually is against Mr. Smith (and against Kansas QB Collin Klein, for that matter!).

Now, here's our up-to-the-moment Heisman Trophy Watch List ...

GENO SMITH, QB, WEST VIRGINIA - Best thing you can say about this 'Neers slinger is his 25-TD to 0-INT ratio ain't exactly gonna be beat anytime soon even though last weekend's 275-yard, 1-TD showing against Texas Tech was far from what we've all grown used to this 2012 campaign.
Consider that Smith enters this K-State game with 2,271 yards passing (that's 378.5 ypg) and his club already has posted 69-, 70- and 48-point totals along the way. If Smith shines here in this under-the-lights special against fourth-ranked Kansas State - and if the Mountaineers (5-1) win in rollicking fashion - than the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Smith could balloon his Heisman lead once again.

BRAXTON MILLER, QB, OHIO STATE - We're keepin' the Buckeyes' sophomore star right there in second place in this Heisman chase (most "experts"have Miller third or fourth in their current ballots/straw polls) but how do we dare drop a guy who helped his team put up 52 points in last week's wild win against Indiana? In that 52-49 non-cover triumph, all Miller did was throw for 211 yards and two scores while adding 149 yards rushing (and one TD) on 23 carries and so the updated stats for this dynamic sophomore include 1,271 yards passing with 11 TDs and 4 INTs plus 912 yards rushing and 9 ground scores. The 7-and-oh Buckeyes - by the way - are averaging a haughty 40.4 ppg and so hats off to the Big 10's best player this year.

COLLIN KLEIN, QB, KANSAS STATE - This Big 12 star has powered his Wildcats to a 6-0 start that includes high-profile wins against Miami, Oklahoma and Iowa State but besting West Virginia this weekend could get this senior major Heisman Trophy "mojo"in the days/weeks ahead. Note that the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Klein just doesn't make many mistakes even though he handles the ball about 75 percent of the time and last week's 16-of-24 for 187-yard passing performance plus the 105 rushing yards on 25 carries was par-for-the-course stuff for a guy who is a major red-zone rushing threat and a dynamic downfield passer when enemy defenses least expect it. The key stats: Klein has thrown for 1,074 yards with 7 TDs and only 2 INTs plus he's run it for 510 yards (a 5.2 ypc average) with 10 scores. 'Nuff said!

JOHNNY MANZIEL, QB, TEXAS A&M - The kid they call "Johnny Football"down in Aggie-land has been a true mega-star in his first year on the job as this redshirt freshman already has thrown for 1,680 yards with 14 TDs and 3 INTs plus he's added on 676 yards rushing and 10 TDs while averaging an eye-popping 7.4 yards a carry. Hope you caught his act late last Saturday night in that wild 59-57 non-cover win against Louisiana Tech as Manziel threw for 395 yards and rushed for another 181 yards while accounting for six TDs in all (three rushing/three passing) as A&M upped its mark to 5-1 on the year. Folks, if he's not the most exciting college football player in the land right now, we don't know who is! Safe to say this Saturday's marquee matchup home game against LSU could be a make-or-breaker in the Heisman race for Manziel who plays like his hair's on fire!

MANTI TE'O, LB, NOTRE DAME - Okay, so we've bumped the country's most impactful defensive player a couple of spots here but that's simply because Klein and Manziel had to get elevated in their chase for the trophy. Te'o - who's been the heart-and-soul player in Notre Dame's 6-0 start - is the key cog on the nation's 11th-ranked defense and don't you just know that the senior Te'o was front-and-center on that overtime goal-line stand against Stanford in last Saturday's rainy 20-13 win? The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Hawaiian native gets more TV face time this weekend against BYU - another 10-tackle type will keep him in the hunt for college football's most prestigious award.

On Friday Nite, it's ...CONNECTICUT (3-4) at SYRACUSE (2-4) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
This might not be a knock-your-socks-off type Big East matchup but there is some drama here as one-time Orange head coach Paul Pasqualoni is back inside the Carrier Dome wearing the other team's colors for the first time ever - hey, the 'Cuse was a perennial bowl team in the Pasqualoni Era and note the upstate New York team's been to only one bowl game the past seven years with the likes of Greg Robinson (2005-08) and Doug Marrone (2009-present) calling the shots.

One key item here is Syracuse ranks 13th nationally in passing offense (318 yards a game) but QB Ryan Nassib (11 TDs and 8 INTs) all too often makes poor red zone reads/decisions and so we'll see what gives under the big rook here.

Spread Notes - Syracuse enters this tilt on a four-game spread losing skid and the Orange is 0-5 ATS (against the spread) against UConn while dating back to the 2007 campaign. Note the visiting Huskies - also on a four-game spread losing streak this year -- are a collective 4-10-1 ATS away the past two-plus seasons.

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S SUPER SATURDAY

FULLY CHARGED AS WE BRING YOU THE THREE TOP 25 HEAD-TO-HEAD PREVIEWS PLUS WHAT TO WATCH 'ROUND THE COUNTRY

By Jim Hurley:

Okay, so we're slightly beyond the halfway point of this 2012 College Football Season and that got us to wondering:

What does this first version of the BCS Standings look like in comparison to the season-opening Associated Press Top 25 poll?

Well, for starters the team that was on top of the AP poll - the USC Trojans - are #10 in this first look at the BCS Standings while the team that was #2 in the opening AP poll - that's the Alabama Crimson Tide - has snagged the #1 spot in the BCS and they may never let go!

Otherwise, the real newsmakers include the following:

Florida is #2 in the BCS right now; the Gators started the year at #23 in the AP.

Kansas State is #4 in the BCS Standings; the Wildcats opened the year at #22 in the AP.

And, conversely, Michigan and Arkansas were #8 and #10, respectively, in the opening AP poll and neither one of 'em "hit the board" in this first edition of the BCS Standings.

In terms of conference-by-conference news, note that the SEC had a conference-high seven teams in the AP poll to start the year and they've got seven teams in this debut BCS Standings while hats off to the oft-maligned Big East that started off with just a single AP 25 entrant (see #25 Louisville) and now has three teams inside the BCS top 21 (see #15 Rutgers, #16 Louisville and #21 Cincinnati)... so there!

Meanwhile, the question-of-the-week to ponder down the road is this: Who gets into the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 7, 2013 should Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame all sport undefeated records at season's end?

Go ahead and chomp on that query for a minute or two, will 'ya!

CHECK OUT JIM HURLEY'S TOP SATURDAY PLAYS HERE

Okay, lots on the Jim Sez menu here and we'll get it started with the three showdowns pitting BCS Top 25 teams against one another and than we'll go 'round the country for some NCAA Football News & Notes while eyeballing some of this weekend's other key games. Note the numbers before team names reflect the BCS Standings:

Here's Saturday's key College Football Previews...

#7 SOUTH CAROLINA (6-1) at #2 FLORIDA (6-0) - 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Okay, so it's merely not enough to have long-time Florida head coach Steve Spurrier returning to "The Swamp" as the boss-man of the other team (he's done it three times before including a 36-14 win in Gainesville just two years ago) but heap onto that factoid that the winner of this game gets the inside track at winning the SEC East and so plenty is on the line here, right?

The visiting Gamecocks better have their chinstraps buckled tight on "D" as Florida's born-again ground game - ranked 14th nationally while averaging 233.3 ypg - will try the smash-mouth approach against a quick-but-light South Carolina stop unit starring soph DE Jadeveon Clowney.

Keep in mind that last week's 31-17 Gator win at Vanderbilt starred run-first QB Jeff Driskel who bolted free for 177 yards and three TDs - afterwards he told reporters than Vandy never touched him on any of the three scoring runs! - but will Driskel be allowed to dart in and out of the Carolina defense here? Hmmm

One real X-factor at work: South Carolina star RB Marcus Lattimore (bruised hip) may not start this SEC clash and so don't be shocked if QB Connor Shaw runs more options and winds up with 15-to-20 carries. If Shaw can crack a couple of big ones, the Gamecocks are "live" here.

Spread Notes - Florida enters this marquee matchup riding a five-game pointspread winning streak but did you know the Gators have failed to cover their last three in a row versus South Carolina? The SC Gamecocks, meanwhile, have covered six games in a row this year following that season-opening non-cover 17-13 win against 6 ½-point pup Vanderbilt.
 

#4 KANSAS STATE (6-0) at #13 WEST VIRGINIA (5-1) - 7 p.m. ET, Fox

Life in the Big 12 surely got a bit ugly last weekend for the West Virginia Mountaineers: The former Big East crew was slam-dunked 49-14 at Texas Tech as Heisman Trophy hopeful QB Geno Smith delivered only one touchdown pass and never could figure out the west Texas winds in Lubbock - now a return home to Mountaineer Field should help but check out Smith's foe this time around:

The K-State Wildcats allow just 16.5 points per game and keep in mind Bill Snyder's crew has gone up against the likes of Miami and Oklahoma. If Smith expects a fun night of pitch-and-catch with favorite wide-out targets Stedman Bailey (55 catches and 14 TDs) and/or Tavon Austin (67 receptions and 8 TDs) he may have to think twice because Kansas State will bring plenty of blitzes here and SS Ty Zimmerman has a habit of sitting back and making big picks (see the clincher against Oklahoma back on Sept. 22nd).

This battle to land Heisman Trophy votes also features KSU quarterback Collin Klein who's passed and run for nearly 1,600 yards already and pay special attention here to WR Tramaine Thompson who averages 16.6 yards a completion this year - might Klein dole out some of WVU's own medicine here and throw some deep balls that could catch the 'Neers napping?

Spread Notes - Kansas State's covered five of its first six games this season and the Wildcats are a tasty 16-8 ATS (against the spread) when grabbing up points while dating back to the start of the 2009 season. On the flip side, West Virginia is just 2-4 against the Las Vegas prices so far this 2012 season and the 'Neers have failed to cover six of their last seven games when placed in the chalk role.

#6 LSU (6-1) at #18 TEXAS A&M (5-1) - 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
It is - after all - your classic matchup of do-it-all kid quarterback against a steely-edged defense. Now that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has made our Jim Sez Heisman Trophy Watch List (and just about everyone else's, for that matter) this becomes "must-see" football as the redshirt freshman comes off an SEC-record 576-yard performance in last weekend's wild 59-57 non-cover win against Louisiana Tech as Manziel rushed for 181 yards and three scores and threw for 395 yards and three TDs.

Than, again, this is the LSU defense he's going against here and the Tigers enter the fray ranked second in the land in passing defense (just 131 yards a game) and seventh nationally in rush defense (yielding 91.4 ypg) but the whole key for the home underdog Aggies here could well be what can A&M's other offensive players provide and so keep a close eye on big WR Mike Evans (36 catches) who made some big plays against L-Tech but also appeared to have trouble late with hamstring and/or leg-related woes.

LSU needs another strong game from frosh RB Jeremy Hill who banged out 124 rushing yards in last weekend's 23-21 non-cover win against South Carolina - the red-zone woes of Tigers QB Zach Mettenberger have been well-documented this year and if Les Miles' guys settle for 3's here than they could be playing with fire.

Time to check out "Johnny Football"!

Spread Notes - LSU comes skidding spreadwise into this high noon Eastern time tilt as the Bayou Bengals have dropped their last four in a row to the vig. Texas A&M is a dead-even but vig-losing 3-3 against the odds this year and the Aggies are a collective 9-19-1 spreadwise as underdog sides since the start of 2007 (that's a .321 winning rate).

CHECK OUT JIM HURLEY'S TOP SATURDAY PLAYS HERE

NCAA FOOTBALL NEWS & NOTES

Here's some other things on our Jim Sez radar screen when it comes to Saturday's games...

#18 Texas Tech administered that major beat-down of West Virginia last weekend but here the Red Raiders play at in-state rival TCU. Sure, the Horned Frogs were crushed that QB Casey Pachall withdrew from school following his driving while drinking arrest but how about new starter Trevone Boykin who debuted by throwing four touchdown passes in a mesmerizing 49-21 upset win at 6-point fav Baylor? If Boykin can keep this TCU (5-1) ship steady, Gary Patterson's gang could have a shot at a big-time bowl game this holiday season...

#12 Florida State - a three-TD betting favorite for its Sunshine State Showdown game at Miami - has not been this sized favorite against the hated Hurricanes in more than a decade. In fact, Florida State was a 12-point fav last year against "The U" and wound up failing to cover the price en route to a 23-19 win. Meanwhile, is it really possible that the 'Canes rank 118th nationally (out of 124 FBS teams) in rush defense while yielding nearly 254 ground yards per game. Ugh...

Finally, #7 Ohio State - gunning for its first 8-0 start since 2007 - hosts Purdue at high noon ET and the Buckeyes have remained unbeaten despite the fact they rank 100th nationally in pass offense and 101st nationally in pass defense. The 'Eyes are allowing over 400 offensive yards per game that ranks 'em 10th in the 12-team league and remember LB Etienne Sabino (broken leg) won't be back for at least another three weeks.

NOTE: Get our NFL Week 7 Key Previews in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez!

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