Les Miles … won’t last until the end of the season. Mark that one down. The rumor mill had Miles gone a year ago as he was en route to a 9-3 finish. Now, he’s 2-2 in September, and upcoming games against Missouri, Southern Miss and Florida that were counted in preseason as wins are far from sure things – especially since LSU has an incredibly difficult time scoring. Past that trio are matchups against Ole Miss, Arkansas, Alabama and Texas A&M – and the very real possibility that LSU might just end up with a losing record in 2016. If the Tigers lose to Missouri OR Southern Miss, Miles very well could find himself unemployed before November.
Update: Before I could publish this post, LSU did indeed fire Miles along with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron was promoted to interim head coach. A friend of mine calls Orgeron the “cockroach of college football” – no one really likes him, but you also can’t ever seem to get rid of him. Orgeron will take the place of Miles on this list, because there’s simply no way he’ll be the head coach at LSU next year unless he finds a way to win all eight remaining games.
Gus Malzahn … delayed talk of his status at Auburn for at least a week by dispatching LSU, 18-13 – although with one more second, the other Tigers would likely have won the game. He still doesn’t have an offense, and that’s a problem for a guy who came to the Tigers as an offensive guru. He’s not out of the woods yet, especially with a brutal SEC schedule that includes Arkansas, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. And also especially not since people are already suggesting that former Baylor coach Art Briles might be a good fit as Auburn’s next coach.
Blake Anderson … doesn’t show up on a lot of hot seat lists, but that’s probably going to change after Arkansas State fell to Central Arkansas – an unranked FCS team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2012. The Red Wolves are now 0-4. His only salvation is that his team plays in the Sun Belt and hasn’t yet started its conference schedule. He has about 10 days to get ready for ASU’s Sun Belt opener against Georgia Southern – and the rest of the conference slate is much easier. Beat the Eagles on Oct. 5 and Anderson might just get the opportunity to win the conference. But start the year 0-5 and rumblings will get much louder in Jonesboro.
Rod Carey … is in a similar position as Anderson. Northern Illinois was a favorite to contend for the MAC West title, but instead finds his team at 0-4 after a loss to Western Illinois. At least the Leathernecks are ranked in the FCS, but this is a team that lost 44-0 to Illinois last year. The Huskies face a fairly easy MAC schedule in which five of their next eight opponents are ranked an average of 111th in my poll. But the other three – Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Toledo – are ranked an average of 30th. And the way Northern Illinois has been playing, even next week’s game at Ball State won’t be nearly as easy as most people previously thought. A loss to the Cardinals would take Northern Illinois to 0-5 and would continue a downward trend that started last season.
David Bailiff … has been at Rice for 10 years, and he’s seen a number of losing seasons during that time. So maybe – just maybe – the folks at Rice will tolerate another year at the bottom of Conference USA. But just a few years ago, Bailiff had Rice at 10-4 and in the Liberty Bowl. It’s been a steady slope downward since then, and this year could see things get even worse. Rice goes to Southern Miss next week, so 0-5 is almost assured, but it would be good to see the Owls at least put up a fight. After that are very winnable games against UTSA and FCS underling Prairie View A&M. Rice absolutely must win both of those or Bailiff may get the axe before Thanksgiving.
- Lamar Jackson, QB, Soph., Louisville (Last week: 3)
This week: 24-of-44 for 417 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT; 12 carries for 62 yards, 2 TDs
This season: 74-of-126 for 1,330 yards, 13 TDs, 3 INTs; 61 carries for 526 yards, 12 TDs
Houston (4-0), beat Marshall, 59-28
Is there anyone who can stop Lamar Jackson? Not so far. He easily passed over and ran around the Marshall Thundering Herd this week, leading Louisville to yet another offensive explosion. The biggest key to Jackson’s Heisman candidacy – and Louisville’s chances at reaching the College Football Playoff – will come when the Cardinals meet another playoff contender with a Heisman frontrunner at quarterback. (Next: at Clemson)
- Christian McCaffrey, RB, Jr., Stanford (Last week: 1)
This week: 26 carries for 138 yards, 0 TDs; 2 receptions for 13 yards, 0 TDs
This season: 79 carries for 436 yards, 3 TDs; 12 receptions for 119 yards, 1 TD
Stanford (3-0), beat UCLA, 22-13
McCaffrey continues to impress – but isn’t exactly dominating. Against UCLA, he managed about 5 yards per carry, but never found the end zone. At his current pace, McCaffrey will get close to 1,900 yards for the year, but only after 13 games. Meanwhile, at least one other player is looking a lot better so far. (Next: Friday at Washington)
- J.T. Barrett, QB, Sr., Ohio State (Last week: 2)
This week: OFF
This season: 49-of-73 for 650 yards, 5 TD, 0 INTs; 39 carries for 159 yards, 3 TDs
Ohio State (3-0)
Barrett got some rest before moving on to the Big Ten schedule. Unfortuntely, while the Buckeyes were absent from play, Lamar Jackson continued to dazzle, allowing him to leapfrog Barrett into the top spot on this – and most – Heisman list. (Next: vs. Rutgers)
- Deshaun Watson, QB, Jr., Clemson (Last week: 4)
This week: 32-of-48 for 304 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INTs; 12 carries for 36 yards
This season: 90-of-150 for 996 yards, 9 TDs, 4 INTs; 35 carries for 120 yards
Clemson (4-0), beat Georgia Tech, 26-7
Watson holds onto the No. 4 spot, not because he was so impressive this week, but because he was very good against a quality opponent. Frankly, I expected more out of Watson in his junior season, but he has been mostly very good at not making mistakes that cost Clemson games. The problem is, being a good game manager isn’t usually good enough to win the Heisman – especially when there are others out there that shine from one week to the next. (Next: vs. Louisville)
- Greg Ward Jr., QB, Sr., Houston (Last week: 5)
This week: 20-of-26 for 289 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; 7 carries for 39 yards, 1 TD
This season: 67-of-102 for 936 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs; 51 carries for 113 yard, 3 TDs
Houston (3-0), beat Texas State, 64-3
Ward looked great yet again, easily outclassing an overmatched Texas State team that couldn’t stick with him or any of the Cougars. He will get the chance to shine in a midweek spotlight when Houston entertains Connecticut in a Thursday night matchup. Barring catasrophe, Ward should blow up weekly until the impending mega-matchup against Louisville on Nov. 17. (Next: Thursday vs. Connecticut)
- Jalen Hurts, QB, Fresh., Alabama (Last week: 7)
This week: 16-of-24 for 164 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs; 7 carries for 54 yards, 1 TD
This season: 64-of-102 for 727 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT; 45 carries for 251 yards, 3 TDs
Alabama (4-0), beat Kent State, 48-0
Hurts continued to look good in limited duty against a Kent State team that Alabama led 41-0 at the half. It’s doubtful that he will ever make it into the top tier of the Heisman candidates, but if he continues to play at his current level, Hurts will definitely set the stage for a serious Heisman run in 2017. (Next: vs. Kentucky)
- Chad Kelly, QB, Jr., Mississippi (Last week: 10)
This week: 18-of-24 for 282 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; 4 carries for 53 yards, 1 TD
This season: 85-of-130 for 1,235 yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs; 35 carries for 124 yards, 1 TD
Mississippi (2-2), beat Georgia, 45-14
There are two Chad Kellys. One looks incredibly cool under pressure and looks like a man among boys. The other makes foolish mistakes under pressure that cost his team chances at games. If the first one ever showed up for good, he would be the best pure quarterback in college football, hands down. That one was on full display this week against Georgia, and the result was an offensive clinic. A full month of perfect opportunities to impress awaits Kelly in October. (Next: vs. Memphis)
- Dalvin Cook, RB, Jr., Florida State (Last week: NR)
This week: 26 carries for 267 yards, 2 TDs; 4 receptions for 62 yards
This season: 78 carries for 495 yards, 4 TDs; 13 receptions for 180 yards
Florida State (3-1), beat South Florida, 55-35
The real Dalvin Cook finally showed up and dominated a game against a quality opponent. Cook more than doubled his season yardage total and paced an FSU offense that was MIA against Louisville the week before. The Seminoles have an intense October awaiting them with games against North Carolina, Miami and Clemson, so Cook will have every opportunity to display his talents on the national stage. (Next: vs. North Carolina)
- Baker Mayfield, QB, Sr., Oklahoma (Last week: 8)
This week: OFF
This season: 55-of-85 for 793 yards, 7 TDs, 2 INTs; 21 carries for 4 yards
Mayfield and the Sooners got a week to think over the rest of their season. So far has not been so good, though Mayfield really hasn’t been the biggest problem Oklahoma has. Still, Heisman winners tend to also win a lot of games, and the Sooners just haven’t done much of that. As OU enters the meat of its Big 12 schedule, Mayfield will definitely get a number of chances to both win and impress Heisman voters. (Next: at TCU)
- Leonard Fournette, RB, Jr., LSU (Last week: 6)
This week: 16 carries for 101 yards, 0 TDs; 2 receptions for 4 yards
This season: 67 carries for 386 yards, 2 TDs; 9 receptions for 69 yards, 0 TDs
LSU (2-2), lost to Auburn, 18-13
And just that quickly, Fournette is back down. It’s not all his fault, frankly. Fournette’s failure to impress Heisman voters also falls on now former head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. The fact that they’re both gone is enough to keep Leonard on the list, because interim head coach Ed Orgeron and interim offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger might figure out how to use him properly. Still, it’s doubtful that LSU will suddenly discover an offense that will allow Fournette to regain his Heisman form. (Next: vs. Missouri)
Falling off: Nick Chubb, RB, Jr., Georgia
On the bubble: Seth Russell, QB, Sr., Baylor; Donnell Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State; Davis Webb, QB, Sr., California; Kenny Hill, QB, Jr., TCU; Trevor Knight, QB, Sr., Texas A&M
Look who’s still undefeated… After the fourth week, the list is down to 26 teams that remain unbeaten, with 11 having recently departed that status. Most surprising on that list is Wake Forest, which I never thought had a chance at a bowl game and is now just two wins away from eligibility. Add to them Wisconsin, which I figured to be 2-2 after four games, but is now sitting on top of the Big Ten West as the new favorite, along with fellow unbeaten Nebraska. Not surprising to me are Boise State and Western Michigan, which I predicted in the preseason would both have a chance to run the table and have a shot at least at an at-large berth in a New Year’s Six Bowl.
…And look who hasn’t won yet. This list is down to six teams, but the names correspond pretty well with the Hot Seat list above. Northern Illinois and Arkansas State remained winless by losing to FCS teams – a cardinal sin in major college football – while Rice lost to North Texas, which was ranked No. 124 in our poll last week. Just to reach their projected bowl eligibility, all three teams would have to go 6-2 the rest of the way, or win their conference outright. While Northern Illinois was 6-2 in MAC play last season, and Arkansas State was undefeated in the Sun Belt, Rice was a middle-of-the-pack team in Conference USA, at best. And given the way all three have played thus far, it’s pretty much a stretch to suggest that any of the three would somehow discover the game of football in Week Five and put together a memorable winning streak.
Offense is king. There are still coaches out there who insist on winning with nails-tough defenses and slow, plodding offenses. (Do Les Miles and Will Muschamp ring a bell?) But the teams that are poised to contend for the College Football Playoff are mostly teams that have high-octane offenses that can put up points at will. Alabama, Ohio State, Louisville, Houston and Michigan all score boatloads of points, and they defy opposing teams to slow them down. (I didn’t list Clemson there because the Tigers’ offense hasn’t yet shown up.) The best of those teams also have great defenses – especially Alabama and Ohio State. But teams with all defense and no offense almost always run into a team that solves the defense, leaving a sluggish offense to find a way to play catch-up. (Exhibit A: Tennessee solving Florida’s supposedly vaunted defense in the second half and posting 38 unanswered points, leaving the Gators desperate – and unable – to score three touchdowns late in the fourth quarter.)
Enough of the games against FCS teams. There are now 128 teams at the FBS level of college football. There’s simply no reason that any of them should continue to schedule games against FCS (formerly Division I-AA) teams. Frankly, it’s a no-win proposition. First, those teams generally have be paid a handsome sum just to play the games at FBS schools. When Ole Miss played Presbyterian in 2014, the Rebels paid the Blue Hose $400,000 for the game – which was enough to pay for the small college to install lights in its stadium. The games are financially advantageous for the bigger schools, which make a ton of money by hosting a home game. But for the teams, those games are no-win situations. You’re expected to win, and win big, so if you do, you get no credit. But if you win ugly, you lose a lot of credibility with sportwriters, fans and poll voters. And if – God forbid – you lose that game, you send a signal to all of the above that there are major problems in the program. Again, with 128 teams at the FBS level, there are more than enough teams to provide non-conference matchups of every caliber without resorting to playing teams from the next level down.
Copyright © 2016 Doug DeBolt