Week 5 Picks

The State Press

Hopefully none of you are actually putting any money down based on my bets. Last week I was 3-4, which drops me to 13-15 for the year.

No doubt this is the week that things turn around. Probably not. Either way, hopefully I’ll have no idea after having my mind blown to pieces by Outkast on Friday night.

No. 11 UCLA (3-0) at No. 15 Arizona State (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12)- Thursday 10 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1: Nothing like a pair of ranked conference opponents kicking off the week with their back-up quarterbacks.

Well maybe it will be with their back-up signal callers. UCLA hasn’t said whether or not Brett Hundley will play after injuring his elbow two weeks ago against Texas.

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The Sun Devils are going with Mike Bercovici as Taylor Kelly sits with a foot injury.

Bercovici has played in all three games this season, completing 9 of his 17 pass attempts for 79 yards and TD. Bruins’ No. 2 signal caller Jerry Neuheisel lead UCLA to a 20-17 win over the Longhorns, as he threw for 178 yards and two TDs.

Inexperience may show up early with the two QBs, but the key to the game will come down to Arizona State’s ability to run the ball.  UCLA is giving up just 3.8 yards per carry on the ground, and has allowed only three rushing TDs all year. Junior Arizona State tailback D.J. Foster has fun for 510 yards and five TDs, which ranks eighth in the country.

Prediction: Even with all the will he or won’t he regarding Hundley, UCLA is favored by four points on the road. I think this is  the week that the Bruins’ struggling offensive line finally costs them. I’m going with Arizona State 20-14.

Tennessee (2-1) at No. 12 Georgia (2-1, 0-1 SEC)- Saturday Noon ET on ESPN: It’s the SEC opener for the Vols, while Georgia looks to stay in contention in the East division after losing to South Carolina two weeks ago.

After two straight wins to open the year, Tennessee was shredded by Oklahoma two weeks ago. The Sooners racked up 454 yards of total offense, including 308 yards passing.

Justin Worley looks much-improved under center this season. He’s completed 58.3 percent of his passes this season, and already thrown for 721 yards (after tallying up just 1,239 all last year).

Even with an improved offense, I’m just not sure Tennessee has the defensive personnel to slow Georgia’s offensive attack. Georgia is averaging 471 yards per game, and Todd Gurley has racked up 402 yards rushing.

Prediction: Georgia is a 17-point favorite at home in this one. I think Georgia runs wild against the Volunteers 42-23.

Arkansas (3-1, 0-1 SEC) at No. 6 Texas A&M (4-0, 1-0 SEC)- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS: Here’s what we know about these two teams- Arkansas is going to run the ball. Texas A&M is going to throw it.

The Hogs average 324.5 yards per game on the ground (seventh best in the nation), and the Aggies average 405 yards passing.

In Kenny Hill TAMU has another quarterback that could end the season in New York. The trillest signal caller in all the land is completing 69.8 percent of his passes with 13 TDs and an interception.

Arkansas should have a blue print to follow on defense for how to slow down the Aggies spread offense. The Hogs have already faced Auburn and Texas Tech this season. Auburn did rack up 595 yards, but the Red Raiders and Kevin Sumlin protege Kliff Kingsbury were held to just 353 yards in a 49-28 Arkansas win.

Prediction: Texas A&M is favored by nine points. I think Arkansas’ rushing attack will be tough enough for the Aggies to stop that they cover. I’m going Texas A&M 38-31.

No. 1 Florida State (3-0, 1-0 ACC) at North Carolina State (4-0)- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN 2: After escaping Clemson 23-17 in over time with a back-up quarterback, Florida State looks to make it 20-straight wins this weekend in a place they’ve struggled over the years.

Tallahasse.com

Tallahassee.com

Jameis Winston will return to the huddle after watching from the sidelines last weekend following his suspension for lacking self-awareness.

After a slow start, N.C. State has looked much better the last two weeks in wins over South Florida and Presbyterian. Former Florida QB Jacoby Brissett is completing 69.7 percent of his passes for 10 TDs and one interception. N.C. State is averaging 248.8 yards per game rushing, good for 24th best in the country.

The Seminoles’ defense still needs better play from its linebackers, and it may need to adjust some of the roles the secondary is playing, but they looked pretty darn good against Clemson. Eddie Goldman played his best game in garnet and gold, and Mario Edwards continues to hold the edge.

Prediction: Florida State is favored by 19 points on the road. I think Winston and the Seminoles go scorched earth on N.C. State 42-17.

Missouri (3-1) at No. 13 South Carolina (3-1, 2-1 SEC)- Saturday 7 p.m. ET on ESPN: Both teams enter Saturday following a disappointing performance last weekend.

Missouri brought shame to the whole SEC with a 31-27 loss to Indiana, and South Carolina needed 21-fourth quarter points to put away lowly Vanderbilt. A Tigers’ win could really throw a wrench into an already chaotic division race.

Despite being ranked 13th in the polls, South Carolina is giving up an average of 480 yards per game this year. Missouri’s offense is averaging 430 yards per game. Maty Mauk has thrown 14 touchdown passes and 978 yards.

Dylan Thompson had his first turnover free game of the year against Vanderbilt last weekend. The Senior QB is completing 62% of his passes, has 11 touchdowns and just three picks.

Prediction: South Carolina is favored by six points at home. I’m still not sure how the Hoosier beat the Tigers last weekend, but I’m going to overlook and go with Missouri. The Tigers beat South Carolina 24-17.

Duke (4-0) at Miami (2-2, 0-1 ACC): Through four games, Duke has been flat-out dominant (albeit it against Elon, Troy, Kansas and Tulane). The Blue Devils are giving up just an average of 11.5 points per game, while putting up 43.5.

Jamison Crowder has 22 grabs for 296 yards and two scores to pace the offense.

Due to injuries and off-the-field issues Miami has been forced to play true freshman Brad Kaaya earlier than expected. The Californian has thrown for 1,052 yards with 10 TDs, but he’s been intercepted seven times.

The Hurricanes real issues have been on the defensive side of the ball. Opponents are averaging 308 yards per game, and 24.8 points. Last week Nebraska reeled off 343 yards rushing in a 41-31 victory. The Blue Devils are averaging 261 yards per game, and 6.4 yards per attempt.

Prediction: For some reason Miami is a seven-point favorite in this one. I think Duke opens up conference play with a 35-24 win.

Oregon State (3-0) at No. 18 Southern Cal (2-1, 1-0 Pac-12)- Saturday 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN: This is a pretty good way to cap off the college football weekend.

The Trojans are looking to bounce back from a 37-31 upset loss at Boston College, while Oregon State is undefeated with weak schedule thus far.

USC allowed 452 yards rushing to the Eagles two weeks ago. The Beavers top two rushers are averaging more than five yards per carry, but the passing game is what makes the offense go. Quarterback Sean Mannion has completed over 70 percent of his pass attempts in his last two games, and racked up 903 yards passing already this year.

Mannion will be without his top target on Saturday as Victor Bolden (18 grabs for 192 yards) is out with a dislocated pinkie finger.

The Beavers defense is giving up just 113 yards per game on the ground (30th best in the country), but USC is running for an average of 151 yards per game. Buck Allen is leading the way with 318 yards, but had just 31 against BC.

Prediction: USC is a nine-point favorite at home. With a week to lick their wounds, I think USC bounces back with a 35-21 win.

Week 4 picks

The Augusta Chronicle

A second straight 4-3 week moves me to 10-11 on the year with my college football picks. Like I said last weekend’s slate of games didn’t look that appealing on paper, but it was a heck of a football weekend.

This weekend’s schedule should leave us more satisfied than the double-brisket cheeseburger with slab bacon and a fired egg I had on Sunday at Big Tex in Decatur.

No. 5 Auburn (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 20 Kansas State (2-0, 1-0 Big 12)- Thursday 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN: Auburn is the highest-ranked non-conference opponent to come into the Little Apple since second-ranked Penn State defeated Kansas State 17-14 in 1969.

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Through two games the big cats are averaging 43.5 (KSU) and 52 points (AU) per game. Kansas State has done it with a balanced attack as quarterback Jake Waters has thrown for 462 yards and two scores, while running for 193 yards and four TDs.

Auburn’s bread and butter is its rushing attack. The Tigers average 330 yards per game on the ground (sixth best in the NCAA) and 6.7 yards per attempt. Senior Cameron Artis-Payne leads the way with 289 yards and four touchdowns. Nick Marshall has been lethal at quarterback with 122 yards rushing, including a 50-yard TD run against San Jose State, and 151 yards passing.

The passing game will get a boost as Sammie Coates is predicted to return against KSU.

Both teams are giving up over 300 yards of total offense per game, but both have five sacks through two games. Elijah Lee has 2.5 for KSU, and Montravious Adams has a sack to go with four tackles for loss for Auburn. The Tigers will be without suspended safety Jermaine Whitehead, who leads the team with two interceptions.

Prediction: Auburn is a 7.5-point favorite on the road in this one. I think Kansas State is a solid team, and you can never count Bill Snyder out of it, but Auburn is just too good on offense. The Tigers win 42-31.

Iowa (2-1) at Pittsburgh (3-0, 1-0 ACC)- Noon ET on ESPNU: Wake up and get ready for some physical football in this one. Iowa is coming off a 20-17 loss to Iowa State, while the Panthers have been able to run away from everyone on their schedule thus far.

Pitt is averaging 344.3 yards per game (fourth best in the country) on the ground, with an average of 6.4 yards per attempt. The Hawkeyes are giving up just 65.7 yards per game on the ground.

Every game has been a grind for Iowa, including its opener against Northern Iowa. Despite Jake Ruddock playing well at quarterback, the Hawkeyes are averaging just 21.7 points per game this year.

Prediction: The Panthers are favored by a touchdown at home. I think that’s about right and I’m going with a 24-13 win for Pitt over Iowa.

Florida (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 3 Alabama- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS: Florida escaped Kentucky in triple overtime last weekend to remain unbeaten heading into Saturday.

Alabama’s offense has cruised, scoring at least 33 points in every game this season, including 52 last week against Southern Miss. Blake Sims continues to be the team’s starter, with 646 yards passing and four TDs, but Jacob Coker has shown flashes during his playing time with 248 yards passing and a TD.

It doesn’t matter who throws it though, because Amari Cooper will catch it. The Miami native has 33 catches for 454 yards and two TDs this year.

He’ll face his toughest match-up of the year on Saturday in Vernon Hargraves III, who is credited with five pass-break ups already this year, and has allowed just one reception per ESPN Stats and Info. Cooper is going to get receptions, but if Hargraves can eliminate the big play in the passing game it could give Florida’s front seven a chance to slow down ‘Bama’s rushing attack.

The Crimson Tide average 6.2 yards per carry on the ground, while Florida has allowed just 2.4 yards per rush. Dante Fowler has been a big part of the Gators’ defensive success with nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and a forced fumble.

Prediction: Florida didn’t look very good against Kentucky, which has prompted Vegas to make Alabama a 14.5-point favorite at home. I think the Gators’ defense will have some success against Alabama early, but will eventually get worn down because I don’t expect the Florida offense to do much against the Crimson Tide (even with a struggling secondary). I think Alabama wins 27-10.

North Carolina (2-0) at East Carolina (2-1)- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU: If it wasn’t for a handful of missed opportunities against South Carolina, the Pirates could have been 3-0 with a win over a pair of ranked opponents entering Saturday’s clash with UNC. Instead ECU has just one win over a ranked opponent, after hanging on last weekend on the road for a 28-21 win over Virginia Tech.

UNC dropped out of the polls after struggling with San Diego State two weeks ago.

ECU can put up points, and has a legitimate star in quarterback Shan Carden. The Texan has thrown for 1,031 yards already this year and ran for the game-winner last weekend against the Hokies.

UNC can also score, averaging 43.5 points per game, but the Tar Heels gave up 509 yards of total offense against SDSU in a 31-27 win.

Prediction: ECU is a three-point favorite and the Purple Pirates certainly have all the momentum entering this one. That’s why I’m going with UNC. The Tar Heels win this one 42-38.

Mississippi State (3-0) at No. 8 LSU (3-0)- Saturday 7 pm. ET on ESPN: The good news for Mississippi State is they started the year off with three straight wins.

The bad news is Saturday’s SEC opener in Baton Rouge, La. is the first of three-straight games against Top-1o SEC West foes.

After an impressive comeback win over Wisconsin to start the year, LSU hasn’t allowed another point this year in wins over Sam Houston and Louisiana-Monroe. The Tigers have a heck of rushing attack, averaging 226.3 yards per game on the ground.

The Bulldogs have been balanced on offense with an average of 266.3 yards passing and 260.3 yards rushing per game. If they’re going to have a chance against LSU they’ll have to show more than short screens in the passing game to move the ball.

Prediction: LSU is favored by 9.5 points. I don’t think Mississippi State is ready for the Tigers and LSU wins 24-7.

No. 4 Oklahoma (3-0) at West Virginia (2-1)- Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX: This will be the second top-four opponent for the Mountaineers in 2014.

West Virgina rode Clint Trickett’s arm to a 40-37 victory last weekend against Maryland. Trickett threw for 511 yards and four touchdowns.

The Sooners made quick work of Tennessee in a 34-10 victory.

West Virgina is averaging 410 yard passing per game (fifth best in the country) this year, but they haven’t faced a defense as explosive as Oklahoma’s (yeah I said it ‘Bama). OU has six interceptions and nine sacks this year, while giving up just 295.3 yards of total offense per game.

Prediction: I guess because they’re on the road and it’s the Big 12 OU is favored by just 7.5 in this one. While Trickett will be able to put some points up for the home team, I just don’t see West Virginia holding Trevor Knight back at all. Another big win for OU  35-21.

No. 22 Clemson (1-1) at No. 1 Florida State (2-0)- Saturday 8 p.m. ET on ABC: This game has taken on some added intrigue with Jameis Winston being suspended for the first half after failing to realize that he truly does live in a bubble and even the slightest misstep will bring scrutiny and embarrassment to Florida State.

Independent Mail.

Sean Maguire will lead the Seminoles’ offense as Winston is on the sidelines. The redshirt sophomore is just 3 of 5 passing this year for 28 yards, but he did attempt 21 passes last season as the third-string QB. Head coach Jimbo Fisher won’t be afraid to let Maguire take his shots against Clemson, but he’ll also rely heavily on a rushing attack that’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry with a senior offensive line.

Clemson will also likely play two QBs in the game. Senior Cole Stoudt is the starter, but freshman DeShaun Watson has come on fast and could unseat the veteran as the starter by the end of the season.

Clemson gave up 45 points to Georgia in its opener, with 21 points coming in the fourth quarter. If the offense can have some success early against an FSU defense that allows just 4.9 yards per play this year, then Clemson has the athletes on defense to make Maguire uncomfortable.

But here’s the thing- Jimbo Fisher has owned Clemson since arriving in Tallahassee. As the offensive coordinator and the head coach (he still calls the plays), FSU has scored an average of 35 points per game in the seven games, and scored at least 30 points the in the last three, including last year’s 51-14 smack-down.

Prediction: Even with Winston suspended for a half, FSU is still favored by 16.5 points at home. Fisher will put up points on Clemson, but I don’t know if the Seminoles’ defense is 17-points better than Clemson this year. I think FSU makes it 19-straight wins with a 28-24 victory.

Week 1 Picks

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College Football is upon us once again. While the debut of Georgia State as a Fun Belt team was mere morsel of an appetizer,  Thursday it’s time to feast my friends.

There is a heck of a slate of games this weekend, beginning with 14 games on Thursday. I’m picking my top seven match-ups as I’ll do every week throughout the season (unless my honey-do list gets too long at home).

No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 9 South Carolina- 6p.m. ET on SEC Network: The Aggies begin life without Johnny Manziel, and South Carolina looks to find an identity on defense after Jadeveon Clowney. South Carolina has won 17 straight games at home, and Steve Spurrier is 23-1 all-time in openers as a college coach.

The Augusta Chronicle

Sophomore Kenny Hill is the new Texas A&M quarterback. He attempted just 22 passes last season, but Kevin Sumlin has been able to put up big numbers no matter who his signal caller is. South Carolina also has a new starting QB in Dylan Thompson. Unlike Hill, Thompson has plenty of experience, including playing in 10 games last year as he completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 783 yards and four touchdowns.

Last year the Aggies showed no desire in playing defense against anyone giving up 32.2 points per game and an average of 475.8  yards per game. With an offense that features running back Mike Davis, who averaged 5.8 yards per carry en route to a 1,183-yard season, I think the Gamecocks take this one pretty easily.

Prediction: Most Las Vegas books have South Carolina as a 10.5-point favorite. I’m going with South Carolina 45, Texas A&M 24.

Boise State vs. No. 18 Ole Miss- 8 p.m. ET on ESPN: Chris Petersen is gone. The BCS is gone. Thus it will be a long time before Boise State is able to prove to they truly are more than just a flash in the pan in the world of college football. A win over an up-and-coming SEC team would be a good start.

Ole Miss is favored by 11 in most books. That’s largely in part due to the fact that they’re led by senior quarterback Bo Wallace, who threw for 3,346 yards last season. Boise signal caller Grant Hedrick takes over full-time after splitting time with Joe Southwick last year.

The Rebels have a distinct advantage on defense with nine starters returning. Even though Boise State’s 6-2 record against ranked opponents since 2009 is an interesting tidbit, I don’t think this group of Broncos can hang.

Prediction: Look for Ole Miss and head coach Hugh Freeze to make statement in his third season opener. Ole Miss wins 28-14.

West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama- 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN2: This game has an interesting sub-plot. Projected starting quarterbacks Clint Trickett and Jacob Coker were teammates at Florida State in 2012, before Trickett went to West Virginia last year and Coker enrolled at Alabama this summer.

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Trickett has further taken the storyline off the field by telling reporters that his first kiss was actually Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s daughter when they were six.

As far as Vegas is concerned off the field stories are the only intriguing aspects of this Chic-fil-A Kickoff game, with the Crimson Tide as a 27-point favorite.

The Mountaineers spread offense will be a good test for an Alabama secondary that wasn’t up to Saban’s lofty standards a year ago.

Prediction: I think Alabama is one of the best teams in the country, but I’m thinking West Virginia will cover here. I’m going Alabama 35, West Virginia 17.

Arkansas at No. 6 Auburn- 4 p.m. ET on SEC Network: This is a game that Vegas really wants you to put your money on. Auburn starting quarterback Nick Marshall won’t start the game, and no one knows if he’ll play at all thanks to a marijuana citation this off-season.

The Tigers are a 19.5 favorite despite Marshall’s suspension, because Vegas wants you to bet on the Razorbacks. But don’t fall for it. Auburn’s No. 2 QB Jeremy Johnson can play. He was a four-star prospect out of Montgomery, Ala. and was named Mr. Football as a senior.

Arkansas has won three of its last four trips to Jordan-Hare Stadium, but I don’t have much faith in a fourth victory.

Prediction: I think Auburn wins this one in a boat race. I’m taking the Tigers 42-20.

No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia- 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN: This was an awesome game last year, with two veteran quarterbacks battling it out as Clemson held on for a 38-35 win.

This year it looks like another great match-up, just with a pair of inexperienced QBs this time around. Georgia will start senior Hutson Mason who has waited his turn the last three years behind Aaron Murray. Clemson will also go with a senior to start year in Cole Stoudt, but true freshman Deshaun Watson could also see time this season.

Clemson’s defense has the edge in this one with Vic Beasley one of a handful of veteran defenders who returned, but UGA has the X-factor with Todd Gurley.

Prediction: Georgia is favored by 7.5 in this one. I think that the Bulldogs win, but in another thriller 27-21 over Clemson.

No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State- 8p.m. ET on ABC: Jimbo Fisher wants his team to display an attitude of dominance in 2014. Dominance is what Vegas expects in this one with FSU favored by 18.5 points.

The Seminoles are loaded again, and the big stage in Dallas will be nothing new to them. Oklahoma State returns just 10 total starters on offense and defense from a team that appeared in the Cotton Bowl last year.

Prediction: FSU rolls in this one I think. I’m taking the Seminoles 42-16 over the Cowboys.

No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU: This all smash-mouth football fan could ask for. Two big physical teams, with a pair of the best running backs in the country.

Madison.com

Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon ran for 1,609 yards last year and is considered by some to be a darkhorse Heisman candidate. LSU’s top tailback is a 6-foot-1, 224-pound freshman named Leonard Fournette, who has Jameis Winston-hype around him as he makes his collegiate debut in Houston on Saturday.

LSU will rotate quarterbacks with both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris both expected to play. Wisconsin will start Tanner McEvoy, who played safety for the Badgers last year. McEvoy brings a dual-threat element to the quarterback position that could make Wisconsin’s vaunted rushing attack even tougher to defend.

LSU is a five-point favorite in this one, and I think the Tigers athletes on defense get them by the Badgers.

Prediction: I’m going with LSU 21, Wisconsin 14.

Heisman Contenders

The Heisman Trophy is perhaps the hardest award in all of sports to project. Last year I predicted that Braxton Miller would win the award, while Jameis was mentioned in the few more for the road section of my other contenders post.

If he wasn’t out for the year with a shoulder injury, I would probably again tell you that Miller was my preseason favorite to win the award. But unfortunately for Ohio State and Miller he won’t be playing this season, so here are my top preseason Heisman contenders.

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1. Jameis Winston, Florida State QB: Last year Winston became the third Florida State quarterback to win the award as he led the Seminoles to a national title win over Auburn. This season he’ll try to become the first player since Archie Griffin in 1974 and ’75 to win back-to-back Heismans.

This year Winston will face even more scrutiny than he did last year in the midst of a sexual assault allegation that ultimately never led to any charges being filed. Every stone in Winston’s past has been overturned by the media since his breakout year, and his little crab legs incident during baseball season will give voters even more Winston fatigue this year.

Last year Winston was unreal as he completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 4, 057 yards and 40 touchdowns. FSU is again loaded on offense, even with the departures of Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. Winston could very well be just as good as he was a season ago, but it will be hard to statistically do as well. Still if FSU is dominant again in 2014, then voters will have a hard time punishing Winston’s on-filed performance because of what they perceive about him off the gridiron.

AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jason Getz

2. Todd Gurley, Georgia RB: The Junior tailback is a different breed. He led Georgia in rushing despite playing in just 10 games as he battled an ankle injury. In those ten games Gurley averaged six yards per carry, ran for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Quarterback Aaron Murray is gone, and senior Hutson Mason takes over the reigns at quarterback, meaning the heavy lifting will belong to Gurley. Unlike last year, there isn’t much star power in the SEC at quarterback- which means Gurley could become the darling of the country’s most poplular conference if UGA gets off to a great start against Clemson and South Carolina early in the year.

The biggest thing that could hamper Gurley is Mason’s inexperience and lack of a deep threat. Until Mason proves otherwise, teams will likely stack the box assuming the senior QB can’t beat them and they’ll need the extra man power to stop the 6-foot-1, 226-pounder running back.

(Read: Which Heisman contenders will make the first College Football Playoff)

3. Marcus Mariotta, Oregon QB: Marcus Mariotta may have the school record for career rushing yards by a QB with 1,467, but make no mistake this Duck is mostly an aerial threat. The Hawaii native has completed .658 percent of his career pass attempts. Last year he tossed 31 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

Like Gurley, Mariotta suffered an injury last season that prevented him from reaching his full potential, as the QB sprained his MCL midway through the year. Mariotta will have a chance in week two to announce his 2014 Heisman candidacy as Oregon hosts Michigan State in Eugene, Ore.

If the redshirt junior can lead Oregon past Michigan State early in the year he could be in the driver’s seat for the award for much of the year.

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4. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama RB: Anytime you’re the featured back in Nick Saban’s offense at Alabama, you’re in the Heisman discussion. In his first season as the No. 1 running back in Alabama’s offense Yeldon rushed for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns. He averaged six yards per carry and 102.9 yards per game.

Despite not knowing who will start at quarterback, Alabama does have plenty of weapons at wideout that will prevent teams from stacking the box to contain Yeldon. Whether Jacob Coker or Blake Sims are under center, the offense will run through Yeldon.

Teammate Derrick Henry could pose a threat to Yeldon’s candidacy as he will have a large part in the offense this season too. The 241-pound sophomore could also play the role of touchdown vulture in goal-line situations that could make casual voters look past Yeldon’s overall role in the offense.

Associated Press

5. Myles Jack, UCLA LB/RB: Myles Jack is the most intriguing player in college football to me. Last year as a freshman he racked up 75 tackles on defense at linebacker, and ran for seven touchdowns on offense at running back. He was named Pac-12 freshman of the year on both offense and defense.

Jack had seven tackles for loss, one sack, and two interceptions, and averaged seven yards per carry. A defensive player hasn’t won the Heisman since Charles Woodson in 1997. Jack will play mostly linebacker this season, but even if he just 38 total carriers on offense like he did last year it could be enough to get him in the conversation.

In addition to playing primarily on defense Jack’s other uphill battle will be getting the West Coast vote. Jack isn’t the Bruin’s only Heisman candidate as UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is actually a 10/1 favorite to win the award according to Bovada. Jack will also have to try and sway votes away from Mariotta.

The advantage he will have for voters deciding which West Coast candidate is Heisman worthy, is that he will actually go head-to-head with Mariotta this season. Voters will only be able to compare stats and composure between Hundley and Mariotta, but Jack will have the chance to physically stop Mariotta while on defense. A game-changing sack or an interception against the Ducks would not only put UCLA in great position to win the conference, but it could push Jack to the forefront of voter’s minds.

My Football Final Four Picks

For the first time ever, college football will have its very own playoff this season. A 13-member selection committee will pick the top four teams in all the land to compete in semifinal games in the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl.

The two winners will advance to the National Championship game in Dallas on January 12.

Now here’s the hard part, picking those final four teams before a single down has been played. Here are my predicted top four, with a few other teams who could make the committee ponder a little harder.

1. Florida State (2013- 14-0, National Champions): There’s no question who everyone’s number one is. The defending national champions (yeah I said defending Jimbo) are the most talented team in the country, and Jameis Winston is right at the center of that talent.

AP Photo/ Phil Sears

The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner will have to establish a second target at wideout, but he returns senior Rashad Greene (76 catches, nine TDs and 1128 yards) and tight end Nick O’Leary (33 catches, seven TDs and 557 yards). FSU also returns four of five starters along the offensive line.

Defensively replacing Telvin Smith, Timmy Jernigan and Lamarcus Joyner will be no easy task, but the cupboard is far from bare for new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. As long as Jalen Ramsey and Mario Edwards Jr. stay healthy, the Seminoles have plenty of athletes to overcome the inexperience on that side of the ball.

FSU does have a beefed-up non-conference schedule with the Cowboys Kickoff Classic against Oklahoma State on Saturday, a visit from Notre Dame on October 18 and its annual clash with Florida in Tallahassee on November 29.

The Biggest ACC games will be Clemson on September 20, but like Notre Dame and Florida the Tigers have to travel to Doak Campbell Stadium. The glaring ‘trap-game’ on the Seminoles’ schedule looks to be a Thursday night visit to Bobby Petrino and Louisville on October 30.

2. Alabama (2013- 11-2, 7-1 SEC): The Crimson Tide finished last year with two straight losses, lost eight players to the NFL, including quarterback A.J. McCarron, yet I don’t think anyone will argue that Alabama is again one of the best teams in the nation.

AP Photo/ Butch Dill

Physically Jacob Coker is an upgrade from McCarron under center, but the question that needs to be answered is if the Mobile, Ala. native is ready mentally to be Alabama’s quarterback. Coker still hasn’t been named the starter over senior Blake Sims, but all indications from Tuscaloosa are that he will.

New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has plenty of weapons for either QB to utilize. Amari Cooper (45 receptions, four TDs and 736 yards) is fully healthy, and the dynamic duo of running backs T.J. Yeldon (1279 yards rushing, 12 TDs) and Derrick Henry (394 yards rushing and three TDs) will provide plenty of power on the ground.

The secondary was Alabama’s biggest chink in the armor last year (OK that and it’s field goal coverage unit), but a year to marinate and work with DB-whispers Nick Saban and Kirby Smart should make that a much-improved unit. Alabama also has the preferred cure to any ailing secondary, a massive defensive front. Senior nose tackle Brandon Ivory weighs in at 6-foot-4, 308 pounds. Defensive ends Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan are both over 290 pounds, while sophomore A’Shawn Robinson checks in at a measly 6-foot-4 320 pounds.

An SEC West schedule is never a favorable one, but Alabama gets three very big games at home this year, Florida on September 20, Texas A&M October 18 and Auburn on November 29. The Crimson Tide will have to travel to LSU on November 8, and like every year that game could determine the division and league champion.

3. Oklahoma (2013- 11-2, Big 12 Champions): Trevor Knight- not a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl- is the reason for all the Sooners’ preseason love. Yes the fact that Knight’s ah-hah moment happened to come against a team of Alabama’s caliber didn’t slow the hype train.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Knight’s athleticism and development has forced senior Blake Bell to switch to tight end, and given Bob Stoops and company and extra bounce in their step around Norman, Okla. The Sooners return four starters up front on offense, and nine defensive starters.

Last year Oklahoma was susceptible to the run, but if the boys up front hold their position, linebacker Eric Striker (50 tackles, 10.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks) is as good as they come in one-on-one match-ups.

The Sooners will be tested in the third week of the season as Tennessee comes to town on September 13. They then have to turn around and travel to West Virginia the following week.

Oklahoma travels to Texas Tech (November 15) and TCU (October 4), but they host Baylor on November 8 and Oklahoma State December 6. The Red-River Rivalry will take place as always in Dallas on October 11, but with Charlie Strong cleaning house in Austin it looks like the Longhorns won’t be able to catch OU by surprise like they did in last year’s 36-20 thrashing.

4. Michigan State (2013- 13-1, BIG Ten Champions): Speaking of teams who finished 2013 with momentum, the Spartans went 8-0 in the BIG Ten, defeated Ohio State 34-24 in the championship game and took down Stanford 24-20 in the Rose Bowl. All without much offensive firepower… to put it kindly.

Al Goldis/AP

Quarterback Connor Cook showed he can make plays when called upon in the wins over Ohio State and Stanford, but Michigan will rely heavily on running back Jermey Langord (1422 yards and 18 TDs) for its offensive firepower. Cook returns his top target in Tony Lippet (44 catches, two TDs and 613 yards), but Sparty will have to replace three starters along the offensive line.

Week two will go a long way towards determining if Michigan State will be one the last four standing as it travels to Eugene, Orgeon to take on the Ducks. Oregon has struggled with physical defensive fronts like Michigan State in the past, but they’ve never had as polished a passer as Marcus Mariotta before. It may just be week two, but if Oklahoma and FSU go unblemished (Even if they have one loss the SEC champ will get in), then the September 6 match-up could turn out to be an elimination game for a playoff spot.

After the trip out west Michigan State hosts its three toughest opponents the rest of the way with Nebraska (October 4), Michigan (October 25) and Ohio State (November 8) all coming to East Lansing. Michigan State misses Wisconsin in the regular season, but the two could meet in the conference title game.

Just Missed

Oregon (2013- 11-7, 7-2 Pac-12): Like I said the week two match-up is almost an elimination game for Michigan State and Oregon, so if the Ducks win they’re in great position to make the playoff. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is the best player in the country not named Jameis Winston or Todd Gurley.

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Oregon not only hosts Sparty, but they also get Stanford (November 1) and Washington (October 18) at home. Even if Oregon loses to Michigan State, if it beats Stanford, UCLA on the road (October 11) and wins the PAC-12 then the Ducks likely would be in the final four, unless the others go unbeaten.

Ohio State (2013- 12-2, 8-0 BIG Ten): Certainly without Miller the Buckeyes have a large uphill battle ahead of them in 2014, but the good news is that Ohio State still has more talent at the skill positions than the rest of the conference.  New signal caller, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett was four-star recruit in high school despite tearing his ACL his senior season. Urban Meyer’s new athletic defensive front will get a challenge right out of the gate with a trip to Baltimore on Saturday to face Navy’s triple option. Things don’t get much easier for OSU in the non-conference schedule with visits from Virgina Tech (September 6) and Cincinnati (September 27). An offensive line with four new starters and an inexperienced quarterback are why I don’t anticipate the Buckeyes getting by Michigan State in the BIG Ten.

Auburn (2013- 12-2, SEC Champions): The Tigers schedule are the reason I went with Alabama in the SEC. Auburn travels to Kansas State (September 18), Georgia (November 15) and Alabama this season, while hosting LSU (October 4) and South Carolina (October 25). The Tigers will have one thing in 2014 that has been sparse in recent seasons at Jordan-Hare- continuity. Nick Marshall is the first returning QB Gus Malzahn has had in his nine-year college coaching tenure, and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will be the first Auburn DC to return for a second season in three years.

Clemson (2013- 11-2, 7-1 ACC): If Clemson gets by Georgia on Saturday the Tigers have a favorable schedule. Clemson does travel to FSU, but they host Louisville (October 11), N.C. State (October 4) and South Carolina (November 29). It will be tough with a new quarterback, but if Dabo Swinney can defeat UGA again and finally beat South Carolina, then the Tigers deserve to be in the discussion as long as their only loss is at FSU.

National Seed Projections

Tom Kessler

We’re a little more than halfway through the college baseball season.

I got a chance to take in Florida State and Georgia Tech over the weekend for the Tallahassee Democrat (you can read Sunday’s story here, and click the baseball tab to see the rest). I was impressed with both teams, especially Georgia Tech, who is doing a nice job of playing itself back into postseason contention after a slow start.

FSU once again looks like a top-eight national seed for the NCAA Tournament.

Here is my best shot at projecting who else will join FSU as a national seed this summer.

1. Virginia, 30-6 and 14-4 ACC. RPI No. 8: The Cavaliers are off to an incredible start in 2014 with 30 wins. UVA currently boasts the fourth-best ERA in the country with a 2.06. The Cavs have taken two of three from both Miami and Clemson this year. All three weekend starters have an ERA below three runs, and closer Nick Howard (1.56 ERA, 11 saves) has been sensational. The biggest concern for Brian O’Connor’s squad is the offense. UVA averages just 5.6 runs per game. Mike Papi does provide a power presence with a .319 average, 31 RBI and six homers.

2. Texas, 30-8 and 9-3 Big 12. RPI No. 3: Texas split its opening series with California, and dropped an early series with Kansas, but the Longhorns have been on a tear lately. UT swept Oklahoma over the weekend and has a big series against TCU this weekend. The Longhorns have taken 2 of 4 from Rice this season, and defeated Houston in their only match-up. Texas has the fifth-best ERA in the country at 2.12. In 1,221 at-bats this season, Texas’ opponents have recorded just one home run and 43 extra-base hits. Offensively Texas averages five runs per game, but has scored at least seven runs in four straight games.

3. South Carolina, 28-8 and 8-7 SEC. RPI No. 2: South Carolina ripped off 16 straight wins to start the season, but is in a bit of a tailspin right now. The Gamecocks dropped 2 of 3 to Florida over the weekend and lost 4-1 to Charleston Southern on Tuesday. Pitching is USC’s strength, with a team ERA of 1.88 (good for second-best in the country), and all three weekend starters have at least five wins. In half of the Gamecocks’ losses their opponents have scored four runs or less. Only Grayson Greiner has more than 23 RBI for USC. If they don’t find some more offense soon it could be short postseason run for the Gamecocks.

4. Florida State, 28-8, 14-4 ACC. RPI No. 4: Florida State dropped its first weekend series of the year this weekend in Atlanta, losing two of three to Georgia Tech just days after Florida completed its season sweep over the Seminoles. Still FSU has an impressive resume with two wins at Clemson, two at home against Miami and an 11-4 record overall on the road. DJ Stewart has been a monster this year with a .374 average, 30 RBI and seven homeruns. John Nogowski has developed as a solid run-producer too for the Seminoles with 36 RBI for a team averaging 7.3 runs per game. Luke Weaver is an electric Friday night starter, but if Brandon Leibrandt (knee injury) doesn’t return soon then starting pitching could become a real worry for FSU. Gage Smith (4-0, 1.17 ERA) is as good a set-up man as there is in college baseball and it will take a lot to get to closer Jameis Winston (1.56 ERA, five saves).

5. Oregon State, 27-7 and 11-4 PAC-12. RPI No.24: Oregon State dropped a pair of early games to Nebraska and Michigan State, but didn’t lose consecutive games again until Arizona State took two of three on March 22 and 23. Starter Ben Wetzler is 6-1 in his seven starts with a 0.69 ERA (fourth best in the NCAA). The Beavers as a staff have an ERA of  2.20 (8th best in the country) and have allowed just one homerun. The duo of Dylan Davis (.296 avg., three HRs and 40 RBI) and Michael Conforto (.395 avg., two HRs and 38 RBI) power the offense. Remaining weekend sets against Oregon and Washington will go a long way towards determining the Beavers seeding.

6. Cal Poly, 31-5 and 8-1 Big West. RPI No. 12: In the footsteps of Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, Cal Poly belongs in the national seed discussion after its start in the Big West. Cal Poly has series victories over Kansas State, UCLA, California and UC Santa Barbara (RPI No. 33). As a team the Mustangs are hitting .301 with an on-base percentage of .391. Five players have driven in 26 runs or more. Starting pitchers Casey Bloomquist (8-0, 1.58 ERA), Matt Imhof (7-2, 2.07 ERA) and Justin Calomeni (7-1, 3.40 ERA) have been more than good thus far. A three-game series beginning on Thursday with Cal State Fullerton (18-13) could firmly put the Mustangs in the top eight.

7. Florida, 24-13 and 9-6 SEC. RPI No. 1: The Gators have been a hard team to figure out in 2014. UF dropped an early series to Miami, and three of four in a three-team round robin with Florida Gulf Coast and Illinois. They bounced back with a series win at Texas A&M, but then dropped a series to Kentucky. The Gators are now trending upwards once again after completing the season sweep of Florida State, sweeping LSU and taking two of three from South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.. Florida has used 12 different starting pitchers so far this season. Logan Shore (3-2, 1.67 ERA) is the only one to make more than five starts. UF as a team has an ERA of 3.44. Offensively Taylor Gushue carries the load for a team that averages just 4.5 runs per game with a .338 average, 32 RBI and four homeruns. The two biggest remaining series for UF are at Alabama May 2-4 and at home against Vanderbilt the following weekend. The Gators can’t afford to drop to both of those three-game sets if they’re going to be a top-eight team, even with their strength of schedule and RPI.

8. Louisiana-Lafayette, 34-4 and 14-1 Sun Belt. RPI No. 7: What a start for the Rajin Cajuns. After dropping their season opener ULL won 10 straight, including a mid-week win at LSU and taking two of three from Alabama. The team’s .327 batting average is the fourth-best in the country and second baseman Jace Conrad’s 42 RBI put him in a tie for the the ninth-most in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette’s weekend rotation is a combined 17-2 with three complete games. With an RPI that will continually drop due to Sun Belt-play, ULL has to avoid dropping any remaining weekend series and mid-week games to remain a top-eight seed. A more-than-feasible request with its remaining schedule.

Others in the hunt: Ole Miss (29-9, RPI No. 5), Houston (26-9, RPI No. 6), Washington (24-7, RPI No. 13), LSU (27-9-1, RPI No. 21), and Vanderbilt (27-10, RPI No. 14).

*Stats and RPI rankings are as of April 15.

Bo Jackson tells two-sport athletes to focus on one sport

USA Today Sports

Alongside Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson is perhaps the most famous two-sport athlete in the modern era.

Associated Press

On Tuesday Jackson, who played in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders and in the MLB for the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and California Angels, told CSNchicago.com that Russell Wilson and other two-sport athletes should stick to just one sport in this day and age.

Jackson is at spring training in Arizona as a special ambassador to the White Sox, said he would give the same advice to his son if he wanted to play two sports professionally.

“Twenty-five or 30 years ago when I did it, I’m not trying to say anything negative about other athletes, but the talent pool wasn’t that deep,” he said. “In this day in age, with all the high-tech training, computer-engineered workouts and the proper food and diet, if you try to concentrate on two sports, I guarantee you’re going to ride the bench in both, because the talent is that deep. Stick to whatever sport you’re comfortable with and let everything else go.”

His comments were in response to Wilson spending time with the Texas Rangers this spring after winning the Super Bowl with Seattle, but can also be applied to fellow Alabamian Jameis Winston.

Phil Sears/AP

Winston, who is from the same hometown as Jackson (Bessemer, Ala.), is following up his Heisman Trophy season on the gridiron with a second year on the diamond at Florida State.

So far this season Winston has made seven appearances on the mound, recording three saves, striking out 13 while walking just one and posting an ERA of 0.84. At the plate he’s 3-for-15 (.188) with two RBI and a double.

Winston is expected to only miss one spring football practice for the defending national champions. That practice will be Saturday as the top-ranked FSU baseball team travels to Clemson for a three-game series.

“This is the funnest part of my life right now,” Winston said in a Tallahassee Democrat article. “Because I’m busy. And the busier I can get the better it is. I enjoy doing both, going back and forth. Obviously, it’s hard on the body. But it’s fun. I’m young and I’m pretty sure I can make it.”

Only time will tell if Winston should head Jackson’s advice, but for now things are working out well for the two-sport star.