The Blitz: Who should be No. 2?

As T.J. Yeldon ran into the Tiger Stadium end zone, his arms outstretched as he screamed into the Baton Rouge night, the consensus was resoundly confirmed.

Alabama is the nation’s No. 1 team. The only question is, who should be No. 2?

It’s Oregon that is second in the AP Top 25 and the Coaches’ Poll, while Kansas State holds that spot in the BCS Standings and Notre Dame is close behind, sitting fourth in all three rankings.

So how do we sort out the contenders?

For all its offense –the Ducks are averaging 561.2 yards and 54.3 points per game – the defense is shaky, having allowed 392.5 yards in Pac-12 play. It’s dangerous living, but with the talent at Chip Kelly’s disposal, it has yet to cost Oregon.

The Wildcats have the Heisman Trophy leader in quarterback Collin Klein and they make few mistakes with 24 turnovers gained to two lost, and its tied for first in FBS committing just 3.2 penalties per game. But six of their eight games have come against teams ranked 47th or lower in total defense, four of which are 83rd or worse.

Notre Dame has faced the toughest schedule of the three, ranking 16th in Jeff Sagarin’s ratings, while the Wildcats are 33rd and the Ducks sit 47th. If they all go unbeaten, the Irish will have five wins over Top 25 teams with an average ranking of 14 compared to 16 for Kansas State and 17.4 for Oregon.

The Irish do boast the most elite defense of the three. But are you willing to put your faith in that 89th-ranked passing offense?

Offense. Discipline. Defense. Each team makes its own strong case but if we’re pitting the Ducks, Wildcats and Irish against each other in a hypothetical round-robin tournament to vie for the No. 2 ranking, is there any real debate? It’s hard to imagine either team being able to hang with the Ducks. They’re just too deep offensively with Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas and nine players who have at least three touchdowns on the season.

Oregon’s convincing win after convincing win – the Ducks are winning by 31.4 points a game – may not carry the same weight as Alabama walking into Death Valley and leaving with an unbeaten season intact. But like the Tide, Oregon has the look of a team deserving a shot at a crystal football.  

The Tajh Boyd Dilemma

Tajh Boyd’s recent numbers have bordered on the stuff of Xbox and PlayStation. The Clemson quarterback has thrown five touchdown passes in two consecutive games, along with 772 yards in that span and sits fourth in the nation in passing efficiency (170.1).

So why isn’t he on the Heisman Trophy radar?

He wasn’t bad in Clemson’s lone defeat, throwing for 237 yards, three touchdowns and a pick in against Florida State. But the fact is he didn’t lift his team in that spotlight game, the likes of which do not come often in ACC play, and his Tigers haven’t beaten a ranked team. His nine interceptions do not help his cause, either.

But Boyd creates a dilemma for Heisman voters like myself: Is dominating in a conference that’s trailing in the BCS hierarchy enough to merit consideration?

As No. 13 Clemson continues to play itself into a potential BCS at-large berth – if things don’t break the Tigers’ way to make the ACC title game – Boyd may prove too prolific to ignore. He’ll also have his chance to make a statement in the regular-season finale against South Carolina, but for now, Boyd is playing from behind and that setback in Clemson’s biggest game and the ACC’s image are to blame.

Heisman Watching (a ballot in progress)

1. QB Collin Klein, Kansas State, Sr.: He had 309 total yards and pushed his season TD total to 29 in all, but the frontrunner missed the last quarter and a half with an undisclosed injury. His status for next week vs. TCU is uncertain, making it worth noting that only two players in the last 50 years (Charles White in 1979 and Charlie Ward in ’93) have missed a game and won the award.

2. RB Kenjon Barner, Oregon, Sr.: The nation’s leader with 19 rushing TDs and second at 143.9 yards per game, Barner just torched USC for a school-record 321 yards and five touchdowns. Like Montee Ball with Russell Wilson last season, Barner is hurt by the fact that a teammate (De’Anthony Thomas) was seen as the Ducks’ top contender. He has asserted himself, but is there enough time left to win?

3. QB AJ McCarron, Alabama, Sr.: He wasn’t at his sharpest early on in the Crimson Tide’s biggest game of the season but he stepped up when it mattered most. McCarron completed four his last five passes, including the game-winning touchdown to T.J. Yeldon. He’s one of only two quarterbacks in the top 100 in pass efficiency to not throw an interception this season.

Ups and downs

Up: UCLA

Johnathan Franklin became the program’s all-time leading rusher, eclipsing Gaston Green’s previous record of 3,731 yards and helped the Bruins move into first place in the Pac-12 South in a rout of Arizona. With 111 points over the last two games, UCLA is looking strong with a date with rival USC looming.

Down: Mississippi State

Eight weeks into the season, the Bulldogs ranked ninth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 14.4 points per game. But since then they’ve proceeded to give up 86 combined points to Alabama and Texas A&M. It gets no easier this weekend as Mississippi State faces LSU in Death Valley.

Up: Penn State

At 6-3, the Nittany Lions would now be bowl eligible, if they were able to play in the postseason. Coach Bill O’Brien has worked wonders with this team, especially after an 0-2 start and while they’re in for a stiff test this week with a trip to Nebraska, eight wins isn’t out of the question.

Down: West Virginia

Remember when the Mountaineers were part of the BCS title conversation? That’s ancient history. After a 5-0 start, they’ve lost three straight games, the last two of which have come at home. That maligned defense, which ranks 111th in FBS, will be in for a workout with back-to-back games against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

Up: Miami

The Hurricanes are atop the Coastal Division and on pace to play in the ACC Championship Game for the first time. The possibility of another self-imposed bowl ban could spoil the party, but the future is bright. Case in point: freshman RB Duke Johnson, who looks like the most exciting player Miami has had since Larry Coker’s days.

Down: Boise State

San Diego dealt Boise State just its second home loss in 73 games and ended any slim hopes the Broncos were clinging to of returning to a BCS game. But in positive news, at least they remain in the mix for a Mountain West title before bolting for the Big East next season.

Telling stats

9 — Texas brought an end to a nine-game losing streak against teams ranked in the AP Top 25, sinking Texas Tech 31-22 in Lubbock. The Longhorns’ last such win came Oct. 16, 2010 vs. Nebraska.

56 and 62 — The 62 points allowed by USC against Oregon were the most a Trojans team has ever allowed, edging out the 56 they gave up last Oct. against Stanford. Expect the heat to be on defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, Lane’s dad.

150 Stanford blanked Colorado and its 116th-ranked offense, marking the first time that the Buffaloes had been shut out at home since Nov. 15, 1986, a span of 150 games.

They said it

“To see the game Teddy had, five touchdowns. What is unbelievable about Teddy is that he is just able to find open receivers.”
–Louisville coach Charlie Strong on QB Teddy Bridgewater, who threw a career-high five TDs as the Cardinals beat Temple to reach 9-0 for the first time.

 “I had no clue about the records. It’s pretty unbelievable to be mentioned in the same category as Terry Bradshaw. It’s pretty cool.”
–Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron, who tied Bradshaw for fourth in school history with his seventh 300-yard game.

“I always tell them, ‘You’re the firemen. Go put the fire out.’ I don’t care how bad it’s blazing. Go put it out.'”
–Florida coach Will Muschamp on his defense, which stopped Missouri on six straight drives that ended in Gators territory to keep their SEC East hopes alive.

Crystal ball

No. 10 Florida State at Virginia Tech

The kings of Thursday night? While the Hokies have won 19 of their 25 games played on that day of the week, they’re coming off a double-digit loss to Miami last Thursday (their fourth by double digits this season) and since 2007 they’re just 5-3 in Lane Stadium at night. It remains a hostile environment but Virginia Tech can’t keep up with E.J. Manuel and Co.

Prediction: Seminoles 31, Hokies 17

No. 15 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama

There’s little doubt the Aggies have a star on their hands in freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who leads the SEC with 102.4 rushing yards per game and is closing in on 1,000 for the season. But he struggled against LSU, throwing three interceptions and was held to 27 yards on the ground. He’ll be in for similar troubles against the nation’s top defense in Tuscaloosa.

Prediction: Crimson Tide 38, Aggies 20

No. 11 Oregon State at No. 14 Stanford

Both teams remain in the mix to represent the North in the Pac-12 title game, but will have to get through each other and Oregon to make it happen. The Beavers haven’t won at Palo Alto since 2006 and while they boast one of the FBS’ top rush defenses, the Cardinal have the weapons in RB Stepfan Taylor and dual-threat QB Kevin Hogan to keep that drought intact.

Prediction: Cardinal 24, Oregon State 20