If Florida State were to run the table for a second consecutive season and win another national championship, it will be in large part to the play of Heisman Trophy quarterback Jameis Winston. That much is obvious.
They’ll also, in large part, thank Sean Maguire as well, the Seminoles’ quarterback who helped lead them to what might turn out to be FSU’s most important win of the season.
No matter where you look at the most recent college football poll, a myriad of teams have had to rely on the play of not just one quarterback to help keep either conference championship or national title hopes alive, something that has been prevalent this season more than any year in college football in some time. While Florida State’s run to the top in 2013 was steered by Winston from the word go last season, the sophomore signal-caller had to sit out the Seminoles’ Sept. 20 game against Clemson – FSU’s greatest challenger to the ACC crown – for shouting a sexual obscenity on the Florida State campus. Even with “accident forgiveness” somewhat increased due to the presence of the College Football Playoff this season, a loss against the Tigers – given the Seminoles’ relatively weak schedule going forward – might prove to be fatally deleterious to any national championship dream for the Garnet and Gold.
In stepped Maguire, the high school wing T quarterback in New Jersey who received offers from Alabama, Maryland and NC State out of Seton Hall Prep. Although his performance that night would have been on par with Winston’s average to subpar games last season, Maguire made the plays when needed, including finding Rashad Greene for a 74-yard score to tie the game at 17 with six minutes left in regulation. Yes, a Clemson fumble while in a position to win the game (set up by a Maguire interception) and a fourth-down failure in overtime gift-wrapped a Seminoles victory, but Maguire’s poise in a big stage was key in keeping Florida State’s, and the ACC’s, chances of a national championship alive.
Ohio State’s national championship dreams seemed derailed before the first kick of the season when Heisman candidate Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury just two weeks before the season opener against Navy. J.T. Barrett became the man under center for the Buckeyes, and even though he struggled in the season-opening win over Navy, that paled in comparison to the difficulties he had during Ohio State’s shock defeat at home to Virginia Tech (9-for-29 passing, TD, three INT). But it can be argued that no quarterback in the country since Week 3 has been playing better than Barrett, who has thrown 17 touchdowns to only one interception in the last four games, while throwing for over 250 yards in each of those games. What once looked like a possibly lost season for the Buckeyes might turn into a championship season, especially if Barrett can play with that same poise in the upcoming titanic tilt at Michigan State on Nov. 8.
Sadly for UCLA, its national title hopes were dashed with back-to-back home losses to Utah and Oregon. Before that, the Bruins were considered a legitimate national title contender, with the main reason being the play of junior quarterback Brett Hundley. After uneven performances in the first two games, UCLA’s aspirations of reaching their lofty goals seemed dashed in Arlington, Tex., when Hundley suffered an injury to his non-throwing (left) elbow in the first quarter against Texas. In stepped Jerry Neuheisel – the son of former UCLA quarterback and head coach Rick Neuheisel – to save the day, going 23-for-30 for 178 yards and two scores, including the game-winning 33-yard touchdown to Jordan Payton with three minutes left to give the Bruins a 20-17 victory. Long admired by his teammates for his personality, as well as his upstanding behavior after seeing his dad go through the wringer before being relieved of his coaching duties after the 2011 season, Jerry was carried off the field by his teammates, producing one of the more memorable images of the 2014 college football season so far.
Other backup quarterbacks have also played big roles this season among teams currently ranked in the Top 25, including Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, the true freshman who was so excellent in the Tigers’ loss to Florida State (19-for-28, 266 yards, rushing TD) that he earned the starting job after that week. Watson is currently sidelined due to a broken finger. Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici came in after a foot injury suffered by Taylor Kelly – the second team All-Pac-12 quarterback selection from last season – and led Arizona State to two wins in three games, all against ranked opponents, including completing the Hail Mary pass to Jaelen Strong to defeat USC at the Coliseum on Oct. 4. Kelly is slated to start this week’s road tilt against Washington. An honorable mention goes to Baylor’s Seth Russell, who threw for five touchdowns vs. Northwestern State when starter Bryce Petty missed the game due to a back injury. Ok, maybe throwing touchdowns against Northwestern State is something you could have done as well, but Russell did show Baylor fans that life after Petty, a senior, may be just as rosy.
No matter in a starting role or in relief, all of the pollsters on The A Lot of Sports Talk‘s College Football Top 25 are ready to put out their best performances when needed. Once again, let’s welcome our weekly sextet: T.J. Basalla (super fan, marketing professional, WJPZ Alumni Association President), Pavan Sandhu Eckhart (Texas A&M graduate, Sales Rep at Ferring Pharmaceuticals in Dallas), Basil Mitchell (former TCU and Green Bay Packers RB), Sandy Weintraub (super fan, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards at the University of Oregon), Adesina Koiki (Football Writers Association of America member/voter, A Lot Of Sports Talk editor-in-chief) and an anonymous assistant coach who once coached at a Division I-FBS school. If you have any comments and/or complaints, write them below on the Facebook window or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you, as always.
I know Kentucky just got trucked by LSU, but the ‘Cats are still a decent team, and they will have a rowdy crowd at Commonwealth ready for the Bulldogs. (T.J. Basalla)
Many people were left impressed by Notre Dame’s play against the Seminoles. Many of those same people came way from the Saturday night dogfight in Tallahassee not feeling as positive about Florida State. Umm, remind me who won the game? (Adesina Koiki)
It’s not a rare sight to see an SEC defense good enough to carry a team to the national title. To have that defense reside in Oxford, Miss.? Now that is a change-up! (Adesina)
Marcus Mariota’s career touchdown-to-interception ratio now stands at 82 to 10 – including 19 scores and zero picks this season. (Sandy Weintraub)
That K-State road win looks better and better. (T.J.)
The 59-0 win over the Aggies is a nightmare for all of us who don’t want to see two SEC West schools in the Playoff. The Tide are good, but still plenty of tough games ahead. (Sandy)
Oh boy, we’ve made them angry, you guys. (T.J.)
Hey! A complete game from Sparty! How about that? (T.J.)
Even with their loss to Baylor, it seems the Horned Frogs keep getting better every week. (Pavan Sandhu Eckhart)
Two big Pac-12 road tests (Arizona State, USC) stand between the Irish and an almost certain spot in the Playoff after a valiant effort in Tallahassee. (Sandy)
Can we PLEASE put the brakes on the “Notre Dame in the Playoff” talk simply because they almost beat Florida State? Their strength of schedule is still a joke compared to SEC/Big XII/Pac-12 one-loss teams, and that road game in Tempe has “danger” written all over it. (T.J.)
Can the Bulldogs hit the fast-forward button and just head to Atlanta and await the SEC West champion in the Georgia Dome? (Adesina)
Somehow Bill Snyder’s teams seem to sneak up on the country every year. Here we are in late October, and there they are near the top of the rankings again. (Sandy)
I’m chalking up Baylor’s loss in Morgantown as more of a sign of strength of the top of the Big XII rather than a sign of weakness on Baylor’s behalf. (T.J.)
Are they really missing Braxton Miller that much? Watch out next season, Big Ten fans. (Pavan)
Get me to Nov. 8 in East Lansing. (Sidenote: HOW DID THIS TEAM LOSE AT HOME BY TWO TOUCHDOWNS TO VIRGINIA TECH?!?! HOW?!?!!?). (T.J.)
If they keep this up, the Territorial Cup…
…could be for the Pac-12 South. Who saw that coming at the beginning of the season? (Sandy)
ECU has the Thursday night spotlight – albeit on ESPNU instead of ESPN – when it hosts Connecticut. It’s a good chance to see the squad that’s the frontrunner to make one of the prestigious January 1 bowl games from a non-power conference. (Adesina)
I can’t wait to see USC and the Utes face off this weekend. (Pavan)
Quietly setting up for a really solid season and another trip to Indy. (T.J.)
Big Game Bob! (T.J.)
My comment on East Carolina isn’t going to make too many fans in Huntington, WV too happy, as The Herd just have to keep mowing down their opponents and hope ECU stumbles along the way in The American. (Adesina)
The Trojans already have a pair of impressive conference road victories (Stanford, Arizona). Can they chalk up a third in Salt Lake City? (Adesina)
Not only is freshman phenom quarterback Deshaun Watson out another couple of weeks with a finger injury, his replacement, Cole Stoudt, is battling through a left shoulder sprain. Given that, the Tigers’ defense has been playing out of its mind, and has done so all season long. (Adesina)
Most people would have thought the Florida State transfer at quarterback who would get the most attention in 2014 would be Jacob Coker, at Alabama. However, it’s Clint Trickett, at West Virginia, who’s getting the playing time – as well as the praise for his good play – in leading a nationally-ranked team. (Adesina)
Almost 55 years to the day from when eventual Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon’s 89-yard punt return led No. 1 LSU to a 7-3 victory over No. 3 Ole Miss at Tiger Stadium, a third-ranked Rebels team comes to Baton Rouge on Saturday. Enjoy going down memory lane with this video from that 1959 game. Narration from former college football play-by-play man Ron Franklin. (Adesina)
The Bruins finally broke their hex at Strawberry Canyon, winning against California in Berkeley for the first time since 1998. A road trip to Boulder shouldn’t trouble UCLA too much this week, but no game has been a gimme thus far this season for Jim Mora’s charges. (Adesina)
Others receiving votes:
Duke (9 points), Oklahoma State (8), Minnesota (3), Colorado State (1)
* – To break ties, we used a three-step criteria; 1) higher number of first-place votes, 2) higher number of ballots (out of six) the teams appeared in, 3) highest single ranking by an individual pollster (e.g. if Team A and Team B are tied cumulatively and appeared in all six polls, but Team A’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 7 and Team B’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 9, Team A wins tiebreaker)
[Cover photo (Sean Maguire/Jameis Winston) courtesy of Ronald Martinez/Getty Images]