May 20, 2024

Week 11 brought bigger news off the field than on it, as Texas A&M fired coach Jimbo Fisher on Sunday despite having to pay a $76 million buyout. And of course, the Michigan sign-stealing saga reached a head with the suspension of coach Jim Harbaugh before the Wolverines’ game with Penn State.

On the field, a pair of unbeaten teams — Georgia and Washington — posted impressive wins, while two more players tried to force their way into the Heisman Trophy conversation.

Our college football reporters look at the fallout from all the action in this week’s takeaways.

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State follow QBs in opposite directions

It’s not exactly breaking news to suggest a team is only as good as its quarterback, but Week 11 reinforced just how essential having a genuine star at the position actually is.

Where would LSU be this season without Jayden Daniels‘ heroics?

How many big throws has Michael Penix Jr. made in leading Washington into playoff contention?

Is there a more significant development this season than Jalen Milroe‘s transition from liability to foundation for Alabama?

But if you want to understand the true significance of elite QB play — and the often fickle nature of the position — look no further than Florida State and its former head coach.

The Seminoles are 10-0, carried back from the brink of the abyss by a quarterback no one believed in. Jordan Travis has done it all for FSU over the past three years, and his emergence has almost perfectly mirrored Florida State’s return to glory.

Meanwhile, Jimbo Fisher was fired by Texas A&M on the heels of a 6-4 start after his last, best hope at the QB position, Conner Weigman, went down with a season-ending injury in Week 3.

In Week 11, Travis fueled Florida State’s 27-20 win over rival Miami for his third straight victory over the Hurricanes.

In Week 11, Fisher was forced to start Jaylen Henderson against Mississippi State. It was Fisher’s fifth different starting QB in the past three seasons.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when Fisher was considered the preeminent quarterback whisperer in college football. He turned JaMarcus Russell, Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel and Jameis Winston into first-round NFL draft picks. Then, suddenly, the magic was gone. Fisher saw one QB recruit after another run into off-field issues, transfer, flame out or never emerge. He left FSU with a black hole at the position — one worsened by Willie Taggart’s inability to even sign a high school quarterback for two years — and headed to Texas A&M expecting to find greener pastures.

Instead, Fisher’s best years at A&M came with the QB he inherited, Kellen Mond, and none of his recruits — Zach Calzada, Haynes King, James Foster, Eli Stowers — amounted to much of anything.

Fisher’s fate was effectively sealed because he could never find a quarterback.

Meanwhile, Florida State’s salvation came from a castoff from Louisville, a guy Taggart didn’t think could play the position. Travis nearly quit football altogether in 2021, only to be salvaged by Mike Norvell, Kenny Dillingham and McKenzie Milton, who all saw something he didn’t even see in himself.

Fisher’s run of bad luck, bad evaluation and bad development ended with his termination.

Florida State’s good luck, bold vision and long-term investment might end with a playoff berth.

It’s amazing what the right QB can do to change the fates of powerful coaches and blue-blood programs. — David Hale

Georgia is never the hunted, always the hunter

Kirby Smart has done an incredible job of building Georgia’s program through recruiting, development of players and creating the kind of competition on the practice field that leads to quality depth few teams can match.

But after two straight national championships — really, after one, for that matter — most teams and players get complacent. It’s human nature to enjoy success by basking in it rather than using it to drive you harder.

But the more the Bulldogs win, the hungrier they become.

With their winning streak at 27 straight games, they can tie the SEC record on Saturday with a triumph at Tennessee. When Alabama won 28 in a row under the legendary Bear Bryant from 1978 to 1980, and certainly as the years have gone by, a lot of people thought that record that might never be broken. After all, it has stood for more than 40 years. Alabama also won 28 in a row on the field from 1991 to 1993, but it later had to forfeit eight wins and a tie in 1993 because of NCAA sanctions.

Making the Bulldogs’ run even more impressive is that they’ve lost a ton of talent to the NFL over the past two years yet just keep steamrollering along. They’ve had a staggering 24 players selected in the draft during the past two years, but the loss of such elite personnel hasn’t translated on the field.

Seeing tight end Brock Bowers return in a 52-17 rout of Ole Miss was especially revealing. Smart said a lot of people had advised Bowers to sit out the rest of the season, get even healthier and enter the NFL draft. Bowers is one of the top pro prospects in college football, and he returned to action just 26 days after having surgery on his ankle.

Smart said Bowers was even more hell-bent on returning the more people told him he should sit out the rest of the campaign, to “prove them wrong.”

It’s the same with this Georgia team. It’s never enough, and real or perceived, the Dawgs are always trying to prove people wrong. — Chris Low

Washington coach Kalen DeBoer hits 100-win milestone

Kalen DeBoer has only entered the national consciousness in, really, the past year and a half. In his brief time in Seattle, the Huskies have gone 21-2, and they currently own the nation’s second-longest winning streak at 17 games. This comes on the heels of an impressive two-year stint as the coach at Fresno State (12-6), the first season of which was soured by the pandemic.

Not a bad start to a coaching career, right?

Well, actually, DeBoer has been winning games — a lot of games — as a head coach dating back to when Reggie Bush and Vince Young were still in school. His five-year run as the coach at NAIA Sioux Falls from 2005 to 2009 was one of the most dominant stretches in the sport’s history. The Cougars went 67-3 in the span with four national titles.

Saturday’s win against Utah, the two-time defending Pac-12 champion, was DeBoer’s 100th as a head coach. The 10 years he spent climbing the coaching ladder seem absurdly long in hindsight, but there is no question now that he is one of the best coaches in the sport and, at 49, is positioned to become one of the faces of college coaching.

“He’s just a guy that everybody attracts to and everybody trusts because of the person he is,” Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said. “He’s the same guy every day, and he leads us very well. He continues to make sure that he puts the person over the player. He always makes sure that as a person, we’re good — we’re good in our daily lives and everybody has lives outside of football.”

That kind of perspective can feel rare in college football. When asked how winning game No. 100 compares with No. 1, DeBoer said he appreciates it more and more.

“I think realizing that the moment that these guys are in right now is what’s special to me, and that getting these wins and the experiences that they’re going to have, the memories that they’re going to have that last forever — the stories they’re going to be able to tell,” DeBoer said. “Hopefully, we’re far from being where this all ends, but I think I have appreciation for that and try to give them a dose of that every once in a while. But we’re trying to keep the pedal down to where we can realize the real goals that we have for this season.”

It doesn’t get easier. Washington will travel to No. 10 Oregon State on Saturday before ending the season with the Apple Cup against Washington State in Seattle. Then a likely rematch with Oregon awaits in the Pac-12 title game, where a College Football Playoff spot could be on the line. — Kyle Bonagura

Michigan remains undeterred by drama, distractions

The opinions about Michigan and the severity of the alleged sign-stealing operation led by former staff member Connor Stalions are both strong and wide-ranging. Did the Big Ten overstep its authority and set a problematic precedent? Did commissioner Tony Petitti go far enough with his discipline for coach Jim Harbaugh? How much should the sign stealing take away from Michigan’s remarkable turnaround since the end of the 2020 season? These questions and others have sparked vastly different and entrenched positions.

But some things aren’t really up for debate, including the ability of Michigan’s players to set aside the drama and distractions that have overwhelmed the program, even long before anyone outside of Schembechler Hall knew the name Connor Stalions. I wrote about this in August, after visiting on campus with Michigan players as well as university president Santa Ono and athletic director Warde Manuel. We discussed Harbaugh’s NFL flirtations, co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss’ mysterious firing, the brief return and departure of Shemy Schembechler and other things that could have sidetracked Michigan but didn’t.

None of those incidents had more potential to impact Michigan on the field than what began Friday afternoon, when the Big Ten suspended Harbaugh while the team was en route to play at Penn State. When the Wolverines arrived at Beaver Stadium without Harbaugh, they didn’t know whether he would be allowed to be on the sideline. Sources with the team described the players as “locked in” and “pissed,” but how would they perform? The Wolverines responded with a clinical takedown of Penn State, leaning on their defense and run game without completing a pass for the final 36-plus minutes (and only attempting one, a play nullified by a PSU penalty).

They didn’t dominate the line of scrimmage the way they did last year against Penn State, but after back-to-back Wolverines touchdown drives in the season quarter, it never felt like the Nittany Lions would come back and win. Michigan did not commit a turnover and was penalized just twice through the first three quarters. The game’s notable coaching errors came from the Penn State sideline, not the one acting head coach Sherrone Moore patrolled.

“We’ve been going through a lot lately,” Michigan running back Blake Corum said, “but it’s only brought us closer together. I love my brothers. It was a good job today.”

Michigan should learn Friday whether Harbaugh will miss its final two regular-season games (versus Maryland and Ohio State) or return to the sideline on Saturday. But whatever happens off the field, the Wolverines likely won’t be fazed by it. Could they lose a game? Sure. But don’t expect it to be because they aren’t focused. — Adam Rittenberg



Marvin Harrison Jr. strikes again with his 2nd TD

Marvin Harrison Jr. scores another touchdown for Ohio State, giving the Buckeyes a 14-0 lead over Michigan State.

There’s little doubt Marvin Harrison Jr. will be in New York on Dec. 9, the night the 2023 Heisman Trophy will be handed out. But the Ohio State wide receiver is making a compelling case that he should be the first Buckeye to win the award since Troy Smith in 2006 and break the program’s tie with Notre Dame for the most Heisman winners (seven).

For the second straight year, Harrison went off against Michigan State. A season after catching seven passes for 131 yards and three touchdowns at Spartan Stadium, Harrison was even better Saturday night at Ohio Stadium, registering seven catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns plus a 19-yard scoring run for good measure as the Buckeyes rolled 38-3. In the process, Harrison tied David Boston’s program record for the most 100-yard receiving games at 13.

Harrison enters the final two weeks of the regular season, when Ohio State plays Minnesota and at Michigan, with 59 receptions for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is the first wideout in program history to have multiple 1,000-yard seasons after catching 77 passes for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore.

Harrison is getting revved up at precisely the right time and will give Michael Penix Jr., Jayden Daniels, Bo Nix and any other contender a good run at the trophy as he looks to become the second wide receiver in four years — following Alabama’s DeVonta Smith in 2020 — to lay claim to the world’s most famous bronze stiff-arm. — Blake Baumgartner

Give the former walk-on some love

The Heisman Trophy favorites — Marvin Harrison Jr., Michael Penix, Bo Nix and Jayden Daniels — are certainly worthy of attention, but how about some love for Missouri running back Cody Schrader?

The former walk-on from Division II Truman State leads the SEC and ranks ninth in the FBS with 112.4 rushing yards per game. He has accumulated 1,124 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns and is averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

In Saturday’s 36-7 rout of No. 13 Tennessee, Schrader ran for 205 yards with one touchdown and caught five passes for 116 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, he is the first SEC player in the past 25 years with at least 150 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards in the same game. He also is the first Missouri player to total more than 100 yards in both rushing and receiving in the same contest.

“Absolutely,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said when asked by reporters if Schrader should be among the contenders for the Heisman. “If you’re talking about the best player in college football who’s done more for his football team than anybody else. He’s the leading rusher in the SEC. When’s the last time the leading rusher in the SEC on a top-10 team wasn’t considered for the Heisman?

“The guy shows up in the biggest games on the biggest stages.”

Schrader, a 5-foot-9 senior from St. Louis, is already a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the best player in the FBS who started his career as a walk-on. At Truman State, a public university in Kirksville, Missouri, with an enrollment of about 4,000 students, Schrader led Division II with 2,074 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns in 2021. He ran for 745 yards with nine scores at Missouri last season.

Tennessee’s defense wasn’t the only one Schrader has victimized this season. He had 112 yards with a touchdown in a 30-21 loss at Georgia on Nov. 4 and 159 yards with two scores in a 34-12 victory over South Carolina on Oct. 21.

But none of his previous performances was more impressive than the one against Tennessee.

“What an incredible day that little Superman had for us,” Drinkwitz said. “I had to. I can’t call him the Smurf anymore. He’s risen to a new level.” — Mark Schlabach

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