NCAA

Fiesta finale for Stanford, Luck

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Fiesta finale for Stanford, Luck

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Fiesta Bowl has just about everything you could ask for from a bowl game: two of the nation's best teams, most explosive offenses and underrated defenses, ready-for-the-NFL quarterbacks and this year's best case for changing the BCS.

OK, so maybe there's no national title on the line. LSU and Alabama get that honor under the current BCS format.

Still, when No. 3 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Stanford play Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium, it figures to be one of those can't-miss shows, the kind that leaves fans asking "Did you see that?" the next day.

"This is about as good as it gets right here," Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. "I'm pretty sure everybody around the country will be watching."

Might as well start with the quarterbacks. They are, after all, two of the most intelligent, mature and prolific ones out there.

PREVIEW: No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State

Stanford's Andrew Luck has been projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft almost since his days at Stratford High in Houston. Last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up, he made it two straight just misses after returning for a stellar senior season.

Prototypically sized, deceptively agile and mature beyond his years, Luck tore through Stanford's record book almost as often as he did opposing defenses and improved his NFL-ready resume by calling some of his own plays this season.

"There is a reason why he is going to be the first player picked in the draft, because he is very good at what he does and he's had a lot of success the last couple years," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said.

Gundy's quarterback is no slouch.

Weeden won't challenge Luck for the No. 1 pick, but he certainly could give the big Cardinal a run in the Fiesta Bowl.

Agile and accurate with a big right arm, Weeden came seemingly out of nowhere to pile up yards and touchdowns as a junior and continued it this season, putting together one of the most impressive two-year runs in Oklahoma State history.

He forced people across the country to learn how to spell his last name - it ends with "en," not "on" -- with his prodigious numbers and throws.

Weeden isn't mature beyond his years like Luck, though. He's just mature; a 28-year-old former professional baseball player who's married and doesn't get caught up by trivialities that might slip up younger players.

"He is great. He has put up numbers. He has done it winning," Stanford co-defensive coordinator Derek Mason said. "Any time you can do that, you put yourself in an elite category of quarterbacks. That's what he is."

Led by their two quarterbacks, Oklahoma State and Stanford have the kind of offenses that turn defensive coordinators inside-out at night trying to figure ways of slowing them down.

The Cowboys have arguably the most dynamic player in college football in Justin Blackmon, only the second two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver.

Oklahoma State also has a big, powerful offensive line and good balance, with running backs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith combining for over 1,800 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns. The Cowboys were second nationally in scoring offense at nearly 50 points per game and third in total offense with 557 yards per game.

So many weapons, but stopping the Cowboys begins with stopping their best player.

"You start with Blackmon," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "He is the best receiver in the nation. He is great after the catch. He is a big, physical kid. He makes tough catches look easy. As soon as his feet hit the ground to jump up to make a catch, he is at full speed. He is a difference maker. He is a game changer."

Luck makes the difference across the field, but the ironic thing is that for all the attention he gets, the danger in Stanford's offense is its ability to run teams over.

Behind a moving wall of an offensive line, the Cardinal have one of the best ground games in the country, averaging 207 yards per game. Stepfan Taylor was the team's leading rusher, becoming the third player in school history to rush for over 1,000 yards in consecutive season with 1,153 this season, and there are four others with the ability to churn out yards, including the deceptively agile Luck.

Stanford ran the ball 54 percent of the time this season and had 2,495 yards rushing, third-most in school history, setting up Luck and the passing game.

"They never get tackled for the loss. They continue to drive their feet and move the pile,"

Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young said. "They are a very patient offense from the standpoint if they can make 2 or 3 yards, they will try to get 3 or 4 more on second down, and then they will hit you with a play-action pass when you are sucking it up to play the run too much."

The final bit of intrigue is the it-could-be-us argument from a pair of teams that finished 11-1 -- the same record as Alabama, which earned the No. 2 spot in the Bowl Championship Series.

The Cardinal's lone loss was Nov. 12 to Oregon, which won the Pac-12 and is playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl earlier Monday. Stanford wasn't close to Alabama in the final BCS rankings, but could make a case for a spot in the title game if the system was different.
Oklahoma State can make an argument either way.

The Cowboys' loss, to Iowa State on Nov. 18, wasn't a particularly good one, but there were extenuating circumstances: The team was still reeling from the death of Oklahoma State women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna in a plane crash the day before.

The computers don't look at why a team lost, only who it lost to, so the Cowboys finished third in the BCS, an agonizingly close .0086 behind the Crimson Tide.

"The system is in place. It worked out. We came up little bit short," Weeden said. "If you looked back and you said before the year started we wanted to go to the national championship, you probably thought we were crazy. But our goal was to go to a BCS game."

The Cowboys got there -- and it could be a doozy.

Love finishes as Heisman runner-up

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USATSI

Love finishes as Heisman runner-up

NEW YORK  — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has won the Heisman Trophy, completing a climb from walk-on to one of the most accomplished players in the history of college football.

The brash, flag-planting Sooners star became the sixth Oklahoma player to the win Heisman in one of the most lopsided votes ever.

Stanford running back Bryce Love was the runner-up, making it five second-place finishes for the Cardinal since 2009. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, last year's Heisman winner, was third, the best finish by a returning winner since Tim Tebow of Florida in 2008.

Mayfield received 732 first-place votes and 2,398 points. Love had 75 first-place votes and 1,300 points and Jackson received 47 and 793. Mayfield received 86 percent of the total points available, the third-highest percentage in Heisman history.

Mayfield is the third player to win the Heisman heading to the College Football Playoff. The second-ranked Sooners meet No. 3 Georgia in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. He is the first senior to win the award since Troy Smith of Ohio State in 2006 and the first Heisman winner to begin his career as a walk-on since athletic scholarships started in the 1950s.

"It's been a tough journey," Mayfield said during his acceptance speech. He choked back tears thanking his parents and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley.

Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting two years ago and third last year. He entered this season as one of the favorites and jumped toward the front of the pack when he led the Sooners to an early victory at Ohio State that he celebrated by planting the OU flag in the Horseshoe turf.

He later apologized for that, but that has been Mayfield's career. Spectacular play fueled by grudges, slights and trying to prove doubters wrong. Moxie is the word that gets attached to Mayfield often, but at times poor judgment has gotten him in trouble on and off the field.

Those were really the only marks on Mayfield's Heisman resume because his play has been consistently stellar. He has thrown for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns this season for the Big 12 champion Sooners (12-1). For his career, Mayfield is eighth in FBS history in yards passing (14,320) and sixth in touchdown passes (129). He is likely to leave college with the two best single-season passer ratings in major college football.

Pretty good for a scrawny kid who grew up in Austin, Texas, rooting for Oklahoma, but did not receive a scholarship offer out of high school from either the hometown Longhorns or his beloved Sooners.

At Lake Travis High School, Mayfield won a state championship at a school that regularly pumps out Division I quarterbacks. Mayfield was undersized at 6-1 and received just one offer from a Power Five program — Washington State.

Instead, he walked-on at Texas Tech and started eight games as a freshman. With a glut of quarterbacks in Lubbock, Mayfield left and had only one school in mind.

Oklahoma had Trevor Knight, coming off a Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama and with three more seasons left of eligibility, but that did not dissuade Mayfield.

Mayfield thanked former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who also was at the Best Buy Theater in midtown Manhattan, for welcoming a "chubby, unathletic kid into the program with open arms."

His departure from Texas Tech was contentious. At first, he lost a year of eligibility, despite not being on scholarship. Texas Tech could have given permission to waive the lost year, but did not.

Mayfield eventually got that year of eligibility back when the Big 12 tweaked its rules, but he never did let it go. For his last game against Texas Tech this season, he wore the "Traitor" T-shirt that some Red Raiders fans wore when he first returned to Lubbock with Oklahoma.

Later in the year, it was Kansas — or all teams — that tried to get the volatile Mayfield off his game. Jayhawks captains refused to shake his hand during the pregame coin flip. They trash-talked Mayfield and even took a late hit at him. He responded by screaming profanities and making a lewd gesture that television cameras caught. That led to a public apology from Mayfield, his third this year.

The first came after he was arrested in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in February for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing. He pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors and paid a $300 fine. The second came after that flag planting in Columbus, Ohio, after the Sooners beat the Buckeyes. Mayfield said before that early season showdown that the Buckeyes had irked him by celebrating on the Sooners' field in 2016.

Mayfield joins Jason White and Sam Bradford as Oklahoma quarterbacks who won the award since 2003. Only Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC have won more Heisman trophies with seven each.

Mayfield is an old-school winner. For decades, seniors dominated the Heisman, but over the last 10 years four juniors, four sophomores and two redshirt freshmen have won the Heisman. By comparison Mayfield has been around forever, that first season at Texas Tech coming in 2013. He has played 47 college games. Only USC's Carson Palmer with 50 had played more when he won his Heisman in 2002.

There is at least one more game to play for Mayfield, and maybe two. He and the Sooners will go into the playoff as a slight underdog against Georgia, which seems only appropriate for a player who has built his career on exceeding expectations.

Taggart living the New American Dream while his players suffer true consequences

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USATSI

Taggart living the New American Dream while his players suffer true consequences

Willie Taggart has done his part to address the issue of undercompensation and freedom of college athletes by reminding them all that he has rights they don’t.

Taggart left his job coaching the football team at the University of Oregon after two days short of a year to take the job at Florida State University. It is his fourth school in six years, and the bowl game he led the Ducks to (the Las Vegas Bowl) will be his fourth, of which he has remained to coach one.

He has, in short, bettered himself consistently without establishing roots anywhere. It’s the New American Dream.

Yet the athletes who actual fuel the college sports engine must appeal to transfer, must sit out years of eligibility and in some cases have their choices restricted or vetoed outright because otherwise CHAOS WOULD REIGN!

Well, there’s chaos and then there’s chaos, of course, to be defined only by those in charge. Coaches do come and go -- 12 have filled vacancies since Chip Kelly took the UCLA job 10 days ago, and there will be plenty more. Somehow the system survives.

But players moving to seek their betterment is bad for business, most of the time because the suspicion is that they have been gotten to by other coaches from other programs – a classic case of the system saving itself from itself at the expense of the weakest of its membership.

The obvious inequity here has not troubled college administrators before, and it surely won’t this time either. The first responsibility of any system is to protect itself, and college football is a cheerily money-making powerhouse – in considerable part because players are underpaid and restricted in ways that coaches aren’t.

But maybe Taggart’s wanderlust can become a force for good. Maybe the next time an athlete wants to transfer, he’ll just ask for “a Taggart form” in hopes of “Taggarting” to another school. I mean, we’d say “Kiffining,” but there is no compelling reason why Lane Kiffin’s name should be in anyone’s mouth unnecessarily, to speak of another coach who sees a better shade of green in every job he doesn’t have but might someday want.