Week 6 NFP Heisman Watch

As we get ready to turn the calendar to the month of October, the Heisman Trophy race is just starting to get interesting. And this week’s slate features some marquee games that could have a major impact in the quest for the individual hardware.

Let's take a look at the leaders after five weeks of action.

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota: The veteran Ducks signal-caller was off last week, but Mark Helfrich’s squad will take center stage on Thursday night when it hosts Arizona at Autzen Stadium. Remember the last time the Ducks faced Arizona? It was in late November of last season, when the Wildcats won 42-16 after the Ducks wasted a shot at the national title with a loss to Stanford. Mariota wasn’t 100 percent healthy, and he ended up tossing two interceptions in the game — his first since November 17, 2012. Mariota, who has recorded 16 touchdowns on the season (13 through the air and three on the ground), has a marquee nonconference win over Michigan State under his belt, so all he needs to do is continue to stay healthy and he’ll likely have a trip to New York booked.

2014: 71 of 96 passing for 1,135 yards, 13 TDs and 0 INTs; 33 rushes for 214 yards and 3 TDs.

Todd GurleyTodd Gurley is healthy and in “beast mode” this season for the 'Dawgs.

Georgia RB Todd Gurley: The bruising Bulldog recorded 208 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries in Georgia’s close win against Tennessee. He added 30 receiving yards and was a key factor late in helping the ‘Dawgs burn clock to avoid an upset loss at home. Gurley is healthy and in “beast mode” this fall, and he had a signature performance in Week 1 against Clemson — three touchdowns on the ground and a kickoff return for a score. An invite to New York for the Heisman ceremony is possible if Georgia's play-calling doesn't get in the way and if he gets the carries.

2014: 69 rushes for 610 yards and 6 TDs; 9 receptions for 29 yards and 0 TDs; 1 kickoff-return TD.

Alabama WR Amari Cooper: The star wide receiver for the Crimson Tide enjoyed an off week this past Saturday, and Nick Saban’s squad is now preparing for a big road test at Ole Miss with ESPN’s College GameDay coming to town. Cooper, who continued his torrid start to the season by scoring three touchdowns against Florida the previous week and has 43 receptions for 655 yards and five touchdowns on the year, will face a nasty Rebels secondary this Saturday. It's tough for receivers to get Heisman recognition unless they are standout return men, but Tide OC Lane Kiffin is making sure that Cooper gets a ton of looks. And a former Heisman winner told me last week that Cooper is doing things as a receiver that you only see on Sundays, calling him “possibly the best player in the country.”

2014: 43 catches for 655 yards and 5 TDs.

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: The star Cornhuskers tailback rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns in the team’s 45-14 victory over Illinois one week after he ran for 229 yards in a 41-31 win over Miami (FL). He has rushed for more than 200 yards in three games this season, and a former Heisman winner told me last week that Abdullah should remain in this race as long as he stays healthy and the Huskers win because the offense in Lincoln runs through the star tailback.

2014: 114 rushes for 833 yards and 8 TDs; 5 receptions for 108 yards and 2 TDs.

Notre Dame QB Everett Golson: The dual-threat signal-caller struggled taking care of the football in the team’s 31-15 win over Syracuse, but he actually managed to set a school record for consecutive completions and throw a career-high four touchdown passes against the Orange. Golson threw his first two interceptions of the season, fumbled deep in ‘Cuse territory and botched a spike attempt late in the first half. But he was 32-of-39 passing for a career-best 362 yards and came one completion short of matching the FBS record for consecutive connections in a game (East Carolina’s Dominique Davis in 2011). Even with the sloppy performance, it’s been clear that his work in San Diego with quarterback instructor George Whitfield Jr. has dramatically improved his game. He will be in the mix as long as the Irish fare well against a brutal upcoming slate.

2014: 94 of 135 passing for 1,142 yards, 11 TDs and 2 INTs; 39 rushes for 104 yards and 4 TDs.

Others to watch

Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill (1,745 passing yards, 17 TDs and 2 INTs; 136 rushing yards and 0 TDs): The heir apparent to Johnny Manziel in College Station threw a fourth-quarter interception against Arkansas that could have helped prevent the Aggies from remaining undefeated. However, he was able to deliver two long touchdown passes in the final frame before connecting with Malcome Kennedy for a 25-yard score on the first play of overtime as A&M remained unscathed. He finished the game 21-of-41 passing for 386 yards and four touchdowns. Hill took advantage of some defensive breakdowns by the Hogs, so it will be interesting to see how he fares as he continues to work his way through the SEC slate.

BYU QB Taysom Hill (876 passing yards, 6 TDs and 3 INTs; 428 rushing yards and 7 TDs): The Cougars’ dual-threat signal-caller enjoyed a bye last week and is preparing for a home game against Utah State on Friday night. Without their star QB, the Cougars would not be unbeaten.

Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (612 rushing yards and 8 TDs; 5 catches for 27 yards and 1 TD): The star Badger had 32 carries for 181 yards and two scores in the team’s 27-10 win over South Florida last week. Wisconsin has a favorable schedule, but all eyes will be on Gordon's matchup with Abdullah and Nebraska in November.

East Carolina QB Shane Carden (1,469 passing yards, 11 TDs and 3 INTs; 19 rushing yards and 3 TDs): The prolific Pirates signal-caller is off to a strong senior season in coordinator Lincoln Riley’s offense. He has some less-than-stellar numbers going against him — two interceptions in the team’s lone loss to South Carolina and a below-50% completion rate against Virginia Tech. But ECU would not have had such a strong start without his play at the quarterback position. And big numbers could await this week with a home game against SMU.

Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott (964 passing yards, 11 TDs and 2 INTs; 378 rushing yards and 3 TDs): The Bulldogs’ dual-threat signal-caller has three games with over 100 rushing yards and two games with four passing scores, and he was a key component of the team’s recent upset victory at LSU. MSU hosts Texas A&M this week, so Prescott will have a chance to have another signature game in his quest to make it to New York.

UCLA QB Brett Hundley (1,041 passing yards, 7 TDs and 1 INT; 146 rushing yards and 2 TDs): The star Bruin returned from a left arm injury to post his best game of the season, throwing for 355 yards and four touchdowns on 18-of-23 passing, as UCLA stormed by Arizona State 62-27 in Tempe last Thursday night. That was the Hundley we expected to see entering the season atop many preseason Heisman Watch lists.

Baylor QB Bryce Petty (913 passing yards, 7 TDs and 1 INT; 79 rushing yards and 3 TDs): The Bears beat Iowa State this past week, and Petty threw for 336 yards and a touchdown while adding two more scores on the ground. He will have some high-profile Big 12 matchups to gain Heisman momentum.

Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.

The NFC season at the quarter pole

We’re now a quarter of the way through the 2014 NFL season and if we look at what many predicted a month ago, the season isn’t going anywhere close to what was supposed to happen.

Tuesday and Wednesday I will look at each division and evaluate who is going where as the season progresses. Today we’re going to take a look at the NFC.

NFC East

Many feel that the NFC East is one of the worst divisions in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles just by the nature of their high-powered offense were supposed to walk away with the division. While the Eagles are 3-1, they are no longer a lock to take the claim the NFC East.

Injuries, especially on the offensive line, have hurt the Eagles. For any offense to work, the offensive line has to be in sync. For Philadelphia, that’s been difficult because they seem to lose a different starter every week.

The good news is that Philly gets back starting right tackle Lane Johnson from a league suspension this week. While that will help, center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis, two important parts of the Eagles line, are still out. Both players will be out until the second half of the season.

Tony RomoUS PRESSWIRERomo and the Cowboys are sitting pretty after four games.

Last year, quarterback Nick Foles threw only two interceptions in 317 passing attempts. This year he already has four in less than 100 attempts. While the overall receiver play has been good, the Eagles miss the big play ability that DeSean Jackson gave them.

Dallas was looked at as the weak sister in the division before the year started, but the Cowboys have played solid football over the last few weeks. A month ago, who expected Dallas to blow out New Orleans?

We will get a better idea of just how good the Cowboys are in two weeks when they travel to Seattle.

Over the years, I have learned to never count out a Tom Coughlin-coached team. After two weeks of the 2014 season, the Giants looked like they might never win a game. Now they are on a two-game win streak and Eli Manning looks like the Eli Manning of two years ago.

One of the things that has helped Manning is the emergence of tight end Larry Donnell. Donnell has 25 receptions and four touchdowns over the first four games.

Washington was expecting big things from RGIII in 2014. When he went down with an injury, backup Kirk Cousins looked like the real deal. Unfortunately, the strong play of Cousins ended last Thursday when he threw four interceptions against the Giants. After watching that, who knows where the Redskins are headed?

NFC North

At the beginning of the season, I said that the winner of this division would be determined by divisional play. Four weeks into the season, I still feel the same way.

While Detroit has the best record at 3-1, they have to prove to the rest of us that they are no longer the undisciplined Lions we have seen so often in the past. Looking at their personnel, the Lions are as strong, if not stronger, than any team in the division, but some of those same players have a way of not playing up to their talent level. In short, the Lions will only go as far as Matthew Stafford will take them.

Jay CutlerIf Cutler can't get past Green Bay, the Bears can't win the division.

If Chicago didn’t have to play the Packers, the Bears might walk away with the division. The problem is that the quarterback consistently has his worst games when playing Green Bay. Jay Cutler has played in 11 games against the Packers since becoming a Bear and has won only one of those. He also has thrown 19 interceptions in games against Green Bay.

The Bears spent a huge amount of money acquiring new players for the defense. Through four games, the new players (Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young) have not played up to expectations. If the Bears are to have a chance, the defense has to improve and Cutler has to beat the Pack.

In Green Bay, both the offense and defense were struggling going into the Chicago game. The offense got their act together last week, but the defense is still having issues, as they gave up 496 total yards to the Bears.

Aaron Rodgers can’t be expected to win every game and the defense is going to have to show drastic improvement if the Packers are to have a chance at getting into the playoffs.

Minnesota is now in the hands of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. With running back Adrian Peterson gone for an indefinite period, defenses will be able to concentrate on stopping Bridgewater. Yes, Teddy did some good things in his debut against Atlanta, but now opponents will have tape to see what he can and can’t do. Going forward, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

NFC South

After a month, it looks as if this is a division no one wants to win. Every team in this division has shown no consistency in their play.

Atlanta upset New Orleans to open the season and then looked awful in Week 2 against Cincinnati. The Falcons came back during the short week to blow out Tampa Bay and then didn’t show up in Minnesota.

Drew BreesBrees and the Saints are in bad shape after a month of football.

The Falcons are a team that plays well at home but looks like an entirely different club on the road. If Atlanta is going to challenge for the NFC South, they have to win their next two games against the New York Giants and Chicago Bears.

Through four weeks, the most disappointing team in the NFL is the New Orleans Saints. They haven’t played what could be considered a strong team, yet they have won only one game. The defense can’t stop anyone and Drew Brees hasn’t been the Drew Brees we are accustomed to seeing.

Clubs are figuring out a way to stop tight end Jimmy Graham. While he has caught 32 passes, he is averaging only 10 yards a catch. He may be human after all.

The other disappointing team in the NFC South is Tampa Bay. Lovie Smith always had disciplined teams in Chicago, but that hasn’t been the case in Tampa Bay. The team has made countless mistakes on both offense and defense.

It hasn’t helped that offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford is on a leave of absence with a heart problem. No one can expect a new offense to get into gear without the man who designed it.

Quarterback Mike Glennon played fairly well in a win at Pittsburgh. That win may turn things around for the Bucs. We will find out soon enough, as Tampa Bay travels to New Orleans this Sunday.

The team that is in best shape in the NFC South is Carolina, but they are struggling as well. Just as the Eagles keep losing offensive linemen, the Panthers are losing running backs. Without a ground game, defenses can gear towards stopping Cam Newton.

If the Panthers are going to repeat in winning the NFC South, the defense is going to have to come through. The last two weeks against Pittsburgh and Baltimore they haven’t been able to do that. The defense gave up a total of 454 yards on Sunday to Baltimore. Up next is the usually high-scoring Chicago Bears, who put up 496 yards in a loss to Green Bay last Sunday.

NFC West

Going into the season, I felt that Seattle was the best team in not only the NFC, but the entire NFL. Even after a loss at San Diego, I still feel the same way. Seattle is a team with very few, if any, weaknesses and the
y play as physical a game as any team in the NFL. Still, the Seahawks played sloppily at San Diego and at home against Denver

Russell WilsonWilson and the Seahawks are still the kings of the conference.

The Seahawks had a bye week to work out the problems and up next is a Monday night game at Washington. I have a feeling this game won’t be pretty for the Redskins.

I felt the 49ers may have been the second or third-best team in the NFL going into the season. While San Francisco is good, they are also inconsistent. They lost at home to Chicago and on the road to Arizona and were lucky to beat an injury-riddled Philadelphia squad on Sunday.

There is an obvious disconnect between head coach Jim Harbaugh and the front office and that disconnect has also found its way to some of the players. If those problems can’t be worked out, there is no way the 49ers are going to be in the playoffs. This is one of the most talented teams in the NFL, but something is missing.

If there is going to be a team that challenges Seattle for the NFC West, it’s going to be Arizona. The Cardinals and the Bengals are the only undefeated teams in the NFL and both of those teams have only played three games.

Arizona has won despite losing the middle of their defense to either injury, free agency or suspension. That means defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is doing an outstanding job with the potential to become a head coach in the near future.

The Cardinals are playing both good and smart football on both sides of the ball, but going into Denver this week will be a challenge. We will see if Arizona is for real in about five days.

Follow Greg on Twitter: @greggabe

Tony Sparano named interim head coach in Oakland

The Oakland Raiders will turn to Tony Sparano to be the team's interim head coach now that Dennis Allen has been fired, reports ESPN's Jim Trotter.

Allen was fired after a poor showing against the Miami Dolphins in a loss in London. Sitting at 0-4, Raiders owner Mark Davis decided it was already time for a change. Sparano does bring head coaching experience in the NFL, so he is a fit for the temporary position.

The Raiders are entering their bye week so there will be some time for the coaching staff to get acclimated to the way Sparano wants to do things. But with the players on the roster and an organization that has had trouble for some time, this has the makings of a long, long season in Oakland.

Follow me on Twitter: @JasonHButt

Falcons place William Moore on IR-designated to return, Hawley, Holmes to IR

The Atlanta Falcons placed safety William Moore on injured reserve-designated to return with a shoulder injury.

They placed center Joe Hawley on injured reserve with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and offensive tackle Lamar Holmes on injured reserve.

The Falcons signed safety Sean Baker, tackle Cameron Bradfield, and guard Harland Gunn to the active roster.

Atlanta signed safety Kimario McFadden and guard Adam Replogle to the practice squad.

Follow me on Twitter: @RavensInsider

Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun

Source: Titans worked out Curtis Marsh today

The Tennessee Titans worked out former Philadelphia Eagles third-round cornerback Curtis Marsh today, according to a league source.

Marsh was cut by the Eagles last year and was then signed by the Cincinnati bengals.

Marsh's father, Curtis Sr, played wide receiver in the NFL.

Curtis Marsh played collegiately at Utah State where he was a second-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection.

Follow me on Twitter: @RavensInsider

Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun

Antonio Brown: 'We lost to one of the worst NFL teams'

Antonio Brown said what the rest of the country was thinking — Pittsburgh lost to an inferior team.

There was little reason to believe that Tampa Bay would storm into Heinz Field and come away with a win, especially with the way the Buccaneers began the season. On top of that, starting quarterback Josh McCown was unavailable due to a hand injury and second-year signal caller Mike Glennon was called upon to fill in.

But in the end, the Bucs were able to beat the Steelers in the final minute and win 27-24.

“We just lost to one of the worst NFL teams in our house,” Brown told reporters on Monday. “We blew the game. We feel embarrassed, we feel shame.”

Down 10-0, the Steelers reversed that and held a 10-point advantage in the fourth quarter. But the Bucs got a field goal and a game-winning touchdown from Glennon to receiver Vincent Jackson to win.

The Steelers will have a chance to redeem themselves next week against the Jaguars.

Follow me on Twitter: @JasonHButt

Source: Lions sign George Winn from practice squad

The Detroit Lions have promoted running back George Winn from their practice squad, according to a league source.

Winn played collegiately at Cincinnati.

Winn has previous stints with the Houston Texans, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders.

Joique Bell has a concussion, and this promotion obviously doesn't bode well for his status.

Follow me on Twitter: @RavensInsider

Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

Source: Jets sign fullback John Conner

The New York Jets have signed veteran fullback John Conner, according to a league source.

Known as the Terminator for his hard-nosed blocking style, Conner had a previous stint with the Jets.

Conner has also played for the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals.

He played collegiately at Kentucky.

Follow me on Twitter: @RavensInsider

Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun

Contract year disappointments & surprises

While there is still plenty of time for fortunes to change, here are the players in contract years that have been disappointments and surprises at the NFL season’s quarter mark.


Demaryius Thomas (WR)-Denver Broncos

Demaryius ThomasThomas has taken a back seat to free agent acquisition Emmanuel Sanders.

Thomas has started the season with his worst three-game stretch since Peyton Manning became Denver’s quarterback in 2012. He has 13 receptions for 141 yards and only one touchdown. Thomas, who has averaged 93 receptions, 1,432 receiving yards and 12 touchdown catches over the past two seasons, is also tied for second in the NFL with four dropped passes.

Darrelle Revis (CB)-New England Patriots

Revis has a two-year, $32 million deal on paper. In reality, it’s a one-year contract for $12 million. 2015 is an option year that the Patriots must exercise before the end of the 2014 league year (around March 10). If the option isn’t exercised, the Patriots are prohibited from designating Revis as their franchise or transition player in 2015. Revis’ $20 million 2015 salary on a $25 million cap number practically ensures that the option year won’t be picked up.

Wide receivers are no longer getting stranded on Revis Island. Mike Wallace got the best of Revis in the season opener. Surprisingly, rookie quarterback Derek Carr targeted Revis six times for five completions when the Oakland Raiders played the Patriots. Alex Smith didn’t shy away from Revis either in the Kansas City Chiefs’ blowout victory over the Patriots on Monday night.

Torrey Smith (WR)-Baltimore Ravens

Smith led the Ravens with 65 receptions and 1,128 receiving yards in 2013. Joe Flacco quickly developing chemistry with free agent pickup Steve Smith has relegated the 2011 second-round pick to a secondary receiving option. He’s been targeted just 22 times this season while the former Carolina Panther has 25 receptions (on 41 targets). With only eight catches for 138 yards and one touchdown, Smith is on pace for just under half the receptions and yardage he produced last season.


DeMarco Murray (RB)-Dallas Cowboys

Murray is the sixth running back since 2000 on pace for 2,000 rushing yards after his team’s first four games. His 534 rushing yards and five touchdowns have gotten the Cowboys off to an unexpected 3-1 start and made him a leading candidate for MVP. It would be a surprise if Murray made a run at Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record of 2,105 yards given his injury history. Murray has missed eleven games in his three previous NFL seasons because of ankle, foot and knee injuries. Running backs with such a hot start since the turn of the century also haven’t been able to sustain their pace of production. The good news for Murray is that these five other running backs finished the season with an average of 355 carries for 1,701 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. Jamal Lewis was the only back to top the 2,000-yard mark. He rushed for 2,066 yards in 2003.

Nick Fairley (DT)-Detroit Lions

Nick FairleyFairley has come on strong since being demoted during the preseason.

Fairley has raised his level of play to form arguably the NFL’s best defensive tackle duo with perennial All-Pro Ndamukong Suh after a brief demotion during the preseason. The Lions are first in total defense and fourth in points allowed. Fairley may make the Lions regret their decision to pass on a fifth-year option with him for next year at $5.477 million, especially if the reports of Suh looking to sign elsewhere in 2015 free agency are true.

Brandon Flowers (CB)-San Diego Chargers

Flowers was released by the Kansas City Chiefs in June because he didn’t fit the team’s preference for tall, press coverage cornerbacks at 5’9”. He quickly signed a one-year, $3 million deal (worth a maximum of $5 million through incentives) with the Chargers. Flowers has brought stability to a secondary that was regularly victimized through the air in 2013. The Chargers have jumped from 29th in pass defense last season to 11th this season. Flowers is the NFL’s top ranked cornerback in 2014 according to Pro Football Focus’ ratings.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

Bruce Carter could miss time with quad strain

Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Bruce Carter could miss some time after straining his quadricep against New Orleans, owner Jerry Jones said on his weekly radio show on KRLD-FM.

Via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Jones said the injury is “week-to-week” with Carter potentially missing Sunday's game against the Texans. However, it's not deemed a long-term injury, which is somewhat good news for a Cowboys defense that is playing much better than people expected.

“These injuries, quad strains, are not long-term injuries,” Jones said. “But you say, ‘Well, missing a game is getting pretty long term when you don’t have but 16 of them,’ but still we’ll have to see with him. If he’s moving pretty good…. I think Carter is a good healer, and some people heal faster than others. So we’ll want to keep a close eye on him.”

Follow me on Twitter: @JasonHButt