At Pittsburgh, he blossomed into the surprise star attraction of Labor Day action. Against Clemson, he anchored the prime-time flight in a Week 8 full of upsets. Now home in Week 10, headlining one of just three games pitting ranked team against ranked team, can Jameis Winston carry an entire Saturday?
On Your Marquee
All times Eastern.
• No. 7 Miami at no. 3 Florida State (8 p.m., ABC). He can, and he should, and given the era we're living through right now, in this time of Manziel and Mariota, it doesn't feel like reaching to have this confidence that Winston will deliver. College football is smack in the middle of a mesmerizing series of star turns, made all the more captivating by the guaranteed brevity of the time we'll have to watch them, and for the first two months of his collegiate career Jameis has made a sterling case for mention in the same breath as Johnny and Marcus. Winston came to the game as close to fully formed as it's possible for a kid in his position to be. His first start came on the road, in prime time, far from home. His sixth start saw him silence the most hostile environment in the conference. This Saturday night marks the Noles' best chance and biggest stage between now and the ACC championship game to make their case for a top-two BCS ranking.
Saying this is the most compelling game of Week 10 when Florida State is a three-touchdown favorite over Miami reads like a slam on the schedule. It's not. As a spectator, there is exhilaration to be had in close-fought games between well-matched teams; it's what made us professional college football polytheists in the first place. But it's a kind of educational privilege to watch a team at the top of its game operating near maximum potential.1 Watching FSU pull limbs off Clemson reminded us of nothing so much as Alabama's eradication of Notre Dame in last year's national title game: This is exactly how that play should be run. That is precisely how that play should be defended. Yes.
College football trickster-gods willing, Winston has a couple dozen games left, at least, to play in garnet and gold. This is an unpaid echo of an endorsement of the FSU and Oregon and Baylor squads of 2013: In this era of justifiably wilting stadium attendance figures, do not miss your chance to see these teams in person, if one comes your way. There's a veil of unreality between you and your television, a slice of one's subconscious mind that resists jolting when presented with players like these on a screen. We're so conditioned to watching speed-altered film, so steeped in video-game consumption, that we don't even blink watching a human operate above what should be acceptable levels of human speed and strength and precision — until that jarring moment when you catch yourself thinking, Hey, that's a really crisp picture signal today, only to realize there are metal bleachers under your feet and fireworks fumes up your nose and if that's real grass you see those few yards away then those are real humans on it and holy smoking hell how is that a thing that just happened in the world and is it why I cannot feel my face??
• No. 18 Oklahoma State at no. 15 Texas Tech (7 p.m., Fox). Dispensing with holiday business first: This is nicely done, but even though we've never seen Bob Stoops's face in jack-o'-lantern form, it's hard not to give him the edge in pumpkinability. In this arena, Kliff Kingsbury's youth is also his undoing: How can even the most delicate artist's touch hope to replicate three-day-old stubble on a gourd?
To football: Thanks to a series of fateful quirks of scheduling, every interesting team in the Big 12 plays every other interesting team in the Big 12 in the last five games of the regular season.2 The sorting action kicked off last week with Tech's 38-30 loss at Oklahoma, and continues in Lubbock at night, which is all the convincing you should require to give this at least an hour of your time. From here, the Red Raiders get Kansas State at home and Baylor in Arlington before heading to Texas for their season finale on Thursday night in Week 14; the Cowboys get a breather with Kansas, then close out league play at Texas and at home versus Baylor and Oklahoma. Keeping an eye on how far the Big 12 points-scored and points-allowed columns slide, and in which directions, will be one of the better November parlor games of 2013.
For Week 10, pay particular attention to the Pokes' pass defenses versus true freshman Davis Webb, Tech's third starting quarterback since fall camp. OSU has picked off 13 passes through seven games; Webb has thrown seven picks in as many contests.
• No. 21 Michigan at no. 22 Michigan State (3:30 p.m., ABC). Fun fact the first: While the Wolverines and Spartans have each gained 15 turnovers from opponents through seven and eight games, respectively, Michigan State has lost nine balls to Michigan's 17.
Fun fact the second: We asked the Internet whether there was a corresponding Spartan term to the concept of the "Michigan Man"; the following is a representative sample of responses received:
• "Spartan Dawg" —@LuzerneMI
• "Sparty, Bro." —@edsbs
• "No. Spartan is a thing. MSU doesn't need to coin a term in order to avoid confusion with a rodent." —@YoshonisLSJ
• "Juggalo, I believe, is the preferred nomenclature." —@MattLGHL
• "In so much as MSU Bro is a thing, then yes. Crushing Natty, lighting couches on fire. The WVU of the North to a degree." —@PeteAtTOC
• "A Dantoni(br)o" —@treyhimself
We have learned nothing, but are developing a nascent affection for Michigan State.
Weeknight Football and You
By the time you read this, America will presumably have survived having Cincinnati versus Memphis foisted upon it on a night otherwise bereft of college football happenings. The remaining slate of weeknight games is as follows:
• South Florida at Houston (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN). The Cougars haven't lost a conference game yet, and this isn't the time: Road trips to no. 23 UCF and no. 19 Louisville lurk in Weeks 11 and 12.
• Rice at North Texas (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1). The Mean Green could bust up the Rice-Tulane tie atop the C-USA West standings with a win here.
• Louisiana-Monroe at Troy (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU). Kolton Browning's early return is reason enough to tune in. He threw four touchdown passes against Georgia State last week in his first start since aggravating an injured quad in September.
• Arizona State at Washington State (Thursday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN). Halloween on the Palouse and Sun Devils fans mingling with Cougars faithful. That is all.
• USC at Oregon State (Friday, 9 p.m., ESPN2). Between the Beavers' uniforms and wanting to see Ed Orgeron on the sideline in costume,3 it's a shame this isn't kicking off on Thursday night.
Q&A: Gary Pinkel
After a 7-0 start and a peak at fifth place in the BCS standings, the Missouri Tigers lost in double overtime to no. 21 South Carolina in Week 9. We spoke to Gary Pinkel as now ninth-ranked Mizzou prepares to host Tennessee, the Tigers' third consecutive SEC East game in which neither team will field the starting quarterback it had to begin the season.
James Franklin's questionable status is still questionable, right?
Franklin will work all week. We put him at third on the depth [chart], and with the reps he gets, we'll determine what works for him. The good news is he's throwing the football, and we'll get him back when we get him back. We're not sure.
This'll mark your third game in a row with replacement starting quarterbacks for both teams. Ever seen anything like this?
Yeah, it's crazy. It really is. It's really happening all over the country, and it's not just quarterbacks. We had mammoth injuries the last two years, but, knock on wood, we've been very fortunate this year thus far. But nobody likes losing their starting quarterback. I've never lost a starting quarterback in 21 years as a head coach, until the last two years, and that's kind of interesting. [Not] in all that time, for more than like a half a game. Until the last two years. Funny how things work.
Ever look back and wonder what the 2012 team might have been like but for that streak of offensive injuries?
The year before, in '11, we won our last four games, but we had kind of injuries all over the [roster], you know, one here, one there, all over offense and defense. Last year, it was five offensive linemen and our starting quarterback, and that was even more devastating. But it's just the way it is.
How did the kids react to losing their SEC East stranglehold after South Carolina?
It was brutal, but any wasted time — if we won the game or lost the game, we're 7-1 and have four games left. Every game's clearly important. We're in the hunt. What better position would you want to be in? I think that's really been the focus of our team. I think we've handled it well. There's a lot out there. The most important thing is, as I told the team after, what will define our football team will not be the loss. And I think we're doing a pretty good job, because there's just so much out there.
With four conference games left, do you see any tangible advantages or disadvantages to having such a back-loaded schedule?
I really don't look at that. The way it comes down, it comes down. We're gonna be able to redo our schedule in a couple years, when we come out with six or eight years of SEC scheduling, and one thing I noticed with scheduling in this league is a lot of people do their non-conference games throughout the year, and I think they do it because everybody's so good. You're in the SEC. Everybody you play, even if their record isn't that good, they're really good. So a lot of people in this league, they kind of mix in their non-conference [games] to get out of the league, and also some of their bye weeks. You've gotta play it as it is, but I think scheduling, obviously, is very important.
Right now the most interesting position matchup looks like Michael Sam versus Tennessee's offensive line. Where did he make the biggest strides between 2012 and 2013?
[Imagine this entire answer in italics, because that's how it was spoken.] Maturity. His mental preparation is at a different level now. He is locked in. I'll use this as an example for the rest of my years in coaching. He is locked in on game day. I mean, he's in a zone. And it's great to see that. He's playing each play with passion. And when you take that with ability, you see a really good year, and I'm certainly very proud of him.
So can we consider Maty Mauk a grizzled veteran QB at this point, compared to his peers in the division?
I've just never had a quarterback I've had to tell, "You're thrown in in the fourth quarter against Georgia. At Georgia. We have a two-point lead." And then I've never had that quarterback, the next week, have to play Florida, one of the best defenses in the country, and then the next week they play South Carolina, and now we've got Tennessee. I've never had a starting quarterback — and I've been coaching quarterbacks for 35 years — I've never, ever put a quarterback in this gauntlet of games. You learn a lot. It's an interesting year, with all the things that are happening. You look around the league, and in other leagues, too, and I don't know what it is, but it's at a premium to stay healthy.
For the Big 12 fans in the audience: Still have your motorcycle?
Yeah, I got my motorcycle. Between that and the boat, I like wind in my face.
Have you picked up any motorcycle buddies in your new conference?
No, not really. I ride with a few guys around here. In the Big 12, I knew a little bit more about some of the guys. Here, I don't really ask any of these guys about my motorcycle adventures.
The Tigers and Vols kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday in Columbia. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Week 10 Superlatives
• Highest ratio of sweatpants to shoulder pads: Last year during the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, there was a point at which game action slowed to such a crawl that we were able to watch a small bird hop from about the 20-yard line into the end zone for a largely unseen, criminally unheralded bird touchdown. This year, if the bird returns, it's wholly possible it could be pressed into service as a starter for either Florida or Georgia, with both squads nursing enough wounded contributors to form an entire third football team. Two factors to watch: the expected return of Todd Gurley at running back for the Dawgs, and the expected glut of kick-return yardage from the Gators' Solomon Patton. (3:30 p.m., CBS)
• Most invigorating hype video of the week: They're headed into a bye week, but the Baylor Bears are gonna put on the grittiest, guttiest bye-week display of talent ever, and who are we kidding: We're not even joking, we could probably run for 200 yards on Oklahoma ourselves after watching this:
• Best rivalry game of the week: Based on our exclusive metric, which rewards contests based solely on merit of the hardware involved, this week's winner is no. 24 Wisconsin at Iowa, with this big damn bronze bull at stake. Nobody in the country does large metal animals mounted on blocks of wood like the Big Ten. (Noon, ABC/ESPN2)
• Most promising nightcap/Pointiest potential pointsplosion: Nevada at no. 16 Fresno State (10:30 p.m., ESPNU). Even in a knee brace, Nevada's Cody Fajardo can still be relied upon to put up sizable yardage totals, and Fresno's Derek Carr is going to be throwing on a defense that's even worse than the one he sees in practice all week. Plus, BCS implications for the Bulldogs remain in play! Sleep is for Sundays.
• Who's coaching Florida Atlantic against Tulane? Offensive coordinator Brian Wright will lead the Owls in their homecoming game versus the Green Wave following the ousting of head coach Carl Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis for DEMON WEED–related reasons.
• Where's Bama? Exhausted from winning their October games by a combined score of 190-20, the Tide are taking a much-needed bye week. If Yellowhammer State football is a primary nutritional need, please consider no. 11 Auburn at Arkansas (6 p.m., ESPN2). AIN'T THE SAME, PAAAOWL. No, it is not, but don't you want to get a closer look at what Gus Malzahn's up to in advance of what could be a very interesting Iron Bowl?
• Where's Johnny? Hosting UTEP in College Station (9 p.m., ESPN2). HOOWEE, NIGHT GAME AGAINST UTEP, IT'S GONNA GET WEIRD! It is a night game, but it's not in El Paso, so your mileage may vary. Does College Station have its own version of Handjob Hill? Kyle Field's bleachers do rise toweringly into the sky, but no major rocky outcroppings are evident in the stadium's immediate surroundings.
• Purdue's totally wrecking no. 4 Ohio State's year again, right? No. But — NO. (Noon, BTN)
Arbitrary Power Rankings: Least Likely Pixar-Based Halloween Costumes
1. Sexy Finding Nemo Lantern Fish
2. Sexy Carl Fredricksen from Up
3. Sexy Lightning McQueen
4. Sexy A Bug's Life Rhinoceros Beetle, What Was His Name
5. Sexy Buzz Lightyear
"It's a wonderful night for eyebrows." —The Grinch, Halloween Is Grinch Night, the single most terrifying Dr. Seuss work ever put on television. All aboard the paraphernalia wagon!