College Football Weekend Preview: Bruising Quarterbacks, a Lethal Weapon

Dan Mullen is onto something.

The man who served as Tim Tebow's offensive coordinator at Florida and recruited Cam Newton to Florida before he transferred is working his magic with yet another dual-threat quarterback at Mississippi State with Dak Prescott.

Tebow, Newton and Prescott may each have things they do well as individuals, but they all have one thing in common, and that's that they've all been effective both on the ground and through the air at the college level.

Say what you will about Tebow (6-3, 245 lbs.) as an NFL quarterback, but in college, he was a revelation. As a sophomore, Tebow completed over two-thirds of his passes for over 3,000 yards and a 32-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio to go along with 895 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground.

Prescott, nearly a Tebow-like clone at 6-2 and 230 lbs., is having a similarly effective season, even though it's only about halfway done. Currently he's completing 61.5 percent of his passes for 1,478 yards and a 14-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio to complement 576 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

Although he's taller and heavier than both Tebow and Prescott, Newton (6-6, 250 lbs.) likewise had a season for the ages as a senior (stats available at Auburn's profile page on Newton).

Not only do all three quarterbacks have the requisite speed to succeed, none of them are the type that's going to do the old feet-first slide to avoid getting hit. They all put the shoulder down, absorb the blows and keep their feet churning. And they're each effective as many halfbacks.

That's the difference between these three players and many of the other dual-threat quarterbacks populating America's landscape.

One of the most-improved quarterbacks in the nation this season is TCU's Trevone Boykin, a big reason the Horned Frogs have a 5-1 record and are ranked No. 10 in the nation.

However, there's a degree of hesitancy when it comes to fully buy-in on the 6-2 and 205-lbs. Boykin and believe that he can lead TCU to a national championship or the playoff for that matter.

When asked what's the biggest obstacle from keeping TCU out of the playoff on ESPN's Championship Drive podcast, analyst David Pollack said it's Boykin's running style.

"They're up against Oklahoma, they're backed up in their own territory on third down, he's running when all you want to do is probably punt," said Pollack. "He tries to truck the DB, runs him over, sure, but fumbles the ball and could get dinged up. I think when you run him as much as they run him, he could take a shot on his right shoulder, gets dinged up and it affects his ability to throw the football."

Things such as fumbles and injuries can happen to any player at any time, but when you've got someone with the size and strength of a Tebow, Newton or Prescott, those negative outcomes are less likely to happen. They're going to be more durable and perhaps less prone to fumbles.

Mullen is getting the best of both worlds out of his quarterbacks—running and passing—and the results speak for themselves. Tebow won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy, Newton did the same and now Mississippi State is in contention for a national championship, ranked third in the nation, and Prescott is probably the leader in the clubhouse for the Heisman.

Bruising quarterbacks like these don't grow on trees, and they may not be as effective at the pro level but credit Mullen for his keen eye for talent. This is one reason he's one of the hottest names in coaching circles and potentially a candidate to replace Will Muschamp at Florida.

Mississippi State (6-0), led by Mullen and Prescott, take on a surprising Kentucky team (5-2) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT on CBS.


Where College GameDay Is At

The site of ESPN's weekly pregame show originate from the campus of Louisiana State as No. 24 LSU (6-2) hosts No. 3 Ole Miss (7-0) at 6:15 p.m. CT on ESPN.

Despite what appears to be a rebuilding year in the Bayou, the mere presence of a home night game in rocking Tiger Stadium gives LSU a fighting chance.

But perhaps that's not giving enough credit to Les Miles and his Tigers. After forgivable losses to No.1 Mississippi State and No. 5 Auburn, LSU appears to be hitting its stride as its youthful roster gains more experience, riding two wins in a row.

The skill position players in particular seem to be getting better every week, and that includes sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings, freshman running back Leonard Fournette, sophomore wide receiver Travin Dural and freshman wide receiver Malachi Dupre.

If there's anything that will stunt their development, however, it will be facing the "Land Sharks," the nation's No. 1 scoring defense, allowing just 10.6 points per game.

Between what's very likely the best safety tandem in the nation with Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner, along with the Nkemdiche brothers, Denzel at linebacker and Robert on the defensive line and a strong supporting cast, Mississippi is arguably the nation's best overall defense.

Ole Miss quarteback Bo Wallace deserves a world of credit for stepping up when the stage is at its biggest. Against SEC opponents, Wallace has a 7-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Prediction: The Ole Miss defense will hold the LSU rushing trio of Fournette, Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee in check, putting too much pressure on Jennings to win the game with his arm. He'll make a critical mistake or two the Land Sharks will capitalize upon. 27-16, Hotty Toddy.


The Wisconsin Connection

The Badgers (4-2) welcome Big Ten newcomer Maryland (5-2) for the first-ever meeting beteween the two schools at 11:00 a.m. on the Big Ten Network.

Very quietly, the Terrapins have exceeded expectations, doing better than many anticipated in their new conference.

Coach Randy Edsall has his team coming off their best win of the season last week with a win over Iowa.

Despite ranking 13th in the Big Ten in rush defense, allowing 198.3 yards per game, the Terrapins limited the Hawkeyes to just 116 yards last week. If they can duplicate that performance against the Badgers, they'll stand a chance.

Iowa, however, doesn't have a running back like Melvin Gordon.

While the Badgers continue to figure out their quarterback position, they'll rely heavily on Gordon, who leads the nation, averaging 174.3 rushing yards per game.

On the other side of the football, the Badgers will have to deal with one of the best receiving corps in the nation in Maryland wideouts Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Even though they haven't broken out yet this year, the Badgers must respet their NFL-level talent.

Wisconsin may be the eighth-ranked pass defense in the country, but it's a deceiving eighth. They're the only team in the Top 25 in pass defense that's allowed an average of at least 6.9 yards per attempt.

What fifth-year senior Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown lacks in talent, he makes up for in experience and knowledge of the offense. He's capable of making the Badgers defense pay if they're not careful.

Prediction: If this game was at Maryland, the Terrapins might keep rolling. It won't be easy for the Badgers by any means, but they'll ride Gordon and their running game to victory like they usually do at Camp Randall. 28-27, On Wisconsin.


What Happened Before Saturday

If Oregon could lose to Arizona at home earlier in the season, then they were certainly capable of losing on the road to Cal, who came into the game as the No. 10 scoring offense in the nation, averaging 41.5 points per game.

The Ducks, however, came into the game averaging 45.5, and would exceed that in a 59-41 victory Friday evening at Levi's Stadium in San Francisco.

Even though quarterback Marcus Mariota threw his first interception of the season, he also threw five touchdowns passes, looking like a true Heisman Trophy candidate.

Since left tackle Jake Fisher returned from a left leg injury, Oregon has gone back to being an offensive juggernaut.

The No. 6 ranked Ducks find themselves in a position where, if they can win out, they stand a good chance of qualifying for the playoff.

A date with Stanford next weekend isn't as daunting as it once was, perhaps leaving a road game at No. 19 Utah on Nov. 8 as the toughest remaining game.

There's still the Pac-12 championship game left to deal with, but Oregon can still be a factor in the national-championship race if they keep doing what they did Friday night.


Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].

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