Any Given Saturday: Week 7

Auburn owes Cam Newton more money.

The NCAA could never prove if cash actually changed hands for the Carolina Panthers’ pseudo-Superman – the Tiger who made a mockery of SEC defenses en route to the 2010 national title – but it is a fact that Newton’s father shopped him around for financial gains during his recruitment. The reported amount ranged from $100,000 to $180,000, which sounds like an overwhelming amount of pocket change for gridiron prowess, until you consider Gene Chizik is now making $3.5 million annually – up to $4.5 million in incentives – off Newton’s accomplishments.

Chizik’s success to date falls on the shoulders of one otherworldly player, perhaps more than any other coach in college football history (Vince Dooley won without Herschel, Tom Osbourne without Frazier), and his job security is beginning to deteriorate. The Tigers could become the first team in 20 years to finish with a losing record just two years removed from a national championship.

Chizik carries the lowest career winning percentage among active coaches with a national championship ring – which is either a “glass half full” insult or a backhanded compliment – and his failures without Newton only enhance the quarterback’s one-year legacy. Sans Cam, Chizik’s career record is a paltry 22-33.

For comparison’s sake, other active coaches who have won a BCS title at SEC schools – Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Les Miles, Steve Spurrier – have a 483-191 combined record NOT including their five national championship seasons. So even without their best season(s), Chizik’s counterparts have each won around 70 percent of their games, while the man who inexplicably rocks the short-sleeve windbreaker cannot crack .500. Yikes.

And people want to complain about Newton (possibly) being paid a couple hundred thousand bucks to deliver a national championship? Auburn watched the money pile up that season. Gene Chizik got himself a $1 million raise. If this were Wall Street, which man would represent the more lucrative investment?

When Cam Newton travelled to Tuscaloosa on his national championship tour, a Steve Miller Band hit flooded the airwaves of Bryant-Denny Stadium during pregame warm-ups, reminding the country of the perceived slight to the integrity of NCAA athletics. However, at this point, armed with college football’s seventh-richest coaching contract, it’s the man roaming Auburn’s sidelines taking the money and running.



The Suspects does not acknowledge name recognition, positional bias, team affiliation or media favorites for its weekly Heisman update. Players earn a spot based on production – and production alone – against quality opponents. This week, a Mountaineer extends his lead while an electric sophomore and a consistent Gator try to keep pace.

Geno Smith, West Virginia, QB: How do you catch a runaway train, Denzel? Smith has, at least, a two-week head start in the Suspects’ race. His ridiculous 24 touchdown passes in six games have yet to be tainted by an interception — of quarterbacks who have not thrown a pick in 2012, Smith has eleven more touchdowns than the next closest guy (Colby Cameron, Louisiana Tech). His success against ranked Big 12 opponents might only be the beginning. This week:  Texas Tech

Braxton Miller, Ohio State, QB: Ohio State's sophomore wunderkind bounced back from a turnover-prone win against Michigan State to lead a 63-38 public flogging of then-No. 21 Nebraska. With his 313 total yards and two scores against the Blackshirts, Miller ranks top-10 nationally in total offense, touchdowns (17) and rushing yards (763). Although the Buckeyes are not allowed to participate in the postseason, if he can keep the Columbus crew undefeated, he could join the program's titans. This week: Indiana

Mike Gillislee, Florida, RB: The senior runner's consistency has kept the sixth-ranked Gators unbeaten, and his 146-yard, two-touchdown performance against the once-impenetrable LSU defense catapults him just ahead of SEC counterpart Marcus Lattimore as a top Suspect. His 400 yards and five scores against AQ conference opponents both rank top-10 nationally. Gillislee might very well be the best running back in Gainesville since the days of Emmitt Smith. No Just For Men necessary. This week: Vanderbilt

Raising Suspicion: Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina); Collin Klein (Kansas State); DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson); Demontre Moore (Texas A&M) Kenjon Barner (Oregon); Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina); Manti Te’o (Notre Dame); Chris Thompson (Florida State); Stedman Bailey (West Virginia)



The Watch is a weekly slate of top games, plus one highly-ranked team that needs to be on high alert. This week sees Red River revelry, another Irish test and a Tiger-infested proving ground for some unbeaten Gamecocks.

Texas vs. Oklahoma: Both Red River rivals head to Dallas with one loss, draining this annual clash of some of its national luster. But, given its history, viewers will still tune in to see what should be a high-scoring, top-20 showdown. Texas quarterback David Ash is piecing together an elite season (1,276 yards, 11 touchdowns) and will need to be on his game against his stingiest opponent yet. Landry Jones’ could play well, but his disappointing season continues. Pick: Texas

Stanford at Notre Dame: The BCS standings believe in the undefeated Irish, but few others do. Despite playing one of the toughest schedules in the country, college football’s majority believes a vacillating offense will eventually catch up with Brian Kelly. Rival Stanford is a popular candidate to end the run. The 17th-ranked Cardinal brings a disciplined, well-coached approach to South Bend – as USC learned – so Notre Dame will need to continue to winning the turnover battle. Pick: Notre Dame

South Carolina at LSU: The Head Ball Coach brings his best team since his Florida days to Baton Rouge to face a reeling LSU squad. The Tigers have looked anemic on offense with Zach Mettenberger under center, but the defense (12.8 points allowed per game) remains terrifying. South Carolina will not be able to impose its will on the ground, but Gamecock bookends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor will perpetuate the Tigers’ offensive nightmare. Pick: South Carolina

Tennessee at Mississippi State: Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks might be the best cornerback in the country, and the Bulldogs will need his best against a pair of NFL-caliber receivers. Dan Mullen’s secondary makes plays (fourth nationally in turnovers forced), but shutting down Tennessee wideouts Cordarelle Patterson and Justin Hunter is not easy. Patterson and Hunter will be pros in the near future, but, in its first true test of 2012, Mississippi State finds a way to stay unbeaten. Pick: Mississippi State

ON WATCH: BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall may have found his saving grace. After losing two games by a combined four points earlier this season, the Cougars now welcome No. 10 Oregon State, a team limping into town without its starting quarterback. Mendenhall is a good coach with a smothering defense (8.8 points allowed per game), which could be problematic for one of the best stories of the young season. Coach of the Year candidate Mike Riley has a strong defense of his own, but the Beavers will find resistance in Provo.



Matt Elam drinks arsenic.

Elam, Florida’s 5-foot-10 bundle of muscle and crazy, is the newly-crowned Most Interesting Man on the Field in college football — someone equally likely to steal a game in The Swamp as he is to sing “Rock-a-bye Baby” to a grown man in uniform. He's a dragon in a Gators jersey, not taking responsibility for personal actions in the most entertaining way possible. There are no boundaries for mercenary geniuses, and Elam is the next in a long line of incendiary gridiron storm troopers.

Passion infuses collegiate sports in abundant measures — colors and pageantry run the show — but too often the aesthetic is devastatingly mundane. Coaches teach identical life lessons; quotes become repetitive. We can thank boring PR lessons and over-traditionalized sentiments of "act like you've been there before, delinquents" for that.

Sorry, but that kills the fun. Elam-esque madness is the most necessary of evils in college sports.

Brian Bosworth. Deion Sanders. Sean Taylor. Cam Newton.

The right amount of controversy or bravado may bring fan vitriol – or even NCAA investigations – but it also adds some much-needed noise to the mixtape of monotone. There can only be so many picturesque young men setting the bar, a set amount of Geno Smiths with backgrounds in visual art who whittle interviews down to "it's all about helping the team." Sometimes, a dose of crazy does everyone good.

This is why when Elam instructs LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to take a dirt-nap (Marcy Projects shout-out!) following a helmet-rattling sideline collision, it's not so much unsportsmanlike conduct as it is a hailstorm of excellence.

This is why a Florida safety, majoring in melee, purposefully blindsides his own teammate after the whistle; it's for your own viewing pleasure. There’s no sense in fighting it. Hell-raisers like Elam are meant to inflict pain and induce laughter, not reinforce idyllic fables of sportsmanship.

And this is why you can't fit Matt Elam into a boring, PR-infiltrated box … because he will set that shit on fire.

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