Each week during the college football season, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay kick off the week by settling a debate, and then look at emerging NFL prospects and peek ahead to next week.
Does Ohio State have a beef?
Mel Kiper: It has been 693 days since Ohio State lost a football game. They've been discounted by the polls as a true threat to either Alabama or Florida State in large part because of the questions about competition, and by an extension of that, the degree with which they dominate that competition.
But there's a point where you have to step back and consider the significance of what it means to just never lose football games, especially when it's so common to see really good teams beaten on the road in conference. Ask Stanford; ask Oregon; ask Florida State last year; ask Alabama last year; ask Baylor this week.
And when Urban Meyer takes issue with the BCS, instead of pointing out the flaws in his team, you may want to put yourself in his shoes. He's in a major conference, he keeps winning games in mostly dominating fashion, and yet he's essentially left to defend his team. What do you have to defend about never losing, and beating opponents by 30-plus points on average? Well, plenty, it seems. And while I have Florida State and Alabama just ahead of Ohio State right now in terms of where I'd rank them, there are a few reasons OSU has legit beef with being left out of all the title projections so far:
1. They've dealt with some adversity in terms of personnel. Carlos Hyde was out at the beginning of the season. Braxton Miller missed time, and even when he came back, he was clearly limited. If you saw Miller play at Northwestern -- a game critics will point to as a night where OSU wasn't dominant enough -- it's clear you weren't seeing him at 100 percent. Meyer probably feels his team is just starting to reach its potential.
2. The defense is young and could get better. The Buckeyes have gotten big contributions from true freshman Joey Bosa, sophomore linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, sophomore LB Joshua Perry and even freshman DB Tyvis Powell. Defense had been an issue earlier this season, something you could expect after losing seven starters from last season, but it's a unit that has gotten better, and I'm sure Meyer would relish the chance to work with them for another month-plus to see where they could be by the time they played a Bama or FSU.
3. Strength of schedule isn't something you can completely control. How could OSU have assumed the Big Ten would do them no favors at all? When you play in a good conference, with a conference title game at the end, going out of your way to schedule out of conference wouldn't seem necessary. OSU has been unlucky with Cal being so bad, Penn State being down and now with Michigan clearly in a tailspin. We like to knock schedules, but when you play in the Big Ten, it's pretty hard to assume you'd have so few opportunities to show off against good competition.
I'm not saying Ohio State is clearly at the same level of FSU or Bama right now. But it's hard to blame them for wanting a shot to prove it. After all, the last time they were big underdogs in a BCS title game, they won it.
Todd McShay: I do think that Meyer and Ohio State have a legitimate beef, at least when it comes to the seemingly agreed-upon assumption that Alabama and Florida State are the clear Nos. 1 and 2 and a lock to play in the national championship game. I do think that the Crimson Tide are clearly the most deserving team of a BCS title shot, but in my opinion the gap between the Seminoles and Buckeyes is closer than the national perception.
OSU had some early-season struggles, which is when FSU separated itself with a series of impressive wins, but the Buckeyes are now peaking at the right time. Miller is playing a lot more naturally in his second year in Meyer's system; he knows where to go with the ball and what reads he has to make. He's also back to being healthy after the early-season injury, and is his usual dangerous self as a runner. Having Hyde back up to full speed at running back has been huge for the offense as well, after he missed the start of the season because of suspension. He is a bully of an inside runner. Even though the schedule hasn't been great, it's pretty clear that this offense has improved throughout the season.
And while this is by no means a great defense, it is a competitive unit that is continuing to improve. The Buckeyes are playing with more discipline in coverage, and cornerback Bradley Roby is gambling less and cutting down on his mistakes. And Ryan Shazier has always been a great player. He played out of his mind against Indiana, recording 20 tackles as the Buckeyes held a good Hoosiers offense to zero points outside of garbage time.
However, even with all of those factors working in the Buckeyes' favor, I still believe FSU has a slight edge over them for the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings, in terms of which team is more deserving. Not only do the Noles stack up favorably in the subjective part of the equation -- they are a very talented team that has put together some impressive wins this season -- but the numbers favor them as well. They rank No. 2 behind Alabama in ESPN's new Championship Drive Rating, while Ohio State ranks fifth, and their strength of schedule is slightly better than the Buckeyes' (81st nationally versus 86th).
Even though I think an undefeated FSU should get the nod over an undefeated OSU, I would never fault Meyer or any head coach for doing any politicking surrounding the BCS standings. He's the one charged with telling a locker room full of 100-plus players who have gone out and won every game and laid it on the line for him and his coaching staff that a 13-0 record (if they win out) isn't good enough, so he has every right to try to campaign for his team. Thankfully we have only one year left of this awful system for deciding a national championship matchup, but for this season, what else is Meyer supposed to do?
On the rise
Kiper: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
On Saturday, Matthews had another 13 catches, getting him to 96 on the season. Matthews won't lead the country in receptions this season, but to put that total in perspective, consider that the next highest total among Vandy pass-catchers is 35. Matthews has caught 61 more passes than the next closest player on his team. I bring up that disparity because every team that plays Vandy knows Matthews is going to be targeted, and nobody seems capable of stopping him. His lowest catch total of the season came against Florida (and their great CBs) when he caught five.
The knock on Matthews is he isn't stopwatch fast -- he'll run in the mid-4.5 range -- but he plays fast in pads. He's got good size at close to 6-foot-3 and about 215 pounds, he's a very good route runner, has huge hands and is a film junkie who prepares well. He generally does a good job of catching the ball away from his body, but does let the ball get to his pads on occasion, and should work to limit that. The big question will be if NFL evaluators think Matthews can beat cornerbacks deep. But right now he's a likely second-round pick with a shot at Round 1.
McShay: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State Bulldogs
I was really impressed by Boston College RB Andre Williams and Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey this weekend, but I'll go with Carr here. Carr threw for 527 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns in the Bulldogs' blowout win over New Mexico. Fresno State is undefeated heading into its final regular-season game and in position to become this season's BCS buster. I would love to see how Carr performs in a BCS bowl against what would presumably be the best competition he and the Bulldogs have faced this season.
Carr is mature with good leadership skills and football intelligence. He has very good touch and timing as a passer and good arm strength. His deep-ball accuracy and accuracy when staring down pass-rushers are areas that he needs to improve. He already has accepted an invitation to play in the 2014 Senior Bowl; he has improved his stock this season, and with a strong showing there he could lock down a spot on Day 2.
Kiper: Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern
Want a little versatility? How about a player who has been a returner, a cornerback, a quarterback and now a running back -- and McKinnon has been pretty good everywhere you put him. On Saturday against Florida, McKinnon had nine carries for 125 yards, and it's not as though the Gators had no idea the run was coming. Georgia Southern didn't complete a pass the entire game.
McKinnon is compact but powerful at about 5-9 and 215 pounds, with quick feet and the ability to accelerate quickly in space (he was a track star in high school) to run away from defenders; he has a great burst to the outside. I also like how well he blocks, a necessity in that offense. He'll need to show teams he can catch it, too, but he could be at the Senior Bowl and impress his way into being a mid-round pick.
McShay: Terrence Fede, DE, Marist Red Foxes
After Kiper stole my pick this week of McKinnon, I contracted out a Northeast area scout named Trey Wingo -- Mel, you may have heard of him -- to pound the pavement in search of a legit NFL prospect who would fly under Kiper's radar. Wingo delivered with a highly productive pass-rusher in Fede.
Fede has a thick and muscular frame with good strength and above-average movement skills for his size. He has adequate but not great initial burst, and can swallow real estate quickly with his long stride. He has playmaking instincts, long arms and is a good tackler and good finisher when he's in position.
If Fede performs well against better competition in a postseason all-star game, he has a very good chance of being drafted on Day 3. He can contribute in the NFL if he improves his leverage and develops speed-to-power moves.
The big question
Kiper: Can Auburn run the ball on Alabama?
Over the past eight weeks, the lowest rushing total Auburn has put up is 213 yards. Six times this season they've run for over 300 yards; three times they've eclipsed 400 yards. Gus Malzahn feels this team can run on anybody. But now the unstoppable force runs into the immovable object -- except we really don't know if Alabama's run defense is so immovable. The Tide might allow only 91 yards per game on the ground, but they're also so often playing from ahead teams can't truly commit to the run. This isn't one of those games where I think Malzahn would be counterintuitive and start throwing it around just because he thinks Bama won't expect it. He has real talent up front -- Greg Robinson at left tackle in particular is a great one -- and I think he's going to see if that Bama defense will bend. If it does, Auburn has a chance.
McShay: How will Texas A&M bounce back from its LSU loss, and how will Missouri play with the pressure of its SEC title shot on the line?
There are lots of intriguing options in this game, but the most interesting one to me is how the Aggies offensive line -- anchored by OTs Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi -- fares against Missouri's defensive line, which features DE Michael Sam (10 sacks) and DT Kony Ealy (6.5 sacks). They are two of the best units in college football, with four of the nation's premier players at their respective positions.