College Football Players, Coaches and Teams to Watch in Week 15

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistDecember 5, 2013

College Football Players, Coaches and Teams to Watch in Week 15

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    Jameis Winston
    Jameis WinstonKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Rivalry weekend is in the books and it was everything we expected and more. From historic finishes to fights—plenty of fights—this year's rivalry weekend will go down as one of the best ever.

    Now it's time for championship weekend. The SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and the MAC will all play championship games this weekend. The Big 12, no longer with a conference championship game, features two matchups that will determine who represents the conference in the BCS.

    While Florida State and Ohio State are looking to punch their ticket to the BCS title game, some players are making their final cases for a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation. 

    Here are some players, teams and coaches to watch in Week 15.

Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

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    Blake Bortles
    Blake BortlesThe Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

    America, meet Blake Bortles.

    Bortles, a 6'4", 230-pound junior quarterback for Central Florida, is the nation's most underrated signal caller. Bortles currently has UCF at 10-1 on the season, and a win this weekend over SMU will put the Knights in a BCS bowl for the first time in school history.

    Bortles has completed 68 percent of his passes on the season to go along with 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. If the Knights defeat SMU (5-6, 4-3) or Louisville loses to Cincinnati, Bortles will be under-the-radar no more. 

Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

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    Connor Cook
    Connor CookMark A. Cunningham/Getty Images

    Led by the top defense in the country, No. 10 Michigan State heads to Indianapolis this Saturday to take on No. 2 Ohio State. 

    We all know about Buckeyes' quarterback Braxton Miller. But what about Michigan State's QB?

    Sophomore Connor Cook wasn't even the Spartans' starter behind center entering the season, but took over for good late in September. Cook won the job because of his ability to minimize mistakes and make the occasional play downfield. 

    The Spartans' ferocious defense will face their biggest test this weekend, so they need to be more efficient on offense. Cook will need to aggressive, while limiting his mistakes. If he can do that, the Spartans could pull off the upset.

    Cook is unequivocally the Spartans' most important player this weekend. 

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

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    Jameis Winston
    Jameis WinstonSam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Lately, all we've heard about is Jameis Winston's off-field troubles. It has overshadowed what has been a tremendous freshman season that earned Winston ACC Player of the Year

    Winston and his Florida State teammates have their sights set on much bigger things, though.

    A front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, Winston must lead the Seminoles over Duke this Saturday to cement FSU's place in the BCS title game for the first time since the 2000 season. 

    Winston will be college football's most-watched player this weekend for a variety of reasons. Expect him to rise to the occasion, yet again. 

Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois

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    Jordan Lynch
    Jordan LynchMike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    Is there an easier player to root for in college football than Northern Illinois' quarterback Jordan Lynch?

    Lynch has the Huskies at 12-0, aiming for their second straight BCS appearance. They must first get by Bowling Green on Friday in the MAC title game. 

    While many believe Winston deserves the Heisman, momentum is building for Lynch. With 1,755 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns on the season, Lynch has been outstanding. He's also completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,457 yards and 22 touchdowns. Lynch has thrown just five interceptions.

    He's rushed for over 300 yards twice this season, breaking the record for rushing yards by a quarterback before promptly breaking his own record. He is only the fifth member of the 20-20 club (20 touchdown passes, 20 rushing) and has led NIU to a 23-2 record over the past two years. 

Duke Coach David Cutcliffe

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    David Cutcliffe
    David CutcliffeBob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    David Cutcliffe did the unthinkable last season when he got Duke to six wins to become bowl eligible.

    Now, in 2013, the Blue Devils won the Coastal Division and now have a chance to pull off a major upset this weekend when they play Florida State in the ACC title game.

    Can Duke pull off the upset?

    It seems unlikely, but don't doubt Cutcliffe, who, if not for Gus Malzahn, would be the easy choice for national coach of the year. 

    Nonetheless, Cutcliffe has taken the Blue Devils to new heights and things are much brighter in Durham for the foreseeable future—in football.


Texas Coach Mack Brown

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    Mack Brown
    Mack BrownStacy Revere/Getty Images

    Is Mack Brown still on the hot seat?

    If you ask that of Texas fans you'd likely get a resounding yes. Longhorns' fans feel like their school should be competing for national titles every year. Those are reasonable expectations for a school with such a deep talent pool and unlimited resources.

    However, considering how Texas started the season with a miserable performance against BYU, the Longhorns have come a long way, winning seven of their final eight games.

    Is it because of, or in spite of, Brown?

    A win over No. 9 Baylor on Saturday would likely cool Brown's seat off considerably—at least for a few months. 

Missouri Tigers

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    What an exciting time to be a Missouri Tigers fan.

    Mizzou, in their second year in the mighty SEC, face Auburn for a shot at their first ever BCS bowl. There is an outside chance the Tigers could play in the BCS title game.

    While Auburn is a feel good story for their upset of No. 1 Alabama and a three-win season in 2012, many seem to forget AU won the national championship in 2010. 

    As usual, the eyes of the nation will be on the SEC Championship Game, but this season will be much different. Fans without a horse in the race will have two appealing choices to root for. 

    Will Mizzou rise to the occasion and pull off one more big win? This is undoubtedly head coach Gary Pinkel's best team in 13 years in Columbia and anything less than an SEC title at this point would be a disappointment. 

    Missouri, you have our full attention.

Arizona State

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Todd Graham is a fast riser in the coaching ranks. Now, in his second year as head coach of Arizona State, Graham is at his fourth school since 2006.

    This is, without a doubt, Graham's best team.

    At 10-2, the Sun Devils will meet Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game this weekend. A spot in the Rose Bowl is on the line. 

    Not everyone thought the Sun Devils would be here, though. Oregon, Stanford, Washington, UCLA and USC all came into 2013 with more acclaim than ASU. Now, the Sun Devils are just one win away from their first Rose Bowl since Jake Plummer and Pat Tillman donned the maroon and gold.