Justin Fields showing he’s an NFL franchise QB amid Ohio State turmoil

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Trevor Lawrence is considered the can’t-miss prospect. Kyle Trask and Mac Jones are the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy.

Quarterbacks have again owned this college football season and will be the storyline of what on paper looks like a fascinating College Football Playoff if the favorites win as expected the next two weeks.

Somewhat forgotten is Justin Fields, a Heisman finalist last year. But if you watched the Ohio State quarterback on Saturday behind a makeshift offensive line, if you’ve watched him at all through five games, it’s hard to imagine anyone not wanting the junior leading their team.

Despite a late start, two-week gaps between his last two games and not having his head coach on Saturday, Fields has been brilliant. He’s been a leader. He’s shown everything an NFL team could want out of its franchise quarterback.

He’s produced 20 touchdowns and 1,646 total yards in five games. He’s committed three turnovers. His team is undefeated. He’s a physical marvel, big and fast at 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds.

Saturday was particularly impressive, leading a 52-12 shellacking of Michigan State. Ohio State was down 23 players due to positive COVID-19 tests. Coach Ryan Day was at home in isolation. The Buckeyes were without three starting offensive linemen.

It didn’t matter. Fields threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 104 yards and two more scores. He saved bad snaps and even threw a block on Trey Serman’s 64-yard touchdown run, sprinting downfield to ensure safety Tre Person would not stop Serman from reaching the end zone. He showed his maturity by throwing the ball away under a heavy rush, avoiding the kind of mistake he made in the narrow win over Indiana two weeks earlier.

The playoff will be intriguing, granted we get as expected Clemson, Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State. Remember, last year Clemson and Lawrence edged Ohio State and Fields. Playing on a bad ankle, Fields couldn’t run much, though he did throw for 320 yards and a touchdown. Lawrence got the better of him, because he was healthy and able to use his legs.

A rematch would be an apropos finish to the college careers of the two Georgia natives who share the same quarterback coach. No matter what happens though, the extremely likely odds are that Fields won’t sniff the Heisman Trophy or be even considered for the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Trask and Jones, the quarterbacks at Florida and Alabama, seem like virtual locks to be Nos. 1 and 2 for the Heisman. Lawrence has been talked about as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck.

But, consider this: Since Fields landed at Ohio State last year after barely playing as a freshman at Georgia, this is how they compare with Lawrence playing in four more games:

Fields has 56 touchdown passes, 14 rushing touchdowns, six interceptions and 5,403 all-purpose yards. He has a career completion percentage of 70.2.

Lawrence has 56 touchdown passes, 15 rushing touchdowns, 11 interceptions and 6,780 yards. He has a career completion percentage of 66.4

It should go without saying, whoever lands Fields should be extremely happy. Just look at how he has performed this season while dealing with unique adversity.

On the fly

The little guys saved Saturday. With nothing but blowouts, BYU and Coastal Carolina provided drama. The teams set up the game just 48 hours in advance and gave the sport a needed jolt, a 22-17 victory by Coastal Carolina that ended with BYU receiver Dax Milne being tackled at the 1-yard line.

Credit to BYU for traveling to play the game on short notice. Credit to Coastal Carolina for being flexible when its game against Liberty was canceled on Thursday. It was good for both programs and good for the sport, a chance for two teams not in a power conference to get a rare shot in the spotlight.

It should be an example of the possibilities moving forward. Why not create an open weekend when a game like this can be scheduled for the non-elite? If the pandemic has shown us one thing, it’s that scheduling does not have to be finalized years in advance.

Chip on their shoulder

For all the big-name disappointments this season has produced, from Michigan to Penn State and Texas to LSU, there is one power conference school that has rebounded. Chip Kelly and UCLA are 3-2, after consecutive wins over Arizona and Arizona State. The Bruins have won three of four, with the lone loss a three-point setback at Oregon. It may not sound like much, but it is a positive step for Kelly and UCLA, which had gone 7-18 in his first 25 games as its head coach.

Top 10

I’m not high on the SEC. Alabama hasn’t played Florida, the second-best team in the conference. But it cannot be overstated how impressive the Crimson Tide have been in this league, outscoring the opposition 443-165 through nine games.

The Irish are the cool kids who never want to go to the party, and that one time they do, own it entirely to themselves. The one year they’re in a conference, they win the ACC outright.

The Tigers have outscored Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech 97-27 since the loss to Notre Dame, at least regaining some of their swagger entering the Dec. 19 rematch.

Down 23 players and its head coach due to COVID-19, the Buckeyes still slaughtered Michigan State, 52-12. They’re going to the playoff. End of story.

The SEC East officially belongs to Florida. In two weeks comes the real test: The SEC title game against Alabama, an upset and the Gators will reach the College Football Playoff for the first time.

Cincinnati and Tulsa will meet in consecutive weeks, first to close the regular season Saturday and then in the AAC Championship game. If this wasn’t 2020, that would be considered bizarre.

The Aggies’ route to the playoff is simple: Win big and root for Alabama and Notre Dame in their respective conference championship games. Texas A&M can get in by winning out and Florida and Clemson each losing again.

The defense, overshadowed all year by superstar quarterback Michael Penix Jr., has risen to the occasion. With Penix out for the season, it has allowed 17 points the past two weeks in grind-it-out wins over Maryland and Wisconsin.

History in Ames, a first Big 12 Championship game appearance. Whatever Matt Campbell gets this offseason — either as a raise from Iowa State or a new job — he deserves it.

The Hurricanes clearly are the third-best team in the ACC and will play in a quality bowl. Considering the mediocrity of the past two seasons, that’s a step in the right direction.

Dropped out: BYU (9-1)

Heisman Watch

(predicted finish)

QB Kyle Trask, Florida

The senior has yet to throw for fewer than three touchdowns in a game this season and has tossed at least four seven times. Remarkable, considering he had done that just once in his career before this year.

QB Mac Jones, Alabama

This was a reminder to the voters: Don’t pencil in Trask just yet. Jones threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns in a rout of LSU.

QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

It’s all about the ACC Championship game and the playoff for Lawrence. Win another national title and nobody will care that he didn’t win a Heisman Trophy. Deshaun Watson didn’t win one either.

QB Ian Book, Notre Dame

The victory over Clemson stands out, obviously, but Book has been both consistent and dynamic, emerging as a lethal runner in addition to an accurate and effective thrower.

QB Zach Wilson, BYU

Wilson got a quality opponent, but he didn’t produce the kind of eye-catching performance needed in a 22-17 loss to Coastal Carolina, amassing just one touchdown and 295 total yards.

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