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The Read-Option: Looking ahead to college football's second half

If Jameis Winston beats Clemson this weekend, Florida State will be in the national title discussion and Winston will be a Heisman contender. (Jeff Gammons/Getty Images) Jameis Winston can enhance his Heisman Trophy hopes with a win over Clemson. (Jeff Gammons/Getty Images)

Seven weeks of college football is in the books, and there's still plenty of football left to play. Though there hasn't been much movement from the country's top teams, nothing is certain as the primary contenders head into the thick of conference play. So which programs are poised to surprise? Who's the next coach to be shown the door? And what can we expect from the rest of the Heisman Trophy race?

Zac Ellis and Martin Rickman discuss the season's second half in this week's Read-Option.

Zac Ellis: Somehow we've made it halfway through this college football season, which amazingly only feels a couple of weeks old. Perhaps that's because there haven't been many shakeups at the top of the polls this season. For the most part, we've seen the best teams win the games their supposed to, with this past weekend's loss by Stanford as perhaps the only outlier. That makes the rest of the season pretty intriguing, with the feeling of a major upset looming. What storylines are you most looking forward to?

Martin Rickman: I think it's just getting things settled in the various power conferences. There are some huge games coming up over the next few weeks, and we'll finally start to see who belongs and who doesn't. We've got the roshambo of UCLA, Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 (sorry, Washington, you're a bridesmaid in this one). There's that whole LSU-Alabama game out there. Legends and Leaders has come down to "who is going to play Ohio State in the Big Ten title?" And, of course the FSU-Clemson game we don't have to wait very long to get to.

ZE: There appears to be more big games on the horizon the rest of the way, mostly because teams are in the thick of conference play. Florida State-Clemson has been one of the most intriguing games since the preseason, and I'm curious to see which of those programs can not only survive that matchup, but also build off of it. Both the 'Noles and the Tigers have reputations for dropping games that they shouldn't down the stretch, so I'm more interested to see if the winner of that game can remain a legit title threat. A one-loss ACC champion isn't getting an BCS title invitation, so can either of these teams run the table the rest of the way?

MR: I think there's a good shot. Look at each team's respective game against Boston College. In the past one of those two teams would have lost that game. Then we'd shake our heads, pat the ACC on the heads and move onto the more important national conversations. Florida State's defense doesn't get enough press for just how big and fast it is, and it makes Jameis Winston's freshman year a lot easier when the team gives up just 12 points a game. With Clemson, it might be a bit trickier. The offense isn't as potent as we hoped it'd be coming in, and the defense still gives up big plays. Regardless, they're top 10 teams for a reason, and they both pass the eye test.

ZE: Speaking of Jameis Winston, I'm also intrigued by the Heisman race. Right now it seems easy to annoint players like Marcus Mariota, Tajh Boyd and Winston as potential favorites for the trophy, but just remember at this time last year, Geno Smith was wowing Heisman voters as he ripped up defenses at West Virginia. That just shows that there's plenty of season to be played, and someone like Winston could repeat Johnny Manziel's freshman magic as easily as someone like Mariota could drop out of contention.

MR: You're the Heisman expert of the two of us, Zac. For me trying to gauge Heisman contenders is like trying to pick out avocados at the grocery store. I'm just awful at it. How soft is Tajh Boyd supposed to be? How do we know if Marcus Mariota is ripe enough? Who has surprised you so far in the Heisman running, and who do you see falling off as the year wears on? Did you ever expect Zach Mettenberger to play this great, well, ever?

ZE: Mettenberger might be the surprise player of the season thus far, and it's strange because LSU's offensive turnaround isn't getting the Tigers talked about as potential SEC contenders as much as it should. I guess being in the same division as Alabama and Texas A&M will do that to you. As for Heisman surprises, Winston should be right up there. Expectations were sky-high for this kid, and he's exceeded every one of them by all accounts. To switch gears, though, everyone has to also be wondering what's going to happen at Texas. Mack Brown seemed on his way out the door before he engineered a major Red River Rivalry upset last week, and strangely the Longhorns aren't totally out of the picture in the Big 12 race. Can you imagine if Brown turned things around and won the league?

MR: I never thought things were quite as bad as they seemed. Texas was always going to a bowl game with the personnel it had. The Oklahoma win is a bit of a surprise, sure, but maybe that says more about Oklahoma than it does Texas. Any time you're ruled out before the games have been played, there's a potential for the team to rally. I still don't think Texas wins the Big 12, but it will be fun if this next athletic director's job is a bit tougher than it seemed a month ago. Speaking of coaching changes, we've already seen ousts at USC, UConn and Miami (OH). Will any other head men be let go during the season, and if so, who's next?

ZE: I don't think Charlie Weis lasts much longer at Kansas, though I wonder if they'd pull the plug before the end of only his second season in town. The Jayhawks are non-factors in the Big 12, and their offense currently ranks 115th in the country. Weis simply might not be the answer, though I'm not sure who is in Lawrence.

MR: How do you feel about mid-season firings in general? Do you think it's a good idea to move on, make the change if it needs to be made, or is it better to let a guy finish the season out and maintain some semblance of order (even if said order is losing)?

ZE: I feel like for the most part, if a guy is fired mid-season, he was probably on the hot seat near the end of the last regular season, right? Lane Kiffin's a good example. I'm not sure, for the sake of the team, it was best to let him go now versus last December, though USC certainly responded in their first game under Ed Orgeron. I just feel like in general it's a signal that the season is pretty much sacrificed, and if I'm a player I don't know how I feel about that.

MR: It leads nicely into my next question to you -- which of the disappointing first half teams are poised to make a run in the second half of the season? Who out there is going to put it together and shock some people?

ZE: I wouldn't call it disappointing, but Texas A&M hasn't gotten many headlines since dropping its home game against Alabama a few weeks ago. I think the Aggies are still very much in the conversation for the national title, and the schedule sets up fairly well the rest of the way. Its trip to LSU is the primary obstacle. They have Auburn at home this weekend, then it's pretty smooth sailing until they face LSU in late November. Who have you got your eye on?

MR: Michigan State. The Spartans seem to have figured something out on offense, and it's hard to say a 5-1 team isn't getting enough attention, but the schedule sets up nicely for MSU to possibly be the quietest 10-win team in football. A flurry of pass interference calls and no offensive push at all doomed Michigan State against Notre Dame, but Mark Dantonio's team has averaged 34 points in its last two conference games. Other than that, Virginia Tech is enticing to me if only because the Hokies are in a similar spot. They play a ton of freshmen and still have no running game to speak of, but that defense is fun to watch every single week. It's a long shot, but they are still in it in the Coastal.

ZE: That's a good pick. There's so much to look forward to this season, so we'll just have to keep our eyes glued to the TV.
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