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Inside the Pocket: College football campaigning in full swing


Unless you've been stuck in the film room too long, you'd know that Tuesday is when the 2014 midterm elections are being held across the United States.

While College Football 24/7 is no SuperPac, we are getting political and breaking down a few notable college football races that are continuing to play themselves out and will generate plenty of interest in the coming month. Have a write-in candidate who should be mentioned? Leave it in the comments below.

Best one-loss team

Incumbent: Auburn.
Challengers: Alabama, Oregon, TCU, Kansas State.
The race: The Tigers are the defending SEC champions and survived a crazy night in Oxford to remain with a single loss (on the road). The team is more balanced than last year's version, even if the defense hasn't made many strides. Alabama might be living off its reputation, but there's little question the Tide has the most talented team in the country and the best coaching staff. TCU's offense is getting plenty of public support behind budding Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin, but Gary Patterson showed against West Virginia he still has some quality defensive personnel. Kansas State narrowly lost at home to Auburn earlier this season, but the Wildcats have blown everybody out since with the exception of a narrow win over the best two-loss team, Oklahoma. Oregon is home to the nation's best player, Marcus Mariota, and was tripped up in its only loss because of several key offensive line injuries.
Negative campaigning: Alabama hasn't played anybody. Oregon does not have the defense to be considered. The Big 12 isn't as good as the SEC and Pac-12.
Election forecast: Auburn, at least until the Iron Bowl.

Best Group of Five team

Incumbent: Marshall.
Challengers: Colorado State, Boise State, East Carolina.
The race: The Thundering Herd is undefeated on the season, another way of saying they're perfect. They've got a great senior quarterback in Rakeem Cato and have a complementary run game this year that gives them a balanced attack. Colorado State has two wins over Power Five teams and is the best overall team of any candidate in the mix behind Dee Hart and a solid defense. Boise State is in position to win the Mountain West with a new coaching staff and played Ole Miss close for three quarters in Atlanta, and that Air Force road loss was to a bowl team that runs a unique offense. ECU lost to Temple, but the Pirates still own two Power Five wins and could still wind up champions of the AAC.
Negative campaigning: The Rams are on track to not even win their division, much less their league. Boise State still lost to Air Force and has struggled on offense for stretches this year. ECU lost to Temple, which was a two-win team last season. As for Marshall, there are FCS teams that play a tougher schedule than they do.
Election forecast: No team appears in the College Football Playoff selection committee's top 25 rankings this week, but don't be surprised if MWC champ Boise State ends up with the bid when all is said and done.

Top NFL draft prospect

Incumbent: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota.
Challengers: Florida State QB Jameis Winston, USC DE Leonard Williams, Alabama WR Amari Cooper.
The race: The Raiders and Jaguars -- who both selected QBs early in the 2014 NFL Draft -- likely ending up with the first couple of picks is likely the only thing stopping one of the two quarterbacks from going atop the 2015 draft if both end up coming out, as many expect. Mariota has had a few tough stretches but flashes his athleticism every single game and has been the more accurate passer this season. Winston's numbers aren't as outstanding as they were last year, but he's been clutch when the team has needed it and is maybe the only reason the Seminoles are undefeated with the issues they have across the board. Williams hasn't been flashy, but when you put on the tape, he has everything you're looking for in a top-10 pick who some think can turn into an All-Pro. Cooper is the most complete receiver in another good crop at the position and could be the most pro-ready to come out of college in years.
Negative campaigning: Mariota hasn't shown he can fit the ball into tight windows. Winston's off-the-field concerns are enough to drop him out of the first round entirely. Williams doesn't have the numbers in a pass-happy conference to suggest he'll be a top pick, and his health is a concern. Who drafts a wideout super high given what you can find later?
Election forecast: Mariota is rated higher than Winston, but the gap has closed in recent weeks, while Williams remains the top non-QB on most team's boards.

Most underrated coaching job

Incumbent:*Dan Mullen*
Challengers: Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, Cal coach Sonny Dykes, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, Michigan State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman.
The race: Mullen had enough returning starters that Mississippi State was a trendy pick to make some noise, but nobody thought the Bulldogs would be No. 1 in the country. Fritz has had a phenomenal first year at the FBS level and has won six straight after dropping a pair of last-second games to Power 5 competition. Venables might be coaching the country's best defense for a team that gets little love, even in the ACC. Dykes took over the worst Power 5 team last year and has Cal in position to get to a bowl game, a Herculean task in itself. Snyder, against all odds, has Kansas State in position to win the Big 12 again and make a run at the playoff. Michigan State might be known for its defense, but Bollman has the team rolling on offense, too.
Negative campaigning: Mullen was expected to win with all those upperclassmen coming back. As just a coordinator, Venables can't take all the credit for the Tigers' success. Fritz can't even go to a bowl game and plays in the Sun Belt, while Dykes has done his damage against a weak schedule. Bollman is overshadowed by Pat Narduzzi on his own staff for a reason. No negative words will be said about Snyder -- the Wizard of Manhattan.
Election forecast: Fritz narrowly beats out Mullen thanks to his tremendous work in proving the little guys can find early success at the FBS level.

The Heisman Trophy

Incumbent:*Jameis Winston.
Challengers: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott, Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon.
The race: Thanks to the numerous off-the-field incidents, even his late-game heroics will not be enough for Winston to become the second person to win the most prestigious individual award in the sport twice. Mariota has had a terrific year and is likely the favorite in the race, especially after a terrific performance against Stanford, which features one of the best defenses in the country. He'll have the Pac-12 title game to really leave one lasting impression on voters. Prescott is the best player on the best team and has made clutch plays when needed to keep MSU at No. 1. Gordon has been terrific running the football and can take it to the house just about every time he touches the ball.
Negative campaigning: Winston's character attacks hurt, but getting suspended for the Clemson game and throwing three interceptions against Louisville are also a blow to his candidacy. Mariota came up short in the Ducks' loss and took a ton of sacks behind an inexperienced offensive line. Prescott has been a product of his supporting cast and doesn't have the numbers to compete with the others. Gordon might carry the Big Ten banner for the award, but there's an argument he's not even the top running back in his own conference.
Election forecast: The trophy is Mariota's to lose at this point, but a Big Ten title run by Gordon or an SEC title by Prescott might be enough to give them the award. Want a dark horse? Try Washington LB/RB Shaq Thompson.

Stat of the week

Nevada's Cody Fajardo became the second-ever FBS player to pass for 9,000 career yards and rush for 3,000. He joins fellow ex-Wolf Pack signal-caller Colin Kaepernick as the only two players to ever accomplish such a feat.

Stats to chew on

» Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha leads the nation in sacks (15.5) and tackles for loss (21.5). Because he plays in 13 games plus a bowl, it's possible he could come close to Terrell Suggs' mark of 24 sacks in a season when all is said and done.

» Arizona's Scooby Wright is the only FBS player to rank in the top 20 in tackles, TFL, sacks and forced fumbles. Not bad for a player who didn't have any other Pac-12 offers.

» Teams still have not come out of halftime prepared to stop Melvin Gordon. The Wisconsin star ripped off a 51-yard run on his first carry of the second half against Rutgers to average 34.6 yards a touch on the first play in the second half. It was also the fourth time this season such a carry went over 50 yards.

» Arizona State coach Todd Graham had a four-game Pac-12 losing streak in 2012 near the end of the year. Since then? The Sun Devils have won 14 of 16 league games in the regular season.

» Oklahoma has won 37 straight games when surpassing the 200-yard rushing mark. The Sooners are 65-1 under Bob Stoops when topping 200 yards on the ground.

» Five of the top six quarterbacks in passing touchdowns this season are from the Pac-12. They are Washington State's Connor Halliday (32), Cal's Jared Goff (27), Oregon's Marcus Mariota (26), USC's Cody Kessler (25), and Colorado's Sefo Liufau (25). The lone non-Pac-12 QB in the top six is Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty (25).

» Stanford had its 31-game streak of allowing less than 30 points snapped by Oregon.

» In its win against South Carolina, Tennessee had a 300-yard passer, two 100-yard rushers and a 100-yard receiver in the same game for the first time in school history.

» Saturday's win against Arkansas was just the fourth victory Dan Mullen has had when trailing at halftime. He's 37-1 when leading at halftime.

» Wyoming freshman Brian Hill is the first-ever Mountain West player to have 200 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in a single game.

Quote of the Week

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez on bouncing back after losing to UCLA: "I'm not worried about it. We're not going to have a Dr. Phil moment."

Sound from Saturday

Here's Gene Deckerhoff showing some love to the fullback on a key touchdown in Florida State's win over Louisville.

Tweet of the Week

Even if you fake a field goal for a touchdown to help upset rival Georgia, you've still got to go to work on Sunday.

Sideline standouts

Gold medal: Florida coach Will Muschamp, as nobody saw that performance by the Gators coming and it might have been enough to save his job based on how happy his athletic director was after the win in Jacksonville.

Silver medal: Tennessee coach Butch Jones, as the SEC East isn't what it once was, but you could tell how happy he was to pick up a league win on the road after a remarkable comeback.

Bronze medal: Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, as the execution might have been lacking, but he called a great offensive game against Louisville.

Pre-snap read

Kansas State at TCU: Few could have seen this being the Big 12 game of the year instead of Baylor-Oklahoma on the same date. The Horned Frogs escaped Morgantown with a win and will have to quickly re-tool for a contest against the league's most underrated defense. Slowing down QB Jake Waters on the run and containing Tyler Lockett's big-play ability will be critical. A win here basically would give TCU a one-loss season and a seriously good case for the College Football Playoff.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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